Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Beautiful and Deadly: Or Why I Have a "History Crush" on a Russian Sniper


Okay, I admit, I like girls with guns. After all, you can take the boy out of Louisiana but you can't take Louisiana out of the boy. That disclaimer out of the way, I now have to make a confession. I have a "History Crush" on a 19 year old Russian sniper. Well, she wouldn't be 19 today, I guess. But that is beside the point. A history crush is when you think that a person from another historical era, be they male or female, is attractive. My wife, The Redhead, has a major one of Manfred von Richthofen. (But she is German, so that makes sense in a Teutonic sort of way.) I have a few history crushes, but only one will be the subject of today's post. She was as deadly as she was beautiful. Her Mosin Nagant rifle spread terror among enemies and she rightfully earned a place in the pantheon of World War Two heroes. And if I could go back in time and meet her, I'd certainly ask her out. (Assuming I was single, of course, and a bit younger myself!)

What actually got me thinking about this post was something I saw on Facebook. A person had posted a photo of, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who, with 309 kills, is credited as being history's deadliest female sniper. This person said that with the new American interest in snipers because of the movie, they thought that the picture might interest people. Apparently not. Many of the comments were incredible. They called the lady who posted the picture un-American, a communist sympathizer, a terrorist sympathizer, and a liberal. How dare she say that Chris Kyle was not the deadliest sniper in history! (A claim, by the way, that no one has ever made!) An American just has to be the best at everything! Even though we had no female snipers during World War Two, the comments bordered on insanity. I wonder if they would have said such things if it were a male sniper? It reminded me of when I posted an article on this blog about the Soviet contribution to winning World War Two. I received more hate mail and threats than I have received for all other blog posts combined. Seeing all that got me thinking about Russian snipers and, of course, I naturally thought about my girl Roza Shanina! (And since I do speak a little Russian, I think we'd get along!) Sadly, I think that Brian Williams already dated her. (sorry......couldn't resist!)

Now, I first need to mention a historical fact. Communism in theory sought to create a genderless and classless society (something which it kind of failed to do). However, this means that during World War Two, or the Great Patriotic War as they call it in Russia, women had more opportunities to serve than they did in the United States. All female units like the Night Witches flew planes in combat, women drove tanks, they served as medics and doctors, and they served as snipers. The Russians made widespread use of female snipers for a couple of reasons. First, on average women are smaller than men and so they can conceal themselves more easily. Second, Russians felt that women were more patient than men and as a sniper they would wait for a perfect shot rather than take a good shot. Given the number of very successful snipers of the female persuasion that they employed, maybe there is some truth to that. The United States had no women in front line combat units at the time and so it is often hard for Americans to understand the Russian's use of them. All I can say is that theirs was a different society. Also, most Americans know very little of the Russian role in World War Two other than what they learn in Call of Duty World at War. This is why people like Roza Shanina are often unknown in this country.
She was born into a relatively large Russian family and was one of six children. Three of her brothers would die during the war. After the German invasion, Roza would petition for permission to enlist in the army after learning of the death of her 19 year old brother. Permission was granted and eventually she was sent to the Central Female Sniper Academy. Yes, friends, the Russians ran a special sniper school just for women like Roza. She recorded her first kill somewhere around April 5, 1944, after which she said that her legs gave way and she collapsed. Her initial hesitancy soon passed and she routinely picked up German troops with no second thoughts or moral hang ups, at least none that she expressed. Roza picked up numerous accolades such as the Order of Glory. She was also featured in a newspaper article. Some of her kills were enemy snipers.
Roza kept a diary for much of her service and also, as required by the Red Army, she kept a detailed sniper log. A young lady who could kill Germans without a second thought, she also sang to her rifle while she cleaned it. Behind the lines she would organize volleyball tournaments between soldiers from different regiments. In her diary she talks of her fear that there won't be any men left alive for her to marry when the war was over and that the fighting put a damper on her dating life. The thing is, what she talked about throughout her diary isn't very different than what you would expect to find from any 19 year old young lady, other than the sniping that is. Roza was shot in the shoulder by a German sniper in December of 1944, but she was back in action a short time later. Not even an 8mm Mauser round could slow her down! Towards the end of her life, she confided in her diary "The essence of my happiness is fighting for the happiness of others. If it turns necessary to die for the greater happiness, then I'm braced for it." Speaking of happiness in the collective sense is a very Soviet thing to do!
In January of 1945, Roza's battalion was in heavy combat in East Prussia, losing all but six individuals in a short amount of time. Roza continued to increase her rate of kills as well. On January 27th, while under artillery fire, a male Russian officer was caught in an exposed area and severely wounded. As soon as the artillery lifted, Roza ran out to him and began to drag him back towards the Russian positions. When the shells started raining down again, without hesitation she used her body to shield his. She was grievously wounded in the chest by a shell fragment that nearly disemboweled her. She was still alive a short time later when two Russian soldiers were able to safely get to her. Despite emergency surgery, she succumbed to her wounds the following day. She died as she had lived, a true Russian hero with 59 confirmed kills to her credit.
Sadly there is a real lack of English language sources on not just Roza but in Russian female snipers in general. But that doesn't stop me from reading as much as I can from Russian websites. Over 800,000 women like Roza served in the Red Army during World War Two. The were snipers. They drove tanks. They flew combat aircraft. They were doctors. They were medics. But I only have a history crush on one of them, Roza Shanina. It is sad that throughout human history, so many young promising lives have been lost due to the insatiable desire of humans to make war on one another. There were many Rozas before and there will be, sadly, many more to come. So rest easy, Roza, safe in the arms of your comrades. Thank you for doing your part to rid the world of Fascism, even if people in the United States are slow to accept that. And know that if I had met you back then, I'd have totally asked you out.
My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian.

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