Well, my beloved readers, it finally happened. It took ten years, but I finally missed a week of updating my website. I briefly considered posting a YouTube video of my ritualistic seppuku this week to regain the honor I lost by my malfeasance (I don’t know if that is the correct word here or even what the hell it means but it popped in to my head for absolutely no good reason whatsoever and seemed appropriate so I’m including it without even attempting to look up the definition), but I figured that instead I’ll just write something for the front page instead and push the poor old Pliosaur back to the realm of extinct obscurity.
In all honesty, it has been an insane six months (year?) for me, and it all capped off with an insane schedule where I completed the first draft of a World War II book, proofread the entire manuscript for the upcoming Guts & Glory Vikings book, did two magazine interviews, caught up on over a hundred emails on my personal account (I’m not even counting the BotW email, which is cripplingly impossible to manage), and shipped what I hope dear God for the love of Jesus is the last of the kickstarter orders. Between that, working a 40 hour a week job, having a kid, and helping my brother move, I didn’t get a chance to write anything. But, the good news is that I’ve now officially completed three full-length book manuscripts in twelve months and can go back to spending my spare time drunkenly driving digital Jagdpanthers into the sides of mountains and pissing off all my prepubescent screaming asshole teammates because I haven’t quite got the hang of World of Tanks just yet.
Anyways, here’s a badass story about a tough-as-balls Ukrainian orphan chick who emulated her all-time favorite action movie scene in a live-fire situation when she laid waste to a horde of counter-revolutionary Fascists with a belt-fed machine gun and then blew up a Panzer III with a pair of Molotov cocktails and a killer smile.
Nina Onilova was born in 1921 in a small town in the Ukraine, back in the days when the Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and everyone in town pretty much agreed on the idea of killing Germans and being afraid of Stalin. We don’t know who her parents are, because she was found on the doorstep of a dirt-poor orphanage and the first time we see her in history she’s like fourteen years old leaving the house and going to work a shitty nine-to-five day job in a Communist textile factory. Despite the hardships of her early life, this chick always did what she could to stay pumped up and optimistic about the future, and always had a big infectious smile on her face. If you can read her write the phrase “I didn’t know my real parents, so all of the People are my family,” and not get one of those furrowed-brow faces that the grumpy old war vet cranky grandpa gets before knowingly nodding his head at the end of a Hallmark movie then you’re probably the kind of the douchebag who belongs on my World of Tanks Xbox Live team.
Well one day Onilova’s factory had a screening of the ultra-famous Soviet war movie Chapayev, a touching, heart-warming action-comedy-drama about a rag-tag band of Red Army soldiers who use thousands of bullets to rip a bunch of Fascists new assholes during the Russian Civil War. In one of the climactic scenes of the movie, a brave peasant girl sees that the entire White Russian Army is charging in at her comrades and decides, no, that will not abide, and this aggression will not stand, man. She runs up, takes over the gun from the wounded, dying crew, loads in a belt of large-caliber ammunition and starts pummeling the bayonet-equipped counter-revolutionary front lines with so much lead that you could have built a crappy aircraft carrier out of the corpses she left behind.
Nina Onilova was in love immediately.
Comrade Onilova joined her factory’s paramilitary club and spend every night for the next couple of months getting machine gun training. This is the sort of sentence that every history I read about her just lays out there as if they’re like explaining that she learned to drive a car when her dad took her out to an empty lot behind a Safeway, yet for some reason I feel the need to stop for a second and be like, “what the hell is going on here,” because seriously what the hell kind of job has provisions to where your friggin’ co-workers can take you out and teach you how to fire a goddamn machine gun after work? I don’t know if this is a Russia thing, like how they teach kids from birth how to play ice hockey and clear a jam on an AK-47, but dude how cool would it be if you could just go out with the AP guys after work, pound a couple brewskis and then lay into the brick wall behind your office with two boxes of ammo for an M249 SAW? I would want to work at that place.
