Vasily Zaytsev is a world-known sniper of the Second World War, whose deeds are probably known by everyone. However this article will tell you little-known facts about the life of this hero.
Vasily Zaytsev’s life before war
The Second World War was an era of heroes. Soviet people showed massive heroism in the struggle for their freedom, their country and every piece of their land, but among them were people who performed unbelievable feats. The whole world knew about their feats. The heroes were becoming legends. One of them was a sniper Vasily Zaytsev.
V. G. Zaitsev with his sniper rifle
Vasily Grygoryevich Zaytsev was born in a simple peasant family on March 23rd in 1915. From very childhood he learned hunting, and at the age of 12 he got his first rifle as a gift. Hunting advice from his grandfather was very useful for a future hero. Vasily said that a sniper had to be invisible. The ability to mask was always number one for him. Time didn’t exist for him, when he was waiting for another target. And of course, his extraordinary cold blood and self- control. This all made him a first- class hunter. Besides, Vasily was gifted physically as well: eagle- eye, good ear and endurance didn’t leave a single chance for the enemy caught in his sniper sight.
Vasily Zaytsev - at the barricades of the Stalingrad battle
World War II caught a future hero in the position of a chief of finance in the Pacific Fleet, where he had been serving since 1937. Zaytsev had a good position and the command appreciated him a lot. However by the summer of 1942 Vasily applied 5 times with a request to forward him to the front. His request was satisfied, and Zaytsev was sent to the 284th rifle division. On the September night of 1942 together with other recruits was sent across the Volga to defend Stalingrad. He got to the city where he pronounced the words which got into a mess: “For us, soldiers and commanders of the 62nd Army, there’s no land beyond the Volga. We stood and will stand to death!”
Vasily Zaytsev “doing his job”
Zaytsev got to the front as a simple soldier, he didn’t become a sniper immediately. Several times he had a hand- to- hand fight with the enemy. He even managed to get a bayonet wound, but he never left the ranks. However in the very first battles he declared himself as an excellent shooter. He defeated the enemy at a distance of 800 meters with a simple 3-line rifle M1891. Only a month of battle later Vasily was given the medal “For Bravery”. By that time Zaitsev had killed 32 enemy soldiers with his rifle without a sniper sight. But his main award was a sniper rifle with an optical sight, which was presented to him together with a medal. Almost immediately the fame of an unbeaten sniper spread over all fronts. With his own name Zaytsev inspired Soviet soldiers and spread panic among German soldiers.
Zaytsev defeated his enemies with a simple 3-line rifle M1891 (Mosin Nagant). He went through the whole war with this rifle, only optical sight changed. The first and most simple one was a “PU” sight with a four-power telescope. Now this rifle is kept in a “Stalingrad battle” museum and everyone can see it.
The commander of the 62nd Army Vasily Chuikov and a military council member Kuzma Gurov scrutinizing a rifle of a legendary sniper Vasily Zaytsev
V. Zaytsev’s sniper rifle is kept in one of the museums in Volgograd
Vasily Zaytsev’s duel with a Herman sniper Erwin König
In order to at least somehow bolster the morale of soldiers and lower the activity of Soviet sniper the German command decided to send a head of the sniper school major Erwin König (according to other sources- Heinz Torwald, probably König was a call sign). He got an order to defeat “the main Russian hare”. A Soviet command was worried about this fact, and Zaytsev got an order to defeat the German ace at any price.
“I knew the “handwriting” of German snipers- Vasily Zaytsev recalls,- I distinguished easily more experienced shooters from the beginners, cowards from stubborn and firm ones by the fire and their ability to mask. As for the character of a leader of enemy snipers school, it remained a puzzle for me. Observing our comrades every day didn’t show any particular result. It was hard to say where the fascist was. But there was one story. My friend- a sniper Morozov got his optical sight broken by the enemy, and soldier Shaikin was wounded. Morozov and Shaikin were considered as experienced snipers, they often came out as winners in difficult and hard fights with the enemy. There was no doubt- they faced a fascist “supersniper” that I had been looking for”.
Vassily Zaitsev with his disciple on a fighting position
Zaytsev took up the position previously taken by Morozov and Shaikin. He had his constant front friend Nikolay Kulikov with him. They knew every hill, every stone at the forefront. What took Zaytsev’s attention was a pile of bricks and a sheet of metal next to it. That was where a Berlin “guest” could find a shuttle. Nikolay Kulikov was waiting for an order to shoot to attract the enemy’s attention. Meanwhile Zaytsev was observing. The whole day passed like that.
