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Vasily Grigorevich Zaytsev ( , ; March 23, 1915 – December 15, 1991) was a Soviet sniper during World War II, notable particularly for his activities between November 10 and December 17, 1942 during the Battle of Stalingradmarker. He killed 225 soldiers and officers of the Wehrmacht and other Axis armies, including 11 enemy snipers.

Prior to November 10, he had already killed 32 Axis soldiers with the standard-issue Mosin-Nagant rifle. Between October 1942 and January 1943, Zaytsev had made 242 verified kills, but the real number may be much higher.

Zaytsev was nearly killed by an enemy sniper. His military rank at the time was Junior Lieutenant.

Early life and World War II

Zaytsev's rifle on display
Zaytsev was born in Yeleninskoye and grew up in the Ural Mountainsmarker. His surname is based on the Russian word zayats meaning "hare". Before going to Stalingrad, he served in the Soviet Navy as a clerk but upon reading about the brutality of the fighting in Stalingrad, volunteered for front-line duty. Zaytsev served in the 1047th Rifle Regiment of the 284th Rifle Division of the 62nd Army. He is notable for having participated in the Battle of Stalingradmarker. There, the Soviets set up a snipers' training school in the Metiz factory; it was run by Zaytsev. The snipers Zaytsev trained were nicknamed zaichata, meaning "leverets" (baby hares). Antony Beevor wrote in Stalingrad that this was the start of the "sniper movement" in the 62nd Army. Conferences were arranged to spread the doctrine of "sniperism" and exchange ideas on technique and principles that were not limited to marksmanship skills. It is estimated that the snipers Zaytsev trained killed more than 3000 enemy soldiers.

Zaytsev took part in the battle for Stalingrad until January 1943, when he suffered an injury to his eyes from a mortar attack. He was attended to by Professor Filatov, who is credited with restoring his sight. On February 22, 1943 Zaytsev was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. He then returned to the front and finished the war on the Dniestr Rivermarker with the military rank of Captain. After the end of the war, Zaytsev visited Berlinmarker, where he met friends who served with him. After the war, Zaytsev managed a factory in Kievmarker, and remained in that city until he died in 1991 at the age of 76 just 10 days before the final dissolution of the Soviet Union.

In 2001, a feature length movie, Enemy at the Gates, starring Jude Law as Zaytsev, was loosely based on the Battle of Stalingrad, most notably displaying an ongoing rivalry with a Nazi marksman, Major Erwin König. Although Zaytsev really took part in the Battle of Stalingrad, the movie was mostly fiction. While it is likely that a three day duel between Zaytsev and a talented German sniper did actually take place, since Zaytsev himself indicates this in his own memoirs, there is no evidence that any Major Erwin König ever existed.


On January 31, 2006, Vasily Zaytsev was reburied on Mamayev Kurganmarker with full military honors. Zaytsev's dying wish was to be buried at the monument to the defenders of Stalingradmarker. His coffin was carried next to a monument where his famous quote is written: "For us there was no land beyond (the) Volga."

The telescopic sight from Heinz Thorvald's (aka König's) rifle, allegedly Zaytsev's most treasured trophy, is still exhibited in the Moscow armed forces museum today. Zaytsev claims in his memoir Notes of a Sniper that he stalked Major Konig for a week and eventually found the so called "Konig" under a sheet of metal. Zaytsev then slid a glove over a plank of wood and exposed it, upon which the German sniper shot right through it. Then Vasily's partner, Nikolay Kulikov, raised a helmet on a stick and the German sniper shot that, too. This time, however, Vasily saw where the German sniper was located and shot him, killing him. Vasily and his partner Kulikov went to the German sniper's body and took his documents and rifle. The alleged duel is depicted in David L. Robbins' book War of the Rats and fictionalized in the film Enemy at the Gates, which drew its inspiration from approximately three pages of the nonfiction book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad, written by historian William Craig. Whether this duel actually took place is disputed by some historians, due to lack of any evidence as to whether there was a German sniper of such name or rank who ever existed during World War II. Zaytsev himself did make mention of the duel in his own biography, Notes of a Sniper, in which he commented that he had been up against a very skilled German sniper named Herr Koning from Berlin. In the documentary, Russia's War: Blood upon the Snow, Zaytsev says he never would have guessed that such a bigshot had flown to Stalingrad but when he and his men dragged the German out, they found him to be the head of Berlin's sniper school.


Further reading

  • Zaytsev, Vasily (1981). Zapiski snaipera [Notes of a Sniper] (in Russian). (ZIP). Moscow: Sovremennik.
  • Beevor, Antony (1998). Stalingrad. London: Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 0-14-100131-3.
  • Robbins, David L. (2000). War of the Rats. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-58135-X.
  • The Reader's Digest Illustrated History of World War II (1989). London: Reader's Digest Association Limited. ISBN 0-89577-333-3

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