When Life Gives You Lemons… Buy a Tank
In 1943 the 38 year old Ukrainian woman Mariya Oktyabrskaya learned that her husband had been killed while fighting the Germans in World War II. A terrible loss for any spouse, Mariya grieved the loss of her husband in a way that is typically unusual for most widows. She sold all of her worldly possessions and used the proceeds to buy a T-34 battle tank. She agreed to donate the tank to the Red Army, but only under one condition; that she be the driver of the tank.
After completing five months of tank training, rare considering most Soviet tankers were rushed into battle, Mariya and her tank “Fighting Girlfriend” joined the 26th Guards tank brigade in September of 1943. Mariya’s skills and bravery would be proven during her first action on October 21st, 1943. There she and her tank crewmen spearheaded an assault on a fortified German position, smashing through enemy lines while destroying several machine gun nests and artillery pieces. Throughout the next year she gained a reputation as a veteran tank driver and courageous fighter. Also a skilled mechanic as well as driver, when her tank was damaged she would often jump out into the open, exposing herself to enemy fire, so that she could conduct repairs and get back into the fight.
On January 17th, 1944 while conducting her usual routine of sowing terror and destruction, Mariya’s tank took a hit from an anti-tank gun which disabled the vehicles tracks. Under heavy fire, and despite the protests of her crew, Mariya exited the tank to repair the tank. Exposed to enemy fire she was struck in the head by a piece of shrapnel. She lingered in a coma for two months before passing away on March 15th, 1944.
For her bravery and fierce conduct during World War II, Mariya was posthumously award the Heroine of the Soviet Union title on August 2nd, 1944.