Nazis Killed Her Husband, So She Bought a Tank and Made Them Pay
When Mariya Vasilyevna learned that Nazis had killed her army officer husband during battle, she decided to exact her revenge. She sold her belongings, contacted Stalin for permission to enact her plan, acquired a tank, and then joined the fight, wreaking havoc on those she blamed for taking her husband’s life.
Vasilyevna was a serf, born on August 5, 1905, to a poor peasant family in Crimea, and was one of 10 children. To escape a life of what amounted to indentured servitude, she was a big supporter of communism, which allowed her to pursue an education and get better jobs, including one as a phone operator.
In 1925, Vasilyevna met Ilya Oktyabrskaya, the man who became the love of her life, who was also an officer with the Soviet army.
After they married, Vasilyevna joined the “Military Wives Council” and was able to train to become an army nurse. She also learned to drive, a rarity for women at the time, and how to operate a variety of weapons.
On June 22, 1941, Hitler was on a mission to increase Germany’s territory and eradicate communism, ordering an invasion on Russia, an act that became known as Operation Barbarossa, going against a pact he had previously made with Stalin that was designed to keep the Soviet Union out of the war.
The Soviets were caught unprepared, lacking ammunition, supply trucks, and even radios, giving the German forces an extreme advantage.
Vasilyevna was sent to Tomsk, Siberia as a matter of safety, but, as Oktyabrskaya fulfilled his duties, he was killed by German soldiers in August 1941 just outside of Kiev, though Vasilyevna did not learn about her husband’s fate until more than a year later.
Furious, Vasilyevna sold all of her belongings and penned a letter to Stalin, which, according to War History Online, read:
“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 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.”
Stalin wrote back and approved her request, and the State Defense Committee sent her a T-34 medium tank, largely for publicity. Vasilyevna was also provided with five months of training, well beyond the standard duration for male soldiers, before being assigned to the 26th Guards Tank Brigade in September 1943.
While her arrival wasn’t well received, Vasilyevna was determined. On October 21, 1943, Soviet forces were working to regain control of the city of Smolensk by eliminating the German resistance that remained after reclaiming most of the town from the Germans.
Vasilyevna charged enemy forces with her tank, demolishing multiple anti-tank guns and machine gun nests before her Fighting Girlfriend was struck. Then, against orders, she exited the tank and repaired the damage while under heavy fire, only to jump back in and rejoin the fight, until the last of the German defense rings were gone.
She was promoted to Sergeant after the encounter and received the nickname “mother.”
On November 17, a similar series of events took place in Novooye Selo in Vitebsk, with Vasilyevna having to fix her tank in the middle of a firefight before getting back into the battle.
Two months later, on January 17, 1944, outside the town of Shvedy, Vasilyevna attacked German trenches, artillery guns, and machine gun nests, but her tank was struck by an anti-tank shell. This time, as she attempted repairs, another shell landed several meters away, and a fragment hit her in the head.
Vasilyevna was in a coma for two months, though never regained consciousness. She was laid to rest on March 15, 1944, and, by August, was hailed as a Hero of the Soviet Union and received the Golden Star medal.