Monday 8 December 2014

World of Tanks History Section: Women of the Tank Forces

There was no conflict that saw more women serve than the Great Patriotic War. Medics, communications specialist, cooks, military police, there were millions. In battle roles, shoulder to shoulder with men, 600 000 to one million women were fighting at different times. 90 of them earned the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Infantry, artillery, navy, there was no service branch that had no women soldiers or officers. We will tell you of those that served in tank forces.

Ekaterina Petlyuk

Ekaterina dreamt of the sky since her childhood, wishing to become a pilot. She became a certified skydiving instructor, but went down in history as a tanker.

Having received an excellent grade on her driving exam, she received her first tank on July 2nd, 1942: a light T-60. The tank received its trial by combat at Stalingrad. The tank fought at the front lines, brought shells to artillery, evacuated the wounded. Senior Sergeant Petlyuk made 10 combat outings in the last stage of the battle. Her score sheet listed ten fortifications, three cars, and around 80 fascists. In February of 1943, the Order of the Red Banner found its heroine. The award order states: "In battle...south-west of Stalingrad [she] demonstrated feats of courage and heroism. Her handling of the tank in any conditions of battle and terrain was excellent."

In July of 1943, Petlyuk's T-70 fought at the Battle of Kursk. She fought bravely, suppressing enemy artillery. Wounded, she drove her vehicle from the battlefield, choosing to stay with her unit, refusing hospitalization. In the fall of 1943, Ekaterina was transferred to Rybalko's 3rd Guards Tank Army. In it, her tank crossed the Dnieper, liberated Kiev, fought for Shepetovka.

Ekaterina spent the spring of 1944 at the Ulyanovsk tank school. Upon completion, she remained as a training platoon commander. After the end of the war, Junior Lieutenant Petlyuk retired and moved to Odessa.

Aleksandra Raschupkina

Aleksandra Mitrofanovna Raschupkina was born in modern Uzbekistan on May 1st, 1914. She was one of the first tractor drivers of the republic, had an excellent knowledge of her machines. After the start of the war, she wanted to follow her husband into battle. She had no one to take care of in the rear, both of her children died in their infancy. The recruiting office replied with one refusal after another, with no way to persuade them. Aleksandra did not give up. In 1942, she cut her hair short, dressed up as a man, and enlisted under the name Aleksandr Raschupkin.

"Sasha the Conscript" was first sent to chauffeur courses at Moscow, then to a tank driver school at Stalingrad. When among the soldiers, she lowered her voice and acted like a man. She only bathed alone, using the excuse that she was shy. Among her frontline comrades, she earned the nickname "Sasha the Rascal".

Aleksandra fought on a T-34, in the driver's role. As a part of the 62nd Army, she went from Stalingrad to Poland. Her secret was accidentally discovered in 1945 when her tank was hit by a Tiger in ambush in Bunzlau. A tanker from the tank next to hers dragged her out of the burning tank and bandaged her thigh, at which point he found out that his comrade was a woman.

After the war, Aleksandra was reunited with her husband. She worked as a driver. Her wound left her infertile. She was awarded with the Order of the Patriotic War Second Class, Order of the Red Banner, and many medals.

Irina Levchenko

A Moscow schoolgirl, she volunteered for the Red Cross when she found out about the start of the war, and was assigned to the 149th Infantry Division of the 61st Army of the Bryansk Front. There, the 17 year old girl individually, without orders, recovered 168 wounded men from encirclement. She was concussed, wounded twice, and suffered inflammation of the lungs. All this time, Irina dreamed of being a tanker.

In February of 1942, she was sent to the Crimean Front as a part of a tank brigade. Over two days, she saved 28 wounded tankers (with their weapons, which was a desirable bonus for any medical worker on the battlefield), and even captured a prisoner. She personally fired a T-60 cannon, covering the recovery of wounded.

In one battle, the tank that Levchenko was riding in was hit. Unconscious, she was taken to a hospital. Irina Levchenko was recommended for an Order of the Red star "for courage and bravery".

She was going to be discharged, if not for a personal audience with the commander of the tank forces, Ya. Fedorenko. As a result, the stayed in the army, and was sent to the Stalingrad tank school. Irina finished it after it was evacuated to the Urals, in early 1943. That summer she returned to the front lines, not as a medic, but as a T-34 commander.

She fought at Smolensk, received a new wound, and continued fighting. In August of 1944, during the battles at the river Prut, Irina added up to 50 German soldiers and officers to her personal score. For breaking through the enemy lines and re-connecting elements of the 2nd Ukrainian Front, the tanker received her second Order of the Red Star. Levchenko fought through Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany.

After the war, the International Committee of the Red Cross awarded Irina with the Florence Nightingale medal, the highest honour for a nurse. In 1965, she was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

Mariya Oktyabrskaya

Mariya Oktyabrskaya's story begins in 1941. Having received a notice of her husband's death, she gathered all her family's savings, 50 000 roubles, a very large sum for the time, and donated that money to the construction of a tank. She sent a personal letter to Stalin to ask for the assignment as a driver for that tank to personally avenge her husband. Her tank is known in history as the "Combat Girlfriend".

