Defending the Gates: Vasily Zaitsev

The 2001 Movie Enemy at the Gates brought a Russian sniper into the limelight once again- Vasily Zaitsev. Centered around the 1942 Battle of Stalingrad, Zaitsev, played by Jude Law, dukes it out with German sniper Erwin Konig. While the movie is not entirely realistic, the two really did exist. So who was Vasily Zaitsev and why is he so important?

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Vasily Zaitsev

Born in Yeleninka, a small town about an hour away from Magnitogorsk, Vasily Gergorovich Zaitsev was a natural hunter. His peasant origins made him an easy target for the Soviet military, who traditionally drew its forces from the massive peasant population. Zaitsev traveled to Magnitogorsk to study at a technical school. Eventually, he enlisted in the Russian Navy and became a bookkeeper in the Far East Fleet.

Vasily Zaitsev volunteered to join the 284th Rifle Division in the Soviet Army. The Division recruited most of its troops from Siberia and Eastern Russia in order to transfer more experienced troops from the quiet Manchurian Front to the German Invasion. Zaitsev’s sharpshooting ability was quickly noted, and he was trained as a sniper. He relied on a simple 1891 Mosin-Nagant Rifle, a veteran of the First World War. The Russian is most revered for his actions at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942, in which he killed 225 soldiers & officers as well as 11 snipers. Zaitsev’s heroics made him a morale boost for the Soviets and a threat to the Germans. When Erwin Konig, a renowned German sniper, was sent to deal with him, Zaitsev managed to kill him on Mamaev Hill. Working with Nikolai Kulikov, the sniper developed his own tactics and sniper school during the battle. Firstly, Zaitsev never fired from the same spot. Movement was key in order to prevent any enemies from locking onto a particular position. “Sixes” was another of Zaitsev’s tactics. Three teams of 2 men would be positioned in order to cover a large area to maximize sight and damage. Zaitsev trained other snipers such as Tania Chernova, who he shared a relationship with.

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Zaitsev’s Mosin-Nagant Rifle

In January 1943, Zaitsev was hit by a mortar round and nearly blinded. He was immediately taken to a hospital where he slowly recovered. On February 22, he was awarded Hero of the Soviet Union. Zaitsev returned to combat later in the war, ending it in 1945 as a captain. Chernova thought Zaitsev was dead until 1969, when she finally learned he was alive and married.

Vasily Zaitsev is immortalized in William Craig’s book, Enemy at the Gates, and in the 2001 film of the same name as well as War of the Rats by David L. Robbins. Zaitsev died in December 1991, and was initially buried in Kiev before being moved to Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad). He was buried with full military honours.

Book Review: Fontenoy 1745

Osprey Publishing’s recent release, Fontenoy 1745, retells the story of the War of Austrian Succession’s most famous battle. An Anglo-Dutch-Hanoverian force commanded by the Duke of Cumberland came face to face with Marechal de Saxe’s French forces in the small Belgian town of Fontenoy, just outside Tournai. Written by Michael McNally and illustrated by Sean O’Brogain, this book opens up a near-forgotten war in Europe’s history.

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Osprey Publishing’s new book: Fontenoy 1745

Praise: Cumberland’s tactical errors are pointed out bluntly, and rightfully so. The book makes its statements of how the Anglo-Dutch forces were uninformed and very strong-willed to their plans. Saxe’s flexibility and use of multiple columns is depicted in a few maps and really shows what a complex network the French general made. There are also reconstructed uniforms in the book of many units of interest such as the Mousquetaires du Roi of the French army. On-site photographs are always great, but McNally manages to capture the correct weather too. His misty pictures clearly show how hard it was for the early-morning attacks troops made. Osprey Publishing always do a good introduction to a topic, and the War of Austrian Succession is covered briefly and provides a solution to any confusion one may have about what the British or the French fighting in Belgium has to do with the Austrian throne.

