Many called her Lady Death. To Adolf Hitler's men, she was "the Russian bitch from hell." Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who was born on this day, is the most successful female sniper in history, having killed 309 German soldiers during the Second World War.
Born near Kiev in the Ukraine, Pavlichenko worked as a metal grinder in a munitions factory. While doing that, she joined a paramilitary youth sport group that taught weapons skills and etiquette. After a neighbour’s son boasted of his shooting ability Pavlichenko “set out to show a girl could do as well. So I practised a lot.”
Later, she studied history at Kiev University, where she competed as a sprinter and pole vaulter and trained at a sniper’s school.
When Hitler sent German troops and Romanian allies into the Soviet Union in June, 1941 Pavlichenko volunteered for the Red Army and was intent on becoming a sniper.
They wanted her to become a nurse instead, but relented when she passed an impromptu "audition". At a hill near Odessa that the Russians were defending, Pavlichenko was handed a rifle with a telescopic sight and told to shoot at two distant Romanians who were collaborating with the Germans.
“When I picked off the two, I was accepted,” she said.
Pavlichenko was briefly paralysed by fear on her first day on the battlefield, unable to raise her weapon until a young Russian soldier beside her was shot dead. “He was such a nice, happy boy,” she recalled. “And he was killed just next to me. After that, nothing could stop me.”
Pavlichenko operated for about two and a half months near Odessa where she recorded 187 kills. Her unit was then sent to Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula where she fought for more than eight months.
One of 2,000 female snipers in the Red Army, Pavlichenko's total of confirmed kills was 309, including 36 enemy snipers.
At one stage, the Germans, who had labelled her as "the Russian bitch from hell," were so desperate to stop her that they blared radio messages: “Lyudmila Pavlichenko, come over to us. We will give you plenty of chocolate and make you a German officer.”
In June 1942, Pavlichenko was wounded and because of her growing status, withdrawn from combat. She was sent to America to enlist support for a “second front” in Europe, to divide German forces and relieve pressure on Soviet troops.
Visiting President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Pavlichenko was the first Soviet citizen welcomed at the White House. She was then invited to go on a tour of 43 cities to tell Americans of her experiences as a woman in combat.
In Chicago she told a large crowd: "I am 25 years old and I have killed 309 fascists. Gentlemen, don't you think that you have been hiding behind my back for too long?"
Asked how she felt about killing, Pavlichenko said: “Every German who remains alive will kill women, children and old folks. Dead Germans are harmless. Therefore, if I kill a German, I am saving lives.”
After the war she completed her education as a historian at Kiev University and became a research assistant for the Soviet navy. She died in 1974, aged 58.
Published: June 13, 2018