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The Petrograd Women's Battalion of Death

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Regulus 1

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BerichtGeplaatst: 21 Sep 2007 15:14    Onderwerp: The Petrograd Women's Battalion of Death Reageer met quote

The Petrograd Women's Battalion of Death was formed in the Mariynski Theatre, in Petrograd, on the evening of 21st May, 1917 when a Russian sergeant, Maria Bachkarova, appealed to a packed house for women to step forward and enrol in her new battalion. One thousand five hundred women responded to her call that night and a further five hundred came forward in the days that followed. In time three hundred of these women, mostly peasants, served at the front.

The battalion received official recognition the following month and was freighted off to the front after a solemn service of dedication in the Kazan Cathedral in Petrograd. They occupied a section of abandoned Russian trench near Kovno where they went over the top. Assigned to the 525th Kuriag-Daryjuski regiment zero hour came at 3am on 8th July, 1917. As the hour came and went and supporting troops refused to move, tensions mounted. Eventually in fading light the battalion stormed into the attack, accompanied by three hundred Russian men who had been persuaded to join them.
Despite a hail of machine gun and artillery fire the enemy's first trench line fell, then the second. Russian troops to the rear began to stir. A German counter attack was met and turned by the women and a third trench fell to the battalion. The majority of the accompanying Russian men fell upon a supply of German vodka and became dangerously drunk. The women set about destroying such stores but nothing could change the fact that their overall strength was drastically reduced by the men's behaviour.

Pushing ahead the battalion was mauled by a force of German troops ensconced in nearby woodland. The remaining Russian men bolted leaving the battalion to struggle on alone. Eventually the women were compelled to fall back. This was done in an ordered fashion, in woodland and in the face of a numerically superior enemy. A final free for all dash across no mans land saw the battalion return to its own lines again. They returned with two hundred prisoners. Their own losses had been six killed and thirty wounded, including their commander, newly promoted Lieutenant Bachkarova, who was knocked unconscious by a shell blast.

Two hundred women soldiers continued to serve at the front and did so in the face of mounting hostility caused by pacifist soldier-agitators. Following the Bolshevik seizure of power in Petrograd and Moscow the radicalised soldiers at the front turned on the battalion. In the teeth of a witch hunt instigated by Bolshevik trouble-makers the battalion was disbanded without mishap. The women managed to slip away and board trains for all quarters of the empire. The battalion's battle flag was secured upon the person of a volunteer drawn from the units male instructor cadre. Under oath he swore to defend it with his life. Nothing more has been heard of it nor of him.

Laatst aangepast door Regulus 1 op 21 Sep 2007 16:50, in totaal 1 keer bewerkt
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BerichtGeplaatst: 21 Sep 2007 15:51    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Man man man, ik heb nog foto's gezien van de gesneuvelde vrouwen en dat waren er toch wel meer dan zes hoor...
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Regulus 1

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BerichtGeplaatst: 22 Sep 2007 21:28    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Jan, vertel ons meer !
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BerichtGeplaatst: 23 Sep 2007 5:53    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Regulus 1 @ 22 Sep 2007 22:28 schreef:
Jan, vertel ons meer !

Tjah, ik heb ooit een foto gezien op eBay dacht ik. Er lagen alleszins heel wat gesneuvelde vrouwen op het slagveld, ze hadden van één de broek naar beneden gedaan om te bewijzen dat het een vrouw was. Al kan die foto ook ergens in één of ander boek staan. Ik weet het niet meer precies.
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Ernst Friedrich

BerichtGeplaatst: 23 Sep 2007 11:06    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote's_Battalion
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BerichtGeplaatst: 23 Sep 2007 12:49    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

AOK4 @ 23 Sep 2007 6:53 schreef:
Regulus 1 @ 22 Sep 2007 22:28 schreef:
Jan, vertel ons meer !

Tjah, ik heb ooit een foto gezien op eBay dacht ik. Er lagen alleszins heel wat gesneuvelde vrouwen op het slagveld, ze hadden van één de broek naar beneden gedaan om te bewijzen dat het een vrouw was. Al kan die foto ook ergens in één of ander boek staan. Ik weet het niet meer precies.

Die foto staat oa hier maar ik heb ook eens een andere gezien.
Bewust maar even niet gehotlinked.
Doe mee met de WO1 Wiki !
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Ernst Friedrich

BerichtGeplaatst: 24 Sep 2007 0:54    Onderwerp: Louise Bryant Reageer met quote

"Chapter XXI." by Louise Bryant (-1936) From: Six Red Months in Russia (1918) New York: George H. Doran Company, 1918.

