Vasily Zaitsev (sniper)

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Vasily Grigoryevich Zaytsev
Vasili Záitsev.jpg
Zaytsev in December 1942
Native name
Василий Григорьевич Зайцев
Born(1915-03-23)23 March 1915
Yeleninskoye, Orenburg Governorate, Russian Empire
(now Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russian Federation)
Died15 December 1991(1991-12-15) (aged 76)
Kiev, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union
Allegiance Soviet Union
Years of service1937–1945
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsHero of the Soviet Union

Vasily Grigoryevich Zaytsev (Russian: Васи́лий Григо́рьевич За́йцев, IPA: [vɐˈsʲilʲɪj ɡrʲɪˈɡorʲjɪvʲɪtɕ ˈzajtsɨf]; 23 March 1915 – 15 December 1991) was a Soviet sniper during World War II. Prior to 10 November 1942, he had killed 32 Axis soldiers with a standard-issue rifle,[1] however between 10 November 1942 and 17 December 1942 during the Battle of Stalingrad he killed 225 enemy soldiers, including 11 snipers.[1]

Zaytsev became a heroic figure during the war and later a Hero of the Soviet Union, and he remains lauded for his skills as a sniper. His life and military career have been the subject of several books and films: his exploits, as detailed in William Craig's 1973 Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad, would serve as the basis for the 2001 film Enemy at the Gates with Jude Law portraying Zaytsev. He also features in David L. Robbins's 1991 historical novel War of the Rats.

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 older 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, which at the time he was barely able to carry on his back.[citation needed]

He graduated from seven classes of junior high school. In 1930 he graduated from a construction college in the city of Magnitogorsk, where he received the speciality of a fitter. He graduated from accounting courses.

From 1937 he served in the Pacific Fleet, where he was enlisted as clerk of the artillery department. After studying at the Military School, he was appointed head of the financial part of the Pacific Fleet, in Transfiguration Bay. During his service, World War II broke out.

Military career[edit]

Zaytsev, left, in Stalingrad, December 1942

Zaytsev served in the Soviet Navy as a clerk in Vladivostok. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa, 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 assigned to the 1047th Rifle Regiment of the 284th "Tomsk" Rifle Division, which became part of the 62nd Army at Stalingrad on 17 September 1942.[3]

During Zaytsev's career as a sniper, he concealed himself in various locations – for example, on high ground, under rubble, or in water pipes. After a few kills, he changed his position. Together with his partner Nikolai Kulikov, Zaytsev exercised 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 a scout. This tactic, known as the "sixes", is still in use today and was implemented during the war in Chechnya.[4]

Zaytsev fought in the Battle of Stalingrad until January 1943, when a mortar attack injured his eyes. He was attended to by Vladimir Filatov, who is credited with having restored Zaytsev's sight. On 22 February 1943, Zaytsev was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. He returned to the front and finished the war at the Battle of 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 obtaining employment as an engineer. He rose to become the director of a textile factory in Kiev and remained in that city until he died on 15 December 1991 at the age of 76, eleven days before the 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 Mamayev Hill

On 31 January 2006, Vasily Zaytsev was reburied on Mamayev Hill in 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".[citation needed]

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]


A feature-length film, Enemy at the Gates (2001), starring Jude Law as Zaytsev, was based on part of William Craig's book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad (1973), which includes a "snipers' duel" between Zaytsev and a Wehrmacht sniper school director, Major Erwin König. Zaytsev indicates in his own memoirs that a three-day duel did occur and that the sniper he killed was the head of a sniper school near Berlin.[citation needed][6]


David L. Robbins's historical novel, War of the Rats (1991) includes a sniper duel in Stalingrad, but between Zaitsev and a German adversary named Colonel Heinz Thorvald, identified in the author's introduction as an actual combatant.[7] Ramón Rosanas wrote a comic about the conflict between Zaytsev and König.[8]

Awards and honors[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Biography: Vasily Zaytsev". Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia (in Russian).
  2. ^ "Vasily Zaytsev".
  3. ^ Sharp, Charles C. Sharp (1996). "Red Swarm". Soviet Rifle Divisions Formed From 1942 to 1945, Soviet Order of Battle World War II. X. p. 108.
  4. ^ "Prominent Russians: Military: Vasily Zaytsev". Russiapedia.
  5. ^ "Prominent Russians: Vasily Zaytsev". Russiapedia. 30 January 2014. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  6. ^ Beevor, Antony. "My favourite war movie – and the ones I can't bear".
  7. ^ Robbins, David L. (1991). War of the Rats. Bantam.
  8. ^ Jiménez, Jesús (19 August 2013). "Ramón Rosanas lleva al cómic al famoso francotirador ruso Vasili Záitsev". Corporación de Radio y Televisión Española (in Spanish). Retrieved 26 January 2019.

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]