A woman, especially an older one, and a tanker, a tank driver at that? Even healthy young trained men had difficulty behind the levers of a multi-ton vehicle, but Oktyabrskaya was not only passionate, but a Voroshilov's Marksman, driver, and excellent machinegunner. Her request was granted.

In October of 1943, Oktyabrskaya arrived at the 26th Guards Tank Brigade. Award orders record that on November 18th, 1943, she crushed a cannon and killed 30-50 Germans in the Novoye Selo region. The tank itself was knocked out, Oktyabrskaya was lightly wounded. Even with her wound, she refused to leave her tank. For two or three days (depending on the source), she stayed with her crew, repelling attacks. She only left for the hospital when her tank was recovered.

On January 18th, 1944, at the Krynka farm, Oktyabrskaya crushed three machinegun nests with crews, and killed 20 soldiers and officers. In that battle, her T-34 was hit, and the crew exited to repair the track. That was when Oktyabrskaya was heavily wounded. On January 28th, she was recommended for an Order of the Patriotic War Second Class for personal heroism and fearlessness. On March 15th, 1944, Mariya Oktyabrskaya died at a hospital in Smolensk. On August 2nd, she was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

Evgeniya Kostrikova

Evgeniya Sergeevna Kostrikova, the daughter of well known political activist Sergei Mironovich Kirov, was born in 1921.

When the war arrived, she departed for the front lines as a nurse, eventually reaching the rank of military paramedic. In the end of 1943, returning from the hospital after a wound, Evgeniya decided to change her speciality, and enrolled at the Kazan tank school, where she finished accelerated courses with excellent grades.

Returning from the school, she became a T-34 platoon commander, and then a company commander. As a part of the 5th Guards Mechanized Corps, Kostrikova and her subordinates took part in crossing the Oder. The 5th Mechanized reached Berlin, but was recalled from its suburbs, and redirected to Czechoslovakia to liberate Prague.

Here is where the war ended for Kostrikova. During her tank career, she earned a For Courage medal. After victory, she led a secluded life, dying in 1975.

Aleksandra Samusenko

Aleksandra Grigoryevna Samusenko was born in 1922. According to award orders, she was a ward of the Army since 1934, and enrolled into its ranks in 1938. She fought in the Soviet-Finnish war of 1939-1940.

Samusenko fought in the tank forces from the very first day of the war. She fought on the West and Bryansk Fronts, transferring to the Voronezh Front in 1943. In August and October of 1941, she was lightly wounded. In September of 1943, she was wounded once more, this time heavily. For participation in battle, she received the Order of the Patriotic War, First Class. On July 28th, 1943, she received the Order of the Red Star for bridging the communications between units of her brigade under enemy fire and bombs.

Samusenko was a Guards Captain by the time the offensives of 1945 began, completing tasks of utmost importance. The 1st Guards Tank Brigade where she served participated in the liberation of Poland, travelled over 700 km through its territory, and reached the Oder. Here is where Samusenko met an American paratrooper, Joseph Beyrle. He fled a German concentration camp and became a Soviet tanker, "to fight the nazis, to defeat them with you", as he told the Soviet officers. For the next month, the American fought under Samusenko in her battalion.

Sadly, the tanker did not live until the end of the war and the enemy's surrender. With heavy wounds, she died on March 3rd, 1945. On April 10th, Aleksandra Grigoryevna was posthumously awarded the Order of Patriotic War, Second Class.

Aleksandra Boyko

By the end of the Great Patriotic War, Ivan and Aleksandra Boyko's heavy IS-2 tank was their house, and heavy combat action was everyday life. He was a first class driver, she was a chemist from the cold far rear city of Magadan, and they both volunteered for the front. A letter asking to allow them to fight together in a tank they sponsored was sent to Stalin himself. The Supreme Commander approved this cause.

In the late fall of 1943, the Boyko family graduated from the Chelyabinsk tank school as junior technical lieutenants, but they were only put into the 48th Independent Guards Heavy Tank Regiment in May of 1944. A month later, they received the coveted IS-2 with "Kolma" painted on its armour. Aleksandra Leontyevna Boyko became its commander.

On July 25th, 1944, in the Baltics fighting near the village of Malinovka, Kolma's crew destroyed a Tiger and two cannons. Her award order for an Order of the Patriotic War Second Class read "...skilfully commanded her crew, found targets, gave directions... In this battle, comrade Boyko was wounded. She demonstrated courage, heroism, and bravery." Despite her wound, Aleksandra Boyko remained in action, and her tank knocked out a German SPG from an ambush.

Over two weeks of battles, the Boykos had two tanks and five SPGs to their name. In the next battle, the tank was hit, and the entire crew was wounded. Aleksandra Leontyevna recovered and continued fighting. She took part in the liberation of the Baltics, Poland, Czechoslovakia. The Boykos met Victory Day, the happiest day of their lives, in Prague.

Article materials prepared by the Wargaming archive group: Yuri Bakhurin, Evgeniy Belash, Aleksandr Grebnev, Nikolai Nevskiy.

Original article available here.

1 comment:

  1. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is well done, a very good read.