7 Legendary Snipers of World War II

7 Legendary Snipers of World War II

Stephanie Schoppert - February 17, 2017

Snipers during WWII were despised by both sides. If a sniper was captured as a POW, his imprisonment would likely be miserable, if he was kept alive at all. Many snipers were able to rack up big kills, but a vast number did not survive the war themselves. The optics for snipers were still in development and many countries like the United States did not have a dedicated sniper program.

Only a few countries, namely Russia and Germany, had programs geared toward training snipers. That is why most of the snipers on the list are from Russia, because they not only had a training program but they allowed women to be snipers. The Russians believed that the soft touch of a woman made them better snipers and that was proven, as there are several Russian women who are recognized as heroes for their efforts and kills during the war.

7 Legendary Snipers of World War II
Simo Hayha set up for a shot. Business Insider

Simo Hayha

Simo Hayha is a legend among snipers and was referred to by the Red Army as the “White Death.” He goes down in history as the sniper with the most confirmed kills at 505, but some say that his actual number could be over 700. What makes his story even more remarkable is that he accomplished this feat of marksmanship in only 100 days during the time of the year when there are very few daylight hours in Finland.

When the Soviet Union invaded Finland on November 30, 1939, Hayha was called up to join the fight. He joined the 6th Company of JR 34 and served in the Battle of Kollaa. At the battle, temperatures were as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit, and Hayha kept warm in white camouflage. The Soviets were not issued camouflage and therefore it was easy for Hayha to pick them off. It was during this battle that he racked up the majority of his confirmed sniper kills but he also utilized an SMG. When using an SMG his kills were not counted and that is why many people believe that his kill count could be as high as 800.

Hayha used an M/28-30 that was more comfortable for him with his smaller stature. He used iron sights so that he could keep his head lower and be more concealed. He would put snow in front of his position in order to provide padding for his rifle and it had the benefit of providing cover and stopping the puff of snow that would typically be stirred up by a muzzle blast. Some accounts say that he would keep snow in his mouth to stop his breath from giving away his position.

The Soviets sent their own snipers and even artillery strikes to try and kill the “White Death.” On March 6, 1940, they nearly succeeded when an explosive bullet took off his lower left jaw. He survived but it took years to recover.

7 Legendary Snipers of World War II
Roza Shanina. Klimbim

Roza Georgiyevna Shanina

Roza Georgiyevna Shanina was one of several female Soviet snipers, and she is credited with 59 confirmed kills. She joined the Soviet military at a time when they started drafting women into the sniper program under the belief that their flexible bodies and patience made them apt snipers. Shanina repeatedly requested to join the military after the death of her brother, but was rejected several times because the military commissariat in her town wanted to keep her out of the war.

Desperate to avenge her brother, Shanina began training herself at the shooting range. Finally, she was allowed to join the Female Sniper Academy. She graduated from the academy with honors and was even offered a teaching position there but she refused, stating that she needed to go fight.

She got her wish and joined the 184th Rifle Division on April 2, 1944, and got her first kill three days later. By May 1944, she had 17 confirmed kills. The following month, on June 9, she was put on the front page of Unichtozhim Vraga, a Soviet newspaper. On June 22, 1944, Shanina was in Vitebsk when all female snipers were told to withdraw due to Operation Bagration. Shanina and the other female snipers remained in order to help the advancing infantry.

By the end of August, her kill count topped 42, some of which were done in German territory. Shanina would crawl through a communication ditch every day at dawn to pick off what soldiers she could. In September, her division was the first Soviet unit to enter East Prussia. Her kill count only rose, with newspapers reporting 51 kills on September 17. A Canadian paper even gave her the name “the unseen terror of East Prussia.” On January 27, 1945, she was found disemboweled by an artillery shell and despite efforts to save her, she perished. Her official kill count stands at 59.

7 Legendary Snipers of World War II
Matthaus Hetzenauer. Xiwax.com

Matthaus Hetzenauer

Matthaus Hetzenauer may not have gotten the most hits of any sniper in World War II, but to him, that was not what was important when it came to being a sniper. Hetzenauer believed that “The best success for snipers did not reside in the number of hits but in the damage caused the enemy by shooting commanders or other important men.” This was the reason why both the Germans and the Soviets highly prized their snipers and even took steps to protect them when necessary.

Hetzenauer was born in Austria in 1924 and entered basic training in 1943. It wasn’t until March of 1944 that he began training as a sniper. He spent three months in specialized sniper training before being assigned to the 3rd Gebirgsjager Division. Hetzenauer chose to use a Karabiner 98k with six-power telescope sights, and a Gewehr 43 with four-power telescope sight. His preferred gun was the K98 because it had the highest accuracy for regular use and did not jam easily. The G43 was not as precise and therefore only good for shorter distances. He fought against the Soviets in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Carpathians.

When it came to fighting, Hetzenauer was used to take out the commanders and gunners so that the German army could advance. Without someone taking out the command and stopping the gunners, the German army would not have had the manpower to overtake the Red Army. On November 6, 1944, he was wounded but returned to battle.

On April 1, 1945, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross having been credited with over 343 kills. He was also credited with the longest kill of WWII at 1,200 yards. He was captured by the Soviets in May of 1945, and was held for five years. He eventually returned home to Austria where he lived until 2004.

7 Legendary Snipers of World War II
Lyudmila Mykhailivna Pavlichenko. Business Insider

Lyudmila Mykhailivna Pavlichenko

Lyudmila Mykhailvna Pavlichenko is regarded as the greatest female sniper in history. With 309 confirmed kills, no other female sniper comes close to her count and very few men can surpass it. She was born in Bila Tserkva on July 12, 1916. When she was a teenager, she joined a shooting club and became an amateur sharpshooter. In June of 1941, Pavlichenko was one of the first people to volunteer at her local recruiting office.

