Roza Shanina

Roza Shanina the unseen terror of East Prussia

Roza Shanina was a Soviet sniper during World War II who was credited with fifty-nine confirmed kills, including twelve soldiers during the Battle of Vilnius. Shanina volunteered for the military after the death of her brother in 1941 and chose to be a marksman on the front line. Praised for her shooting accuracy, Shanina was capable of precisely hitting enemy personnel and making doublets (two target hits by two rounds fired in quick succession).

In 1944, a Canadian newspaper described Shanina as “the unseen terror of East Prussia”. She became the first Soviet female sniper to be awarded the Order of Glory and was the first servicewoman of the 3rd Belorussian Front to receive it. According to the report of Major Degtyarev (the commander of the 1138th Rifle Regiment) for the corresponding commendation list, between 6 and 11 April Shanina killed 13 enemy soldiers while subjected to artillery and machine-gun fire. By May 1944, her sniper tally increased to 17 confirmed enemy kills, and Shanina was praised as a precise and brave soldier. The same year, on 9 June, Shanina’s portrait was featured on the front page of the Soviet newspaper Unichtozhim Vraga.

When Operation Bagration commenced in the Vitebsk region on 22 June 1944, it was decided that female snipers would be withdrawn. They voluntarily continued to support the advancing infantry anyway, and despite the Soviet policy of sparing snipers, Shanina asked to be sent to the front line. Although her request was refused, she went anyway. Shanina was later sanctioned for going to the front line without permission but did not face a court-martial. She wanted to be attached to a battalion or a reconnaissance company, turning to the commander of the 5th Army, Nikolai Krylov. Shanina also wrote twice to Joseph Stalin with the same request.

In the face of the East Prussian Offensive, the Germans tried to strengthen the localities they controlled against great odds. In a diary entry dated 16 January 1945, Shanina wrote that despite her wish to be in a safer place, some unknown force was drawing her to the front line. In the same entry, she wrote that she had no fear and that she had even agreed to go “to a melee combat”. The next day, Shanina wrote in a letter that she might be on the verge of being killed because her battalion had lost 72 out of 78 people. Her last diary entry reports that German fire had become so intense that the Soviet troops, including herself, had sheltered inside self-propelled guns.

On 27 January Shanina was severely injured while shielding a wounded artillery officer. She was found by two soldiers disemboweled, with her chest torn open by a shell fragment. Despite attempts to save her, Shanina died the following day near the Richau estate (later a Soviet settlement of Telmanovka. Shanina was buried under a spreading pear tree on the shore of the Alle River (now called the Lava) and was later reinterred in the settlement of Znamensk, Kaliningrad Oblast.

In 1964–65 a renewed interest in Shanina arose in the Soviet press, largely due to the publication of her diary. The newspaper Severny Komsomolets asked Shanina’s contemporaries to write what they knew about her. Streets in Arkhangelsk, Shangaly, and Stroyevskoye were named after her, and the village of Yedma has a museum dedicated to Shanina. The local school where she studied in 1931–35 has a commemorative plate.

This is the last known picture of Rosa Shanina. The photo was taken on January 1, 1945. 28 days later she was killed in action.

Shanina’s personal life was thwarted by war. On 10 October 1944, she wrote in her diary, “I can’t accept that Misha Panarin doesn’t live anymore. What a good guy! [He] has been killed … He loved me, I know, and I him … My heart is heavy, I’m twenty, but I have no close [male] friend”. In November 1944, Shanina wrote that she “is flogging into her head that [she] loves” a man named Nikolai, although he “doesn’t shine in upbringing and education”. In the same entry, she wrote that she did not think about marriage because “it’s not the time now”. She later wrote that she “had it out” with Nikolai and “wrote him a note in the sense of but I’m given to the one and will love no other one“. Ultimately in her last diary record, filled with somber tones, Shanina wrote that she “cannot find a solace” now and is “of no use to anyone”.

Charles Hazlitt Upham

Charles Hazlitt Upham

Charles Hazlitt Upham is probably New Zealand’s most famous soldier. He became one of only three people ever to win the Victoria Cross twice for his actions in Crete in 1941 and Egypt in 1942. He is the only person to have achieved this as a combat soldier.

