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Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis

Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

Samantha Vajskop

INTRODUCTION disaster for the Allied forces and the rest of

the world. The ability of the Red Army to
No historian of World War II would hold off the Nazis can be attributed to a
deny the critical contribution of the Soviet number of factors: the sheer size of the Red
Union to victory over the Axis powers. Army even after its purge; tenacious and
Expanding into the Soviet Union was a brutal defense by the Soviets of their
fundamental part of Hitler’s foreign policy. homeland; Hitler’s underestimation of both
In his Second Book, Hitler repeats over and the durability of Stalin’s regime and the
over his main goal: to obtain lebensraum, or technological level of the Red Army,
living space, in order to accommodate the especially in light of the Soviet T-34 tank.
German population.1 By merely looking at a However, one of the greatest factors
map to see the size of the Soviet Union in contributing to the success of the Soviet
the late 1930s, it becomes clear why Hitler Union in holding off the German army is
looked to the Soviet Union in order to obtain one that is often overlooked: the involve-
that necessary lebensraum. The Red Army ment of Soviet women. While their actions
on the Eastern Front was fighting ninety and involvement have been addressed by a
percent of the Nazi forces at the height of number of authors and researchers,2 the fact
German involvement in that theatre. The that their involvement was necessary to the
Soviet Union’s occupation of the Nazi victory of the Red Army over the Nazi
forces in the Eastern Theatre led to the forces is not directly addressed. In fact, it
Allied ability and opportunity to strike in the would have been considerably more diffi-
West and ultimately open up a two-front war cult, if not impossible, for the Red Army to
against Nazi Germany. That two-front war, hold the Nazis without the Soviet women’s
in addition to Hitler’s unrealistic expect- involvement.
ations for the army he spread too thinly, was
what led to the surrender of the Nazis and 2
Kazimiera Cottam has spent her historical career,
the end of World War II in Europe. including Defending Leningrad: Women Behind
Without the Soviet Union’s engage- Enemy Lines and Women in Air War: The Eastern
ment of the German forces in the Eastern Front of World War II, documenting Soviet women
Theatre, World War II could have ended in and their involvement in and achievements during
World War II. In A Dance with Death: Soviet
Airwomen in World War II, Anne Noggle focuses
Samantha Vajskop, of Brecksville, Ohio, is a mainly on Soviet women’s contributions in that
2008 graduate of the Ashbrook Scholar branch. Barbara Alpern Engel’s Women in
Imperial, Soviet, and Post-Soviet Russia and Women
Program, having majored in History and in Russia, 1700-2000 explores Soviet women’s
Political Science. combat involvement and social significance.
Melanie Ilič focuses on women in the workforce and
Gerhard L. Weinberg, ed., Hitler’s Second Book: their training in Women in the Stalin Era. Nearly all
The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf by Adolf authors listed in the bibliography have some focus
Hitler (New York: Enigma Books, 2003), 1-50. on Soviet women’s involvement in the war effort.

Elena's War: Russian Women in Combat

While the discussion of women’s was ultimately not able to achieve this state
roles in wartime is not a new subject, we because of Stalin himself. In studying
tend to view women as the supporting Soviet women, we also study their leader,
actresses in the grand film of World War II. Stalin. We see how Stalin’s personal views
Most are familiar with the stories of head- regarding women affect Soviet policies and
strong nurses, valiant factory workers, and actions. Stalin would probably never have
brave wives and mothers who made victory allowed women to participate in combat
possible. But the stories we do not hear are without some sort of force compelling him
those of the anti-aircraft gunners, the fighter in that direction. But Stalin ultimately had
pilots, the snipers, and the partisans who to set his bias against women aside for the
engaged in actual combat with the enemy. good of the state and for the higher goals of
The stories of these women in combat may real Marxism. However, Stalin’s ability to
be familiar to the citizens of countries like separate his own goals from the goals of the
Great Britain and the United States, but the Marxist state diminished after the war when,
stories about women in the Soviet Union contrary to traditional Marxism, Stalin
have been altogether lost in the fray. basically forced women back into specific
In a country that, to this day, “has no gender roles.
real politics except for that which takes The importance of women’s—parti-
place in the narrow and inscrutable space cularly Soviet women’s—involvement in
between the ears of its President,”3 it is World War II is not disputed. The U.S.
difficult to discover Russia’s past as the Ambassador to London, John G. Winant,
Soviet Union. The Soviet Union’s archives claimed that World War II, “more than any
have only recently become available to the other war in history, is a woman’s war.”4
rest of the world. There is a wealth of He was, without doubt, correct. But in the
information in those archives that remains Soviet Union—as was the case in all the
untapped. Some of the information we are countries involved—women were typically
now discovering raises interesting questions underrepresented politically; very few
about the Soviet Union, its ideology, and its women were represented in significant
citizens. The topic of Soviet women in government positions. In addition, women
World War II raises all these questions and were kept on a lower economic level in
indeed helps to answer some of them. these countries as well; paying women less
The insights offered by the study of than men for the same work was the norm in
Soviet women in World War II are not all of those countries.5 But in terms of their
merely specific to women. In trying to involvement in World War II, women were
understand Soviet attitudes towards women treated surprisingly differently by these
and the roles they should play in the state, major powers.
we begin to understand the nature of the Historian Michael C.C. Adams notes
Marxist state, and how different the ideal that America alone refused altogether to put
Marxist state was from Stalin’s implement- women into battle zones.6 Many women
ation of communism in the Soviet Union.
The pure Marxist state views everyone 4
I.C.B. Dear and M.R.D. Foot, eds., The Oxford
equally, and expects an equal contribution Companion to World War II (New York: Oxford
from everyone. The Soviet Union under University Press, 1995), 1275.
Stalin made progress in this direction, but it Jill Stephenson, Women in Nazi Germany (Great
Britain: Pearson Education Limited, 2001), 136.
Michael C.C. Adams, The Best War Ever: America
David Remnick, “The Tsar’s Opponent,” The New and World War II (Baltimore, MD: The John
Yorker, 1 October 2007, 65. Hopkins University Press, 1994), 85.

Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

were encouraged instead to work in factories What makes the Soviet Union’s
to help the war effort. Some women were situation so unique has more to do with
accepted into the armed forces, but they Soviet ideology. In freer nations like Great
tended to be assigned to stereotypical low- Britain, women’s participation in war was
level jobs like typing and sometimes expected because British women had the
cleaning.7 Moreover, women who joined freedom to otherwise contribute to their
the military forfeited their dependency state. When one explores the history of
allowance, a stipend given to POWs and Soviet and communist ideologies, one can
their families if the POW was found thirty begin to understand the novelty of allowing
percent or more disabled,8 thus discouraging women to participate in war, not merely out
their combat participation. In addition, preg- of desperation for troops, but more
nant soldiers were discharged along with importantly out of principle. The Soviet
“menopausal personnel” (because this Union tends to be understood as a nation
natural life change, according to male that suppressed its people. But when this
soldiers, would render women “permanently same country was the first in World War II
incapacitated”).9 In a country that at that to use women in combat with regular armed
time was already considered the freest in the forces14, more research and understanding is
world, women were actively discouraged called for.
from even rear-echelon slots, which would
otherwise have been given to men to keep
them from the front lines; women were very THE HISTORY OF SOVIET
hesitant to join the war effort when “doing IDEOLOGY: A STUDY IN
so might send a man to die.”10
Great Britain stood on the opposite
end of the spectrum. In 1941, the United
Who broke the chains that bound our
Kingdom became the very first country to
feet, now dancing,
conscript women.11 British women actively
Who opened lips that sing a joyous
defended the nation against Hitler’s
Luftwaffe (often in anti-aircraft or non-
Who made the mourners change
combat roles), and there were even female
their tears for laughter,
officers in command of male soldiers.12
Brought back the dead to life’s
While Great Britain’s conscription of
rejoicing throng.
women had a slow start, nowhere was the
Who is in heart, in every thought and
mobilization of women more effective than
in the UK and the Soviet Union.13 Why not,
Most loving, true and wise of Lenin’s
then, study British women in World War II?
Ibid. Such is the great Stalin. 15
Department of Veterans Affairs, “Former Prisoners
of War,” available from An understanding of the history of the Soviet Union and its ideology can only
FormerPrisonersOfWar.htm; Internet; accessed 9
October 2007.
9 14
Adams, The Best War Ever, 85. Ibid., 1276.
10 15
Ibid., 86. John M. Thompson, Russia and the Soviet Union:
Dear, The Oxford Companion, 1276. An Historical Introduction from the Kievan State to
Adams, The Best War Ever, 86. the Present, 5th Edition (Boulder, CO: Westview
Dear, The Oxford Companion, 1277. Press, 2004), 217.

Elena's War: Russian Women in Combat

come through an appreciation of its leaders In totalitarian regimes, it is necessary

and their beliefs. Perhaps Hitler put it best: to exercise absolute control over both the
“Brilliant leadership can, of course, make a state itself and over the people who are
people focus on major goals, distracting it subject to it. In order to achieve this goal,
more from material things in order to serve leaders of totalitarian states often employ the
grand spiritual ideals.”16 The Soviet way of use of violence. Violence, however, is not
governing is difficult to place into any one used so much to frighten the people as “to
category. The Stalinist system alone can realize constantly [the state’s] ideological
perhaps “best be summed up as a blend of doctrines.”21 In Soviet Russia, opposition to
Bolshevism (one-party rule), industrial- the leaders or the state was in no way
ization (mobilization and total control), and tolerated; there were no exceptions. If
Stalinism (paranoia and the use of terror).”17 Russia was going to save itself from German
The most important factor in the Soviet fascism, “the strictest order and iron
regime, however, is the leader or head of the discipline” were absolutely necessary.22
state. This was especially the case during war.
Many aspects of human activity for Part of the code of conduct for Soviet
Russians had historically been either admi- soldiers calls for members of any given
nistered or regulated by the state.18 This division to “shoot on the spot cowards and
began arguably since the reign of Peter the those who panic” in order to fulfill their duty
Great, but definitely since the 19th Century. to the Motherland.23
The state held a powerful sway over The reason such control and such
intellectual life, including influence over the violence is necessary in the minds of
Russian Orthodox Church, the Academy of totalitarian leaders is because of the need to
Sciences, all of higher education and most of create the perfect citizen. The totalitarian
primary and secondary education, and cen- ideal is a society whose members all think
sorship in all these areas.19 Before their and act in exactly the same manner. Stalin’s
emancipation, no less than two-fifths of the predecessor and idol, V.I. Lenin, stated that
40 million peasants in European Russia were “Any cook should be able to run this coun-
directly administered by the state.20 The try.”24 What he meant was that all people
state told peasants which days they had to had an equally important role in govern-
work for others, which days (if any) they ment. He believed every person should be
were allowed to work their own lands, and such a committed participant in the regime
how much of what they grew they were able that he or she could serve in a leadership
to keep. Hence the tight control of the position. Lenin often emphasized that he
populace was not an idea specific to the was merely one of the people, and he set the
Soviet regime. Throughout its history, example of a good, true citizen. In other
Russia’s state has held immense control of words, both men and women must be
every aspect of its operation. dedicated to a higher cause than themselves

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
Weinberg, Hitler’s Second Book, 16. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers,
Thompson, Russia and the Soviet Union, 223. 1979), 341.
18 22
Thomas Riha, ed., “The Nature of Imperial Russian Evan Mawdsley, The Stalin Years: The Soviet
Society” in Readings in Russian Civilization, Vol. Union 1929-1953 (Great Britain: Manchester
II: Imperial Russia , 1700-1917 (Chicago: The University Press, 2003), 135.
University of Chicago Press, 1969), 480. Ibid.
19 24
Ibid., 481. Julius I. Löwenstein, Marx Against Marxism
Ibid. (London: Routledge, Kegan & Paul, 1980), 199.

Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

and their personal survival. This higher were all temporary.27 The real repayment
cause was the success and good of their and result of their hard work was in a better
regime. In Lenin’s (and later Stalin’s) eyes, future life for all, a common promise of
Marxism was the new way of the future; all socialism. Party members and government
countries would eventually become com- propaganda told the Soviets that “Perhaps
munist regimes. Since Soviet leaders knew you, but certainly your children, will enjoy
what the best life would eventually be for all prosperity and happiness in the decades
people, they had to ensure that their citizens ahead.”28 Much like his persuasive tactics,
would work to achieve that end. the incentives Stalin offered to his people
While many of these ideas originated were equally distant and oriented to the
during Lenin’s term as ruler, Stalin perpet- greater good. His greatest incentives were
uated and, in many cases, made this the old Marxist slogans “from each
approach even more extreme. Stalin was a according to his work” and “to each
much more paranoid and intense character according to his needs.”29 This gave the
who never seemed fully satisfied with the Soviet workers and army the hope that any
commitment of the Soviet citizenry. He great effort would eventually see a great
intensified and seemed to perfect the reward. The coercion that Stalin resorted to
indoctrination suggested by his predecessor. reverted back to the violence discussed
World War II came as a shock to both the earlier: purges for the army, and forced labor
people and to the government. The army camps for the citizens.
was completely unprepared: their arms were Under Stalin, art, sciences, educa-
inadequate, morale was low, the purges had tion, sports, some religion, and the writing
already destroyed some of the country’s best and teaching of history “were expected to
military minds, and the Five Year Plans orient [the peoples’] goals and activities to
were not living up to the state’s expect- promote industrialization.”30 While the lives
ations.25 Stalin encouraged a revival of of his citizens were completely controlled by
Russian nationalism. He depicted war not the state, Stalin’s approach was successful
merely as a struggle against fascism, but and convincing enough for his people. The
rather as a new phase of a historical struggle people even seemed satisfied with the state
with the Germans: “Our aim is clear and of affairs. When asked whether Stalin’s
honorable. We want to free our Soviet land measures were worth the costs in terms of
from the German-fascist scoundrels.”26 work and life, a Soviet citizen replied “Yes,
In order to ensure complete parti- yes, it was a frightful price to pay, but it was
cipation by the Soviet people in his all worth it—it made us strong and res-
industrialization programs (and hence the pected!”31 In addition, noted historian
state), Stalin painted a picture of the future Richard Overy explains that the people who
of the Soviet regime that was good in all its went along with the Soviet system acted not
parts. The future, he promised, would be because of fear but rather “because they
“good times” with material comfort for the found their own expectations and beliefs
people; their hard work, low pay, and reflected to some degree in the dictator-
difficult working conditions in the present
25 27
Dr, David J. Dallin, et al., Facts On Communism Ibid.
Volume II: The Soviet Union, From Lenin to Ibid.
Khrushchev (Washington, D.C.: US Government Ibid., 224.
Printing Office, 1961), 218. Ibid., 225.
26 31
Ibid., 232-233. Ibid., 218.

Elena's War: Russian Women in Combat

ships.”32 Stalin’s propaganda appealed to However, the Soviet state did not merely
the citizens’ hopes and beliefs in a brighter encourage the nuclear family to be strength-
future at the cost of sacrifice in the present. ened; it also wished to cultivate and
Men and women who may have been strengthen the idea of a national family. As
apathetic about the regime before the war Engel notes, the national community “was
could not avoid being physically and imagined as a brotherhood,”35 creating in the
emotionally involved thanks to Stalin’s minds of the Soviets a closer familial bond.
efforts. Stalin’s propaganda reflected the idea of the
But Marxist-Leninist ideology and state as family. Stalin was often depicted on
propaganda was not quite sufficient to posters surrounded by happy children
mobilize ordinary people to fight enthusi- grateful to the state; the purpose of the
astically. Stalin simultaneously utilized and posters was to show that “Stalin was the
backed away from traditional Marxism to biggest and best father of all.”36 Thus, in
accomplish his goals with the people. In Engel’s words, the state “sought to
order to engage the people more fully during appropriate the ‘personal’ or the ‘private’ for
World War II, the communists emphasized purposes of its own.”37 Stalin and the Soviet
patriotism instead of emphasizing the ulti- state linked the common citizen to national
mate goal of a proletarian state. Instead of concerns. Instead of merely being associated
appealing to a somewhat dehumanized with economic survival, Stalin’s efforts
worker (or proletariat) motivated by eco- identified communists with “the survival of
nomic change, Stalin appealed to the the entire nation.”38
Russian peoples’ love of their homeland and Stalinist principles can best be seen
hope for the future of their great nation and in one major body of the state: the Russian
regime. Given that a goal of Marxism is the Army. Dedication to a higher cause was
eradication of bourgeois property, persuad- necessary in all aspects of Soviet life, but
ing the people to think of their collective this was especially true of the Russian army.
homeland and their collective country as a The Russian army had a history of strict
kind of communal property was in keeping discipline and high expectations. From Peter
with general Marxist ideology, but was also the Great’s overhaul of the army in the
catered to Stalin’s need to engage the 1700s to at least the end of World War II,
people. For example, the external controls members were expected to be of the highest
on the collective farm, or kolkhoz, were caliber; citizens were required to serve for
much more relaxed directly before the war;33 life, and promotions could only be earned
since most of the kolkhoz areas were occu- based on merit rather than privilege.39
pied during the war, restrictions were rarely Every male citizen at that time was taught
if ever enforced. The average farm worker that service to the state was expected, and
enjoyed greater freedom, in a sense. In only real dedication would reap any reward.
addition, from the mid-1930s, the Soviet
state began to emphasize the necessity of 35
Barbara Alpern Engel, Women in Russia 1700-
strengthening the conventional family.34 2000 (New York: Cambridge University Press,
2004), 190.
32 36
Richard Overy, The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany, Ibid, 179.
Stalin’s Russia (New York: W.W. Norton & Ibid.
Company, Inc., 2004), 306. Overy’s text explores David M. Glantz and Jonathan House, When Titans
the dictatorships of both Stalin and Hitler, and he Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler
refers to both here. (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas,
Mawdsley, The Stalin Years, 46. 1995), 289-290.
34 39
Ibid, 51. Thompson, Russia and the Soviet Union, 104.

Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

This was still the mindset under Soviet protecting it and its principles. With this
control. However, violence was used more insight, we can begin to explore the signi-
often by the Soviet regime to keep the army ficance of the impact of totalitarianism on
in line. Historians Calvocoressi and Wint women in Soviet Russia, and why these
observe that the Russian army had no women became so eager to join in the
historical inclination towards revolution; the combat in World War II.
Russian Army’s “sole attempt to usurp the
civil power—the Decembrist coup of 1825
—had collapsed after a day.”40 SOVIET IDEOLOGY
By 1939, however, the Red Army APPLIED TO WOMEN
was in disarray due to Stalin’s purge of the
Soviet leadership.41 Beginning in 1934, In order to understand Soviet
Stalin systematically annihilated anyone in policies regarding women, one must
the Soviet government whom he viewed as a understand Stalin’s own relationships with
competitor for power.42 While Stalin had and personal views of women. There were
“always loved the Red Army,” he had many only three significant women in his life: his
experiences during the Civil War in which mother, his first wife Yekaterina Svanidze,
he witnessed soldiers betraying the and his second wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva
Revolution. This made him deeply suspi- (Nadya). His mother and father had an
cious of professional soldiers.43 The purges abusive relationship, and both his parents hit
of the Red Army were “secret and hasty,” Stalin in his youth.45 In his adulthood,
unlike those in the rest of the government; of Stalin asked his mother about the beatings
the 75,000 to 80,000 officers in the Red she gave him in his childhood, and she
Army, at least 30,000 were imprisoned or answered, “That’s why you turned out so
executed.44 The public reason behind the well”; Stalin never attended his mother’s
purges seemed to be that there were better funeral.46 Based on his parents’ relation-
potential combatants who were better revo- ship, Stalin probably learned that women
lutionaries for their motherland. The state were just as harsh, just as capable of
was looking for a kind of revolutionary violence as men. We can see that Stalin had
fervor—i.e. absolute loyalty to Stalin— a fairly strained relationship with his
which was the most important quality for a mother, and she probably sparked Stalin’s
soldier in the Red Army. dislike for strong women.
The idea of the perfect citizen, for In fact, Stalin had a strained relation-
Stalin, was one who was willing and able to ship with almost all women he encountered.
fight for his (and eventually, her) country. The only exception to this may have been
This would create the perfect society. Stalin his first wife, Yekaterina. They married c.
wanted society in which a cook could not 1905, but she died in 1907. Their relation-
only run the government, but was also more ship, however brief, had a profound effect
than willing to fight and possibly die on Stalin. He told a friend at her funeral,
“This creature softened my stony heart. She
Peter Calvocoressi and Guy Wint, Total War: The is dead and with her have died my last warm
Story of World War II (New York: Random House,
1972), 161.
41 45
Glantz and House, When Titans Clashed, 10. Martin Amis, Koba the Dread: Laughter and the
Ibid. Twenty Million (New York: Random House, 2002),
Ibid., 11. 98.
44 46
Ibid. Ibid, 101.

