Wars separate people from their loved ones, be it parents, lovers, husbands, wives, or children. Even sadder was that there was no guarantee that you would ever see them again once they started serving, taking them from your arms to the brutal war front. While many were devastated upon receiving the news of their loved ones’ death, a Soviet housewife decided to take a different course. She did not waste time sulking upon hearing about her husband’s death. She instead got herself a T-34 tank to hunt down and kill the Nazis.
Meet Mariya Oktyabrskaya
Mariya Oktyabrskaya was born on the Crimean Peninsula to an impoverished Ukrainian family, one among her parents’ ten children. Before World War II erupted, she worked in a cannery and then as a telephone operator at one point.
In 1925, she met the love of her life, a Soviet army officer named Ilya Oktyabrsky. The two got married in the same year. Her husband influenced her, and she became interested in military matters. She even joined the “Military Wives Council” and received her training as a nurse in the army. She also became familiar with correctly using weapons and driving vehicles, which was very uncommon at that time for women. She said, “Marry a serviceman, and you serve in the army: an officer’s wife is not only a proud woman but also a responsible title.” She was one proud military wife.
The Fighting Girlfriend
In 1941, as the war progressed and closed in on the Soviet Union, Mariya Oktyabrskaya had to evacuate to Siberia, where she would spend the next two years of her life while her husband fought on the front lines. It took a long time before the news of her husband’s death reached her. However, when she read the letter, anger filled her emotions. She was so enraged about her beloved’s death that she wasted no time and wrote a letter to Stalin:
My husband was killed in action defending the motherland. I want revenge on the fascist dogs for his death and for the death of Soviet people tortured by the fascist barbarians. For this purpose, I’ve deposited all my personal savings–50,000 rubles–to the National Bank in order to build a tank. I kindly ask to name the tank ‘Fighting Girlfriend’ and to send me to the front line as a driver of the said tank.
Perhaps her anger transmitted to her letter that Stalin felt he had no choice but to accept. The State Defense Committee also agreed with the idea, advising Stalin that this could boost morale and positively affect the troops and the desperate population. At that time, citizens would commonly donate money to help in the war effort and production, but they were usually the men who did that. And so, Oktyabrskaya received five months of training to master operating the T-34 tank.
She Meant Business
After that, the 38-year-old widow Oktyabrskaya was assigned to the 26th Guards Tank Brigade in September 1943. Soon enough, she found herself in her first battle at the Second Battle of Smolensk. Other tank crews looked at her like nothing but some publicity stunt, but she proved they were mistaken, and more than anything, she meant business.
It was just her first battle, but Oktyabrskaya demonstrated considerable maneuvering skills. Not only that, but she also helped neutralize machine gun nests and artillery positions while being bombarded with heavy fire. “The Fighting Girlfriend” fought her way through enemy lines, although it suffered some damage. With bullets and artillery flying around, she jumped out of the tank at one point to make a repair to keep the T-34 in action. Her fellow tankers in the unit were amazed, and she was quickly promoted to the rank of sergeant.
Her courageous method worked twice: she would hop out and fix her tank while others kept watching. However, the third time, Oktyabrskaya managed to restore The Fighting Girlfriend to running condition but was hit in the head by shell fragments. She lost consciousness and spent the last two months of her life comatose before passing away.
For her actions, she was declared a Hero of the Soviet Union posthumously, but more than the recognition, she was indeed satisfied that she was able to avenge her husband.