Avenging Angels: Young Women of the Soviet Union's WWII Sniper Corps

Image of Avenging Angels: Young Women of the Soviet Union's WWII Sniper Corps
Release Date: 
May 8, 2017
MacLehose Press
Reviewed by: 

The world should be well aware of the sacrifices made and losses suffered by the Soviet Union in World War II. Even more than 70 years after the fact, there are no definite or agreed upon numbers in terms of the number of Soviet dead as much because of the sheer numbers as the fact that the Stalin regime did not want the world to know about Soviet human wave battle tactics nor its indifference to its soldiers' loss of life.

As a result, it became necessary to begin enlisting and conscripting thousands of women for non-combat duties as well as combat roles. In this latter respect, the Soviet Union was in the fore not just because of its manpower needs but also the much publicized and presumed gender equality basis of the Soviet system and its so-called workers' paradise.

Consequently, women could be found in many positions making their contribution to the war effort as nurses, drivers, in clerical jobs, etc. Insofar as combat was concerned, the Soviet Union was also first in organizing a women's aviation regiment, a formation about which author Lyuba Vinogradova has previously written.

Taking it a step further, the Red Army was also out front in producing female snipers, the subject of this publication. Once trained, these women were posted to the front lines, attached to regular infantry units, where they would make their presence felt during static defensive operations from trenches, fortifications and buildings. They were feared and hated by the Germans as much as any male equivalent.

As with men, it was always the first target or victim who was the hardest to get over emotionally as the realization that one has taken a human life hits home. Once past that hurdle, subsequent tallies became easier and almost enjoyable as one rationalizes the killing of the enemy as payback for their atrocities and actions during invasion and occupation, particularly where one's own property, family, and loved ones are concerned.

Even after the tide had turned on the Eastern Front, these women continued to contribute in many ways on the offensive as they continued to "hunt" the Germans and keep them on the run, all the way to Berlin. They served on many different parts of the front from the Baltics to the Ukraine and were eventually awarded many medals and decorations as their tallies mounted.

Along the way, they faced as many hardships, if not more, as the men with whom they served: Lack of food, water, shelter, the oftentimes primitive health care and so on. This also included resentment by male counterparts as well as harassment, rape and, postwar, an attitude from many fellow citizens that they were just whores or on the lookout for husbands, which resulted in silence from many of these women as to their wartime service.

The author has told this story from training school to frontline service, along with many personal incidents recounting the hardships referenced above and the casualties they suffered from mines, accidents, and German artillery and small arms fire—even torture, rape, and execution when captured. Included as well are the romances and intimate relationships that developed and were sometimes heartbreaking as is frequently the case in wartime.

The Epilogue gives a brief postwar account of some of the survivors' lives after service, one estimate of total Soviet losses, and how the women began to tell their stories years after the war at reunions. These women are mostly in their 90s, and this little known story is finally available to all.

Along with four maps in the front of the book that detail the areas where they served, an additional highlight is two photographic sections with shots of many of the women, many of whom did not survive the fighting, the conditions in which they fought, and other relevant wartime subjects.

Finally, the writing style of this publication and perhaps some of its nomenclature may seem a bit odd or "off" to some (including the use of Infantry Division in place of the usual Rifle Division designation used by the Soviet military). Its Russian author and translation from that language may account for this, but otherwise, this is an interesting story, the subjects of which deserve to have their story told before they pass from the scene.

They certainly set an example for American women who only recently were permitted to serve in combat roles.