Lyudmila Mykhailivna Pavlichenko was born in the Soviet Union during the middle of World War One, on July 12 1916. At the age of fourteen along with her family she moved to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine and it was here whilst working in an arsenal factory as a grinder, that she developed a keen interest in shooting. Credited with 309 confirmed kills Pavlichenko went on to be the World’s most prolific female sniper until her death in 1974.
In 1941, whilst studying as a history student at Kiev University her fourth year was interrupted by the invasion of her homeland by Germany, she quickly rushed along with the rest of her class to join the military.
The recruiter could not believe his eyes and ears when this young 24-year old model lookalike in smart clothes, perfect hairdo and freshly painted nails declared she wanted to be given a rifle to fight. She was offered a place as a Nurse but quickly she refused this and pulled out her sharp shooting certificate and badge in the recruiting office.
Lyudmila Pavlichenko had been trained as a member of a society that taught non-military members in military tactics, to one day help defend the motherland, these lessons were age ranged from fourteen upwards, she quoted this to help persuade her acceptance. At this time women were not yet accepted in the army but she persevered and had to prove her skill with the rifle was as she had claimed.
A Red Army unit held an impromptu audition for her at a hillside they were defending. She was handed an SVT-40 rifle and pointed in the direction of two Romanian soldiers fighting against them amongst the German opposition. Pavlichenko shot them both dead and was promptly accepted – but, because she classed these two kills as a test she did not include them in her tally!
A total of 2,000 females would eventually join the Red Army as snipers, 500 would survive the war and many were taught by Pavlichenko.
The recruiter enlisted her and the now Private Lyudmila Pavlichenko was assigned to the Sniper Platoon of Second Company, the 54th Rifles Regiment of the 25th Rifle Division, as a Red Army Sharpshooter.
It was not all plain sailing however and Private Pavlichenko’s first taste of action did not go well. Finding herself in close proximity to the enemy she froze with fright, unable to use her rifle – that was until a bullet shattered the head of the young soviet soldier lying right next to her. She had befriended the nice boy and was emboldened to action and after that she had no problem shooting her enemies!
Later that day when out stalking the same area she got the first of her kills. She was part of a unit defending a strategic hill during a battle, it was now August 1941. Two German scouts were out on reconnaissance when Pavlichenko shot them both. She was armed with a Mosin-Nagent 1891/30 model sniper rifle and P.E. 4x power scope and she was now working with a spotter. The tally had now started and the young sniper found herself racking them up fast over two and a half months of continuous fighting around the Odessa and Moldavia region.
This rifle was to become her favoured weapon and she would use it for the remainder of her war. The 1891/30 Mosin–Nagant bolt action rifle had become Russia’s standard sniper rifle, it weighed approx nine pounds, fired a 7.62x 54R round accurately out to a distance of 600 yards, was fitted with a magazine and fed with a five-round clip. The rifle used German mounts and telescopic sights early on until Germany turned on Russia, after that it made its own domestic sights.
Before long though, the 54th Rifles Regiment had to move on because of German and Romanian territorial advances. In all, before being pulled out after the Germans had gained control of Odessa, she tallied 187 kills, which included 100 officers. This ties in with an earlier article, in which I wrote about destroying the command element of the opposition being high up the priority list of a sniper. And yes, that’s 187 confirmed kills in about ten weeks!
Next stop, the Crimean Peninsula and Sevastopol, where the fighting was so hard she said “We mowed them down like grain!”
The 54th were withdrawn from Odessa and landed at Sevastopol in the Crimea, where Pavlichenko was to fight for over eight hard months, again badly outnumbered by the German forces.
As her kill count rose sharply, she tended to take on more dangerous operations, including the riskiest of all, counter sniping. Pavlichenko would go hunting for enemy snipers and she took greater risk by going it alone, or she would hunt for hours with her friend Leonid, who had joined the Division at the same time as her.
One of the qualities of a sniper is enduring patience and she showed it in abundance on many occasions, lying for hours from dawn until dusk waiting for the opportunity to shoot down an enemy. Often duelling with enemy snipers for hours, day and night, it was a testament to her skill that she never lost one encounter and in her time notched up 36 “sniper on sniper” kills. On one occasion the duel lasted for three days, with neither sniper letting up, until the German made a mistake, for him it was to be his last. It is unproven but believed that the enemy sniper was one of Germany’s most decorated. She spoke of the sniper qualities after her ordeal, noting it was the most tense she had ever been!
Sometime in May 1942 the War Council cited Pavlichenko for killing 257 of the enemy. By this time she had been promoted to Sergeant and was well known to both sides. When she received the citation she promised to kill even more!
Pavlichenko: “The Man Killer”
During a stalk Leonid and Pavlichenko had been spotted after being bombarded by mortar fire, a favoured trick of dealing with unseen snipers as a way of getting them to move. Leonid was badly wounded and the courageous Sergeant evacuated him from the battlefield. Unfortunately Leonid died of his wounds; Pavlichenko was furious and from then on showed even greater determination for killing as many of the enemy as she could in revenge.
This resilient female sniper was wounded on four occasions, had suffered from shell-shock, was hit in the face by shrapnel and even took over command by replacing the Battalion Commander who had been killed. Although wounded herself, she refused to leave the battlefield until she was bombed out of her position.
The German’s desperately wanted to kill her, knowing the huge effect her death would have on the morale of both sides. “They would try and bribe me with promises of chocolate and becoming an officer of the Reich” she said.
During the fierce fighting in June 1942 Pavlichenko was wounded in a mortar blast and, because of her growing status, the Russians promoted her to Junior Lieutenant and pulled her from combat. In all she had a tally of 309 kills to her name, a fact recognised by the Germans who, when the bribes failed, promised to tear her to 309 pieces! She had become a heroic role model and had to be saved, so was taken out by submarine from Sevastopol. Her fighting war was over.
With a total of 309 confirmed kills Lyudmila Pavlichenko was sent back to become an instructor and to train future snipers until the end of the war. Less than a month after leaving Sevastopol, Pavlichenko became the first Soviet citizen to be received by the President in The White House, on a bond raising tour of Canada, America and Great Britain.
On the 25th of October 1943 she became a ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’, and was promoted Major.
After the war she returned to her studies and started her career as a historian, including working for HQ Soviet Navy
Pavlichenko died on October 10th, 1974 at the age of 58 and is buried in Moscow.
“The only feeling I have is the great satisfaction a hunter feels who has killed a beast of prey.”