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Meet Lady Death - Deadliest Female Sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko During WWII

Updated: May 20, 2020

Young Lyudmila Pavlichenko was studying history at Kyiv University in early 1941, but shortly in, became one of the best snipers of all time. 309 confirmed kills and 36 of them were German snipers. Her score puts her within the top five snipers of all time, but her kills are most likely more considering confirmed kills have to be witnessed by a third party. Lyudmila Pavlichenko, one of the 2000 women who fought for the Red Army and one of the 500 who survived WWII.

Born in 1916 in a small town in Ukraine, Pavlichenko was described as an independent as well as an opinionated tomboy. By the age of 14, she worked as a metal grinder in a munitions factory in Kyiv. She participated in multiple athletic activated, sniper school and OSOAVIAKHIM, a paramilitary sporting organization with the aim to teach the youth weapon skills and etiquette.

“When a neighbor’s boy boasted of his exploits at a shooting range/.../ I set out to show that a girl could do as well. So I practiced a lot.” - Source; The Smithsonian.

Once Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, German troops poured into the Soviet Union and thus Pavlichenko applied to join the Soviet army but was quickly denied entry due to her gender.

"She looked like a model, with well-manicured nails, fashionable clothes, and hairstyle. Pavlichenko told the recruiter that she wanted to carry a rifle and fight. The man just laughed and asked her if she knew anything about rifles," Source;

Even with an OSOAVIAKHIM certificate on marksman and sharpshooter badge she was declined and urged to work as a nurse instead. Eventually, the Red Army allowed her to perform her abilities as a test. At first, with a shortage of weapons and supplies, Pavlichenko had to work with no rifle at all and just a frag grenade. One of her mutual soldiers became too injured to fight and thus got handed his Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifle. Two Romanian soldiers roaming around just a few hundred yards away from Pavlichenko’s position and thus she was given the all-clear to shoot, of which she did with ease. Even though the two kills were not counted in her final tally and just seen as mere "Trial shots", her comrades still regarded her as one of them now.

Finally, she was accepted into the Red Army's 25th Chapayev Rifle Division. Her first journey began in battle lines in Greece and Moldova where in her first 75 days at war she killed 187 Germans. But all did not go well all the time. A romantic liaison ended with her lover dying in her arms on the battlefront which caused her depression in her later years.

Later, she was promoted twice, first to Senior Sergeant as she reached 100 confirmed kills, second to Lieutenant when she reached 200 confirmed kills. Snipers' job at battles is often far from their companies due to the extreme danger. Pavlichenko was required to sit perfectly still for hours to avoid detection from enemy snipers. Soon, She became known in Odesa and Moldova due to her great work as a sniper and thus was moved to Crimea to fight the battles of Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula. Pavlichenko spent eight months fighting there, earned praise, and was promoted by the Red Army.

As she kept earning a higher rank of reputation, she was soon given more dangerous assignments such as one on one battle with snipers. 36 confirmed reputable snipers were then taken down soon after by her. As a well-known figure in the war, the protagonist in the Red Army's domestic propaganda and the scourge of the German soldiers all over the Eastern front. The German's atmosphere filled with talks about the dangerous Lyudmila Pavlichenko, now known as "Lady Death". The Germans attempted to bribe her over the loudspeakers by telling her that they would provide her with chocolate bars if she became a German officer. As charm did not work, The Germans began threatening her instead. 'If we catch you, we will tear you into 309 pieces and scatter them to the winds!'

Pavlichenko was wounded four times in a battle. Shrapnel to the face in June 1942 of which risked it to be the end of her time in combat. Soviet High Command saw Pavlichenko as too valuable to lose and thus ordered to evacuate her from Sevastapol by a submarine and immediately transported to a hospital, where she remained for a month to recover. Once she fully healed, she was given the task to drum up support for a second front in Europe to aid Russias fight against the Germans. In late 1942, she was given the task to tour Canada, Great Britain, and the USA for this task.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko, famous sniper, Mrs. Roosevelt & Justice Robert Jackson.

Becoming the first Soviet soldier to visit the White House, she met President Franklin Roosevelt and the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Pavlichenko was quickly disappointed at the US media due to their sexist questions and critical comments on how she was dressed. She was asked whether she wore makeup to battle as to which she responded, “There is no rule against it, but who has time to think of her shiny nose when a battle is going on?”.

Confused by the sexist talks, she told Time magazine; ‘I am amazed at the kind of questions put to me by the women press correspondents in Washington…I wear my uniform with honor. It has the Order of Lenin on it. It has been covered with blood in battle. It is plain to see that with American women what is important is whether they wear silk underwear under their uniforms. What the uniform stands for, they have yet to learn.’ Once she reached Chicago, Pavlichenko went on stage and goaded the men in the audience; ‘Gentlemen. I am 25-years-old and I have killed 309 fascist occupants by now. Don’t you think, gentlemen, that you have been hiding behind my back for too long?’ For a moment the crowd went silent which was soon replaced by loud cheers of support.

Pavlichenko was promoted to major and awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union and twice receiving the Order of Lenin. Even though her tour in the West did not achieve its goal of securing the second front in Europe, Pavlichenko returned home a hero and continued her work as a sniper instructor for the frontlines.

After WWII, Pavlichenko went back to finish her Master's at Kyiv University. She soon became immortalized as her story was told in films such as "Battle for Sevastopol" in Russia and "Indestructible" in Ukraine. 

Eleanor Roosevelt visited Pavlichenko in 1957. As the Cold War tensions rose, Roosevelt could visit Pavlichenko with a minder. Pavlichenko aged just 58 since she passed away due to a stroke. It is believed that the causation to the stroke was the suffering years of PTSD, depression, and alcoholism.

Miss Pavilichenko's well known to fame, Russia's your country, fighting is your game, The whole world will always love you for all time to come, Three hundred Nazis fell by your gun.'  ‘Miss Pavlichenko’ by American folk singer Woody Guthrie (1940s)





Image 1 Credit: Lyudmila Pavlichenko wears an officer's uniform in 1943.Wikimedia Commons

Image 2 Credit:

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