Soviet Union, 125th M. M. Raskova Borisov Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment (Combat Units (Female))

(January 1943-May 1945)

One of three women’s air wings formed by Marina Raskova in October 1941 when male Soviet aircrews were unavailable and aircraft were outdated. Commanded by Raskova herself, the regiment was formed in Engels near Stalingrad and was initially designated the 587th Bomber Aviation Regiment. After Raskova’s tragic crash during a heavy snowstorm on January 4, 1943, the unit acquired a new commanding officer, Major Valentin Markov, whose male navigator, Captain Nikolai Nikitin, was to be replaced by a woman, Valentina Kravchenko. There were only two Pe-2 dive bomber squadrons, initially commanded by Nadezhda Fedutenko and Evgeniia Timofeeva, former civil aviation pilots. Each aircrew consisted of a pilot, a navigator-bombardier, and a radio operator-gunner. Because the Su-2 aircraft initially assigned to this unit carried a crew of two and there was no time to train female tail gunners before departing for the front, men often served as rear gunners. A replacement squadron acquired in the spring of 1944 consisted entirely of women. Men, however, partially comprised the regiment’s technical personnel throughout its existence.

The regiment went into action near Stalingrad and ended its campaign near the Baltic Sea. It operated over the North Caucasus, the Orel-Briansk sector, Smolensk, Belorussia, the Baltic littoral, and East Prussia. It carried out a total of 1,134 mission sorties on the Southern, Don, Western, 3rd Belorussian, and 1st Baltic fronts (Cottam 1997, 16). In the North Caucasus, the regiment was subordinated to 4th Air Army; on the 3rd Belorussian front to 5th Guards Air Corps of 16th Air Army; and on the 1st Baltic front to 4th Guards Bomber Aviation Division, 1st Guards Air Corps of 3rd Air Army. The regiment acquired the honorific "M. M. Raskova" on May 4, 1943, for successful operations in the North Caucasus and was assigned the new designation, 125th, on September 23, 1943. On July 10, 1944, the unit was granted the honorific "Borisovsky" for its role in the liberation of Borisov, Belarus. It was awarded the Orders of Kutuzov and Suvorov III Class at the level appropriate to aviation regiments. On August 18, 1945, three pilots and two navigators of the regiment became Heroes of the Soviet Union.

Representative participants who were not awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union honor were:

Galina Brok-Beltsova (b. 1925), Guards lieutenant and navigator. With pilot Antonina Bondareva-Spitsyna, Brok-Beltsova joined the regiment with the replacement squadron in the spring of 1944 and received her baptism of fire on June 23, 1944, during the beginning of the Belorussian operation. She flew thirty-six combat missions during the war.

Antonina Khokhlova-Dubkova (b. 1919), Guards senior lieutenant and radio operator- gunner. Khokhlova-Dubkova was the regiment’s sole female gunner until the arrival of the all-female squadron in the spring of 1944. In an interview, she described her two machine guns (out of a total of five aboard her aircraft), one of which required her to manipulate 60 kilograms to rearm it.

Elena Kulkova-Maliutina (b. 1917), Guards lieutenant and pilot. She joined the regiment with the replacement squadron in the spring of 1944. On July 24, 1944, although seriously wounded in the abdomen over Lithuania and repeatedly revived by navigator Elena Iushina, Kulkova-Maliutina managed to land safely; two months later she was back in action. A participant in the Victory Parade, she subsequently flew a Tu-2 in a men’s aviation regiment until her retirement in 1949.

Marta Meriuts (b. 1909), Guards lieutenant colonel and chief of communications. She was assigned to Raskova’s Air Group No. 122 after recovering from a serious head wound and the loss of vision in one eye. In an interview, Meri-uts stated that at a postwar Kremlin reception the front commander to whom her regiment was subordinated was unaware that its aircrews consisted of women.

Natalia Smirnova (b. 1924), Guards sergeant and radio operator-gunner. She was a member of the replacement squadron that arrived in the spring of 1944. In an interview, Smirnova told how on one mission the gunner had to stand facing the tail of the aircraft, her head emerging from the hatchway. Once, over Libava, an enemy shell blew open the lower hatch cover, and she was thrown upward out of the aircraft but managed to get back inside.

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