Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Fyodor Okhlopkov - one of the greatest Soviet snipers

Fyodor Matveyevitch Okhlopkov was born 1908 in the remote village of Krest-Khaldzhay of what is now Tomponskiy Ulus of the Sakha Republic. He worked at a Kolkhoz farm, as a machine-operator, hunter and gold miner. In 1941, when the war against Fascist Germany broke out, Okhlopkov and his brother joined the army, and his brother was soon killed. Okhlopkov was at first a machine-gunner, then commander of a sub-machine gun company, and in October 1942 he became a sniper.

Okhlopkov is officially credited with 429 kills. For comparison, the far more famous Vasily Zaitsev is estimated to have killed "about 400" people (242 of them verified), Ivan Sidorenko "about 500", and Lyudmila Pavlichenko is credited with 309 kills. Okhlopkov is regarded as the #7 greatest sniper of all WWII (#1 is Finnish Simo "Белая Смерть" Häyhä with 542 confirmed kills).
Of course, it's difficult to compare snipers like this, since their main interest was not to keep tally of exactly how many enemy soldiers they killed, and it would have been suicidal to go check each fallen body to see if they had really died. So sniper tallies are more of a propaganda thing.

In any case, Okhlopkov was regarded as one of the greatest snipers in the Soviet army. The army newspaper Defender of the Fatherland wrote about him during the war: "He has the keen eye of a hunter, the hard hand of a miner, and a big, warm heart."
However, commanders didn't pay much attention to the contributions of indigenous people from remote republics. After the war, Okhlopkov quietly went back to Yakutia to work at a Sovkhos.

But a veterans group petitioned the government, and in 1965 Okhlopkov was finally made Hero of the Soviet Union and awarded an Order of Lenin, on the 20th anniversary of the end of the war.

Only two years later, Okhlopkov died at the age of 59 years. He had been weakened by the many injuries he had sustained in the war.

An article about Fyodor Okhlopkov by Carter W Park, who travelled to Sakha in business, discovered Okhlopkov at a local military museum, and tried to find out more about him through reluctant relatives.
The top photo is from gazetayakutia.ru.
The bottom photo, where the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of Yakut ASSR, A.Y. Ovchinnikova, hands Okhlopkov the Star of the Hero in 1965, is from the archives of the Sakha administration, found on sakha.gov.ru.


ainur said...

I read about Simo Häyhä, too... It is interesting how Karelian Simo and Sakha Fyodor seem to have been similar in many ways, small, quiet and modest men who felt most at home in the forest, hunting. The greatest difference was the propaganda around their person - while Okhlopkov was almost forgotten, Häyhä was almost immediately hyped as a hero. Even now it is difficult to find "readable" articles about Häyhä that do not gush over Mannerheim et alii in absurdum. (The Finnish Wiki article is quite neutral.)

Häyhä did not try to benefit from the propaganda, as far as I can see. He just returned to his farm after he had been seriously wounded and was deemed unable to participate in the Continuation War (which means that his total kill count was achieved sometime between November 30, 1939 - March 6, 1940!). He had to leave the farm in the concessions to USSR in 1944.

My last comment is perhaps not entirely PC, but it is curious how a "war hero" responds similarly to a "war criminal": I only did what I was told to do.

Tinet said...

I suppose you need a very special mentality and disposition to be a good sniper. In general, hunters obviously already have some practise in the skills of a sniper.
I once read a funny article about the Israeli army, where people said Sabras are useless as snipers, but Russian immigrants are good. :op

"I only did what I was told to do."
Hmm. This is a very thought-provoking subject.

There is a difference when it is said by someone who is accused of war crimes, and tries to escape responsibility for the crimes, and when it is said by someone who people try to make into a "hero" and is either modest, or maybe disturbed that it is considered "heroic" to have killed hundreds of people (regardless of whether it was in accordance with the rules or not).

Still, the difference between a "war hero" and a "war criminal" is perhaps not that big. The "heroes" have killed people "by the rules", and the "criminals" have broken "the rules".
Warfare is something very brutal and disturbing even when done "by the rules". Is there such a big difference between a person being tortured and slowly killed by a "war criminal", and a person being, for instance, shot in the guts by a "war hero" and dying a just as slow and torturous death?

War by its very nature involves people acting against what is considered basic moral values ("killing another person is wrong", etc.). I would argue that a morally just war is impossible. Military training is designed to remove a soldier's moral values that would interfere with him/her carrying out orders.