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British and French Guards clash at Fontenoy

Criticism: The two battle maps in the book felt boxy too me. While 18th century warfare was very rigid in its structure, the maps feel odd and seem to exaggerate the number of troops on the field with huge blocks of infantry. The illustrations could also have been placed better in the book, as you find a picture of the French Irish Brigade about 10 pages after you hear about their attack.

The War of Austrian Succession is mostly overlooked, but it still remains a very important war. Maria Theresa kept her claims to the throne, and it eventually led to the Seven Years’ War. Saxe’s strategies influenced Napoleon Bonaparte later in the early 19th century. Seeing the British defeat as an opportunity, the Jacobite Rebellion sprang up in Scotland. While the Battle of Fontenoy was 3 years before the end of the war, it remains a turning point, and a remarkable French victory over the British, Hanoverians, and Dutch.

Rating: 4/5

Uniforms of the Ages: Hungarians in Austrian Service

The heavily multicultural Austrian Empire divided its army into two main nationalities: Germans and Hungarians. While the majority of these units were not actually of those nations, the Hungarian troops were some of the more elaborately dressed.

Throughout Austria’s history, the Hungarians have retained the same core elements of their uniform, changing only when the uniform style did. The first appearance of specific “Hungarian” troops was around the reign of Maria Theresa and the War of Austrian Succession. There were Hungarian troops prior to this war, but the special uniforms were not adopted until then. Hungary had only been part of the Habsburg Empire since 1541. A large partition had separated it from Bohemia and placed it under the influence of Austria.

Gyulay Regiment  in the 7 Years War

The most notable part of the Hungarian uniform was the gold braiding on the front of the pants in a knotted style. This “Hungarian knot” was a braided lace design that was notably used by Confederate officers in the US Civil War. For the Hungarians, this pattern was on both pant legs in a golden lace. Unlike “German” troops, the pants of these soldiers were a light blue while Germans wore white or gray.

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Confederate General Braxton Bragg with a Hungarian knot

The uniforms changed over time with style of warfare. Tricorne hats and long coats were soon replaced by helmets and higher pants during the Napoleonic Wars. The helmets were extremely cumbersome, and provided little protection to a soldier when he wore them. In 1809, Austrian troops swapped their helmets for the shako, which was used by almost all of the major world powers at that time. The Hungarian pattern, however, remained on the uniform. By the Napoleonic Wars, the trousers of Hungarian troops had been added to as well; a black and gold stripe ran down the side of the pants. 

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Hungarian Grenadiers

Post-Napoleon, Hungarian troops played an even larger role in the Austrian Army. The ratio of German units to Hungarian units was almost even as the population increased. By the next reforms, Hungarian troops wore the new shorter shako and their coats were given gold lace around the facings. These uniforms would carry them through the Italian Wars of Independence and the Austro-Prussian War.

The Hungarians achieved a dual monarchy in 1867, establishing the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Uniforms remained the same until 1908 when a new, modern uniform was introduced. The hechtgrau (pike-gray) uniform was more subtle than the white and light blue the Hungarians previously wore, but their knotted pattern still stayed on their pants. By 1918, the Empire fell after their defeat in the First World War, and the Hungarian uniform disappeared with it.

Hungary used a drab coloured uniform after the fall of the Dual Monarchy, and discontinued any of the previous gold lace on their pants or coats. By the Second World War, the old uniform style was completely gone, and just as the Austrian Empire changed with age, the Royal Hungarian Army changed too.

Gebirgsjäger: The Alpine Warriors of the German Army

The Gebirgsjäger were the alpine troops of the German army during the Second World War, serving in many regions throughout the war. Using pack animals, these elite troops of the German army were tasked to defending and attacking mountainous areas where many regular troops would be unable to fight in. After the Anschluss, the German annexation of Austria, the Gebirgsjäger were formed, inspired by the Tyrolean Jägers of the Austro-Hungarian Army in the First World War.

