Welcome to the world of snipers, among the most feared soldiers in modern war. In this installment, we count down the deadliest snipers in history–and, boy, are these snipers deadly, some counting hundreds of kills in less than a year. That’s impressive…and possibly a little disturbing.
10. Simo Häyhä
17 December 1905 – 1 April 2002), nicknamed “White Death” (Russian: Белая смерть, Belaya Smert; Finnish: valkoinen kuolema; Swedish: den vita döden) by the Red Army, was a Finnish marksman. Using a Finnish-produced M/28-30 rifle (a variant of the Mosin–Nagant rifle) and the Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun, he is reported as having killed 505 men during the 1939–40 Winter War, the highest recorded number of confirmed sniper kills in any major war.
9. Ivan Sidorenko
In 1941, he fought in the Battle of Moscow, as a Junior Lieutenant of a mortar company. During the battle, he spent a lot of time teaching himself to snipe. His hunts for enemy soldiers were successful, prompting Sidorenko’s commanders to order him to train others—who were chosen for their eyesight, weapons knowledge, and endurance. He first taught them theory, and then slowly started taking them out on combat missions with him. The Germans soon began fielding snipers of their own in Sidorenko’s area of operation, to counter the new threat posed by him and his men.
Sidorenko became assistant commander of the Headquarters of the 1122nd Rifle Regiment, fighting as part of the 1st Baltic Front. Though he mainly instructed, he occasionally fought in battles, taking one of his trainees with him. On one of these excursions, he destroyed a tank and three tractors using incendiary bullets. However, he was wounded several times, most seriously in Estonia, in 1944; as a result of which he remained hospitalized until the end of the war. While recuperating from this wound, Sidorenko was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, on June 4, 1944. Sidorenko was prohibited from seeing combat again, by his superiors, as he was a valuable sniper trainer.
By the end of the war, Sidorenko was credited with five hundred confirmed kills, and had trained over two hundred and fifty snipers. Ranked a Major, he was the most successful Soviet sniper of the Second World War, and used the Russian Mosin–Nagant rifle, equipped with a telescopic sight.
Following the outbreak of World War I, Pegahmagabow volunteered for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in August 1914,despite Canadian government discrimination that initially excluded minorities. He was posted to the 23rd Canadian Regiment (Northern Pioneers). After joining the Canadian force he was based at CFB Valcartier. While there he decorated his army tent with traditional symbols including a deer, the symbol of his clan. In February 1915 he was deployed overseas with the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion of the 1st Canadian Division—the first contingent of Canadian troops sent to fight in Europe.His companions there nicknamed him “Peggy”.
Shortly after his arrival on the continent, Pegahmagabow fought in the Second Battle of Ypres, where the Germans used chlorine gas for the first time on the Western Front, and it was during this battle that he began to establish a reputation as a sniper and scout. Following the battle he was promoted to lance corporal. His battalion took part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, during which he was wounded in the left leg. He recovered in time to return to the 1st Battalion as they moved to Belgium. He received the Military Medal for carrying messages along the lines during these two battles. Initially, his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Albert Creighton, had nominated him for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, citing his disregard for danger and “faithfulness to duty”, but it was downgraded.
On November 6/7, 1917, Pegahmagabow earned a Bar to his Military Medal for his actions in the Second Battle of Passchendaele. During the fighting, Pegahmagabow’s battalion was given the task of launching an attack at Passchendaele. By this time, he had been promoted to the rank of corporal and during the battle he was recorded playing an important role as a link between the units on the 1st Battalion’s flank. When the battalion’s reinforcements became lost, Pegahmagabow was instrumental in guiding them and ensuring that they reached their allocated spot in the line.
On August 30, 1918, during the Battle of the Scarpe, Pegahmagabow was involved in fighting off a German attack at Orix Trench near Upton Wood. His company was almost out of ammunition and in danger of being surrounded. Pegahmagabow braved heavy machine gun and rifle fire by going into no-man’s land and brought back enough ammunition to enable his post to carry on and assist in repulsing heavy enemy counter-attacks. For these efforts he received a second Bar to his Military Medal, becoming one of only 39 Canadians to receive this honour.
