During World War Two, some of the most brutal fighting took place on the more than 1000-mile long Eastern Front. All along this oft-frozen wasteland, in the midst of the largest combined arms tank vs. tank battles ever seen, snipers crawled through the rubble looking for targets of opportunity. Some 2000 of these were Soviet women. Here are some of the best.
Ludmila Mihaylovna Pavlichenko
(Lyudmila shown later in the war as a Major at the sniper school. She is wearing a camoflauge cape and is armed with a SVT40 rifle. During her active career in the Ukraine she used a Mosin Nagant M91/30 with a PU scope)
A 24-year old university student and amateur sharpshooter when the war began, Lyudmila joined the 54th Stephan Razin Rifles Regiment of the 25th Chapayev Rifle Division and soon found herself in hot action in the Ukraine. In just 14 months she was credited with taking an amazing 309 Axis soldiers-- including 36 enemy snipers. As a reward, she was pulled from the front lines and trained legions of other female snipers for the Red Army. Amazingly, she later traveled to the US during the war, met with Eleanor Roosevelt, and attended fundraisers where she was awarded both a Colt 1911 and a Winchester Model 70-- and derided for her frumpy uniform by the Western news media.
Tatiana Ignatovna Kostyrina
A young soldier of the (691st Rifle Regiment); Tatiana had more than 125 confirmed kills in her career on the Eastern Front. Just 19 years old when the war broke out, she assumed command of an entire infantry battalion in 1943 after commander and most of the staff had been killed.
Nina Pavlovna Petrova
Born the century before, Nina was nearly middle-aged when the war came to her country. Volunteering for service, she went to sniper school and took 122 enemy soldiers in her sights before being killed at age 53 just seven days before the end of the war.
Don't let the blonde hair and teenage smirk fool you, this sniper is Roza Georgiyevna Shanina. Fighting on the 3rd Belorussian Front, she was dubbed the "Terror of East Prussia." Spending most of her time in the military as a teenager, she took no less than 54 confirmed kills, specializing in moving targets. Talking about repulsing an attack by German infantry on her unit of all female snipers she said: "Some fell from our well-aimed bullets, some we finished with our bayonets, grenades, shovels, and some we took prisoners, having restrained their arms." She would never see Russia again, killed in action at age 20 while shielding the severely wounded commander of an artillery unit.
Nina Lobkovskaya looks like someone's big sister and in fact, she was, by 1945, she commanded an entire company of female snipers in the Battle of Berlin.
At the age of 15 when the war began, Klavdiya started work in a munitions factory. By age 17, she had volunteered for the local sniper school and was accepted. A girl with patience and enthusiasm, she was soon on the front lines working with another girl, Marusia Chikhvintseva, in a sniper/scout team. There, with a PU-scoped Mosin Nagant rifle and wrapped in camouflage, the two females engaged targets out past 500-meters and sometimes as far out as 1200. In a later interview, she explained the nature of her work,
(Snipers then as now usually worked in 2-person teams, taking turns as shooter and spotter)
"Because sniper's task was to eliminate commanders, machine gun emplacements, messengers that would be running around. They also had to be eliminated. Soldiers were not necessary, mostly -- officers, commanders. You would fire one shot, let go of the rifle, and lie there. You would wait until your partner fired her shot. When it became dark, we left our position. During the day we walked around, looked for a good spot to lie in wait. Sometimes picked a spot in front of our trenches. After picking a spot, took up the position when it was dark. Then we lay there without moving a muscle until the next evening, because you couldn't crawl away in the daylight. If there was an attack, that was different, then you would get up and run. Otherwise, you would lie in that spot to the end."
Other female Soviet snipers include Yekaterina Zhdanova (155 kills), Liba Rugova (242 kills), Inna Semyonovna Mudretsova (143 kills), Vera Ivanovna Artamonova (99), Nina A. Lobkovskaya (89) and the trio of Lubov M. Makarova, Alexandra Yegenievna Vinogradova, and Maria G. Zubchenko who all had 83 each. Just these eight women alone accounted for more than a thousand invaders when the chips were down.
(A group of female snipers on the move during training. Note the first two snipers on the column with canvas covers over their PE scopes on their Mosin rifles.)
One all-female company of 100-trained snipers was led by Captain Nina Alexeyevna Lobkovskaya, which made it all the way to the Battle of Berlin. These female snipers served not only in the Army but in the navy as well, with Naval Infantryman Yelizaveta F. Mironova of the 255th Marine Brigade being credited with an even 100 kills.
(In this staged photo note the sniper smock and the Mosin 91/30s with the short PU scope)
(A modern and closer look at the gear of a WWII female sniper. This is the Soviet "Ameba" suit often used by snipers during WW2. Mosin 91/30 rifle with 3.5x PU scope. The Mosin was by far the most widely used rifle, usually with the compact PU type scope as shown although a longer PE type was also issued. Photo by the famous Oleg Volk)
In all, the female Soviet snipers chalked up over 12,000 kills-- nearly an entire Nazi division worth. These hardy women paid for their successes with their lives in many cases, and over 75% of them lost their own lives on that fierce and forgotten battlefield.
Heroism, as marksmanship, knows no sex.