In their own vivid words, the women members of the Soviet air force recount their dramatic efforts against the German forces in World War II. These brave women, the first ever to fly in combat, proved that women could be among the best of warriors, withstanding the rigors of combat and downing the enemy. The women who tell their stories here began the war mostly as inexperienced girls-many of them teenagers. In support of their homeland, they volunteered to serve as bomber and fighter pilots, navigator-bombardiers, gunners, and support crews. Flying against the Luftwaffe, they saw many of their friends-as well as many of their foes-fall to earth in flames. Their three combat Air Force regiments fought as many as one thousand missions during the war. For their heroism and success against the enemy, two of the women's regiments were honored by designation as "Guard" regiments. At least thirty women were decorated with the gold star of Hero of the Soviet Union, their nation's highest award. But equally courageous were the women's efforts to show the Red Army that they were entirely adequate to the great role they sought. Even though Stalin had decreed equality for both sexes, the women had to grapple initially with deep distrust from male pilots and Red Army officers, against whom they eventually prevailed. War, Stalin-era politics, and human emotion mix in these gripping, first-person accounts. Supported by photographs of the women at war, the stories are unforgettable. Portraits of the women as they are now, taken by award-winning photographer Anne Noggle, add the perspective of time to the experiences of the survivors of this great dance with death.
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