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Lieutenant Pavlichenko

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Born in the Ukraine in 1916, Lyudmila Pavlichenko always had an affinity for firearms. When she was 14 her family moved to Kiev and she joined an amateur sharpshooter’s club while working in an arsenal factory. She went to college to study history, but in 1941, the Nazi’s started knocking at Russia’s doors, and Lyudmila decided it was time she answered. She signed up for the Red Army and was offered a job as a nurse. She turned it down, stating “I joined the army when women were not yet accepted”. Nonetheless, she managed to snag a slot in infantry and became one of 2,000 female snipers.

She was given a Tokarev SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle, a more difficult to handle version of the more popular Mosin–Nagant, but she made good use of it. In her first few months of war, she made 187 kills. Coincidentally, the California Penal Code for Murders is 187, and it’s ironic that to ‘187 them,’ is slang in many places for ‘to kill them’. But Lyudmila didn’t stop at 187. She killed a total of 309 nazis during WWII, including 36 nazi snipers.

Just one year after her rein of terror began, she was seriously wounded by mortar fire. While recovering, it was decided that she would withdraw from combat. She was becoming a pretty big deal, you see, and in WWII one needed to keep good public relations with allied countries. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited her to tour the United States, and Lyudmila happily agreed.

Lyudmila did indeed tour, but found some of the press’s questions odd*. One reporter asked, if women could wear makeup while fighting. Just months ago Lyudmila had been on these front lines, watching her sisters in arms die. She answered “There is no rule against it,” Pavlichenko said, “but who has time to think of her shiny nose when a battle is going on?”

Many other reporters seemed much less interested in Lyudmila’s heroics than they were with her style and appearance. She was often asked why she appeared in her uniform, instead of something more fashionable. She is quoted: “I am amazed at the kind of questions put to me by the women press correspondents in Washington. Don’t they know there is a war? They asked me silly questions such as do I use powder and rouge and nail polish and do I curl my hair? One reporter even criticized the length of the skirt of my uniform, saying that in America women wear shorter skirts and besides my uniform made me look fat…This made me angry. I wear my uniform with honor. It has the Order of Lenin on it. It has been covered with blood in battle. It is plain to see that with American women what is important is whether they wear silk underwear under their uniforms. What the uniform stands for, they have yet to learn.”

In 1943, she was awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union, but she’d had enough of war. She returned to the university of Kiev and began her career as a historian. Yet her history beaconed her an in 1945 she was recruited as a research assistant of the Chief HQ of the Soviet Navy. She was later a member of the Soviet Committee of the Veterans of War

She died in 1978, and though she doesn’t have any block buster movies about her life, her image has appeared on postage stamps.

*I must interject here. I’m a military woman myself, and I’m often asked these sorts of questions. Before I met my husband, I dated as you do. Often, when I told my prospective suitor that I was in the military, he would get a gleam in his eye, talk about how ‘sexy’ that was, and ask if we had ‘female specific’ clothing. On one such occasion a suitor picked me up from work. I’d been outside all day, and was tired and sweaty. He looked at me in disgusted and couldn’t quite believe that yes, I had done hard work outside and no, I could not show cleavage in my uniform. It’s been half a century, and this is still annoying. 

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Ching Shih

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Ching Shih, Captain Ching Shih, was possibly the most feared and successful pirate of all time. During her nine year reign of terror she amassed over 80,000 pirates under her command and had empires bowing to her will. So who was this woman? Details on her early life have been swallowed up by the times, but they probably weren’t very pleasant since she first shows up in the historical record as a prostitute marrying pirate Captain Cheng I in 1801. Now, Cheng was already one hell of a pirate, and he and his crew were largely successful. However, business took off as soon as he married the young Ching Shih, and it soon became pretty obvious that he valued and respected her intellect and cunning when it came to how a pirate fleet should be run.

