Soviet Women at War
Tales of individual women soldiers abound: accounts variously mythical, anecdotal or bizarre, such as the sustained masquerade of Nadezhda Andreyevna Durova, who served with distinction throughout Russia’s wars with Napoleon and rose to the rank of cavalry staff captain (shtabs-rotmistr).1 But nothing in the history or the mythology of any country can compare with the 800 000 young girls and women in the Soviet Union who mobilised for wartime service and frontline duties with the Red Army in the wake of the German attack in June 1941. Young women, their tresses trimmed and their plaits lopped off, were hastily stuffed into ill-fitting uniforms and forced to clump about in over-size boots—all a prelude to learning military skills and mastering combat roles beyond the wildest imaginings of Nadezhda Durova or any legendary figure.2
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