Joan of Arc was a French peasant girl who heard the voice of God instructing her to expel the hated English from France. According to her own words (which nobody ever bothers to consult), she actually never killedanybody, though she did courageously lead armies into battle. Eventually, she was betrayed and burned at the stake, but her legend lives on.
Artemisia of Caria was one of Xerxes' allies and chief commanders during the second Persian invasion of Greece. Herodotus speaks highly of her intelligence and decisiveness; if Xerxes had listened to her advice to avoid fighting at Salamis, he might have won the war. She fought at the Battle of Salamis herself, commanding five Persian ships against the Greeks; when her ship was nearly captured by the Greek navy, she turned and rammed one of her own fleet's ships, convincing them she was on their side so she could escape. Nevertheless, she was praised by Xerxes for her ruthless ingenuity.
The poetic quote from Xerxes: "My men have become women and my women have become men."
Two Soviet female fighter aces of World War 2: Lydia Litvyak and Katya Budanova. The whole of the 586th Fighter Regiment who were all female pilots.
The top-scoring female fighter pilot of the war was Olga Yamshchikova (17 kills), a former flight instructor.
Then there was the 588th Night Bomber Regiment/46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, who made use of obsolete but nimble wooden Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, usually used as trainers and cropdusters, to fly under the veil of night and drop bombs. They generally operated at too low an altitude to be able to use parachutes effectively, so they didn't bother with them. They were also almost immune to most types of air defense due to their low speed and almost entirely wooden aircraft. So they would kill their engines and glide in on nearly silent attack runs, which earned them the German nickname of the nachthexen, the Night Witches.
And what about marine officers? Colonel Evdokiya Zavaliy aka Frau Schwarzes Tod note Miss Black Death was the only Soviet female marine officer during WWII. There's a story that during the Siege of Budapest she and her regiment infiltrated the city from the sewers and captured the Nazi headquarters. The German general was so ashamed that the enemy officer was a girl, that he gave her his ceremonial sabre.
The Kurds of the Middle Eastern Zagros and Taurus mountains have no issue with women fighting, so they have an entire Amazon Brigade to fight against ISIS with the men, as a giant middle finger to the misogynistic fundamentalists. But what makes them even more badass is that rumors go ISIS believes that those who are killed by women get sent to hell. Yup, these women fight knowing that they just humiliated and sent a bunch of extremists to hell, and many will, in fact, be very proud to tell you that.
Many Yamato Nadeshiko of samurai extraction were expected to at least know the basics of self-defense in case their households were under attack when the samurai and guards were out in the war. The naginata was considered especially well-suited for women: its length allowed the Yamato Nadeshiko to keep attackers at bay easily then stab/slash them with the pointy tip.
As a bonus, whenever a girl of a samurai family left her home to work in the city, she was given a tantodagger before her departure. She was expected to use it to commit seppuku (or better said, jigai) if her honor demanded it, or self-defense.
Milunka Savić, who takes this trope Up to Eleven by, according to various sources, being the most decorated female soldier of all time. She fought in the Balkan Wars and World War 1 for Serbia, initially enlisting by disguising herself as a man. (Keyword being initially.) When her gender was eventually discovered after being wounded, she was allowed to continue fighting in the infantry openly as a woman because she was too badass to waste as a non-combatant. If you doubt that, you can just ask the twenty-three Bulgarian soldiers she single-handedly captured during the Battle of the Crna Bend. She was wounded no less than nine times before retiring from service.
Yim Wing Chun. You know someone's an Action Girl when she has a martial arts style named after her.
The White Mouse, Nancy Wake. The leading figure of La Résistance, top of the Gestapo's most wanted list, coordinated and lead numerous attacks, and once killed an SS sentry with her bare hands to keep him from raising an alarm. After the war, this badass lady lived to the age of 98. Rest in peace, Ms. Wake, you are an inspiration to us all.
Boudica, queen of the British Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.
