[Those fantastic German men! They were supermen! Jan]
These Two Nazi Snipers Left Their Mark On History
Snipers changed the shape and dynamics of battle on the Eastern Front during World War II.
Allerberger, already a successful sniper, was assigned in the last quarter of 1943 to a four-week training program near Judenburg, Austria, not far from his home. That was done with a wink and a nod from his commanding officer because it would give the young sniper a needed break from the killing and mayhem on the Eastern Front. He was often called upon by the instructors in sniper school to share his experiences. Many of the instructors had also served in that capacity on the Eastern Front. For his part, Allerberger was surprised by the school’s “shooting garden,” a miniature landscape complete with a village and roads where they had to shoot the “enemy” with small caliber sporting guns as they appeared in windows, doorways, and behind trees. Because of his frontline experience, he shined at those exercises. Throughout the training, the instructors revised and rebuilt the landscapes to make them more interesting and challenging.
Allerberger’s sniper class was instructed to record their observations on terrain, weather conditions, and hits in notebooks that they carried with them. As an experienced sniper, he cautioned the need to encode their entries in case of capture because of the treatment snipers received at the hands of the Soviets.
During the war both sides made considerable use of deception, ranging from a helmet hoisted on a stick that only fooled inexperienced snipers on the other side to elaborate devices such as dummies that could appear to be smoking. Hetzenauer made a point not to use steel loophole plates because they were awkward in the field and rather vulnerable to enemy observation. He used German 6×30 binoculars for general observation and a small captured Soviet periscope while close to the enemy in no-man’s land.
Allerberger, for one, fairly early on developed an interesting way to use an old umbrella to assist with his camouflage efforts. He stripped away the cloth and used local plants and grass woven into the wire frame to provide local cover. It proved exceptionally functional and could easily be updated to conform to a specific terrain when he changed locations in the field.
But there was more to sniping that a keen eye and good training. Germans who came directly from training without firsthand experience in combat often managed to squeeze off 15-20 sniper rounds before being felled by an experienced opponent—and the Soviets had many of them. The invaluable experience of remaining exceptionally cool under fire and having carefully prepared a firing position with one or possibly more options for concealed “slipaways” often made the difference between life and death.
Allerberger would often crawl into no man’s land at night to prepare his holes in preparation for his own withdrawal when necessary. He often added hand grenades and trip wires to cover approaches to his hide. These could be used for protection or for distraction should he need to make a quick exit.
Experienced snipers also knew how and when to jump to a predetermined safe position in a move the Germans called the rabbit jump (hasensprung). Quick swerves and occasional double backs were often part of that move that required quickness, will power and nerves of steel. Less experienced snipers would often cringe in place, work to endure sustained, concentrated rifle, mortar, and artillery fire, and suffer the often deadly consequences.
Hetzenauer, Allerberger, and Haya were insistent that snipers should not position themselves in trees despite the fact that the higher elevation would provide a better view of the enemy. Such a position could rather easily be identified and isolated, preventing a sniper from slipping away to fight another day. Despite that common sense admonition, Allerberger did encounter one situation northwest of Bakalovo, where 11 men in the leading company were brought down within minutes by well-aimed head and chest shots. Then two company commanders were lost to explosive bullets when they rose to look through their binoculars. It was quickly apparent that the Germans were facing scores of Soviet snipers, something they had heard about but had never encountered.
Efforts to dislodge the snipers from the thick evergreens before them proved fruitless, and worse yet resulted in the deaths of several German machine gunners. The unit lacked artillery or even heavy mortars to dislodge the enemy, so everyone hunkered down until Allerberger made it to the scene. The Austrian sized up the situation and knew he had to get closer to better assess the situation. He took five grenade bags and filled them with grass, adding helmets and fake faces. He left those behind with assistants while he carefully crawled forward. When Allerberger gave the prearranged signal, the dummies were raised, and he could identify where the enemy snipers were lodged when the upper branches swayed from the pressure waves of the gunfire.
He then carefully crawled some 200 yards back to safety and informed his superiors of his plan of attack. He placed five machine guns in well-concealed positions and crawled forward yet again after relocating the men with the dummies. Once in position to one side, he signaled to his assistants, who raised the dummies slightly. When a sniper fired, he clearly identified the sniper’s position and fired while the German machine gunners laced the treetops liberally to cover the sound of his deadly Mauser. The Soviet snipers fell “like sacks” from their elevated positions. After a short period of time, Allerberger repositioned himself and the process started again. In total, he took out 18 enemy snipers within an hour.
After an extended period of quiet, the Germans cautiously advanced toward the forest and began collecting the enemy’s sniper rifles and equipment. As one stepped over a sniper’s apparent lifeless body, he discovered the face of a woman who had been shot in the chest. She suddenly pulled an automatic pistol from her jacket and squeezed off a round, nicking the German in the buttocks as he finished her off with his MP40.
Although it was the first time these Germans had encountered a squad of female snipers, they had heard of such units. In fact, the Soviets trained and employed more than 2,000 female snipers before the war was over. Many of the women proved tenacious and exceptionally accurate shots as they diligently worked to avenge the deaths of family and loved ones at the hands of the invaders.
Lyudmila Pavlichenko, the most successful female sniper in history, was dubbed “Lady Death” for her confirmed 309 kills that reportedly included 36 enemy snipers. She even conducted a goodwill tour of Allied nations during the war that included a stop at the White House.
At one point, Allerberger and marksman Josef Roth joined forces to deal with a Soviet sniper who had taken down a number of men and had made life miserable for Germans on the front lines. After hours of scanning the landscape and peering through binoculars, they discovered the man’s hide. He had ingeniously secured himself in an earthen cave dug through a dam.
The Germans needed to have the sniper show himself a bit further and decided to employ a large bread bag stuffed with a stick and grass with a cap placed on top. At a prearranged time, a third man raised the dummy upward. The Soviet fired, exposing his precise position, and the two Germans fired explosive rounds from two slightly different angles. A dull thud was heard in the cave, and then there was some rather hectic activity on the Soviet side as something was carried away. An unwary Soviet observer then lifted his binoculars to his eyes and paid for the error with his life. With that, the deadly sniper fire ceased from the Soviet side.
As the war progressed, the German snipers took on an even more crucial role in resisting the seemingly ever-growing Red wave. They were often left behind to slow or even stop the Soviet advances, if for only a few hours, while larger forces pulled back to safer positions.
Hetzenauer was captured in the Donets Basin area and spent five years as a laborer in Soviet captivity. He managed against all odds to keep knowledge of his sniper work from his masters, who had worked him down to some 100 pounds when released. Allerberger was more fortunate. At war’s end, he managed to elude Soviet troops and safely found his way home to Austria from central Czechoslovakia.
Author Phil Zimmer is a U.S. Army veteran and a former newspaper reporter. He has written on a number of World War II topics.
Originally Published June 21, 2019.
This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.