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Women in War and Resistance: Selected Biographies of Soviet Women Soldiers Paperback – 1 Jan 1998

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Amazon.com: HASH(0x9541c744) out of 5 stars 9 reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x95438348) out of 5 stars Definitely the standard work on the subject. 5 May 2002
By Jonathan D. Eckel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The first thing that struck me about this book was that it was obviously a labor of love. Professor Cottam has been researching this topic for years, meeting in person many of the heroic women whose stories she recounts in the pages of _Women in War and Resistance_. Almost none of the material contained within the book comes from any recent interviews, though. Rather, it is the product of extensive compiling and translation of Soviet records and publications. The result is a very polished and professional study of a side of the WWII Russian Front that I knew about but had never seriously delved into.
I consider myself fairly well read when it comes to the Soviet military, but right from the first few pages I discovered that my "knowledge" of Soviet women combatants was based on typical Western misconceptions. It was neither the shortage of manpower or the desire to make a propaganda statement that brought Soviet women into combat roles. Instead, it was their sheer determination to take part in the defense of the Motherland and the consistent proving of their combat mettle that accounts for women being welcomed (despite considerable skepticism) into the ranks of the Red Army.
Most of the women whose stories were selected for inclusion in this book are recipients of the coveted Hero of the Soviet Union (HSU) award. This prestigious list includes women from all combat services, but the majority are either Red Air Force pilots or participants in the Soviet resistance.
Almost all Soviet women pilots seemed to have been inspired by a trio of female aviation pioneers named Valentina Grizodubova, Polina Osipenko and Marina Raskova. These three women became as famous in the Soviet Union during the 1930's as Amelia Erhardt was in the West. Grizodubova went on to command a regiment consisting of all men, the only instance of this ever happening, while Raskova formed the first women's regiments and commanded one of them until her death in January of 1943 (Osipenko died in a plane crash before the war). In what seems very unusual to an American reader, bomber/ground attack pilots received much more recognition than fighter pilots. In fact, the only Soviet woman fighter pilot to be named as a Hero of the Soviet Union was Lidya Litvyak, who was awarded the honor posthumously in 1990, nearly 50 years after having been killed in action in August of 1943.
Whenever I was reading through the bios of the women of the Red Army and Air Force, I was glad to learn that many of these heroines lived long and healthy lives after the war and that a good number of them were still alive as of the late 1990s. Then I got to the stories of Soviet Resistance fighters... In their cases, the survivors can be counted on one hand. All the previous stories had been of women who risked their lives fighting the Nazis; all the following were about women who almost invariably sacrificed theirs for the same cause. Some died under torture by the Nazis or their collaborators while others fought to the last bullet against suicidal odds. Very, very few lived to see the invader driven out of their homeland. In many ways, their stories are the most profound.
Two other groups of Soviet women combatants were also included. The first were recipients of the Order of Glory, 1st Class. This award was reserved exclusively for privates, NCOs, and (in the case of the air force) junior lieutenants. It was actually awarded far less often than the Hero of the Soviet Union medal. Only four women received this very rare award for frontline service.
The stories of four female veterans of the Russian Civil War (1918-22) finish up the book. This conflict, not widely written about in the West, is of particular interest to me. I especially enjoyed the bio of "Zemlyachka." Her name appeared briefly in other accounts I had read as someone particularly feared and detested by the counter-revolutionary "White" armies. It was good to finally read a more favorable account of her wartime service. 20 years before Hitler's invasion, "Zemlyachka" and the other three Bolshevik fighters whose stories are told here took part in an epic struggle against a homegrown Russian fascist movement whose victory would have dramatically altered the course of all that was to follow.
Professor Cottam has written a great book that will interest readers of both Soviet and military history as well as those seeking a historical perspective on the current debate regarding women in combat. She has also put together three other books containing both first- and third-person accounts of Soviet women in wartime. If you have even a slight interest in the subject, _Women in War and Resistance_ is a must.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x956d5dc8) out of 5 stars Really cool history 18 Jun. 2001
By TigerlilyM - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed reading this account of women during wartime. Ms. Cottam interviewed both surviving veterans and the families of the deceased... it took her 20 years! Her time was well spent. I was fascinated by these stories of courageous women from such diverse backgrounds: over a third are Ukrainian, another third are Russian and Bellarussian, and the rest are from all over the former Soviet Union--Uzbekistan, Balkans, Siberia. A lot of these women suffered at the hands of Stalin both before and after the war. These women fought bravely for their people, not for Stalin. One of my ancestors is one of only two recognized female combat veterans from the American Revolution, so I am always interested in reading what drives women to fight in a war. I will share these girls' stories with my own daughter. These women are an inspiration.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x961e9144) out of 5 stars Women in War and Resistance 24 Jun. 2001
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The face of war maybe is not a woman's face, but women have endured the hardships, the horrors and the casualties of war (and sometime the direct combat experience) since the dawn of humanity. However, what happened during the Soviet-German conflict was literally unprecedented: nearly one million of women of all ages and varied ethnical origin joined the Red Army in its titanic struggle against the invading German Army - and fought until the end in May 1945. It was an extraordinary situation, born out of a series of complex premises, and it's still an aspect of this multi-faced conflict not widely know with the large audience (that still relay on third hand clichés popularised by movies and the The personal stories of these women will remain, at large, unknown. Now, thanks to the patient work of Prof. K.J. Cottam, one of the foremost experts in the field, here's a collection of 100 mini-biographies of women who participated to the war, and received the title of Hero of Soviet Union (the SU rough equivalent of German "Pour Le Merite"). Being an original work entirely based on the rigorous research of archival material (plus, in some instance, interviews with some of the book protagonist) it's a great advance for our knowledge of this topic.
