My work in progress concerns women fighter pilots flying for the Soviet Union during the Great Patriotic War, or as we know it, World War Two. Many of my readers have asked me why I chose to write about this topic, especially since I am not Russian, a woman, or a fighter pilot. The answer, of course, is complicated.
Like many Americans, I learned about women flying combat aircraft in combat from the book The Soviet Air Force in World War II, edited by Ray Wagner and translated by Leland Fetzer. Already fascinated by the war in the air in its own right, and captivated by the people who fought in the air, and the machines they flew, I read everything I could find, including technical books about the machines, and the autobiographies of the men who flew.
As a writer of adventure stories read only by my friends, I began writing stories about the war in the air. It was the obvious next step. I wrote novellas about a Lancaster raid on Berlin, B-25s skip bombing troop carriers over the Bismarck Sea, and I-16s against Bf-109s during the Spanish Civil War. A myriad of short stories followed: F6Fs against Zeros in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, P-40s against Messerschmitts over North Africa, Ju-88s bombing London, P-47 fighter-bomber raids over France, and Fw-190 fighter-bombers during the Battle for the Kursk Salient.
This submersion in aviation stuff informed my own life. I enlisted in the Navy after graduation from college, then worked for a slot in Aviation Officer Candidate School. Once there I learned visual navigation (pilotage, if you will). After T-34Bs, I went on to T-2 Buckeyes where I learned airways navigation, formation flying, air combat maneuvers, and low level visual navigation at 500 feet and 300 knots. I use all of this in my writing.
During my time in the Navy, I worked on a series of novels following a Bf-109 pilot from the conquests of Poland and France, and the Battle of Britain, to Operation Barbarossa. My character engaged in the Battle for Moscow, the Battle for Stalingrad, and the Battle for the Kursk Salient before being withdrawn to Germany for the defense of the Reich against the American day bomber raids.
My next novel concerned a German night fighter pilot flying Bf-110 night fighters against the British night bombing campaign. This pilot ended the war flying the He-219.
In re-reading my work, I realized that I had used pilots flying the Bf-109 and the Fw-190 in the Battle for the Kursk Salient. I felt I could combine those stories with the one about a Russian pilot flying an La-5 to provide both sides of that battle. Thus was born the novel Cauldron. The book had the advantage of having characters and a plot, not just aircraft at war.
Since the 1960s I had known women had flown in combat in the Soviet Air Force. A tale about women in combat seemed the next logical step. I found a book by a man who interviewed twenty of these women in the 1970s. They detailed the difficulties they experienced in their valiant fight to do what they felt was their duty in a war in which no mercy was expected or given. The stories of the struggles these women experienced trying to defend their country alongside their men inspired me. A conflict developed between the men and the women in the same units trying to do the same job. The women received virtually no recognition from either their comrades, or their country, but they succeeded brilliantly, gave their lives, or continued their lives after the war, wearing their uniforms and decorations with pride in a sisterhood like no other.