Flora Jessop was born and raised in the polygamist FLDS cult. When faced with an arranged marriage and after years of horrific abuse, she escaped from the cult and is now an advocate for women and children trying to escape as well. She is a badass. She's a good marksman and always carries a gun (or two) to fend off the many cultist enemies she has made and to protect the innocent women and children she saves from the desert compounds. She risks her life on a regular basis to save these kids and put their abusers behind bars. Also, she has a very nice leatherjacket. And she's beautiful to boot!
Lakshimibai, Rani of Jhansi. Queen of a small Indian principality, the British tried to disinherit her and take over, invoking the "Doctrine of Lapse" allowing them to do this in case of a female heir. She fought back, and to the death. Now often seen in statue form in cities around India.
Bushi Matsumura, one of the founders of modern karate, was married to a woman named Yonamine Chiru, who had set up a real-life Engagement Challenge that any man asking for her hand had to defeat her in hand-to-hand combat. Matsumura, one of the most feared fighters in Okinawan history, only just managed it. After they were married, he would sometimes send her to deal with bandits around the island.
Kenau Hasselaer, a widowed saleswoman of wood, who fiercely fought the Spaniards at the Siege of Haarlem. During the siege, she led a band of three hundred women in battle armed with burning hay and boiling water, and provided wood for Dutch ships. She wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty herself; historical accounts often speak of how "manly" she would behave in battle, wielding spears, swords, and guns. She had a reputation of being fierce out of battle as well (she had a habit of suing everyone, including the very city she helped defend), and her name "Kenau" has become a slang term for either a bitchy or manly woman in Dutch.
Nusaybah bint Kaab, 7th-century Muslim warrior who fought beside the Prophet Muhammad at the Battle of Uhud and saved his life by acting as a human shield. And in case that wasn't badass enough, while lying at death's doorstep after the battle, she heard Muhammad call for volunteers to pursue the retreating enemy and got up to answer, whereupon she passed out from blood loss due to the approximately 12 wounds she had sustained the day before. She survived.
Though the Mongols have a history of badass lady empresses, Mandukhai Khatun is perhaps best known. Freshly widowed, she had the choice of marrying her well-beloved general or a rival Muslim warlord, and chose to rule in her own right until her adopted heir came of age and she married him. In that time, she reunited her people, reconquered chunks of their lost territory, and fought off both encroaching tribes and the Ming. She frequently went into battle with her men, most notably on one occasion while pregnant with twins.
Archaeologists have uncovered a number of Scythian/Sarmatian tombs of armed women; these have been speculated to have inspired the legend of the Amazons.
Hippocrates wrote that Sarmatian/Scythian women could not give up their virginity until they had killed at least three enemies. He also wrote that they would burn their right breast in childhood to prevent its growth to better be able to use a bow. Pretty hardcore, if true.
Countess Markievicz was a politician, suffragette and freedom fighter. Having fought during the 1916 rising, she was captured and sentenced to death but had it commuted due to her being a woman. Her response? "I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me".
All the women of the Special Operations Executive. They were sent into occupied France during World War II as radio operators to help the Resistance. Several of them were captured. None of them talked. Noor Inayat Khan, in particular, fought so fiercely when the Nazis caught up with her that they were afraid of her and she was classified as "highly dangerous"!
Qiu Jin, Chinese feminist and martial artist who ran a girls' athletic school secretly dedicated to anti-imperialist military training. That's right, she ran a whole school full of Action Girls!
Matilda of Canossa, Countess of Tuscany, Duchess of Lorraine, and Vice-Queen of Italy, wasn't called "the woman mighty in war" for nothing. Trained in soldiering and command by both her mother and father, she joined in their campaigns as a teen and, at 28, was commissioned by the Pope to help command the almost-first-crusade of 1074. When King (later Emperor) Henry IV sent armies into Italy to oust the Pope, Matilda led the outnumbered resistance, and she eventually beat the Emperor so badly that her arrival was enough to make him leave the battlefield without a fight. Afterward, the now 52-year-old lady led the military escort of Pope Urban II when he called what did become the First Crusade. She has a Badass of the Week page, there's a long Whoosh article comparing her to Xena, and on her tomb in the Vatican, she is portrayed holding the papal arms and a marshal's baton.
