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Erwin König and Heinz Thorvald are names of an apocryphal Wehrmacht sniper allegedly killed by the Soviet sniper Vassili Zaitsev during the Battle of Stalingrad. König is mentioned both in Zaitsev's memoirs Notes of a Sniper and William Craig's 1973 non-fiction book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad.

Historical authenticity

Zaitsev's personal account is the only source for the story. No other historical documentation exists and no second source for the events in question exists. None of the Germans mentioned by Zaitsev including Koning, Koning's daughter or the German prisoner of war who Zaitsev says identified Koning have ever been identified in other records.

Zaitsev said that the duel took place over a period of three days in the ruins of Stalingrad.[1]

The story of the Soviet discovery of König's arrival came from a German soldier who had been interrogated by the Soviet forces (as stated in Zaitsev's memoirs). Also Zaitsev claims in his memoir to have found the enemy sniper in a run-down industrial area, finding him under a sheet of scrap metal by the glint of his enemy's rifle scope. He then claims to have taken the scope as a souvenir.

In his own memoirs, Zaitsev refers to him as being a German sniper named Herr Koning (Koning is Dutch for King, cognate to König in German), identified as the head of a sniper school in Berlin, by documents taken from his dead body.[citation needed] This is unconfirmed as German Heer personnel records make no mention of any German sniper called König or Koning. It was also stated by Zaitsev (see source for spelling)[2] that the existence of König came from an unidentified German prisoner.

At the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow there is a rifle scope that supposedly belonged to a Wehrmacht sniper called Erwin König.[3] In a post-war visit to Berlin, Zaitsev was allegedly confronted by a woman who told him she was König's daughter, with Soviet authorities quickly evacuating Zaitsev to avoid any confrontation.[4]

Fictional versions

A Wehrmacht sniper operating near Stalingrad in September 1942.

A fictionalized account of the duel in the movie Enemy at the Gates portrays Erwin König as the head of the Wehrmacht Sniper School. He is played by Ed Harris and is sent to Stalingrad to take on the increasingly aggressive Soviet snipers. Initially he is successful, killing four of Vasily's partners, but eventually he is outwitted by the Russian. König is depicted in fictional accounts as a ruthless Bavarian aristocrat pitted against Zaitsev. In the fictionalised account of these events in the film Enemy at the Gates, he is killed at the Stalingrad train yard by Zaitsev.

American author David L. Robbins used the name of Heinz Thorvald in his 1999 novel War of the Rats. This story portrays Thorvald (König) as an SS-Standartenführer who was originally an instructor at the Wehrmacht underground headquarters in Zossen. However, aside from a few staff officers, no SS-division fought in Stalingrad and no active sniper had such a high rank. German snipers were not employed in units but were deployed as Jägers. The Red Army, conversely, deployed snipers in large units up to battalion strength. Zaitsev was a Junior Lieutenant (мла́дший лейтена́нт) and eventually Captain (капита́н) of a Russian sniper-unit. (Photo shows German sniper using the Mauser 98k rifle with Russian PE scope mounted. This set-up was unusual but local German Waffenmeisters (amorers) of infantry battalions, did mount captured Russian optics to the standard German 98k.)


  1. V. Zaitsev:Notes of a Russian Sniper
  2. V. Zaitsev:Notes of a Russian Sniper
  3. Image of purported telescopic sight at the Moscow Armed Forces Museum
  4. "Vassili Zaitsev (Russian)". Retrieved 2009-04-29. 

Erwin Konig at Sniper Central

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