The origin, motivations, role and eventual fate of these women were mixed. Some piloted PO-2 biplanes on night bombing strikes (something I wouldn't wish for my worst enemy), and some flew deadly Yak-1 in bitter dog-fighting. Some drove T-34 battle tanks built with their own money, and some, in the role of snipers, killed scores of enemy officers with frightening efficiency. Many did medical duties, often being killed while protecting their wounded comrades. And many more fought the obscure, hard and ambiguous battles of partisan warfare and underground resistance, often paying with torture and death their choice. Also, if many of the women portrayed in this collection were perfectly integrated in the Soviet system, many others where considered "unreliable" by the Communists authorities, and where awarded only decades after the end of the war, if not when the Soviet State collapsed. And also, if some survived war's hazards died of old age or is still living in post-Soviet Russia, many of them died during the war or - because of wartime toils - just afterwards.
It's difficult, if not impossible to find a common denominator for the characters included in Cottam's volume. While it's evident that a lot of these women joined the fight out of the desire to help their country, others found this as a way toward independence, emancipation and adventure. Prof. Cottam thesis is that - contrarily to the common view held in the West - their chance to see the frontline wasn't part of a organic Communist view of the women's role in the Army. Instead, military resistance to the "acquisition" of female personnel for combat duty was often overcome by personal lobbying to the higher authorities, and a skilful mix of stubbornness, determination and pre-war technical skills (many pilots belonged to air club, and many of the snipers had a past on sport or hunting). It must be noted also that women's presence in the Red Army declined markedly after V-E Day. While all this is probably true, it true also that the Soviet system made much of women's presence in the military machine, and the same presence couldn't have been possible without the presence of a political system bent (at least in theory) on giving social equity. The same Prof. Cottam admit that the Soviet women soldiers experience didn't came simply out of the desperate need for relatively skilled personnel to be thrown into the battlefield meat grinder (or worse, as some latter day bigot insinuates, because of the need for female companionship in the barracks). On the contrary, it can be seen as a real movement generating into different strata of the Russian society, partly because of the war conditions, but also because the terrain was fertile for such experiment. And the high percentage of decorated women, their often-extraordinary deeds, and the fact that many of the decorations came posthumously, testifies to the contribution they did to the war effort.
This is a book that deserves to be read and discussed, not least because of Prof. Cottam skill, authority and method. It could have been easy for her to trivialise, simplify or sentimentalise the matter just make it appetising to a wider audience. In an age of pseudo histo-journalism mainly based on recycled secondary sources, she worked for years on the real thing - archival documents or stories published contemporarily to the facts. "Women in War and Resistance" is the welcome product of this effort.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x954386e4) out of 5 stars An Eye-Opener! Fascinating tales of heroism 22 Jun. 2001
By James J. Bloom - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As the author points out in her introduction, contrary to persistent myth, the women in the USSR were NOT privileged nor offered traditionally masculine employment opportunities on a golden platter. They were certainly not welcome in the military. The sacrifices and feats of these women figher pilots, tankers, snipers, naval commandoes, spies, and medical personnel are all the more impressive. K.J. Cottam presents these hero tales without the gloss of the familiar Soviet propaganda. She has consulted diaries, combat reports where available, military histories and conducted many interviews with survivors and their families.
I was attracted to this title because of my interest in the Russo-German war. I wanted to read about the contributions of women and was wary of the usual Soviet ballyhoo about their valorous decorated women and how the Soviet system inspired and rewarded their dedication. True, many of the women described in these pages were dedicated, as was inevitable under the Hammer and Sickle (and in the face of German brutality). However this book makes clear that their impressive and tragic sacrifices were on behalf their families and to prove their value to their homeland. They were dedicated professionals, not crusaders.
I was not disappointed. A fascinating, relatively unknown and important story, well told. I commend Dr. Cottam for presenting this excellent cross-section of Russian women at war.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x95438870) out of 5 stars An excellent read for the general public 20 April 1999
By bearlife@womyn.org - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
An excellent read for the general public as well as for Military hounds. Read the biographies of over 100 women who fought for Russia during WWII, 100 female heroes that many, in fact most of us have never heard of. These stories will shed quite a different light on pre cold-war Russia, the World Wars, and the "typical" Russian woman. A must read for all women's studies.
Leslie Blanchard--A Writer's Choice Literary Journa
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