On the Attack With the Fighting Russian Girlfriends

Pamela Toler’s Women Warriors: An Unexpected History highlights lesser-known  women who have gone into battle, such as Maria Vasilyevna Oktiabrskaya, a Russian mechanic in World War II who drove a tank christened “The Fighting Girlfriend.”

The American Scholar, April 23, 2019

Oktiabrskaya:  “I will crush you like bug just to watch juice run out.”


This new group of girl tank drivers, I do not know if they are tough enough to repel the Nazi threat.  In old times, girl tank drivers underwent rigorous training regimen.  We would crawl through obstacle courses lined with the worst of the male sex: men who would tell you they would call, then when you see them on the street three months later they offer lame excuse like “I lost number!” or worse–“I have been neglecting our friendship, let’s do lunch sometime.”  Fat chance.

No, these new girls, they do not know what we went through, the first cohort of recruits for the elite tank corps, The Fighting Girlfriends.  We formed a tough sorority of case-hardened galskis, such that the Nazis were no match for us.  What did we care for their crummy Panzer Corps, with their lightening-fast “blitzkrieg” tactics?  Ha–they must have gotten the idea for “lightening fast” from their lousy performance in bed!

“You brought me . . . flowers to make up?  You only make me laugh, comrade!”


We had seen it all, and done it all.  We had been exposed to the most toxic forms of male behavior and, like Mithridates of Pontus, had developed an immunity to them.  The guy who brings a $5-off-lower-priced-entree coupon on the first date?  Been there, done that.  The fellow who tries to brush you off with “It’s not you–it’s me”?  Water off a goose’s back to us.  And how about the dinkskis who tell you after eighteen months of going out that they need to “find themselves.”  Yes, please get lost, then find yourself.

I line the girls up for inspection, and see that I have my work cut out for me.  There is not a one of them that has that killer instinct in her eyes.  Probably they have been hanging out with “nice” guys at liberal arts colleges, weasel-like men who flit between English and Comparative Literature majors like bees sampling pollen, unsure of themselves, wanting to be “friends,” listening to soft rock and folk music, incapable of breaking a girl’s heart.

“Does this T-28B turret tank with gun stabilization make me look fat?”


“Atten-tion!” I shout, but they don’t snap to attention–too busy checking for split ends.  I amble up to the worst ditz in the bunch and get right up in her imported fake eyelashes.  “Did you join the Red Army to see the world?”

“No, I joined because I had to, I received a notice in the mail and . . .”


She is taken aback by my gale-force fury, and corrects her posture to something resembling–in a vaguely-remote sort of way–attention.

“That’s better,” I say, then–with my hands behind my back in an attitude of thoughtful sadism–I begin to lecture them.  “You have been placed in my hands–you with your fresh, unused minds–to be molded into vicious tank drivers capable of crushing a kitten if it gets between you and a Nazi machine gun nest.”

A willowy blonde raises her hand.  “Yes?”

“Why do machine guns have nests?  Do they lay eggs in them?”

Hoo boy.  Looks like two years into the Leningrad-Novgorod Offensive the military draft is scraping the bottom of the I.Q. barrel.

“Yes, my dear, they lay their eggs in trees, up where our tanks can’t get at them.”

“Oh,” she says, as if that facetious nonsense is sufficient to put her brain back to sleep.

“As I was saying, my job is to make you into a merciless brood of vipers, with no feelings for the men of the world.  For the greater glory of the Soviet Union, you must become Fighting Girlfriends.”

“I miss my boyfriend,” Ditz #1 says.  I can’t help but snort a little blast of contempt out my nostrils.

“Oh, you ‘miss’ him–do you?”

“Yes–a lot.”

“What part do you miss the most.  The part where he leaves the toilet seat up?”

“We do not have indoor plumbing in Glazok.”

“I see.  Well, how about the part where he demands sex from you six nights a week?”

“We have sheep for that.”

Hmm.  It’s harder getting through to her than I thought.  “Well, uh, how about when he criticizes your tank-driving, and grabs the steering wheel to take over?”

“I like it when a man drives,” Ditz #2 says.  “It makes me feel special.”

“What is your name?” I snap.

She takes a deep breath, then says “Anastasia Yastrzhembsky Khristorozhdestvensky.”

“I do not think you are cut out for the Fighting Girlfriend Tank Corps,” I say without malice, only brutal realism.

“Why not?”

“Because your name is too long to fit through the overhead tank hatch.”

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