28 Female War Heroes You’ve Never Heard About

June 19, 2023 People's Tonight 414 views

Lisa Waugh

Women war heroes prove that bravery and endurance are not reserved for male military personnel. Many women have served on the front lines, in the resistance, behind the wheel of convoys, in the cockpits of outdated planes, and in hospitals patching up the injured with little more than a standard first aid kit. Women and the war effort have always – and will always – go hand-in-hand.

The Night Witches of the Soviet Union took old clunker crop dusters and confounded the German air force. Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester found herself in the middle of an orchestrated attack in Iraq and turned the firepower back on the insurgents. The White Rose of Stalingrad took down numerous enemy aircraft and flew into legendary status.

Female war heroes also include the Dahomey Amazons, wives of the king who shocked their enemies with fierceness and audacity. Or the Vietnamese warriors of legend like the Trung Sisters.

The role of women in wars hasn’t always been clear or easy. Cathay Williams changed her appearance and fought in the Union Army as a man until her gender was discovered. But for a while, she fought in the Civil War along with other formerly enslaved people. Then there’s the Polish spy who may have inspired two of Ian Fleming’s Bond girls.

As we look at women in military history, there are myriad ways they serve. Women at home were working in factories making products for the war effort, but there were brave women who saw war up close. Some were able to share their experiences and become historians, teachers, instructors, colonels, and generals. Others faced poverty and lack of recognition for their war efforts.

There are millions who have served. This list of women war heroes sheds a little light on a few.


Susan1• Photo: Levin01 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

Susan Travers

War roles: General in the French Foreign Legionnaire

Medals and commendations: Légion d’honneur, Croix de Guerre, Médaille Militaire

English socialite Susan Travers was in France when World War II started. Initially, she trained as a nurse for the French Red Cross and later became an ambulance driver. Travers escaped to London when France fell to the Nazis. There, she joined the Free French Forces. She was sent to Syria and later North Africa to serve with the French Foreign legion as a driver assigned to Colonel Marie-Pierre Koenig. Travers soon fell in love with him. Her dedication to the married Koenig was fierce.

Even as Rommel’s Afrika Corps attacked Libya, Travers wouldn’t evacuate with female personnel. She and members of Koenig’s unit hid from the invaders for 15 days in sand pits. She drove Koenig through enemy lines under heavy fire, heading up 2,500 troops. They made it safely to the allied camp. After this act of bravery, Travers was promoted to general. She served in Italy, Germany, and France for the rest of the war, sustaining injuries when she drove over a land mine.

After the war, Travers joined the French Foreign Legion. Her request was approved by a fellow officer who knew her reputation and disregarded her gender. She was the only woman to ever serve officially with the French Foreign Legion. She went on to serve in Vietnam. She waited until her husband and Colonel Koenig to pass before publishing her memoir, Tomorrow to Be Brave: A Memoir of the Only Woman Ever to Serve in the French Foreign Legion, in 2000 at the age of 91.

Nancy• • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Nancy Wake

War role: Guerrilla fighter, spy

Medals and commendations: George Medal, Medal of Freedom from the U.S., Médaille de la Résistance, Croix de Guerre (three times)

Nancy Wake was a world traveler before the Second World War began. She was born in New Zealand, raised in Australia, and then lived in New York and London working as a journalist. She was living in Marseille with her French husband when Germany invaded the country. Wake didn’t hesitate to work for the French resistance. She hid and smuggled men out of France, transported supplies, and falsified documents.

The Germans captured Wake and interrogated her for days, but she gave up nothing. After her release, she escaped to Britain and joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE). With the SOE, Wake received weapons and paratrooper training. She dropped back into France as a spy. She blew up buildings, engaged in combat with the enemy, and killed an SS sentry with her bare hands.

The Gestapo tortured Wake’s husband when he refused to give up any information about his wife. He died as a result of the torture. Wake would discover this after the war. She ran for office in Australia and published her biography, The White Mouse (the Germans’ nickname for her), in 1988. She died in 2011 at the age of 98.

Zoya• • Photo: неизвестен / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya

War role: Guerilla fighter

Medals and commendations: Hero of the Soviet Union (posthumously)

At just 18, Kosmodemyanskaya was the first woman to be named Hero of the Soviet Union during World War II. She volunteered for the Red Army Western Front as a saboteur and part of the reconnaissance group. The unit went behind enemy lines near Moscow to set land mines and to cut off German supply lines.

