There are millions of people who have fought and perished on the battlefield, but we only recognize a handful of them by name. We know Hannibal, Napoleon, and Patton, but there are countless others who risked and sometimes gave their lives for their causes and countries.
While many average Joes are missing from history books, there is an even more glaring omission–the brave women who entered the fray when they could’ve chosen to stay on the sidelines. Here are five female war heroines that deserve recognition.
1. Krystyna Skarbek
Skarbeck was a wealthy Polish Jew, who was shocked by the magnitude of the German’s hatred toward her people. Though she and her husband were in Ethiopia when World War II began, they chose to go back and not only join but organize resistance groups. They were able to accomplish this by first going to London and convincing Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service that they could help the Allies.
The SS arrested her in 1941, but they soon released her when she faked being ill with tuberculosis. After the resistance was compromised in Poland, she went to France to do her part. In the face of grave danger, she worked as a courier, bargained for the release of imprisoned resistance fighters, and generally risked her life on a daily basis.
2. Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya
When Germany turned on Russia in WWII, Kosmodemyanskaya joined the Red Army as a saboteur. Her job was to circle behind the German soldiers who were closing in on Moscow. She would set land mines and do whatever possible to cut the Germans off from their supply lines.
She famously burned down stables and other useful buildings to deprive the Germans of their use in Petrischevo. She was eventually caught by the Germans, who hanged her. Russia posthumously named her a Hero of the Soviet Union.
3. Nancy Wake
Wake was a worldly person her entire life. She was born in New Zealand, raised in Australia, and worked as a journalist in New York and London. Eventually, she got married and moved to Marseilles.
When German tanks rolled into France, Wake immediately joined the French resistance. She hid fighters in her house and even smuggled documents and contraband supplies.
With the Germans chasing her, she temporarily fled to England. She was quickly trained and she parachuted back into France to rejoin the fray. She was nicknamed the White Mouse by the Germans, but she was anything but quiet. She even terminated an SS member with her bare hands.
Sadly, she discovered that the Gestapo had eliminated her husband while she was away. She continued fighting the Nazis until the end of the war.
4. Natalia Peshkova
Peshkova joined the Red Army at the tender age of 17. She was trained to use weapons, but her main task was to help wounded soldiers.
Being this close to the action meant putting herself at risk on a daily basis. Peshkova was wounded three times during the course of her army medic career. She also got separated from her unit when the Germans invaded and she had to sneak back through dangerous territory to rejoin her comrades.
5. Susan Travers
Travers was a wealthy British socialite when World War II started. Like many other brave women, she immediately enlisted to train as a nurse. She stayed in France until the Germans took it over at which point she fled to London.
There, she joined the French Free Forces and went back to a war zone in North Africa. When Rommel surrounded her unit, most of the women were evacuated. Travers refused to go and instead stayed with the besieged men. At nightfall, Travers and 2,500 troop sped away in cars as Rommel’s Afrika Corps pursued them.
Travers was officially accepted into the French Foreign Legion after the war as the only female ever allowed membership. Her daring exploits had earned her the respect of all of the men she served with.