Ever since Sun Tzu wrote the art of war, it has been a strategic guideline for many military generals around the world. The book has inspired many generals around the world to implement stunning tactics at a crucial time during the war to gain an upper hand against the enemy. Surprising the enemy and optimal use of available resources in hand are of utmost importance during war. Because resources are scarce during war. In the long run, it can result in massive advantage. The following blog will discuss one such event from World War II where these techniques were used to deceive the enemy.
The Night Witches: Nachthexen
The Soviet Union’s 588th night bomber regiment in World War II was a special unit. Consisting only of female pilots, it was formed by Colonel Marina Raskova and led by Major Yevdokia Bershanskaya.The regiment turned out to be one of the most deadly bombers in the history of World War II.
During the peak of the war, countries constantly designed and used high-tech bombers for cross border attacks. The Germans had one of the most intelligent engineering team, which complemented their superior military might. As a result, Hitler’s invasion of Soviet Union was unstoppable. The German army successfully captured Leningrad grounding Soviet Union’s air troops. By November 1941, the Germans were only 20 miles away from Moscow.
With no access to new bombers, the Soviet army called Marina Raskova, a decorated aviatrix to organize a regiment of female air troopers to fly night combat missions. In a brilliant strategic move, Marina Raskova suggested that they use the obsolete Polikarpov Po-2 wooden biplanes as bombers. These airplanes were used to train pilots; they were lightweight and flew low altitude. Moreover, they could only carry bombs that weighted less than a ton combined.
Marina Raskova chose these airplanes because radars were at their infancy and could detect only high altitude, huge metallic objects fitted with radio. However Polikarpov was wooden, had no radio. They flew their mission on June 8, 1942.Consisting of three planes; they targeted the German headquarters of the division. The Germans were laid back after capturing Leningrad, did not expect an air strike of this magnitude, and had lowered their defense. Neither could their radars detect the ‘Night witches’. The raid was successful causing massive damage to the German command center. The unprepared German troops opened gunfire only to realize that the wooden wings of the Polikarpov though riddled with bullets was still able to fly.
As a result, the German troops were unable to shoot down many planes that entered their territory. The Night Witches used the technique of gliding, i.e.” switching of the engines near the target and glide to the release point” this resulted in only wind noise left to reveal their location. (Citation: Wikipedia) .Making them almost undetectable.
The Night witches carried out their exploits throughout the war when troops were laid back. On an average each pilot flew 800 missions and the entire regiment dropped somewhere between 2750 to 3000 tons of bombs killing thousands of ground troops and razing important command centers and buildings. Losing only thirty pilots. The damage that they inflicted on the enemy was truly disproportionate.
The above incident is truly an example of how a strategic use of available resources and surprising the enemy can result in an unfair advantage.