Under orders, Kosmodemyanskaya set fire to a stable and a few public buildings in the town of Petrischevo. She was captured by locals, possibly ratted out by one of her fellow resistance fighters.

She was tortured by the Germans, forced to strip in the cold and march in the snow, and then beaten and whipped. She did not give up any information and was hanged the next day in the town center. A sign reading “arsonist” hung around her neck. Her body was left hanging for a month with visiting soldiers desecrating her body.

• • Lydia Litvyak

War role: Flight instructor, Senior Lieutenant, fighter pilot

Medals and commendations: Order of the Red Banner, Order of the Red Star, Order of the Patriotic War (twice)

Besides The Night Witches, the Soviet Air Force had other female units. Chief among them were the female-led bomber, ground-attack, and fighter squadrons. Litvyak was already a seasoned flyer, having been a member of flying clubs since 14. She joined the 586th Fighter Regiment and was an intense and effective instructor. She and a few other pilots were transferred to the all-male 437th Fighter Regiment. On her third combat mission, and after just three days with the squadron, Litvyak shot down Messerschmitt Me-109G and a Junkers Ju-88 bomber that were pursuing her commander. She was the first woman in military history to ever score a solo aerial victory in combat.

The pilot of the 109 survived the dogfight and couldn’t believe he was shot down by a woman. Litvyak, known as the White Rose of Stalingrad, went on to shoot down many more enemy aircraft until she disappeared over the Donbass. The last time she was seen, she was being pursued by around eight 109s. Her body has never been recovered.

• • Krystyna Skarbek

War role: Polish spy

Medals and commendations: Croix de Guerre, George Medal, Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)

Skarbeck, who would later change her name to Christine Granville, was a wealthy woman of Jewish heritage. She and her second husband were in Ethiopia when World War II began. She signed up with Britain’s Section D and went to Poland via Hungary to launch her resistance work. Her main role was to pass communications between allies. Skarbeck became known as the “flaming Polish patriot.” Under the guidance of the British, she organized Polish resistance groups and smuggled Polish pilots out of the country.

The Gestapo arrested Skarbeck in 1941, but she was released when she faked having TB by biting her tongue so hard it bled. She and partner Andrzej Kowerski changed their names to Christine Granville and Andrew Kennedy to escape detection. The pair were smuggled out of Poland to Turkey through Yugoslavia. Skarbeck, then Granville, wouldn’t return to Poland because her operative group had been compromised.

After being trained as a radio operator and paratrooper, she dropped into France on D-Day only to find that her resistance area had been infiltrated by the Germans. She hiked 70 miles to escape.

Then Skarbeck turned Axis fighters in the Alps. She outed herself to the French who were working for the Gestapo and then orchestrated prisoner releases.

She survived the war and was rumored to be the inspiration for two of Ian Fleming’s Bond girls. Despite having survived the Gestapo, imprisonment, and many other dangers, Skarbeck’s life came to a violent end when she was murdered by a stalker, Dennis Muldowney, in 1952.

Dahomey• • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Dahomey Amazons

War role: King’s Royal Guard and Army

The Dahomey Amazons were a large group (4,000 to 6,000) of female warriors who made up about one third of the overall Dohamey military. They were commonly known as Mino or “our mothers” and were the royal bodyguards of the kings of Dahomey, currently the Republic of Benin. The Mino were mostly recruited from among the king’s wives.

Their training was intense and fierce, and the Mino were known to fight with incredible bravery and “audacity.” Due to the profits from the slave trade, they were also armed with Danish flintrocks and Winchester repeaters, which would come in handy when they took on the French army. In a bold move, King Behanzin started a war with France in 1890. Despite being a formidable force, the French lost several major battles against the Mino early on.

The last known member of the Dahomey Amazons died in 1979.