Anyways, I don’t really need to keep saying this on the website but for those of you who haven’t been paying attention there was this guy named Hitler once and he invaded Russia. Well when that went down Nina Onilova was so friggin’ pumped, because now it meant she could shoot people with a belt of 7.62mm, and she immediately enlisted in the Red Army. Since there was still a pretty tight “no girls allowed” rule on chick machine gunners, the Red Army Commissars made her a Medic, gave her a first aid kit, and sent her to the Crimean Peninsual with the 25th Rifle Division, 54th Rifle Regiment.
They didn’t have to wait long for the Germans to show up.
Sevestapol is, by far, one of the most important cities in Russian history. A large port on the Black Sea, this city has historically been one of Russia’s only warm-water ports, and since it’s so valuable for trade, transportation, and military purposes, the Russians have fought a bunch of wars over it in the past couple hundred years. Hell, if you want to look at it as a pessimist, they’re pretty much fighting a war for it right now.
Well Nina Onilova was from around this area, and she wasn’t exactly thrilled about coughing up the jewel of the Black Sea to Field Marshal Von Mannstein and a bunch of gun-slinging Nazi stormtroopers. She and her unit dug in around the city and then let the Panzers have it when they showed up.
Medic Onilova didn’t have a rifle in the opening engagement, but she positioned herself close to the machine gun just in case, and it wasn’t long before she got her chance to show the idiots running things what she could do. At the height of a dangerous German attack, with Nazis blitzkrieging their asses into town all over the place, the company’s M1910 Maxim Machine gun jammed and the raw recruit bumbling rookies assigned to the gun couldn’t figure out how to get it shooting again. Onilova practically had a big-ass smile on her face when she ran over, told those fools to step back, opened the gun up, cleared the jam, fed in the belt, and hosed down an onrushing horde of Nazis like she was ordering a pizza.
For her heroism on the battlefield, Onilova was promoted to Sergeant and placed in charge of operating and maintaining her company’s machine gun. She fought bravely in over three months of non-stop daily warfare, struggling relentlessly to hold the critical city against an entire Army Group of the rightly-feared Wehrmacht. Then, in November in 1941, she was thumping out rounds from a camouflaged machine gun nest when a Fascist mortar dropped in on her position, pummeling her with fire and shrapnel. She was rushed to the hospital and it was deemed that her wounds were so grievous she had to be invalided out of the fight. She was free to go home a hero.
Except she didn’t. She walked out of the hospital and rejoined her unit.
Later that month, under heavy attack from Nazi Panzer tanks, Senior Sergeant Nina Onilova ran out of bullets for her heavy machine gun so she left the trench, crawled twenty meters over open, exposed ground towards a thirty-ton Panzer III tank, lit the fuse on a pair of Molotov cocktails, and threw them onto the enemy tank, burning the crew and then igniting the gasoline stores, blowing the damn turret off the Panzer.
While many true Russians may frown on the idea of setting booze on fire, Onilova’s point-blank Molotov cocktail bombing of an onrushing Nazi tank was so damn awesome that she was awarded the Order of the Red Banner, a Soviet honor for bravery in battle. She would continue fighting and manning her gun for another four months, but during intense fighting in the Crimea on March 1st she was hit again and sent back into the hospital. While laid up, she started writing a letter to the actress who manned the gun in Chepayev, but died of her wounds before she could finish it.
The story of Nina Onilova, the poor orphan peasant girl who adopted the Proletariat as her family, fought like a demon, and gave her life for the Motherland, was picked up by the Soviet media and she became such a celebrity that women and girls from across Russia rushed to be like her and offer their services to defend the homeland from the invaders.
She was posthumously awarded the highest medal of bravery, the title Hero of the Soviet Union, in 1965.
Downing, David. Sealing Their Fate: The Twenty-Two Days that Decided World War II. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2009.
Markwick, Roger D. and Euridice Charon Cardona. Soviet Women on the Frontline in the Second World War. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Sakaida, Henry. Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941-45. London: Osprey, 2003.