NO other feature of the great war ever caught the public fancy like the Death Battalion, composed of Russian women. I heard so much about them before I left America that it was one of the first things I investigated when I got to Russia. In six months I saw them go through a curious development which divided them into two bitter hostile camps.


Their leader, Leona Botchkarova, was severely beaten and had to be taken to a hospital. Hurt, uncomprehending, she declared: "I do not want to be associated with women! I do not trust them!" If she had been a thinker as well as a fighter she would have known that sex had little to do with the matter. Class struggle permeated everything and it hurled the women's regiments into the maelstrom with everything else.
Near Smolny Institute there was a recruiting station. It was here that I made my first friends among the women soldiers. A short dumpy little girl with cropped black hair stood awkwardly holding a big gun with a long bayonet. She regarded me belligerently.
"Stoi! What do you want?" she queried. I decided she must be the guard and explained my mission.
Inside were half a dozen girls sitting on stools in the hallway. They were arrayed in the strangest attire; one had on dancing slippers and a frivolous waist; another high-heeled French shoes, and still another wore brown buttoned shoes and green stockings–the only universal note was short hair and men's trousers.
They looked like the chorus of a comic opera in various stages of make-up. They all began to talk to me at once, as is the Russian custom. "Who are you?" "Are you English or American?" "Are you going to join the regiment?"
A very intelligent and lovely girl by the name of Vera, who was in charge that day, came out and invited me into her office. I often went back after that and had lunch with her. She was well read and spoke five languages. The only thing I didn't like about her was that she loved to salute so much that she kept doing it all the time, and as she was the superior officer, she couldn't very well salute any one else but me. This I found very droll after coming from France, where war correspondents are not treated like commanders-in-chief.
Vera explained about the variety of shoes. She said that they had ordered boots, but had never heard any further word. There was a very good reason, which I found out afterwards; there was no leather. The only women soldiers that ever did get boots or overcoats or anything else they needed were the first recruits to the Death Battalion. All the others were "just waiting" as every one does in Russia.
It was the Death Battalion that took part in the last Russian offensive. There were two hundred and fifty in the battle; six were killed and thirty wounded. That was their last and only battle, except for the girls who were brought to the Winter Palace the day that it fell. And they surrendered before a single one was wounded.
I gathered these statistics very carefully and have compared them to the statistics gathered by reliable persons. I took great pains because I could not believe them when I first got them. I had been led to believe that the movement was much larger. In all Russia less than three thousand were gathered into the recruiting stations. It is interesting to note that many more have since taken part in the Red Guard Army.
Women in Russia have always fought in the army. In my opinion the principal reason for the failure of the woman's regiment was segregation There will always be fighting women in Russia, but they will fight side by side with men and not as a sex. Botchkarova herself fought several years before she organised the Death Battalion at the instigation of Kerensky and Rodzianko.
When the Soviet formally took over the government the women soldiers were given two months' leave. The majority were ordered home and told to put on female attire because they were considered enemies of the revolution. There was a good deal of misunderstanding on both sides.
I came across a peculiar case. I had heard a rumour that some of the girls had been mistreated the night the Winter Palace fell. I didn't believe it, but I wanted to assure myself. After a great deal of searching around I found that one girl really had been hurt and had been in a hospital. And another girl had committed suicide because she was "disappointed in her ideals." I got the address of the girl who had been sick and went round to see her.
She lived with another girl in one of the great barnlike unused buildings so common in Petrograd. Kira Volakettnova was her name. She was a dressmaker and had always been very poor. The building had a court with snow piled high in the centre. Garbage and filth of all sorts were thrown on top of the snow.
I knocked a long time at the front door; nobody answered. I found the back door wide open and went in. Hearing a noise in one of the rooms, I called out but received no reply. I opened the door and a lot of startled chickens ran in every direction. I searched all over that floor with no result, and finally went to the second floor. There in a tiny room I found Kira and her friend, Anna Shub. Anna was seventeen and came from Moghilev.
I asked Kira to explain how she was hurt.
"Well, that night when the Bolsheviki took the Winter Palace and told us to go home, a few of us were very angry and we got into an argument," she said.
"We were arguing with soldiers of the Pavlovsk regiment. A very big soldier and I had a terrible fight. We screamed at each other and finally he got so mad that he pushed me and I fell out of the window. Then he ran downstairs and all the other soldiers ran downstairs. . . . The big soldier cried like a baby because he had hurt me and he carried me all the way to the hospital and came to see me every day."
"And how do you live now?" I said. "How do you manage to get enough to eat?"
Anna Shub answered my question. "Why, the Red Guard," she said, blushing a little, "have been dividing their bread with us, and yesterday," she went on proudly, "they brought us six pieces of wood, and so we have been warm all day."
"Have you forgiven the Bolsheviki for disarming you?" I asked Kira.
Anna Shub broke in and asked excitedly: "Why should we forgive them? It is they who should forgive us. We are working girls and traitors have been trying to persuade us to fight our own people. We were fooled and we almost did it."

