Women Warriors

Women Warriors

By Drew Lindsay
1/25/2013 • MHQ, MHQ Features, Personalities

Russia organized units of women fighter pilots early in World War II. (akg-images/RIA Nowosti)
Russia organized units of women fighter pilots early in World War II. (akg-images/RIA Nowosti)


GERMAN TANKS ROLLED toward Stalingrad as if leading a holiday parade in Berlin. Luftwaffe planes had pounded Soviet defenses for weeks, scattering the enemy and clearing the way for the ground assault. Through binoculars, the Germans could see smoke rising from the burning city. Victory seemed almost in hand.

Suddenly, shells exploded all around. Soviet antiaircraft crews had cranked down the barrels of their 37mm guns and opened fire. Their aim was a bit wild, but the barrage brought the Germans up short. Halting their advance, the tankers organized a counterattack. Stukas joined in, swooping down on the three dozen batteries, which had no infantry support. The fighting raged for hours until one by one, the Russian guns fell silent. Only later did the Germans learn that the men who had stood against them that day in August 1942 were not men at all.

‘I fear there is a complex against women being connected with lethal work,’ Churchill wrote to his secretary of war. ‘We must get rid of this’

What Soviet writer Vasily Grossman described as “the first page of the Stalingrad defense” had been authored chiefly by teenage girls, volunteers of the 1077th Antiaircraft Regiment, a unit assembled from the city’s high schools. A bunch of women—kids, no less. Many had fought to the death, impressing the enemy. Said one Wehrmacht officer, “It is completely wrong to describe Russian women as ‘soldiers in skirts.’”

The girls of Stalingrad weren’t the only women to inspire shock and awe in World War II. Great Britain, the United States, and other combatants put hundreds of thousands of females in uniform; the Soviet Union alone recruited roughly a million, sending many into combat as tank commanders, snipers, and pilots. Desperation, not egalitarian ideals, drove these mobilizations; there simply weren’t enough men to fight in history’s largest conflagration.

A Timeline of Women Warriors

Today, there’s a steady call in the United States and other liberal democracies to put women into combat. The chaos of modern war already throws female support troops into deadly shootouts with the enemy. Still, nations resist letting women fight alongside men. Judging by modern military history, however, they may ultimately have no choice.


NOT LONG AGO, military historian Martin van Creveld surveyed thousands of years of warfare and declared true women warriors “almost as rare as unicorns.” That’s an exaggeration, of course, but his point is well taken: The history of women in combat before the 20th century is a story of exceptions to the rule.

The most well known are queens and duchesses who led armies in the roughly 2,000 years from classical antiquity through the end of the Middle Ages, at the close of the 15th century. By and large, circumstances thrust these women into command. Often they were widows of kings or feudal lords and inherited their armies. Others were forced to mount a defense of land or castle while their husbands were abroad.

Perhaps the most famous warrior queen is Boudicca, who led the Celts of Britain against occupying Romans in the first century and slaughtered tens of thousands. Others include Vietnam’s legendary Trung sisters, who fought marauding Chinese around the same time, and Eleanor of Aquitaine, who rode in the 12th century’s Second Crusade. 

Less well known than the warrior queens are an assortment of women who disguised themselves as men in order to fight. Binding their breasts and cutting their hair short, they typically passed themselves off as boys to explain their smooth, whiskerless faces. Stories of such deception abound in the ballads, plays, and literature of early modern Europe—often exciting tales of women who enlist to chase adventure or follow a lover. In truth, most of these women fought to escape poverty or a troubled family life.

By the 17th and 18th centuries, nations and armies were moving toward their modern form, which left no room for the warrior queen or the woman fighter in disguise. Laws of primogeniture had begun to guarantee that men alone would inherit land and armies. Royalty gave up campaigning and deputized trained officers to manage their armies. At the same time, military life grew increasingly regimented, with standard-issue uniforms and extensive physicals. As many as a thousand women dressed as men and fought in the American Civil War, but with the dawn of the new century, women were all but shut out of fighting. “War is men’s business,” Hector had said in Homer’s Iliad, and that was still the attitude of any Western country that considered itself civilized. It was almost inconceivable that women would abandon the kitchen and nursery for the battlefield.


THE TWO WORLD WARS of the next half century made such thinking a luxury no nation could afford. The conflicts raged over millions of square miles, across continents and oceans, and for the first time in the air. Each of the major powers built huge war machines that demanded ever more troops but also armies of planners, logisticians, transport specialists, and supply clerks. All together, roughly 150 million soldiers were mobilized.

In the face of critical shortages of men, military officials conceded that women had some­thing to contribute. Between the start of World War I and the end of World War II, many of the combatants—including Germany, Britain, the United States, Australia, Finland, and Poland—created auxiliary branches of their armed forces in which women served as nurses, typists, cooks, and the like. When the wars stretched on and losses grew, their work brought them closer to the action.

