1. Natalia Peshkova
Natalia Peshkova was drafted into the Russian Army straight out of high school at age 17. She was trained with weapons that didn’t work and then sent off with a unit so woefully equipped that at one time a horse ate her felt boot as she slept, forcing her to make do with one boot for a month. Peshkova spent three years at the front, accompanying wounded soldiers from the front to hospitals and trying to fight disease and starvation among the troops. She was wounded three times. Once, when the Germans moved into an area the Soviets held, Peshkova was separated from her unit and had to disguise herself. However, she could not discard her weapon because she knew the Soviet Army would execute her for losing it! Yet she made it back to her unit undetected. As the war dragged on, Peshkova was promoted to Sergeant Major and given political education duties further from the front. After the war, she was awarded the Order of the Red Star for bravery.
Unlike many of the young girl snipers of the Soviet Army, Lyudmila Pavlichenko was an accomplished sharpshooter before joining the military. She was older than the others as well, and was in her fourth year of study at Kiev University when war broke out. The Russian Army sent around 2,000 trained female snipers to the front during the war; only around 500 survived. Pavlichenko had by far the greatest war record of them all, with 309 confirmed kills, including 36 enemy snipers. And that was accomplished by 1942! Pavlichenko was wounded by a mortar and pulled from the front. Because of her record, she was sent on a public relations tour to Canada and the United States to drum up support for the war effort and make an impression on the Allies. She was never sent back to the front, but served during the remainder of the war as a sniper trainer. Pavlichenko earned the title Hero of the Soviet Union. After the war, she completed her university degree and became a historian and served on the the Soviet Committee of the Veterans of War.
For Soviet women aviators, instrumental to this change was Marina Raskova, a famous Russian aviator, often referred to[by whom?] 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 flew a combined total of more than 30,000 combat sorties, produced at least thirty Heroes of the Soviet Union, and included at least two fighter aces. 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.
Manshuk “Mansiya” Zhiengalieva Mametova or Mänşük Jïenğaliqizi Mämetova (Kazakh: Мәншүк Жиенғалиқызы Мәметова, Russian: Маншук Жиенгалиевна Маметова; (23 October 1922 – 15 October 1943) was a Soviet Kazakh machine gunner of the 21st Rifle Division of the 3rd Guard Shock Army and the first Soviet Asian woman to receive the Hero of the Soviet Union medal for acts of bravery. Orphaned at very young age, Manshuk Mametova spent her childhood in Almaty, under care of A. Mametova. At the time the Second World War began, she was studying at Almaty Medical Institute. She had been taken to war as a volunteer in 1942. As a machine gunner, she showed bravery and courage. She was killed in a battle for Nevel. Many streets and schools in Almaty, Nevel, Oral and other cities were named after her, and monuments in her honour may be found in many parts of former Soviet Union.
6. Zoya Anatolyevna Kosmodemyanskaya
Zoya Anatolyevna Kosmodemyanskaya. She is one of the most revered martyrs of the Soviet Union. Zoya was assigned to the partisan unit 9903 (Staff of the Western Front). Of the one thousand people who joined the unit in October 1941 only half survived the war. At the village of Obukhovo near Naro-Fominsk, Kosmodemyanskaya and other partisans crossed the front line and entered territory occupied by the Germans. They mined roads and cut communication lines. On November 27, 1941 Zoya received an assignment to burn the village of Petrischevo, where a German cavalry regiment was stationed. On November, 27th in 2 o’clock in the morning Boris Krajnov, Vasily Klubkov and Zoe Kosmodemjanskaja have burnt in Petrischevo three houses (residents Karelova, Solntseva and Smirnova) in which German officers and soldiers settled down; thus at Germans 20 horses were lost. With approach of evening on November, 28th, at attempt to burn S.A.Sviridov’s to shed (one of the policemen appointed by Germans), Kosmodemyanskaya it has been noticed by the owner. The lodged Germans caused by last have seized the girl (about 7 one o’clock in the evening). To Sviridov for it have given a bottle of vodka (subsequently it is sentenced by court to execution). On interrogation it has named as Tanya and has not told anything certain. Having stripped naked, it beat belts, then put to it hour during 4 hours drove its barefooted, in one linen, along the street on a frost. Local inhabitants Solina tried to join tortures and Smirnova, thrown in it a kettle with slops also.
