Lyudmila Mikhailivna Pavlichenko was the most successful woman sniper of World War Two. She was born in Bila Tserkva in the Ukraine, July 12th, 1916.
After moving to Kiev with her family at the age of 14, she became a metal grinder at the Kiev Arsenal factory. It was at the local shooting club that Pavlichenko realised she had a natural flare for shooting and she soon honed her skills to become a certified marksman.
When Nazi Germany invaded Russia during Operation Barbarossa in 1941 the 24 year old Pavlichenko was studying history at the Kiev University, she was one of the first volunteers at the recruiting office and she requested service in the infantry.
The recruitment officer looked bewilderingly at her, Lyudmila Pavlichenko was quite a beautiful young woman with stylish clothes and a trendy hairstyle, she told the recruiter that she wished to join an active infantry unit and to carry a rifle. The recruiter apparently gave her a warm hearted look and smiled saying that perhaps she should join the field nurse unit instead.
Pavlichenko then produced her marksman certificate along with the coveted Voroshilov Sharpshooter badge that she was awarded during regional rifle matches and with a submissive sigh the recruiter accepted her into the Red Army.
She was attached to the 54th Stephan Razin Rifles Regiment of the 25th Chapayev Rifle Division which was attached to the Maritime Army. There she was a private and was immediately attached to the regiments 2nd company sniper platoon.
Pavlichenko actually became one of 2,000 female snipers in the Red Army, as Russia utilized women in warfare with almost the same manner as they did men, this is something that never happened in the west and is unfamiliar to westerners.
Sadly, out of the 2,000 female snipers used by the Red Army in World War Two, only about 500 actually survived the war, the rest were killed during active duty in the fields of warfare.
Below is an old photo from World War Two, it depicts a dead female Russian sniper with her Mosin-Nagant rifle lying by her side. She was shot in the face by an exploding bullet, fired at her by a concealed German sniper.
Upon going over to inspect the body he ripped open her blouse to satisfy himself that it was indeed a woman sniper he had shot and killed. It is believed that his observer/spotter then took the photo.
Pavlichenko was equipped with a powerful M1891/30 Mosin-Nagant 7.62mm sniper rifle with a P.E four times magnification telescopic sight and conventional bullets...as far as can be ascertained.
It was a five shot bolt action rifle which fired a 148 grain bullet at around 2,800 feet per second, with an effective range of over 600 yards. Her first two kills were made near Belyayevka when her unit was ordered to defend a strategic hill. She worked with a spotter, and picked off two German soldiers who were walking though some woodlands.
For several months her unit was heavily involved in fierce fighting with the Germans in the Moldavia region until they made a retreat to the Dniester. Pavlichenko was also actively involved as a sniper in the defence of the port of Odessa in August 1941 where she recorded over 100 confirmed kills. It was during this time too that she was promoted to the rank of Senior Sergeant.
Below is pictured an actual 1891 Mosin-Nagant Model 30, bolt action rifle, very similar to the one that Pavlichenko used.
The Germans fought hard and gained control of the Odessa region and Pavlichenko who had been wounded several times was evacuated with her unit by the Black Sea submarine fleet and sent to Sevastopol on the besieged Crimean Peninsula. Below is shown an image of German soldiers during the battle of Sevastopol.
Pavlichenko fought on the front line near the besieged Imgarmansky Lighthouse in heavy sniper activity and was getting several kills every day, working closely with a spotter/observer 300 meters in front of her unit. She was constantly on the move, always changing her location and never giving her position away to the enemy.
The ability to stay still for hours and hours on end using natural cover with camouflage techniques along with the tenacity to move with great stealth are all part of the skills of being a successful sniper which Pavlichenko used to the greatest advantage.
During this time she had a battlefield promotion to the rank of Lieutenant and in May 1942 she was officially recognized by the Red Army as a hero of the Soviet Union after killing a further 200 German soldiers.
Pavlichenko officially confirmed kills amounted to a total of 309, this amazing figure also included 36 German snipers...one of whom had himself notched over 500 kills after she retrieved his detailed log book after killing him. She also killed many high ranking German Officers, everyone who she shot and killed knew nothing about it, as their deaths were so fast.
