Find out how they trained and who they were — the elite corps and in particular, these 8 Red Army female snipers of World War II.
A sniper is defined as a highly trained marksman who operates alone, in a pair, or with a sniper team to maintain close visual contact with the enemy and engage targets from concealed positions or distances exceeding the detection capabilities of enemy personnel. They wait for hours, and sometimes even for days, to engage a target. When I searched the word sniper online, Chris Kyle (the subject of the Oscar-winning film American Sniper) fell in the top results; of course, he had 165 confirmed kills.
Digging deeper, I discovered some famous female snipers: The Red Army female snipers of World War ll. The most common rifles for the Red Army during WWll were the sniper versions of the a .30-caliber (7.62mm) bolt-action rifle Mosin-Nagant, with a 5-round internal magazine. They were usually fitted with a 3.5X fixed-focus scope. Later in the war, some elite snipers received new semi-automatic Tokarev SVT-40 rifles, which fired the same cartridge but had a detachable 10-round box magazine.
Lyudmila Mykhailivna Pavlichenko was born in the Ukraine in 1916. At the age of 15, while living in Kiev and working at the Kiev Arsenal Factory, she joined a shooting club and became a sharpshooter. In June 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Lyudmila had completed her fourth year of studying history. She was among the first to volunteer for sniper training and requested to join the infantry. Assigned to the Red Army’s 25th Rifle Division, Lyudmila was credited with taking 309 Axis soldiers in just 14 months. After being wounded by mortar fire, she left the front line to train numerous other female snipers for the Red Army and become a public spokesperson.
Amazingly, she later traveled to the United States during the war, and was the first Soviet citizen welcomed at the White House by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She also met with Eleanor Roosevelt and attended fundraisers, where she was awarded both a Colt 1911 and a Winchester Model 70. After the war, Lyudmila finished her education at Kiev University and began a career as a historian. She died on October 10, 1974, at age 58.
In June 1943, 17-year-old Klaudia Kalugina was one of the youngest females to attend sniper school. When asked in a recorded interview about the training, she said, “They taught us tactics: how to shoot, how to camouflage. Also ballistics, how the bullet flies. Here it flies, here it hits.” Klaudia was partnered with her best friend, Marusia Chikhvintseva, in the winter of 1944 as a sniper/scout team on the front lines. That summer, a German sniper killed Marusia from 200 meters away. Klaudia spent the rest of her life living for Marusia. She claimed an unconfirmed 225 kills.
Natalia Kovshova and Maria Polivanova were both born in 1920. Together, they attended training for snipers and volunteered for the front. They dug antitank trenches, took part in the defense of Moscow and trained. Less than a year later, in August 1942, during a battle in which many Russian soldiers were killed, Natalia and Maria were two of the few who remained alive, although wounded. They waited in their trench until German troops approached, and then detonated their grenades, killing themselves and their enemy. They were posthumously awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union commendation in recognition of their sacrifice.
Roza Georgiyevna Shanina volunteered for the military after the death of her brother in 1941, and chose to be a marksman on the front line. Nicknamed “The Unseen Terror of East Prussia,” she specialized in shooting moving targets and making doublets (two target hits by two rounds fired in quick succession). Roza became the first Soviet female sniper to be awarded the Order of Glory. She is recorded as taking 75 enemy soldiers. Sadly, she died at the age of 20, defending an officer of an artillery unit.
Nina Pavlovna Petrova, nicknamed “Mama Nina,” was born in 1893 and was nearly middle-aged (48) when the war came to Russia. Volunteering for service, she went to sniper school and took 122 enemy soldiers in the course of her duties. Unfortunately, she was killed in a car accident at age 53, just 7 days before the end of the war.
Nina Alexeyevna Lobkovskaya was born in Siberia in 1925. She joined the Red Army in 1942, after her father was killed. She commanded a company of 100 female snipers from Feb. 1945 until the end of the war, including at the Battle of Berlin. Her company of female snipers served not only in the Army, but in the Navy as well. She is credited with 89 kills.
Tatiana Ignatovna Kostyrina was just 19 years old when the war broke out. In 1943, she assumed command of an entire infantry battalion after the commander and most of the staff had been killed. Tatiana had more than 125 confirmed kills in her career on the Eastern Front.
Of the estimated 800,000 women that served in the Red Army during WWll, 2,000 were snipers. Of those snipers, about 500 survived the war. All told, these female Red Army snipers are credited with more than 12,000 kills. As far as I can tell through online research, women are not permitted to be snipers in the U.S. armed services.
Michelle Cerino, aka Princess Gunslinger, is the managing and social media editor at The WON. Michelle is the president of Cerino Consulting and Training Group, LLC, a firearms training company she built with her husband Chris in 2011. Her path in the firearms and outdoors industries is ever progressing. She is writing, hunting, competing and doing contract work for major manufacturers. View all posts by Michelle Cerino