Soviet Union/Russian Federation, Women Heroes of the (Military Awards)


The highest Soviet military award, introduced on April 16, 1934. After August 1, 1939, the title was accompanied by the Hero of the Soviet Union Medal. As of October 16, 1939, the full name of the award was changed to the Gold Star Hero of the Soviet Union Medal (HSU). The recognition was to be conferred on those who distinguished themselves by their heroic deeds. The first Soviet women awarded the title were airwomen Valentina Grizodubova, Polina Os-ipenko, and Marina Raskova. They were awarded the honor for their pioneering nonstop transcontinental flight to the Far East in September 1938.

As of May 5, 1990, ninety-five military women had been granted the HSU, including Aniela Krzywon (1925-1943), the only Polish woman recipient. Krzywon served with the Polish Emilia Plater Independent Women’s Battalion and was killed in the Battle of Lenino. Of this number, the following Soviet women combatants of World War II were granted the HSU on May 5, 1990, by Mikhail Gorbachev, the reformist Soviet leader and Communist party chief: pilots Lidiia Vladimirovna Litviak and Ekaterina Ivanovna Zelenko (posthumously) and marine Ekaterina Illarionovna Mikhailova-Demina. In addition, two Soviet airwomen— Tat’iana Nikolaevna Sumarokova, squadron navigator of the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, and Ekaterina Vasil’evna Bu-danova (deceased), ace fighter pilot who had served in the 73rd Stalingrad-Vienna Fighter Aviation Regiment (the former 296th Fighter Aviation Regiment)—were awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation (HRF) in 1995. In the Soviet era, two women were granted the HSU for postwar performance: Valentina Tereshkova, an astronaut who had attained the rank of major general, and Svetlana Savitskaia, pilot-astronaut, the only woman to be awarded the HSU twice.

The two largest groups of Soviet women recipients of the HSU/HRF for their World War II service were 32 airwomen and 29 partisans and resistance activists. Twelve women HSUs in the ground forces and all three in the navy were medical personnel who took part in combat as well. The total number of Soviet women who received the HSU for their World War II service, 94, appears disproportionately small when compared to the total of 11,500 HSUs earned overall by World War II combatants, considering that women comprised 8 percent of Soviet military personnel in 1943. Apparently senior commanders were not overly generous in awarding the HSU to women soldiers (for example, Mikhailova-Demina). Many women also served in so-called defensive operations, such as engineer preparation of terrain, the building of fortifications, mine clearing, or air defense. Consequently, although exposed to great danger (particularly in the last two categories of military operations), the women were unlikely to receive the HSU reserved for those exhibiting aggressive acts of heroism.

Due to their supposed political unreliability, including arrests of themselves or family members during Stalin’s reign of terror, a substantial number of Soviet women who earned the HSU during the war were not decorated until the 1960s and then often posthumously. Representative recipients of the HSU/HRF are discussed, by unit, in the following sections (Cottam 1998).

46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment

Raisa Ermolaevna Aronova (1920—1982), Guards major. One of several navigators in her regiment with inadequate flying experience, she became a pilot after improving her flying skills in the training squadron. Aronova flew 960 operational sorties and spent 1,148 hours in the air by night. She was awarded the HSU on May 15, 1946.

Marina Pavlovna Chechneva (1922-1984), Guards major and squadron commander. She flew up to 18 night missions and performed 810 short-range combat sorties, with about 1,000 flying hours to her credit. She was assigned especially difficult sorties, including daytime re-connoitering. Only 20 years old, Chechneva commanded a training squadron and trained 18 new pilots and navigators. She authored several books and many articles about her unit and was awarded the HSU on August 15, 1946.

Polina Vladimirovna Gel’lman (1919- ), Guards major. Gel’lman served as her squadron’s navigator and communications chief. In addition to being very competent, she managed to accomplish a great deal without any fuss and got along well with all of her female comrades. She flew 860 night operational missions, accumulating 1,300 flying hours, and was awarded the HSU on May 15, 1946.

Larissa Nikolaevna Litvinova-Rozanova (b. 1918), Guards captain. Litvinova-Rozanova was chief navigator and, initially, squadron navigator.

She became flight commander after gaining additional flying experience in the training squadron. She replaced Evgeniia Rudneva as chief navigator after the latter’s death in April 1944. She was credited with having flown 816 missions and was awarded the HSU on February 23, 1945.

Evdokiia (Dusia) Ivanovna Nosal (1918—1943), Guards junior lieutenant and deputy squadron commander. At the beginning of the war Nosal lost her newborn baby as a result of the bombing of her maternity hospital, which made her determined to fly to avenge the baby’s death. She volunteered for and was entrusted with the most difficult missions and was the first to be awarded the HSU in her regiment, posthumously.

