This Woman Bought a Tank and Went on a Rampage Against the Nazis after this Traumatic Event

This Woman Bought a Tank and Went on a Rampage Against the Nazis after this Traumatic Event

Wyatt Redd - February 18, 2018

What would you do if the person you loved was killed? What if the people who did it then started destroying your country in the bargain? Do you quietly pick up what’s left of your life and move on? Or do you sell whatever you have left to fund a shot at revenge? For Mariya Oktyabrskaya it was an easy choice. After the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union and killed her husband, Oktyabrskaya launched an all-out personal vendetta against fascism. And Oktyabrskaya did it in a tank she paid for herself.

Oktyabrskaya was born in 1905 on the Crimean Peninsula to a poor family of peasants. After a few years working in a cannery and as a telephone operator, she married a Soviet military officer in 1925. As the wife of an officer, Oktyabrskaya quickly took an interest in all things military. She trained as a nurse, but she also took lessons on driving military vehicles and using weapons. Those years seem to have been happy for the young couple. But that wouldn’t last forever. In June 1941, their peace was shattered when the German Reich launched a sudden, massive invasion of the Soviet Union.

This Woman Bought a Tank and Went on a Rampage Against the Nazis after this Traumatic Event
Maria Oktyabrskaya/ Wikimedia Commons

As the Germans advanced into Ukraine, the Soviet military endured staggering losses. Oktyabrskaya’s husband was called to the front while she was evacuated to Siberia to escape the advancing Germans. Oktyabrskaya spent two years working to support the war effort in Siberia. Then one day, she got a heart-breaking message: her husband had been killed in action. But while most people would fall into despair at the news that their spouse had been killed, Oktyabrskaya simply got angry. And she immediately vowed to kill every German on Soviet soil. But first, she had to figure out how she was going to do that.

At the time, the Soviet Army was reluctant to let women fight on the front lines. Women were allowed to join the military, and many did see active combat. But in the early years of the war, female soldiers were expected to serve in specialized support roles. At most, all-female infantry units might be kept just behind the front to provide a second line of defense if the first rank of male soldiers was annihilated. However, Oktyabrskaya didn’t want to “support” the army. She wanted to kill Nazis, as many of them and as fast as she could. So, she came up with a bold plan.

This Woman Bought a Tank and Went on a Rampage Against the Nazis after this Traumatic Event
A T-34 tank like the one Oktyabrskaya used/ Wikimedia Commons

The Soviet Union allowed (and expected) its citizens to donate money to the war effort to build equipment. After hearing of her husband’s death, Oktyabrskaya sold everything she owned until she had enough money to “donate” an entire T-34 tank to the army. Deciding that if she had paid for an entire tank, she deserved a say in how it was used, Oktyabrskaya wrote to the government and made two requests. First, she wanted the tank to be named “Fighting Girlfriend.” Second, she wanted to drive it.

This Woman Bought a Tank and Went on a Rampage Against the Nazis after this Traumatic Event
A German soldier manning a machine gun on the Eastern Front/ Wikimedia Commons.

The military quickly decided that Oktyabrskaya’s story would be a great source of propaganda. So, they allowed Oktyabrskaya to keep her tank. But they were skeptical that a woman would actually be able to use a tank effectively. So while other tank crews were rushed to the front with little training, they insisted that Oktyabrskaya spend at least five months learning to drive Fighting Girlfriend. Even though she now had more training than most men in the army, other tank drivers assumed that the entire thing was a publicity stunt. And to the government, at least, it was.

But in 1943, Oktyabrskaya was sent to the front to fight in the region of Smolensk. And everyone, especially the Germans, would soon realize how dangerous a vengeful widow with a tank can be. Oktyabrskaya was in position with other Soviet tanks outside of the city of Smolensk when a wave of German armor came rolling towards them. And if the other tank crews expected that Fighting Girlfriend wasn’t actually going to do any fighting, they were dead wrong. Oktyabrskaya immediately revved up the massive engine on her T-34 and drove straight toward the advancing German tanks.

Oktyabrskaya’s tank rolled across the battlefield destroying everything the crew could put their gunsights on. Fighting Girlfriend obliterated machine gun nests, artillery emplacements, and German armor. But in the middle of the battle, the tank was hit with gunfire that disabled the treads. Her superiors ordered Oktyabrskaya to sit tight and wait for help. Instead, she leaped out of the tank into the storm of metal that was raging outside and began fixing the tank herself. Once Fighting Girlfriend was running again, Oktyabrskaya jumped into the driver’s seat and got right back to blowing up Nazis.