The war ended in November 1918 and in 1919 Pegahmagabow was invalided back to Canada. He had served for almost the whole war, and had built a reputation as a skilled marksman. Using the much-maligned Ross rifle, he was credited with killing 378 Germans and capturing 300 more. By the time of his discharge, he had attained the rank of sergeant-major and had been awarded the 1914–15 Star, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal.
In June 1941, 24-year-old Pavlichenko was in her fourth year studying history at the Kyiv University when Germany began its invasion of the Soviet Union. Pavlichenko was among the first round of volunteers at the recruiting office, where she requested to join the infantry and subsequently she was assigned to the Red Army’s 25th Rifle Division; Pavlichenko had the option of becoming a nurse but refused; “I joined the army when women were not yet accepted”. There she became one of 2,000 female snipers in the Red Army, of whom about 500 survived the war. She made her first two kills as a sniper near Belyayevka, using a Tokarev SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle with 3.5X telescopic sight.
Private Pavlichenko fought for about two and a half months near Odessa where she recorded 187 kills. When the Romanians gained control of Odessa her unit was sent to Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula, where she fought for more than eight months. In May 1942, Lieutenant Pavlichenko was cited by the Southern Army Council for killing 257 German soldiers. Her total of confirmed kills during World War II was 309, including 36 enemy snipers.
In June 1942, Pavlichenko was wounded by mortar fire. Because of her growing status she was withdrawn from combat less than a month after recovering from her wound.
After spending most of 1943 in basic training, Hetzenauer trained as a sniper during March – July 1944 at the Truppenübungsplatz Seetaler-Alpe in Steiermark, before being assigned as Gefreiter to the 3rd Gebirgsjäger Division. He utilised both a Karabiner 98k sniper variant with 6x telescopic sight and a Gewehr 43 with ZF4 4x telescopic sight. He saw action against Soviet forces in the Carpathians, Hungary and Slovakia.
On 6 November 1944 he suffered head trauma from artillery fire, and was awarded the Wound Badge three days later. Gefreiter Hetzenauer received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 17 April 1945. Generalleutnant and Divisions commander Paul Klatt had recommended Hetzenauer because of his numerous sniper kills, which totalled two enemy companies, without fear for his own safety under artillery fire and enemy attacks. This recommendation was approved by General der Gebirgstruppe Karl von Le Suire and General der Panzertruppe Walter Nehring.
Hetzenauer was captured by Soviet troops the following month, and served five years in a Soviet prison camp.
He died on 3 October 2004.
Craig Harrison (born November 1974) is a former Corporal of Horse (CoH) in the Blues and Royals, a cavalry regiment of the British Army, and as of November 2009 holds the record for the longest confirmed sniper kill in combat, at a range of 2,475 m (2,707 yd). This exceeds the previous record of 2,430 m (2,657 yd) set by Rob Furlong in 2002. This record was certified by Guinness World Records. Craig Harrison is most famous for his military service in Afghanistan as a sniper but he also served in the British army in Iraq and the Balkans.
In November 2009, Harrison consecutively struck two Taliban machine gunners south of Musa Qala in Helmand Province in Afghanistan at a range of 2,474 m (2,706 yd) using a L115A3 Long Range Rifle. In a BBC interview, Harrison reported it took about nine shots for him and his spotter to range the target. Then, he reported, his first shot “on target” was a killing shot followed consecutively by a kill shot on a second machine gunner. The bodies were later found by Afghan National Police looking to retrieve the weapon (which had already been removed). The first Taliban was shot in the gut and the other through the side. Later in the day an Apache helicopter hovered over the firing position, using its laser range finder to measure the distance to the machine-gun position, confirming it was the longest kill in history.
In the reports, Harrison mentions the environmental conditions were perfect for long range shooting: no wind, mild weather and clear visibility.
