Marina Mikhailovna Raskova (1912 – 1943) became a famous aviator as both a pilot and a navigator for Russia in the 1930s. She was the first woman to become a navigator in the Soviet Air Force in 1933. A year later, she started teaching at the Zhukovskii Air Academy, also a first for a woman. She set a number of long distance records. Most of these record flights occurred in 1937 and 1938, while she was still teaching at the air academy.
When World War II broke out, there were numerous women who had training as pilots and many immediately volunteered. While there were no formal restrictions on women serving in combat roles, their applications tended to be blocked, run into red tape, etc. for as long as possible in order to discourage the applicants.
Raskova is credited with using her personal connections with Joseph Stalin to convince the military to form three combat regiments of women. Not only would the women be pilots, but also the support staff and engineers for these regiments. This military unit was initially called Aviation Group 122 while the three regiments received training. After their training, the three regiments received their formal designations as follows:
- The 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment, the first to take part in combat (April 16, 1942) participated in 4,419 combat missions (125 air battles and 38 kills) under Tamara Kazarinova and Aleksandr Gridnev.
- The 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, the best known of the regiments commanded by Yevdokia Bershanskaya, tallied 24,000+ combat missions by the end of the war. The Germans gave them the name by which they are best known: The Night Witches.
- The 125th Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment commanded by Marina Raskova her death in combat flew 1,134 missions, dropping over 980,000 tons of bombs.