EA once again came under a voluminous backlash from its community last week, but in a refreshing change of pace, this had nothing to do with microtransactions or loot boxes, instead it was ‘historical inaccuracy’ that was causing such vitriol amongst these gamers.
Now, in fairness, there are a huge amount of historical inaccuracies within the reveal trailer for Battlefield V. So many in fact, that I would have to assume that the game takes place in a parallel universe and that the reason the game is numbered as the fifth game – despite, by my count, being more like the twentieth entry in the series – is because in this alternative universe the game is actually taking place in World War 5.
However, the issue that many claim to have umbrage with is the inclusion of a woman fighting on the front line. Which, some denizens of social media claim, never ever happened in history. Now, I’m not about to tell you that a woman wearing blue war paint and the proud owner of a brand-new fully automated robotic arm fought in the second world war. That’s clearly fiction and there are many plainly disappointed that DICE are sensationalising the war. Yet to say that women did not fight is also fiction. There were a great many women who fought, and died, in this conflict. Let’s explore some of these true stories.
The Night Witches
The 588th Night Bomber Regiment of the Soviet Air Forces was entirely compromised of female pilots. They flew 30,000 missions over four years and dropped an astonishing 23,000 tons of bombs on the invading German forces.
Now, these incredibly brave women flew ‘bombers’ constructed of little more than plywood and canvas that were originally intended to only be used for activities as dangerous as training and crop dusting. The Night Witches would idle their engines on route to a target, then glide in near silence the remaining distance to drop their bombs on the unsuspecting soldiers below. The only tell-tale sign of this primitive stealth mode was the soft ‘whoosing’ the planes made overhead. It was this sound that led to the Germans labelling the 588th as Nachthexen or Night Witches. They were feared and hated in equal measure.
The Witches were truly incredible. The tiny planes they flew, weighed down with bombs, had to be flown incredibly close to the ground and at night. Parachutes could not be worn as they would be too much of a burden on the aircraft. They had only maps and compasses to guide them to their target and – if they were lucky – to get them back home again, but when they did back home it wasn’t time for to put their feet up. Instead, they would have to fly another eight missions. This was down to the fact that the aircraft were so small that could only carry two bombs at a time – meaning multiple runs to a target would be necessary.
It was the famous Russian pilot, navigator and hero, Marina Raskova, who was responsible for convincing Stalin to form three combat regiments composed entirely of women. It wasn’t just the pilots who were female, all the ground crew and support staff were female too. These three regiments were the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment (responsible for shooting down 38 enemy aircraft in 125 air battles), the 587th Bomber Aviation Regiment (they flew 1,134 mission and five or their members were made Heroes of the Soviet Union) and, of course, The 588th Night Bomber Regiment.
Marina was one of 800,000 women in the military service at this time. You can read a series of intimate and illuminating interviews with these women in Svetlana Alexievich’s ground-breaking ‘The Unwomanly Face of War’. These women served in many roles; they were snipers, anti-aircraft gun operators, tank drivers and machine gunners. So, to any social media commentator who stated that, ‘I think there was like one Russian sniper who was female and that’s it’, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Oh, and that sniper’s name was Lyudmila Pavlichenko and she was responsible for 309 enemy kills.
There may not have been a woman with a prosthetic arm taking pot shots at Germans with her rifle in WW2, but there was a woman with a prosthetic foot, operating behind enemy lines to train guerrilla fighters and assist the French Underground. Her name was Virginia Hall and the Gestapo considered her to be ‘the most dangerous of all Allied spies’.
Virginia lost her left foot with an unfortunate incident involving her rifle and a turkey in 1932. The limb was amputated from the knee down and replaced by a wooden alternative. She named the appendage Cuthbert. She didn’t let this this setback hold her back however, she went on to join Special Operations Executive in England. Her work there resulted in her being given an MBE. She later joined the U.S. Office of Strategic Services where she actually asked to return to occupied France, with her work there proving vital in providing intel in preparation and execution of the D-Day landings.
The Female French Foreign Legionnaire
Susan Travers was an Englishwomen living in France when the war broke out in 1939. Once France had fallen to the invading German forces she fled and joined the Free French Forces, which in turn led to her being sent as a driver with the French Foreign Legion in 1941. She served with the legion in both Syria and then North Africa. It was in Libya that her story gets really interesting, however.
Rommel and his Africa Corps had her unit under heavy fire, but Susan refused to be evacuated with the rest of the female personnel. She spent the next fifteen days hiding out in sand pits, desperately avoiding the deadly German Stukas, or dive bombers, until they all decided to make a break for it under the cover of night. The convoy had almost made it safely out of harms way when a land mine went off, alerting the German forces to their presence.
She broke through the enemy ranks under heavy machine gun fire and led the convoy of 2,500 soldiers, driving through the pitch black night, to safety. She was fortunate to have survived; her car was riddled in bullet holes. Travers served throughout Europe for the remainder of the war and drove trucks, ambulances and a self-propelled anti-tank gun. Eventually she went on to be officially inducted into the French Foreign Legion and was sent to Vietnam during the First Indo-China War. I absolutely recommend reading her autobiography, ‘Tomorrow to be Brave’, and have your eyes well and truly opened. Her recounting of a German Stuka attack will set your heart racing.
And that’s where I’m going to have to leave it for this Playing with History. Quite frankly, I could fill several years worth of these features discussing the remarkable women who fought in World War 2. Please feel free to criticise the Battlefield V trailer for being historically inaccurate, as it most certainly is, but it’s inaccuracies are so overt that I can’t help but feel that is exactly what DICE intended, to create a sensationalised rendition of the war.
However, what is not a falsehood is that a significant number of people who actually fought in the war were women. We are not talking small numbers here, we are talking hundreds of thousands. To claim otherwise is to simply ignore all of the facts and evidence.