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‘As a sniper, I’ve killed more than a few Nazis. I have a passion for observing enemy behaviour. You watch a Nazi officer come out of a bunker, acting all high and mighty, ordering his soldiers every which way, and putting on an air of authority. The officer hasn’t got the slightest idea that he only has seconds to live.’
Vassili Zaitsev’s account of the hell that was Stalingrad is moving and harrowing. This was a battle to the death – fighting street by street, brick by brick, living like rats in a desperate struggle to survive. Here, the rules of war were discarded and a psychological war was being waged. In this environment, the sniper was king – an unseen enemy who frayed the nerves of brutalised soldiers.
Zaitsev volunteered to fight at Stalingrad in 1942. His superiors recognized quickly his talent, and made him a sniper. He adapted his hunting skills to the ruins of the city, watching his prey with nerves of steel. In his first 10 days, Zaitsev killed 40 Germans. He achieved at least 225 kills and the tactics he developed are still being studied.
Zaitsev was used a symbol of Russian resistance against the Nazis. His exploits, including a famous ‘duel’ with a Nazi sniper, remain the stuff of legend. His account is absorbing to anyone interested in World War II and seeing how one person could survive in the most extreme of conditions.
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