How Important Was the Role of Women During WWII to the Victory of the Allied Powers?

Symbat Omasheva, blog post authorIn Spring 2022, Gale ran a competition with Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools, Kazakhstan, which gave students at schools within the group the chance to research and write about a topic of interest – with the two top entries published on The Gale Review! Below is the runner up entry, a superb piece by Year 11 student Symbat Omasheva.

Nazarbayex Intellectual Schools logoThe schools within the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools group have access to the Gale Reference Complete: Schools Edition – Ultimate package.

|By Symbat Omasheva, Year 11 student at Nazarbayev Intellectual School in Nur-Sultan|

The Second World War, which took place from September 1, 1939, to September 2, 1945, showed that women are capable of doing what was previously considered “men’s work” and making a significant contribution to the war effort. However, ideas about the gender distribution of responsibilities and the use of physical force differed greatly between the opposing sides in the war; the Allies actively promoted women’s contribution to the outcome of the war, while the Axis powers discouraged women from working on the military front.

The Allied Powers

Great Britain

In Britain during the war years, women took an active part in the development of industry, agriculture and administration. With the introduction of industrial conscription, the number of British women involved increased in comparison with the First World War. Moreover, this article by Sirota and Bucher, found in Gale In Context: World History, argues that Britain made the most effective use of female power through the call to the auxiliary service.

Indeed, Britain was one of the first countries of the Allied powers to forget about the traditional distribution of sex-based jobs and gender stereotypes. Later on, due to the shortage of men available to do particular jobs, women of the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) were recruited as radar operators, as well as anti-aircraft gun crew members. According to Sirota and Bucher, by 1941, 125,000 British women were involved in military activities, and another 43,000 joined over the next three years.

Women assemble small arms at a factory in England during World War II.
Women assemble small arms at a factory in England during World War II. The consumption of massive amounts of supplies and ordnance during the war required the enlistment of civilian populations to work in arms factories and on farms; 30-60% of those workers were women. Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction, edited by John Merriman and Jay Winter, vol. 5, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. Gale In Context: World History https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/PC3447087724/WHIC?u=nisns&sid=bookmark-WHIC&xid=8ef33d41
The Union Of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)

In the USSR, women participated in the war effort by the millions. They made up an important part of the civilian workforce and volunteered to participate in the armed forces as well. The Soviet government made the most comprehensive use of female soldiers. The Red Army and the Red Air Force were extremely popular among them. According to this viewpoint by Kelly Sirota, women fought on the front lines as snipers or tankers, and there were three whole regiments with only female fighters. Furthermore, every military speciality including infantry, armour, and field artillery, allowed adult females to serve. Soviet women also actively participated in the Red Cross organisation, fire-watching operations, and civil defence.1

Russian partisans help fight behind German lines - Photo of 3 Soviet women in WWII, holding weapons.
Soviet women served combat roles during World War II, including piloting fighter planes, driving tanks, and sharpshooting. Here, Russian partisans help fight behind German lines (n.a., 1940). “Russian Women Served in Combat during World War II.” Gale World History Online Collection, Gale, 1940. Gale In Context: World History https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/BT2380000565/WHIC?u=nisns&sid=bookmark-WHIC&xid=331dda72
The United States of America

American women played a significant role in industry by doing semi-skilled jobs, such as lumberjacks, shell loaders, crane operators, aircraft makers, and tool makers. Around 36 percent of the total manufacturing labour force in the US consisted of women. According to Rogers and Thomas, an estimated 350,000 also joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, and the Navy Nurse Corps.2 According to Sirota, most of the administrative work at the Naval Department at the Pentagon in the United States was done by women.

According to this article I found in Gale In Content: World History, approximately 60,000 American nurses were a part of the Army Nurse Corps (ANC). No matter what location they worked in, they risked their lives on the first fronts on water, land, and in the air, helping not only compatriots but also opponents, forgetting about prejudice.

