A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II
This is the story of Raskova’s three regiments, women who enlisted and were deployed on the front lines of battle as navigators, pilots, and mechanics. It is the story of a thousand young women who wanted to take flight to defend their country, and the woman who brought them together in the sky.
Packed with black-and-white photographs, fascinating sidebars, and thoroughly researched details, A Thousand Sisters is the inspiring true story of a group of women who set out to change the world, and the sisterhood they formed even amid the destruction of war.
A Thousand Sisters
This is a enthralling telling of the brave Soviet airwomen who flew missions during World War II. They fought in combat, unlike the other Allied nations at that time. Their story hasn't been shared for some time.
What worked: The stories of these brave Soviet women is amazing. The author weaves in photos and the back story of the airwomen. She also shares facts like how the women had to use men's military outfits, even the underwear-as there wasn't any for women at that time. These women fought during the night, sometimes without parachutes. It wasn't until the summer of 1944, that they were equipped with parachutes.
Some interesting facts:
At the beginning, Stalin might have used the women air regiments for publicity.
The Germans called the women "night witches". The airwomen bombed the Germans as many as 300 times a night throughout the war.
The Soviet soldiers called the women, "heavenly creatures" and "little sisters."
There were no combat boots for women. "They wrapped their feet in extra cloth, filled the gaps with balled-up pieces of newspaper."
After the war, the women had to sign a pledge promising they'd not talk about their services as that would be better. Stalin refused to allow the women to continue military service in the air force as they weren't suited for war.
Fascinating portrayal of the heroic Soviet airwomen who fought during World War II. Their stories finally give credit to the courageous women fliers of the war.
Life in the Soviet Military
A Thousand Sisters tells the story of Soviet Airwomen in great detail, drawing on the experiences of many women pilots, some of whom survived the war, and many of whom did not. From the aviation experiences of pilots who ended up being in the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, to the set up of the Soviet military and the experiences of the women after the war, there is a wealth of detail about missions, living conditions, and the trajectory of the war in general, as it affected these brave women.
My favorite chapter was entitled "Life is Life" and discusses the difficulties and deprivations that these women faced. Since so few women were in the military, they had to endure wearing men's boots and underwear, and supplies were so scarce that often had to wash with water from puddles. While my own grandparents often complained about rationing, I know that they never had to eat wall paper paste or boiled shoes! These are excellent details to make the more quotidianal horrors of war come to life.
It's also hard to remember that in the 1920s and 30s, women were making a lot of progress in many occupations. I loved the statistic that in 1941, nearly one third of all Soviet pilots were female! This mirrors the strides women made in the US workforce before the end of the war returned women all over the world to the kitchen, despite the fact that they had proven that they could do "men's" work.
While this is a rather lengthy book, it would be perfect for National History Day projects on the role of women along with Mary Cronk Farrell's Pure Grit: How WWII Nurses in the Pacific Survived Combat and Prison Camp and and is a perfect companion for explaining the details of Kathryn Lasky's The Night Witches (2017).