By the time the smoke cleared, Oktyabrskaya had destroyed six German self-propelled tank guns and lead a breakthrough into the German lines. It was obvious by now that Oktyabrskaya wasn’t just a source of publicity, she was one of the Soviet’s most effective tank leaders. They promoted her to Sergeant soon after. Shortly after her first battle, she wrote to her sister saying, “I’ve had my baptism by fire. I beat the bastards.” Most importantly, she still wanted revenge for all the pain the Germans had caused in the Soviet Union. “Sometimes,” she wrote, “I’m so angry I can’t even breathe.” And she was prepared to do everything she could to make the Nazis pay.

This Woman Bought a Tank and Went on a Rampage Against the Nazis after this Traumatic Event
Soviet troops advancing behind tanks/ Wikimedia Commons

Oktyabrskaya was thrown back into the action a month later when the Soviets tried to capture the city of Vitebsk. Fighting Girlfriend was one of the tanks that lead the attack on the city. Oktyabrskaya steered the tank into the thick of the action, destroying German positions left and right. Once again, the enemy’s fire disabled the tank and Oktyabrskaya ordered the crew to cover her with a machine gun while she jumped out of the tank to fix it. It was an act that showed her extreme personal courage, especially since she’d now done it twice. But it was also the thing that would get her killed.

This Woman Bought a Tank and Went on a Rampage Against the Nazis after this Traumatic Event
German tanks advancing at Kursk/ Wikimedia Commons

In January 1944, Oktyabrskaya was thrown into the fighting near the small village of Shvedy. The tide of the war had already begun to shift against the Nazis at the Battle of Kursk. Kursk was, and remains to this day, the largest tank battle in history. Over 6,000 tanks and millions of men engaged each other as the Nazis made a final effort to break the Soviet lines. The Soviets held and launched a counter-attack. And from that moment, the Nazis lost the initiative. It was now up to the Soviets to finally drive them out of the country.

It was the dream that Oktyabrskaya had held since the start of the war. And now, at Svedy, she had the chance to help see it through. The Germans were dug in near the village, holding up the Soviet advance. And in her typical style, Oktyabrskaya launched her tank straight at the German lines. Once again, Fighting Girlfriend rolled over the German positions, taking out artillery positions and machine gun nests. As the tank rolled over the German trenches, Soviet soldiers poured into the gaps. The desperate Germans then launched their self-propelled anti-tank guns at Oktyabrskaya.

These massive machines were heavily armored fighting vehicles. They were similar to tanks, but they had larger barrels and less armor. This made them perfectly designed to puncture the thick armor of enemy tanks. They weren’t tanks, but they were tank-killers. And now, they came rolling toward Oktyabrskaya. With a combination of skill, expert gunners, and luck, the Fighting Girlfriend managed to destroy any of these tank-killers that came in range. But then, one of the German anti-tank guns got a lucky shot and a round slammed into the Fighting Girlfriend’s tracks. Once again, Oktyabrskaya ordered her gunners to cover her while she leaped out of the cockpit.

Once on the ground, she rushed to repair the tank as bullets pinged off the hull and artillery shells screamed overhead. Just as she managed to get the track functioning again, an artillery shell exploded at close range. Razor-sharp shrapnel from the shell whizzed around Oktyabrskaya, and one piece struck her in the skull. She was instantly knocked unconscious. The rest of her crew managed to finish the battle and evacuated Oktyabrskaya to a military hospital near Kiev. But Oktyabrskaya fell into a deep coma that lasted the next two months. Finally, in March, Mariya Oktyabrskaya died.

This Woman Bought a Tank and Went on a Rampage Against the Nazis after this Traumatic Event
Soviet troops after liberating Kiev/ Wikimedia Commons

In recognition of her incredible courage and skill, she was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. It was highest possible honor the country could give. Heroes like Oktyabrskaya played an important role in inspiring the army to finish the fight against the Nazis. And her relentless determination and courage were a model for the rest of men and women in the country to emulate. And while the Soviet victory obviously only exchanged one tyrant for another in many parts of Europe, it’s hard not to admire women like Oktyabrskaya who gave everything for the people they loved.


Where did we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

Encyclopedia Brittanica: Battle of Kursk

Heroines of the Soviet Union, Osprey 2003

Biography: Rejected Princesses: Exploring the Historical Hellions Disney Won’t Touch