Erwin König

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Erwin König and Heinz Thorvald are names of an apocryphal Wehrmacht sniper allegedly killed by the Soviet sniper Vasily Zaytsev during the Battle of Stalingrad. König is mentioned both in Zaytsev's memoirs Notes of a Sniper and William Craig's 1973 non-fiction book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad.

Historical authenticity[edit]

Zaytsev's personal account is the only source for the story. No other historical documentation exists and no secondary source for the events in question exists. None of the Germans mentioned by Zaytsev including König, König's daughter, or the German prisoner of war who Zaytsev says identified König have ever been identified in other records.

Zaytsev said that the duel took place over a period of three days in the ruins of Stalingrad.[1]

The story of the Soviet discovery of König's arrival came from a German soldier who had been interrogated by the Soviet forces (as stated in Zaytsev's memoirs). Also Zaytsev claims in his memoir to have found the enemy sniper in a run-down industrial area, locating him under a sheet of scrap metal by the glint of his enemy's rifle scope. He then claims to have taken the scope as a souvenir.

In his own memoirs, Zaytsev refers to him as being a German sniper named Herr Koning (Koning is Dutch for King, cognate to König in German), identified as the head of a sniper school in Berlin, by documents taken from his dead body.[citation needed] This is unconfirmed as German Heer personnel records make no mention of any German sniper called König or Koning. It was also stated by Zaytsev that the existence of König came from an unidentified German prisoner.

At the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow there is a rifle scope that supposedly belonged to a Wehrmacht sniper called Erwin König.[2] In a post-war visit to Berlin, Zaytsev was allegedly confronted by a woman who told him she was König's daughter, with Soviet authorities quickly evacuating Zaytsev to avoid any confrontation.[3][citation needed]

In the Media[edit]

A Wehrmacht sniper operating near Stalingrad in September 1942

American author David L. Robbins used the name of Heinz Thorvald in his 1999 novel War of the Rats. This story portrays Thorvald (König) as an SS-Standartenführer who was originally an instructor at the Wehrmacht underground headquarters in Zossen. However, aside from a few staff officers, no SS-division fought in Stalingrad and no active sniper had such a high rank. German snipers were not employed in units but were deployed as Jägers. The Red Army, conversely, deployed snipers in large units up to battalion strength. Zaytsev was a Junior Lieutenant (мла́дший лейтена́нт) and eventually Captain (капита́н) of a Russian sniper-unit. (Photo shows German sniper using the Mauser 98k rifle with Russian PE scope mounted. This set-up was unusual, but local German Waffenmeisters (armorers) of infantry battalions did mount captured Russian optics to the standard German 98k.)

A fictionalized account of the duel in the film Enemy at the Gates portrays Erwin König as the head of the Wehrmacht Sniper School. He is played by Ed Harris and is sent to Stalingrad to take on the increasingly aggressive Soviet snipers. Initially he is successful, killing four of Zaytsev's partners, but eventually he is outwitted by the Russian. König is depicted in fictional accounts as a ruthless Bavarian aristocrat pitted against Zaytsev. In the end of the film, he is killed at the Stalingrad train yard by Zaytsev.


  1. ^ V. Zaitsev:Notes of a Russian Sniper
  2. ^ Image of purported telescopic sight at the Moscow Armed Forces Museum
  3. ^ "Vassili Zaitsev (Russian)". Retrieved 2009-04-29. 

External links[edit]