Special Report

The Deadliest Snipers of World War II

German Federal Archive / Wikimedia Commons

The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the most brutal battles of World War II, and within this battle two men fought a historic duel that would be talked about for decades to come. The 2001 film “Enemy at the Gates” portrays this duel between German sniper Erwin Konig and Soviet sniper Vasili Zaitsev, both considered two of the deadliest snipers of the war. Although there are some historical inaccuracies with the film, it depicts the significance of snipers in the conflict.

WWII was a period characterized by numerous forms of weaponry and tactics, and sniping played an important role in this conflict. A handful of notable snipers distinguished themselves due to their extraordinary abilities. Most of those notorious snipers were from the Soviet school of sniping.

To identify the deadliest snipers of World War II, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed various historical and military sources, including Sniper Central, War History Online, and worldwar-two.net. We ranked each sniper on the amount of confirmed kills over the course of WWII and excluded any sniper with less than 340 confirmed kills. (And these are the classic long-range sniper rifles of World War II.)

Although not at the top of the list, Zaitsev was one of the most prolific and notorious snipers of the Red Army. He had an estimated kill count of 400 over the course of the war, and was horrifically effective during the Battle of Stalingrad. Zaitsev’s intricate knowledge of terrain and adept shooting skill left a profound psychological impact on the German forces.

Another prolific sniper was Finland’s Simo Häyhä, also known as “White Death.” Working within Northern Europe’s harsh winter conditions, Häyhä amounted a staggering confirmed kill count of more than 500, the highest of any sniper in any war. He relied on his intimate understanding of Finnish topography to set perfect ambushes. Taking full advantage of camouflage, Häyhä would paint his face, use no scope to avoid reflection, and even keep snow in his mouth to reduce the visibility of his breaths. (Also see, every sniper rifle currently used by the U.S. military.)

One famous sniper from WWII that is not included on this list is the female Soviet sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who earned the name “Lady Death.” With a total of 309 confirmed kills, she proved that ingenuity and marksmanship skills knew no gender boundaries. She was one of many females that were recruited into the Soviet sniper program, and proved to be one of the deadliest.

Here is a look at the deadliest snipers of World War II.

20. Ivan Ivanovich Larkin
> Confirmed kills: 340
> Army: Soviet Union

Not much is known about Ivan Ivanovich Larkin. However, in the 10 years preceding WWII, the Soviet Union uniquely established specialized sniper units. The high level of proficiency of these Soviet snipers is evident in the impressive statistics associated with them. Their training and aptitude in this area significantly outshone that of other countries during that era.


19. Matthaus Hetzenauer
> Confirmed kills: 345
> Army: Germany

Matthaus Hetzenauer was conscripted into the German army at age 17, serving in the 140th Mountain Rifle Reinforcement Battalion in Kufstein, Austria, a crucial defensive and operational post along the Eastern Front. As a sniper, he deftly wielded two types of rifles — the Karabiner 98k and the Gewehr 43. Deployed to Carpathia, Hungary, and Slovakia, Hetzenauer’s strategy notably targeted Soviet commanders, machine gunners, and other high value targets.

18. Philipp Yakovlevich Rubaho
> Confirmed kills: 346
> Army: Soviet Union

Ahead of and throughout WWII, the Soviet Union was globally recognized for its superior sniping ability. A significant portion of its military strategy focused on the deployment of snipers for long-range suppressive fire and targeting enemy commanders. While Philipp Yakovlevich Rubaho is one of the top Soviet snipers, not much is known about him.

17. Abdukhani Idrisov
> Confirmed kills: 349
> Army: Soviet Union

Not much is known about Abdukhani Idrisov and his service in the Soviet Army, but it is widely known that the Soviets greatly relied on the sniper as an invaluable tool of war. As per various accounts, the importance of snipers was so pronounced that at least one was typically included in both infantry and reconnaissance platoons.


16. Ivan Petrovich Antonov
> Confirmed kills: 362
> Army: Soviet Union

The high kill statistics for Soviet snipers during WWII, as indicated by historical records, is attributed to several factors. Their expert marksmanship was complemented by a comprehensive understanding of the battlegrounds, enabling them to camouflage effectively. Additionally, their familiarity with the territories, particularly those invaded by the Germans, offered a significant strategic advantage. Unfortunately, not much is known about Ivan Petrovich Antonov, other than his impressive kill count.

15. Semen D. Nomokonov
> Confirmed kills: 367
> Army: Soviet Union

In WWII, the Soviet Union emerged as the leading nation in terms of proficient snipers, surpassing all other global powers. This was due to their sustained focus on training and development of sniper teams during the 1930s, when many other countries were dissolving their specialized sniper units. Consequently, the USSR held the distinction of having the most highly trained sharpshooters worldwide. Semen D. Nomokonov is one of these snipers but not much is known about him.


14. Pyotr Alexeyevich Goncharov
> Confirmed kills: 380
> Army: Soviet Union

Although not much is known about Pyotr Alexeyevich Goncharov, he is among the ranks of the best trained Soviet snipers of the era. In the course of WWII, the Red Army implemented a sniper training program that involved over 400,000 participants. Among these trainees, more than 9,000 were able to develop and demonstrate advanced proficiency in their skills.