Britain was the first of the Allies to put women into formal military service for anything other than duty as nurses. In 1915, as hopes for a quick conflict faded, women suffragists organized a march through London for the right to join the war effort. They carried placards that announced: the situation is serious. women must help to save it. The next year, within months of the devastating Battle of the Somme (British casualties: 400,000), the government began planning for three auxiliary corps—one each for the navy, air force, and army—of women to work as nurses, ambulance drivers, mechanics, cooks, clerks, and other positions in the rear. Recruitment propaganda promised that every woman who signed on would free one man for combat. By war’s end, some 100,000 women had joined.

During World War II, Britain leaned heavily on its women’s auxiliaries, which were championed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Early in his political career, before becoming home secretary in 1910, Churchill had fought against women’s voting rights, winning the enmity of suffragists (one who confronted him with a whip). But his views had evolved over the years. Now, with Britain’s survival at stake, he pushed for women to take on critical and dangerous roles. “I fear there is a complex against women being connected with lethal work,” he wrote his secretary of war privately in December 1941. “We must get rid of this.”

That same month, Britain began conscripting unmarried women between the ages of 20 and 30. Those called to duty could choose to work in civilian war industries or join one of the auxiliary corps. Auxiliary ranks eventually totaled 640,000—more than 10 percent of British armed forces. Serving in all theaters, these women manned jobs directly related to combat—as mechanics, radar and telegraph operators, torpedo handlers, intelligence officers, and more. A handful flew aircraft from factories to bases. Britain still couldn’t bring itself to insert women into combat. But it came close. General Sir Frederick Pile, who led the British antiaircraft command, persuaded Churchill that women could serve with men in AA crews. They would load the guns, fuse shells, track aircraft, and operate searchlights—virtually everything save pull the gun lanyard itself. That might damage the female psyche, the military feared.

More than 56,000 women were serving with Pile by late 1943—including Churchill’s daughter Mary, a 19-year-old debutante who jumped at the chance to be a “gunner girl.” When an AA crew recorded the first kill for a mixed-gender unit in April 1942, Pile observed of the women: “Beyond a little natural excitement and a tendency to chatter when there was a lull, they behaved like a veteran party.”

The United States watched the British deployment of women closely. The navy and Marines had introduced a few thousand women to their reserves during World War I—“We will have the best clerical assistance the country can provide,” declared navy secretary Josephus Daniels—and army general John “Black Jack” Pershing had posted more than 200 civilian women to France as telephone operators, the so-called Hello Girls. But even as the storm clouds of World War II gathered, public opposition torpedoed efforts to introduce women to any more danger. Opposing a bill to create a women’s auxiliary to the army, one congressman said: “Think of the humiliation. What has become of the manhood of America, that we have to call on our women to do what has ever been the duty of men? The thing is so revolting to me, to my sense of decency.”

The exigencies of war, however, changed hearts and minds. By the summer of 1942, the army was projecting a shortfall of 160,000 men. Within a year of Pearl Harbor, Congress had approved auxiliary corps for each branch of the military. These would eventually enlist more than 350,000 women to work in some 400 military specialties. The navy trained women in radar, ship design, navigation, intelligence, and other select skills. Women pilots ferried military aircraft from factories to bases and flew radar and smoke-screening missions. When peace arrived, less than half of the army auxiliary troops had traditional clerical roles; most worked an array of jobs from sheet-metal worker to parachute rigger to control tower operator.

General George C. Marshall, the army’s chief of staff, wanted to put women in even more critical roles. Intrigued by the British mixed-gender AA units, Marshall set up a secret experiment in 1942 that introduced nearly 400 auxiliary troops to anti­aircraft crews protecting Washington, D.C. It was a big success; Major General John Lewis, AA commander in the military district around Washington, asked to make the assignments permanent and add even more women to his ranks. Marshall, however, concluded it wasn’t worth the inevitable backlash from Congress. Besides, the women were desperately needed in their administrative jobs. He closed the experiment and made sure the public didn’t learn of it until after the war.


THE SOVIET UNION entered World War II in very different circumstances than its allies. The USSR in the 1930s considered itself a country under siege, with enemies—both fascists and imperialist democracies—poised to invade and snuff out its experiment in communism. Russian society grew militarized, with citizens urged to acquire the skills to defend the homeland. Osoaviakhim, an organization devoted to the paramilitary training of civilians, built a network of military-sports groups—gun clubs, pilot schools, and the like—affiliated with factories, schools, and other institutions. Komsomol, the Communist Party youth organization, taught the values of the revolutionary soldier—courage, self-sacrifice, endurance, and, most of all, commitment to Stalin and the nation.

