A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II

Article excerpt

A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II by Anne Noggle. Texas A&M University Press (http://www.tamu.edu/upress), John H. Lindsey Building, Lewis Street, 4354 TAMU, College Station, Texas 77843, 2002, 336 pages, $24.95 (softcover).

This oral history, complemented by a series of photographic portraits the author made of her interviewees, was extremely well received when it first appeared in 1994. The fact that Texas A&M University Press has reissued the book in paperback suggests how valuable it remains. Anne Noggle, a former member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots and adjunct professor of art, journeyed in the early 1990s to Russia to interview over 70 women who served in the Soviet air force. The accounts she gathered and edited constitute excellent primary sources and, with more recent scholarship (such as that of Reina Pennington), not only shed light on gender relations in Soviet society, but also dispel many myths propagated in earlier publications about female pilots in World War II.

Although each woman's account is unique, all of them raise similar themes, from duty to challenge, loneliness, courage, and pride. Most stress the role of Marina Raskova, the woman who formed the first female regiment and inspired them to join the service. Raskova played an essential role in convincing Soviet military authorities to allow women into combat. Nevertheless, the accounts do not make clear whether the fading resistance of men resulted from war conditions or an acceptance of Soviet ideologies of equality. In any case, the women who joined faced conditions worse than male trainees did in any of the combat forces of World War II. Living conditions in the women's units-often formed in under three months instead of the standard two years-were extremely difficult (flight clothing was often male-sized, and hygiene and building heat were nonexistent). The women also had to contend with substandard flying equipment and were sent out several times a night without escort on missions (in the case of one regiment, without parachutes until 1944). …