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File:Klavdiya Kalugina.jpg

Klavdiya Kalugina, one of the youngest Soviet female snipers (age 17 at the start of her military service in 1943)[1]

Snipers of the Soviet Union played an important role mainly on the Eastern Front of World War II, apart from other preceding and subsequent conflicts. In World War II, Soviet snipers used the 7.62x54R rifle cartridge with light, heavy, armour-piercing (B-30), armour-piercing-and-incendiary (B-32), zeroing-and-incendiary (P3), and tracer bullets. Most Soviet World War II snipers carried a combat load of 120 rifle cartridges in the field.[2] Unlike the militaries of other nations, these snipers could be men or women. In 1943, there were over 2,000 women functioning in this role.[3]


Soviet and Soviet-derived military doctrines include squad-level snipers, which may be called "sharpshooters" or "designated marksmen" in other doctrines (see the "Sniper" article). They do so because the long-range engagement ability was lost to ordinary troops when submachine guns (which are optimized for close-range, rapid-fire combat) were adopted.

File:Rubakho Soviet Sniper.jpg

The statue of Ph. J. Rubakho, a Soviet Marine sniper who killed more than 300 Axis soldiers and fell in 1943. This statue can be seen in the Russian Black Sea Fleet Museum, Sevastopol.

Soviet military doctrine used snipers for providing long-distance suppressive fire and for eliminating targets of opportunity, especially leaders, because during World War II, Soviet military leaders and combat theorists (Vassili Zaitsev contributed greatly to Soviet sniper doctrine, although he was officially neither of these) found that military organisations have difficulty replacing experienced non-commissioned officers and field officers during times of war. They also found that the more expensive and less rugged sniper rifles could match the cost-effectiveness of a cheaper assault rifle given good personnel selection, training, and adherence to doctrine. The Soviet Union also used women for sniping duties extensively, including Lyudmila Pavlichenko and Nina Lobkovskaya. The most successful Soviet use of snipers during the second world war were during their defensive stages of the war (1941–1943), after which the advantage of defense shifted to the German side and German snipers became a real danger to the advancing Soviets.

After the introduction of the SVD, the Soviet army deployed snipers at platoon level. Those snipers were often chosen from personnel who did well in terms of rifle marksmanship while members of DOSAAF. Such snipers were estimated to have a 50% probability of hitting a standing, man-sized target at 800 m (1/2 mile), and an 80% probability of hitting a standing, man-sized target at 500 m. For distances not exceeding 200 m the probability was estimated to be well above 90%. To attain this level of accuracy the sniper could not engage more than two such targets per minute.[4]


The three most common sniper rifles employed by the Soviet Union were the Mosin-Nagant, the Tokarev SVT-40, and later, the SVD; the first purpose built designated marksmen's rifle.

The sniper version of the Mosin-Nagant rifle was used before, during, and after World War II. It used the standard bolt action 1891/30 infantry rifle as a platform, though rifles destined for conversion were hand-selected for quality and accuracy. Four-power scopes were added, and came in two versions. The PE scope was a copy of a German Zeiss scope, manufactured by Emil Busch AG. The PEM model was later introduced as a more reliable, easier to produce scope. The second version of the Mosin-Nagant sniper rifle, known as the PU, began production late in 1942. This rifle included a simpler scope design, which was incorporated from the short-lived SVT-40, and was far easier to mass-produce. To this day, it remains the most widely produced and longest serving sniper rifle in the world, and remained the Soviet Union's main sniper rifle until it was superseded in 1962 by the semi-automatic SVD Dragunov rifle.

The Tokarev SVT-40 was another Soviet sniper rifle used in World War II. Designed as a replacement to the Mosin-Nagant PE/PEM sniper rifles, the SVT-40 was a semi-automatic rifle chambered for the same 7.62x54R ammunition as the Mosin-Nagant. However, due to several problems, including accuracy issues and muzzle flash, as well as being complex and slow to manufacture, production ceased, and work began on developing the aforementioned PU version of the Mosin-Nagant.[5]

The SVD, or Snaiperskaya Vintovka Dragunova (Dragunov sniper rifle), was the Soviet Union's answer to requests for an updated sniper weapon. Though issued as early as 1958, the SVD was officially adopted by the Soviet Military in 1963. The rifle retained the use of the same 7.62x54R ammunition, but is a semi-automatic gas-operated rifle with a detachable 10-round box-style magazine. The SVD continues to be the standard sniper rifle of several countries, including those of the former Warsaw Pact.[6]

In popular culture

  • A Hollywood film called Enemy at the Gates was made about Vasily Zaitsev, a Soviet sniper who fought in the Battle of Stalingrad. The plot of the movie is based on a section in the eponymous book by William Craig which fictionalizes an alleged duel between Zaitsev and a maybe fictional German sniper called Major König.
  • The role of a Soviet sniper is also portrayed in the game Call of Duty: World at War which contains scenes directly taken from Enemy at the Gates. On one of the maps, an injured sniper, Viktor Reznov (who gives the player "Dimitri Petrenko" the job of sniping) runs around to tempt German snipers into opening fire, revealing their position and allowing the player to snipe them.
  • In Tom Clancy's novel The Bear and the Dragon, a veteran World War II Soviet sniper Pavel Petrovich Gogol, late of the Iron & Steel Division, uses his Mosin-Nagant rifle to kill a Chinese general during a Chinese invasion of Siberia at a range of 900 meters—well within the capabilities of the Mosin Nagant.
  • In David L. Robbins novel War of the Rats, the lead character, Vasily Zaitsev, is a Soviet Sniper in World War II.
  • James Riordan's novel The Sniper tells the story of Tania Chernova and is based on Riordan's interviews with the subject.[7]
  • Four Steps to Death, a book written by John Wilson, portrays a Soviet sniper, Yelena Pavlova, as a main character in the Battle of Stalingrad


  1. (Russian)"Kalugina Klavdiya Yefremovna". Retrieved 2011-01-10. 
  2. (Russian)"Snayperskaya vintovka obraztsa 1891/1930". Retrieved 2007-09-29. 
  3. (Russian)"Snaypery VOV". Retrieved 2007-09-29. 
  4. Isby, David C. (1981). Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army. Jane's Information Group. ISBN 0-531-03732-0. 
  6. Dragunov Sniper Rifle
  7. Riordan, James. The Sniper. Frances Lincoln, 2008. ISBN 978-1-84507-885-0

External links

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