Apart from the night bomber regiment, what else did the women of the USSR do during the war?
Women were more heavily involved in the USSR’s armed forces than an other nation’s female population;
Over 800,000 women served in the Soviet armed forces in World War II, mostly as medics and nurses, which is over 3 percent of total personnel; nearly 200,000 of them were decorated. 89 of them eventually received the Soviet Union’s highest award, the Hero of the Soviet Union, they served as pilots, snipers, machine gunners, tank crew members and partisans, as well as in auxiliary roles. Few of these women, however, were promoted to officers.
For Soviet women aviators, instrumental to this change was Marina Raskova, a famous Russian aviator, often referred to as the “Russian Amelia Earhart”. Raskova became a famous aviator as both a pilot and a navigator in the 1930s. She was the first woman to become a navigator in the Soviet Air Force in 1933. Raskova is credited with using her personal connections with Joseph Stalin to convince the military to form three combat regiments for women. The Soviet Union was the first nation to allow women pilots to fly combat missions. These regiments with strength of almost hundred airwomen, flew a combined total of more than 30,000 combat sorties, produced over twenty Heroes of the Soviet Union, and included two fighter aces. This military unit was initially called Aviation Group 122 while the three regiments received training. After their training, the three regiments received their formal designations as the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment, the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment and the 125th Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment.
The Soviet Union also used women for sniping duties, and to good effect, including Nina Alexeyevna Lobkovskaya and Ukrainian Lyudmila Pavlichenko (who killed over 300 enemy soldiers). The Soviets found that sniper duties fit women well, since good snipers are patient, careful, deliberate, and should avoid tactical hand-to-hand combat. Women served also in non-combat roles as medics, nurses, communication personnel, political officers, as well - in small numbers - as machine gunners, tank drivers. Manshuk Mametova was a machine gunner from Kazakhstan and was the first Soviet Asian woman to receive the Hero of the Soviet Union for acts of bravery.
Women constituted significant numbers of the Soviet partisans. One of the most famous was Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, who earned the Hero of the Soviet Union award (February 16, 1942).
The youngest woman to become a Hero of the Soviet Union was also a resistance fighter, Zinaida Portnova.
This is the highest award of the former USSR - a medal “Gold Star” also known as “Hero of the Soviet Union”. Only 12,800 were ever awarded. This one was awarded to Alexander Matveev, an ace pilot, in 1943. He was only 22 years old when he became a Hero. Based on wikipedia, Matveen died in 1982. I don’t know how his star came to the market, most likely it was sold by his relatives in 90’s (a common story for most Soviet awards). The box with red velvet is also an original one. Large and small diplomas that usually came with the Star, unfortunately, are missing.
Marina Raskova (1912-1943) was a Soviet pilot, navigator, and commander who founded 3 famous female air regiments during the Second World War.
Born to a middle-class Russian family, Raskova initially had aspirations of becoming a musician, but eventually abandoned the idea to study chemistry. While working in a dye factory as a chemist she met Sergei Raskov, an engineer, who she married and had a daughter with. She changed careers in 1931 when she joined the Aerodynamic Navigation Lab of the Soviet Air Force as a draftswoman. Aged 19 in 1933 she became the first female navigator in the Air Force and the following year became the first woman to teach at the Zhukovskii Air Academy.
In 1935 she divorced from her husband and focused on her flying career. She become a famous pilot as well as a navigator, setting a number of long distance records. This included the famous ‘Flight of the Rodina’ covering 6000km from Moscow to Komsomolsk, which she conducted with two other female pilots, Polina Osipenko and Valentina Grizodubova. However the flight ran into difficulties at the end of its 26 and a half hour journey when poor visibility hampered the landing. As the navigator’s pit was vulnerable in crash landings, Raskova bailed out with a parachute while the two pilots completed the landing. She survived with no water and almost no food for 10 days before she found her way to landing site and reunited with her team. All 3 women were decorated with the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ award, the first women ever to receive it.
With the outbreak of World War 2 the Soviet Union was in need of pilots and many women volunteered. However while there were no formal restrictions on Soviet women in the military, many found their applications were denied or mysteriously delayed. Raskova proposed the creation of women’s aviation units and used her celebrity status to propose the idea directly to the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Following a speech by Raskova in September 1941 calling for women pilots to be welcomed into the war, Stalin ordered the creation of 3 new air regiments, the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment, the 125th Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment, and the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, dubbed The Night Witches. These regiments were entirely formed of women, from the pilots to the engineers to the support staff. Each regiment contained around 400 women, most of them in their early twenties, who completed 4 years’ worth of training in a matter of months.
Raskova personally took command of the 125th Bomber Regiment, for which she obtained the very best equipment available, including the state-of-the-art Petlyakov Pe-2 bombers, which caused some resentment from male units. The 125th regiment went on to fly 134 missions over the course of the war, dropping over 980 tons of bombs.