Publicly, party apparatchiks applauded the women who learned to fight. The Bolsheviks who had come to power in 1917 had preached equality of the sexes. It was fitting, Stalin said, that women defend the ideals of that revolution alongside men. “Should the thunder of war resound,” Pravda declared, Soviet women “will take up arms to defend the motherland.”

The Soviets were not unfamiliar with the idea of women in combat. A few thousand women had fought in World War I, some as part of a so-called Death Battalion of about 300 women. In the civil war that followed the 1917 Russian Revolution, as many as 80,000 joined the Red Army to fight counterrevolutionaries. The majority served as medical or administrative personnel, but Russian films and fiction of the 1930s turned these ordinary soldiers into machine-gun-toting heroes.


WHEN WORLD WAR II opened, young Soviet women naturally expected that they, too, would pick up guns and fight. Within hours of the Axis invasion of Russia on June 22, 1941, thousands stormed party offices and recruiting stations to enlist. In some areas, women made up as many as half of Red Army applicants. “I was reared by the Komsomol to be hard as nails,” said one would-be sailor.

Most of these women were turned away. The government’s easy talk of equality had been a fraud; it maintained that women best served the country on the home front. Stalin’s military leaders, meanwhile, believed that females in the ranks hurt morale and led to sexual mischief. The sacred duty of women patriots was to stay home.

The disastrous opening of the war made such a stand impractical. The Germans storming into the Soviet heartland inflicted catastrophic losses—nearly 6.5 million casualties in less than a year. In March 1942, Stalin’s regime quietly launched the first of what would be 12 major mobilizations of women. By the next year, at the height of the war, there were between 800,000 and 1 million women in uniform, roughly 8 percent of the armed forces.

Conservative estimates suggest about 320,000 were sent to the front, with many kept away from the fiercest fighting. But unlike the United States and Britain, Russia put its women directly into infantry, armor, and artillery units. They were trained to drive tanks and fly planes and fire weapons—including rifles, light and heavy machine guns, mortars, and bazookas. And they were asked to kill.

In October 1941, the Soviet Union created three all-women air force regiments, becoming the first nation to send women pilots into combat. The new flyers were given six months of training, men’s uniforms—“right down to the underwear,” said one—and “boy-style” haircuts. They flew more than 30,000 sorties.

One unit, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, became notorious among Germans as the Night Witches. Flying at night in wood-and-fabric Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, the pilots typically cut their engines and glided down behind the lines, the wind whistling eerily against the brace lines as they tossed bombs from the cockpit.

In 1943, the Soviets opened what’s thought to be history’s first military school for women. The Central Women’s School for Sniper Training put nearly 2,000 students through a rigorous course on weapons, telescopic sights, camouflage, hand-to-hand combat, and more.

“We fired and fired and fired,” wrote one student. “We fired from the shoulder, the hip and the chest, on the run and standing, in the open and camouflaged….Your legs pained, your eyes ached from the prolonged stress, and your shoulder throbbed from the recoil of the rifle butt.” The school’s alumni were credited with killing more than 11,000.

Russia’s most famous sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, didn’t learn her craft at the school. The daughter of a Red Army soldier, she trained as a young woman with a shooting club affiliated with the arms factory where she worked. During the war, she racked up more than 300 kills and became legendary for her toughness—she was wounded four times—and endurance. Often, she’d lie in ambush for days.

Pavlichenko came to the United States in 1942 to help lobby the Allies to open a second front on the Germans in Europe. The novelty of a woman killer thrilled Americans; Woody Guthrie wrote a ballad “Miss Pavlichenko” extolling her virtues: “Your smile shines as bright / As my new morning sun. / But more than three hundred nazisdogs fell by your gun.”

The press surprised Pavlichenko with questions about her makeup and hairstyle. “Don’t they know there is a war?” she said. One reporter even questioned her fashion sense, saying her uniform made her look fat.

Soviet women had perhaps their biggest impact working in the AA units. As many as 300,000 were assigned to gun crews. As with the men, some didn’t handle the stress, noise, or danger well; there were reports of women who grew ill and vomited. But many thrived. Twenty-year-old Yekaterina Razumovskaya, a farm milkmaid before the war, proved she could load heavy shells better than men and was quickly promoted to weapon commander. She explained matter-of-factly: “If you strongly want to achieve something, you will.”

The Soviets came to depend on the women gunners. At Moscow, Leningrad, and Stalingrad, females eventually replaced all the men, to great effect. One German pilot, a veteran of the Africa theater, said: “I would rather fly 10 times over the skies of [British-controlled] Tobruk than pass once through the fire of Russian flak sent up by female gunners.”

Judging by the honors bestowed upon them, Soviet women performed well in this impromptu experiment in egalitarianism. As many as 150,000 were decorated, and 91 received the Gold Star of a Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest award for valor.

