During the Second World War, a large number of women fought in the ranks of the Red Army. At different times, their numbers ranged from 800,000 to 1 million.
There was practically no role in which women did not fight as well as the men around them. Many of them performed equally heroic feats and were honored to be awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union and other top medals.
However, only a few dozen Soviet women managed to cope with the most difficult task: to be a tanker.
Unlike modern vehicles, tanks at that time demanded a high concentration from drivers as well as great physical exertion to control them.
Not many women managed to overcome the necessary obstacles and prejudices to become a member of a tank crew.
Pretending to be a man to get to war
Alexandra Rashchupkina possessed the relevant technical capabilities but was denied admission to the Red Army.
However, she did not give up. In 1942, after getting a man’s haircut and wearing men’s clothes, she came to the military enlistment office and volunteered for the front under the name Alexander Raschupkin.
She completed both the tank driver and the tank driver mechanic courses. After that, Rashchupkina got into the 62nd army of General Chuikov as the driver of a T-34 tank.
Amazingly, for almost three years, the crew of the tank on which Raschupkina fought did not suspect that the person they called Sasha-tomboy a woman. However, a comrade accidentally discovered her secret at the end of the war.
In February 1945, Soviet tanks broke into the Polish city of Bunzlau (now Boleslawiec). Tiger tanks ambushed Rashchupkina’s T-34 which was hit and caught fire. As a result, she was seriously wounded, and a mechanic from a nearby tank rushed to her aid.
While he was administering first aid, he identified Alexandra as a woman.
Despite the scandal, Alexandra Raschupkina went on to become famous and receive the Order of the Red Star as well as many other medals.
Woman nicknamed “Malyutka” (Little One) on a tank called “Malyutka”
From her childhood, Ekaterina Alekseevna Petlyuk dreamed of becoming a pilot.
Unfortunately, the doctors conducting the medical exam came to the conclusion that, despite her good health, she was too short to enter the pilots’ school. She measured only 151 centimeters.
After that, Petlyuk was a parachute operator for some time, until she decided to become a tanker. She said, “On the tank, I would rather drive the Germans out of Ukraine.”
On July 2, 1942, Katya Petlyuk got a position in a T-60 tank. On the tower of the vehicle was written an unusual name: “Malyutka” (Little One).
The men on the tanker joked, saying, “Now they hit a point – a “Malyutka” one in “Malyutka.” None of the tankers, including Petlyuk herself, knew that this vehicle was built with money from the children of the Omsk Region.
On this tank, Petlyuk participated in the Battle of Stalingrad delivering ammunition as well as carrying wounded soldiers and orders.
Petlyuk not only saved the lives of soldiers and officers by transporting them through minefields, but she also took part in the battles. Her tank destroyed ten dugouts, three vehicles, and up to 80 soldiers and officers of the enemy.
After the Battle of Stalingrad, the Malyutka went in for repair, and Petlyuk was relocated to a T-70 tank. During her service, she received many medals, including the medal “For the Defense of Stalingrad.”
The woman who went to war and built a tank with her own money
After the beginning of the war, Maria Oktyabrskaya worked at the Tomsk Works as a telephone operator. After some time, she received the news that her husband had been killed at the front.
Upon learning this, Mary decided to go to the front to take revenge on the enemies. However, due to health problems and her age of 36, her request for service in the Red Army was rejected.
However, none of this stopped her. She sold all her property and donated the proceeds to the construction of a T-34 tank.
She wrote a letter to Stalin requesting that he called the tank “Боевая подруга” (Fighting Girlfriend) and appoint her as a driver-mechanic. Stalin approved her request and soon Oktyabrskaya was sent to a tank school for training.
In October 1943, Oktyabrskaya was part of the 2nd Guards Tank Corps. Acting as the driver of the T-34, she got her wish to fight on the Western Front.
In the battles of the Belarusian village of New Village (Новое Село), the Fighting Girlfriend broke into the ranks of the enemy defenses, destroying the gun and 50 German soldiers. Oktyabrskaya was wounded, and her tank was hit, but for two days, they continued to resist.
During the war, Oktyabrskaya managed to destroy more than 70 enemy soldiers, an artillery gun, and several machine guns. On March 15, 1944, Maria Oktyabrskaya died in a hospital from a shrapnel injury. After her death, she was awarded the highest degree of distinction of the USSR: the Hero of the Soviet Union.
The only female deputy commander of a tank battalion who accepted the service of the only American soldier who served in the Red Army
During the Second World War, Alexandra G. Samusenko was the only woman holding the post of commander of a tank battalion. She was the commander of a T-34 tank.
She had fought on different fronts since October 1941. During the war, she received three wounds and had to leave her burning reservoir twice. However, after treatment at the hospital, Samusenko always returned to service.
During the Battle of Kursk, her tank had to face three Tiger tanks. At the beginning of the fight, Samusenko declared, “There is no way back for us!” after which she led her tank into a battle that lasted several hours.
For the courage she showed in this battle, Samusenko was awarded the Order of the Red Star.
Samusenko is also known for another interesting fact. In February 1945, she allegedly accepted into the ranks of her battalion the American soldier, Joseph Beyrle, who escaped from German captivity.
Subsequently, he proved his usefulness through his experience as a demolition and machine gunner on the American M4 Sherman.
Despite her bravest efforts, Alexandra Samusenko didn’t live to see the end of the war. On March 3, 1945, in one of the battles in northwestern Poland, she was seriously injured and died from her wounds. She failed to reach Berlin by only 70 kilometers.