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Posted August 5, 2011
The real Vassili Zaitsev had a few similarities to the character Jude Law played in the movie. The real Vassili was modest and self-effacing, and he could shoot, very accurately, at great distances, with or without telescopic sites. He was able to maintain his concentration while under fire, with large caliber machine gun bullets whizzing past him, a few inches over his head. Lots of people can shoot on a rifle range, when they have all the time in the world and not too many distractions. A military sniper has to be able to keep his cool and maintain accurate fire while he is being targeted, and Zaitsev really defined this type of soldier. Prior to volunteering to fight at Stalingrad, he was a payroll clerk in the Soviet Navy at their Pacific fleet headquarters in Vladivostok. He was fed up with being out of the action and he and a small group of Pacific fleet sailors volunteered, and ended up fighting with a Red Army Rifle Division in Stalingrad. As you read Zaitsev's account you can see that the Russian command, was very disorganized at the outset of the battle and had not come up with any strategy except to pour men across the Volga into the meat grinder. Thousands and thousands of Red Army soldiers died in the early stages of the battle in brutal confrontations with German, Romanian, and Italian infanty and armor units. When Zaitsev arrived in Stalingrad, the normal life expectancy for a Soviet soldier was 24 hours !!!! Zaitsev and his small band of marksmen greatly improved on this figure. All but two of the Red Army snipers referred to in Zaitsev's book, were men he personally trained, many of them fellow sailors from the Pacific fleet. The first few months of the battle were a grueling holding operation for the Russian soldiers, they only began to turn the tide in November.
Zaitsev's descriptions of close up encounters, ambushes, and aerial bombardments, especially his descriptions of being bombed by converted naval mines, have to be read in person, the level of violence of this battle - the biggest battle in history - can best be understood by reading a book by one of the survivors of this maelstrom.
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Posted March 8, 2013
This book is written by the legendary sniper Vassili Zaitsev many years ago and recently republished again.
It was an interesting read from the perspective of Zaitsev himself and does provide a good account of his personal experiences.
The translation was performed by several people and is very well done and there are a good number of foot notes explaining
certain words and nuances of Russian culture that English speakers may not know.
This also included some good information about Soviet military organization that I found helpful.
The writing style from a half century ago is a different style than the war accounts you read now
as you do not typically get the gory details. What you do get is a personal perspective of the Soviet mindset
during WWII when their country was being over run by Germany.