Elena's War: Russian Women in Combat

feelings for all human beings.”47 While she with ideas: skin and bones.”53 In other
left him a son, Stalin had nothing but words, a woman with ideas is merely a
contempt for him; he left him in the care of distraction, and her ideas have no substance
Yekaterina’s aunt, and is suspected to have or significance. He discredited, in some
played a “strange part in his terrible form or another, basically every woman he
death.”48 encountered. Despite his admiration for
His relationship with his second Lenin, Stalin was one of many in the party
wife, Nadya, was much different. Stalin met who at least partially (if not fully) believed
Nadya when she was an infant, and he the rumor that Lenin’s wife Krupskaya was
married her before she turned twenty. a “syphilitic whore” responsible for Lenin’s
According to historian Martin Amis, poor health; he called Krupskaya that,
“there’s no question that she idealized among other profane names, to her face.54
him.”49 However much Nadya idealized Krupskaya later noted in a letter to Boris
Stalin, she was not afraid to challenge him. Kamenev, fellow Bolshevik revolutionary
For example, Nadya heard from classmates and later leader of the Politburo, that “in the
at the Industrial Academy in Moscow how whole of thirty years, I have never heard a
horribly peasants in the Ukraine were being coarse word from a comrade” before that
treated; when she challenged Stalin about incident. 55
his conduct there, he told Nadya that such But Stalin’s coarseness was not
talk was “Trotskyite gossip.” When she limited to his dealings with Lenin’s wife.
challenged him further on the subject, he Milovan Djilas, a theorist and author in
“rebuke[d] Nadya for political indiscipline,” Yugoslavia and later critic of the Soviet
arrested the students who had told Nadya system, protested that the Red Army was
those things, and ordered a purge of all the raping Yugoslav women; Stalin said of his
colleges that had contributed manpower to soldiers, “How can such a man react normal-
collectivization.50 Perhaps because of her ly [to the stress and violence of warfare]?
strong disagreement with the political atmo- And what is so awful in his having fun with
sphere surrounding Stalin, Nadya shot her- a woman, after such horrors?”56 Stalin
self after a party in the Kremlin celebrating clearly believed that women had certain
the fifteenth anniversary of the Revolution. duties, almost all of them revolving around
At her funeral, Stalin is said to have made a subservience to men.
gesture of dismissal and mutter, “She left me But his policies in the Soviet Union
as an enemy.”51 did not show a complete disregard for
It is clear from Nadya’s example that women in his regime. Despite his other
Stalin felt threatened by intelligent women, personal experiences with women, Stalin
especially those who questioned his policies seemed willing to lay his personal bias aside
or stood in his way. Following his idol for the good of the regime. The Soviet
Lenin, Stalin felt it necessary to display and system depended on everyone—woman and
believe fully in “Great Russian chauvinism” man alike—working for the good of the
(Lenin’s words)52 at all times. Stalin said state. Soviet women were equally expected
that a woman with ideas is like “a herring to participate in, understand, and defend the
Soviet regime. Soviet ideology did not limit
Ibid, 130.
Ibid, 131.
49 53
Ibid. Ibid, 132.
50 54
Ibid, 133-134. Ibid, 109.
51 55
Ibid, 131. Ibid.
52 56
Ibid, 100. Ibid, 135.

Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

women to housework and child-rearing, service of the regime. The needs of the ideal
although that certainly was part of it. Stalin Marxist regime were not concerned very
said: much with gender. All citizens—male and
female—were to participate fully in the
The Soviet woman has the same regime because it served a greater good.
rights as a man, but that does not free Stalin makes clear that with this new
her from a great and honorable duty constitution, there would be no passive,
which nature has given her: she is a inactive citizens; “for [the new constitution],
mother, she gives life. This is cer- all citizens are active.”61
tainly not a private affair, but one of Stalin’s perspective that “personal
great social significance.57 ability and personal labor…determines the
position of every citizen in society”
But Stalin saw that women could contribute remained fairly consistent, even with regard
much more to the state than future Soviet to women.62 Stalin urged women very
citizens. In a speech in 1933, Stalin said early on to participate fully in politics. In a
that while many citizens underestimated speech to the Women Workers’ and
women, this was “a mistake, comrades, a Peasants’ Congress in 1923, Stalin
serious mistake.”58 Stalin followed once emphasized the importance of the political
again in the footsteps of his idol, Lenin, who education of women.63 While some said
wrote that “Petty housework crushes, women’s political education was unnec-
strangles, stultifies and degrades” a woman essary, Stalin defended the idea, noting that
by keeping her confined to the kitchen and educated women were necessary when
nursery instead of using her in the labor “power has passed to the hands of the
force.59 Stalin considered women very workers and peasants” since at least half of
useful to the Soviet regime, and not merely the 140 million-person population was
as co-producers of Soviet prosperity. Stalin female.64 Any uneducated citizen, especially
also thought it important to note in a 1936 a woman, could mean the ruin of the Soviet
speech that the new draft of the Constitution system. A woman can “ruin the common
of the U.S.S.R. clearly told women that they cause if she is downtrodden and backward,
“are accorded equal rights with men in all not, of course, as a result of her ill-will, but
spheres of economic, government, cultural, because of her backwardness.”65
political and other public activity.”60 Backwardness in women was a
Women were given these rights because bigger concern than backwardness in men
they were expected to use them in the because of the role women traditionally have
in raising and teaching children. Women’s
Engel, Women in Russia 1700-2000, 177-178. education was necessary to raise proper
“Speech at Joint All-Union Conference of Soviet children. Women took on the role as
Collective Farm Shock Workers”; available from
http://www.marxists. org/reference/archive/
stalin/works/subject/women/jauccf.htm; Internet; Ibid.
accessed 10 September 2007. Ibid.
59 63
Engel, Women in Imperial, Soviet, and Post-Soviet “On 5th Anniversary of First Women Workers’ and
Russia (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Peasants’ Congress”; available from
Association, 1999), 20-21. http://www.marxists. org/reference/archive/
“On the Draft Constitution of the U.S.S.R.”; stalin/works/subject/women/afww.htm; Internet;
available from accessed 10 September 2007.
reference/archive/stalin/works/subject/women/ Ibid.
conts.htm; Internet; accessed 10 September 2007. Ibid.

Elena's War: Russian Women in Combat

a primary educator in the child’s life. If a constitution of the U.S.S.R. securing

mother sympathized with and understood women’s rights, Stalin tried to persuade
the Soviet system, then she would raise good women to work on the farms because it was
children who would continue the regime and the only place where they had the opport-
strive for the highest good; if she “trail[ed] unity of “becoming equal with men.
in the wake of the priest, the kulak or the Without collective farms—inequality; in
bourgeois,” then she was a major threat to collective farms—equal rights.”70 When
the rest of the citizens and to the Soviet more women began joining the ranks on
state.66 Stalin fully recognized the necessity collective farms, Stalin encouraged men and
of good mothers to raise good Soviet women to work together. In 1944, he urged
citizens. For example, one Soviet woman, Soviet men to “welcome the growing social
Ina Konstantinova, wrote about the activity of the working women and their
education she received from her mother promotion to leading posts” as these were
about the Motherland. Upon hearing about indisputable signs of the growth of the
the German bombing of Kiev, she wrote in Soviet culture.71 When reporting on the
her diary, “[C]ould I continue as before? success of industrialization and collective
No! I ought to make myself useful to my farming, Stalin said that “without the
homeland in its hour of need, to the best of selfless labor of the men and women
my ability.”67 When her mother told her not collective farmers,” the country would not
to go to war, but rather to stay working in have been able to move forward.72
the hospital, Ina replied “This is not what Stalin tried to engrain the idea of
you have been telling me in the class- women as full participants into the minds of
room.”68 This was the sense of duty and all Soviet citizens. There had historically
honor that Stalin wanted good parents to been a “strong-woman motif” in Russian
instill in the young people of the Soviet culture, exhibited by the frequent appear-
Union. ance of the theme of Amazon women.73
While women were necessary in Epics and popular ballads in Russian history
producing dedicated citizens, Stalin also saw have sung the praises of female bogatyrs, or
the utility of women in actual physical labor. warrior heroes, and warrior maidens who
In order to cope with its economic struggles could defeat men.74 In July 1944, the Soviet
and with the oncoming war, Stalin urged the
citizens to participate in his Five Year Plans 70
for rapid industrialization. He especially en- “Report to the 17th Party Congress”; available from
couraged and praised the participation of
orks/ subject/women/rpc.htm; Internet; accessed 10
women in these programs because women September 2007.
comprised the majority of the Soviet 72
Bruce Franklin, ed. The Essential Stalin: Major
population. Stalin told the people that it was Theoretical Writings, 1905-1952 (Garden City,
their duty to encourage women to work on New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1972),
collective farms because they were a “great 399.
Laurie S. Stoff, They Fought for the Motherland:
force” needed to ensure the system’s Russia’s Women Soldiers in World War I and the
success.69 In 1933, even before the proposed Revolution (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of
Kansas, 2006), 16.
66 74
Ibid. Ibid; bogatyrs were powerful folk heroes possess-
Kazimiera J. Cottam, Defeinding Leningrad: ing superhuman strength and pursuing stereo-
Women Behind Enemy Lines (Nepean, Canada: typically manly endeavors. Warrior maidens are
New Military Publishing, 1998), 10. women who challenge the epic heroes to show
Ibid, 2. their physical superiority, but are usually later
“Speech at Joint All-Union Conference.” wooed by those same men.

Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

government launched a new campaign to during the war. On the contrary, he wanted
project exactly what qualities the iconic to first create the strongest citizenry he
Soviet woman and mother ought to have. could, and then they would better be able to
Photographs of this campaign show that the raise and educate a new generation of
ideal woman was “stern, provident, tough as intelligent, eager Soviet citizens. By 1941,
a tank driver, the nurse and teacher of one of every seven party members of the
armies to come.”75 The propaganda does CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet
not fully convey the message of Stalin’s Union) was a woman; by the same year, the
words. As Choi Chatterjee observes, trans- Komsomol youth organization provided
forming the Russian woman from an image military training for both young men and
of backwardness to a symbol of modernity women.78 In this way, the Soviet system
“served as a means of justi-fication for was somewhat liberating for women. It is
Stalinist policies.”76 Stalin changed the no surprise, then, that women were so
image of women to serve the needs of his willing and eager to participate in the state
regime and to teach Soviets (specifically and to defend Mother Russia during World
men) how women fit into the regime. We War II.
still see that the Soviet population had
trouble, in some ways, dealing with the
blurred line (or complete lack of one) THE HISTORY OF RUSSIAN
between the sexes and their gender roles WOMEN'S INVOLVEMENT IN
during the war. On one hand, there was the
ideal of a woman as an equal participant as a
man. But on the other hand, the Soviet
As Cyril Black once claimed, the
campaign also showed this ideal woman as
Soviet Union “represented a bewildering
“sweet, innocent, untroubled by hardship, let
combination of modern and traditional
alone by war.”77 The ideal Soviet woman
elements.”79 This is a perfect way to des-
was not merely a hard-working, active
cribe women’s place in Soviet Russia.
citizen; she was also a loving wife and
Women’s involvement was expected in
mother. This tension would become an issue
Soviet society, but it was not exclusive to
for men both during and after World War II
the Soviet period. Russian women had a
in dealing with women as comrades in arms.
tradition of serving beside and even
Women were under constant
commanding men. Greeks have recorded
encouragement to work in order to aid the
the involvement of Amazon women, who
state and preserve the regime. They were
controlled the south of Russia between the
educated in the Soviet ideology, and they
Don River and the Caucasus Mountains,
were expected to act as men’s equals in
fighting in war.80 Recent archaeological
terms of their participation in the state’s
excavations have uncovered the bodies of
programs. Stalin neither expected nor
wanted women to dedicate their lives solely 78
Dear, The Oxford Companion, 1276.
to the birthing and rearing of Soviet children 79
Riha, Readings in Russian Civilization¸ 491.
Dorothy Atkinson, “Society and the Sexes in the
Catherine Merridale. Ivan’s War: Life and Death Russian Past,” in Dorothy Atkinson, Alexander
in the Red Army, 1939-1945 (New York: Dallin, and Gail Lapidus, eds., Women in Russia
Metropolitan Books, 2006), 316. (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1977),
Choi Chatterjee as quoted in Melanie Ilič, Women 3-4, as cited in Anne Noggle, A Dance With Death:
in the Stalin Era (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 49. Soviet Airwomen in World War II (Texas: Texas
Merridale, Ivan’s War, 316. A&M University Press, 2002), 4.