In the next half century, the Soviet women fighters became folk heroes and models for revolutionaries elsewhere. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara welcomed women into the ranks of their guerrilla armies. During the Vietnam War, the Vietcong and local militia units included thousands of women; by one count, 40 percent of the regimental commanders were women. When Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, women made up some 30 percent of its soldiers.

Yet World War II did little to change the centuries-old attitudes of the major powers. Soviet leaders had never been comfortable sending women into battle. Women in combat units reported sexual harassment and abuse. Many were executed by German soldiers who considered women soldiers so morally repugnant that they killed any they captured.


AFTER THE FIGHTING, Soviet propaganda once again promoted the theme that a woman’s primary duty to the state was motherhood. By 1959, there were only 659 females in the Red Army.

Today, thanks largely to changing cultural norms and pressure from advocacy groups, women in the military in several countries have nearly equal status with men. At least eight nations—including Israel, China, North Korea, and Taiwan—draft women for the military.

In Israel, which in 1948 became the first country to conscript women, they make up more than a third of the armed forces. Though the country still balks at sending women into close-quarters fighting, 93 percent of Israel’s military positions are open to women, including some with border-patrol combat units that regularly face danger.

The United States since World War II has moved grudgingly to open the military to women. Though Congress integrated the armed forces in 1948, it also limited women to 2 percent of total active personnel. That cap held for nearly 20 years—to be lifted only when the Vietnam War drained the military’s reserves.

Though the Department of Defense formally banned women in combat in 1994, it has slowly opened up roles for them in front-line units. Last year, it dropped gender restrictions on 14,000 combat-related jobs. Women can now work in combat battalions as chaplains, intelligence and logistics specialists, tank and artillery mechanics, and even rocket-launcher crew members.

Most recently, outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the department would lift the ban on women in combat. At press time, Congress still had to weigh in, and the services reportedly will have the right to petition to close certain jobs to females. But if the decision holds, women will be eligible for more than 230,000 new jobs, including infantry positions.

In many ways, Panetta’s decision is simply a recognition that women are already fighting in combat. The United States has deployed nearly 290,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. More than 140 have died, many killed by insurgents. With the blurry front lines of modern warfare, even women assigned to noncombat roles sometimes wind up in battle. In 2005, assigned to a protection detail for a military convoy, Army National Guard sergeant Leigh Ann Hester landed in a firefight with Afghanistan insurgents. Jumping from her Humvee, she ran to a ditch where several Americans were pinned down and about to be taken hostage. Opening fire with her M-4, she held off the insurgents, killing three and helping to rescue the men. Hester became the first woman to receive a Silver Star for a direct engagement with the enemy.

Still, Panetta’s decision will be fought hard. Citing reports of sexual harassment in the ranks, some officials worry that women will disrupt the cohesion crucial to combat unit. They also argue that females physically can’t handle the duty.

IN THE END, some people will never accept women in battle—at least, that is, until women are needed.


Drew Lindsay is executive editor of MHQ.


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42 Responses to Women Warriors

  1. Leo Ladenson says:

    Women cannot handle the physical demands of service in the U.S. military, as witnessed by the different physical fitness standards. Passing scores for women are failing scores for men. If the men’s standards were applied to the women service members, the services would be defeminized overnight.

    • Norman Kelley says:

      How do you explain, then, women body-builders?

      • Dennis says:

        You, like most, are missing the key components of what physical problems are involved.

        There is a WORLD of difference between lifting 200+ lbs in a body building competition / gym and spending 6 months in patrol base in 120 degree heat, carrying 100lbs packs miles with little rest, and going on little sleep, no showers / cleaning for months at a time, etc. The MOMENTARY physical demands of bodybuilding are childs play compared to the long term wear and tear on the human body that is sustained by the common infantryman. You might as well be comparing your bodybuilder to a triathlete.

      • Eric says:

        Women bodybuilders are not as strong as male bodybuilders. A small minority of women, perhaps including the bodybuilders, are capable of meeting men’s physical standards. But most of the women in the US military are not part of that small minority.

  2. Pulseguy says:

    Same reason military units don’t typically take 50 and 60 year olds. They can’t cut it, as a rule.

  3. Muggins says:

    As a retired union pipefitter, we encourage women to become pipefitters. The problem is that they do not have the upper body strength to lift and carry heavy loads. But, the politics precludes that the topic is ever brought up for discussion. Another problem with women in the barracks is the sex card. You have to have seperate bathrooms, which is no small expense for a shrinking military budget. There is no denying that young men and women are attracted to each other, and that is a predictable reality. Sex can get ugly, with courtship behavior, relationships broken off, jealosy, favoritism, and the act of sex in the barracks. Do we punish soldiers if they have sex together? How is that good for morale? How does that make the combat situation better? It costs a lot of money to train a soldier, and then throw it away because we introduced the sex card in the barracks? I’d also like to know what pregnant soldiers and sailors cost the military. Isn’t it the duty of society to make the condition of the combat soldier better rather than worse? After all, they are going into harm, losing body parts, losing their minds, and losing their life to protect us as we
    enjoy civilian life back home.

