The Incredible Story of the Deadliest Female Sniper in History

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“After trying the helmet trick [he] sent a cat out,” she said, “either to distract me or to fool me into belief that nobody would be around where a cat could parade by so unconcernedly.” When Pavlichenko didn’t take the bait, the enemy sniper pulled out a human-sized dummy dressed in a German uniform. And when that didn’t draw any fire, he assumed Pavlichenko wasn’t nearby. But she was. And when he took a look through his binoculars, Pavlichenko killed him. While Pavlichenko won that duel, the Soviets were still being pushed back. And Pavlichenko’s fight was about to get even more intense.

When Odessa fell to the Germans, Pavlichenko was evacuated to Sevastopol for a final defense of Crimea. The fighting was intense as the Germans threw everything they had at the city. Pavlichenko and the sniper teams she trained inflicted heavy casualties on the Germans through it all. By now, she had 309 kills to her record. The increasingly desperate Germans began blasting a message to her on loudspeakers, telling her if she surrendered they would make her a German officer. When that failed, they promised to catch her and tear her into 309 pieces. They had also been keeping track of her score.

Pavlichenko was wounded several times during the war. And in June 1942, she was hit with shrapnel from an exploding mortar shell. By now, she was a huge propaganda hero in the Soviet Union. And her superiors decided that she was worth more to the war effort as a symbol. So, after she was wounded the final time, they pulled her from the front. In less than a year of active fighting, she had killed more any soldiers than any female sniper in history. And in fact, she killed more than most male snipers have as well.

Pavlichenko’s new assignment was to help raise money and support for the war abroad. So, she was sent to America to ask for help against the Nazis. Pavlichenko toured the country giving speeches about her war-time victories and the danger the Soviets faced. The sight of a young girl who had fought so bravely against the Germans was a subtle reminder that the Americans needed to get into the fight against the Nazis. “I am 25 years old,” she told a crowd in New York, “and I have killed 309 fascist invaders by now. Don’t you think, gentlemen, that you have been hiding behind my back for too long?”

To the American press, she was a bit of an odd figure. In America, the idea of women fighting on the front lines still seemed strange. And the questions reporters asked her often left Pavlichenko rolling her eyes. “One reporter even criticized the length of the skirt of my uniform,” she noted, “saying that in America women wear shorter skirts and besides my uniform made me look fat.” But Pavlichenko was still recognized as such a hero that she received an invitation to the White House. There she met the president and struck up a friendship with the first lady.

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