Elena's War: Russian Women in Combat

women buried with weapons, providing the first all-female combat unit.87 By early
strong evidence that women warriors had August of that year, there were almost
lived in Pokrovka, on the Russian border 50,000 men and 4,000 women volunteers
with Kazakhstan.81 In addition, in the known to the All-Russian Central Volunteer
Russian Civil War of 1918-1922, women Committee; of those, about 1500 women
had fought with the partisan armies, were in the Moscow Battalion.88 Over the
unofficial bodies that used guerilla tactics to course of 1917 alone, more than fifteen all-
destroy supply lines and cut off enemy female units were formed, and more than
battalions.82 Some of the earliest accounts of 5,000 women volunteered for those units.89
Slavic society describe their females as At the height of the Russian Civil War in
warriors and hunters.83 Ancient history sup- 1920 nearly 66,000 women were serving in
ports a long tradition of female involvement the Red Army, and the majority of those
in some form of combat. women were volunteers.90 The women’s
In addition, there are many accounts battalions were quite effective and
of women joining in arms with men as early successful. Their dedication was seen when
as the 1700s. Under Catherine the Great, a the First Petrograd Women’s Battalion
Don Cossack woman named Tatiana marched to the defence of the Provisional
Markina donned a military uniform and Government (in other words, against the
became a captain under the guise of being a Bolsheviks). A soldier observed that the
man.84 During the Napoleonic Wars, numer- women “made the best show of any soldiers
ous peasant women fought against the I have seen since the [March] Revolution.”91
French as partisans; in addition, a woman At the siege of the Winter Palace in 1917, a
named Nadezhda Durova became the first member of the Russian military staff
woman in the Russian Empire to hold an observed “the Women’s Battalion regulating
officer’s rank as a woman.85 Similar the movements of the crowds and arresting
accounts of women dressing as men in order anyone who showed resistance.”92 The
to fight in combat are recorded in the women were so dedicated that when “the
Crimean War (1854-1855), the Russo- cadets had already laid down their arms, the
Turkish War (1877-1878), the Russo- women volunteers still held on.”93
Japanese War (1904-1905), and World War The involvement of women in the
I (1914-1918). Some statistics claim that in Russian armed forces was therefore not a
1915, about 400 women were serving in the new concept. Russian women had for cen-
Russian Army.86 turies exhibited persistence and deter-
The best example of women in com- mination in serving their country during
bat came after the March Revolution in times of conflict. Their involvement in
1917. In the middle of that year, the First World War II can, therefore, be seen as part
Petrograd Women’s Battalion was formed as of a pattern of women’s involvement in

81 87
Stoff, They Fought for the Motherland, 18. Linda Edmondson, ed. Women and Society in
Dear, The Oxford Companion, 1275. Russia and the Soviet Union (New York, New
Stoff, They Fought for the Motherland, 19. York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 131-
Ibid. 132.
85 88
Ibid. Edmondson, Women and Society, 131.
86 89
Nadezhda Durova, The Cavalry Maiden: Journals Stoff, They Fought for the Motherland, 53.
of a Russian Officer in the Napoleonic Wars, trans. Noggle, A Dance With Death, 5.
Mary Fleming Zirin (Bloomington: Indiana Edmondson, Women and Society, 139.
University Press, 1988), ix, xxviii, as cited in Ann Ibid., 131.
Noggle, A Dance With Death, 4. Ibid.

Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

Russia’s military history. However, despite “Warfare is…the one human activity from
this historical pattern of involvement, which women, with the most insignificant
women were not immediately accepted into exceptions, have always and everywhere
combat in World War II. stood apart”; as Keegan further asserts,
women “rarely fight among themselves and
they never, in any military sense, fight
A SLOW, BUT IMPORTANT, men.”98 More specifically than the societal
START: WOMEN IN INDUSTRY perception of women in combat are the
sentiments expressed by the commanders
The speed with which Soviet women and rank-and-file soldiers. Soviet women
were eager to enlist, and the depth of their recounting their experiences with these men
involvement in World War II, can be seen as explained that “they tried not to send us.
revolutionary. The speed of the German You had to request to be sent out or earn the
invasion of Russia, which shocked both the right, to distinguish yourself in some way.”99
Russians and the German command itself, Other than being driven by their historical
“turned home fronts into frontlines in a involvement in previous Russian combat,
matter of moments,”94 so the need to the circumstances surrounding the women’s
mobilize quickly was imperative. At first, upbringings can explain their wish to be
however, women were not permitted to involved in the defense of their homeland.
enlist to fight directly in warfare. Universal Most of those fighting were born between
military service laws of 1925 and 1939 1923 and 1926, and these years knew many
allowed women to enlist as volunteers who social transformations because of Stalin’s
served mainly in medical services, but rule; their adolescence was spent in the
women were actively discouraged from wake of the “Great Terror” of 1937-1938.100
enlisting in the armed forces.95 Women Markwick attributes the women’s willing-
were sometimes accepted for training to ness to volunteer for the front to patriotism
become nurses, but most were persuaded and a desire to defend their rodina (or
that they could help the war effort by Motherland).101 In the days immediately
enrolling as blood donors and staying at following the outbreak of the war in Russia,
home.96 tens of thousands of women flocked to
Even in the Soviet Union, war was registration and recruitment centers to join
an activity that was considered to be outside in the fighting; to their dismay, many
the scope of women’s affairs. According to women were still mainly employed in
Marxist doctrine, women were equal citizens cleaning uniforms, preparing food and
in their rights and responsibilities (although ladling it to the soldiers.102
not obligated to serve in the military); Women had been heavily involved in
however, by the middle of the 1920s, industry in Russia long before the drive to
women were being encouraged to remain in recruit them before and during World War
more traditional roles within the house-
hold.97 A popular view of women’s involve- 98
John Keegan, A History of Warfare (New York:
ment in warfare can be phrased accordingly: Knopf, 1993), 76.
Engel, Women In Russia 1700-2000, 216.
Roger D. Markwick, “’Totalitarianism’: The
Engel, Women in Russia, 213. Soviet and Nazi Experiences Compared”
Noggle, A Dance With Death, 5. (Australia: The University of Newcastle, 2005), 1.
96 101
Merridale, Ivan’s War, 92. Ibid, 4.
97 102
Ibid. Engel, Women In Russia 1700-2000, 213.

Elena's War: Russian Women in Combat

II. By 1917, the proportion of women in easily be attributed to the fact that men were
Russian industry as a whole had risen to a being enlisted and deployed in huge
strong 43.2 percent.103 World War II re- numbers, taking into consideration the
newed efforts to get women involved in number of women who were able to be
industry. At first, the Komsomol, the involved at the front and in the armed
Communist Party Youth Organization, forces, this represents considerable female
which organized youth of the Soviet Union involvement in the Soviet economy.
and instilled loyalty to the party and the In addition to being charged with
Soviet Union in them, pressed women to assuming industrial roles, Soviet women
participate merely in production for the were encouraged to continue with their
Soviet Union; propaganda saying “Women social lives, because in the initial months of
to the tractor!” and “Women join the the war, women were not encouraged to
Komsomol!” were prominent during the enlist for combat. However, underlying
1930s.104 As mentioned earlier, women were themes preparing women for the possibility
discouraged from enlisting to fight in the of involvement in war were seen in tandem
war. Propaganda and the Soviet government with the propaganda discouraging it. Some
encouraged them instead to remain at home social activities were reminiscent of Ger-
and take on the jobs that men had before many’s disguising the Luftwaffe as “glider
being deployed. In 1940, 41 percent of clubs,” or preparation for “commercial
workers in Soviet industry were women; by airlines”; marksmanship clubs and rock
1943, that involvement peaked at 53 percent climbing were encouraged for women in
and decreased only slightly to 51 percent in case they had to shoot a gun or fight in the
1945. This increase in female involvement mountainous regions of Russia. While this
in the Soviet workforce was even more indirectly encouraged women to be ready to
dramatic when one considers the national fight, they were discouraged from directly
economy as a whole. In 1940, only 38.4 fighting at the time. Such examples often
percent of the workforce had been female; were encouraged in women’s magazines. In
by 1945, that number increased dramatically the magazine Obshchestvennitsa (“Female
to 56 percent.105 The importance of female Activist”) during 1939, there were articles
involvement is even clearer in the example titled “If war breaks out” which discussed
of Baku, the Soviet Union’s main source for women’s preparation and highlighted the
oil.106 By the middle of 1942, 33 percent of role of the female sniper; in fact, articles
all the workers working 18-hour shifts were concerning female snipers had begun to
women; by 1944, women’s participation had appear as early as 1937. Women snipers
skyrocketed to 60 percent.107 This was a made the front pages of Soviet newspapers,
trend in most areas of industry in the Soviet embedding in the back of the Soviet
Union during World War II. While this can woman’s mind that there was a standard “for
self-sacrifice, professional pride, and
103 patriotism” that would expected from them
Engel, Women In Imperial, Soviet, and Post-Soviet
Russia, 19. soon.108 The same magazine also had
Markwick, “’Totalitarianism’”, 2. women writing in to inform readers that
Ilič, Women in the Stalin Era, 219. over 1,000 house-wives had finished various
Vagif Agayev, et al. “World War II and specialization courses including training as
Azerbaijan”; available from radio operators.109 Long before the Central
Internet; accessed 13 November 2007. Merridale, Ivan’s War, 166.
107 109
Ibid. Ilič, Women in the Stalin Era, 162.

Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

Committee of the Communist Party formally retrieve these wounded men. The line
accepted women into the military in 1942, between noncombatant medical personnel
women were being prepared for the possi- and fighting troops was often blurred on the
bility of combat. front. Frontline physicians often carried their
own weapons. Casualties among female
medics, many of whom carried rifles of their
PROVING THEMSELVES: own and claimed to be better shots than
THE START OF MILITARY those fighting on the front, were second only
to those women of the fighting forces.111
Many women signed up to be nurses in
hopes to use that as a means to get to the
Leaving aside for the moment the
front line; for example, Elena Iakovleva,
motivation behind the decision to allow
made a nurse after only three months of
women to serve, they were ultimately given
training, deserted the hospital to go to the
that permission. Near the end of the war,
front line in February 1942.112
any woman who did not have children and
While expected to bear the same
was not otherwise employed in industrial or
hardships as men, Soviet women, in order to
governmental work was subject to
prove themselves to their male counterparts,
mobilization into the PVO (protivovoz-
often volunteered for more hazardous
dushnaia, or Air Defense Force).110 Women
work.113 Soviet women certainly did prove
were encouraged to help their mother
themselves to the men, and they proved that
country. They were being prepared in every
they could be equally tenacious and brutal in
facet of life for that possibility, and it was
warfare, both in dealing with the enemy and
ultimately necessary, for one reason or
even with Soviet “cowards”; one nurse
another, to bring women into World War II.
serving at the front volunteered to execute
Soviet women were critical to the success
two such men who had fled.114 A Soviet
the Red Army had in holding Nazi Ger-
woman driver serving in Stalingrad “con-
many’s eastern warfront.
fessed delight in crushing the skulls of
The first major presence women had
German dead beneath the wheels of her
in Soviet fighting was in the medical field.
ammunition truck.”115
The Soviet government drafted female
medical students, enrolled them in crash
courses to prepare them for the front line,
and then sent them there; their presence was THE GREATEST ARENA:
necessary because of the vicious fighting on VOYENNO-VOZDUSHNIYE
the front lines. Statistically, 41 percent of
all physicians, 43 percent of all field Soviet women also took delight in
surgeons, 43 percent of all medical assist- performing the tasks in the Voyenno-
ants, and 100 percent of nurses on the Soviet Vozdushniye, or Air Forces. The women
front were female. These nurses were not serving in the Soviet Air Force are the most
only charged with the medical care of 111
wounded soldiers, but they often entered the Engel, Women In Russia 1700-2000, 213-214.
Markwick, “’Totalitarianism’”, 7.
battlefield under heavy fire in order to 113
Richard Overy, Russia’s War (New York: Penguin
Group, 1998), 242.
110 114
Pennington, Wings, Women, and War: Soviet Aleksievich, U voiny, 140-141, as cited in
Airwomen in World War II Combat (Kansas: Markwick, “’Totalitarianism’”, 11.
University Press of Kansas, 2001), 56. Ibid.

Elena's War: Russian Women in Combat

recognized among all Soviet women that three regiments were activated in early 1942
served. The airwomen are credited with and served until the end of the war. They
being the first women to serve in combat.116 flew a combined total of over 30,000 combat
Dasha Chalaya, a member of a Soviet dive sorties, and of the thirty-three women to
bomber regiment, describes the women’s receive the title “Heroes of the Soviet
training: Union”, thirty came from these regiments
(including at least two fighter aces).121
We began to train intensively, in a Taken individually, the impact these
classroom, a munitions depot, on regiments had in defending the Soviet Union
board aircraft, and on a shooting- is even more impressive. The 586th was
range…working in severe weather initially assigned for air defense duties in
toughened us; we became accustom- Saratov.122 Its goal was not to achieve air
ed to hardships and developed phys- superiority but rather to guard important
ical strength. Without any difficulty, targets. Specifically, the 586th was to protect
we handled 40 kilogram training oil refineries, ship repairing docks, gas
bombs…117 plants, aircraft factories, and the only
railroad bridge that crossed the Volga River;
Marina Raskova, a Soviet woman pilot, was the 586th also escorted bombers and trans-
able to convince Stalin and the Soviet Air port aircraft to the frontline.123 This specific
Force to allow women into mostly male group became fully operational on 16 April
regiments and to create three all-female 1942 and served until May 1945. Aside
regiments in 1941.118 These Soviet air- from Saratov, this regiment operated in
women contributed enormously to the Voronezh, Kostornaia, Kursk, Kiev, Zhit-
defense of the Soviet Union both by fighting omir, Kotovsk, Bel’tsy, Debrecen, and
near the frontline and by defending the Budapest. Its members flew a total of over
home territory. The three all-female regi- 9,000 flights, nearly half of which were
ments created thanks to Marina Raskova considered combat missions. In 125 air
were a part of Aviation Group-122, and the battles, this group managed to shoot down
whole of the personnel was female: pilots, 38 enemy aircraft, including twelve fighters,
navigators, mechanics, and ground crews. fourteen bombers, one transport plane, and
Aviation Group-122’s regiments included eleven reconnaissance craft. The 586th also
the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment, the hit targets on the ground, and they were able
587th Day Bomber Aviation Regiment, and to destroy two Ju-52 aircraft, four tanks,
the 588th Night Bomber Aviation Regi- thirty vehicles, twenty horses and several
ment.119 The numbering of these regiments antiaircraft sites124. The women of the 586th
as the “500” series indicated that they were performed proudly, singing among them-
of particular interest to the GKO selves the lyrics of a well-known song:
(Gosudarstvennyy Komitet Oborony, or
State Committee for Defense).120 These

Noggle, A Dance With Death, 3. Pilots, retrieved from
Kasimiera J. Cottam, ed. Women in Air War: The
Eastern Front of World War II (Nepean, Canada: on 15 November 2005, 2.
New Military Publishing, 1997), 63. Pennington, Wings, Women, and War, 2.
118 122
Engel, Women in Russia 1700-2000, 215-216. Stockton, et al, Marina Raskova, ¶6.
119 123
Pennington, Wings, Women, and War, 2. Vladimir Belyakov, “Russia’s Women Top Guns”,
Harold Stockton, Dariusz Tyminski, and Christer Aviation History 12, no. 4 (2002).
Bergström, Marina Raskova and Soviet Female Pennington, Wings, Women, and War, 104, 125.

Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

Even if it means sinking into a bog, night bomber wrote to her father: “I most
Even if it means freezing in ice, certainly plan to return home to you after the
Should you tell me to do it again, war; in any case, dealing with me would
I'll go through it all again!125 cost the Nazis dearly, since I am determined
to use my newly acquired skills against them
The 586th’s damage to the German supply to the full.”129 Their mission was to raze
line (indicated by its destruction of horses tactical German targets located near the
and vehicles) in addition to holding its own front lines, including fuel depots, ammun-
defensive position no doubt had an enor- ition dumps, ground troops, support
mous impact on Soviet ability to hold the vehicles, bridges, and enemy headquarters;
line. occasionally, the 46th Guards were employ-
The 587th Regiment, also numbered ed to fly supplies and ammunition to Soviet
the 125th Guards Bomber Regiment, did frontline troops as well.130 Not only were
include some men but was overwhelmingly these raids dangerous because of their very
a female unit. This group flew what was nature, but the missions were performed in
considered the most complex aircraft of all open-cockpit biplanes that lacked parachutes
Soviet-made aircraft: the Petlyakov Pe-2. until 1944 and were otherwise unarmed131.
This was a twin-engine, twin-tail dive Additionally, weather was a major obstacle:
bomber. The aircraft had powerful 1100- “‘[L]ow clouds, fog, snow, ice, and gales
horsepower liquid-cooled engines, was that throw a light aircraft from one wingtip
capable of 336 miles per hour at 16,400ft, to the other and wretch the controls from
and held a bomb load of 1000kg (although your hand” added to the difficulty of their
pilots usually carried closer to 1200kg).126 missions. The casualty rate for flying
The 587th operated from January of 1943 personnel was about 27 percent (high, but
through May 1945, flying a total of 1,134 considered normal for a night-bomber regi-
combat missions and dropping an im- ment).132 Despite the dangers facing them,
pressive total of 980,000 tons of bombs.127 the airwomen of the 46th Guards were
The regiment was sent to the Stalingrad incredibly successful.
front 22 November 1942 and also engaged The Germans referred to the group as
in intense fighting in the Kuban area of nachthexem, or “Night Witches”; German
southern Russia against the finest Jagd Hauptmann Johannes Steinhoff stated that
Gruppen (fighter group) of the German the Germans could not believe that “the
Luftwaffe, JG 54. Flying with the JG 54 Soviet airmen that caused us the greatest
was ace Erich Harmann, who had 352 con- trouble were in fact women. These women
firmed combat kills.128 feared nothing. They came night after night
The 588th Regiment, which also in their very slow biplanes, and for some
fought against JG 54, served from 27 May periods they wouldn’t give us any sleep at
1942 until 9 May 1945. The 588th, better all.”133 Another enemy combatant wrote to
known as the 46th Guards Women’s Night another soldier “They fight like wild-cats
Light-Bomber Regiment, conducted night
bombing raids behind German lines. One
Cottam, Women in Air War, 172.
125 130
Cottam, Women in Air War, 298. Noggle, A Dance With Death, 18.
126 131
Noggle, A Dance With Death, 99. Engel, Women In Russia 1700-2000, 216.
127 132
Pennington, Wings, Women, and War, 90; Harold Ibid.
Stockton, Marina Raskova, 6. Engel, Women in Russia 1700-2000, 216;
Stockton, Marina Raskova, 6. Stockton, Marina Raskova, 4-5.

Elena's War: Russian Women in Combat

and are quite subhuman.”134 The 46th Guards 109G-2, the pilot of which was Staff
Night Bomber Regiment also patrolled in Sergeant Erwin Maier of the 2nd Staffel of
Stalingrad, Krasnodar, Novorossisk, Sevast- Jagdgeschwader 53. Maier had only three
opol, Minsk, Warsaw, and Berlin. Its crews days earlier scored his eleventh victory.138
flew over 24,000 combat missions, and from On 25 October 1942, a bomb strike by a
their ranks came twenty-four of the thirty- female pilot set a fuel depot and the airfield
three female Heroes of the Soviet Union.135 of Armavir afire; the fire spread and, in
The unit dropped 3,000 tons of bombs; addition to destroying six Ju-88s and He-
considering that the biplanes they flew could 111s, led to a quick withdrawal of the
only hold 300kg at a time, this is a German unit to the Kerch Peninsula.139 On
considerable feat.136 22 March 1943, Soviet women shot down
Aside from the specific details of two German fighter pilots: Lieutenant Franz
these three all-female regiments, women Müller and Unteroffizier Karl-Otto
employed in the Soviet Air Force in general Harloff.140 During the Battle of Kursk in
(whether in all-female or mostly male 1943 female Soviet combat units engaged in
regiments) made significant contributions as some of the heaviest combat operations in
a whole. The air force required skilled per- history; that battle arguably resulted in the
sonnel, especially in the case of navigators. collapse of any hope of German victory in
The women assigned to these jobs in the the East.141 When German bombers attacked
Soviet Air Force were often college grad- Saratov on the night of 24 September,
uates with degrees in engineering, physics, Lieutenant Valeriya Khomyakova attacked
or mathematics (and occasionally human- and shot down a Ju-88 commanded by
ities). Other than the medical services, the Gerhard Maak, a pilot decorated for his
largest numbers of Soviet women were bombing of towns in Poland, France, the
deployed in anti-aircraft defense, and the Netherlands, and England.142
majority of these were gunners who were
either directly engaged or directly exposed.
In some cases, women formed 80 to 100 THE GLASS CEILING,
percent of anti-aircraft detachments; this THE SNIPERS,
included the 8,000 women who served in the
charnel house of Stalingrad.137
Every source on the subject records At the onset of their introduction to
great victories by the Soviet women pilots. combat, women were underestimated both
Mass formations of Ju-87B Stukas, sup- by their comrades and by the enemy. At
ported by artillery and mortar fire, were first, possibly to maintain German morale,
laying siege to the south-central sector of German radio broadcasts alleged “All Soviet
Stalingrad’s defenses on 13 September. The airmen are exterminated. Now Stalin is
German aircraft totaled 1000 that day, while introducing all-female regiments, which will
the Russians had a mere 389. Nevertheless, be destroyed easily as well.”143 This was
Lydia Litvyak, a Soviet woman on her certainly not the case. Women’s regiments
second combat mission, shot down an Me-
134 138
Alan Clark, Barbarossa: The Russian-German Belyakov, “Russia’s Women Top Guns”, 2-3.
Conflict, 1941-1945 (New York: William Morrow Stockton, Marina Raskova, 2.
& Company, Inc., 1965), 154. Stockton, Marina Raskova, 1.
135 141
Pennington, Wings, Women, and War, 72. Ibid, 3.
136 142
Stockton, Marina Raskova, 5. Ibid.
137 143
Markwick, “‘Totalitarianism’”, 8-9. Ibid.

Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

performed basically the same numbers and evacuated with their factories.148 Women
types of missions as did other regiments. were also the “first page” of the defense of
The average female performed at least as Stalingrad; the female volunteers present
well if not better than the average male in there were anti-aircraft gunners of an
each regiment. Vladimir Lavrinenkov ob- extremely young age, but their impact is
served that the women performed their unquestionable.149
duties with unusual physical strength and Despite all this proof of their capa-
endurance, and the fact that these women bility in the Air Force, there remained a
“without complaining bore all the diffi- glass ceiling for female combatants; apart
culties is a credit to them, and evoked from the three all-female regiments, women
tremendous respect from those around only exercised command up to platoon level
them.”144 Two of the three female regiments and almost never rose above the rank of
were honored as Guard regiments,145 and all colonel.150 Military procedure was not
personnel of all three regiments were altered by women’s presence in the troops,
decorated in some way (many as Heroes of including the issuing of uniforms; women
the Soviet Union). Reina Pennington notes often fought wearing men’s undershirts and
that “it is particularly interesting that the undergarments, men’s uniforms, and over-
male eyewitnesses who often admitted to sized men’s boots.151 Women had to impro-
initial doubts about the women’s capabilities vise: the female soldiers cut the bottoms out
later praised their skills.”146 They performed of slacks to make skirts, and the female
so well that their German opponents often physicians made stockings out of the ribbons
assumed that they were men. German they had been given for dragging the
airmen were often incredulous when they wounded off the field.152 While women
confronted Russian airwomen in combat. were adjusting to their new roles in combat,
Heinkel He-111 pilot Willy Meister noted Soviet leaders also struggled to appro-
that in a matter of two weeks, “our group priately accommodate the women. As an
lost five aircraft out of nine. Two were shot experiment, Soviet authorities introduced 43
down by women. I saw them with my own “mobile front-line tea shops,” which were
eyes.”147 Women’s abilities in the Soviet Air equipped with hairdressers, cosmetics
Force were absolutely essential in the counters, dominoes, and checkers.153 In
holding of the German line. addition in August of 1942, rations of
This was likewise the case in pivotal chocolate were issued in place of cigarettes
battles like Leningrad and Stalingrad. At the for non-smoking female combatants.154
siege of Leningrad, the line was held largely In addition to problems with adjust-
by women forces. In 1942, women com- ing to combat with men, woman encount-
prised 75 per cent of the city’s population of ered huge difficulties with sexual harass-
790,000 since most of the men had been ment. The men on the front lines had been
called to serve in the Red Army or had been
Evan Mawdsley, Thunder in the East: The Nazi-
Pennington, Wings, Women, and War, 161-162. Soviet War, 1941-1945 (Great Britain: Hodder
“Guard” refers to the Russian Imperial Guard, a Education, 2005), 136.
distinguished regiment traditionally closely Markwick, “‘Totalitarianism’”, 9.
serving the tsar. The Soviet Union distinguished Engel, Women In Russia 1700-2000, 216-217.
regiments as “Guard” regiments when the Ibid.
regiment served with great honor. Ibid.
146 153
Pennington, Wings, Women, and War, 170. Merridale, Ivan’s War, 165.
147 154
Belyakov, Russia’s Women Top Guns, 3. Ibid., 166.

Elena's War: Russian Women in Combat

away from their wives for years, and taking two groups of snipers in the Soviet Union.
advantage of women had been one of the One was part of the Reserves of the
“perks of power” for men at the front.155 Supreme High Command (RVGK), and the
Women who won promotions on the front- other were assigned to standard infantry
line faced prejudice as prostitutes who “slept units. The RVGK had separate brigades,
with officers as a way of getting on;” some one composed entirely of women.159 These
assumed that the women wished to become women snipers hunted the German forces in
pregnant, which would guarantee their all weather, crawling between foxholes and
removal from the front.156 Competition to the neutral zone, risking bombardment and
take advantage of women on the front was death under heavy fire; they were very
ferocious, and women would often trust one physically fit and resourceful. The women
officer to protect her from the others.157 either worked alone or in pairs, and the most
Their dependence on some men to help experienced among them claimed to have
them, along with the fact that their male shot 300 enemy soldiers and officers
superiors were often the ones taking apiece.160 In a letter home, Natasha
advantage of them, prevented women from Kovshove described her motivation as a
rising in the ranks and contributed further to sniper in the following manner:
men’s underestimation of female combat-
ants. My hatred for the cursed fascist beast
The underestimation of the capabil- grows stronger everyday, with every
ities of Soviet women was also true for the battle…I will shoot the vermin point
female snipers in the war. Soviet women blank. I will pump bullet after bullet
snipers were a huge factor in the Soviet into their foul skulls, stuffed with
Union’s success although they are rarely insane thoughts about our Moscow
represented in history as playing any role at and of ruling over us, a free, proud,
all. This was the only other field in which and bold people.161
women were specifically trained and
ordained by the Soviet State to kill. On 21 Their dedication to their work and to
May 1943, a formal decree established the their survival made their individual achieve-
Central Women’s School for Sniper ments possible. The most successful of the
Training. In a matter of only two years, that female snipers was Private Lyudmila Pavli-
school was able to turn out 1,061 snipers chenko, who in three months of fighting at
and 407 instructors, and these women Odessa recorded 187 kills. In May 1942,
snipers are credited with having killed or she was cited by the Southern Red Army
wounded thousands of Wehrmacht officers Council for having killed 257 German
and men.158 It was believed early on (as soldiers. Her personal total amounted to 309
mentioned in the discussion of the
Obshchestvennitsa magazine) that women Lester W. Grau and Charles Q. Cutshaw, “Russian
had the qualities that would be required of Snipers in the Mountains and Cities of
Chechnya”, Professional Forum, retrieved from
snipers, including patience, precision,
endurance, and shooting skills. There were report/2002/snipers.pdf on 11 November 2005.
Engel, Women In Russia 1700-2000, 216.
Kovshova, N. Unpublished letters 30 Jul 1942 and
Engel, Women In Russia 1700-2000, 217-218. undated, Pisma c fronta iz kollektsii Tsentral’nogo
Merridale, Ivan’s War, 241. muzeia Vooruzhennykh sil. [Letters from the front
Engel, Women In Russia 1700-2000, 217-218. from the collection of the Central Museum of the
Ivanova, Khrabreishie iz prekrasnykh, 150-54, as Armed Forces] Tom I, ll. 116, 120, as cited in
cited in Markwick, “’Totalitarianism’”, 9. Markwick, “’Totalitarianism’”, 11.

Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

enemy forces, including 36 enemy snipers, the original 2,000) women Soviet snipers
one of whom had killed more than 500 survived the war.165
Soviet snipers according to his kill logbook. This Wehrmacht directive also ap-
Lance Corporal Maria Ivanova Morozova, a plied to women partisans. Women involved
sniper with the Soviet 62nd Rifle Batallion, in World War II often acted as partisans,
won eleven combat decorations for her causing considerable trouble for the Nazi
success, and Nina Alexetevna Lobkovskaya supply line and non-front line forces. Soviet
was credited with 309 kills of her own women were particularly suited for partisan
during the war as well.162 The Germans, as work near the beginning of the war because
they had given the 46th Guards regiment the they could move about more easily than men
Night Witches nickname, dubbed the Soviet could, as messengers and scouts, and it was
riflewomen they met on the Eastern front as one of the only places in the early phases of
“Bolshevik beasts”, “amazons devoid of war in which the women were allowed to
femininity”, and “ferocious riflewomen.”163 directly take up arms. A total of 28,500
The Soviet women snipers were highly women became partizanki, representing 9.8
skilled, and their capabilities as fighters percent of the total partisan forces.166
made them a serious threat to the German Women, in addition to serving in partisan
forces. These women snipers were able to forces, were able to take on leadership roles
eliminate an impressive number of enemy as partisans because of their abilities to
officers who, no doubt, could have caused move around. In 1941, Soviet woman Liza
considerably more damage had they not Ivanova organized and led a group of sixty-
been targeted and killed (for example, the eight men and women guerillas in Russia.
enemy sniper who had killed over 500 On 19 June 1944, as part of a first wave of
Soviet snipers). Just as a directive was attacks, partisan units began a systematic
issued among the German troops to kill any assault on the web of German commun-
and all commissars that they encountered, ications; they were able to destroy 1,000
Wehrmacht directives either authorized or transports and cripple the German supply
required the German army (and also the and redeployment systems. These ground
police and SS) to execute these women attacks were then followed on 21 June by air
immediately; “no quarter was to be given to attacks, and some of the bombing strikes
the captured …‘Jewish rifle woman’”, so were carried out by the women flying night
very few were taken prisoner.164 Even if raids in biplanes.167
these women were captured, they were While Soviet women’s initial in-
subject to violations and atrocities while volvement in fighting for the Soviet Union
being imprisoned that made being executed as partisans constituted such large numbers
seem a better option. This explains why of behind-the-scenes forces, the involvement
many Soviet women combatants saved their of women on the frontlines increased as
last bullets for themselves, and only 500 (of well. Of the million Soviet women (includ-
ing partisans) who served in the military of
the Soviet Union, over half served at the
front at any given time; Soviet women are
Thomas W. Bruher, Lyudmila Pavlichenko: The
Greatest Woman Sniper from Aleksievich, U voiny, 129, as cited in Markwick, “’Totalitarianism’”, 13.
pavlichenk.htm on 14 November 2005. Engel, Women In Russia 1700-2000, 213;
Markwick, “’Totalitarianism’”, 12. Markwick, “’Totalitarianism’”, 9.
164 167
Markwick, “’Totalitarianism’”, 13. Richard Overy, Russia’s War, 241.