Ruby• • Photo: United States Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Ruby Bradley

War role: POW nurse, colonel

Medals and commendations: 34 medals and citations, including two Legions of Merit, two Bronze Stars, International Red Cross’ Florence Nightingale Medal

As a career Army nurse prior to World War II, Colonel Ruby Bradley served as the hospital administrator in Luzon in the Philippines. When the Japanese invaded, she and a doctor and fellow nurse hid in the hills. Eventually, they were turned in by locals and taken to the base, now a prison camp. Bradley and her staff spent three years treating fellow POWs, delivering babies, and performing surgery. They also smuggled supplies to keep the POWs healthy, although Bradley herself weighed a mere 84 pounds when the Americans liberated the camp in 1945.

After the war, Bradley served as the 8th Army’s chief nurse on the front lines of the Korean war in 1950. She managed to evacuate all of the wounded soldiers in her care under heavy fire. She was the last to jump aboard the plane just as her ambulance was shelled. She was promoted to Colonel. She retired in 1963, but worked as a supervising nurse in West Virginia for 17 years. She received a hero’s funeral with full honors in 2002 at Arlington National Cemetery. She was 94.

Lyudmila• • Photo: Vladimir Nikolayevich Ivanov / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Lyudmila Pavlichenko

War role: Russian sniper, major

Medals and commendations: Hero of the Soviet Union

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was already a celebrated sharpshooter before joining the Soviet Army. She was a student at Kyiv University when World War II started and was part of 2,000 female snipers sent to the front. Only 500 survived. Older and more skilled than her fellow snipers, Pavlichenko had 309 confirmed kills, including 36 enemy snipers. Her male counterpart, Ivan Sidorenko, had 500 confirmed kills after six years of combat.

After being wounded by mortar fire, she went on a public relations and recruiting tour in the U.S. and Canada, dealing with sexist questions about her weight and skirt length from reporters. She would also become a sniper trainer. After her war time service, Pavlichenko became a historian at Kyiv University. She also served on the Soviet Committee of the Veterans of War.

Aleda• • Photo: Captainorchardly / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

Aleda Lutz

War role: Flight nurse

Medals and commendations: Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously, Air Medal (four times), Oak Leaf Cluster, Red Cross Medal, Purple Heart

Lutz volunteered with the 803rd Military Air Evacuation Squad. Their missions were to rapidly remove injured soldiers from the front as fresh soldiers came in. She flew 196 evac missions that brought back 3,500 men, logging more hours than any other flight nurse. In December of 1944, the C47 carrying Lutz and injured soldiers from Lyon crashed. The Veterans Administration Hospital in Saginaw, Michigan was renamed in her honor in 1990.

Cathay• • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Cathay Williams

War roles: Support troop, private, and cook

Pvt. Cathay Williams was a freed slave who served in the Union Army. Williams was liberated by the 8th Indiana Regiment in 1861 and then drafted into the Union Army’s support troops. She served with the 8th Indiana through the march across Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia. After the war, Williams worked at the Jefferson Barracks, north of St. Louis.

After a year, she changed her appearance and joined Company A of the 38th U.S. Infantry Regiment as William Cathay. Only a close friend and a cousin knew Williams was a woman. Her gender was discovered years later after an illness in New Mexico.

She returned to civilian service as an army cook. Her story remained untold until a reporter for the St. Louis Daily Times found her in 1876. As Williams aged, she sought war benefits but was denied. She was buried in a pauper’s grave.

• • Felice Schragenheim

War role: Underground operative

What we know of Schragenheim has been preserved through her lover Lilly Wust, the former wife of a Nazi officer, and a survivor of World War II. What is known is that Schragenheim hid her identity as a Jew while working for a Nazi newspaper. She passed information for the underground resistance and smuggled Jews out of Germany. She operated in plain sight and maintained the appearance of someone well-connected to Nazis.

Wust and Schragenheim met in a cafe and instantly had feelings for one another. Wust was unaware of Schragengeim’s Jewish ethnicity, but wasn’t upset when she eventually found out. Wust and Schragengeim kept their relationship secret while the latter continued to operate for the resistance. After a day at the lake together, the Gestapo showed up at Wust’s home and arrested Schragenheim.

Wust kept track of Schragenheim’s transfers from one concentration camp to the next and regularly corresponded with her, signing her letters as Aimee. Schragenheim managed to smuggle letters back to Wust, signed “your caged Jaguar.”