Evgeniia (Zhenia) Maksimovna Rudneva (1920—1944), Guards senior lieutenant and chief navigator. In addition to training ground support personnel in navigation, Rudneva successively flew with all pilots of her unit, and she initiated new pilots into their flying duties. A former astronomy student, Rudneva kept an interesting diary. As the regiment’s most prominent intellectual, she lectured on the theory of navigation. Rudneva was credited with destroying the headquarters of Field Marshal Baron Ewald von Kleist near Mozdok on the Transcau-casus front. Shot down on her 645 th mission, Rudneva was posthumously awarded the HSU on October 26, 1944. An asteroid was later named after her.

125th M. M. Raskova Borisov Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment

Mariia Ivanovna Dolina-Mel’nikova (1920— ), Guards major, flight commander, and deputy acting squadron commander. During the initial months of the war, Dolina-Mel’nikova flew about 200 special missions aboard the U-2 in the 296th Fighter Aviation Regiment, in which Lidiia Liviak was to serve. Considered one of the best pilots in her unit, Dolina-Mel’nikova flew 72 bombing missions. She took part in the Victory Parade on Moscow’s Red Square on June 24, 1945, and became one of five in her wing to be awarded the HSU on August 18, 1945. After the war Dolina-Mel’nikova served as deputy commander of a men’s aviation wing, from which she transferred to the reserves in 1950.

Galina Ivanovna Dzhunkovskaia-Markova (1922—1985), Guards major and squadron navigator. Initially Dzhunkovskaia-Markova was the navigator for deputy squadron commander Mariia Dolina. During her most memorable battle, in the course of which her squadron shot down four enemy fighters, Dzhunkovskaia-Markova survived a belly landing in her burning bomber. From the spring of 1944 she flew with Squadron Commander Klavdiya Fomicheva. A veteran of 69 medium-range operational missions, Dzhunkovskaia-Markova was resourceful, resolute, and confident. She took part in the Victory Parade on June 24, 1945, in Moscow and became one of five members of this unit to be awarded the HSU on August 18, 1945. She subsequently published several books and articles about her regiment.

Antonina (Tonia) Leont’evna Zubkova (1920—1950), Guards captain and squadron navigator. Zubkova flew 56 missions with Nadezhda Fedutenko, an experienced prewar pilot, and was frequently appointed divisional deputy leader for the duration of bombing missions. On September 2, 1943, Zubkova led fifty-four aircraft onto their target after her divisional leader was shot down, and on April 16, 1944, in the Baltic area, Zubkova again led her divisional column. During the subsequent debriefing at corps headquarters, senior officers and generals were most impressed with Zubkova’s aerial photographs. She was one of five from her wing to be awarded the HSU on August 18, 1945. A postwar professor of mathematics at the N. E. Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy, in 1950 she accidentally fell under a train and was killed.

Women in the Ground Forces, Navy, and Resistance

Elena Fedorovna Kolesova (1920-1942), private. Kolesova, a former elementary school teacher, became a partisan leader and saboteur who served in the famous Commando Unit No. 9903, which contributed to the German defeat in the Battle of Moscow. Kolesova was one of this unit’s two women members to be awarded the HSU, out of a total of five HSU recipients. (The other female recipient of the HSU, awarded posthumously on February 16, 1942, was the famous partisan Zoia Kos-modem’ianskaia.) Air-dropped in Belarus on May 1, 1942, Kolesova led a handful of young women saboteurs, mistakenly believed by the enemy to number as many as 600. She was credited with instructing hundreds of partisans in mine laying. Kolesova was killed in action and was posthumously awarded the HSU on November 21, 1944.

Natalia Venediktovna Kovshova (19201942) and Mariia Semenovna Polivanova (1922-1942), privates and expert snipers. Kovshova and Polivanova, despite their divergent family backgrounds, became close friends before enlisting. Kovshova was born into a family with strong revolutionary traditions, whereas Polivanova came from the nobility and was related to the anarchist Prince Peter Kropotkin and Czarist Defense Minister A. A. Polivanov. Both were graduates of the famous Women’s School for Snipers. From the very beginning of their service with the 130th Rifle Division defending Moscow, they were considered model soldiers. On August 14, 1942, in a surrounded platoon decimated by the enemy, they were repeatedly wounded and committed suicide with their last grenades. They were the first Soviet women snipers to be awarded the HSU, on February 14, 1943.

