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Mariya Oktyabrskaya, the Widow Who Destroyed the Nazi Army

Ravi loves writing within the cusp of relationships, history, and the bizarre, where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

The story of Mariya Oktyabrskaya, a woman tank driver who avenged her husband’s death by destroying the Nazi Army.

The story of Mariya Oktyabrskaya, a woman tank driver who avenged her husband’s death by destroying the Nazi Army.

Mariya Wanted Revenge

They say revenge is a dish best served cold and when it is meted out by a woman wielding a tank, the intensity increases hundred-fold. The Nazis killed Mariya Oktyabrskaya's husband and she took revenge by destroying their army with her tank.

Mariya lost her husband at the hands of the Germans when Hitler launched the disastrous operation Barbarossa to invade Russia. When Mariya got the news that her husband Ilya had been killed by the Nazis, she did two unusual things.

  • She sold all her stuff and donated her savings of 50,000 rubles to the Red Army.
  • She wrote an emotional letter to Joseph Stalin asking for his help.

As Mariya Oktyabrskaya wrote.

“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 roubles—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 quickly replied back.

“Comrade. Oktyabrskaya Mariya Vasilievna. Thank you, Mariya Vasilievna, for your concern about the armoured forces of the Red Army. Your desire will be fulfilled. Please accept my greetings.”

It was an unconventional decision from an unpredictable man but it worked. Mariya received five months of training to master the skills of operating the T-34 tank that the Red Army purchased from her savings and named it the ‘Fighting Girlfriend’.

The rest was history as Mariya bravely destroyed the Nazi army singlehandedly until she died fighting for Russia. Her fearlessness posthumously earned her the title of the “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the highest honor the USSR could bestow on its fighting men and women.

Mariya's fearlessness posthumously earned her the title of the  “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the highest honour the USSR could bestow on its fighting men and women.

Mariya's fearlessness posthumously earned her the title of the “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the highest honour the USSR could bestow on its fighting men and women.

The Story of Mariya Oktyabrskaya

Mariya Vasilyevna Garagulia was born in Kiyat, a village in the Taurid governorate of Crimea in 1905.She was one among her ten siblings but her family wasn’t poor as they were kulaks( rich peasants).

In 1925 she was married to Ilya Phaedotovich Riyadnenko, a cavalry officer, and they agreed together to adopt the name Oktyabrskaya (in honour of the Oktyabrskaya Revolyutsiya or October Revolution).

Life was going smooth for the couple until World War II took a turn with Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the USSR by the Germans, initiating what the Soviets called the Great Patriotic War.

Ilya was immediately transferred to the 206th Rifle Division, where he was shot down by a machine-gun blast while leading a charge near Kiev against the Nazis. Mariya’s happy life turned upside down as Ilya’s untimely death proved to be a turning point for her.

The first thing she tried was to volunteer to go to the front but she was rejected because of two reasons, firstly she was thirty-eight years old, and secondly, she was suffering from tuberculosis. She did the next best thing possible; she used the government’s fund-raising campaign, sold all her belongings, and collected money from her friends to the tune of 50,000 rubles.

During her first tank battle in October of 1943, Mariya fearlessly breached enemy lines, wreaking havoc on the Nazis.

During her first tank battle in October of 1943, Mariya fearlessly breached enemy lines, wreaking havoc on the Nazis.

Mariya Fights Fearlessly

Then she wrote a letter to Stalin wanting to avenge her husband’s death by investing in a tank and driving it herself against the Nazis on the battlefield. Stalin responded affectionately by giving his approval and so in the spring of 1943, Mariya began a five-month training as a tank driver at the Academy in Omsk.

And when finally, Mariya and her tank ‘Fighting Girlfriend’ joined the 16th Guards Tank Brigade in 1943, her male comrades viewed her as a joke, nothing more. They were wrong.

During her first tank battle in October of 1943, Mariya fearlessly breached enemy lines, wreaking havoc on the Nazis. When her tank was hit by gunfire, Mariya disregarding orders leaped out of her tank and repaired the tank, amidst the heavy fire.

A month later, on 17–18 November, the Soviet forces recaptured the town of Novoye Selo in the region of Vitebsk during an intense night battle. During this attack, Mariya cemented her reputation as a skilled tank driver. After this, nobody made fun of her again. They called her ‘mother’ and she was also promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

However, two months later on 17 January 1944, Mariya fought another night attack as part of the Leningrad–Novgorod Offensive. That battle would prove to be her last.

On 17 January 1944, Mariya fought another night attack as part of the Leningrad–Novgorod Offensive. That battle would prove to be her last.

On 17 January 1944, Mariya fought another night attack as part of the Leningrad–Novgorod Offensive. That battle would prove to be her last.

Mariya’s Heroics Come to an End

The attack took place at the village of Shvedy near Vitebsk. During the battle, she drove her T-34 into the German defences, and destroyed resistance in trenches and machine-gun nests. Unfortunately, this time, the ‘Fighting Girlfriend’ took a direct hit.

Mariya disobeyed the order to remain inside the tank and climbed out to try and repair the damage. The enemy attack caught her fatally as she was knocked unconscious by flying shrapnel.

She remained in a coma for two months before succumbing to her injuries in 1944. Mariya Oktyabrskaya was posthumously made a Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest honour the country had to offer.

Yes, some critics say that she should have stayed inside the tank and used her brains to survive instead of fighting blindly. While the debate of what she should or should not have done might go on for ages, the fact that a civilian woman with no military experience dared to avenge her husband’s death and wreak havoc on the Nazis in the process is an extraordinary feat by any standards.

Hats off to her. This is bravery in its most unadulterated form possible.

Sources

© 2021 Ravi Rajan

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