The Soviets Won A Hard-Fought Victory At Stalingrad, But There Was No Famous Sniper Duel

Michael Peck

Key point: Heroic acts can galvanize others to action.

In the blazing ruins of Stalingrad, where men hunted men with such savagery that even the dogs fled howling into the night, occurred the greatest sniper duel in history.

Too bad it’s more myth than history.

On one side was Vasily Zaitsev, the Soviet army’s deadliest sniper, with some 400 kills. On the other was one “Major Konig,” the head of the German army’s sniper school in Berlin, whom the Nazi high command had dispatched to Stalingrad to hunt down Zaitsev. They met on a fateful afternoon—two marksmen stalking each other on the battlefield. Only Zaitsev survived. Or so the popular retelling would have you believe.

This epic contest between two supersnipers has been immortalized in numerous books and most famously in the 2001 movie Enemy at the Gates. In his autobiography Notes of a Russian Sniper, Zaitsev himself describes how he carefully studied the battlefield until he deduced that Konig was hidden under a sheet of iron surrounded by a small pile of bricks, in the no-man’s-land between the German and Soviet lines.

Mindful that Konig had already picked off several of his fellow snipers, Zaitsev baited a trap with his friend Kulikov.

Kulikov fires off a blind shot. We have to arouse the sniper’s interest. We decide to sit out the first half of the day; light reflecting from the scopes could give us away. In the afternoon our rifles are in the shade while the direct light of the sun falls upon the German’s position.

 

Something sparkles by the edge of the sheet. Is this a piece of glass that just happens to be there, or is the telescopic sight of a sniper’s rifle? Very carefully, as only the most experienced sniper would do, Kulikov starts to raise a helmet. The German fires. Kulikov raises himself for a brief moment, shouts loudly and falls.

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