The breathtaking story of the most successful female fighter pilots in history
Plucked from every background, and led by an N.K.V.D. Major, the new recruits who boarded a train in Moscow on 16th October 1941 to go to war had much in common with millions of others across the world. What made the 586th Fighter Regiment, the 587th Heavy-bomber Regiment and the 588th Regiment of light night-bombers unique was their gender: the Soviet Union was creating the first all-female active combat units in modern history.
Drawing on original interviews with surviving airwomen, Lyuba Vinogradova weaves together the untold stories of the female Soviet fighter pilots of the Second World War. From that first train journey to the last tragic disappearance, Vinogradova's panoramic account of these women's lives follows them from society balls to unmarked graves, from landmark victories to the horrors of Stalingrad. Battling not just fearsome Aces of the Luftwaffe but also patronising prejudice from their own leaders, women such as Lilya Litvyak and Ekaterina Budanova are brought to life by the diaries and recollections of those who knew them, and who watched them live, love, fight and die.
What has been missing until now is a thoroughly researched account of all these pilots' wars, based on primary sources and stitched into the larger picture of the epic battle for what Hitler called the "world island" of central Russia. Defending the Motherland fills that void — Giles Whittell, The Times
Brings to light the fascinating story of the world's first and only all-female aviation regiments . . . Not for the first time, one can't help being flabbergasted by the heroic achievements of the poverty-stricken and hounded peoples of the USSR — Charlotte Hobson, Spectator
[Vinogradova's] assiduous research, including numerous interviews with elderly veterans, has uncovered fascinating nuggets about the young female pilots' experience — Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times
A gripping, unforgettable and heart-breaking story of female heroism in war and terror, written elegantly, filled with new research - archival and oral - and told here fully for the first time. Not just a tale of amazing derring-do, but a terrifying window into Stalinist Russia. Simply superb — Simon Sebag Montefiore
Lyuba Vinogradova tells the poignant story of the determined young women who fought and died in the air above Stalingrad and elsewhere in the epic struggle to expel the German invaders from their country. It is an absorbing and meticulously researched account — Sir Rodric Braithwaite
Remarkable . . . Vinogradova tells the stories Russian pilots with verve — Erica Wagner, New Statesman
A feat of historical research and a wonderful, stirring read — Rachel Polonsky
Superbly written and researched . . . Vinogradova takes her place in the top flight of Russian historians — Anna Reid
The story of the Soviet airwomen is well told by Lyuba Vinogradova . . . She has done a huge amount of research, which shines through the pen portraits of the aviators and some of the vivid descriptions of the aerial battles — Leo McKinstry, Literary Review
Vinogradova is excellent on the technical aspects and experience of flying the various aircraft . . . She is at her best, though, in bringing alive the quotidian details of wartime — Wendy Slater, Times Literary Supplement