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Maybe you remember the Sniper Duell from the Movie "Enemy at the Gates" There the russian sniper Vasilly Zaitsev was hunted in Stalingrad by the german sniper Major König and Zaitsev finally got the elite german sniper. It was always said that this duell took really place. But now I read that after some new researches this duell was pure Soviet propaganda. Can someone confirm this?

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Zaitsev existed, his grave is in Kiev. He survived the war and his recollections include a duel with a German sniper Soviet intelligence later identified as a Major Koenig. It is of course possible Soviet propaganda invented the duel. On the whole I expect not; I can imagine Soviet propaganda trying to pin Katyn Forest on the Germans, but a huge effort just to expand the reputation of a single rifleman? Not very Soviet, that.

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The "duel" as written in the book, "Enemy at the Gates" is much less cinematic. From memory:

(i) Zaitsev and a second sniper go to an area that has reported a lot of sniper hits.

(ii) the wait...and wait...and wait...figuring that there's only one or two places he could be hiding.

(iii) eventually, the second guy puts himself at risk to draw fire - the German sniper gives away his position and they bag him.

It all sounds realistic enough - sniper duty is the epitome of hours of waiting punctuated by brief moments of terror.

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Where is a book written by V. Zaitsev, "Where is no land for us beyound Volga. The notes of sniper".

In this book, he described this duel with great details.

Also, this duel is mentioned in other soviet memoires, like Chuikov's "The battle of century".

Most of this books available in the internet online (in russian)

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Something like the results of a sniper duel is very hard to confirm. The ACTUAL results of a sniper duel, when the winning sniper is a national icon, is impossible to confirm.

Does that mean that it is fiction? No, just that, to rely on something published in Soviet Union is a mistake. But to believe in something published in Hollywood is idiocy!

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Originally posted by rum:

Where is a book written by V. Zaitsev, "Where is no land for us beyound Volga. The notes of sniper".

In this book, he described this duel with great details.

Most of this books available in the internet online (in russian)

I held a copy of this book, in English, just today. A friend ordered it in; big print and some so-so pictures, but maybe I'll get to borrow it from him some day.
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Nevermind whatever happenned in sniper deuls in Stalingrad one thing is for sure, what is depicted in the film is fictional, though somewhat based upon the general circumstances of their pre-eminance in the Rattenkrieg. It was screened so that both it was cinematic, providing a close enough final confrontation with meaningful close up pics and IMHO in a metaphorical way. (The over-confident German sniper school chief coming out of cover and over stepping his bounds and getting wacked for it, just like both the 6th Armee was going to be and the Wehrmacht as a whole would also get it for the most part on the Ostfront.) ;)

[ September 09, 2005, 11:27 PM: Message edited by: Zalgiris 1410 ]

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  • 2 weeks later...

The whole idea of a sniper duel seems idiotic. The fighting around Stalingrad was in an area of many square miles, and the Russian and German forces engaged each were taking hundreds of casualties each day. Would either the Germans or the Russians even notice that a single rifleman of the other army was responsible for less than one percent of their losses? If a company sized unit took three or four dead in a short time period, they'd certainly know something was wrong, but how would anyone connect those deaths with a similar string of losses two days later and perhaps a few miles away?

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In response to MOS... countering enemy snipers is a major part of a sniper's job description.

It's not so much how many they kill, it's who they kill and when they do it. High-value targets - officers, messengers, artillery observers, gun crews. How would the attacker feel if right in the middle of the charge snipers knock out their firebase providing covering fire? Plus, constantly "feeling" enemy crosshairs on your forehead has a very detrimental morale effect.

According to memoirs, the standard indication of a sniper's presence is the increase in the rate of fatal head and neck wounds from rifle bullets, especially in a position of relatively good cover (like trenches). In fact, static front lines (like in Stalingrad) are where the sniper shines - partly because there's not much else going on, but mostly because it takes time and effort to prepare a concealed position, and persistence to lie and wait for a worthy target. And all this - for a sigle shot, rarely two - more, and the sniper is really pushing their luck.

And as the most effective anti-sniper weapon is another sniper, sniper duels (or hunts - who said it has to be a fair one-on-one fight) seem to be pretty common throughout the war - at least in the words of those good or lucky enough to live to tell...

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No, it is not who or when. They shoot the most exposed targets, at whatever time they can hit them with the greatest safety. They aren't trying to affect the outcome of a tactical fight at all. They aren't even in the loop on that, they have no idea what is wanted or when and could care less. They are effective precisely because they avoid any such exposure. They hit sentries standing around doing nothing in quiet parts of the front, men out washing their clothes or taking a leak. Anybody with his guard down, anybody out of cover.