Irina Nikolaevna Levchenko (1924-1973), lieutenant colonel and author. Levchenko was the daughter of a former minister of transportation and victim of Stalin’s terror. Appointed as a noncommissioned officer (NCO) at the age of seventeen, senior lieutenant at twenty-one, and major at twenty-eight, Levchenko became lieutenant colonel at thirty-one. She was skilled in tank driving, firing the tank gun, handling small arms, and dispensing first aid. Levchenko received her basic tank training with the 39th Tank Brigade in the Crimea, where she served as a medical NCO. After graduating from the Stalingrad Tank School in July 1942, Levchenko became a tank platoon commander. She also served as assistant tank battalion chief of staff and was liaison officer of the 41st Tank Brigade of the 7th Mechanized Corps. Levchenko ended her army career as a tank corps liaison officer, an appointment granted to the bravest, most resourceful, and most proven in combat. A participant in a reunion of Soviet and U.S. soldiers on the Elbe in 1945, Levchenko graduated from the Moscow Academy of Armored and Mechanized Troops in 1952. The first Soviet recipient of the Florence Nightingale Medal, she was decorated twelve times. She was awarded the HSU on May 6, 1965.

Ekaterina Illarionovna Mikhailova-Demina (1925- ), chief petty officer. An outstanding marine and medic, Mikhailova-Demina served in the 369th Independent Naval Infantry Battalion, which advanced from the Taman Peninsula on the Azov Sea through the Balkans to Vienna. Mikhailova-Demina took part in the capture of Belgorod-Dniestrovsky. During the storming of the Yugoslav fortress of Ilok located on the Danube near Bukovar, Mikhailova-Demina was wounded and developed double pneumonia. The recommendation from her immediate superiors that she be awarded the HSU was turned down three times. She was finally awarded the HSU by Mikhail Gorbachev on May 5, 1990.

Mariia Vasil’ievna Oktiabrskaya (19051944), Guards sergeant. Oktiabrskaya served as tank driver-mechanic with the 26th Tank Brigade of the 2nd Tatsinsky Guards Tank Corps on the 3rd Belorussian front. As the wife of the political commissar of an infantry regiment before the war, Oktiabrskaya became an expert driver and Voroshilov sharpshooter. After evacuation to Tomsk, Siberia, and on learning that her husband, parents, and two sons had been killed, Oktiabrskaya sent all her savings to the authorities in Moscow to cover the cost of manufacturing a tank she wished to drive. Eventually, the authorities complied with her wishes. After training in tank driving, she distinguished herself in her first battle by maneuvering her tank onto enemy positions. Mortally wounded in the head while repairing a damaged track on January 17, 1944, Ok-tiabrskaya was buried in Kutuzov Gardens in Smolensk with other famous war heroes. She became a posthumous HSU recipient on August 2, 1944.

Polina Osipenko, Valentina Grizodubova, and Marina Raskova.

Polina Osipenko, Valentina Grizodubova, and Marina Raskova.

Neonila (Nina) Andreevna Onilova (1921 — 1942), senior sergeant. Onilova defended Odessa and Sevastopol. She served in the 54th Razin Regiment of the famous 25th V. I. Chapaev Division, Independent Maritime Army, on the Crimean front. A sharpshooting machine gunner, she trained dozens of fellow soldiers, having perfected the technique of Anka, her civil war role model. Onilova allowed the enemy troops to closely approach and then delivered fire until the front rows were destroyed and those behind were forced to turn back. Initially a medical NCO at the front near Odessa in August 1941, Onilova was soon transferred to a machine-gun platoon, having proven her competence. Seriously wounded in September 1941, she was hospitalized for two months. When she recovered, Onilova insisted on rejoining her regiment situated near Sevastopol. After learning that she had again been seriously wounded on February 28, 1942, General I. E. Petrov, the army commander, immediately ordered his medical staff to do everything in their power to save her. When her condition began to deteriorate, Petrov himself visited her to say good-bye. The severe, smart-looking, gray-haired general, reportedly with tears in his eyes, said in a slightly hoarse voice, "Well, little daughter, you fought gloriously. Thank you, on behalf of our entire Army and Nation. Everyone in Sevastopol knows about you. The entire country will learn about you, too. Thank you, little daughter" (Cottam 1998, 129). Onilova, however, was only granted the HSU posthumously on May 14, 1965.

Nina Ivanovna Sosnina (1923-1943), leader of the underground in Malin, Soviet Ukraine, during World War II. Sosnina planned and organized resistance based on missions assigned to her from the nearby Kutuzov Partisan Detachment and intelligence obtained by her brother Valentin and others. Along with her father, a surgeon, Sosnina died in a house fire set by enemy soldiers. She and her father were in the home, which belonged to a local teacher, performing an operation on a wounded partisan. Initially blamed for associating with enemies of the people, Sosnina was posthumously rehabilitated: her reputation and honor were restored after being defamed by the Stalin regime, and she was granted the HSU on May 8, 1965.

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