Juana Azurduy (1780-1862), also known as Juana Azurduy de Padilla, was a South American guerrilla leader who fought for independence from Spanish rule in the early 19th century.
Azurduy was born in Chuquisaca, in what is now Bolivia but was at the time part of the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata, a Spanish territory which controlled present day Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. She was a mestiza by birth, born to a Spanish father and an indigenous mother, however following the death of her father she was raised to be a nun in a convent. She was expelled at the age of 17 for her rebellious behaviour.
Azurduy had a deep appreciation for the indigenous people of Bolivia and in addition to Spanish she spoke the South American languages Quechua and Aymara. In 1805 she married a man who shared this passion, Manuel Padilla, with whom she had four children. When the Bolivian War of Independence began in 1809 both Azurduy and Padilla immediately joined the revolutionary forces and went on to command a 2000-strong guerrilla army in the fight against the Spanish. Padilla was later made civil and military commander for a large area around Chuquisaca and by 1813 their army numbered nearly 10,000 soldiers.
Between 1811 and 1817, Azurduy fought in 23 battles in the effort to liberate the region. During this time Azurduy dressed in male cavalry uniform, keeping her hair under a military cap, and became proficient in fighting with swords, rifles and cannon. On March 8th 1816, her forces captured the Cerro Rico of Potosí, which was the main source of Spanish silver. During the battle Azurduy personally led a cavalry charge which captured the enemy standard. For these acts she was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was personally honoured by General Manuel Belgrano, who gifted her with his own sword.
However Azurduy's successes came at great cost. Her children were captured by enemy forces and although she and Padilla launched a ferocious raid to save them, all of the children were killed. Azurduy herself was injured in the attempt and Padilla was captured and killed in late 1816. When the Spanish mounted heavy counter-attacks against Bolivian forces in 1818, Azurduy retreated with her forces into Northern Argentina. Here she continued to fight the Spanish with an army of 6000. She also gave birth to a new daughter in the middle of a battle, returning to the fight shortly after the child had been born.
In 1825 Bolivia declared independence and Azurduy was able to return to Chuquisaca. However her efforts in the wars were largely forgotten and she spent the rest of her life in poverty. She died in obscurity in 1862, however her memory has been resurrected in more recent times. She is now remembered as a national hero of both Bolivia and Argentina, has posthumously been granted the rank of General in the Argentinian army, and a 52-foot high statue of her was unveiled in Buenos Aires in July 2015.
Kidnapped by slavers as child, Carlota was brought from West Africa to the Matanzas province of Cuba. There she worked as a slave harvesting sugar cane on the Triumvirato sugar plantation. In response to the appalling work conditions and brutal treatment by the Spanish landlords, Carlota began to plan an uprising along with another slave woman named Fermina. However Fermina's role in the planning was discovered by the Spanish, who had her severely beaten and imprisoned.
Despite this Carlota continued to organise the uprising. Known for both her intelligence and musical skill, she sent coded messages using talking drums to coordinate a series of attacks. As the drums were a traditional instrument among the West African slaves, the Spanish were unaware that the music was also being used a form of communication. On November 3rd 1843, Carlota led a raid which freed Fermina and a dozen other slaves from captivity. On November 5th the uprising began by at the Triumvirato and Acane sugar plantations, forcibly overthrowing the Spanish owners. These attacks were led personally by Carlota, who went into battle wielding a machete.
The uprising continued for a year during which the rebels liberated slaves from at least five large sugar plantations in the Matanzas, as well as from a number of coffee and cattle estates. While many historians have focused on the physical strength of the slaves, their rebellion also showed great sophistication, using advanced guerrilla tactics and coded communication to achieve their goals. Eventually however the forces of the Spanish Governor were able to put down the rebellion due to their overwhelming numbers.
Carlota and Fermina were both captured and executed, and 1844 became known as the 'Year of the Lashes' due to the tide of violence inflicted upon the slave population to bring them back into line. However Carlota's actions created a legacy which inspired numerous subsequent rebellions against white slave owners in the Caribbean. Today there is a monument to her at the Triumvirato sugar mill.