Josef ‘Sepp’ Allerberger
Sent to the Eastern Front in December 1942 as a machine gunner, Allerberger was lightly wounded at Stavropol and experimented with a captured Soviet Mosin Nagant 91/30 rifle with a 3.5x PU telescopic sight whilst recuperating. Eventually he made 27 kills before being sent for sniper training at Seetaleralpe, and being assigned a K98k with 6x scope.
During combat, Allerberger was noted for using the Wehrmacht-taught technique of an umbrella with the cloth removed and foliage woven into the arms which he held to his front in order to camouflage himself.. This camouflage was quickly assembled and lightweight and adaptable to many circumstances.
He was reportedly awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross by Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner, the commander of Army Group Centre, on 20 April 1945, although no official documentation ever recorded the award. However, this was not uncommon at this late point in the war.
Sing began his military career as part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) forces in the Gallipoli Campaign in modern day Turkey. Biographer John Hamilton described the Turkish terrain thus: “It is a country made for snipers. The Anzac and Turkish positions often overlooked each other. Each side sent out marksmen to hunt and stalk and snipe, to wait and shoot and kill, creeping with stealth through the green and brown shrubbery …” Sing partnered with spotters Ion ‘Jack’ Idriess and, later, Tom Sheehan. The spotter’s task was to observe (spot) the surrounding terrain and alert the sniper to potential targets. Idriess described Sing as “a little chap, very dark, with a jet black moustache and goatee beard. A picturesque looking mankiller. He is the crack shot of the Anzacs.”
Chatham’s Post, a position named after a Light Horse officer, was Sing’s first sniping post. Biographer Brian Tate wrote, “It was here that Billy Sing began in earnest his lethal occupation.” He set about his task with a Lee–Enfield .303 rifle. An account by Private Frank Reed, a fellow Australian soldier, states that Sing was so close to the Turkish lines that enemy artillery rarely troubled him. His comrades left three particular enemy positions to his attention: a trench at 350 yards (320 m) from his post, a communication sap at 500 yards (457 m), and a track in a gully at 1,000 yards (914 m). According to Reed, “Every time Billy Sing felt sorry for the poor Turks, he remembered how their snipers picked off the Australian officers in the early days of the landing, and he hardened his heart. But he never fired at a stretcher-bearer or any of the soldiers who were trying to rescue wounded Turks.” In contrast, Hamilton said in a 2008 interview, “We have an anecdote where, after spotting an injured Turk, he said ‘I’ll put that poor cuss out of his agony’ and just shot him. He was a very tough man.”
Sing’s reputation resulted in a champion Turkish sniper, nicknamed ‘Abdul the Terrible’ by the Allied side, being assigned to deal with him. Tate alleges that the Turks were largely able to distinguish Sing’s sniping from that of other ANZAC soldiers, and that only the reports of incidents believed to be Sing’s work were passed on to Abdul. Through analysis of the victims’ actions and wounds, Abdul concluded that Sing’s position was at Chatham’s Post. After several days, Sing’s spotter alerted him to a potential target, and he took aim, only to find the target—Abdul—looking in his direction. Sing prepared to fire, trying not to reveal his position, but the Turkish sniper noticed him and began his own firing sequence. Sing fired first and killed Abdul. Very shortly thereafter, the Turkish artillery fired on Sing’s position—he and his spotter barely managed to evacuate from Chatham’s Post alive.
Near the beginning of August 1915, Sing was hospitalised for four days with influenza. That same month, an enemy sniper’s bullet struck Sheehan’s spotting telescope, injuring his hands and face, and then hit Sing’s shoulder, but the latter was back in action after a week’s recuperation. Sheehan was more severely wounded, and was shipped back to Australia. This was reportedly the only time that Sing was injured at Gallipoli. He would not fare so well later on in the war.
After his arm healed, Kyle went to a military recruiting office, interested in joining the U.S. Marine Corps special operations. A U.S. Navy recruiter convinced him to try, instead, for the SEALs. Initially, Kyle was rejected because of the pins in his arm, but he eventually received an invitation to the 24-week Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL school (BUDS), which he joined in 1999.
