10 Modern day Woman Warriors

Index page

Throughout history legends of male warriors are aplenty, but the same cannot be said of women warriors. Yet that is not to say that they didn’t exist.

Some of these women warriors are well known. Most people will know about Joan of Arc, probably the most popular woman warrior in history. This 16 year old girl would go on to lead the French army in battle against the English.

Another well known woman warrior was Boudicca, queen of the Iceni. After her husband died she led an army of 100,000 men and toppled the Roman capital in Britain, Camulodunum.

Yet there are other women warriors in history that are less well known. These include Triệu Thị Trinh (known as the Vietnamese Joan of Arc), Nakano Takeko (one of the only known onna-bugeisha - female samurai - in Japan’s history, Grace O’Malley (the Irish pirate queen), Lozen (Apache warrior), and Rani Lakshmibai (India) are some of them.

In this article, however, we will be looking at modern day women warriors. Those whose achievements have been in the 20th century and beyond. They are in alphabetical order.

Maria Bochkareva

Not only did this Russian soldier fight in World War I, she also formed the Women’s Battalion of Death and was the first Russian woman to command a military unit.

When World War I broke out in 1914 she tried to join the 25th Tomsk Reserve Battalion of the Imperial Russian Army, but was rejected. She was told that she should try joining the Red Cross instead.

Undeterred, she secured the personal permission of Tsar Nicholas II. After three months training she began front-line duty with 5th Corps, 28th Regiment of the Second Army.  She was decorated for rescuing fifty wounded soldiers from the field.

She was wounded in the arm and leg and worked as a medical sister until she was fit enough to return to the front with the rank of corporal. She suffered another injury that left her paralyzed for four months.

In 1917 she proposed the creation of an all-female combat unit which she believed would solve the Army’s morale problem. She felt that it would shame the men into again supporting the war.

Permission was granted and she was placed in command of the unit. The 1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death initially attracted more than 2,000 women volunteers, but Bochkarvea’s strict discipline weeded out all but 300 of them.

Her unit was at the front at the time of the October Revolution and did not participate in the defence of the Winter Palace. Bochkareva’s unit disbanded after facing increasing hostility from the remaining male troops at the front.

She was briefly detained by the Bolsheviks but released. In early 1918 she was detained a second time and scheduled to be executed.

She was rescued, however, by a soldier who had served with her in the Imperial Army in 1915 and who convinced the Bolsheviks to stay her execution. She was granted an external passport and allowed to leave the country.  In April 1918 she went to America.

Sponsored by socialite Florence Harriman, Bochkareva arrived in San Francisco and made her way to New York City and Washington, D.C. She was granted a meeting with President Woodrow Wilson on 10 July 1918, during which she begged the president to intervene in Russia. Wilson was apparently so moved by her emotional appeal that he responded with tears in his eyes and promised to do what he could.

After leaving the United States, she traveled to Great Britain where she was granted an audience with King George V. The British War Office gave her 500 rubles of funding to return to Russia.

Bochkareva arrived in Arkhangelsk in August 1918 and attempted to organise another unit, but failed. In April 1919, she returned to Tomsk and attempted to form a women’s medical detachment under White Army Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, but before she could complete this task she was recaptured by the Bolsheviks.

She was sent to Krasnoyarsk where she was interrogated for four months. Ultimately, against Lenin’s orders, she was sentenced to death and executed as an “enemy of the working class”.

She was shot by the Cheka on 16 May 1920. She was posthumously pardoned and exonerated by Lenin. The Cheka (Secret Police who later became the NKVD and then the KGB) agents who ordered her execution were executed themselves for not following orders.

Kristen Griest, Lisa Jaster and Shaye Haver

The United States Army Ranger School is a 61 day combat leadership course oriented toward small-unit tactics. The course is considered the premiere military leadership course in the world.

It is open to Soldiers (commissioned officer, warrant officer, or non-commissioned officers), Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in the U.S. Armed Forces, as well as select allied military students - as long as you were male.

In April 2015, 19 women were allowed to participate in the course as part of a one-time pilot program to see how women would do in Ranger School. To date, only three women have successfully passed the course.

Kristen Griest graduated from the United States Military Academy in 2011. She also served in Afghanistan as a military police officer.

On 21 August 2015, Griest, along with Shaye Haver, became the first woman to graduate from Ranger School.

