Children Bought a Tank & a Woman Drove it in WWII

Soviet light infantry tank T-60. By Saiga20K CC BY-SA 3.0

On February 25, 1943, the Soviet newspaper Omskaya Pravda published a letter from Ada Zaneghina, a six-year-old girl. Ada and her mother had had to leave their native town of Sychevka because of the war. The letter said:

I’m Ada Zaneghina. I am six years old. I write in a printed way. Hitler drove me out of the town of Sychevka, Smolensk region. I want to go home. I am still small but I know that we have to beat Hitler and then we’ll go home. I collected 122 rubles and 25 kopecks for a doll and now I give them to build a tank. Dear uncle editor! Write in your newspaper to all the children, so that they also give their money for the construction of the tank. And we’ll call him “Malyutka” ["Baby”]. When our tank defeats Hitler, we will go home.

The front page of Pravda on 23 June 1941

After the publication of Ada’s letter, more letters arrived at the newspaper’s editorial office from other children of the Omsk Region who also wanted to give their savings for the construction of the tank. For example, another girl named Tanya Chistyakova wrote: “Dear unfamiliar girl….I am only five years old, and I have lived without a mother for a year now. I really want to go home, so I happily give money to build our tank. I want our tank to smash the enemy.”

In a branch of the State Bank of the USSR, special account No. 350035 was opened to receive money from Soviet children. The sum of 160,886 rubles was collected and duly transferred to the Defense Fund for the construction of a T-60 tank.

T-60 Tank in Winter Camo.

Upon this occasion, the Omsk city’s department of public education wrote a letter to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the USSR, saying, “Preschool children, wanting to help the heroic Red Army to defeat and destroy the enemy, their money they collected for toys and dolls is given for the construction of the tank and they are asking to name it “Malyutka.”

In May 1943, the letter was answered. “I ask you to transfer to the preschoolers of the city of Omsk, who collected 160,886 rubles for the construction of the Malyutka tank, my warm greetings and thanks of the Red Army. Supreme Commander-in-Chief Marshal of the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin.”

Joseph Stalin in an authorized image taken in 1937 and used for state publicity purposes

In June 1943, a report appeared in Soviet newspapers that a “Malyutka” tank, built with the money of the children in the Omsk region, was sent to the front. This particular T-60 was on the front as part of the 91st Tank Brigade. The driver of “Malyutka” was one of the nineteen female tankmen in the Red Army, Sergeant Ekaterina Petlyuk. By coincidence, because she was just short of five feet tall, Ekaterina’s front-line nickname was also “Malyutka.”

Ekaterina fought in the early summer of 1943 while operating Malyutka. Then, in the battle on the Kursk arc, which also happened to be where Ada Zaneghina’s father died, the tank received serious damage from enemy fire. Ekaterina was assigned to a new T-70 tank, and “Malyutka” was sent for repairs.

Sergeant Ekaterina Alekseevna.

Precise information about the final fate of the T-60 is not available. According to unconfirmed reports, “Malyutka” continued fighting in the war with another crew and eventually reached Berlin.

Until 1975, this story had been forgotten until schoolchildren found an old Omskaya Pravda newspaper with Ada’s letter printed in it. Thanks to the efforts of those schoolchildren, on May 19, 1975, Ekaterina Petlyuk and Ada Zaneghina (Voronets) met in Omsk, and together they visited the Smolensk region.

Read another story from us: “War Does Not Have a Woman’s Face” – Remarkable WWII Story of Ekaterina Mikhailova-Dyomina

Soviet soldiers celebrating the surrender of the German forces in Berlin, 2 May 1945. By Bundesarchiv Bild CC-BY-SA 3.0

In memory of Ada Zaneghina’s initiative, a tank was installed in the village of Maryanovka, on the pedestal near the memorial of the battles of the Great Patriotic War.

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