Assigned to SEAL Team 3, sniper element, platoon “Charlie” (later “Cadillac”), within the Naval Special Warfare Command, and with four tours of duty, Kyle served in many major battles of the Iraq War. His first long-range kill shot was taken during the initial invasion when he shot a woman approaching a group of Marines while carrying a hand grenade. CNN reported that the woman was cradling a toddler in her other hand. As ordered, Kyle opened fire, killing the woman before she could attack. He later stated, “the woman was already dead. I was just making sure she didn’t take any Marines with her. It was clear that not only did she want to kill them, but she didn’t care about anybody else nearby who would have been blown up by the grenade or killed in the firefight. Children on the street, people in the houses, maybe her child.”
Because of his track record as a marksman during his deployment to Ramadi, the insurgents named Kyle Shaitan Ar-Ramadi (English: “The Devil of Ramadi”), and put a $21,000 bounty on his head that was later increased to $80,000. They posted signs highlighting the cross on his arm as a means of identifying him.
In his book, American Sniper, Kyle describes his longest successful shot: in 2008, outside Sadr City, he killed an insurgent sniper aiming at other members of the US military with “a straight-up luck shot” from his McMillan Tac-338 sniper rifle from about 2,100 yards (1,920 m) away.
Kyle became known as “The Legend” among the general infantry and Marines he was tasked to protect. The nickname originated among Kyle’s fellow SEALs following his taking of a sabbatical to train other snipers in Fallujah, and he was sometimes called “The Myth”. During four tours of duty in the Iraq War, he was shot twice and survived six separate IED detonations.
Career as a military sniper
Kyle is arguably one of the United States military’s most effective sniper with a large number of confirmed and unconfirmed kills. To be counted as confirmed, “They basically had to see the person fall and be clearly dead”, according to Jim DeFelice, one of the coauthors of Kyle’s autobiography. Kyle’s shooter’s statements (shooter’s statements are filled out by every sniper after a mission) were reported to higher command, who kept them in case any shootings were contested as outside the rules of engagement (ROE). The publisher HarperCollins states: “The Pentagon has officially confirmed more than 150 of Kyle’s kills (the previous American record was 109), but it has declined to verify the astonishing total number for this book.” In his autobiography, Kyle wrote:
“The Navy credits me with more kills as a sniper than any other American service member, past or present. I guess that’s true. They go back and forth on what the number is. One week, it’s 160 (the ‘official’ number as of this writing, for what that’s worth), then it’s way higher, then it’s somewhere in between. If you want a number, ask the Navy—you may even get the truth if you catch them on the right day.”
On July 8, 2016, the U.S. Navy corrected Kyle’s DD Form 214 regarding some decorations listed on his original discharge document. The original discharge papers issued to him upon leaving the service (a DD-214) tally with his account given in his autobiography, of two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars with valor. The Navy revised it to one Silver Star and four Bronze Stars with valor. The Navy said “Kyle would have played no role in the production of his personnel files other than signing the DD-214 upon his discharge” and “[a]fter thoroughly reviewing all available records, the Navy determined an error was made” and “issued a corrected copy of the DD214, which accurately reflects Kyle’s years of honorable and extraordinary service.”
On January 11, 1953, Zhang, who had been enrolled in the army for no more than two years and together with soldiers of 8th company, 214th Regiment, 24th Corps, he was assigned to Triangle Hill, equipped with an old Mosin–Nagant without a PU scope.
After waiting 18 days at his position, Zhang spotted an enemy and immediately aimed and fired 12 shots, only to miss them all. This eager action attracted enemy fire, which almost killed him. After this, he carefully analyzed why he failed and figured out a technique using the iron sight to improve his shooting ability. He shot down one enemy the next day.
On February 15, he hit 7 enemies with 9 rounds, which surpassed the ratio of many experienced snipers. He achieved a total of 214 confirmed kills in 32 days.