"How was that?" I asked.
Anna reached under her cot and took out a pasteboard box. The contents of that and what she had on her back was all that she had in the world besides a sick sparrow. The sick sparrow she had picked up on the street half frozen. Now it hopped about the room looking for crumbs and picking at spots on the floor. Anna opened the box and took out some folded papers. Two were small posters like those pasted daily on the buildings on the streets of Petrograd. "Read them," she said. They were written in the usual extravagant and colourful language of Russian bulletins. I give a free translation:
"Come with us in the name of your fallen heroes! Come with us and dry the tears and heal the wounds of Russia. Protect her with your lives.
"Wake up and see clear, you who are selling the heads of your children to the Germans. Soon, very soon, you will prefer to face ten German bayonets to one tigress. We pour out our maledictions upon you. Enough words! It is time to take up arms. Only with a storm of fire will we sweep the enemy off Russian soil. Only with bayonets will we attain a permanent peace. Forward against the enemy! We go to die with you."
After I finished reading Anna went on with her story.
"I left home," she said. "I left everything because I thought the poor soldiers of Russia were tired after fighting so many years, and I thought we ought to help them. When I arrived in Petrograd I began to see the truth; we were supposed to be shaming the soldiers."
Tears welled in her eyes. "I felt as if I myself could die of shame. I didn't know what to do And then, just before the Winter Palace fell, one of the aristocrats of the Death Battalion came in and asked us to go down and join the Cossacks to fight the revolution."
"I am a Jew," said Anna, "and I come from within the Pale. Liberty is dearer than life to me. And I. . . I was actually asked to do this thing!"
"I used to talk to the people in the bread-line," she went on, "about the Bolsheviki, and they said they were not bad people, and that they were our friends. When you go back to America," she said eagerly, as if every one would know about her unfortunate conduct, "tell them I am a woman soldier, and I fight only imperialistic invaders."
Anna and Kira had virtually no clothes at all. They had thin summer clothing, pieced out with all sorts of rag-tags they had managed to gather together, and they didn't know where to get their next meal. I offered them money and clothes. At first they both wept and refused and then they were quite happy in accepting.
A few nights before I left Petrograd I stopped at one of the huge military hospitals, where women soldiers were working. The Bolsheviki had secured them places so that they could get enough to eat. . . . That very day I had seen two begging at one of the stations. I found that the girls had already gone home for the night. Following vague directions I walked up a dark street for about a quarter of a mile. The little house where they stayed stood in the middle of a deserted garden, snow-covered and desolate.
I went through an open door that sagged down on a broken hinge, and felt my way along the hall until I saw a shaft of light. I knocked and entered. Inside the little room was a peasant, his wife, their baby, the stove, the bed and a highly pungent odour of cooking cabbage.
At the next door I had better success. This time it was a large room containing ten girls and ten beds, a long bench and a Russian stove. They were delighted to have company, especially from "so far away." We sat down on the bench and talked most of the night. Their stories were much the same as Anna's.
"We are girls from little towns," said one. "Some of us came with our parents' blessing, but most of us came with their curses. We were all moved by a high resolve to die for the revolution.
"How unhappy we have been! Everywhere we have been misunderstood. We expected to be honoured, to be treated as heroes, but always we were treated with scorn. On the streets we were insulted. At night men knocked at our barracks and cried out blasphemies. Most of us never got within miles of the front. The soldiers thought we were militarists and enemies of the revolution and at last they disbanded us and took our arms away."
Another girl began to talk.
"That night," she said, "all of us thought of suicide; there was nothing left. We had no clothes and nowhere to go; life was unbearable. Some of us wanted to appeal to the Bolsheviki, to have a conference with them and explain our purpose. We wanted them to know that we would go to the front and fight for them or for any party. Our aim was to save Russia. But when we suggested that there were members of our battalion who objected and tried to get us to go down and join the Cossacks. We were horrified. We understood then how we had been misled. Of course we would not go. . . . "
"Thirteen went," cried one of the girls.
"But they were aristocrats," answered the first speaker in great contempt.
They were violent in their denunciation of Botchkarova. "She calls us cowards," they said, "but it is she who runs away. It is she who abandons her country, who believes neither in Russian women nor Russian men. . . . "
It was just about the time that the negotiations were broken off at Brest-Litovsk and the possibility of the German advance was in everybody's mouth. I asked them if they would offer their services to the Soviet government in that case. They replied unanimously that they would.
"And how about you?" said one. "Will you fight with us?"
I said that I would. The idea pleased them very much. I was on my way home when the advance began and could not keep my word. But perhaps there will still be opportunity. Russia will be at war with Germany until the present German government is overthrown, and in that struggle for freedom of the Russian people I offer my services unreservedly.
It was almost dawn when I bid the women soldiers farewell. One of them walked a little way with me into the night. It was painfully cold.
"Be sure to come back," she urged sweetly as we shook hands.
"I give you my word of honour," I said, feeling terribly solemn. I looked down and suddenly I realised that her feet were bare. . . .
When I think back now she personifies Russia to me, Russia hungry and cold and barefoot–forgetting it all–planning new battles, new roads to freedom.