  4. Stalin says:

    Muggins says \You have to have seperate bathrooms\. Pity nobody told the builder of my house, but somehow we cope, all using the same bathroom.

    Muggins says \Do we punish soldiers if they have sex together? How is that good for morale?\ Well, I can only speak for myself, but I find sex is very good for my morale. If punishing it is bad for morale, stop punishing it.

    Twenty-year-old Yekaterina Razumovskaya has the right attitude, \If you strongly want to achieve something, you will.\ I’d sooner have someone like her in my army than some whiny moaner who can only think of why things cannot be done.

  5. Mick Lee says:

    IN THE END, some people will never accept women in battle—at least, that is, until women are needed.\n
    Yeah, likewise, some people will never accept children in battle—at least, that is, until children are needed.

  6. BelindieG says:

    The Soviets machine-gunned their own troops at Stalingrad, so just how much choice did these teenage heroines have, anyway? The Soviets used human wave tactics with unnerving frequency at Stalingrad and notably in areas near the Ukraine. Furthermore, the NKVD battalions on der Ostfront would sometimes use decimation as a form of extreme discipline (shoot 1 out of every 10 soldiers at random). In Stalingrad, even, anyone who so much as tried to escape fighting in the city if they were called to do so could expect to be shot immediately by the local NKVD militia.

  7. Muggins says:

    Toilets and showers are different in the service than in your house. In the Army, where I served, the barracks had a row of 8 toilets facing another row of 8 toilets. And the showers were not individual stalls, and there is no privacy at all. Apparently, if you are for women in combat, then you deny that there is no sexual tension involved, or admit that it will cost more money to house the women, and that more men will be hauled up on sex related charges.

  8. Shea says:

    Muggins, people made the same argument about women working outside the home at all: they’re not made for it; sex will be rampant; we’ll have to make accommodations for them…

    Messy as it is, we’re working it out. I don’t think the military is different. (See examples in the above article.)

  9. Saksin says:

    Who ever doubted that women can be put into combat positions in war, to kill and get killed, and that they may even thrive there, as some men do? It cannot be doubted, because it has been done, time and again in history, including modern history, as this article details. The question is whether you want to do so, unless desperation forces you to, which as this article also details, is and always was the most common cause for actually putting women in that position.
    And to answer whether you actually want to do so, the first thing to remember is that is is – or should be, considering the nature of war – a matter of shame for mankind that ANYONE needs to be put into combat duty to kill and get killed. The tone of this article, which at times verges on a Hollywoodesque celebration of the glories of war which women ought to be able to share in as a matter of egalitarian justice, is therefor distasteful, and even obscene.
    Next, it is a sad commentary on the shallowness of current discussion of “women in combat duty” that the author does not feel any need to allude to the basic reason behind the aversion of societies in all times and places to putting women in that position except as a last resort, i.e. when desperately fighting for sheer survival. There is a straightforward reason why human societies under emergency conditions make it their business to first of all protect women and children: Only women give birth, at the cost of a nine month heavy duty pregnancy. From the point of view of simple biological reproduction they are the limiting resource, the reproductive bottleneck. Compared to women men are in this respect – to put it crudely – expendable.
    But in our modern ivory tower wisdom we are so far removed from the realities we one day may have to face, and which our ancestors faced as a continual possibility throughout history, that we can take it into our heads to start playing political games with the basic biology and nature of our kind. And why? To prove to the world how open minded and egalitarian we are, how “fair” we are to what once was sincerely called the fair sex. All the while we are proving only how spoiled we are, and how clueless we are about the full potential scope of the disaster called war, and how it relates to the deeper realities of our nature, male and female.
    To contemplate the possibility of women in combat duty for any other reason than sheer desperation ought, therefore, to be a cause for SHAME, on account of the ignorance and frivolity it betokens.

    • Wong Hoong Hooi says:

      Typical of the Western generalisations of societies they don’t approve of – i..e deny validity to any positives that are reported.. Coerced solidiers might stay in the zone of combat but would either cower or not fight effectively. Fact is that the average Soviet solider did.

      • Wong Hoong Hooi says:

        Sorry, my reply above is to comment #6 but somehow ended up being published under #9

  10. Muggins says:

    The military is different than civilian life. The combat soldier deserves better than to have his conditions made worse by an ideology driven agenda.

    • REhmann says:

      We are constantly bombarded by social engineering from liberal perspectives that give us the decay in culture we experience. Never mind that what is thought as NEW is repeat of the past disguised as progressive. We suffer the consequences of these social experiments and those who are to blame redirect our attention on the superficial to avoid placing responsibility where it belongs.