When Griest graduated from Ranger school women were not allowed to serve in Ranger/Infantry roles due to the Pentagon’s exclusion policies on women in combat. That policy changed on 3 December 2015 when Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the US military would open combat positions to women with no exception.

In 2016, Griest became the first female infantry officer in the US Army when the Army approved her request to transfer there from a military police unit.

Shaye Haver graduated from the United States Military Academy in 2012.

She followed in her father’s footsteps and became a helicopter pilot. She flew an Apache attack helicopter in an aviation brigade.

On 21 August she graduated from Ranger School, receiving a certificate of completion and was awarded and authorized to wear the Ranger tab.

On 26 April 2018 Haver took command of Co C, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry of the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division.

Lisa Jaster graduated from the United States Military Academy in 2000 and was commissioned as an engineer officer with the 92nd Engineer Battalion.

She was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom I and Operation Iraqi Freedom I. She was awarded a Bronze Star medal.

After getting married, she left active-duty in 2007 and started a family and civilian career with Shell, but returned to the Army as a reservist in 2014.

She was part of the pilot group to attend Ranger School. There were 400 participants on the course, including 19 women.

She graduated later than Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver because she had to repeat one of the phases of the course.

Of the 400 participants that started the course, only 90 earned the Ranger tab. While the average age of the trainees is 23, Jaster graduated at the age of 37.

She was the first female United States Army Reserve officer to become a Ranger.

Kristen Griest

Shaye Haver

Lisa Jaster

The Ranger Tab is a service school military decoration of the United States Army signifying completion of the 61 day long Ranger School course in small-unit infantry combat tactics in woodland, mountain, and swamp operations.

Those graduating from Ranger School are presented with the Ranger Tab, which is worn on the upper shoulder of the left sleeve of the Army Combat Uniform. Wearing the tab is permitted for the remainder of a soldier’s military career.

Mary Hallaren

Mary Hallaren joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942. It later became the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).

She was barely five feet tall and when a recruiter asked her how someone of her size could help the military, she replied “You don’t have to be six feet tall to have a brain that works.”

By 1943 she was a captain and she commanded the first women’s battalion to go overseas.

She served as director of WAC personnel attached to the 8th and 9th Air Forces, and by 1945, as a lieutenant colonel, she commanded all WAC personnel in the European theater.

By 1947, Hallaren was a full colonel, and was appointed director of the entire WAC. On June 12, 1948, when the WAC was officially integrated into the Army, she became the first woman to serve as a regular Army officer.

She remained in this post until she retired from the army in 1960. She served in the United States Department of Labour as director of the Women in Community Service division until She retired in 1978, but continued to serve in an advisory capacity.

In the 1990s, she was a leading proponent of the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, which was dedicated in 1997.

She died on 13 February 2005 at the Arleigh Burke Pavilion, an assisted living facility for retired military personnel in McLean, Virginia. She was 97.


Elinor Joseph

Elinor Joseph is the first Arab woman ever to serve in a combat role in the Israeli military.

Her father, Charbel Joseph, served in the Israeli Paratroopers Brigade and when she finished high school he encouraged her to enlist in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

Although reluctant at first, she decided that she wanted to serve as a combat medic.

When she arrived at the recruitment base she was informed that she had already been selected to serve as an office clerk.

She was steadfast that she was going to be a combat medic and refused to be transported out to a new base.

Finally, after several days, a meeting was arranged between her and a colonel from the Northern Command. The colonel made Elinor a singular proposal: undergo regular basic training and, on the condition of being selected as an outstanding trainee, go on to attempt the medic’s training course.

Elinor agreed. She completed basic training, was the outstanding trainee of her platoon, and subsequently proceeded to the medic’s training course.

After successfully completing the medic’s training course, Elinor Joseph was stationed in a military police base near the Palestinian city of Qalqilyah.

In response to a transfer request Elinor made, in 2010 she was reassigned to the Caracal battalion, which operates in the western Negev along Israel’s border with Egypt. She thus became the first Arab woman ever to serve in the Israeli army in a combat role.


Lydia Litvyak

A fighter pilot in the Soviet Air Force during World War II, Lydia Litvyak was the first female fighter pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft, the first of two female fighter pilots who have earned the title of fighter ace and the holder of the record for the greatest number of kills by a female fighter pilot.

Born in Moscow to a Jewish family, she became interested in aviation at an early age. She enrolled at a flying club at the age of 14 and performed her first solo flight at the age of 15.

