During the dark years of the First World War, in the market city of Bila Tserkva (White Church) near Kiev in the Russian Ukraine, a young girl was born. This young girl, Lyudmila Mikhailivna Pavlichenko, would become the most dangerous women of the twentieth century. Into her crosshairs walked thousands of German invaders during the great campaigns of the Second World War's Eastern Front. Of those thousands, no less than 309 Axis soldiers met their end from a 7.62x54mm sniper's bullet from her gun. Lyudmila Pavlichenko is the highest scoring and most deadly female sniper in any army in any war.
Born July 12, 1916 in the breadbasket of the Central Ukraine, Pavlichenko was born to a normal family. She attended State School Number 3 in Bila Tserkva until age 14 when her family moved to Kiev. There she worked at the Kiev Arsenal as a grinder until finishing her tenth grade education. While in school she was a member of the local Komsomol and its OSOAVIAKhIM organization. The OSOAVIAKhIM was akin to a mandatory JROTC-type organization in which millions of teenage Soviet youth received military instruction courses while in school. She excelled in these classes and was a remarkable natural shot. She earned a coveted Voroshilov Sharpshooter badge in regional rifle matches. In 1937 she was accepted to the Shevchenko State History University in Kiev as an undergraduate. By the time World War Two came Pavlichenko had finished four years at the university.
Female snipers have a near-mythological draw in the annuals of Soviet and Russian military history.
The Russians were not new to women in combat, with thousands of females serving in the Tsarist Army in World War One. Pavlichenko volunteered in 1941 for war service. After turning down clerical jobs and nurse’s training she was accepted into the 54th "Stephan Razin" Rifles Regiment of the 25th "Chapayev" Rifle Division which was attached to Maritime Army.. The 25 year old Pavlichenko was made a private in the regiment's 2nd company sniper platoon due to her skill as a sharpshooter. She was issued a specially equipped Mosin-Nagant 91/30 rifle with a PE scope for her work. Her unit was already heavily involved in fighting in Moldavia and she joined them there.
Forced to withdrawal to the Dniester, Pavlichenko was with the 54th during its fierce defense of the port of Odessa in August 1941 where she was promoted to Senior Sergeant. She was credited with taking over 100 German soldiers through sniping during this period while being wounded herself on several occasions. She would often work with an observer some 200-300 m ahead of her unit, sometimes camouflaged and unmoving for 18 hours at a time. When Odessa fell her unit was evacuated by the Black Sea Fleet to the besieged Crimean port of Sevastopol.
Sevastopol Siege 1941-1942
There for 250 days in a row the young sniper, now with a battlefield promotion to Junior Lieutenant was involved in the great siege of Sevastopol where she served as a front line sniper leader near the embattled Imgarmansky Lighthouse and in the instruction of sniper recruits. It was from this campaign that the rest of her 309 personal victories (which included more than 100 officers and no less than 36 German snipers) came from. She was wounded for the fourth time in June 1942 and evacuated via submarine to the mainland. Her division never made it out of Sevastopol. In July 1942 the 25th Rifles was combat ineffective and disbanded as a unit. Its banners were sunk into the Black Sea and its personnel were reassigned. Her husband, also serving with the Red Army, was killed in the siege.
Decorations and Acclaim
For her efforts in the battle Pavlichenko was very publically given the title of Hero of the Soviet Union from Mikhail Kalinin, President of the USSR Supreme Soviet. Due to the publicity making her an icon that could not be risked in the front lines, she was placed on recruiting and training duties for the rest of the war. In September 1942 she embarked with the Soviet Military Delegation to the United States, Canada and Great Britain. She was the first Soviet citizen to be received at the White House where she had dinner with President Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor who took very well to the Soviet soldier. She visited 43 North American cities and gave hundreds of speeches. In New York she was presented with an engraved Colt 1911 pistol in Madison Square Garden by Union leaders from Colt's factory in Hartford Connecticut. In Toronto Canada she was given a similarly embellished Winchester model 70 Rifle with a Weaver scope. She was immensely popular in the western media and the American Folk Singer Woodie Guthrie wrote the song "Miss Pavilichenko" about Pavlichenko. She was given space in the 1943 comic “War Heroes” which embellished her figure but not her deeds.
Return to the Soviet Union
She was awarded the Order of Lenin with "Gold Star" (#1218) by decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, October 1943. She spent the rest of the war as an instructor and was an example to the nearly 2000 female soviet snipers at the front. She was attached to the Central Women’s Sniper Training School near Moscow, created by the Chief Directorate for Universal Military Training of the Commissariat of Defense. The school produced some 1885 female snipers. Many photos of her in circulation are from this period where she was a trainer. Pavlichenko had used a Mosin Nagant bolt action rifle during her front line service but in pictures taken while as an instructor she is shown with a purpose-made snipers cloak and SVT-40 rifle. She was discharged with the rank of major in 1945.
After the war she moved to Moscow and continued her education. She became a historian, publishing several articles and at least one book. From 1945-53 she was a historian to the General Staff of the Navy. She was later very active in the Soviet Committee of Veterans of War. In 1957 while on a trip to Moscow, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt demanded to meet her old friend from the War. She was eventually taken to Comrade Pavlichenko’s two room apartment and the joyful but awkward reunion was recorded in Mrs. Roosevelt’s diary. She died Oct. 27, 1974 and was buried in Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetery (Section 119) with full military honors. Pictures of the sniper appeared on numerous Warsaw Block era postage stamps, posters and post cards. In 1976 the 334-foot ton Soviet Ministries of Fisheries vessel Pavlichenko was named in her honor.