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Soviet Airwomen of the Great Patriotic War
Tuesday, 25 June 2013 18:02

Soviet Airwomen of the Great Patriotic War

(by Gian Piero Milanetti; ISBN 978-8875651-466; Crécy Publishing Ltd, 1a Ringway Trading Estate, Shadowmoss Road, Manchester M22 5LH; 6¾in x 9½in softback; 284 pages, illustrated; £18.95)

Edited by the Istitito Bibliografico Napoleone, this pictorial history at last gives much information on a subject of considerable interest and which has been largely neglected in the west. The author has been to the Ukraine and Russia several times to interview some of the survivors and collect information, records and photographs. In fact there are more than 500 photographs here.

The result is a fascinating account of how these women defended their country. Some readers will have heard of the “Night Witches”; the women – 61 pilots and 63 navigators – who flew more than 24,000 missions in ancient Polikarpov U-2 and Po-2 biplanes at night between May 1942 and May 1945 earning 24 commendations as Heroes of the Soviet Union. A whole chapter, pages 45 to 117, is devoted to this, but there are many other stories covering the female bomber and fighter pilots and their successes in combat. Among the types flown were the Pe-2, Su-2, Yak-1 and Yak-7.

But the story really begins in the 1930s when there were a number of female aviators, such as Marina Raskova who became the first Soviet woman certified as an aircraft navigator and took part in air races, and Valentina Grizobudova who, with Raskova, set a female long-distance flight record of 1,443km in 1937.

The Soviet winters were extremely hard, but the women faced them with determination and courage, carrying their own equipment and servicing their aircraft where necessary. Their story needed to be told in the West, and this book with photographs and personal reminiscences, is well worth its modest price.