In our third instalment of our military heroes series, we travel to Russia to explore the life of Vasily Zaitsev. Along with the UK, the US, France and China, the Soviet Union were the final nation to make up the Allied Forces during WWII. Vasily fought for the Soviet Union from 1942 until the end of the war in 1945, leaving an immeasurable impact and legacy.
Vasily was born on 23rd March 1915 in the rural Yeleninskoye, a small community in Orenburg Governorate. His family were of Russian ethnicity, and he spent his younger years growing up in the Ural Mountains, a range that runs from the north coast of Russia to the border with Kazakhstan. His marksman skills were developed from an early age as he spent his time hunting wolves and deer with his grandfather and brother. His education was a typical one, graduating from seven classes from junior high school and later graduating from a construction college in 1930 while also completing accounting courses. Seven years later in 1937, Vasily served in the Pacific Fleet as a clerk for the artillery department, and, after studying at the military school, was appointed given the role as the head of the financial department of the Pacific Fleet.
With World War II breaking out in 1939, Vasily served as part of the Soviet Navy in the role of a clerk in the city of Vladivostok. In 1941, Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union as part of their Operation Barbarossa with the intention of gaining access to oil reserves, agricultural resources, and to ultimately repopulate with Germans. During this time, Vasily, as with many other comrades, volunteered to be positioned on the front line. He was assigned the role of a chief petty officer while serving in the Navy and received the role of senior warrant officer after having been transferred to the army. He eventually requested a transfer so that he could fight on the front lines, rather than managing back-office duties, this led him to becoming involved in one of the most significant battles of World War II; Stalingrad.
The city of Stalingrad (now known as Volgograd) is situated on the western bank of the Volga river. The Battle of Stalingrad took place from 23rd August 1942 to 2nd February 1943 and saw nearly 2.2 million military personnel fight. During this time, between 1.8 and 2 million people either lost their lives, were injured or taken prisoner, making the conflict one of the bloodiest of the war.
Vasily’s role in this battle was vital, during the first few months, until 10th November, he claimed 32 kills using his standard-issue rifle. Then, in the five weeks that followed until 17th December, he killed 225 enemy soldiers, including 11 snipers.
Perhaps his most documented (and possibly even fictional) wartime success was the nerves of steel duel with Major Erwin Konig. Vasily’s eliminations were not going unnoticed by German forces; therefore, they called in one of their own big dogs. Major Konig was supposedly the chief of the German sniper school was a tasked with taking down Zaitsev. According to Vasily’s memoirs, the battle between them took place over three days and ended with him killing the German sniper.
Although this story would make an amazing film (Enemy At The Gates, 2001), the truthfulness has been called into question by many. The main contributor being that the Germans held no record of Major Konig; however, this could have been destroyed to prevent a loss of morale of the axis forces.
Upon returning home, Vasily was commended as a Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest distinction awarded for heroic feats. He chose to settle in Kiev, Ukraine and spent the remainder of his life working as an engineer. He passed in 1991 at the age of 76. Initially, he was buried in Kiev, however, in 2006, he was reburied in Volgograd as per his request, with full military honours.
Vasily’s role within the Battle of Stalingrad helped to turn the tide of battle, both scaring and demoralising axis troops. If nothing else, this goes to show the ability a sniper has to strike fear into his enemies. If you are a budding marksman, why not check out our range of air rifles and targets available from our online store? We also stock accessories such as scopes and high-quality pellets.