And no, snipers aren't the best weapon against other snipers. It is a collosal waste of a sniper's talents to hunt a man who is deliberately hiding. Armies are crowds of hundreds of thousands of men, and snipers only need a few at a time, and want the most exposed of them. Which is not a trained stealth expert with nothing to do but hide, it is a somebody busy with a job that can't wait, thinking about something else. What tends to kill snipers is arty fire completely randomly - the biggest killer and wounder of anybody at the front, anyways - and occasionally, large changes in the front line that leave one cut off or overrun him with a large scale attack he can't get out of the way of. (It isn't his job to stop one, or even to help try).

Snipers are cold blooded murderers from hiding. They shoot unsuspecting men in the back (loosely speaking), that is their trade. In war, that is useful. It is precisely the fact they do not care about anything else, that the focus entirely on cherry picking the vulnerable, the clean shot, from the perfectly safe position, that lets them do it repeatedly and makes them effective. Enough of them, good at their jobs, can install fear and caution in the enemy, and they readily take out far more men than they lose, making them highly effective weapons.

But there isn't an ounce of chivalry in what they do. Not a scrap. There isn't any aspect of their prowess which fits civilian ideals, or even those of most soldiers. They are respected by soldiers for their skills, the difficulty of their craft, and its overall usefulness to the cause. But they are not part of a team, they do not die for their buddies, they do not risk themselves at all if they can help it. Of course they require great bravery acting largely alone etc, but the point is precisely *not* to run risks, but to exploit those the other guy has to run in order to function, while taking as few as possible themselves.

Because those real attributes are less than heroic in some classical dramatic sense, they are tarted up by journalists, writers, and hollywood types. The tarting up requires elements from the eternals of dramatic honor - willing risk of life, devotion to others, prowess and cleverness, equal risks, acceptance of fate. Which are almost completely balderdash, and certainly are as somehow applying more to a sniper than to a machinegunner. They get the treatment anyway, because said journalists, writers, and hollywood types are looking for *individuals* in order to personalize war, which is too remote and monstrous for civies to relate to, when taken straight.

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Sorry, Jason, I have to disagree on some of the points you make, or at least to argue that there were enough cases where your reasoning doesn't quite apply.

Granted, I wasn't in the WWII trenches, nor do I personally know any snipers from that time, but I suspect you weren't and don't, either.

My information is mostly from 70's Soviet memoirs - Cold War era, but a period cautiously characterized as a relative "thaw". It is also the period that saw the publication of very earnest and gritty (by Soviet standards, of course) recollections of the war. For snipers in particular, they were written by the surviving soldiers themselves (probably with ghost writer cooperation, but I doubt they will appoint a dedicated lying weasel of a spinmaster for a female sergeant that nobody really remembers).

As with any wartime memoirs, there are inherent biases in their accounts - some probably inexcusable, some at least understandable - such as remembering the more memorable stuff. However, I doubt there was outright lying, and I doubt there was great exaggeration in their accounts, either.

The picture they paint, though, is quite different from "get the highest body count the fastest way possible" approach. In fact, they often use it as a negative example. Zaitsev in his memoirs spends some time on the court-martial (or at least the Party Committee's grilling, my memory's not that clear) of a sniper that during a fight went for the easy pickings of enemy soldiers ignoring the machinegun nest he was ordered to destroy (as a result of which the Soviets suffered "unnecessary casualties"). A female sniper described as her most embarrassing experience the reprimand she got when on their first assgnment her and her teammate shot two foot soldiers after waiting unsucessfully all day for an enemy sniper (their target) to show himself. Starting their "personal body count" was deemed poor compensation for alerting the enemy to the presence of their own snipers in their sector.

They also describe long and careful preparation of firing positions, and lying in wait for hours. Now, it really would be a waste of that effort to just shoot the first one to saunter by. Because no matter how good the position, a shot can give you away, two - almost certainly. So all memoirs I've read mention waiting for high value targets. Now, if nothing came by, at the end of the day they might shoot a grunt, since they seldom mention using the same position two days in a row.

I'm not saying that "shoot the first in sight" didn't happen - but I have the impression this approach was strongly discouraged, and chances are, snipers that practiced it got killed fairly soon - by another sniper, more patient and selective.

Which leads me to another contention of yours - that "It is a collosal waste of a sniper's talents to hunt a man who is deliberately hiding". Don't you think that a sniper's training in patience, observation and concealment make them uniquely qualified to ferret out a hiding target (to quote - probably inaccurately - "Fahrenheit 451", "To learn to find you must first learn to hide")? And to borrow your own reasoning about average effectiveness of weapons systems, isn't any specialized soldier that manages to take out a similarly specialized enemy soldier, in fact, "above average effective" combat system? After all, you remove not only a single person, but all the damage he/she could have done to your side.

Now, to get to a more widely familiar ground, let's replace "sniper" and "man who is deliberately hiding" with "tanks", we have something that suspiciously resembles an official armor doctrine of the time. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that didn't quite work out, now, did it?

Incidentally, most deaths of sniper comrades in those memoirs are attributed to enemy snipers, the second most frequent being the mortaring of discovered sniper positions.