Soviet guerrillas operating in Russia during World War 2.
Eritrean soldiers during the 30-year long Eritrean War of Independence between Eritrean forces and the Ethiopian government. Women made up 30% of Eritrea's army of 100,000 soldiers and were a popular symbol of the liberation effort.
After Eritrea won its independence in 1993 women were given 30% of the seats in parliament and gained new legal rights. However some complained that they were treated more respectfully as fighters than they were as civilians.
Lam Thi Dep was a Viet Cong soldier who fought in the Vietnam War. The above photo of her was taken in 1972 in Soc Trang Province when she was 18 years old. Large numbers of North Vietnamese women like Lam Thi Dep fought for the Viet Cong and photos like this were often taken for propaganda purposes.
She is seen carrying an American M16 rifle. US-supplied South Vietnamese garrisons often gave these weapons to the Viet Cong as a gift, in exchange for being spared from their attacks.
Born circa 1846, Hart was raised in Roane County in western Virginia, where she learned to be a skilled horse rider and an excellent shot with both rifles and pistols. In 1861 her brother-in-law William Price, a Confederate supporter, was abducted and killed by Union soldiers. The act drove Hart into a fury and just days later she joined the Moccasin Rangers, a pro-Confederacy guerrilla regiment led by Perry Conley.
For nearly two years Hart worked for the Moccasin Rangers as a spy and a scout, posing as a farm girl to gather intelligence. She saved the lives of a number of wounded Confederate soldiers by hiding them with sympathizers. She also personally led several cavalry raids against federal outposts. After one such skirmish she was briefly captured, but she persuaded the Union soldiers to let her go based on the fact she was a woman.
Conley died in the summer of 1862, and with his loss the Moccasin Rangers disbanded, although Hart continued to spy on Union movements. Her work prompted federal officials to put a large price on her head, ultimately leading to her capture and imprisonment in a Union camp. She did not remain in captivity long however, as she seduced a guard to steal his gun, killed him and escaped on horseback. A week later Hart returned to the Union camp with 200 Confederate Cavalrymen, capturing a number of federal officers with minimal resistance.
Hart married a fellow Moccasin Ranger named Joshua Douglas and after the war they had two sons. Hart died in 1902 and is buried on Manning Knob in Greenbrier County.
Tamara Bunke, also commonly known as Tania the Guerrillera, was an Argentine-born German communist revolutionary who played a key role in the post-revolutionary Cuban government and in other Latin American revolutionary movements during the 1960s.
Raised in Buenos Aires by a family of expatriate German communists, Bunke grew up surrounded by the Argentine Communist Party as well as being a keen athlete and intelligent student. In 1952 the family returned to East Berlin where she studied political science and acted as a translator for the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. In this capacity she met the hero of the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara, when she was assigned to be his interpreter.
Inspired by the revolution, Bunke moved to Cuba in 1961, quickly graduating from voluntary work to a range of high-profile tasks in the militia, the Cuban Literacy Campaign and a number of government departments. She was later selected to take part in “Operation Fantasma”, Guevara’s guerrilla expedition to Bolivia aimed at sparking revolutionary uprising across Latin America.
The only woman in the operation, Bunke was trained in the use of knives, pistols and submachine guns, as well as the transmission of coded radio messages. Styling herself as ‘Tania’, she quickly impressed her superiors with her intelligence, stamina and skill for espionage. In 1964 she served as secret agent, infiltrating Bolivian high society so successfully that she became a personal friend of the Bolivian President. In this role she became an invaluable source of information for Guevara for two years.
However late in 1966 Bunke’s cover was blown due to a failure of the spy network, forcing her to join Guevara’s armed guerrilla campaign in the mountains. It is rumoured but unconfirmed that during this time she and Guevara became lovers. She became responsible for monitoring radio communications but without access to her previous information sources the operation became increasingly isolated and desperate.
Injured in the leg and suffering a high fever, Bunke was included in a group of 17 ailing combatants that Guevara tried to send safely out of the mountains. The group was ambushed by the Bolivian army while crossing the Río Grande river and Bunke was shot while wading through high water with her rifle above her head. On hearing the news of her death Guevara initially refused to believe that such a thing was possible. She was later declared a hero of the Cuban Revolution.
