Did women volunteers serve in World War II?


Other Military Women in World War II
A U.S. military handout from 1951, including representation for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
A U.S. military handout from 1951, including representation for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Although WAVES was arguably the most influential women's military unit in the United States, the Navy wasn't the only place for women to serve during World War II. As we mentioned on the previous page, the Army had its own women's unit called the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), which was set up for purposes similar to WAVES. The WAAC worked overseas (unlike the WAVES), but its members didn't enjoy equal pay to their male counterparts or the same benefits as WAVES were afforded. WAAC attained full military status like WAVES did in 1943, and it became known as the Women's Army Corps (WAC).

The United States wasn't the only country to welcome women into the armed forces at this time. Britain passed a law in 1941 to authorize drafting single women between the ages of 20 and 30 for military service [source: Wagner]. Approximately 125,000 women were drafted as a result. Still, the majority of the women who made up these special British auxiliaries (about 450,000) were volunteers. Like the WAVES and WACs, these British women were recruited for clerical jobs to free men for service, but defied expectations when they assumed more hands-on roles. Though they were close to the action, women were strictly forbidden from firing at the enemy [source: Wagner].

Interestingly, not all women were barred from traditionally male roles on the front line during the war. In the USSR, women served and fought in all branches of the Soviet military. The Soviets had both all-female units and mixed-gender units. In addition to roles on tanks and in the infantry, Soviet women also became snipers and pilots. More than 1,000 women graduated from the USSR's Central Sniper Training Center, and female snipers were responsible for about 12,000 enemy kills [source: Wagner]. Soviet women also flew as both fighter and bomber pilots.

It's fascinating to see how all these major powers simultaneously began to recognize and tap into the wartime potential of the fairer sex. Thanks to these female units and heroes, the traditional preconceptions about women and their roles on the front line were permanently altered.

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Sources

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  • Wagner, Margaret E., et al. "The Library of Congress World War II Companion." Simon and Schuster, 2007. (May 7, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=0bRaa7UuD6EC
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