It was Wusts’s visit to Theresienstadt that sealed the fate of Schragenheim. Wust was thrown out by the camp director, and Schragenheim’s subsequent “death march” may have hastened her death. She succumbed to TB. Heartbroken, Wust divorced her husband and hid Jewish women in her basement to evade capture.

Wust held onto Schragenheim’s letters right up until her death in 2006. They were donated to the Yad Vashem Memorial Institute in Jerusalem. Wust dreamed of being reunited with a woman she considered reflection of herself and her spouse. “Twice since she left, I’ve felt her breath, and a warm presence next to me. I dream that we will meet again – I live in hope.” Wust received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Violette• • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Violette Szabo

War role: Spy

Medals and commendations: George Cross, MBE (posthumously), Croix de Guerre, Médaille de la Résistance

Szabo was married to a French Foreign Legion officer Etienne Szabo. He was killed in action in 1942 and Szabo joined the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) in 1943, vowing to do as much damage to the enemy as possible. She trained as a courier for missions in occupied France. She reorganized a resistance unit, damaged roads and bridges, and sent back regular reports.

She talked herself out of trouble a couple of times, but her luck ran out after she parachuted into France and sabotaged German communications. Under arrest by the German, Szabo was tortured and eventually transferred to Ravensbruck concentration camp. She and two other SOE agents were executed by an SS officer at the camp.

• • The Trung Sisters

Chinese rule of Northern Vietnam beginning in 111 BCE was quite tense. The Chinese believed in a male dominated society. Vietnamese culture was more equal, with women serving as soldiers, judges, and leaders. Women could also inherit property. Trung Nhi and Trung Trac were the daughters of a Vietnamese general near Hanoi. Trung Trac’s husband, Thi Sach, complained about increased taxes and was executed.

The Trung sisters then mounted a rebellion against Chinese rule. They raised an army of 80,000 that included many women. They managed to drive the Chinese from Vietnam and Trung Trac became the queen of northern Vietnam, with her younger sister serving as top adviser and co-regent.

They ruled over a 65-city region and built a new capital, Me-linh. They were defeated in 43 CE by General Ma Yuan and were either beheaded or committed suicide together by jumping into a river.

• • Reba Z. Whittle

War role: POW Nurse, lieutenant

Medals and commendations: Air Medal, Purple Heart

Flight nurse Whittle is the only U.S. female solder to be a POW in the European theater of World War II. Whittle served in the 813th Medical Air Evacuation Squadron and her plane was shot down over Aachen, Germany in September of 1944. Whittle was one of only a few survivors and the Germans didn’t know what to do with her. The Swiss discovered her among the POWs and arranged for her release, along with another 109 male POWs, on Jan. 25th, 1945. Surprisingly, Whittle’s POW experience went undocumented and she was denied POW retirement benefits. This was unfortunate, as her war injuries prevented her from flying. She worked in an Army hospital in California until 1946.

After years of being denied benefits, Whittle received a settlement in 1955. She died of breast cancer in 1981. Her POW status was confirmed in 1983.

Leigh• • Photo: Sergeant Gina Vaile, United States Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Leigh Ann Hester

War role: National Guard Trooper, sergeant

Medals and commendations: Silver Star for heroism

Sgt. Hester was part of the Kentucky National Guard and the 617th Military Police. In March 2005, she was escorting a supply convoy in an area of Iraq that was supposed to be secure. Around 50 insurgents attacked the convoy with RPGs and light machine guns. Hester sent out the order to charge through the enemy line to a position where they could regroup and fight back. She and Staff Sgt. Timothy Hein attacked an enemy trench and after a half hour of heavy, close-range combat, and killed 27 insurgents.

Hannie• • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Hannie Schaft

War role: Resistance fighter

Medals and commendations: Schools and streets were named after her, the Stichting Nationale Hannie Scaft-herdenking Foundation

Jannetie “Hannie” Schaft was a Dutch resistance fighter who refused to swear an oath to the Nazis. She joined Raad van Verzet, a resistance group with a communist ideology. She spied on soldier activity, aided refuges, and sabotaged targets. Her reputation as “the girl with the red hair” would eventually lead to her downfall. She colored her hair to cover up the red but after she was captured by the Nazis, her hair began to grow out.