Ms. Kauser said she grabbed one of the militants by the hair and banged his head against the wall. When he fell down she hit him with an axe, before snatching his rifle. "I had never touched a rifle before this, let alone fired one. But I had seen heroes firing in films on TV and I tried the same way. Somehow I gathered courage - I fired and fought till dead tired."
Louise Michel, a prominent feminist and socialist active in the Paris Commune of 1871, a failed attempt by the city of Paris to secede and form a leftist republic after France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. During the war, she organized the women's complement to the Eighteenth Arrondissement Vigilance Committee, essentially a citizen militia. During the Commune, she fought on the barricades defending the Commune from the French army's attempts to retake Paris; she combined this with serving duty as an ambulance nurse, and those who fought with her were impressed by her energy and ferocity. She proposed assassinating the prime minister of France, but her fellow Communards considered this too rash and extreme. After the defeat of the Commune and the execution of her lover Theophile Ferre, one of its leaders, she confessed to arson and the assassination of two generals and specifically asked for the death penalty. (It's not clear whether she wanted to join her lover in death, take the blame so that other people wouldn't be punished, or become a martyr for the revolution.) The court exiled her to the colony of New Caledonia instead...where she supported a rebellion against the French colonial authorities by the indigenous Kanak people.
A Hooker with a Heart of Gold named Miljuschka once whored herself into a Nazi camp during World War II and then blew the whole thing up. Most. Badass. Prostitute. Ever.
Vilma Espín, late wife of Raul Castro. She came from a very wealthy family but left all her wealth to become a revolutionary. And she fought on par with her future husband (Vilma said to be very skilled with a handgun).
Zina Portnova, who was a teenager when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. She joined the Belarusian resistance movement, learned to use weapons and explosives, and participated in sabotage missions that killed more than 100 Nazis. When she was captured, she managed to get ahold of her interrogator's pistol, and stone cold shot him. She shot two more Nazi guards on her way out and came very close to escaping. Sadly she was recaptured, tortured and executed, but remained Defiant to the End.
Kinessa Johnson, a former United States soldier who actively patrols for poachers in the African wilds.
As the bans against women in combat topple in the United States, the Army Ranger School has seen its first female graduates Lt. Shaye Haver and Capt. Kristen Griest. For a while, they occupied a weird bureaucratic gray area, since, even though they had graduated Ranger school and tackled the same training as their male comrades, the ban on women in combat had not officially been lifted. As of December 2015 however, they are finally eligible to serve in the Ranger Infantry.
Ukrainian Army pilot Nadiya Savchenko was fighting in the War in Donbass against Russian forces when she was captured by pro-Russian separatists in 2014, and put on trial in Russia for murder.note Although Savchenko is qualified to fly both the Su-24 bomber and the Mil-24 helicopter — in fact, she's the first woman in the Ukrainian military to be admitted to aviator training — she was serving as part of the Ukrainian ground forces when she was captured. The Russians alleged that she directed mortar fire in such a way that it killed two TV journalists. The journalists were undoubtedly killed during a mortar attack, but unfortunately for the Russian case, mobile phone data suggests that Savchenko was captured an hour before the attack actually took place. She was found guilty in March 2016 and sentenced to 22 years in prison. While she was in detention, she repeatedly protested the legality of her arrest, refused to admit guilt or even recognise the court, and went on hunger strike to prove that she meant what she said. She was repeatedly interrogated and placed in solitary confinement, and in response she wore a t-shirt in the courtroom with the Ukrainian state symbol on it; spoke only Ukrainian, not Russian; swore at the judges in open court, called them "fascists" and gave themthe finger◊. Oh yeah, and in her final statement to the court, she called Vladimir Putin a "petty tyrant" of a "Third World dictatorship". All this made her a national hero in Ukraine, to the point where she even got elected in absentia to the Ukrainian parliament; needless to say, it made her wildly unpopular in Russia. In May 2016 the Russians released her anyway as part of a prisoner swap as if to say "Jesus, fine, have her back already."