Greatest Marksmen: Lyudmila Pavlichenko

  • Jack Collins
Photo Courtesy of Jared Enos

Next up, we have another entry in our series on history’s Greatest Marksmen. In this post, though, we’re going to explore some new territory. Because this edition of Greatest Marksmen isn’t actually a man at all.

Today, we’ll look at Lyudmila Pavlichenko, also known as “Lady Death,” history’s deadliest female sniper.

Who Was Lady Death: Lyudmila Pavlichenko

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was born near Kiev in the waning days of the Russian Empire in 1916. During her youth, she was extremely competitive and had a tomboyish demeanor. In her teens, she took up sport shooting. She even joined a local marksmanship team sponsored by the military, which served as her introduction to marksmanship.

Pavlichenko enrolled at Kiev University in 1937 with dreams of being a teacher. She was a well-known athlete at the school, and continued her marksmanship training there. She continued to study in Kiev until Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in her senior year. 

Service in World War II

When that happened, she immediately volunteered for army service at the age of 24. Pavlichenko asked to be assigned to a combat role, thinking she could put her sniper training to good use. The Red Army eventually made her one of 2,000 woman snipers in the 25th Rifle Division.

Less than 500 would survive the war.

Due to supply shortages, the Red Army never assigned her a rifle. Instead, she got a single grenade.

That changed on August 8, 1941 though. Taking a Mosin-Nagant rifle from a dying Red Army soldier, she immediately put her marksmanship training to work. After dispatching two Romanians from the top of a Soviet-controlled hill, Pavlichenko put her critics to rest. 

Battle of Sevastopol

During four and a half months in the ensuing Battle of Odessa, Pavlichenko scored 183 confirmed kills. In November, the Soviets withdrew from Odessa to the massive fortress complex of Sevastopol. Pavlichenko spent another eight months there, racking up 257 more confirmed kills.

Like many other famous snipers during the Second World War, Pavlichenko spent a significant amount of time dueling enemy snipers. By Red Army estimates, she successfully defeated at least 36 enemy sharpshooters.

In June of 1942, her luck ran out. She received a shrapnel wound that forced her to withdraw from frontline service. At the time, she had recorded 309 confirmed kills.

Photo Courtesy of Franco Atirador.

Post-Combat Life

The Red Army had made Pavlichenko into something of a folk hero, and wasn’t comfortable with the thought of losing her in combat. Instead, they sent Pavlichenko on an international media tour. She spent time in Great Britain and the US, and even met Eleanor Roosevelt. Although she couldn’t speak a word of English, she toured the country, answering media questions like “do snipers wear makeup at the front?” (She answered that there “was no rule against it”).

After the Second World War ended, Pavlichenko returned to Kiev University, where she graduated with a degree in history. She never truly left the war behind though, and suffered from bouts of depression and PTSD until her death in 1974 at the age of 58.

Be sure to stick around as we continue our series on history’s greatest marksmen. If you have any suggestions for famous marksmen we should write about next, let us know on social media.

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