When the Nazis killed a young Red Army officer in 1941, they had no idea that they have just dug their own grave. Mariya Oktyabrskaya was the wife of the dead Red Army officer and hearing about her husband’s death two years later made her really angry and eventually made her a distinguished hero.
Mariya Oktyabrskaya is not a name that you can find in every history book, but she is an epitome of a fearless and heroic woman and this is her fascinating story. She was born into a peasant family on the Crimean Peninsula as one of ten children. When in 1925 Oktyabrskaya married a Soviet army officer, she began to show interest in military matters and became involved in the ‘Military Wives Council’ where she was trained as a nurse in the army. She also learned how to use weapons and drive vehicles.
With the outbreak of WWII, two-thirds of the Reich’s forces marched on Oktyabrskaya’s homeland, destroying much of it in their wake. Oktyabrskaya was evacuated to Tomsk, Siberia, but her husband was required to stay behind and fight and eventually, he got killed.
Since Mariya was in Siberia, it took her two years to find out about her husband’s death. When she finally did, she was furious. She wrote to her sister, “I’ve had my baptism by fire. . . Sometimes I’m so angry I can’t even breathe” and made plans to get even.
There was nothing that could heal the pain for her husband lost, except one thing: Revenge! Oktyabrskaya, was determined to avenge her husband’s death.Here is what she did: sold everything that she ever possessed 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 said tank.”
Eventually, Stalin wrote back in approval and she begun her quest. Initially, the army had doubts of her ability to handle a tank, but eager for revenge as she was, she prove them in training that she could drive, shoot, and throw grenades with the best of them.
Whatever doubts Soviet officers had about Oktyabrskaya’s combat skills, quickly dissipated following her first Nazi encounter. On her first outing in the tank, she outmaneuvered the German soldiers, killing around thirty of them and taking out an anti-tank gun. Fascinated by the heroic performance of the 38-year-old widow, the army promoted her to sergeant.
She proved herself again as a hero during a night raid in November 1943 when a bazooka team blasted the tracks of her tank. Instead of hiding in her machine’s cockpit, she risked life and limb by hopping out. As her peers covered for her, Oktyabrskaya was able to fix the tread and climb back into the tank to continue her war path.
The following year was her final battle. The vengeful Soviet Solider led the unit into the Nazi’s line of fire with skills so perfect, that she made it across two enemy trenches before her tracks were blasted by enemy guns. Once again she hopped out to fix “The Fighting Girlfriend.”As she was working, a German artillery shell exploded close by and the widow was struck with shrapnel that sent her into an immediate coma.
Two months after her last battle, the fearless sergeant succumbed to her injury and joined her husband in death.
Marya Oktyabrskaya was posthumously awarded with the highest honor in the Soviet Military-Hero of the Soviet Union award.