The breathtaking story of the most successful female fighters 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.
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
Superbly written and researched . . . Vinogradova takes her place in the top flight of Russian historians - Anna Reid
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 - 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 - Spectator
[Vinogradova's] assiduous research, including numerous interviews with elderly veterans, has uncovered fascinating nuggets about the young female pilots' experience - Sunday Times
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
Remarkable . . . Vinogradova tells the stories Russian pilots with verve - New Statesman
A feat of historical research and a wonderful, stirring read
Dr Lyuba Vinogradova was born in Moscow in 1973. After graduating from the Moscow Agricultural Academy with a PhD in microbiology, she took a second degree in foreign languages. In 1995 she was introduced to Antony Beevor and helped him research Stalingrad. Since then she has worked on many other research projects, and is the co-author (together with Beevor) of A WRITER AT WAR: VASILY GROSSMAN WITH THE RED ARMY.