Roza Georgiyevna Shanina was one of the first women to join the Soviet army during World War II and was the first Soviet female sniper to be awarded the Order of Glory, also becoming the first servicewoman of the 3rd Belorussian Front to receive it.
She is credited with 59 confirmed kills among which were twelve soldiers in the Battle of Vilnius. Shanina’s talents as a sniper were praised and a Canadian newspaper in 1944 described her as “the unseen terror of East Prussia.” She was capable of precisely hitting enemy personnel and making doublets (two target hits by two rounds fired in quick succession). The reason she volunteered in the military was the death of her brother in 1941.
Shanina was born in Yedma, a Russian village in the Arkhangelsk Oblast in 1924. Eager in her studies, she never hesitated to walk the 8.1 miles (13 km) to get to school; there there was no public transport. Even though it was against her parents’ wishes, when she was only fourteen Shanina decided to walk a distance of 120 miles (200 kilometers) across the Taiga so that she could study at the college in Arkhangelsk. Arriving in the city with no possessions and very little money, she first lived with her brother Fyodor and later moved into the college dormitory.
After two years of studying, Soviet secondary education institutes introduced tuition fees, and as Shanina couldn’t afford to pay for the college, she got a job in a kindergarten which provided her with a free apartment. She was loved by the children and appreciated by the parents. She managed to work during the days and study in the evenings and successfully graduated in the academic year 1941/42.
When she received a notification regarding the death of her 19-year-old brother, Mikhail, in the Seige of Leningrad, Shanina went to the military commissariat and asked for permission to volunteer.
At the time, the Soviet Union tactically accepted women as snipers because it was believed that they were more cunning, careful, patient, and because they had more flexible limbs. Shanina was first taught to shoot at a shooting range. In 1943, while still living in the dormitory, she was accepted into the Vsevobuch program for universal military training.
Shanina was killed during the East Prussian Offensive while she was shielding a wounded commander of an artillery unit. She was praised for her bravery in her lifetime and is remembered for her combat diary which was first published in 1965.
Many things about her life and environment are known from her diary. But perhaps its greatest value is the fact it is written by a women soldier during a war.