She was seventeen years old in June of 1943. Klavdiia Efremovna Kalugina (also spelled Klavdiya Yefremovna Kalugina) a Russian, born in 1926 came from a “not rich” family. She became the youngest sniper-in-training at a school for Komsomol (Communist Union of Youth). All the other pupils were eighteen. She could stay in the school as long as she didn’t “fall behind.”
They divided the young women into pairs. Marusia Chikhvintseva, Klavdiia’s first partner, became her best friend.
Accustomed to hard work, Klavdiia helped build the firing range for the school. But when it came time to shoot, she could only hit “milk” (jargon for a complete miss). Her squad commander took her aside and gave her private lessons.
She learned tactics and camouflage and ballistics. And she qualified as a sniper.
After graduation, they grouped pairs into squads and sent them all around the front. On March 1, 1944, six pairs of snipers, including Klavdiia and Marusia, were sent to the Belorussian front.
On the Front
They rode in cattle cars with heaters as close to the front as they could get. The truck sent to take them to the fighting couldn’t get through the snow. Klavdiia said they carried the truck on their backs.
The first day at the front, German soldiers who cleared snow from their trenches and equipment were easy targets. But neither Klavdiia nor Marusia could make themselves to shoot. They berated themselves that night. Why come to the front if they weren’t going to shoot? So, the next day they shot their first Germans.
As a sniper, Klavdiia’s job was defensive. When her mission was to clear a machine gun nest or a sniper, she would find a position during the day. At night, she’d camouflage herself and take up the position and sit as still as possible. Her partner always sat within an arm’s reach. When her eyes grew too tired to watch, her partner would take over.
When the time came, Klavdiia moved to a firing position. She took her shot. Once she fired, she returned to her watch position and waited for Marusia to take her shot. Then, Marusia returned to the watch position where they would wait without moving a muscle until after dark.
After lying all day in the swamp or the snow, she’d return to her base camp and tear off her foot wrappings. Her feet always hurt. Everyone’s feet hurt.
When she wasn’t being a sniper, Klavdiia stood in for the soldiers. She kept watch during the daylight while the Russian soldiers slept. The soldiers kept watch at night. One day when she grew tired, Marusia shifted her position to take over watch. A single shot killed her instantly. Klavdiia screamed so loud the soldiers begged her to stop for fear they’d get targeted. She cried all day.
Klavdiia recounts that the snipers carried the wounded to safety. Sometimes the wounds were mortal. One time she recalls that there were more wounded than the sniper team could carry in a retreat. Germans moved in and bayonetted the wounded who remained in the trenches. How did Klavdiia know? Because of their screams.
Eventually, Klavdiia got assigned another partner. She and her partner fought in several different locations on the front.
Klavdiia has been credited with 28 kills. Kills were any German who fell when she shot him. The commander of the trench she stayed in would write her kills down on a slip of paper that she then carried until she could turn them in. Only her sniper shots were counted. The Germans she shot during an attack didn’t count toward her total killed.
A total of 2,484 Soviet female snipers fought at the front, of whom only about 500 survived. An interview with Klavdiia is available at histomil. As far as I can determine, Klavdiia is still alive today.
I’m sharing this information with you for several reasons. It’s women’s history month and these women should be remembered as much as any male sniper.
I learned of the female Soviet snipers during my research before writing My Soul to Keep. Reading about these women helped me create the character of Beryl.
“Inspiration Behind the Scenes with a Female Sniper” is also part of my celebration. The hardcover version of My Soul to Keep is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Your local bookstore should be able to order it as well. Watch for special celebratory ebook pricing beginning March 10th.