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Ernst Friedrich

BerichtGeplaatst: 24 Sep 2007 10:25    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Women’s Battalions

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Women's Battalions were segregated all-female combat units formed after the February Revolution by the Russian Provisional Government in a last ditch effort to inspire the mass of war-weary soldiers to continue fighting in World War I until victory could be achieved. In the spring of 1917 a number of women began pressing the new Provisional Government to expand female participation in the war, and particularly to form combat units of women volunteers. These women, along with a number of high-ranking members of the Russian government and military administration, believed that female soldiers would have significant propaganda value and that their example would revitalize the weary, demoralized men of the Russian army. Simultaneously, they hoped the presence of women would serve to "shame" hesitant male soldiers into resuming their combat duties.
Fifteen formations were created in 1917, including the 1st Russian Women's Battalion of Death, a separate unit called the 1st Petrograd Women's Battalion formed a few weeks later in Petrograd, the 2nd Moscow Women's Battalion of Death created in Moscow, and the 3rd Kuban Women's Shock Battalion organized in Ekaterinodar.
Four communications detachments were created in Moscow and Petrograd. Seven additional communications units were created in Kiev and Saratov, again employing privately organized women's units already existing in those cities. An all-female naval unit was created in Oranienbaum, the 1st Women's Naval Detachment, as part of the Naval Infantry Training Detachment.
The women's battalions were never part of the White Army, Green Army, or Black Army, the other Russian political groups fighting the Bolsheviks.

1st Russian Women's Battalion of Death
At the end of May, the Minister of War of the Russian Provisional Government, Alexander Kerensky, authorized the formation of the 1st Russian Women's Battalion of Death in Petrograd. He placed Maria Bochkareva, a peasant woman who had served in the Russian army since November 1914 and had risen to the rank of non-commissioned officer, in command of the unit. This first all-female combat unit initially attracted over 2,000 enlistees between the ages of eighteen and forty, but Bochkareva's strict discipline soon drove out all but about 300 dedicated volunteers.
Called into action against the Germans during the June Offensive, they were assigned to the 525th Kiuruk-Darinski Regiment and occupied an abandoned trench near Smorgon. The battalion pushed past three trenches into German territory, where the trailing Russian army discovered a hidden stash of vodka and became dangerously drunk. The newly-promoted Lieutenant Bochkareva ordered that any further stashes be destroyed. Outnumbered and unsupported, the battalion met stiff resistance from the Germans and were repelled. They returned to their original lines with two hundred prisoners and minimal casualties, six killed and thirty wounded.

1st Petrograd Women's Battalion
The creation of the first all-female combat unit under Bochkareva inspired a number of other women in Russia to appeal to the government for inclusion in the armed forces. The Ministry of War was flooded with letters and petitions from individuals and groups of women seeking to serve their nation at the front. In June Kerensky approved the organization of an additional women's combat unit in Petrograd, the 1st Petrograd Women's Battalion with a complement of between 1,100 and 1,400 women and two communications detachments of 100 women volunteers each.
A half-company of this unit (137 soldiers) participated in the defense of the Winter Palace, having been called to the palace square under the false pretense of a review before being sent to the front.

2nd Moscow Women's Battalion of Death
The 2nd Moscow Women's Battalion of Death, as well as two separate communications detachments were created in Moscow in June, 1917.