To recapitulate, it is my impression (with all possible caveats) that the descriptions of sniper hunts and duels (and not all sucessful) at least on the Eastern Front are simply too prevalent, come from too many independent sources (many of them quite unassuming and, at least to me, earnest), and are supported by fairly defensible battlefield logic (which, of course, you are free to question and argue against) to be summarily dismissed as pure fantasy and propaganda.

I'd like to point out that that neither me in my post nor most of the memoirs I've read claim the sniper's craft is particularly noble and squeaky-clean - so I see no argument there. Now, the memoirs, of course, talk about the nobility of defending the Motherland (and the Socialist ideals), but nowhere do they claim they alone won the war or were superior to other miltary arms. They talk of simply doing their duty, of mastering a deadly craft. Real Bond-like, actually: "Not particularly proud of what I do, but I take pride in doing it well". Especially in the memoirs of female snipers, the claim (almost to the point of a universal cliché) is that hate (hardly a noble emotion) drove them to kill people whose faces they could clearly see in their scopes - something totally contrary to their "nursing female nature".

Another point I think I made prominently in my post is that snipers are at their most effective in static front situations (which seem to cover your "quiet parts of the front"). What I should have also mentioned is that while they are probably less effective in active combat, they still seem to have sufficient value to warrant their inclusion especially in trying to stop attacks. In fact, Zaitsev's carreer as a sniper ended precisely in such a situation - but not because of wrong orders, but because in violation of all rules he rushed to take prisoners and was caught in an mortar barrage.

All of the above, though, is probably more applicable to a "classic" war, not an "insurgency" type campaign. In the latter situation your logic does have significant merit. But, then, it would probably apply to any guerilla fighter, not to snipers in particular. And we are talking about a classic war, aren't we?

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I enjoyed "Enemy at the Gates." It is a great story, especially the scene where Krushchev tells the army leader in no uncertain terms to hold the bridge at all costs. There was an enjoyable scene in "Saving Private Ryan" where the American sniper got the Kraut when they both spotted the other almost simaltaneously.

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Straw man alert - I never said a thing about fastest anything. I said they take the safest shot at exposed anybody. They are not in any rush at all. High value targets are highlight reels. If you think they let people alone who weren't high enough value, read about the receiving end. It's horsefeathers.

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I guess the average sniper's daily life at the front was much more prosaic than the events described in those famous-sniper-guy-(auto)biographies. These are written for people with a special interest in military "action", probably much like a Tom Clancy book or the like.

I once read a book by a german publicist and pacifist (Wellershoff, Dieter: "Der Ernstfall"; sehr zu empfehlen) who recalled his youth. As a young man, he volunteered for military service in 1944 (out of patriotism, but also to avoid being drafted) and, with help of his father, a Luftwaffe officer, became part of the Hermann Göring ground forces. He thought that being part of an "elite" unit would increase his chances of survival, but didn't want to enlist in the SS, about which eerie rumours were afloat.

After a while of training, parts of the division were moved to italy, others, among them Wellershoff, to prussia. There his company was ordered to defend the "Ostpreussenschutzstellung II" (~"East Prussia defence emplacement II"). Wellershoff and his platoon had to move into a very exposed position in front of the main line for two weeks. There, and here finally is the link to the thread topic, the group came under frequent sniper fire. The men who were shot at were not officers or specialised technicians, but just those who were sent to fetch food or had to go pee- the enemy sniper would pick any target he had the opportunity to hit, then wait a few days until the german soldiers were less careful again.

Finally, a sniper was assigned to Wellershoff's group, not necessarily to fight the enemy sniper (though that was also intended), but most of all to kill some russians in return.

This was a static front line situation in a rural environment, in Stalingrad it might have been different. Yet i consider Wellershoff's book a great description of what war is like for the individual- he is an excellent writer and knows the human mind, and he has no interest at all to euphemize or heroize anything he describes, which makes the book even more believable and impressive; its focus not being on "action".

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"But there isn't an ounce of chivalry in what they do."

Admit it, chivalry was a fiction even DURING the age of chivalry! If you look at their job descriptions the same can go for fighter pilots and bomber crews and horse cavalry and... pretty well anyone whos job is to kill strangers for his political masters. Should I be MORE upset by reports of Marine snipers shooting ambulance drivers in Fallugha than with reports of anybody else kiling anybody else anywhere else for equally obscure reasons?

One hellluva hobby we got here. Nature of the beast I guess.

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I have to agree with Foreigner for the most part here in this descussion because he has employed some well documented and based analysis while as usual JasonC has just merely expressed his opinions without providing any sources on which to back up what his doing all that typing for!

JasonC you got torn to shreads this time by Foreigner and I strongly suggest that you ought to fagging bloody stop your posting until you can do so in a constructively informed fasion, what you post is often insightful, but however I am now thoroughly sick and tired of having to assume that it has gotta be complete and utter nonsense because you have probably just made it all up for all we bloody know.

BTW how's your RSI?

[ September 24, 2005, 08:23 AM: Message edited by: Zalgiris 1410 ]

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