Born in Christchurch in 1908, Upham joined the 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force soon after war broke out in September 1939. He came to symbolize what many saw as the essential qualities of ‘the typical New Zealand soldier’. He developed these qualities as a musterer in the Canterbury high country, where men had ‘to match the ruggedness of nature with their own ruggedness of physique and temperament’.

Upham earned the VC for outstanding gallantry and leadership in Crete in May 1941, and his Bar at Ruweisat Ridge, Egypt, in July 1942. After being severely wounded in the latter engagement, Upham was captured by the Germans. After a failed escape attempt while recuperating in an Italian hospital, he was transferred to Germany in September 1943. A particularly audacious solo attempt to scale his camp’s barbed-wire fences in broad daylight saw Upham become the only New Zealand combatant officer sent to the infamous Colditz camp for habitual escapers in 1944.

Upham was fiercely loyal to his comrades and shunned the limelight. When informed of his first VC he was genuinely distressed at being singled out. He believed that others deserved it more than he did. Only by seeing it as recognition of the bravery and service of his unit could Upham accept the award and the unwanted attention that went with it. Upham was presented with his first VC at Buckingham Palace on 11 May 1945.

After Upham’s capture officers of 2NZEF had begun collecting evidence to support the award of a bar to his Victoria Cross. The British authorities considered it unlikely that a bar would be awarded. It was decided to leave the matter until his release. In July 1945 Bernard Freyberg revived the question. The British thought Upham should be made a DSO. But further evidence was gathered by Major-General Howard Kippenberger and it was decided that his actions at Minqâr Qaim and Ruweisat Ridge merited the highest recognition possible. When the recommendation for his second VC was made later in 1945 King George VI said to Kippenberger that a Bar to the cross would be ‘very unusual indeed’. The king inquired, ‘Does he deserve it?’ − to which Kippenberger replied, ‘In my respectful opinion sir Upham won the VC several times over’. News of the second VC was released in September 1945.

After the war, Upham returned to farming life in Canterbury, where he died in 1994. Modest and selfless, but extremely tough and single-minded, Upham came to symbolize the steely determination and professionalism of the New Zealand Division in the Second World War.

Read the full biography.

Having a drink with a German friend

Collaborator girls of WWII

German-Occupied Europe

It’s 1942 and the Germans occupy and dominate the vast majority of Europe. They were there, on the scene, and the local men either were not (dead, in prison camps, in hiding) or were greatly diminished in status. Like soldiers of every army of every period of history, as soon as the Germans got comfortable, they started scouting around for women. And, as always in times of military occupation, there were willing women to be found.

And, sure enough, the German soldiers found them. It’s not quite clear what the big deal was about exchanging clothes with your French girlfriend, but as shown on many pictures here, that seemed to be the thing to do. And it seemed quite common as if this was ‘the proof’ of, well, you know.

Everyone in the Wehrmacht knew that Paris was the place to be. The official German propaganda outlets even advertised its allures. Essentially, and this is no exaggeration, Paris became almost synonymous with “giant cathouse” in the Wehrmacht. To some extent, that reputation remains to this day in certain quarters.

Some of the women simply fell in love and married their German beau. Who could foresee that the world would change so drastically so quickly? Once in that situation, staying home became untenable – time to follow husband wherever he is headed, even if it is prison camp. And sometimes you need to put aside your cynicism – love is love, for better or worse.

Conquering soldiers have a lot to offer a girl, especially a soldier who has rank and can most likely offer all sorts of inducements. Clearly, these ladies had no difficulty taking advantage of all those lonely men and offering them some solace, and the soldiers had an easy time taking advantage of naive girls who had no idea of the enormity of what they were doing.

Some 200,000+ babies were born to German fathers during the French occupation. There was nothing special about French women: in one of the Channel Islands, 900 such babies were registered. In Norway, 8-12,000 babies (including Anni-Frid Lyngstad of Abba fame) resulted. Such marriages also were encouraged in Denmark and Holland.

There are thousands upon thousands of joyful pictures of the liberation of France in 1944. But among the cheering images, there are also shocking ones. These show the fate of women accused of “collaboration horizontale”. It is impossible to forget Robert Capa’s fallen-Madonna image of a shaven-headed young woman, cradling her baby, implicitly the result of a relationship with a German soldier.