She became a flight instructor at Kalinin Airclub and by the time the Germans invaded Russia she had already trained 45 pilots.

She tried to join a military aviation unit, but was rejected due to a lack of experience. Not deterred in the least, she applied again. This time, however, she exaggerated her pre-war flight time by 100 hours.

She was accepted and posted to the all-female 586th Fighter Regiment of the Air Defense Force, a unit formed by Marina Raskova. Lydia trained on a Yakovlev Yak-1 aircraft.

In 1942 Lydia flew her first combat flights over Saratov. On 10 September she moved along with Katya Budanova, Maria M. Kuznetsova and Raisa Beliaeva, the commander of the group, and accompanying female ground crew, to the regiment airfield, at Verkhnaia Akhtuba, on the east bank of the Volga river. But when they arrived the base was empty and under attack, so they soon moved to Srednaia Akhtuba.

On 13 June 1943, she was appointed flight commander of the 3rd Aviation Squadron within 73rd GvIAP.

On 1 August 1943, at the age of 21, she was shot down and killed by two German fighter aircraft.

Nicknamed the “White Lily of Stalingrad”, she was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union, Order of Lenin, Order of the Red Banner, Order of the Patriotic War 1st class and Order of the Red Star decorations.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko

Nicknamed Lady Death, Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a sniper in the Red Army.

Her total confirmed kills during World War II was 309, and this included 36 enemy snipers, making her the deadliest female sniper in history.

When the Germans invaded Russia in June 1941, Lyudmila was 24 years old and doing her forth year of studies at Kiev University.

She immediately volunteered to join the army and was one of the first to report to the Odessa recruiting office. She requested that she join the infantry and was assigned to the Red Army’s 25th Rifle Division.

She then became one of 2,000 female snipers in the Red Army. Only about 500 of them would survive the war.

In June 1942, she was wounded by mortar fire. Because of her growing status, she was withdrawn from combat less than a month after recovering from her wound.

The government then decided to send Lyudmila on a publicity tour of Canada and the United States. She became the first Soviet citizen to be received by a US President when Franklin Delano Roosevelt welcomed her to the White House.

In Chicago, she stood before large crowds, chiding the men to support the second front.

“Gentlemen,” she said, “I am 25 years old and I have killed 309 fascist invaders by now. Don’t you think, gentlemen, that you have been hiding behind my back for too long?”

Her words settled on the crowd, then caused a surging roar of support.

In 1943, she was awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union, and was commemorated on a Soviet postage stamp.

After the war, she finished her education at Kiev University and began a career as a historian.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko died on 10 October 1974 at age 58, and was buried in the Novodevichye Cemetery in Moscow.

Milunka Savić

This Serbian war heroine, who fought in the Balkan Wars and in World War I,  may be the most decorated female combatant in the entire history of warfare.

When her brother received his call-up papers for mobilization for the Second Balkan War, Milunka chose to go in his place.

She cut her hair, put on men’s clothes, and joined the Serbian Army.

It wasn’t long before she was in combat. She was promoted to corporal and was awarded a medal during the Battle of Bregalnica.

She was wounded and taken to hospital in order for her wounds to be treated. Imagine the surprise of the attending physicians when they discovered her true gender.

She was called in front of her commanding officer, but he didn’t really want to punish her. After all, she had proved herself in battle on ten separate occasions.  But neither was it suitable for a young woman to be in combat.

She was offered a transfer to the Nursing division. Savic stood at attention and insisted she only wanted to fight for her country as a combatant. The officer said he’d think it over and give her his answer the next day. Still standing at attention, Savic responded, “I will wait.” It is said he only made her stand an hour before agreeing to send her back to the infantry.”

In 1914, in the early days of World War I, Savić was awarded her first Karađorđe Star with Swords after the Battle of Kolubara. She received her second Karađorđe Star (with Swords) after the Battle of the Crna Bend in 1916 when she captured 23 Bulgarian soldiers single-handedly.

She was also awarded the French Légion d’Honneur (Legion of Honour) twice, Russian Cross of St. George, British medal of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael, Serbian Miloš Obilić medal. She was the sole female recipient of the French Croix de Guerre 1914–1918 with the gold palm attribute for service in World War I.

She was demobilised in 1919, and turned down an offer to move to France, where she was eligible to collect a comfortable French army pension. Instead, she chose to live in Belgrade and found work as a postal worker.

