Wings, Women, and War
Soviet Airwomen in World War II Combat
The Soviet Union was the first nation to allow women pilots to fly combat missions. During World War II the Red Air Force formed three all-female units—grouped into separate fighter, dive bomber, and night bomber regiments—while also recruiting other women to fly with mostly male units. Their amazing story, fully recounted for the first time by Reina Pennington, honors a group of fearless and determined women whose exploits have not yet received the recognition they deserve.
Pennington chronicles the creation, organization, and leadership of these regiments, as well as the experiences of the pilots, navigators, bomb loaders, mechanics, and others who made up their ranks, all within the context of the Soviet air war on the Eastern Front. These regiments flew a combined total of more than 30,000 combat sorties, produced at least thirty Heroes of the Soviet Union, and included at least two fighter aces.
“A vivid and often moving saga of women in combat. Both harrowing and inspiring, it should become a classic of World War II aviation history.”
—World War II History
“Extraordinary and often deeply moving.”
—Times Literary SupplementSee all reviews...
“The first-hand stories of the women who fought in the war give this work an immediacy and personal touch that add greatly to the narrative. . . . Pennington prove[s] that women did indeed play a significant part in the conflict.”
—War in History
“This book illuminates an almost completely misunderstood chapter in the history of world War II air operations. It underscores the fact that, Soviet propaganda aside, the Great Patriotic War against the Third Reich demanded tremendous sacrifices from every segment of Soviet society. Air Force leaders and students of history alike will find Wings, Women, and War valuable reading. Whatever one’s beliefs regarding the role of women in aerial combat, this book offers food for thought.”
—Air & Space Power Journal
“An exciting new window into an area of Soviet military history that has received very little attention in the west. Pennington’s portrayals of these committed, competent, and courageous female aviators really transcends gender and says more about hard work and love of the motherland.”
“A valuable addition to the literature on women in war, and in particular Soviet women at war. Pennington’s insights and analysis constitute original contributions to Soviet military history as well as Soviet social history. . . . Of all the work done on Soviet women aviators in World War II, Pennington’s is the most comprehensive, combining extensive research, interviews, and critical analysis. This work will be greatly valuable to and appreciated by the professional historian of World War II, women in war, and Soviet social history, and by the general reader interested in detailed explanation and human-interest stories of people at war. This is an enjoyable read and a noteworthy addition to Soviet and World War Ii history.”
—American Historical Review
“A significant contribution to the history of women in combat. There is no doubt that it will become a standard in the field-and the starting point for future studies of the role of Soviet women in World War II.”
—Journal of Military History
“Pennington’s chilling tale of savage combat and incredible bravery and of the struggle of these pilots for recognition and acceptance will forever bury the myth that women cannot fight. A masterful and groundbreaking account of courageous women warriors.”
—Carlo DEste, author of Patton: A Genius for War
“Pennington conveys wholly fresh, vivid, often unique and revealing insights drawn from a formidable and fascinating array of evidence. Much of her book is deeply moving. It is impossible not to be stirred, even appalled, by the fate of some of these women.”
—John Erickson, author of The Road to Stalingrad
“Pennington’s meticulous research, dogged investigative skills, and clear writing make this book an instant classic in its field and a virtual model for future authors who write on the subject of women in war.”
—David M. Glantz, coauthor of The Battle of Kursk
“A fine, detailed study of the conflict between combat roles and gender roles. Must reading for all serious students of women’s military history.”
—Linda Grant De Pauw, author of Battle Cries and LullabiesSee fewer reviews...
Among their ranks were women like Marina Raskova ("the Soviet Amelia Earhart"), a renowned aviator who persuaded Stalin in 1941 to establish the all-women regiments; the daredevil "night witches" who flew ramshackle biplanes on nocturnal bombing missions over German frontlines; and fighter aces like Liliia Litviak, whose twelve "kills" are largely unknown in the West. She also tells the story of Alexander Gridnev, a fighter pilot twice arrested by the Soviet secret police before he was chosen to command the women's fighter regiment.
Pennington draws upon personal interviews and the Soviet archives to detail the recruitment, training, and combat lives of these women. Deftly mixing anecdote with analysis, her work should find a wide readership among scholars and buffs interested in the history of aviation, World War II, or the Russian military, as well as anyone concerned with the contentious debates surrounding military and combat service for women.