Before the sunrise the warriors went to the ambush again. Zaytsev was in one pit, Kulikov was in the other one. A communication rope was strained between them. The time dragged. Planes were droning overhead. Somewhere near shells and mines were bursting. But Vasily paid no attention, he hept his eye open for a metal sheet.
When it dawned and enemy positions were clearly distinguished, Zaytsev pulled a rope. It was a signal for his comrade to raise a mitten put on a tablet. An expected shoot didn’t follow from that side. An hour later Kulikov raised the mitten again. A long- awaited clap of a rifle shot rang out. A hole confirmed Zaytsev’s assumption, a fascist was under a metal sheet. Now they had to take him in sight.
However they couldn’t rush in order not to scare him off. Zaitsev and Kulikov changed a position. They observed the whole night long. And they also waited out half a next day. And in the afternoon, when the enemy positon was under direct sunlight, and rifles of our snipers were in the shadow, a sniper duet took an action. Something sparkled at the edge of a metal sheet. An accidental splinter of glass? No, it was an optical sight of a fascist sniper’s rifle. Kulikov started raising a helmet as carefully as an experienced sniper could do it. The fascist shot. A helmet fell down. The German, apparently, decided that he had won a fight- he killed a Soviet sniper who he had been hunting for 4 days. Having decided to check the result of his shot, he thrust out half a head. And that was when Zaitsev passed the trigger. He hit accurately. The head of a fascist descended, and an optical sight of his rifle sparkled till the very night…
Following military service and Zaytsev’s sniper school
The command congratulated Vasily on an essential duel and entrusted his group with a new important task. Zaytsev and 13 soldiers had to break up a German attack on one of Stalingrad front sections. Zaytsev practiced a new battle tactics on this task- group hunting. The mission was completed, but in the heat of the fight Vasily went into an open attack on German foot troops and was seriously wounded. The Germans fired a salvo on his and enemy troops. It was the one a great sniper got under. Zaytsev fainted for a while. However, Zaytsev lost his vision. However, after several operations he got his sight back, and on February 10th he saw the light again. Vasily was back on the front again.
Zaytsev explains the combat mission to his team
All the rest military time Zaytsev was the head of a snipers school and a commander of a mortar platoon and a company commander later. He also took part in battles for Donbass, Dnepr and Odessa. He met the victory in the Second World Was in the position of a captain. Vasily Zaytsev was awarded with a title of the Hero of the Soviet Union, got the Order of Lenin and “the Gold Star” medal. Only in Stalingrad he defeated 225 enemy soldiers and officers, 11 of them were snipers. Snipers of the 62nd Army, inspired by the feats of their comrade, defeated more that six thousand German soldiers. During the war he published two sniper books, he also worked out a sniper’s move called “sixes”. And after the war he took part in army test of an SVD rifle.
Vasily Zaytsev said: “A good sniper is a sniper alive. Sniper’s feat is so that he does his job again and again. To succeed in this hard work one has to make a feat every day and every minute: beat the enemy and stay alive!”
Vasily Zaitsev at the last years of his life
Zaytsev managed to defeat about 240 enemy soldiers during the war. This number was average for effective shooters at that war. But the Soviet propaganda made him the most famous Red Army sniper. At the present state of history some historians doubt that major König, the main Zaytsev’s enemy, existed, but we have no doubt that that duel happened to be. And there’s definitely no doubt in the number of the enemy soldiers he defeated, and in his contribution to the enemy’s despondence.
It is remarkable that several movies about Zaitsev were made. One of them tell about that very duel between a German sniper Erwin König and Vasily Zaytsev, it is called “Enemy at the Gates”.
The life of a hero wasn’t sweet. Seven military wounds constantly of themselves. However a combative and unbending spirit and the will to come up smiling after any hardships, obstacles and diseases still endued him with colossal power.
Place of burial of Vasily Zaytsev on the Mamayev Kurgan
Vasily Grygoryevich Zaytsev died on December 15th in 1991 and was buried in Kiev, even though he asked to bury him in Stalingrad which he defeated. On January 31st of 2006 his ashes together with all military honors were solemnly reburied in Volgograd on the Mamayev Kurgan.