During World War II, most women in the various countries at war were only given limited roles, usually away from the battle zone. Most of the time, they were assigned as nurses, factory workers, or maybe drivers to replace the men going off to war. The idea of bringing the ladies into the chaotic and dangerous areas of the conflict did not sit right in the minds of the government and military officers, regardless of how much these women wanted to fight. The Soviet Union had a different view, as they allowed their women to be more involved in the war, both in taking supporting roles and on the front line.
Here are some of the roles that the women of the Soviet Union took during the Second World War:
Some of the women tasked to become pilots already knew how to fly an aircraft even before joining, as they were part of flying clubs. It was Major Marina Raskova who used her personal contacts and influence with Joseph Stalin to gain permission to format a female combat unit. The result was the all-female military aviators of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment that would be later known as the 46th “Taman” Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment. To the Germans that they were attacking, they were simply called the Night Witches.
These volunteers who were in their late teens or early twenties would fly with their rickety Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, an aircraft practically made of plywood and fabric. That, plus their night bombing technique that involved idling the engine near their target and gliding toward where they were supposed to drop the bomb that left the wind noise from their wooden plane to be heard, was the reason the Germans called them Night Witches, comparing them to the “whoosh” of the broomsticks.
These ladies, despite their pretty crude planes, were pretty hard to find, catch, and fight that the Germans promised that a single kill of these rickety planes would get them an Iron Cross.
Many of the female snipers of the USSR gained popularity. Many of them took the role and did not survive the war. Even so, they were good at what they did. The snipers would often work alone in pairs as they camouflaged themselves in vantage points where they could spy on the enemies.
Most of the time, their targets were the German officers, as their death would render the German front-liners leaderless. Those who were really good, like Lyudmila Pavlichenko, were given more and more difficult missions that included counter-sniping. Their role was to observe, locate, and neutralize enemy snipers. Pavlichenko was so good at sniping that she racked up 309 confirmed kills.
The women scouts had to learn how to fight and sneak as they crept through the thick forest toward the enemy lines, crawling through the mud and moving carefully not to be spotted as they surveyed the German positions. They lived in the forests and swamps for weeks, all while enduring cold and exposure, as well as hunger. Being caught was not an option as it would mean torture and definitely death to be set as an example to others.
Albina Alexandrovna Gantimurova, a sergeant major of scouts, had her fair share of experiences being a scout that was forever etched in her mind even when the war was over. She would dream about the battles, the memories of ambushes, jammed guns, and everything in between. As an article by The Spectator wrote, at one point, Gantimurova recalled: “nearly shooting an adolescent member of the German Volkssturm in Berlin before he burst into tears and took her hand.”