Vasily Zaytsev

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Vasily Grigoryevich Zaytsev
Native name Василий Григорьевич Зайцев
Nickname(s) Vasya
Born (1915-03-23)23 March 1915
Yeleninskoye, Orenburg Governorate, Russian Empire
(now Chelyabinsk Oblast)
Died 15 December 1991(1991-12-15) (aged 76)
Kiev, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union
Place of burial Mamayev Kurgan, Volgograd, Russia
Allegiance  Soviet Union
Years of service 1937–1945
Rank Captain

Eastern Front (World War II)

Awards Hero of the Soviet Union — 1943

Vasily Grigoryevich Zaytsev (Russian: Васи́лий Григо́рьевич За́йцев; IPA: [vɐˈsʲilʲɪj ɡrʲɪˈɡorʲjɪvʲɪtɕ ˈzajtsɨf]; 23 March 1915 – 15 December 1991) was a Soviet sniper and a Hero of the Soviet Union during World War II. Between 10 November and 17 December 1942, during the Battle of Stalingrad, he killed 225 soldiers and officers of the Wehrmacht and other Axis armies, including 11 enemy snipers.[1]

Prior to 10 November, he killed 32 Axis soldiers with the standard-issue Mosin–Nagant rifle (effective range of 900 metres or 985 yards).[1] Between October 1942 and January 1943, Zaytsev made an estimated 400 kills, some at distances of more than 1,000 metres (1,100 yd).[citation needed]

A feature length film, Enemy at the Gates, starring Jude Law as Zaytsev, was based on part of William Craig's book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad, which includes a "sniper's duel" between Zaytsev and a Wehrmacht sniper school director, Major Erwin König.

Early life[edit]

Zaytsev was born in Yeleninskoye, Orenburg Governorate in a peasant family of Russian ethnicity[2] and grew up in the Ural Mountains, where he learned marksmanship by hunting deer and wolves with his grandfather and younger brother. He brought home his first trophy at the age of 12: a wolf that he shot with a single bullet from his first personal rifle, a large single-shot Berdan rifle, which at the time he was barely able to carry on his back.

War career[edit]

Zaytsev, left, in Stalingrad, December 1942

Zaytsev served in the Soviet Navy as a clerk in Vladivostok. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Zaytsev, like many of his comrades, volunteered to be transferred to the front line. He was a chief petty officer in the Navy, and was assigned the rank of senior warrant officer upon transfer to the army. He was eventually assigned to the 1074th Rifle Regiment of the 284th "Tomsk" Rifle Division, which became part of 62nd Army at Stalingrad on 17 September 1942.[3]

World War II[edit]

During Zaytsev's career as a sniper, he would conceal himself in various locations – for example, on high ground, under rubble or in water pipes. After a few kills, he would change his position. Together with his partner Nikolai Kulikov, Zaytsev would exercise his hide and sting tactics. One of Zaytsev’s common tactics was to cover one large area from three positions, with two men at each point – a sniper and scout. This tactic, known as the “sixes”, is still in use today, and was implemented during the war in Chechnya.[4]

Zaytsev took part in the Battle of Stalingrad until January 1943, when he suffered an injury to his eyes from a mortar attack. He was attended to by Vladimir Filatov, who is credited with restoring his sight. On 22 February 1943, Zaytsev was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. He then returned to the front and finished the war at the Seelow Heights in Germany with the military rank of captain. He became a member of the Communist Party in 1943.

Civilian life[edit]

After the war, Zaytsev settled in Kiev, where he studied at a textile university before he obtained employment as an engineer. He rose to become the director of a textile factory in Kiev, 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. He was initially buried in Kiev despite his final request to be buried at Volgograd.[5]

2006 commemoration[edit]

Zaytsev's grave on the Mamayev Kurgan

On 31 January 2006, Vasily Zaytsev was reburied on the Mamayev Kurgan in Stalingrad (now Volgograd) with full military honors.[1] Zaytsev's dying wish was to be buried at the monument to the defenders of Stalingrad. His coffin was carried next to a monument where his famous quote is written: "For us there was no land beyond (the) Volga".

Colonel Donald Paquette of the U.S. Sniper School was present and laid a wreath as a sign of respect to a legendary sniper. U.S. Army News quoted Colonel Paquette: "Vasily Zaytsev is a legend and every American sniper must memorize his tactics and methods. He is a legend amongst snipers. May he rest in peace."[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

In 2001, a feature length film, Enemy at the Gates, starring Jude Law as Zaytsev, was based on part of William Craig's book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad, which includes a "sniper's duel" between Zaytsev and a Wehrmacht sniper school director, Major Erwin König. Zaytsev himself indicates in his own memoirs that a three-day duel did indeed occur and that the sniper he killed was the head of a sniper school near Berlin.[citation needed] However, there is currently no available evidence that any Major Erwin König ever existed, despite the claim made by the Armed Forces Museum of Moscow that they are in possession of his telescopic sight. The duel claimed by Zaytsev, however, has never officially been determined to be fiction, and therefore is neither proven nor disproved by historians. The subject is open to debate.

Awards and honours[edit]

This article incorporates information from the equivalent article on the Russian Wikipedia.


  1. ^ a b c Biography (in Russian) at the website on Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia
  2. ^ Vasily Zaytsev -
  3. ^ Charles C. Sharp, "Red Swarm", Soviet Rifle Divisions Formed From 1942 to 1945, Soviet Order of Battle World War II, Vol. X, 1996, p 108
  4. ^ Russiapedia
  5. ^ "Prominent Russians: Vasily Zaytsev". Russiapedia. 30 January 2014. Retrieved 30 January 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Zaytsev, Vasily (2003). Thoughts of a Sniper. Trans. David Givens, Peter Kornakov, Konstantin Kornakov. Ed. Neil Okrent. Los Angeles: 2826 Press Inc. ISBN 0-615-12148-9.
  • 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

External links[edit]