Friday, March 8 is International Women's Day. To mark the occasion, we have a true story.
Approximately 800,000 women served in the Red Army during World War II. Most of them fought directly on the front, while some were in support roles, such as anti-aircraft units. Mariya Oktyabrskaya, however, was sent into the thick of the action.
Her story almost defies fiction. Mariya was born on August 16, 1905 into a poor family. At the time, she was considered a serf, which is a fancy word for slave. Coming from such a background, she welcomed communism, which gave her an education, two jobs, and even a husband.
In 1925, Mariya married Ilya Oktyabrskaya, a Soviet army officer. That's when she began to acquire a taste for military life: she was trained as a nurse, learned to use weapons, and even drive vehicles. A great soldier in the making.
Ilya was killed in August, 1941 near Kiev, when Nazi Germany invaded the eastern front. Communication was erratic at the time, and Mariya was informed of his death two years later. With only revenge in mind, she sold all her possessions to donate a T-34 tank to the Red Army.
Mariya Oktyabrskaya had two conditions: One, she wanted to name the tank, and two, she wanted to drive it — two requests she made directly to Josef Stalin himself. Intrigued, and probably affected by the power of this story, he accepted. Mariya was lucky enough to receive a complete five-month training period when most tankers were sent directly to the front. She was a driver and mechanic.
Baptism of Fire
Most of Mariya’s fellow Red Army soldiers thought she was a publicity stunt and propaganda tool. They were wrong. Her tank, a T-34 named “The Fighting Girlfriend,” was sent to Smolensk to crush German resistance. During battle, the vehicle was hit; despite her orders, Mariya jumped out of the tank and fixed it — while under enemy fire.
This event won her the respect of her male comrades. She was also made a sergeant.
One month later, in Vitebsk, she attacked defensive positions. Once again she made repairs to her tank during the heat of battle. “The Fighting Girlfriend” was temporarily disabled by artillery shells, but Mariya kept the fight going.
Despite her growing reputation, her last battle was the Leningrad-Novgorod offensive. During that campaign, Mariya and her tank crew cleaned-up tranches, destroyed German positions, and even took out a self-propelled gun. When the “The Fighting Girlfriend” took a hit, and the tracks needed repairs, Mariya Oktyabrskaya dutifully left the tank to fix them. She repaired the track...but this time, she was hit.
Mariya lost consciousness and remained in a coma for two months. She died on March 15, 1944, but her tank outlived the driver: the T-34 eventually made it to Berlin.
The daring driver was made a Hero of the Soviet Union for her bravery. Mariya inspired thousands of women to contribute and join the fight.
Fighting Girlfriend T-34 is a playable vehicle in World of Tanks for console.