Elena's War: Russian Women in Combat

credited as being the only female lery, wrote that the Central Committee of the
combatants in World War II who fought Communist Party justified the recruitment of
outside their own borders.168 The Soviet women in two ways: it would answer the
women on the frontlines, or frontovichki,169 women’s demands to serve, and it would
were active quite early. Women machine- free men to go to the front line.173 The first
gunners were among those who defended explanation is supported by Markwick, who
Kiev in September 1941, and a women’s states that “under mass pressure,”
militia battalion took part in the defense of resolutions mobilizing Soviet women to the
Odessa.170 In 1943, 8 percent of the Red air force, military transport, and commun-
Army overall consisted of Soviet women, ications positions were passed.174 However,
and the bulk of these were serving on what this explanation makes the decision a public
was called the “second front.” This second relations exercise to win popular favor. This
front, while consisting of medical services idea is harshly criticized by many scholars,
and supply and logistics operations, was the main argument being that it, unlike a
often considered a combat front because of public relations stunt, was not carefully
the nature of the fighting in the war (as planned, had no official policy for recruit-
earlier described).171 By 1945, there were ment, and employed no strong propaganda
246,000 women in uniform fighting at the urging women to enlist (as there had been
front lines, and some sources claim that over for women to take up industrial and
the course of the war, 70 percent of the economically-beneficial work).175
800,000 Soviet women who served in the The second explanation seems
Red Army (about 560,000 women) served slightly more feasible. By the end of 1941,
on the front lines at some point.172 The more than four million of the original 5
presence of women on the front lines made a million men serving on the Soviet front had
considerable difference in the amount of been killed or captured, so in 1942 the
effort and force with which the Red Army government made a concerted effort to
was able to hold the Nazis for the majority “compensate for the hemorrhaging of the
of the war in the Eastern Theatre. routed Red Army.”176 In that year, the
recruitment of women was said to have very
specific replacement goals. Women were to
WHY SOVIET WOMEN WENT replace eight of ten men in antiaircraft
OUT WHILE GERMAN WOMEN artillery, three of five men in machine gun
crews, and varying numbers for other
positions; basically, this would free a
There are a number of reasons given majority of the rear forces to go serve on the
by various authors on the subject as to why front.177 For example, by March 1942,
Soviet women were ultimately given the 100,000 women from the Komsomol were
opportunity to enlist to fight in World War called up and formed crews on the anti-
II. Colonel Zhuravlev, a General of Artil- aircraft guns.178

168 173
Pennington, Wings, Women, and War, 1. Pennington, Wings, Women, and War, 56.
169 174
Markwick, “’Totalitarianism’”, 1. Murmanseva, Sovietskie zhenshchiny, 122, as
Engel, Women In Russia 1700-2000, 215. cited in Roger D. Markwick, “Totalitarianism”, 7.
171 175
Fiesler, ‘Zhenshchiny na voine’, 11, 14, as cited in Reina Pennington, Wings, Women, and War, 2-3.
Markwick, “’Totalitarianism’”, 9. Seniavskaia, 1941-1945 Frontovoe pokolenie, 77,
Overy, Russia’s War, 241-242; information as cited in Markwick, “’Totalitarianism’”, 6.
retrieved from Pennington, Wings, Women, and War, 56-57.
others/women20.html on 12 November 2005. Mawdsley, Thunder in the East, 214.

Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

Nevertheless, this second explana- they had almost entirely different

tion has its shortcomings as well. At the approaches to reaching those goals. Their
time that the women’s air force regiments difference in approach helps to explain their
were created in 1941, there was absolutely differing views of a woman’s role in war.
no shortage of manpower. By September of Both the Nazis and Soviets suffered great
that year, the Soviets had lost over 7,500 losses in their armed forces. However, one
aircraft, but the majority of those aircraft regime allowed women in combat while the
had been destroyed on the ground, and the other limited their work to industry at most.
pilots were not killed. Even before the war, So lack of troops cannot fully explain either
for each trained female pilot there were at regime’s motivation in their treatment of
least two or three male pilots on reserve women.
status and available for duty.179 It is also Ultimately, it was a difference in
argued that boosting morale was a factor in ideology or in the way their ideology was
enlisting Soviet women, although Penning- implemented. The Nazi leaders argued that
ton argues that it was not a main goal.180 “valuable” men and “valuable” women were
Conversely, Marwick asserts that “Stalin’s of equal worth—that they were gleichwertig
prime motivation for deploying women aber nicht gleichartig, or “equivalent but
flyers was to boost male military morale.”181 different.”182 While the Soviet regime meant
Soviet women’s presence in the armed equal in duties and responsibilities, the Nazi
forces had the added effect of improving the regime wanted to draw a strong distinction
soldiers’ hygiene. between the sexes with little to no room for
We can see why desperation for crossover. Hitler said, “In my state, the
troops is an incomplete explanation by mother is the most important citizen.”183
looking at the Nazi regime as an example. While Soviets encouraged women to edu-
While Soviet and Nazi ideologies differed cate their children with Soviet principles, the
somewhat, both can be looked at under a Nazi regime took that a step further. Instead
similar light as both are fairly extremist in of being a goal, being a good Nazi wife and
their ideologies; they are perceived to have mother was the goal; there was nothing
had very rigid expectations and duties for higher. Women in the Nazi regime were to
their citizens. They actually have many produce more of the Aryan race and to
important similarities. Both Nazi and Soviet provide for the men and children so that they
ideologies called for expansion of territory could be the best Aryans possible.
(while Hitler’s desire for lebensraum was Hitler’s sentiment was reflected in
one of his driving forces in World War II, all of his policies. While other countries at
Stalin had no intentions of expansion the time had bans on abortion, Germany’s
beyond the Baltic States; his only expan- was the only one that was extremely harsh; a
sionist dreams involved the expansion of woman who received an abortion, or anyone
communism, not of the borders of the Soviet who helped her receive one, could be im-
Union); both hoped to exercise complete prisoned for five years or, after 1943, could
control over their citizens and their citizens’ be “executed for impairing the ‘vitality of
lives; both valued an ideal race or society. the German Volk’.”184 Hitler publicly stated
While the two regimes had similar goals,
Stephenson, Women in Nazi Germany, 19.
179 183
Pennington, Wings, Women, and War, 57. Cate Haste, Nazi Women: Hitler’s Seduction of a
Ibid, 65-69. Nation (London: Channel 4 Books, 2001), 74.
181 184
Markwick, “’Totalitarianism’”, 7. Ibid, 89.

Elena's War: Russian Women in Combat

that if a country’s birth rate decreased, then Lawyers Association was dissolved.189 The
the highest accomplishments of a people idea was, once again, that women who
would be decimated, “because the most worked were depriving men of jobs and
valuable forces are not first- or second- hence failing in their womanly duty to the
born.”185 While Stalin felt that the Soviet Volk.190
State could only be strengthened if all The only way in which Hitler uti-
citizens (including women) were full lized women before or during World War II
participants in the state, Hitler did not was in industry, and only then out of sheer
consider women to be capable of basically desperation. Hitler was hesitant to employ
any kind of political participation. A woman women during the war. He felt that the Nazi
should be inculcated with Nazi ideology, woman had become a “work machine” as a
and she did have the power to sway her result of World War I, and he felt that a
husband and children to act in accordance major goal of the Nazi party should be to
with that ideology. “restore [the Nazi woman] to her true
The Nazis despised Bolshevism for profession—motherhood.”191 But the labor
many reasons, not the least of which was the shortage of the late 1930s demanded that
radical change it offered in women’s status more and more women be allowed into the
as early as 1917. Soviet gender policy workforce. Only under that immense econo-
became yet another scapegoat for Ger- mic pressure were women encouraged to
many’s ills.186 Hitler felt that “intellect participate in the state. Between 1935 and
plays no role” in a woman’s thought process 1937, there was a substantial increase in the
because she, no matter how intelligent, number of women working in German
“cannot separate reason from feeling.”187 industry (from 1,463,000 to 1,749,000).192
For this reason, as well as Hitler’s personal However, the number of women in industry
feelings on the subject, women played leveled off after that point and would never
essentially no part in the Nazi state, at least rise more than 6 percent annually. The
politically. From the time that the Nazi number of German women in employment
Party was founded in 1921, women were “hardly increased at all” during the war,
denied any position of power in its despite the shortage of labor.193 The Nazis
hierarchy; they could be members, but even launched a massive campaign from
certainly not leaders. In fact, the only 1939 to 1940, led by the German magazine
reference to women in the Nazi Party’s NS-Frauenwarte, to encourage women to
programme was in Point 21, which pledged take paid employment or to work as
“protection for mothers.”188 Women were volunteers.194 In 1939, women comprised
steadily excluded from most of public life 37 percent of the German workforce; by the
under the Nazi regime as well. They were end of the war, that figure had risen to 51
not eligible for promotions of any kind— percent. But one must bear in mind the
even in education, women were removed large number of non-German female forced
from the higher levels of the school system; laborers “employed” in Germany, who raise
female judges and lawyers were dismissed the statistic substantially.195 It can be
or disbarred altogether, while the Women
Ibid, 83.
Ibid, 84.
Ibid, 79.
185 192
Weinberg, Hitler’s Second Book, 237. Stephenson, Women in Nazi Germany, 53.
186 193
Stephenson, Women in Nazi Germany, 6. Dear, The Oxford Companion, 1278.
187 194
Haste, Nazi Women, 73. Stephenson, Women in Nazi Germany, 103.
188 195
Ibid. Overy, The Dictators, 508.

Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

inferred, then, that more women chose to It seems that the most significant
volunteer than work in industry. Nazi ideo- explanation of why Soviet women were
logy, while teaching women that men ought ultimately allowed in combat lies in Soviet
to work and women ought not, did not leave ideology. Soviet ideology encouraged the
German women much choice in the matter. non-distinctness of members of society. It
In German industry, we see an ultimately strove to treat each citizen
example of lack of resources driving Hitler equally. The ultimate goal of true Marxism
to turn to women to fill the positions he was complete equality in the sense that there
needed to keep his war machine in motion. was no personal property. In trying to
However, this never extended into combat. achieve this end, regimes with a basis in
Despite his desperation for troops, especially Marxism were at least theoretically obliged
after the Normandy invasions of 1944, to treat their citizens equally—be that
Hitler never engaged women in any sort of equally poorly or equally well. By treating
combat. Nazi women were permitted to citizens equally, citizens would come to
wear military uniforms when they volunteer- view one another truly as comrades in the
ed for auxiliary service, but they could not Motherland, and personal property (or any-
serve in combat situations; the only thing “personal”) would become a non-
exceptions made to this rule were in anti- issue. If all property is public, and all
aircraft defenses and as “signals staff” with citizens view one another as equals, then it
the front line formations outside of Ger- follows that each citizen has an equal duty to
many.196 Otherwise, women could not protect and to strengthen the public
contribute directly to the war effort. property. Each member of the state has
Even in desperation, Hitler and the some kind of vested interest in the state by
Nazi regime refused to employ women in virtue of being a citizen. It follows from
war because it was against their ideology to Soviet ideology, then, that women not only
do so. Hitler’s views on race and eugenics can participate in the defense of the Mother-
also played a major role. Women were land, but that they ought to do so. It is
suited for certain activities and duties, but admirable, patriotic, and good to be a full
they could not perform in the same ways citizen in that way.
that men could. Women were critical to Nevertheless, not even ideology
producing the next generation, arguably explains the success of the Soviet policies
moreso than men. Therefore, women had to regarding women. Markwick’s assertion that
be protected at all costs, and participating in the Soviets allowed women to fight “under
combat would certainly serve to undermine mass pressure”, while not widely accepted,
that goal. By contrast, the Soviet Union’s leads us to an explanation about why the
and Stalin’s encouragement of women to policy was successful. Many policies in
contribute to the war effort was justified by keeping with Soviet ideology were not
Marxist ideology. It is true that the Soviet popular. For example, Stalin’s attempts to
forces suffered heavy casualties, putting collectivize agriculture with the kolkhoz and
them in need of forces. But the idea that this sovkhoz was met with firm opposition from
was the only factor in allowing women to farmers. Those on collective farms did not
fight seems a gross overgeneralization. conform to the Soviet plan.197 But their
resistance generally went unpunished by the
196 state since the war drew the state’s attention
Gordon Williamson, World War II: German
Women’s Auxiliary Services (UK: Osprey
Publishing Limited, 2003), 4. Mawdsley, The Stalin Years, 46.

Elena's War: Russian Women in Combat

elsewhere. However, the success of the women citizens, the Soviet citizens were
Soviet policies regarding women (rather still slow to accept the idea of women being
than the policies themselves) has quite a bit fully involved in the state, and Stalin’s
to do with popular opinion and the “mass propaganda soon changed. Women were
pressure” that Markwick speaks of. The subject to great amounts of criticism and
Soviet Union’s measure allowing women in distrust, even among allegedly good
combat roles was a genuinely popular comrades of the Motherland. Since women
measure. Perhaps its popularity has roots were suspected of sexual misconduct in the
Russia’s history of female service in some military, any woman who wore the medal
form (some official, some unofficial) in for military service (za boevye zaslugi) was
combat roles. Women were satisfied by said to have received it instead for sexual
finally having the means to fulfill the duties service (za polevye zaslugi).198 As combat-
that the Soviet state placed on them—to ants, women were “objects of suspicion,
defend the rodina to the best of their means aliens, in a misogynistic universe” known as
and ability. war.199
We see, then, that it is a combination Large numbers of Soviet men hated
of ideology and popular opinion that makes or resented the women at home as well.
women’s involvement in combat in the Women civilians who wrote to the men at
Soviet Union fairly unique. The Soviet state war increasingly told stories about hunger,
pursued its ideology further by allowing rape, and death in the Motherland, a sharp
women, at least in combat and in industry, to blow to the soldiers’ morale.200 The Soviet
be treated equally to men as comrades. In woman at home was depicted as a strong,
turn, the Soviet women felt a stronger sense determined, beautiful woman who showed
of connection to the state, making them no signs of wearing in wartime. However,
more eager and willing to serve their as the war ended, the real Soviet women
country. The Soviet use of women in were not able to match up to the soldiers’
combat can actually be seen as an advance- dreams.201 Soviet women at home, likewise,
ment of the goals of the Soviet regime rather were disappointed when the soldiers
than an abandonment of them. It is all the returned; they resented the army that had
more in keeping with the goals of “abandoned them to the Germans” for such
communism that the policy should be so a long stretch of time.202
heartily embraced and hailed by the segment The postwar period brought women
of the population that the policy intended to back to many of the same traditional roles
affect (in this case, women). held before the war. On 22 June 1949, the
Ministry for Transport and Mechanical
Engineering issued the following statement
CONCLUSION regarding women in Soviet industry:

The advancement of Marxist gender …the use of women’s labour in

policies died out almost immediately after occupations which make particularly
the war. Stalin set aside his own bias against heavy demands on health is a con-
women for the good of the Soviet state, but
he could not quite allow for the real equality 198
Merridale, Ivan’s War, 241.
of citizens called for by true Marxism after 199
Ibid., 315.
the war. While Stalin’s propaganda during 200
the war encouraged men to accept active 201
Ibid., 317.
Ibid., 367.

Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

sequence of wartime, in which of industry. The discussion between the

patriotic women replaced the men of Ministry of Health and the Ministry of
their homeland and took on all tasks, Economic Affairs went from determining
in order to help the front and ensure which jobs were safe for women to using the
victory over the enemy.203 need to protect women workers as the
grounds for their exclusion from the
Once the war was over, this rationale no workplace.207
longer applied. As Ilič notes, the obstacle While being expected, on one hand,
was no longer how to incorporate women to “surrender [responsible and well-paid]
into the workplace, but rather the deeply- positions to demobilized men,”208 the state
rooted gender roles that had been held began again to encourage women turn their
before the war.204 Women were not attention to housework as well. Literature
completely removed from industry. Stalin’s after the war assigned women to the task of
fourth Five Year Plan (1946-1950) had “healing their damaged men.”209 In order to
ambitious goals, making women’s contri- restore men’s self-esteem and faith in their
bution even more important. manliness, images began to appear depicting
There was no decline in the propor- wives welcoming their mutilated or trauma-
tion and numbers of women in employment tized husbands and fiancés home from
after the war. In 1950, women comprised 47 war.210 This provided men with the hope
percent of the Soviet workforce as a whole; that life would slowly return to normal, and
prewar levels were only 38.4 percent.205 at the same time, it gave women a new
This statistic, however, can also be seen as purpose in a different direction from the
the result of huge numbers of men being purpose they had served in the war years.
killed during the war and women having to The Soviet state designed its policies
replace them. However, the roles they were around reshaping the postwar society.
allowed to assume in their contribution were Material and moral incentives were offered
strictly limited, and Soviet propaganda tried in order to encourage Soviets to increase the
to encourage women away from the birthrate. In July of 1944, the USSR Sup-
positions they had held during the war. reme Soviet issued a decree that state aid
Pressure was place on managers to improve would be increased for pregnant women,
working conditions for women. This proved mothers with many children, and unmarried
difficult because pregnant or nursing women mothers; that measures for the protection of
were prohibited from working at night, and mothers and children would be strengthen-
long hours of operation in factories were ed; the title of “Heroine Mother” would be
necessary to meet the goals of the Five Year established; and the order of “Motherhood
Plan. Case managers, at the same time, Glory” would be instituted with the
refused to allow pregnant women to transfer “Motherhood Medal.”211 Practically every
to easier jobs.206 Dialogue concerning what woman was viewed as an actual or potential
to do with women in industry after the men mother.212 The idea of motherhood and
returned from war occurred less often than working in the home was overwhelmingly
dialogue concerning how to get women out
Ibid, 227.
Engel, Women in Russia, 228.
203 209
Ilič, Women in the Stalin Era, 226. Ibid, 225.
204 210
Ibid. Ibid.
205 211
Ibid, 228. Ilič, Women in the Stalin Era, 277.
206 212
Ibid, 226. Ibid, 228.

Elena's War: Russian Women in Combat

emphasized by the state. But it is actually Stalin, in effect, moved towards true
commonly accepted among historians that Marxism during the war, and then
women did not regard the division of labor abandoned that development in the postwar
as unjust.213 Women did draw the line, period in favor of his own policies and
however, at bearing the number of children principles. He began to allow for gender
desired by the state. Many women refused equality because of a number of moti-
to have large numbers of children because of vations, and his policies had a pure Marxist
the absence of basic amenities in the aura to them. But Stalin was ultimately
struggling postwar economy, and because driven more forcefully by his own opinions
state support, while offered, was insuffi- —perhaps thinking himself greater than his
cient.214 predecessor Lenin—and felt it better than
During the postwar era, women were women be left to duties of home life. In any
everywhere encouraged to be softer, more case, the involvement of Soviet women in
feminine, more traditional. While women’s World War II should be considered
magazines before and during the war extremely significant both for the Soviet
prepared women for the possibility of regime and for the war effort overall.
combat and working, women’s magazines Only recently have the women of the
after the war returned to more traditional former Soviet Union been receiving positive
topics, offering advice on redecorating the attention for their efforts during World War
home, general housekeeping, skin care, II. This is largely due to the suppression of
exercising, gardening, and cooking.215 important documents and records pertaining
Simultaneously, images of the “untiring to the women by the Soviet Union. The
heroine worker” and Soviet woman patriot postwar rush to return women to what were
faded into the background.216 But the Soviet considered their proper gender roles219 was a
heroine was not independently heroic to catalyst in allowing their stories to fade into
begin with. Soviet heroines were often the background of history. Nevertheless,
completely dependent on the state to even by looking only at statistics, it is
validate their authority; heroines rarely certainly not difficult to grasp the extent to
occupied positions of political power or any which women are an absolutely necessary
sort of strategic party positions.217 The factor in the Red Army’s ability to ward off
heroines’ claim to fame was dependent on the Nazi forces. At the height of female
the fact that they “engaged in occupations participation near the end of 1943, more
traditionally reserved for men.”218 The than 800,000 women served in the armed
Soviet heroine had always been temporary, forces and partisan units. By the end of the
so the Soviet Union in the postwar period war, more than one million women had
could return its focus to creating the ideal served in some form in the Red Army, and
communist state. The emphasis could now these women fought on every front and in all
be on contributing appropriately to the good branches. Soviet women constituted 8
of the state, rather than just contributing percent of the military personnel overall.220
period. If one were to take the Soviet women
entirely out of the equation—to reduce the
Engel, Women in Russia, 229.
214 219
Ibid. Pennington, Wings, Women, and War, 153-160.
215 220
Ibid, 225. K. J. Cottam, “Soviet Women in WWII: The
Ilič, Women in the Stalin Era, 228. Ground Forces and the Navy,” International
Choi Chatterjee in Ilič, Women in the Stalin Era, Journal of Women’s Studies 3, no. 4 (1980), 345,
64. as cited in Engel, Women In Russia 1700-2000,
Ibid. 215.

Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis
Recipient of the 2008 Charles E. Parton Award

Red Army by 8 percent of its personnel—

and replay World War II without their
presence in any way, it is almost certain that
Soviet line never would have held, that
German forces would then have been free to
move their concentration back to the west,
and that the war would have ended with an
entirely different outcome.

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