First Russian tanker Maria Lagunova
Maria Ivanovna Lagunova (born 1921) volunteered after the USSR invaded. She was accepted to the auto-tractor school in Chelyabinsk and served for the whole of 1942 with the airfield service battalion at one of the bases of the Volkhov Front, where as a tractor driver she landscaped the airfield and transported fuel and ammunition. Later she was transferred to a reserve regiment from which soldiers were selected for tank training in February 1943.
Marie, who had meanwhile learned of the death of her brother Nikolai, who had been fighting at the front since the beginning of the war, also applied, but was turned away, saying that serving in the tank crew was a man’s business. So she wrote a letter to Mikhail Kalinin, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, saying that she wanted to become a tank driver, fight at the front and take revenge on the enemy for her brother’s death.
A few days later the order came to accept Maria into the tanker course. At the tank school in Nizhny Tagil, they again tried to dissuade her from serving in the tankers, but Lagunova insisted. The only relief she accepted was separate accommodation. She passed her exams with flying colours before the deadline and, after refusing an offer to stay on as an instructor at the school, was sent to the front.
As a driver-mechanic, she underwent a combat baptism at Kursk in the 56th Guards Tank Brigade, 7th Guards Tank Corps, and then advanced with her unit towards Kiev. The attack of 24 September 1943 proved fatal. Her tank broke into enemy positions, but suddenly took a hit and its engine went out. It was hit by a German anti-tank gun hidden behind one of the houses.
Marie woke up in a field hospital. They had to amputate both her legs, one below the knee, the other above. She underwent many operations and had to cope with terrible pain for a long time, which was only helped by morphine. After her recovery, she returned to duty as a telephone operator with prostheses. She was demobilized three years after the war and then married a war invalid, Kuzma Firsov, who had lost his left arm at the front. She raised two children with him. She died in 1995.