  11. shaun darragh says:

    Back in the Stone Age, in the mid-1970s, some Special Forces officers Fort Bragg were passing around a book called \Ma Guerre d’Espagne a Moi\. It was the biography of a former female company commander who had fought in the Spanish CIvil War on the Republican side, nd ultimately commissioned a Captain of Infantry.

    Her name was Mika Etchebehere, and she had come to Spain with her husband, both from Argentina. They were non-Stalinist Marxists, who initially served with the P.O.U.M. militias. Her husband was the initial company commander, and the company was mostly male, with a few females. She erved as the company executive officer until he was killed, and was then chosen by the company to replace him.

    She could not shoulder a man’s weight, and didn’t pretend to do so. But she did know how to command. Analyzing the low fighting strength of her brigade, she identified several problems. The main problem was that the men were often cold and hungry. But this was exacerbated by their insistence or not wearing clothing that would have made them warmer. She set about scrounging warm clothing for all her company, and instituted a policy that everyone on the line had to be wearing their, however out of place it looked. She also recognized that the men needed at least one hot meal a day, and set about ensuring this. In short, she soon applied many of those age old rules of combat that the U.S. Army tries to instill in its soldiers.

    She did not punish any females in her unit for having sex. And she was mightily tempted herself. The young man who had replaced her as the deputy. Once, while caught together under fire, she says that she looked into his eyes, and he into hers, and the same thought crossed their minds. What the hell did they have to lose? They were likely to die any day. But once the fire lifted, another the commander side of her personality shone through. If she had sex with him, being a Spaniard of his times, he would likely lose all respect for her orders. Familiarity breeds contempt. Furthermore, if word got out among the company, then jealousies would develop that would undermine her authority. So she opted to reassign him to duties that kept him further away.

    In Madrid, on a short respite, she ran into a good looking French journalist who wined and dined her and play all the right cards. However, as she was looking into his eyes, it occurred to her that for him, she was just bragging rights to having bedded the Republican Army’s only female infantry officer. ANd besides, there were men in her company she would rather bed, and she couldn’t. So she went to bed alone that night, reflecting on the idea that she believed in free love, but by circumstances was forced to be as chaste as a nun.

    • M. Mikuls says:

      You failed to mention that the Republican Army was Red. As all communists know, there is no male/female, everyone is simply state property.

  12. Mike W says:

    The pundits that are pro women in combat are of course people that have never served in the military, especially the combat arms.

    As a 20 year old , former high school football player, Marine Corps Infantry pushed me to the limits at times. I have know no woman that could do it. I have known woman that can run 20 miles easily but they are tiny little people, 110 pounds at the most. They cant combine the upper body strength with the endurance.

    Of course trying convince any of these keyboard experts of this is futile. They have all seen GI Jane and think woman are equal physically. They arent. Not even close.

  13. John Gardner says:

    A wonderful piece of propaganda disguised as history! I say propaganda because the writer fails to distinguish between combat arms and support activities. Women were brought into the western military in WWI, Korea and Vietnam because this would free up males for combat arms service.

    Shame on you, History.net!

  14. holly says:

    Women need not be in combat roles if it’s not practical, but they ought to be employed in the military as much as men are. They could be in back up, intelligence and logistical positions or, as the article mentions, in clerical or maintenance roles. If we want equality in society, females deserve equal access to military jobs.

    • Dennis says:

      Heres the ‘unintended’ consequences of that policy. And it has and is happening.

      When you have an unequal distribution of women / men in certain roles, you make it harder on the people in the more difficult roles. Heres why, in the Marine Corps for instance, you spend about 3 years in a ‘Fleet’ unit – deployable combat units or such as a Regiment/Division etc alternating with 3 years in ‘B billets’ which are non-deployable support roles – supporting training, running bases, procurement programs, etc.
      Employing women ‘as much as men’ incurs problems for 1. there just arent that many women who want to be in the military and are qualified to be, 2. the more women you have who cant be in the combat units, the more they will be in the non-combat parts of the Fleet units. Not a big deal until they rotate out to the B-billets. B-billets will be disproportionately filled by women too. Now, thats important because at times of long wars and irregular wars, like the current, all the ‘extra’ structure to fight comes from those B-billets. Individual augments and even combat replacements would and have been drawn from them, especially in times of shrunken military manpower like now. What winds up happening is some people never get to ‘recover’ in B-Billets. They leave their fleet unit for a supposedly non-deployable B-Billet only to be called back as an augment to a Fleet unit. The proportion of men to women and their roles is about right at this time, changing it is going to have detrimental effects that wont be seen till we go into another long war.

