Roza Shanina, One of the Deadliest Soviet Female Snipers


    Once described by a Canadian newspaper as “the unseen terror of East Prussia”, Roza Shanina was one of the most talented Soviet female snipers during the Second World War. More than 2,000 women snipers were trained to fight and put fear in the Germans’ hearts. With 59 confirmed kills, including 12 German snipers, Shanina was awarded the Order of Glory, Third Class and the Order of Glory, Second Class.

    Roza Shanina was born in the Russian village of Yedma, Arkhangelsk Oblast, on the 3rd of April 1924. Her mother, Anna Alexeyevna Shanina, was a milkmaid, and her father, Georgiy Mikhailovich Shanin, was a logger and a World War I veteran. Shanina also had one sister, Yuliya, and five brothers, Mikhail, Fyodor, Sergei, Pavel, and Marat.

    Roza Shanina: Early Life

    Shanina attended the first four years of the elementary school in Yedma, but she had to frequent the last three years in Bereznik, a nearby village. Due to the lack of school transport, Shanina had to walk 8.1 miles (13km) to attend classes during the week.

    In 1938, when Shanina was 14 years old, she ran away from home against her parents’ will and walked 120 miles (200km) to attend the college in Arkhangelsk. Shanina moved in with his brother Fyodor and joined All-Union Leninist Young Communist League.

    In 1941, Shanina decided to take a job in the local kindergarten to pursue a career as a teacher. She also needed money to cover the institute’s costs. The same year in June, the Nazis invaded the Western border of the Soviet Union. Two of Shanina’s brothers joined the war. When the enemy bombarded Arkhangelsk, Shanina started volunteering. She was also involved in firefighting to protect the kindergarten.

    In December 1941, the enemies killed Shanina’s brother, in combat. Consequently, Shanina decided to go to the military commissariat. These she asked for permission to join the war even though she could not since she was a woman. Two more of her brothers died during WWII, after Mikhail.

    Roza Shanina and the Call of Duty

    In 1942, Shanina graduated from college, and she started to practice shooting at a local shooting range.

    On the 22nd of June 1943, Shanina joined the Vsevobuch program for universal military training and, after many attempts, she was also enrolled in the Central Women’s Sniper Training School by the military commissariat. During her training, Shanina met Aleksandra Yekimova and Kaleriya Petrova, who then became her closest friends. She graduated from the academy with honours. Right after she was offered a position as an instructor, which she refused due to a call of duty.

    Between 1941 and 1945, 2,484 Soviet female snipers joined the war, and the number of killings amounted to about 11,280.

    Roza Shanina with a Mosin-Nagant 1891/30 rifle with 3.5x PU scope, 1944 colourised

    “I’ve killed a man”

    Shanina was able to join the war on the 2nd of April 1944, and she was appointed commander of a female sniper platoon, part of the 184th Rifle Division. Three days later, on the 5th of April 1944, Shanina killed her first man, and it is said that after saying in shock, “I’ve killed a man”, her legs gave away, and she slid into a trench. On the 17th of April of the same year, Shanina became the first Soviet female sniper to receive the Order of Glory, Third Class. In a month, her sniper tally reached 17 confirmed kills and Shanina was praised for her accuracy skills in shooting. Shanina was capable of precisely hitting the enemy and making doublets. This means tshe could hit wo target with two rounds fired in quick succession.

    When Operation Bagration began in June 1944, the Red Army decided that all the female snipers should be withdrawn from the fight. Despite this, many women, including Shanina, went to the front line and participated in the Battle of Vilnius in Lithuania.

    On the 16th of September, the Soviets awarded Shanina the Order of Glory, Second Class, for her courage and abilities displayed in the various battles against the Nazis.

    Canadian newspapers, such as the Ottawa citizen and the Leader-Post often featured Shanina. She was also present on the first page of the Soviet newspaper Unichtozhim Vraga. On17th of September 1944, Vraga credited her with 51 hits.

    Roza Shanina
    Snipers of the third Belorussian front (l to r): junior sergeant Maria Rozhkova, senior sergeant Roza Shanina, jr. sergeants Olga Mokshina, Eva Novikova, Anna Kuznetsova, Alexandra Ekimova, sr. sergeant Evdokia Krasnoborova, jr. sergeant Antonina Pryalkova, sr. sergeant Zinaida Shmeleva and jr. sergeant Lydia Vdovina.

    Roza Shanina and her Diary

    During the war, Shanina sent letters to her family and her friends from the front. In October 1944 she also started writing a combat diary. The Soviet military prohibited this act.  This diary held her most secret and personal feelings and thoughts. In order to respect the secrecy of the military, she termed the killed and wounded, “blacks” and “reds” respectively. Shanina kept her diary from the 6th of October 1944 to the 24th of January 1945. The dairy then consisted of three thick notebooks.

    The 26th of December 1944 the Soviets awarded Shanina with the medal of honor. Soviets then granted her permission to fight. Shanina reached East Prussia in January 1945, with a confirmed kill count at 59.

    On the 27th of January 1945, the enemies seriously wounded Shanina while shielding a wounded commandery of an artillery unit. She passed away the day after in the village of Ilmsford, due to the wound received during the combat.

    Shanina, one of the deadliest Soviet female snipers, did not fight for fame. She always thought her supporters and “fans” overrated her. On the 16th of January 1945, she also wrote in her diary, “What I’ve actually done? No more than I have to as a Soviet person, having stood up to defend the motherland.”

    Pyotr Molchanov, a war correspondent, described her as a person of unusual will with a bright and genuine nature. Russians praised Shanina for her marksmanship, bravery and shooting skills until the day of her death.

    Rachele Momi
    Rachele Momi
    Rachele Momi is a graduate in Intelligence & Security Studies at Brunel University and in Middle East Politics at SOAS. Her research is mainly focused on the Middle East region, tradecraft, and defence issues.

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