Snipers: The Four Greatest Marksmen In Military History

Photo Credit: 1. Cpl. Damien Gutierrez / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain 2. Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain 3. Sgt. James Harbour / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain 4. Министерство обороны Российской Федерации / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0
Photo Credit: 1. Cpl. Damien Gutierrez / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain 2. Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain 3. Sgt. James Harbour / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain 4. Министерство обороны Российской Федерации / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0

Becoming one of the greatest snipers in history isn’t an easy feat to accomplish. The following four snipers, however, proved themselves worthy of the title with their military service. Each with incredible marksmanship and their own special set of skills, these men have unbelievable stories and remarkable kill counts that truly make them worthy of being some of the greatest history has ever seen.

Chris Kyle – Most lethal sniper in US military history

Portrait of Chris Kyle
Chris Kyle is known as the “most lethal sniper in US military history.” (Photo Credit: TSHA / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Self-proclaimed as the “most lethal sniper in US military history,” Chris Kyle achieved 160 confirmed kills (nearly double that by some accounts) during his four tours in Iraq. As a US Navy SEAL, he earned the nickname “The Legend” among US Marines, while his enemies dubbed him “The Devil of Ramadi.” His skills with a rifle were such that multiple bounties were put on his head, in an attempt to bring his killing of insurgents to an end.

Kyle was initially interested in joining the US Marine Corps special operations, but opted to enlist with the Navy instead, after a recruiter spoke to him about becoming a SEAL. After undergoing extensive training, he was assigned to SEAL Team Three.

Kyle scored his first long-range kill when he was ordered to shoot a woman approaching a group of Marines while holding a hand grenade. During his four tours, he was shot and found himself caught up in six separate Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosions. This didn’t stop him from continuing as a sniper, however, and he went on to receive one Silver Star and three Bronze Stars with Valor, among other decorations.

Kyle was honorably discharged in 2009, and was unfortunately killed by a fellow veteran struggling with mental health issues in February 2013. The film, American Sniper, was released the following year and is loosely based on the memoir he wrote prior to his death, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. While many have accused Kyle of embellishing his accomplishments in the book, there’s no doubt he led an impressive naval career.

Vasily Zaytsev – Hero of the Soviet Union

Vasily Zaytsev holding his sniper rifle
Vasily Zaytsev was given the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union” for his success during the Battle of Stalingrad. (Photo Credit: Министерство обороны Российской Федерации / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0)

Vasily Zaytsev was a sniper who took out 225 German soldiers during the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II. Having grown up in the Russian wilderness, shooting was no mystery to him, as he’d needed to learn how to work a gun to hunt and provide food for his family. Little did he know that this would lead him to becoming one of the Soviet Union’s most effective snipers.

Zaytsev’s skills came in handy when he volunteered to join the Red Army after having spent the previous years as head of the finance department of the Soviet Pacific Fleet. He started out as a simple soldier, but quickly proved his skills with a rifle and was eventually assigned to the 1047th Rifle Regiment, 284th “Tomsk” Rifle Division, which became part of the 62nd Army.

Among his most famous actions during the war was his alleged killing of top German sniper, Ewin König. However, while Zaytsev claims the incident occurred, there are historians who cast doubt on this story, as there are no written records of a German sniper by that name. That being said, the German government wasn’t known for its impeccable record-keeping.

In January 1943, Zaytsev was injured by a mortar attack. A month later, he was given the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union,” and wound up rejoining the front, finishing the war at the Battle of Seelow Heights.

Carlos Hathcock – Deadliest American sniper of the Vietnam War

Military portrait of Carlos Hathcock
Carlos Hathcock became the deadliest American sniper of the Vietnam War. (Photo Credit: USMC Archives / Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Carlos Hathcock became one of the Vietnam War‘s deadliest snipers to save the lives of other Marines. In 1965, he won the Wimbledon Cup Shooting Championship, showcasing his skills as a sharpshooter, and he put them to the test when he was deployed a year later.

Hathcock once said, “If I didn’t get the enemy, they were going to kill the kids over there.” He carried this mentality with him throughout his service in Vietnam, and his legendary stories prove it. As a member of the 1st Marine Division’s sniper platoon, Hathcock once crawled more than 1,500 yards over three days to shoot a People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) general, without food or water. Taking the shot at 700 yards, he got the confirmed kill and melted back into the environment.

He also took out “Cobra,” an enemy sniper responsible for killing a number of Marines, as well as a female Viet Cong platoon leader known simply as “the Apache woman.” However, the latter incident has been put into question by historians, who doubt such a sniper existed. In total, Hathcock achieved 93 confirmed kills, with himself putting that number anywhere from 300 to 400.

Simo Häyhä – Deadliest sniper in history

Simo Häyhä standing in the snow with his sniper rifle
Simo Häyhä is known as the deadliest sniper in history. (Photo Credit: Finnish Military Archives / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Nicknamed the “White Death,” Simo Häyhä was a farmer turned lethal sniper during the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939. With over 500 confirmed kills and the unconfirmed amount totalling over 700, Häyhä was a force to be reckoned with. He’s considered one of history’s most effective snipers, and was so good that the Red Army desperately wanted him killed, but the snipers sent to counter him never returned.

Using his antique Russian-made rifle with an iron sight, Häyhä managed to hide in plain sight and take out any enemy soldier that came across his path. Familiar with the terrain, he would build up snow banks on either side of him to hide the cloud that appeared after every shot he took, so as not to give away his location. Additionally, he’d put snow in his mouth to prevent his breath from giving him away.

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Just 11 days before the Winter War ended, Häyhä was hit in the jaw by an explosive bullet, severely wounding his face. Despite his injuries, the sniper stood up and killed his assassin. He ended up surviving the incident and was gifted a brand new, custom-built rifle, which he later donated to the Karelia Jaeger Battalion’s Heritage Room.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!