Too crafty to be poisoned and too badass to be skewered by another pirate, Cheng died in 1807 in a tsunami. Ching Shih promptly married his first mate and took over Cheng’s fleet. It’s unknown if Ching Shih was in love with this first mate, or if their marriage was more of a business contract to help her secure her role as captain. What is certain, however, is that Ching Shih turned that pirate fleet into the most feared and successful on the seven seas. She ruled with an iron fist, and passed out the death penalty like candy. Caught pillaging a town that had made friendly with Ching Shih’s fleet? You were beheaded. Caught raping a captured female or fellow female pirate? Instand death. If you were caught having consensual sex on duty, surely the penalty would be less severe, right? Nope. You both got to sleep with the fish.
Ching Shih spent that first year in command traveling the Chinese coast, attacking seaside towns and even sneaking up rivers to pounce on unsuspecting inland villages. She became a real pain in everyone’s collective ass. In 1808 the Chinese government decided it was time for an ass-kicking and the Imperial fleet was sent in search of her. I’m not sure what the Imperial fleet was expecting. Having to track her down? Almost definitely. A fight? Probably. For her to turn around and meet them head on for battle? I doubt it. The Chinese government had decided it was time for an ass-kicking and Ching Shih wholeheartedly agreed. She captured sixty-three of their ships, and offered the captured crew with two options: join her or die. Upon hearing this, the Admiral Kwo Lang of the Chinese Navy killed himself rather than face death at her hands.
With the hope and determination of a child who thinks that maybe if he stands up to the bully just one more time, the Chinese Government enlisted the help of the Dutch and British Navy. Ching Shih ripped through them like tissue paper. Finally, the Chinese government admitted defeat and gave her an unprecedented offer of amnesty. She accepted on the condition that her eight-thousand pirates be able to keep their money and retire as well. The deal was struck and Ching Shih invested some of her money into a brothel/casino, dying a millionaire at the impressive age of sixty-seven.
Jack Sparrow has nothing on her. In fact, she managed to rib the famous fictional pirate from beyond the grave. A cameo of her can be seen in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

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The Night Witches

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There’s a saying which goes ‘Give a woman a single cell and she’ll give you a baby. Give a woman flour and she’ll give you bread, etc’. What happens when World War 2 is raging and you give 80 women the shittiest biplanes you have? They gave us the Night Witches.

In 1941 the German army was dangerously close to Moscow and Marina Raskova, already an accomplished military pilot, was asked to create a female only aviation regiment. She created the 588th regiment, and from the mechanics to the pilots, everyone was female. Their purpose was to conduct ‘harassment’ attacks, bombing German factories and pissing them off in general. There were a few problems, however. Though women were allowed to be pilots, they did not have access to the same equipment as the male pilots, and the women of the 588th had to make do with Polikarpov Po-2s. These biplanes made of wood and canvas, out of date since the first world war and mainly used for crop dusting. Even worse, these were not planes designed for carrying much. They could only hold six bombs. That its, they could only hold six bombs if the pilot and her co-pilot didn’t wear parachutes.
This didn’t deter the enlistees, most of them in their late teens or early twenties. Training began in Engels, just north of Stalingrad, and on June 8th, 1942, they flew their first mission. Their target: the headquarter of a German division. Though one plane was lost in the attacked, the pilot and co-pilot assumed dead, the raid was successful. Nadezhda Popova, who enrolled in an aviation school at just fifteen, recalls that it was a miracle the Night Witches hadn’t suffered more casualties. After the war, said she looked at the night sky sometimes and remembers her harrowing missions, asking aloud “Nadezhda, how did you do it?”
They did it through death defying arial acts. Their biplanes were far too noisy for stealth missions, so the Night Witches had to stall their engines midair to coast down to their targets. When the Germans tried to shoot them down, they would use their slow stalling speeds to their advantage. They could slow their planes far more than their enemies could, forcing the Germans to fly past them, turn around, and try to take another shot, only to be met with the same tactic. That wasn’t the only trick they thad, though. They could fly their planes so low to the ground, they would be concealed by hedge rows and trees. Their wood and canvass planes made them almost impossible to detect by heat seekers and radar. In fact, only the noise of the wind flying through the canvas of their planes alerted the Germans to their presence, but by then it would be too late. It was this noise, likened to the sound of broomsticks sweeping a wood floor, that gave the 588th regiment their nickname. Nachthexen, in German, translated into English as ‘Night Witches’.
By the end of the war the Night Witches had flown over 23,000 missions and dropped over 3,000 tons of bombs.

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