Nancy Wake was a journalist turned resistance fighter during the Second World War.
Raised by a poor family in Sydney, Australia, Wake used a small inheritance from an aunt to travel to America and then Europe. By the mid-1930’s she had found work as a journalist and married Henri Fiocca, a wealthy industrialist.
When Germany invaded France in May 1940 she and Fiocca became heavily involved in the French Resistance. The pair were responsible for smuggling thousands of Jewish refugees and Allied servicemen into Spain. Wake often used her looks to get past Nazi checkpoints, later describing herself as “a flirtatious little bastard”.
Wake’s activities caused the Gestapo to declare her their most wanted person, dubbing her ‘the White Mouse’ for her ability to evade capture and placing a 5 million franc reward on her head. However by 1943 Nazi control over Vichy France made her work increasingly dangerous and with the collapse of her network she fled to Spain. Fiocca, who she left behind, was tortured to death for refusing to inform on her.
Wake convinced British special agents to train her as a guerilla operative. In April 1944, she parachuted in southern France to link up with Maquis resistance fighters in preparation for the D-Day invasions. She took command of a 7000-strong unit, winning the men’s respect by repeatedly beating them in drinking competitions. Over the next several months her unit fought 22,000 enemy soldiers, causing 1400 casualties in exchange for only 100 of their own. Wake herself was ruthless. She executed a girl who had been spying on the unit, killed an SS sentry with a karate chop to the neck, and on one occasion biked for 70 hours through enemy checkpoints to deliver radio codes to the Allies.
After the war Wake was heavily decorated by Britain, France and the US. During the 1950’s she worked for the British Air Ministry’s intelligence department, where she married again to a former pilot. She died in 2011, aged 98.
Agustina de Aragón was a heroine of the Spanish War of Independence and the Peninsular War against France. She is most famous for her bravery at the Siege of Zaragoza.
In 1808, Zaragoza was one of the last cities in northern Spain not to have fallen to the forces of Napoleon and was ill-prepared for a siege. Agustina, a civiilian at the time, was present during the French attack of the Portillo gateway. Broken by the French onslaught, the Spanish began to retreat. With the French troops just a few yards away, Agustina ran forward, loaded a cannon and lit the fuse, shredding a wave of attackers at point blank range. Inspired by her act of bravery, the Spanish forces rallied and assisted her in repelling the attackers.
While this heroic defense bought time for Zaragoza, the siege was only broken for a matter of weeks, after which the French returned and this time were successful in taking the city. Agustina was captured and saw her own son killed by French guards. She later mounted a daring escape and became a low-level rebel leader for the guerrilleros, harassing the French with hit-and-run raids.
Her forces joined the alliance against the French led by the Duke of Wellington. The only female officer in Wellington’s army, Agustina eventually rose to the rank of Captain and acted as a front line battery commander at the Battle of Vitoria, which led to the French being driven out of Spain.
Following the war she married and later in life became a familiar sight in Zaragoza as a respectable old lady wearing medals. She died in 1857 aged 71.
Cut Nyak Dhien (or Tjoet Nja’ Dhien) was a leader of the Acehnese guerrilla armies in the Aceh War against the Dutch during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Raised in an aristocratic household, Dhien swore vengeance upon the Dutch after her father and first husband were killed in the escalating war with Dutch colonial forces. She began leading her own troops against the Dutch, eventually merging her army with that of the celebrated hero Teuku Umar. They were later married in 1880, an arrangement she agreed to on the condition that he would not prevent her from continuing to fight.
This promise was kept and Dhien went on to act as the chief strategist of the combined army and later assumed leadership following the death of Umar in 1899. Despite difficult losses inflicted by the Dutch Maréchaussée and her own dwindling health, she continued to lead her forces until 1905 when the position of her base was betrayed to the Dutch. She was captured and exiled to Sumatra, where she continued to the preach her message of resistance until her death in 1908.
Today she is officially recognised as a national hero of Indonesia.