Two women, pilot and navigator
Are sitting in the open cockpit of a U2 biplane
Their uniforms are hand-me-downs from their male counterparts
They don’t fit and neither do their boots.

Stalin is in trouble, his ex ally Germany, launched Operation Barbarossa back in June of last year, 1941
They have taken the Ukraine and are knocking on Moscow’s door.
Seasons pass and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Is running out of options.
Happily there is one thing they can rely on and that is the appalling winter weather
The stalled Nazi troops are running low on supplies
They can see the spires of the Kremlin but their Panzer tanks are stuck in the mud

And now the Soviet 588 Night Bomber Regiment has arrived
The task is to harrass the enemy, allow them no rest and to drop
Their bombs strategically and accurately.
They fly low and slow, their engines sound like sewing machines
They have learned to switch them off, gliding in to make their bombing runs
And reignite them to make their escape.

Now all the men on the ground hear, is the wind whistling through
The wood and canvas structure of the antiquated aircraft above.
They call them die Nachthexen, the Night Witches but these are not women in black pointy hats, riding broomsticks
They’re aviators, putting their lives at risk in planes meant for training and crop dusting
Their top speed is 90 miles an hour, they have no radios and no weapons to protect them
But spellcasters or not, the Germans know when they’re beaten and the retreat begins.

The all female regiment chase the invaders out through the Crimea, Poland
And finally back to the Fatherland.
They make at least eight sorties a night, sometimes twice that, freezing in the cold winter air
If they’re caught in the searchlights the anti aircraft fire will make short work of them
They have no parachutes, they will crash and burn with no chance of escape
Miraculously 229 of the 261 night witches will survive this war and 23 are awarded the title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’.
Six months after the war finishes they are disbanded and despite what they achieved
Are not allowed to fly in the victory parades because their planes are too slow.

Jackie Parsons