  15. Christopher Burd says:

    Women need not be in combat roles if it’s not practical, but they ought to be employed in the military as much as men are. They could be in back up, intelligence and logistical positions or, as the article mentions, in clerical or maintenance roles. If we want equality in society, females deserve equal access to military jobs.

    Sure, my mum was a Wren (in the WRNS – Women’s Royal Navy Service) during World War II. She worked as a radio operator trying to intercept German naval communications from a safe office on land. She had a great time and made many life-long friends.

    But this wasn’t remotely combat, and so long a militaries engage in combat, people without combat experience are going to have hard time being promoted – as they should. Part of the thrust to put women into combat roles is to clear the way for women to be promoted to higher ranks. I’m not sure this is a good enough reason.

  16. […] Women Warriors. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  17. lirelou says:

    chris: In re: But this wasn’t remotely combat, and so long a militaries engage in combat, people without combat experience are going to have hard time being promoted – as they should.\n
    Actually, if what my nephew tells me is accurate, the precise problem is that the Army does what it can to ensure that promotion lists are representational. .I.e., the percentage promoted has some relation to the percentage of diversity categories, such as women, serving. He is a combat medic with 3 tours in Iraq. He tells me that women who hold the same MOS as he, and who have never seen combat , and who could not do the necessary physical tasks of a combat medic, and therefore draw assignments to hospitals and duties outside the war zone get promoted along with the men who have been doing the hard time in it.

    Another nephew who served in Afghanistan in an Engineer unit told of a West Point female Captain who cried in front of the troops because her job was ‘so hard’. Obviously not cut from the same cloth as Mika Etchebehere,

    The real opposition to allowing women in combat units in the Army is not that combat is an environment that no woman can perform in. Hell, a lot of men can’t perform well in combat, and some women damned sure can. Rather it is a suspicion that the Army will come up with the inevitable profile of the number of women’s slots needed in combat units which will be based upon social-engineering policies that commanders will be expected to make succeed, regardless of the facts.

    During a simulated chemical attack as part of an military exercise in Korea, a Black female Sergeant Major was caught sitting in a Colonel’s office without her mask. When ordered to mask, she refused. When told she was relieved, she charged the Colonel with sexual harassment. In the end, she was simply reassigned back to the States. In that same office two years earlier, a white SFC who had been tasked with conducting an Intel brief for a senior officer started stumbling over her words, broke down in tears, and walked away from the brief. When the colonel, different from the above example, tried to coax her back in, she refused. When he told her it was an order, she told him to go f*ck himself and ran off in tears. Later, she was overheard telling a sympathetic female E-5 that the Army knew she wasn’t qualified to be an E-7, and they shouldn’t have made her one.\nNothing ever happened to her either.

    The real test for women succeeding in combat will not be some American version of Mika Etchebehere getting a Silver Star for some valid act of heroism. It will be the day that some male commander can fire an incompetent female subordinate secure in the knowledge that he will face no more scrutiny than if he had fired a male. And based upon my observations, that day is a long way off.

    For Mike. I’ve been in combat, and I’ve know women who could serve successfully in combat. I’ve also known my share of men who couldn’t, though they looked mighty fine on parade. One of those women was a extremely athletic Black female and Ivy school graduate serving in an MI unit. She spoke Arabic so well the Egyptian students in another class thought she was Sudanese. She desperately wanted assignment to a Special Forces team, and she wanted a chance to attend the selection course. Sadly, the female they sent was a pretty little administrative officer who knew how to suck up to all the old colonels. She failed. That Psyop E-5 had a much better chance of getting through. My comment to her was there was really nothing in SF should could do, And besides that, no Middle Easterner was going to listen to any woman. She came back with: Really? Do you have Intel Sergeants on SF Team? (Yes) Can they go down to the Souk and listen to the conversations of the women? (Uh… No) Can they set up agent networks that can monitor what the local women say is really happening under the team’s noses? (Hmmm) If she had been doing that on an A Team (today’s SFOD), that would be considered combat duties. Not all Intel is in the rear.

  18. Daniel Heitjan says:

    A soldier knows that if he is hit in a firefight, he can count on his buddies to help him to safety — carrying or dragging him if need be. This is an essential part of the contract that we make with our fighting men. The vast majority of women, whatever other qualities they may possess, are not big and strong enough to succor their male comrades in this way. Thus having mixed-sex combat units will lead to excessive casualties and poor morale, eventually blunting the tip of the spear.
    In an existential crisis, as Russia faced at Stalingrad, of course everyone will be thrown into the fray. But the US does not face such a crisis now, and integrating combat units will do only harm to the men who fight our battles, the women who aspire to, and the nation as a whole.

  19. Steve Sailer says:

    “Still, nations resist letting women fight alongside men. Judging by modern military history, however, they may ultimately have no choice.”

    Here’s a crazy suggestion: let’s try not to get into a Battle of Stalingrad-like situation.

