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

by Lyuba Vinogradova

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The girls came from every corner of the U.S.S.R. They were factory workers, domestic servants, teachers and clerks, and few were older than twenty.

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Russia is a hard land and it breeds hard people. That's one of the major takeaways I had from this book, assembled from the reminiscences of women snipers in the Red Army.

Many British people had a "good war". They had experiences and made contacts that stood them in good stead in preacetime. I was brought up on my father's war stories, and although he had seen active service and been at risk of his life, he often found humour lurking in the terror. Some British comedians of the post-war era got a lot of material out of their war experiences, sometimes (in the case of Spike Milligan) whole volumes of hilarious memoirs. That's not to belittle the genuine danger those people were in: nonetheless, they saw a funny side.

Not so here. What these memoirs show us is the unremitting grimness of life in the Red Army, itself merely an extension of the harshness of rural Soviet life that so many of the sniper corps came out of. Yes, there are moments of relief, moments even of beauty or laughter, but they are very few and far between.

Vinogradova did a lot of research and collected material from many sources, as well as conducting more than fifteen interviews herself. She writes very matter-of-factly: indeed, I found it necessary to break several sessions of reading this book because it is quite tough reading. She does challenge Soviet-era accounts of events, referring to a Soviet 'style' of writing this sort of account which persisted beyond the fall of the USSR. But where she calls into doubt some of the accounts commonly retold, she does not generally offer direct criticism. It sems that revisionist history is not the order of the day, even in the New Russia.

Those who have read the work of Vassily Grossman, or seen the film 'Enemy at the Gates' about the sniper Vassily Zaitsev, will find much of the background familiar - the military newspapers, the leafleting, or the work of the politruks (political officers) whose role in wartime was rather better defined than in the post-war western imagination. Also present were the NKVD, and their counter-espionage arm, SMERSH (Smert Spionam - Death to Spies): Stalinist-era paranoia never rested. We see a lot of the motivations of Russian troops: in the heat of battle, the brutality unleashed by the invading German army was repaid with interest, and one would do well to recall the saying about sowing the wind and reaping the whirllwind. And the reactions of Russian troops on entering German territory and seeing the standard of living is notable. "They have so much!" they said: "Why should they want to invade our land and take what little we have?". What these ordinary Russians would not know was the extent to which the invasion was driven by an ideology that allocated value judgements to people based on ethnicity or political system: yet one thing that we learn about ordinary Russians is just how ordinary they were (and still are). Most people just want to get on with their lives and make the best out of them that they can within the constraints of the society they find themselves in. Threaten those ordinary lives, though, and people will go to extraordinary lengths to neutralise that threat. And it should warn those who promote ideological conflict: if you display harshness, do not be surprised to find it paid back to you many-fold. ( )
2 vote RobertDay | Aug 21, 2019 |
An intriguing book which I found incredibly entertaining and informative though at times heart rending. The story of female snipers who served in the Soviet army it demonstrates clearly the challenges they faced not just from the enemy but from within their own side. You experience the war through their eyewitness accounts and feel all their emotions good and bad. Lyuba brings their story to life in a brilliant way. ( )
  prichardson | Feb 10, 2018 |
Author Vinogradova tells how over a half million Soviet Union women not only served in the military during World War II, but were fully integrated into all services. Based on extensive interviews, archives, books, and other source materials, this book touches on female fighter and bomber pilots and focuses on snipers during and after the war. Proficiency meant life for some and death for others.

Women did not receive special treatment. They fought until wounded, killed, or captured. Metals were award based on the number of kills. Regardless of sex, Germans killed these battle-hardened soldiers or sent them to concentration camps. At some point as the front lines move, the mood changes from defense, to surviving, to revenge.

At wars end, the regime treated released prisoners of war as enemies of Russia. The war decimated nearly 97% of the male population born between 1923 and 1925 in Russian. Many times the only returning soldier to a village was female. Villagers shunned female soldiers or labelled them unclean or lesbian. Returning to traditional roles, the women were either tormented by the lives they took, or simply accepted what was and faded into the background.

Readers who questions the role of females in the military and their ability to serve should read this book. These Russian women are not the first to serve in active military combat. The author has put names and faces to a select group whose best description may be that they were just ordinary women that did their best in combat.

There are some mislabeled illustrations in the advanced readers copy. A list of personnel, endnotes, and bibliography are provided.

I received this book free through Net Galley. Although encouraged as a courtesy to provide feedback to the publisher, I was under no obligation to write a review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. ( )
1 vote bemislibrary | Apr 18, 2017 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lyuba Vinogradovaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Reid, AnnaForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tait, ArchTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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