Raskova herself was killed on January 4th 1943, while attempting to lead two other Pe-2’s to a safe airfield. She was forced into making a forced landing on the Volga Bank, which resulted in the deaths of the entire bomber crew. Raskova received the first state funeral of the war and her ashes were buried in the Kremlin Wall beside those of fellow pilot, Polina Osipenko. She was posthumously awarded the Order of Patriotic War 1st Class and the regiments she created continued to serve for the duration of the war.
Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak (1921 – 1943), the first female fighter pilot to shoot down an enemy plane, the first of two female fighter pilots who have earned the title of fighter ace, the holder of the record for the greatest number of kills by a female fighter pilot and the
recipient of the Hero of the Soviet Union (awarded posthumously)
Mariya Vasilyevna Oktyabrskaya was born into a peasant family on the Crimean Peninsula, Before WW2, she worked in a cannery, and also as a telephone operator. In 1925, she married a Soviet army officer. While married to her husband, she began to acquire an interest in military matters and learned how to use weapons and drive vehicles. During the war, she learned that her husband was killed fighting the forces of Nazi Germany near Kiev in August 1941. The news took two years to reach her. The news angered her extremely, and she became determined to fight the Germans in vengeance for her husband’s death. She sold all of her possessions to donate a tank for the Red Army and asked that she be allowed to drive it. The State Defense Committee agreed to this, realizing the publicity opportunities. She took part in a five-month tank training program immediately after the donation. These five months training were unusual for tank crews at the time, usually tank crews were rushed straight to the front line with minimal training. After she completed her training, she was posted to the 26th Guards Tank Brigade in September 1943 as a driver and mechanic. She named her tank ‘Fighting Girlfriend’ and emblazoned these words on the turret of the T-34. Many of her fellow tankers saw her as a publicity stunt and a joke, but this attitude changed when Mariya began fighting in her first tank battles in Smolensk. The battle involved Mariya maneuvering tank in the bitter fighting; she and her fellow crew members destroying machine-gun nests and artillery guns. When her tank was hit by gunfire, Mariya, disregarding orders not to, would leap out of her tank and repair the tank, amidst heavy fire. During this action, she was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. On 17 January 1944, Mariya fought in another night attack that was her last. The attack happened at the village of Shvedy near Vitebsk. During the battle, she drove T-34 about the German defenses, destroyed resistance in trenches and machine-gun nests. The tank crew also destroyed a German self-propelled gun. Their success didn’t last long however, and tank was hit by a German anti-tank shell, again in the tracks and was immobilized. Mariya immediately got out of the tank and began to repair the track, amid fierce small arms and artillery fire. She managed to repair the track, but she was hit in the head by shell fragments and lost consciousness. After the battle Oktyabrskaya was transported to a Soviet military field hospital at Fastov, near Kiev, where she remained in a coma for two months, before finally dying on 15 March. The following August, Oktyabrskaya was posthumously awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union award in recognition of her bravery in the battles around Vitebsk, She was the first of the few female tank drivers to get this award.
Mariya Oktyabrskaya. Soviet tank driver during World War II. She was the first of the few female tank drivers to be awarded the Hero Of The Soviet Union award; the Soviet Union’s highest award for bravery during combat.
Mariya Oktyabrskaya: the Tank Princess (1905-1944)
Here’s one of the most badass Rejected Princesses of all: Sergeant Mariya Oktyabrskaya, the first female tanker to ever win the Hero of the Soviet Union award, and her tank, Fighting Girlfriend.
During World War 2, her army officer husband Ilya was killed in action. In response, Mariya sold literally all of their belongings in order to buy a tank. She then wrote Stalin the following letter:
“My husband was killed in action defending the motherland. I want revenge on the fascist dogs for his death and for the death of Soviet people tortured by the fascist barbarians. For this purpose I’ve deposited all my personal savings - 50,000 rubles - to the National Bank in order to build a tank. I kindly ask to name the tank ‘Fighting Girlfriend’ and to send me to the frontline as a driver of said tank.”
Stalin wrote back pretty quickly and said yes.
Initially, the army was skeptical of her ability to handle a tank. However, she quickly proved in training that she could drive, shoot, and throw grenades with the best of them – skills she’d picked up from her late husband, with whom she’d presumably had some interesting dates.
On her first outing in the tank, she outmaneuvered the German soldiers, killing around thirty of them and taking out an anti-tank gun. When they shelled her tank, immobilizing Fighting Girlfriend, she got out – in the middle of a firefight – and repaired the damn thing. She then got back in and proceeded to kill more Germans.
During all this, she wrote a letter to her sister describing her time in the war. She told her “I’ve had my baptism by fire. I beat the bastards. Sometimes I’m so angry I can’t even breathe.”
In the end, she was taken out by a mortar round when she got out of her tank in the middle of yet another firefight to fix Fighting Girlfriend. She was awarded the highest honor in the Soviet Military and is buried in one of the nation’s most sacred cemeteries.