  20. Andras Boros-Kazai says:

    Stalingrad (today’s Volgograd) was taken by the Axis forces — and, somewhat later, re-taken by Soviet reinforcements. So, to mention the first defenders of the city as examples of women being fit for frontline duty is silly: That city’s first defenders failed miserably. In any event, Soviet heroism did exist, but in many instances it was inspired by the very real possibility of being machine-gunned down by the security-enforcement battalions placed right behind most units of \questionable determination,\ which most Red Army units were — until 1944.

    The number of Iraq/Afghanistan vets I have talked to is not large: A few dozens tops; mostly combat engineers (as I was). Every one of them asserted that inserting women into their units reduced their effectiveness, slowed them down, and gave command reason to assign certain missions to other units that were not thus \handicapped.\

  21. Dennis says:

    And a response from someone who actually knows what they are talking about and ‘been there done that’:


  22. […] is an interesting piece about women soldiers in history, particularly focusing on their participation in World War II when their countries needed them. […]

  23. […] Women in combat: The first defenders of Stalingrad in 1942 were teenage girls, firing antiaircraft guns to halt German tanks… more» […]

  24. Muggins says:

    When America runs short of fighting men as in Stalingrad, then I agree, we should send in the women. But, the case now is no shortage of men. In fact, the military is shrinking. In the ideal world, the military should strive to enlist the high quality enlistees available regardless of sex, except, sex presents problems, such as jealousy, favoritism, privacy, division of labor due to upper body strength, and the list goes on including the bomb shell topic of pregnancy in the military. I’d like to know how many women come off our aircraft carriers pregnant. I don’t think it’s politically correct to even bring up the subject. At any rate, it costs thousands of dollars to train a soldier and pregnant soldiers are a waste of that training money. Do we want women in combat roles even if it costs more money and/or lowers morale? What is more important? Improving the combat rediness of our troops or pushing a social agenda?

  25. Wong Hoong Hooi says:

    1. Some posts here have it that those who argue for putting women into combat roles are engaging in some bourgeoise feel-good mind game. My reply is:
    a) war has been a reality and remains a possibility and what’s so \natural\ about excluding half of humanity from participation in combat ?
    b) women have been clamouring about how they can do or outdo men in whatever and it’s time they put their money where their mouth is – combat.
    2. Others talk about the problems from having women train and live with men in the same barracks. But less so if you have all-women units training together in all-women barracks.
    3. Still others talk about how women are physically weaker than men. Look, the geek with glasses and a 135-pound frame can get drafted into combat training just like the swim-team jock, no ? Individuals of either gender vary greatly in size and strength. Besides, as one of your officers had put it in Korea, \all the other side needs is the right number of fingers to pull triggers in the right place at the right time and you’re screwed. \ Doesn’t seem to matter a lot if some of those fingers have traces of nail varnish (preferably female ones.)

  26. […] Women Warriors (historynet.com) Share this:StumbleUponDiggRedditFacebookTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  27. Rich Rostrom says:

    If an average male tennis player went up against Serena Williams, she’d beat him easily.

    If the men’s and women’s pro tennis tours were merged, she would have difficulty qualifying for minor tournaments.

    The average man cannot meet the strength and endurance requirements for combat; a very small number of women can. That fact no more justifies putting women in combat units than the superiority of Williams to an average male tennis player justifies merging the tennis tours.

    Combat soldiers must be well above the male average in strength, endurance, and fitness. The female average is well below the male average, Feminists and ambitious women in the military resent this fact intensely, but reality doesn’t care what they want.

    Having said that – “lirelou” has a very good point. Women can be extremely useful in COIN and civic affairs operations, which will remain a major part of what the services do. But that role should be distinguished from combat.

  28. Eve says:

    I am an infertile woman. Do you think I should be denied access to certain jobs, because ‘women can get pregnant’? It annoys me that people treat me like a potential mother even though I will never be one.

    BTW, theoretically jealousy, favoritism, privacy etc. can become a problem once homosexual men are involved. Religious hatred can become a problem once soldiers of different religions enter the same room. And the list goes on.

    In reality all these ‘problems’ are only excuses to discriminate certain groups of people.

    • Dennis says:

      No you shouldnt be in combat because you are likely not physcially capable of doing it as capably as the man whose spot you are taking. Stop putting your own petty arrogant desires to prove you are “just as good as a man” ahead of national security and whats best for the country.
      The military is the ultimate meritocracy, if you cant do the job stop demanding you have the right to do it when you have been proven time and time you cant. I know there will be plenty of people like you who point to conscript armys that have women in combat, like the soviets and chinese. The day we start fighting like them and accepting massive casualties because we have unfit under trained soldiers than you can make that case, until than, our small professional army that almost always fights outnumbered cant afford a weak link or massive casualties.

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