Vassili Zaitsev had nearly not been accepted when the Soviet Army started taking volunteers from the Soviet Navy. He was not a big man but he was well educated, which got him in.
It was only during the struggle for the Tractor Factory, a few days before, that his skill as a rifleman had emerged. As a consequence he was issued with a sniper’s rifle, with proper sights. His unit was still pinned down in the wasteland of the Stalingrad industrial district. Zaitsev describes the first occasion he uses the new rifle:
I adjusted the sights for 550 metres and looked to see if the wind would throw off my shot. Most of the smoke from the battle was wafting straight up, a sign that that there was very little wind that day, so I didn’t have to compensate for it.
It always intrigues me to look through good optics at an enemy hundreds of metres away. Beforehand, you could only see him as a small and indistinct shape, then suddenly you can see the details of his uniform, and whether he is short or tall, skinny or fat. You can tell whether or not he has shaved that morning. You know if he is young or old, and if he in an officer or a soldier. You can see the expression on his face, and sometimes your target will be talking to another soldier, or even singing to himself.
And as your man wipes his brow, or lazily moves so that his helmet shifts, you can find the best spot to plant your bullet.
I was lying behind the pile of boards, where I was not exposed to enemy fire. I put a round in the chamber, rolled into a firing position, and sighted on the German machine gunner. Even at this distance it was easy to lay my cross hairs across his face. His helmet was tilted back, so I was able to centre my cross hairs between his eyes. I pulled the trigger.
The machine gun stopped firing instantly as the gunner collapsed over the barrel. I dropped the gunner’s two ammunition carriers, neither of whom could react fast enough to take cover. They twitched for a few seconds and then they were still.
All it took were three well-aimed shots, and the threat to our side was eradicated. Our battalion came back to life. Our signalmen, messengers, and ammunition carriers leaped into action.
Although I had been designated as a sniper several days before, it was really only alter this incident that Stavka (General Staff) began to take me seriously. Subsequently they understood how vital I could be to a rifle company.
Prior to that, the brass would look at my height and say I was useless, and only good to be a clerk! To be honest, there had been many humiliating times like that, when we sailors first joined the ranks of the riflemen.
Images courtesy War Albums Ru.