3rd Kuban Women's Shock Battalion
Authorization from the government for the formation of women's military units provided impetus for private women's organizations to form their own quasi-military units, which appeared in numerous cities around Russia. In an attempt to satisfy popular demand and to bring these units under its control the Ministry of War expanded the number of women's military formations. A fourth combat battalion was formed in Ekaterinodar, the 3rd Kuban Women's Shock Battalion, created from a pre-existing grass-roots unit.

1st Russian Women's Naval Detachment
An all-female naval unit was created in Oranienbaum, the 1st Women's Naval Detachment, as part of the Naval Infantry Training Detachment.

Fate of the women's battalions
These extensions failed to end the impromptu organization of quasi-military units of women volunteers, and the government found it impossible to control such formations. Even the official women's units proved problematic. There was no consensus among the military administration as to the potential value of female soldiers, and this, coupled with the severe shortages from which the nation was then suffering, meant that the army made only a half-hearted commitment to the project. Thus, the women's units received inadequate attention and assistance from the military administration. Many among the Russian military authorities were waiting to see how the women fared in battle and whether they would have a positive effect on male soldiers. The only women's combat unit to participate in battle was Bochkareva's 1st Russian Women's Battalion of Death. Although the women performed well in combat and suffered few casualties their example was not enough to inspire the mass of war-weary soldiers to continue fighting.
After the 1st Russian Women's Battalion of Death commanded by Bochkareva failed to have the intended effect of revitalizing the war-weary elements of the Russian army the military authorities began to question the value of the women's units. In particular, the government found it difficult to justify the allocation of badly needed resources to such an unreliable project. By August 1917, there was a growing inclination in the military establishment to discontinue the organization of women for combat purposes. At the end of the summer the authorities ended assistance to the units but allowed them to continue to exist.
Facing withdrawal of official support the 2nd Moscow Women's Battalion of Death began to disintegrate in September and its members began to leave. Just prior to disbanding, however, about 500 volunteers were sent to the front at their own request but without the knowledge or permission of the military authorities.

At the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917 the other women's battalions were still in existence. The 1st Russian Women's Battalion of Death, commanded by Bochkareva, was still at the front, but disbanded shortly after as a result of increasing hostility from male troops. The 1st Petrograd Women's Battalion remained intact and the Provisional Government summoned it to the Winter Palace in order to provide defense against the Bolsheviks and their supporters on October 25, 1917. Only a small half-company of the women's unit (consisting of 137 women soldiers) remained to take part in the defense, and despite their attempted resistance, the numerically superior pro-Bolshevik forces quickly overwhelmed them. The members of the women's battalion were arrested but released shortly thereafter as a result of the intervention of the British military attaché in Petrograd, General Alfred Knox. The women of the unit returned to their encampment outside of the city. The new Bolshevik government ordered the official dissolution of any remaining women's military formations on November 30, 1917.
However, members of the 1st Petrograd and 3rd Kuban women's battalions lingered in their camps until early 1918, and then finally dispersed. Some women who had served in these units went on to fight on both sides of the Russian Civil War.

En uit een ander wikipedia-artikel (Women in the Russian and Soviet military):
Women served in the Russian armed forces in small numbers in the early stages of the war, but their numbers increased after heavy Russian losses such as at the Battle of Tannenburg and Masurian Lakes and a need for increased manpower. One such recruit was Maria Bochkareva who was serving with the 25th Reserve Battalion of the Russian Army. After the abdication of Nicholas II of Russia in March 1917, she convinced interim prime minister Alexander Kerensky to let her form a women's battalion. The Women's Battalion of Death recruited women between the ages of 13 and 25 and appealed for support in a series of public meetings, enlisting approximately 2,000 soldiers.
Several women pilots are known from the First World War. Princess Eugenie M. Shakovskaya was assigned duty as an artillery and reconnaissance pilot, having volunteered for the Imperial Russian Air Service in 1914 (one of the world’s first female military aviators) and flew missions with the 26th Corps Air Squadron in 1917 for nine months. Because of her connections to the Imperial family she was demobilized after the October Revolution. Lyubov A. Golanchikova was a test pilot, contributed her airplane to the Czarist armies; Helen P. Samsonova was assigned to the 5th Corps Air Squadron as a reconnaissance pilot. And in 1915, Nedeshda Degtereva had the distinction of being the first woman pilot to be wounded in combat while on a reconnaissance mission over the Austrian front in Galicia.

Further reading
Botchkareva [sic], Maria (1919). Yashka: My Life as Peasant, Officer, and Exile. (As told to Isaac Don Levine.) New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company.
Griese, Ann Eliot; Richard Stites (1982). “Russia: Revolution and War.” in Female Soldiers: Combatants or Noncombatants? Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Nancy Loring Goldman, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
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