Countersniper Engagement

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In modern history there's never been a battle so dominated by snipers as was Stalingrad, the 1942 high-water mark of German conqucst in Russia. With aggressive attackers pitted against determined defenders, this most bitter urban contest of World War II -

would see the ultimate sniper encounter in history.

By October 1942, the Germans had seized nine-tenths of the city, which artillery had so reduced to rubble that the Reich's wean,' soldiers called the fighting "Rattenkrieg," or the "War of the Rats." Combatants on both sides tunneled, scurried, and hid in the ruins of once enormous industrial plants and whole blocks of collapscd apartment buildings. It was a sniper's haven, the Beirut of its eta.

The premier Soviet sniper at Stalingrad was Vassili Zaitsev, a broad-faced Siberian who had been a hunter and shepherd in the Ural Mountains. In his first 10 days of shooting, Zaitsev killed 40 Germans. When his tally neared 100, he received the Order of Lenin and became the focus of a Soviet propaganda campaign as the li\ing epitome of Russian resistance.

With the sniper death toll climbing more steeply every day, and with German soldiers becoming ever more fearful of these Russian

Vassili Zartsev (U, Hero of the Soviet Union, in overwhite camouflage smock with two fellow snipers on the Eastern Front.

marksmen, it was inevitable that Berlin would strike back. Dispatched directly from the Fatherland was the commandant of the Wehrmacht Sniper School at Zossen, a Major Koning. His target: the deadly Russian premier sniper, Vassili Zaitsev.

The German army had been the first to field specially trained snipers

- during World War I, and so highly regarded were the Reich's World War II snipers that the army created three special Eagle Badges to honor them for having killed 20, 40, or 60 enemy personnel. Though there remains no record of Major Koning's decorations, quite likely his shoulder displayed this coveted Eagle Badge.

Shortly after Koning's secret arrival, his presence was compromised by a cocky German POW who boasted that soon Zaitsev would die. Now alerted, the Russian sniper devoted himself to finding this German stalker.

After several days of inaction, two experienced Russian snipers suddenly were shot by a German armed with a telescopic sight. This was the calling card Zaitsev had been expecting. "Now there was no doubt," he concluded when his sniper comrades were lost. "The}' had come up against the Nazi 'super-sniper' I was looking for."

Focusing his search along a narrow front, he and

Us/ng a qua/rty 7,92mm Mauser rifle topped by an excellent scope, Germany's World War II sniper was technically superior to his Soviet counterpart. Note the Eagle Badge on this sniper's sleeve, which was awarded to German snipers for having killed 20,40, or 60 enemy.

his spotter, Nikolai Kulikov, finally observed the top of a German helmet creeping along a trench. Dare he shoot, Zairsev asked himself. "No! It was a trick: the helmet somehow or other moved unevenly . . ."

The next day they returned to the area before dawn, this time with a Communist political officer who wanted to witness this historic encounter. At one point, the commissar excitedly proclaimed that he could see the German and raised himself "barely, literally for one second," Zairsev said. Then, crack/—a bullet struck him. Though the commissar laid in the open writhing in pain, his wound was not serious.

Zaitsev, keen to the tactics of German snipers, unemotionally continued to search with his binoculars, ready to fire if the German compromised himself by engaging the medics who now retrieved the commissar. Purposely wounding rather than killing, Zaitsev thought. And with less than a second of exposure? "That sort of firing, of course, could only come from an experienced sniper," he realized.

To test this, Zaitsev slid a glove over a plank and slowly exposed it. Bang!—a bullet smacked through it. The Russian could see that the shot must have come from somewhere in a particular rubble pile. But it was too late to do anything about it chat day.

The ever-patient Zaitsev returned before dawn and lay motionless all morning because the sun's angle could reflect light off his scope. By late afternoon, the sun had shifted to his back, exactly reversing the reflection danger. Having his spotter raise a dummy's head inside a helmet, at last he saw a glimmer of scope glare from beneath a boilerplate. Bang! The German shattered the dummy's head. Instantly Zaitsev fired, too, but it was no decoy he hit. The contest was over; the Reich's supersniper, Major Koning, lay dead.

Zaitsev eventually was credited with 242 kills at Stalingrad. By the end of the war, he personally had accounted for 400 Germans and was declared a Hero of the Soviet Union.

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