cover image A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II

A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II

Anne Noggle. Texas A&M University Press, $32.95 (318pp) ISBN 978-0-89096-601-3

Noggle, a U.S. Women's Airforce Service Pilot during WWII, traveled to Russia several times between 1990 and 1992 to record the reminiscences of 69 Soviet women airforce veterans. Trained as combat pilots, mechanics, navigators and ground crews after Stalin ordered the formation of three all-female air regiments in 1941, their mission was primarily defensive. A number of them became aces-i.e., they shot down five or more enemy planes. This was the first instance of widespread employment of women in combat by a major power. The women talk about their reasons for joining, the extremely rigorous training and harsh living conditions, the way the Soviet military system dealt with them collectively and individually and the role they played in tactical operations. There is plenty of adventure, emotion and drama in these pages, and readers will note that the experiences of these women were hardly different from those of their male counterparts. Noggle writes movingly of the continuing friendships among the survivors (about 100 are still alive) and their twice-yearly meetings in Moscow for a vodka-fueled, sisterly celebration. Most moving of all: the noble photos taken by Noggle of these veterans in old age. (Oct.)