Left: Women working on an aircraft for use by the military in World War II. 
Right: Woman working on an assembly line building airplanes.
Left: Women working on an aircraft for use by the military in World War II. “Rosie the Riveter” became representative of all women who worked to support the war effort. Historic Events for Students: The Great Depression, edited by Richard C. Hanes and Sharon M. Hanes, vol. 3, Gale, 2002. Gale In Context: World History https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/PC3424887534/WHIC?u=nisns&sid=bookmark-WHIC&xid=46657d6b
Right: Woman working on an assembly line building airplanes. World War II Reference Library, edited by Barbara C. Bigelow, et al., vol. 4: Primary Sources, UXL, 2000. Gale In Context: World History https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/PC3411887314/WHIC?u=nisns&sid=bookmark-WHIC&xid=b7fad7e9

The Axis Powers

Germany

Compared to the Allies, I would argue that the Axis forces neglected military womanpower during the Second World War. The main reason for this was the fascist beliefs and opinion of Hitler. The presence of females in the workplace was against Hitler’s “Kinder, Kirche, Küche” messaging.3 This was an ideology that women should only pay attention to “Children, Church, Kitchen”, and not intervene in hostilities.

Only in 1943, when Albert Speer became the head of industry, did females begin to be actively recruited into defence industries and the military. About 450,000 German women served their country.4 Although this is not a small number, it makes up less than half of the American women in aircraft, and it seems even smaller compared to the millions of Soviet women participating in the war.

Japan

Despite the fact that very little information is available about the distribution of female power in other members of the Axis powers, as in Germany, the Japanese government was reluctant to use women in the workforce, establishing a strict distribution of jobs based on gender stereotypes. Most of the time, school students were recruited instead of women. Even though approximately more than two and a half million Japanese females joined the workforce between 1940 and 1945, a much larger number of them did not enter.5

Women’s war work significantly contributed to the Allied victory

Based on the information I have found about the number of women participating on opposing sides during the Second World War, it can be concluded that the use of womanpower by the Allies contributed to the outcome of the war as they received significant help from women in both the manufacturing industry and in military actions. The number of women contributing to the war effort on the side of the Allies significantly exceeded the enemy’s. Throughout the sources I have read, the trend is that the countries of the Axis powers were less keen on women working outside their homes, meaning Britain, the USSR, and the United States gained an advantage through the use and promotion of womanpower. I believe the main factor creating this advantage was the ideology of the authorities – not all countries were ready to turn a blind eye to gender stereotypes and the distribution of work by sex. As a result, the willingness to embrace new ideas gave the Allied powers superior strength, especially on the home front.


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About the Author

Symbat is studying at Nazarbayev Intellectual School in Nur-Sultan. One of her favourite subjects is history. She is interested in the development of gender roles during different periods of time. Symbat likes to read non-fiction literature, write sci-pop, and study women’s rights.


  1. Rogers, K., & Thomas, J. (2010). Pearson Baccalaureate: History: Causes, Practices and Effects of Wars for the IB Diploma (Pearson International Baccalaureate Diploma: International Editions). London: Pearson Education.
  2. Rogers, K., & Thomas, J. (2010). Pearson Baccalaureate: History: Causes, Practices and Effects of Wars for the IB Diploma (Pearson International Baccalaureate Diploma: International Editions). London: Pearson Education.
  3. Rogers, K., & Thomas, J. (2010). Pearson Baccalaureate: History: Causes, Practices and Effects of Wars for the IB Diploma (Pearson International Baccalaureate Diploma: International Editions). London: Pearson Education.
  4. Rogers, K., & Thomas, J. (2010). Pearson Baccalaureate: History: Causes, Practices and Effects of Wars for the IB Diploma (Pearson International Baccalaureate Diploma: International Editions). London: Pearson Education.
  5. Rogers, K., & Thomas, J. (2010). Pearson Baccalaureate: History: Causes, Practices and Effects of Wars for the IB Diploma (Pearson International Baccalaureate Diploma: International Editions). London: Pearson Education.