Marina Raskova was born in the Russian Empire, later the Soviet Union, in 1912 to middle class parents as Marina Malinina. Her father was a well-known opera singer, her mother was a teacher, and her aunt was also a singer. It was an early goal in Raskova’s life to take a musical route with her career. Unlike many aviatrices, she did not dream about flying till much later in her life.
In 1919 when she was seven years old, Raskova’s father passed away. She continued to study music, but later quit when she thought that she was not up to the rigor of the program. Instead, she studied chemistry in high school.
In 1929 she worked in a dye factory as a chemist. It was then when she met Sergei Raskov, an engineer. They married and in 1930 she gave birth to a daughter. This would be their only child.
She changed her career path again in 1931 when she went to work at the Aerodynamic Navigation Lab of Air Force as a draftswoman, and in 1933, she became the first female navigator at a prestigious air academy.
In 1934 she began teaching aviation and navigation at the Zhukovisku Air Academy, and divorced Sergei Raskov a year after beginning. She remained at the Academy and set a few long distance records during her tenure. As pilots during this era were revered and given huge amounts of celebrity status in the Soviet Union, Raskova became quite famous. One of her long distance records was completed in 1938, when she flew from Moscow to Komsomolsk, a distance that was almost six thousand kilometers. It took 26 and a half hours to reach the destination, but because of the poor visibility, it was impossible to find landing ground. She and her pilots, Polina Osipenko and Valentina Grizodubova, had to fly further. Because the navigator pit was the most vulnerable part of the aircraft, Raskova was forced to parachute out. She survived with no water and almost no food for ten days before she was rescued. All three women were named Heroes of the Soviet Union, which was the first time any woman had the honor, and the only time that women received it for acts done outside the wars.
The Germans invaded the Soviet Union on the 22nd of June in 1941. This marked a switch in alliance as the Soviet Union moved from semi-Axis allegiance to the Allies. Before this date, only a small percentage of women served in aviation groups in the military. As many women at this time had received reputations and licenses from various aviation clubs, this was seen as a great loss to the country. Many women who later joined the all-women’s or women friendly aviation units recounted tales of asking to enlist but being denied, even though they might have had better credentials than their male counterparts.
Raskova proposed the formation of the women’s aviation units and met with the upper levels of the Soviet government, including Joseph Stalin. Raskova was an incredibly known person, due to her gained celebrity as an aviator, thus it would not have been difficult for her to gain an audience with the higher levels in the government. After a difficult time getting authorization to organize women combat units, despite her fame, the groups were formed in 1941. The groups were as follows: 46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, the 125th Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment, and the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment. The latter two groups let in males, while the first group was all-female throughout the war.
Raskova commanded the 125th Regiment. The office was later passed to Valentin Markov upon Raskova’s death. She died in a flying accident on the 4th of January in 1943.
Legacy: She was posthumously awarded the Order of Patriotic War 1st Class.
Her influence over the aviation regiments was so great that many women feared that the groups would be shut down after her death. This was not the case.
Pennington, Reina, and John Erickson. Wings, Women, and War: Soviet Airwomen in World War II Combat. Lawrence: U of Kansas, 2001. Print.