The Germans then discovered that they had the legendary spy and resistance fighter in captivity. She was executed on April 17, 1945. She was defiant up until the end, taunting the soldier who shot in the head and merely grazing her. She said, “I can shoot better than that.” The second shot killed her but not before leaving an everlasting impression on her captors and witnesses. Schaft was 24.

She received a state funeral after the war, attended by Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch royal family.

Noor• • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Noor Inayat Khan

War role: Princess, spy

Medals and commendations: British George Cross (posthumously), French Croix de Guerre with Gold Star, Member of the Order of the British Empire

Princess Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan’s father was Indian Sufi master and musician Inayat Khan, and her mother, Ora Ray Baker, was the niece of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy. Her paternal great great grandfather ruled the Kingdom of Mysore. Although she was born in Russia, Khan held a British passport. She was living in France when Germany invaded. Khan and her family managed to escape to England where she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). She also worked for the British spy agency, SOE, as a wireless operator. The SOE sent her back to France in June of 1943, where she transmitted information back by Morse code. Even as other radio operators were discovered and arrested, Khan was determined to continue her work.

She was arrested by the SD (German intelligence) in October of 1943 and aggressively fought back. She refused to give up information under interrogation and sent a coded message to the SOE, which they ignored for some reason. When the Germans discovered her coded messages and notebooks, they used it to lure other British spies to France for arrest. Khan escaped briefly and was held in shackles for ten months after being caught. She was sent to Dachau concentration camp in September of 1944 and immediately executed.

• • Natalia Peshkova

War role: Combat medic

Medals and commendations: Order of the Red Star for bravery

Peshkova was swept up along with a lot of young Russian girls in the country’s rush to pull together forces to fight the Germans. She was recruited right out of school at the age of 17 to be a combat medic. Peshkova found herself in such a poorly equipped unit that the weapons continuously malfunctioned. Disease, starvation, and the loss of a boot to a hungry horse was part of Pehkova’s tough stint in the Russian army.

At one point, she was separated from her unit and managed disguised herself while also hiding her weapon. If she discarded it, she would have been executed by her own military. She finally made it back and went on to become Sergeant Major, and was allowed to finish her education.

• • Lise Børsum

War role: Refugee smuggler

Børsum was the wife of a physician in Oslo. She and her husband, Ragnar, smuggled Jews out of Nazi-occupied countries during World War II. They were arrested in 1943, and her husband was later released. She was sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany and was liberated by the Swedish Red Cross in 1945. She wrote a bestselling book about her war experiences and dedicated her life to ending concentration camps all over the world. Børsum was an activist and humanitarian right up until her death in 1985. Her daughter, actress Bente Børsum, honored her mother with a stage play she wrote and performed.

Queen• • Photo: Atelier Jacob Merkelbach / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Queen Wilhelmina

War role: Dutch resistance inspiration

Queen Wilhelmina was removed from the Netherlands against her wishes when the Nazis invaded. She foiled a plot to be kidnapped by the Nazis on the way to exile. From Britain, she broadcast messages of encouragement and hope to the Dutch resistance via Radio Oranie. Winston Churchill was a fan, calling the queen “the only real man among the governments-in-exile in London.”

Cordelia• • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Cordelia E. Cook

War role: Nurse

Medals and commendations: Bronze Star, Purple Heart

Cook stands as the first woman to receive the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for her service in an Italian field hospital. Reports and records are scarce, but witnesses and accounts reveal that Cook put herself in harm’s way on a regular basis to care for her injured charges. Her fellow nurses did as well.

• • Eileen Nearne

War role: British spy

Medals and commendations: Croix de Guerre, Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by King George VI

Nearne and two of her siblings served in the SOE. At 23, she parachuted into occupied France as a resistance message courier. Her communications centered mainly on the arrangement of weapons drops. A smooth talker, she escaped capture several times, but was eventually arrested and tortured by the Nazis. She was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp and later transferred to a labor camp where she escaped during a transfer to another camp. When she came across the Gestapo, she talked her way out of identification and arrest. Nearne hid in a church until the town was liberated by the Americans.

After the war, Nearne battled psychological issues and lived a quiet life with fellow SOE spy and sister Jacqueline until the latter’s death in 1982. Nearne died in 2010 and her body wasn’t discovered for several days. A search of her apartment revealed her war time resistance and spy role. She received a decorated hero’s funeral.

