If ground crews are only rarely mentioned in accounts of the Battle of Britain, the women who actively took part in the battle are all but invisible. Yet both the RAF and the Luftwaffe employed women auxiliaries in highly responsible positions.
The RAF’s positive attitude towards women was exceptional among the services. The RAF actively encouraged the establishment of a Women’s Auxiliary, which by the end of the war served alongside the RAF in virtually all noncombat functions.
Even before the start of the war, however, the vital and highly technical jobs of radar operator and operations room plotter, as well as various jobs associated with these activities, were identified as trades especially suited to women. The C-in-C of Fighter Commander, ACM Dowding, personally insisted that the talented women who did these jobs move up into supervisory positions – and be commissioned accordingly.
During the Battle of Britain over 17,000 WAAF served with the RAF, nearly 4,500 of them with Fighter Command. A number of WAAF were killed and injured and six airwomen were awarded the Military Medal during the Battle.
Despite Nazi ideology about the place of women being exclusively in the home, the Wehrmacht was also forced to rely increasingly on women auxiliaries. The expansion began after the dramatic victories in the West in May/June 1940 and continued throughout the war. The number of women serving with the Wehrmacht increased from roughly 35,000 women in uniform in 1941 to over 150,000 when Germany surrendered. General conscription for women, industrial and military, was introduced in Germany after the loss of an entire Army at Stalingrad in early 1943, but the bulk of the women serving in the women’s auxiliary forces before 1945 were volunteers. These women are far too often forgotten entirely in accounts of the Second World War.
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