Throughout history, women have played indispensable roles in armed conflicts by participating either actively or passively. They have supported men by performing non-military duties such as being messengers, nurses, or simply providing food for soldiers. In other war times, women have simply filled in the roles played by men in the society after these men have gone to war.
This paper asserts that Women pilots contributed significantly to the war effort and with as much dedication and patriotism as their male counterparts. They proved that they had much more potential that remained unexplored.
During the Second World War, women served in different capacities and in different places. Their contribution to the war effort cannot be ignored. During the Munich crisis at the onset of the war, an organization called the air transport auxiliary (ATA) was formed in Britain with the expectation of intense bombings and heavy casualties that would require the most active air services. However, the bombings did not take place and the ATA started ferrying aircraft from factories to squadrons and elsewhere where they were needed. The ATA started hiring women pilots as well as non-flying staff under the director of women personnel, Pauline Gower. Even though the women were treated poorly and given a pay rate that was below that of men, they went ahead and proved themselves as reliable and qualified pilots. By June 1943 the pay rates were equalized and women formed 16% of pilot strength in ATA (Jean Hascall Cole, p. 3). They served as instructors, operation officers, pool commanders, and even flight engineers. Women pilots were extremely successful in the ATA up to the end of the war in 1945.
In the U.S.A
Women did not become popular in the U.S.A army owing to prejudice and the resistance by influential persons especially General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold who was the commander in chief of United States Army Air Forces. (USAAF). However, due to the shortage of staff, the ferrying division (FERD) of USAAF proposed the recruitment of women pilots. It followed that the women Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) was authorized in September 1942 under professional pilot Nancy Love. Another woman pilot Jacqueline Cochran was already pushing for the formation of a women’s pilot training program which later materialized as women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD). Later on, in 1943, WAFS combined with WFTD to form the Women Airforce Service Pilots (Helena, P. Schrader, p. 1). They mainly undertook ferrying duties as well as other duties such as target towing, radar calibration, engine and maintenance services, assisting as co-pilots, and transporting supplies and personnel among other duties. In 1944 when it became apparent that the war in Europe was coming to an end, the WASP was disbanded without the women ever flying in the combat zone. They were therefore dejected as they would never achieve veteran status (Reina Pennington, p. 2).
In the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union had a tradition of using women in combat. It is therefore not a surprise that there were three women regiments namely fighter, bomber, and night bomber. This meant that women were actively involved in flying with combat. They also flew alongside male partners in the Air Force. When Marina Raskova, a woman pilot who led female pilots was shot down in 1943, the Soviet Union recognized 23 female pilots honoring them with the hero of the Soviet Union medal (Amy Goodpaster Strebe, p. 56). In other parts of the world, the adventures of women pilots are not so well documented, and in several places the need for women pilots never became a pressing issue.
Even though the period during the Second World War was characterized by prejudice and bias against women their contribution in the military and more specifically as pilots were significant in the countries that they were used. They took crucial support positions and this allowed the men pilots to be deployed in combat zones except in the case of the Soviet Union where women also flew in combat. They proved themselves as able and reliable pilots who were as dedicated and patriotic as the men. Their contribution is etched in history books and will never be forgotten.
- Amy Goodpaster Strebe; Marina Raskova & the Soviet Women Aviators of World War II. Russian Life, Vol. 46, 2003
- Helena, P. Schrader. Winged Auxiliaries. Women Pilots in the UK and US during World War Two.
- Jean Hascall Cole; Women Pilots of World War II. University of Utah Press, 1995
- Reina Pennington. Stalin’s Falcons: The 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment: Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military, 2000