Generally she only went for head shots. Front of the head, back of the head, side of the head, it mattered not. Just as long as her accurate bullet whistled through the enemy soldiers grey matter.
Once Pavlichenko had you in her sights, then it was basically game over for you. She was literally a dead shot and very rarely ever missed her target. She had perfected her strategy and most of all her breathing and trigger pull to be perfect for the kill.
It is thought that her 'score' of 309 kills could have actually been much higher as all kills had to be confirmed by an independent witness before being recorded. Many times when Pavlichenko made a good kill there was not always someone around to keep count! With her apparent ease as a born natural sniper, I would guess that the figure is closer to 500 kills.
In June 1942, she was wounded for the fourth time when a mortar round exploded close to her position. When she recovered from her wounds, her officers decided to evacuate her from the combat area safely via submarine back to the mainland, this was partly due to ever growing popularity and publicity that surrounded her back home.
Unfortunately, the rest of her division didn't survive the battle of Sevastopol and sadly, her husband who also was also serving with the Red Army, was killed in the same siege.
A month later in July 1942, her regiment of The 25th Rifles was totally disbanded and its banners were ceremoniously sunk into the Black Sea and its remaining personnel were reassigned to other units.
Just to clear up a slight anomaly, Lyudmila Pavlichenko had indeed always used the Mosin Nagant bolt action rifle during her front line service but in pictures taken, many whilst she was an instructor, she is often shown posing with an SVT40 sniper rifle, seen below.
Maybe the Russian high command was publicising the weapon, along with Pavlichenko of course. The SVT40 was a good sniper weapon, it was self loading (semi-automatic) and used a box magazine.
In 1943 Pavlichenko was awarded the highly coveted Gold Star Of The Hero Of The Soviet Union and was awarded the higher rank of Major but never returned to fight the Germans, instead she was employed, probably for the better, using her skills to train new recruits at a sniper school, this she did until the end of the war.
She then finally finished her education at Kiev University and began a career as a historian. From 1945 to 1953, she was a research assistant of the Chief HQ of the Soviet Navy. She was later active in the Soviet Committee of The Veterans of War.
Pavlichenko also visited Canada and the U.S.A for both publicity and a public relations stunt for the Russians. She was the first ever Soviet citizen to be received by American President Franklin Roosevelt, who welcomed her at the White House in Washington D.C.
In Madison Square Garden, New York, she was presented with an engraved Colt 1911 pistol by Union leaders from Colt's factory in Hartford Connecticut.
Pavlichenko was also invited by the Presidents wife Eleanor to relay much of her brave and heroic experiences to the American public. When Pavlichenko visited Canada she was presented with an engraved Winchester Model 70 rifle fitted with Weaver telescopic sights, this rifle is on display at the Central Museum of Armed Forces in Moscow.
She visited a total of 43 Canadian cities along with a fellow sniper Vladimir Pchelintsev and presented many speeches, she was greeted by thousands of applauding fans at every place she visited. Pavlichenko died in 1974 at the age of only 58, and was buried in the Novodevichye Cemetery in Moscow with full military honors.
Lyudmila Mikhailivna Pavlichenko. July 12th 1916 - October 27th 1974
In 1976 a 334 foot long Soviet Ministry of Fisheries vessel was named Pavlichenko in her honor. Also in the same year the U.S.S.R issued a postage stamp to commemorate her and her amazing achievements during World War Two.
This web page serves as a tribute to this very brave and remarkable individual.
It may be interesting to note that all the combined and confirmed kills from top Russian and Ukrainian snipers, both men and women in World War Two amounts to a total of 14,568 recorded kills.
The unconfirmed amount may total twice that and be in excess of 30,000 kills for the Russian side alone. We may never know the exact amount but a calculated guess is that about 100,000 kills can be attributed to all the combined snipers in Word War Two. Of course female snipers were not just a peculiarity of World War Two, many armies around the world, including Russia, still use them today.
Women have a different metabolism than men, and this it thought to help them become good if not better snipers. Cool, temperament, controlled steady breathing and the ability to remain cool under pressure are vital attributes for a successful sniper and women fit the bill. Indeed this was proven in World War Two, as most of the best snipers were women. Of course there were some very adept men as well but is has been interesting to read about the ladies and not very nice ladies at that!
Page created June 19th 2009. Updated June 3rd 2013.