Vassili Zaitsev, Soviet sniper ace
The legendary Russian sniper Vassili Zaitsev was a shephard in the Urals prior to joining the Soviet Pacific Fleet where he served as a bookkeeper gaining the rank of Chief Petty Officer after 5 years of service in Vladivostok. Only 26 years old when World War 2 broke out, he together with his sailor comrades volunteered their services to fight with the Red Army when the Germans attacked Stalingrad. Stripped of his navy telnyashaka at the bank of the river Volga, Zaitsev was put into a combat unit in September 1942 and began a life under constant artillery, mortar and sniper fire in Stalingrad in 1942.
He was not considered sniper material but proved himself so when on 5th October 1942, he shot a German machine gunner six hundred yards away from his foxhole with a single bullet. After killing two more with just an ordinary Mosin Nagrant 9130 rifle, Zaitsev’s commander, Captain Kotov, impressed with his skill ordered he be issued a sniper rifle with a telescopic sight; an optical device Zaitsev had never seen before.
The day after, the Regiment Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Metelev passed to Zaitsev, via Battalion Commander Kotov, a Mosin Nagant 9130 sniper rifle with a telescopic sight with Zaitev’s name engraved on the stock. Captain Kotov handed it to Zaitsev and said:” You will make a good sniper. Learn this yourself and then teach the other men”.
He was put in the 284th Rifle Division where his superiors and comrades considered him a sniper virtuoso who never wasted a round. His superior camouflage techniques and sniping skills earned him the title of Noble Sniper, a title gained after killing 42 of the enemy – officers and enlisted men – in 10 days.
Zaitsev had 242 kills and 149 verified kills by the end of the Battle of Stalingrad; but he became a Soviet national hero for the legendary sniper duel between the head of the Zossen sniper school in Stalingrad. In his memoirs ‘Notes of a Sniper: For Us There Was No Land Beyond the Volga’ Zaitsev recounted that the duel lasted only 4 days, but those were very arduous days for Zaitsev and his sniper team. The German sniper frequently changed his position and was stalking him as much as Zaitsev was looking for him.
Then Zaitsev’s sniper comrade Morozov was shot through the head in the Red October tractor factory, and another comrade Alexander Sheykin wounded. These two were considered very experienced snipers, it was now beyond a doubt the German was a sniper ace. On the third day, the Political Commissar Danilov who came along to the ambush was injured. On the fourth day, Zaitsev correctly deduced the hide-out of the German and killed him.
Zaitsev was given numerous titles, awards and medals for his service. He died in December 15, 1991 in Kiev, Ukraine. In Jean Jaques Annaud 2001 film “Enemy at the gates” the real Vassili Zaitsev was played by the ‘so handsome that it hurts’ actor Jude Law.