Growing up in a middle-class, musically-inclined family in Stalin’s Russia was no easy thing. Her father an opera singer, her mother a music teacher, it was little wonder that the child Marina Malinina dreamed of a musical career. But during her teen years, she became more interested in chemistry (likely to the dismay of her parents, dealing with teenage angst). Certainly chemistry offered more opportunities in the Soviet Union than singing. After graduating from high school in 1929 AD, she obtained employment in a dye factory as a chemist; there she met and married Sergei Raskov (thus changing her name to Raskova). The next year Marina began working at the Aero Navigation Laboratory of the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy in the drafting department. Here began her fascination with flight.
Two years later Raskova joined the Red Army Air Force, becoming the service’s first female navigator. Within a year she had her pilot’s certificate and was teaching navigation. In a world swept up in enthusiasm (and a certain prurient interest) for female aviatrix, she joined two others (Polina Osipenko and Valentina Grizodubova) to set long distance flying records, notably the “Flight of the Rodina” (a modified Tupolev DB-2B) in 1938 from Moscow to Komsomolsk (roughly 3700 miles). For this she (and the other two) was the first woman to receive the “Hero of the Soviet Union” medal.
But when the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa in 1941, Marina’s path changed. Because of her status as a “hero” she was able to convince Stalin to allow her to form all-female combat regiments. Although burdened with obsolete planes (as were most Red Army squadrons), she created the 46th Guards Night Bomber Regiment (which became infamous among the Germans as the “Night Witches”), the 125th Guards Bomber Regiment (dropped 980 tons on the enemy), and the 586th Fighter Regiment (38 confirmed kills as bomber escorts). In the bitter skies over Russia, casualties were high. Raskova herself was killed in January 1943 while attempting to make a forced landing on the banks of the Volga River.