The deadly Soviet women snipers that terrorized Nazis
When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, hundreds of thousands of Soviet women sprang to join the war effort, enlisting as nurses, clerks, cooks — and snipers.
Over 2000 women were trained as sharpshooters and deployed to some of the most dangerous battlegrounds, far from their companies and required to lie still for hours to avoid detection and await the perfect shot.
Stories of their lethal nature and sacrifice abound — former kindergarten teacher Tanya Baramzina notched 16 kills on the Belorussian Front before parachuting behind enemy lines, where she killed another 20 before being captured and executed.
But far and away the most notorious was Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who came to earn the nickname "Lady Death."
Born in a small village outside of Kiev, Ukraine, Pavlichenko was a driven and competitive child. After hearing a young neighbor boast of his prowess at the shooting range, she began practicing with a rifle.
She was studying for a master's degree in history at Kiev University when the Germans invaded, and she immediately volunteered.
Though recruiters tried to steer her toward becoming a nurse, she insisted she be given a combat role.
Stationed on a hill the Red Army was defending, she was handed a rifle and given an audition — take out two distant Romanians who were working with the Germans.
She picked them off with ease, and was quickly enlisted in the 25th Chapayev Rifle Division.
Pavlichenko fought in Odessa and Moldavia for a couple months before her unit was redeployed to defend Sevastopol against a German siege.
In those months of fighting, she gained a fearsome reputation for stealth and accuracy, picking off dozens of enemy soldiers. She was given the most dangerous assignments, including countersniping — engaging enemy snipers in tense duels that could last for days.
Her notoriety grew to the point where the Germans even attempted to bribe her to defect, shouting with loudspeakers that they would give her chocolate and make her an officer.
She was wounded four times, and after taking a blast of shrapnel to the face she was pulled out of combat duty to train new snipers and engage in propaganda activities.
In less than a year of combat, she had made 309 confirmed kills, including 36 enemy snipers, making her one of the deadliest snipers in history.
Pavlichenko was sent on a tour of the United States, Canada and Great Britain to rally Allied support of a second European front to relieve the pressure on the Soviets.
While touring the United States with Eleanor Roosevelt, Pavlichenko was bombarded with absurd questions from the press about fashion, hairstyle and whether she wore makeup into battle.
She endured them at first, but as the tour progressed her patience thinned, and she began to boldly chide the Americans for their condescension.
Pavlichenko during her visit to Washington, D.C.
Photo via Library of Congress
Photo via Library of Congress
Upon returning to Russia, Pavlichenko was promoted to major and awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, her country's highest honor.
She trained snipers until the end of the war, then returned to Kiev University to finish her education and become a historian.