The Soviet Woman Who Got Her Own Tank to Fight Nazis

The Soviet Woman Who Got Her Own Tank to Fight Nazis
Mariya in her Boyevaya Podruga (Fighting Girlfriend). photo from warhistoryonline.comweb photo

When Nazis kill your husband, you just have to commission a tank and go fascist hunting.

At least that's what Mariya Vasilyevna decided to do when her husband, Ilya, was killed outside of Kiev in August of 1941 when German soldiers invaded the Soviet Union, according to this post from warhistoryonline.com.

The post says Vasilyevna went berserk, then sold everything she had and wrote a letter to Joseph Stalin stating: "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 dogs 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 frontline as a driver of said tank."

When Vasilyevna married Ilya, he was a Soviet army officer, and she joined the "Military Wives Council," trained as an army nurse, and learned how to drive cars (which was unusual for a Russian woman at the time) and use different weapons, the story says.

The post says Vasilyevna's request was granted, and she was supplied with a T-34 medium tank and put through a five-month tank training program. This hints that the whole thing may have been a publicity stunt on part of the army at the time, as male recruits were given far less training and preparation before being sent to the front lines.

The Soviet Woman Who Got Her Own Tank to Fight Nazis
A surviving Soviet T-34-85 tank at Musée des Blindés in the French town of Saumur. photo from warhistoryonline.comweb photo

She was assigned to the 26th Guards Tank Brigade as a driver and mechanic in September 1943, to unfavorable reception from her comrades, who saw her presence as a joke.

On October 21, 1943, in Smolensk 220 miles west-southwest of Moscow, the Germans had been mostly beaten back, with pockets of resistance remaining, the story says.

Vasilyevna charged her tank, taking out several anti-tank guns and machine gun nests before "Fighting Girlfriend" was hit. Under enemy fire, she jumped out, repaired the tank, and got back in to rejoin the fight. After the battle, she was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and garnered the nickname "mother," the post says.

She performed a similar feat in November when she attacked German defensive positions in the town of Novoye until an artillery shell blew out her tank’s tracks. Again, under fire, she jumped out to fix her tank before rejoining her unit.

On January 17, 1944 Vasilyevna’s luck finally ran out. After attacking several German trenches, machine gun nests, and artillery positions, her tank was hit by a German shell. When she again exited the tank to make repairs, another shell exploded a few meters away, showering her with shrapnel.

She was taken to a hospital near Kiev and was in a coma for two months before dying. She never regained consciousness. After her death, she was made a hero of the Soviet Union.