When Mariya Oktyabrskaya learned her husband Ilya was killed in action fighting the Nazis near Kiev, she didn’t get mad; she got a tank – a Red Army T-34 – named it “Fighting Girlfriend,” and drove it to the Eastern Front to get revenge.
On the eve of the war, Oktyabrskaya worked in a cannery and as a telephone operator. She was also a proud military wife. She led the local Military Wives Council and trained as a nurse, marksman, and driver – modern military skills she would need in the coming days.
When she learned of her husband’s death, she sold all her belongings and sent a message to Soviet dictator Joseph 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 frontline as a driver of said tank.
In Henry Sakaida’s “Heroines of the Soviet Union,” the author says Oktyabrskaya had to prove to the Red Army commanders that she could indeed drive a tank, fire weapons, and handle grenades, but she did. She trained for five months before joining the 26th Guards Tank Brigade.
And in her first encounter with the enemy at Smolensk, she put to rest any doubt about her combat ability by killing 30 Nazi soldiers and taking out an anti-tank weapon, two machine gun nests, and some artillery pieces.
It was 1943, two years after Ilya’s death, and Mariya just earned a promotion to sergeant.
In her next fight, German artillery took out the treads of Fighting Girlfriend. As Nazi soldiers lit up the November night with tracer rounds, Oktyabrskaya hopped out of the tank, fixed the treads, and continued on her campaign of destruction.
Mariya Oktyabrskaya in “Боевая подруга” – “Fighting Girlfriend.”
She fought for months. The next time her tank lost its treads rolling over two Nazi trenches at a village called Shvedy near Vitebsk. Without hesitation, she jumped out to fix them. This time, German artillery struck close by and knocked Sgt. Oktyabrskaya into a coma – right as she finished fixing the tracks. She died of her wounds two months later.
For her fearlessness during the Great Patriotic War (what the Russians call World War II), she was posthumously awarded the Order of Lenin. She also received title “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the highest honor the USSR could bestow on its fighting men and women.
And “Fighting Girlfriend” made it all the way to Berlin.