13. Vasili Zaitsev
> Confirmed kills: 400
> Army: Soviet Union

Vasily Zaitsev, a renowned sniper in the Soviet military, reportedly engaged in a high-stakes duel with Erwin König, the Wehrmacht’s reputed ace sniper, during the Battle of Stalingrad. The duel, which Zaitsev purportedly won, is primarily documented by Soviet records and Zaitsev’s personal accounts.

12. Erwin Konig
> Confirmed kills: 400
> Army: Germany

Due to lack of records, some believe Erwin Konig had not existed but was a device of Russian propaganda designed to boost Vasili Zaitsev’s record. Still, the story of Konig and Zaitsev would become the stuff of legend as the critically acclaimed movie, “Enemy at the Gates,” would go on to depict their duel in the Battle of Stalingrad.


11. Stepan Vasilievich Petrenko
> Confirmed kills: 412
> Army: Soviet Union

Stephan Petrenko, a distinguished Ukrainian Senior Sergeant and proficient sniper, notably contributed to the Soviet Union’s reputation of having the most adept snipers during WWII. He was born in 1922 and died in 1984. In recognition of his heroic deeds, Petrenko was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union Award in 1945, one of the highest honors in the USSR.

10. Afanasy Gordienko
> Confirmed kills: 417
> Army: Soviet Union

In the 10 years prior to WWII, the Soviet Union stood alone in its decision to specifically train sniper units. This strategic move was reflected in the evident superiority of its snipers, as evidenced by the high figures attributed to their sharpshooters. Notwithstanding the highest-ranking sniper on the record, the vast majority of top-ranked snipers were from the Soviet Union, underscoring their preeminence in this area. Afanasy Gordienko is one of these such snipers but little is known about him.


9. Vasilij Ivanovich Golosov
> Confirmed kills: 422
> Army: Soviet Union

Vasilij Ivanovich Golosov, a notable marksman, holds a record of 422 confirmed kills during WWII, a figure that includes approximately 70 enemy snipers. He was one of the 261 individuals who received the prestigious Distinguished Sniper Award from the Soviet Union, an honor bestowed on those who have over 50 kills.

8. Fyodor Trofimovich Dyachenko
> Confirmed kills: 425
> Army: Soviet Union

One of the Soviet Union’s most highly trained snipers was Fyodor Trofimovich Dyachenko, who demonstrated remarkable prowess by achieving 425 confirmed kills. His strategic focus was on eliminating officers whose loss would significantly impact the enemy. In recognition of his significant contribution to military operations, Dyachenko was honored with the Distinguished Service Cross by the USSR.

7. Fyodor Matveyevich Okhlopkov
> Confirmed kills: 429
> Army: Soviet Union

Fyodor Matveyevich Okhlopkov had an impressive 429 confirmed kills serving as a sniper in the Red Army. Despite his effectiveness, it was not until 1965 that he was recognized as a Hero of the Soviet Union and received the Order of Lenin. This delay was allegedly due to his Yakut ethnicity.


6. Mikhail Ivanovich Budenkov
> Confirmed kills: 437
> Army: Soviet Union

Sergeant Mikhail Ivanovich Budenkov made an indelible mark with his exceptional combat record. His sniper kills alone numbered 437, not including those carried off with other weaponry. Budenkov’s achievements underscore the effectiveness of Soviet training and dedication during the war.

5. Vladimir Nikolaevich Pchelintsev
> Confirmed kills: 456
> Army: Soviet Union

Vladimir Pchelintsev ranks fifth among snipers in WWII with 456 reported kills. His profound familiarity with the battlegrounds he fought on played a key role in his success, unlike other soldiers unfamiliar with the terrain. His knowledge of the landscape and ability to camouflage effectively contributed heavily to his elevated kill statistics.


3. Nikolay Yakovlevich Ilyin
> Confirmed kills: 494
> Army: Soviet Union

Nikolay Yakovlevich Ilyin, a former locksmith, transformed into a formidable sniper for the Red Army, amassing 494 confirmed kills, primarily during the Battle of Stalingrad. Despite dying in combat in 1943, his significant contributions to the Soviet war effort were honored with multiple high-ranking awards after the war’s conclusion in 1945.

2. Ivan Mikhailovich Sidorenko
> Confirmed kills: 500
> Army: Soviet Union

Ivan Mihailovich Sidorenko, a self-taught sniper and former art student, distinguished himself as the most prolific marksman in the Soviet Union during WWII. Drafted in 1939, he honed his sniping skills during the Battle of Moscow. An injury in 1944 shifted his role to an instructor, sharing his expertise with future snipers. He was honored as a Hero of the Soviet Union for his contributions.

1. Simo Häyhä
> Confirmed kills: 542
> Army: Finland

Simo Hayha, known as “The White Death,” showcased extraordinary sniping skills in WWII. Over 100 winter days, he amassed over 500 kills, triggering numerous unsuccessful Soviet counter-attacks. Tragically, a counter-sniper explosive round hit him in the jaw, resulting in an 11-day coma.


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