29. Military Authorities Wanted to Make This Woman a Nurse, But She Insisted That Her Place Was in Combat on the Front Lines
When the Germans invaded in the summer of 1941, Lyudmila Pavlichenko was 24-years-old, and in her fourth year of higher education. When she heard the news, she dropped everything and rushed to Odessa to enlist in the Red Army. The military authorities wanted to shunt her into a role viewed as more suitable for women, and pushed her to become a nurse. She refused, and insisted that she had the skills and physical fitness to fight on the front lines with the infantry. As the invaders plunged ever deeper into Soviet territory and the situation grew more desperate, the authorities finally relented and allowed her to join the Red Army’s 25th Rifle Division.
Because of dire equipment shortages, Pavlichenko wasn’t even given a rifle, but was instead issued some fragmentation grenades. Her baptism of fire came on August 8th, 1941, as her unit fought desperately to defend a hill. She finally got her hands on a firearm when a fallen comrade handed her his Model 1891 Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifle. She promptly shot two enemy personnel, and demonstrated her lethal chops to her comrades. From then on, she was officially designated a sniper. It was a dangerous occupation: during WWII, the Red Army trained and deployed 2000 female snipers. Only 500 of them survived to see war’s end.