Because Hitler's Operation Barbarossa caught the Soviet Air Force on the ground in June of 1941, nearly annihilating it, Stalin out of desperation created three Female Air Regiments. And by the War's end nearly 1,000 Russian women had flown with valor and bravery in every type of Soviet combat aircraft, ranging from fighters to bombers.
Additionally, many women pilots served in all-male Red Army Air Force units: such as the "White Rose of Stalingrad," Lidya Litvyak, a petite, blonde, gray-eyed beauty who shot down 12 enemy aircraft and served with a crack male "Guards" squadron.
Then there was the all-female 586th Fighter Air Regiment credited with 38 kills - 17 of which were brought down by top ace Olga Yamshchikova.
However, perhaps some of the bravest women combat pilots were found with the all-female 588th Night Bomber Air Regiment, known as the "Night Witches." Despite being equipped with slow, obsolete PO-2 biplanes, during the course of the War, they conducted an incredible 24,000 missions behind enemy lines, and delivered 23,000 tons of bombs from their fragile wood-and-fabric aircraft. Though their casualty rate was high, so was their recognition by a grateful nation. A total of 30 citations for "Hero of the Soviet Union," Russia's highest honor, were given to women in the Soviet Air Force, - 23 of which were earned by the 588th Night Witches.