That’s roughly what her outfit would have looked like, depending on the time of year.
The model of tank depicted is a T34 tank, the actual one that Fighting Girlfriend was.
The Fighting Girlfriend logo was on the side of the turret, just out of the cropping of this picture, so it didn’t make the cut. I didn’t want to be inaccurate and just put it on the turret.
Mariya is actually sitting in front of the machine gunner’s outlook, so it would be jutting into her and presumably she wouldn’t be very comfortable. It was the only way I could make the composition I had in mind work.
The German soldiers used many different color tracer rounds, but red was among them.
The planes in the background are PE-8 Petlyakov Soviet bombers.
Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak 18 Aug 1921 - 1 Aug 1943
“…… after shooting down another Bf.109 confirmed and possibly a second, Litvyak was engaged by two 109s on her fourth sortie of the day. Fatigued, still nursing her wounds, the last confirmed sighting of Litvyak was by one of her wingmen through a gap in the clouds as she frantically fought with the pair of 109s.”
Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak, also known as Lily Litvak, was born in Moscow, Russia. At age 14, she entered a club of flight enthusiasts, and by 15 she was piloting small aircraft. In the late 1930s, she earned a flight instructor license.
After Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Litvyak attempted to join a military aviation unit, but was initially turned down for lack of experience; she forged her records by adding an additional 100 hours of flight time, and was eventually admitted into the 586th Fighter Regiment consisted of all female pilots. She trained in a Yak-1 fighter with a white lily (mistaken for a rose) painted on the side of the fuselage. In the summer of 1942, the 586th Fighter Regiment flew over Saratov, Russia, where the blonde-haired, grey-eyed young pilot flew her first combat flight. In Sep 1942, she was transferred into the mixed-sex 437th Fighter Regiment at Stalingrad in southern Russia. Her chauvinistic commander initially refused to let her fly, but finally backed down largely due to the demands of the war. On 13 Sep 1942, she flew her second combat mission in a La-5 fighter; she shot down a Ju 88 bomber and an unidentified fighter, marking her first and second kills of her career. She quickly gained the nick name “the White Rose of Stalingrad”, referring to the mis-identified lily found on her training fighter.
In late 1942, Litvyak was transferred to the 9th Guards Fighter Regiment, and then very shortly after, in Jan 1943, she was transferred again to teh 296th Fighter Regiment, which was later renamed to the 73rd Guards Fighter Regiment. On 23 Feb she was awarded the Order of the Red Star. During her combat career, she scored 11 solo kills and 3 shared kills. Many German pilots she shot down were in shock that they were shot down by a woman. A German fighter ace shot down and captured outright refused to believe a woman had shot him down until he was brought before Litvyak, who described to him the details of the dogfight that only the two pilots engaged in the combat would know. She was not invincible, however. She was shot down two or three times (22 Mar 1943, 16 Jul 1943, and possibly another time) and at least one time she sustained serious injury to her legs, but she refused to be sidelined.
In early 1943, Litvayk was made a junior lieutenant. On 1 Aug 1943, Litvyak flew a Yak-1b fighter on a combat mission. She was shot down by a group of eight German fighters. Because her body was not found, Soviet leadership assumed she was captured. Since Joseph Stalin had always believed that a captured Russian was to be automatically considered a traitor, she did not receive the award of the Hero of the Soviet Union like some thought she deserved. Her remains were not found until 1979. On 6 May 1990, Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev finally granted her the Hero of the Soviet Union award with a posthumous promotion to the rank of senior lieutenant.
The Calendar Woman for 11th September is Mariya Oktyabrskaya (1905-1944)
Mariya Oktyabrskaya was a Soviet tank driver in World War II
who was the first female tanker to receive the Hero of the Soviet Union award. Her
military interested stemmed from her marriage to a Soviet army officer; she
joined the Military Wives Council and trained as a nurse in the army. It took
two years for the news of her husband’s death fighting the Nazi’s and Mariya
was so angered that she determined to have her vengeance. Selling all her
possessions she was able to raise the funds to donate a tank for the Red Army –
under the condition that she was able to drive it. Part of her training as an
army nurse had included the use of weapons and learning to drive, and Mariya
put those skills to good use as part of the 26th Guards Tank
Mariya was immediately recognised as a skilled tank driver, manoeuvring
the lumbering machine with skill. She became known for jumping out of her tank
and repairing it during a battle if it had taken a hit and was soon promoted to
the rank of Sergeant. It was her determination to repair tanks despite orders
to remain inside that led to her death in 1944. Exposed to attack outside the
tank, Mariya was hit in the head by a shell fragment during an offensive
against German forces. She immediately lost consciousness and slipped into a
coma before being taken to a field hospital where she died two months later.
That summer, she was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union
award in recognition of her bravery in the battles around Vitebsk.