Solina and Smirnova subsequently have been sentenced to execution.
At 10:30 next morning, it have deduced on street where the gallows has already been built; on a breast to it have hung up the tablet with an inscription «Houseburner». The Germans left Zoya’s body hanging on the gallows for several weeks. Eventually she was buried just before the Soviet liberation in January 1942.
Zinaida Portnova, a 15-year-old girl away at Soviet summer camp (which was probably even less fun than it sounds), was caught by surprise and tried to get home to Leningrad, only to find the Nazis blocking her way and preparing to siege the city. With nowhere else to go, she joined the Belarus underground as part of a unit nicknamed the Young Avengers. Being essentially kids, they started off small, distributing underground leaflets and occasionally sabotaging an enemy truck or motorcycle in their base region of Vitebsk. When Zina turned 17, she was promoted to scout, responsible for venturing out into the field to look for possible targets, and getting away with it because, let’s face it, she was adorable. However, in December 1943 she was finally caught scoping out a new target for the underground. She was taken to a nearby village and interrogated by the Gestapo. While being grilled by her captors for answers, she suddenly spotted an officer’s pistol sitting on the table right next to her. Oh, yes, this happened. Taking a page from every spy movie that has ever existed, she snatched up the gun and blasted the interrogator and two armed soldiers, whose sole job in the entirety of World War II was to make sure this exact thing would not happen. She managed to escape out the window, but ran into a few competent Nazis outside and was recaptured. While it didn’t end happily for Zina (she was executed the next year), her story inspired future resistance fighters and she was eventually made a hero of the Soviet Union in 1958
8. Lydia Litvyak
Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak (Лидия Владимировна Литвяк, (Moscow, August 18, 1921 – Krasnyi Luch August 1, 1943), also known as Lydia Litviak or Lilya Litviak, was a fighter pilot in the Soviet Air Force during World War II. With at least 12 solo victories and at least four shared kills over a total of 66 combat missions, over about two years of missions, she was the first female fighter pilot to shoot down an enemy plane, the first female fighter pilot to earn the title fighter ace, and she holds the record for the greatest number of kills by a female fighter pilot. She was shot down near Orel during the Battle of Kursk as she attacked a convoy of German planes.
9. Mariya Oktyabrskaya
Born into a peasant family in the Crimea, Mariya was one of ten children. In 1925 she married a young army officer and in tribute to the October Revolution she and her soldier husband changed their surname to Oktyabrskaya. Her husband was killed in the fighting around Kiev in August 1941 but the news took a year to reach her. Her desire for revenge led to her selling all of her possessions to raise funds to purchase a tank for the Red Army. Mariya placed one condition on this donation: she must be allowed to drive it! Realising the publicity opportunities, High Command approved her request and, at the age of thirty-eight, she commenced training. In September 1943, she was assigned to 26ya Gvardeyskiy Tankovaya Brigada (26th Guards Tank Brigade) as a mechanic/driver. When Mariya arrived at her unit in a T-34 tank emblazoned with the turret slogan ‘Boyevaya Podrooga’ or ‘Fighting Girlfriend’, the tankists viewed her with scepticism and considered the assignment a publicity stunt. This attitude changed to one of respect following Mariya’s participation in battle. In combat during October and November 1943, Mariya distinguished herself as a skilled and fearless driver, manoeuvring her tank like a veteran and accounting for many enemy troops and guns in close assaults during her rampage of revenge. In several engagements enemy shells damaging the tracks halted her T-34. Mariya, often disregarding orders not to, would jump out of the tank while under fire, effect repairs to get back into action as fast as possible.In January 1944 she was hit in the head by shrapnel while repairing a broken track and killed. In August she was posthumously decorated becoming the first female tankist to be awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union—the Red Army’s highest award for military valour.
10. Aleksandra Samusenko
Aleksandra Grigoryevna was from Chita in Transbaikalia; she joined the army at the outset of the VOV, and became the only female tank officer in the 1st Guards Tank Army, being the only female Deputy KomBat (Battalion Commander). She received the Order of the Red Star for her beroism at the Battle of Kursk/Oryol, and she was killed in the last stages of the VOV in the offensive in Pomerania (then, Germany; now, in Poland). At the time of her death in battle, she had reached the rank of Captain.