The Gebirgsjäger wore a patch with an edelweiss depicted.The edelweiss is a flower found normally in alpine conditions and high altitudes. They wore the regular feldgrau uniform, but with hiking boots, and sometimes skis or snowshoes. They also wore a Bergmutze, similar to the cap of Austrian troops in the First World War. The cap could be buttoned under the chin to provide warmth in freezing temperatures. As well as their specific uniform, Gebirgsjäger carried a special carbine called the G33/40, produced in Czechoslovakia. The steel plate at the bottom was used to crunch into ice to give a soldier a stabilizer while scaling rocks and mountains. A small number were produced, but they were perfect for mountain warfare. Many Gebirgsjäger used Russian weapons because they were better designed for cold weather.

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Gebirgsjäger in the Russian mountains

With the German Blitzkrieg into Poland and Norway, many Gebirgsjäger were placed in Army Group South. The Blitzkrieg smashed through Poland towards Russia, and by 1941, Operation Barbarossa was in full swing. The Gebirgsjager fought through the mountainous country of Ukraine. The 1st Mountain Division managed to capture the city of Lviv (then Lvov). They crashed through the Stalin Line and into the Caucasus. The Gebirgsjäger lifted a German flag on top of Mount Elbrus. The Gebirgsjäger also fought ferociously in Hungary as well as Northern Greece.

In 1942, Operation Edelweiss was launched in an attempt to capture oil fields in the Caucasus. Spearheaded by Gebirgsjäger units, the Germans swept through Baku and along the Volga River. The Gebirgsjäger assaulted the western slopes of Mt. Elbrus along with Romanian Mountain Troops. They were held by the Soviet rear guard, eventually capturing the mountains with some difficulty. They attempted to reach the coast near Sukhumi in order to outflank Soviet positions, but poor weather and stiff resistance held their advance. Over the operation, the Germans took some 10,000 casualties, but managed to squeeze their way towards Stalingrad.

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Gebirgsjäger cap badge

A recurring theme for mountain troops was heavy casualties with success. The inexhaustible number of Soviet troops managed to hold the alpine troops in battle, but the Gebirgsjäger deserve credit for their abilities and quality throughout the Second World War.

Wargame Figures: The Mexican Adventure 1861-67

The Mexican Adventure was the Franco-Hapsburg invasion of Mexico from 1861 to 1867. With a complex tangle of Imperial Mexico and a Mexican Republican Army led by Benito Juarez, the Mexican Adventure was full of some amazing characters and battles. This collection of wargame miniatures covers most of the units in the war, including the Belgian and Austrian volunteers as well as a wide variety of French soldiers.

The Mexican Adventure

If you would like to use my figures for a wargame, feel free to click the link here.

Be sure to look at the rest of the figures I have created ranging from the Franco-Prussian War, the Second Schleswig War, and the Crimean War.

10 Amazing Facts about the Swiss Army

1. The Swiss were available as mercenaries throughout the middle ages, most notably as expert pikemen.

2. The Swiss Guard serve as the Vatican City’s Army.

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The Swiss Guard

3. Napoleon had four Swiss regiments in his army during the Napoleonic War.

4. The Swiss had a civil war in 1847 called the Sonderbund War. The Sonderbund consisted of Lucerne, Zug, Uri, Fribourg, Valais, and Schwyz.

5. Everybody 19 and above must serve in the modern Swiss army for a few years.

6. The Swiss Army in the First World War only consisted of 100 professional soldiers.

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A Swiss infantryman in the Napoleonic Wars

7. The Swiss accidentally invaded Liechtenstein in 2007, but both sides decided it was completely fine and no fighting broke out.

8. Karl Elsener created the legendary Swiss Army Knife in 1891.

9. The Swiss Air Force is closed on the weekends and at night.

10. William Tell, a Swiss folk hero, has a song written about him in 1501 called the Tellenleid.

Wargame Figures: Baden during the Franco-Prussian War 1870-71

Baden was one of the smaller German states to serve in the Franco-Prussian War. Their uniforms were very close to those of the Prussians.

Here is the link if you would like to print any of these figures out: http://www.juniorgeneral.org/index.php/figure/view/BadenFrancoPrussianWar