During the German occupation of Serbia in World War II, Milunka refused to attend a banquet organised by Milan Nedić, which was to be attended by German generals and officers. She was arrested and taken to Banjica concentration camp, where she was imprisoned for ten months.

She died in Belgrade on 5 October 1973, aged 81.

Hannie Schaft

Jannetje Schaft was a Dutch communist resistance fighter during World War II. She became known as Het meisje met het rode haar (Dutch for the girl with the red hair). Her secret name in the resistance movement was Hannie..

From a young age she was interested in politics and social justice. This led her to study law because she wanted to become a human rights lawyer.

During her time at the Universiteit van Amsterdam she became friends with the Jewish students Philine Polak and Sonja Frenk.

When the Germans occupied the Netherlands in World War II, university students were required to sign a declaration of allegiance to the occupation authorities. When Schaft refused to sign the petition in support of the occupation forces, she could not continue her studies and moved in with her parents again.

She became a member of the Raad van Verzet (Council of Resistance), a resistance movement that had close ties to the Communist Party of the Netherlands.

She was not interested in becoming a courier, but wanted to work with weapons. She was responsible for sabotaging and assassinating various targets.

She carried out various attacks on Germans, Dutch Nazis, collaborators and traitors. She learned to speak German fluently and got involved with German soldiers.

The “girl with the red hair“ was soon on the Nazi’s most wanted list.

When one of her fellow resistance members was injured, he mistakenly gave her name away. The Dutch nurses that treated him were actually Germans disguised as resistance workers.

Hannie was arrested and in an attempt to get her to confess, her parents were sent to the Vught concentration camp.

Unable to get a confession out of her, Hannie’s parents were eventually released. She had to lay low for some time.

She dyed her hair black and returned to resistance work. Once again she contributed to assassinations and sabotage, as well as courier work, and the transportation of illegal weapons and the dissemination of illegal newspapers.

She was eventually arrested at a military checkpoint in Haarlem on 21 March 1945, while distributing the illegal communist newspaper de Waarheid. After much interrogation, torture, and solitary confinement, Schaft was identified by the roots of her red hair.

On 17 April 1945, three weeks before the end of the war, Hannie was executed by Dutch Nazi officials. She was 24 at the time of her death.

Nancy Wake

Born in New Zealand, Nancy Wake ran away from home at the age of 16 and worked as a nurse.

Using £200 that she had inherited from an aunt, she journeyed to New York City, then London where she trained herself as a journalist.

She was working in France in 1937 when she met wealthy French industrialist Henri Edmond Fiocca. They were married on 30 November 1939.

She was living in Marseille, France when Germany invaded. After the fall of France in 1940, she became a courier for the French Resistance and later joined the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow.

In reference to Wake’s ability to elude capture, the Gestapo called her the “White Mouse”. The Resistance exercised caution with her missions; her life was in constant danger, with the Gestapo tapping her telephone and intercepting her mail.

By November 1942 Wake was the Gestapo’s most wanted person in the Marseilles area, with a price of 5 million francs on her head. When the network was betrayed that same year she decided to flee France. Her husband, Henri Fiocca, stayed behind. He later was captured, tortured, and executed by the Gestapo because he would not betray her.

After reaching Britain, Wake joined the Special Operations Executive and was trained by them in several different training programs.

On 1 March 1944, Wake was parachuted into the Auvergne, becoming a liaison between London and the local maquis group headed by Captain Henri Tardivat in the Forest of Tronçais. Her duties included allocating arms and equipment that were parachuted in and minding the group’s finances.

From March 1944 until the liberation of France, her 7,000 plus maquisards fought the Germans by any means they could. Her French companions, especially Henri Tardivat, praised her fighting spirit, amply demonstrated when she killed an SS sentry with her bare hands to prevent him from raising the alarm during a raid.

Immediately after the war, Wake was awarded the George Medal, the United States Medal of Freedom, the Médaille de la Résistance, and the Croix de Guerre. She was awarded the last medal three times.

She learned that the Gestapo had tortured her husband to death in 1943 for refusing to disclose her whereabouts. After the war, she worked for the intelligence department at the British Air Ministry, attached to embassies in Paris and Prague.

Wake was appointed a Chevalier (knight) of the Legion of Honour in 1970 and was promoted to Officer of the Legion of Honour in 1988.

She died on 7 August 2011 in London at the age of 98.

Top of page