At the time, women were not being actively recruited to join the Red Army and Pavlichenko was offered a position as a nurse. She refused and insisted on joining infantry. She joined the 25th Rifle Division and was one of 2,000 female snipers in the Red Army. Only 1 in 4 of them returned home.

In two and a half months, she recorded 187 kills near Odessa. Once the Romanians got control of Odesa she was sent to the Crimean Peninsula. By May 1942 her kill count was up to 257 as cited by the Southern Army Council. Her skill and her constantly rising kill count earned her the name of “Lady Death.” She was wounded in June 1942 and was withdrawn from the battlefield. She recovered quickly but by then her kill count of 309 had earned her so much fame that the Soviets never allowed her to return to the front. Instead, she was sent to Allied countries for publicity.

Pavlichenko was the first Soviet citizen to be received by a United States President when Franklin Delano Roosevelt welcomed her at the White House. She also visited Canada and the UK to continue gathering support for Allied countries, and even raised money for the Red Army. After the war, she returned home and finished her education in order to become a historian.

7 Legendary Snipers of World War II
Vasily Grigoryevich Zaytsev. airsoft-action.online

Vasily Grigoryevich Zaytsev

Vasily Greigoryevich Zaytsev was made famous due to a book called Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad, and the subsequent feature film that was made. He was a skilled sniper who racked up at least 225 kills, many of them at the Battle of Stalingrad. He was born in 1915 and always had a special ability with a gun. When he was 12 he brought home a wolf that he had killed with one bullet using a rifle that he was barely big enough to carry. He joined the Soviet Navy and served as a clerk in Vladivostok.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union, he volunteered to be sent to the front to help defend his country. Despite being a chief petty officer in the Navy, he was transferred to the army where he was made a senior warrant officer. He was put in the 1047th Rifle Regiment which eventually joined the 62nd Army at Stalingrad on September 17, 1942.

It was at Stalingrad that his skill with a gun was recognized. He was able to kill 30 soldiers in 10 days using a standard rifle. He was then promoted to sniper and even helped to develop many of the sniper tactics that are still used today. One tactic that he developed was to cover a substantial area from three different positions. At each position, he would place a sniper and a scout, a tactic that is now known as the “sixes.”

While fighting at Stalingrad he became involved in a “sniper’s duel” which was told in the book and movie Enemy at the Gates. In his memoirs, Zaytsev wrote about the three-day duel with a sniper who was the head of a sniper school in Berlin. The story has neither been proven or disproven. He remained at Stalingrad until January 1943 when a mortar attack damaged his eyes. He recovered and was returned to the front. He survived the war to become an engineer, and lived to the age of 76.

7 Legendary Snipers of World War II
Ivan Mikhailovich Sidorenko. Imgur

Ivan Mikhailovich Sidorenko

Ivan Mikhailovich Sidorenko was a Hero of the Soviet Union and one of the best snipers in the Red Army. He is credited with 500 confirmed kills, and is another sniper who was mostly self-taught and did not go through Soviet sniper training.

He was born in 1919 in Smolensky Oblast and went to school until 1939 when he dropped out of college. He was conscripted into the Red Amy and sent to training at Simferopol Military Infantry School. He started fighting with the army, and in 1941 during the Battle of Moscow, he taught himself how to snipe. He went on hunts for enemy soldiers and was so successful that Sideorenko’s commanders requested that he train others. Men were chosen to train with Sidorenko if they had strong eyesight, weapons knowledge and endurance. He and the men he trained did so well that the Germans started sending their own snipers to try and take care of the threat.

Sidorenko was eventually made assistant commander of the Headquarters of the 112th Rifle Regiment where he mostly worked with instructing other men in sniping. He would only occasionally fight, taking a trainee with him to teach them how to perform in battle. It was on one trip with a trainee that he was able to destroy a tank and three tractors by using incendiary bullets. Throughout his time with the Red Army, he was wounded several times but the worst incident came in 1944 when he was wounded in Estonia.

He remained in the hospital until the end of the war, at which point he was told he was too valuable as a teacher to ever be allowed to see combat again. Sidorenko then retired from the Red Army and worked instead as a foreman at a coal mine.

7 Legendary Snipers of World War II
Fyodor Matveyevich Okhlopkov. OVGuide

Fyodor Matveyevich Okhlopkov

Fyodor Matveyevich Okhlopkov does not get the same recognition as many other snipers with high kill counts in the Soviet Union. Despite having 429 confirmed kills in World War II, it was not until 1965 that he was granted the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, an honor most high-count snipers received during the war. Okhlopkov was overlooked for many years because of his status as an ethnic Yakut.

As in many countries, the indigenous people of the Soviet Union were often treated as a lower class when compared to the rest of the population. Okhlopkov was born in Krest-Khaldzhay village in the Far Eastern Soviet Union in 1908. He enlisted in the Red Army with his brother and it was not until the death of his brother that Okhlopkov took up sniping. He used both a rifle and a machine gun but his machine gun kills are not included in his official count.

At times his commander would send him out alone with his machine gun and Okhlopkov was said to “mow down Germans like a farmer cutting grass with a scythe.” It was because of his machine gun kills that his family claims that his kill count is over 1,000.

Okhlopkov was seriously wounded 12 times during combat, with his injuries on June 23, 1944, being the worst. He spent months in a hospital recovering and was discharged from the military. He’s remembered as one of the most effective snipers in the Red Army and he lived until 1968, just a few years after finally being named a Hero of the Soviet Union. In 1975, he was given the Order of Lenin and a cargo ship was named after him.