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Category: World War II

Female Badasses in History: Anna Timofeyeva-Yegorova (1916-2009)

Anna Yegorova stands out for her badassery even among other Soviet aviatrixes because she was one of the few female pilots in the USSR that did not join the female fighter brigade of the Soviet air force (the so-called Night Witches) but lead male pilots into battle. She also survived more battle missions than many other pilots, survived German captivity and broke out of an NKVD prison after the war.

 

Anna Yegorova was born in a village in Western Russia as one of 16 children of a peasant family. Not being satisfied with prospect of plowing field and having 16 children herself she decided to make good use of the opportunities the new socialist state had to offer her and at the age of 16 went off to Moscow to study history and physics, work as a locksmiths apprentice, help built the Moscow metro as a construction worker and become a flight instructor.

When German attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, Anna was one of the first people at her local recruiting office and since she was already an experienced pilot, was drafted into the Soviet airforce to fly reconnaissance missions against German positions, which she did for the next two years. Flying reconnaissance missions was one of the most dangerous jobs a pilot could have in WWII. It meant to fly low in broad daylight in a plane with an open hood mainly manufactured from wood being up against heavily armed German fighter planes as well as anti-aircraft batteries.

The dangers of her work as well as her unquestionable badassery are probably best exemplified by a mission she flew in mid-1942. Order to deliver a set of important orders to a Soviet frontline commander, Anna found herself facing a German fighter plane hardly 20 minutes into her mission. Being much faster than her and having machine guns at his disposal while Anna only had her handgun, the fighter pilot shot her aircraft full of holes and managed to set in on fire that. After flying as far as she could in an airplane on fire and under fire Anna parachuted from her airplane. In a scene comparable to Hitchcock’s North By Northwest she evaded the German fighter pilot who was still shooting at her by hiding in a nearby field. After the German aircraft had given up, Anna ran all the way to the frontlines to deliver her orders all while being bruised and injured and having evaded death just a short time before.

 

Due to actions like this her officers decided to make Anna a fighter pilot. As one of the few women she didn’t join the female pilot unit of the Soviet airforce but instead was the only woman assigned to the all-male 805th Ground Attack Regiment. In this capacity Anna fought the German as well as misogynistic colleagues in the airforce for the next two years. She was mainly assigned to missions that consisted of bombing German ground troops and installations from the air. She flew a total of 243 missions in the next two years, at a time when the average life span of a Soviet pilot did seldom exceed 10 missions. She proofed herself so many times eventually that she not only received the order of the Red Banner, rose in the ranks to Lieutenant and was promoted to the 805th’s squad leader. Even at a time when it was not uncommon for women to serve in the Red Army this was an outstanding achievement. She lead the men under her command in many battles until in 1944 she was shot down by a German anti-air gun over Poland. Anna was brought to a German POW camp where she not only survived her injuries and the German’s infamous bad treatment of Soviet POWs but also Gestapo interrogation. Soviet troops liberated the camp in early 1945 and Anna was immediately arrested again under the suspicion that as the only woman in the camp she must have been a German spy in order to survive. She was brought to an NKVD prison in Western Russia and interrogated for the following 10 days. Lore has it that on the 11th day Anna knocked over two armed guards, bust into the room of the Corporal in charge and boldly exclaimed: “You can shoot me right now but I won’t let you torture me.” She was released the same day.

After the war the airforce released her due to the injuries she sustained. Anna Yegorova went on to teach High School history and physics (certainly as a teacher you didn’t want to mess with) and continued to fly on some occasions. She died in 2009 of old age.

Female Badasses in History: Violette Szabo (1921-1945)

Violette Szabo was a secret agent for the Allies in World War II. She participated in two major missions for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE, the approximate counterpart to the American’s OSS) and served with such distinction that Odette Churchill, another female British secret agent (no relations to Winston Churchill), said of her that “She was the bravest of us all”.

Violette Szabo was born in 1921 as Violette Bushwell in Paris. Her family, her father being British, moved the family to London where Violette went to school until age 14.

The celebration of Bastille Day in London in 1940 should change her life. This is where she met Etienne Szabo, a French officer of Hungarian descent. Violette married him after only 42 days in August of 1940. A year later and only shortly after the birth of their daughter Tania, in October 1941, Etienne died fighting in El Alamein against the German Africa Corps. This tragedy convinced Violette to sign with the Auxiliary Territorial Service, an agency related to the SOE. The SOE picked her out – among other factors – for her excellent knowledge of French and trained her not only in night- and day-time evasion tactics, parachuting, hand-to-hand-combat but also sabotage techniques and demolitions.

In April 1944 she started her first mission parachuting into France near Cherboourg. She took charge of a group of French resistance fighters that had been seriously weakened by the German police and army in France. Not only did Violette Szabo manage to rebuilt the group and become its temporary leader, she her group also gathered vital intelligence for the preparation of D-Day and managed to sabotage several railway lines and bridges. She completed the mission successfully and returned home after six weeks.

Her second mission took place right after D-Day on June 7 1944. Again she parachuted into France this time near Limoges and took charge of the local French resistance group. She and her group contributed to the Allied fight against Nazi Germany vitally by successfully sabotaging communication lines of the Germans so that they couldn’t communicate that the Allies had landed in Normandy. On June 10 she and some other membes traveled by car and raised the suspicion of German soldiers nearby. A gunfight ensued and Violette Szabo in an act of heroism decided to save the group by staying behind and fighting the Germans. She engaged them in a gunfight lasting over an hour and while German records indicate no injuries witnesses state that she succeeded in taking out several German officers. Ultimately Szabo was captured because she ran out of ammunition.

The German soldiers that captured her transferred her first to the local German SD office from she was transferred to the Paris’ Gestapo headquarter. The Gestapo tortured and interrogated her for four days. Afterwards she was sent to the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp (the camp especially for women) where she and other female SOE agents allegedly joined the camp-internal resistance movement. Around February 5, 1945 she and four other SOE members were executed at Ravensbrück and their bodies subsequently were burned in the camp’s crematoria.

The names of her murderers and torturers remain unknown until this day, Violette Szabo however is still remembered for her bravery and contribution to the war effort. In 1946 she was posthumously – as the second woman ever – awarded the King George’s Cross. Today there is not only a plague and a museum in Szabo’s honor and memory but also several books about her – one written by her daughter – as well as a movie called “Carve Her Name with Pride”. She also made her way into today’s popular culture by being the role model for female agent Violette Summer in the 2009 video game “Velvet Assasin”.