Annie• • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Annie Fox

War role: Nurse

Lieutenant Medals and commendations: Bronze Star

Lt. Annie G. Fox just happened to be on duty at Hickam Air Field in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. As the chief nurse on duty, Fox swung into action to tend to the injured and dying service personnel on the base. She initially received the Purple Heart, but when the requirements changed in 1944 (the recipient needed to have sustained battle wounds), Fox’s medal was rescinded. She received the Bronze Star instead.

Lady• • Photo: Mai Ngọc Xuân / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Lady Triệu

Lady Trieu is the legendary hero of Vietnam. Born around 225 CE, Trieu Thi Tinh may have been an orphan, raised by her brother. The Wu Dynasty had Vietnam under heavy control so when Trieu was 19, she raised an army to fight the Chinese. She refused to marry against her brother’s wishes and chose war instead, allegedly saying, “I want to ride the storm, tread the dangerous waves, win back the fatherland, and destroy the yoke of slavery. I don’t want to bow down my head, working as a simple housewife.”

Some versions of the legend have Trieu’s brother leading the rebellion and later promoting her to leader, and others say that she had to flee after murdering her sister-in-law.

If the legend is true, Lady Trieu held off Wu’s army for quite some time, but was defeated in 248 CE. With the passage of time, Trieu’s image has loomed larger than life. She is often depicted as kind of superhero, riding an elephant or a large fish.

Elsie• • Photo: USAF photo / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain 

Elsie Ott

War role: Flight nurse, lieutenant

Medals and commendations: Air Medal

Ott was a trained nurse who joined the Army Air Corps in 1941. She was sent to Karachi India where she was part of a mission that would evacuate injured soldiers as fresh troops were brought in.

The plane didn’t have medical equipment sufficient to handle the serious injuries and disease of the troops. Ott’s only help was an army medic. The plane made several stops across the six-day flight after leaving India. She continued on with these kinds of flights for the rest of her career and was promoted to captain in 1946. She was also instrumental in outfitting the flights for optimum care of patients.

Witches• • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The Night Witches

War roles: Pilots

Total medals and commendations: 23 recipients of the Hero of the Soviet Union

As the Soviet Union scrambled to create forces to fight the Nazi invasion, women were pressed into service, mainly in second-line defense areas. They were also given outdated or secondhand equipment, so it was surprising when the 588th Night Bombers Regiment, comprised of young Russian girls flying crop duster biplanes (Po-2 Kukuruznik), became one of the most effective Russian air units.

The 1928-era aircraft were so slow, the German air force would have to slow their airspeed to dog fight the Night Witches. The advantage of the Kukuruznik aircraft was that it could soar on an idling engine for miles. The girls would silently glide over German aircraft and drop bombs on enemy positions, making them a dreaded and deadly force. The planes were too slow to fly during the day, but the pilots learned how to fly at dusk and dawn to blend with the terrain. They fired a total of 23,000 sorties and flew 30,000 bombing raids. Of the 588th, 30 pilots died but 23 lived and have been celebrated well into their old age.

• • Barbara Lauwers

War role: Propaganda master

Medals and commendations: Bronze Star

Czech born Lauwers had a law degree when she she moved with her husband to the United States in 1941. After she became a U.S. citizen in 1943, she joined the Women’s Army Corps and was assigned to the OSS, America’s precursor to the CIA. Lauwers was involved in a propaganda mission called Operation Sauerkraut in 1944. The goal was to demoralize German soldiers. Because Lauwers was fluent in five languages, she was a essential in turning German POWs into counter operatives.

The mission was quite successful and Lauwers and her counterparts were adept at convincing the Germans to turn. Lauwers continued to design, and then run, other propaganda operations across Europe. She also trained the POWs in intelligence gathering. Her propaganda tactics convinced 600 Czech soldiers to turn to the Allied side.

• • Viking Shield Maidens

The Vikings weren’t focused on writing down their history, but they were focused on every member of their clan being the best he or she could be.

Enemies who fought the Vikings came away from the battlefield with tales of fierce women warriors who fought side-by-side with their male counterparts. Legends arose from the tales about shield maidens, including Hervor and Bunnhilde.