While working on a BBC Radio 4 program on the Russian writer Vasily Grossman, who sent the best-ever dispatches from Stalingrad during World War II, I was introduced one day to a frail old woman. She said her name was Tatiana Chernova and that when she was a schoolgirl, at 16, the Germans dropped bombs on her native city and she was recruited into the Red Army as a sniper. Over three days she told me of her experiences and her comrades in the Battle for Stalingrad—probably the most vital battle during the entire war. The Russians of Stalingrad stood firm, and it was the first time that anyone had halted the German army.
So my story, The Sniper, is based on actual events and people who took part in “Stalingradskaya bitva,” from the German invasion in early August 1942 to Field Marshall Paulus’s surrender on 31 January 1943. Because much of the fighting was hand to hand, tower block to tower block, workshop to workshop, the role of snipers was more important than it had ever been before or was to be since. For some of them, like Tania and Tolya Chekhov, it was hard to accept the need to kill human beings in cold blood. Even when I met her, Tania could not admit to actually “killing” the enemy; she merely said she had “snapped eighty twigs.”
I have tried to recapture the excitement and danger of war in Stalingrad, as described by Tania and other survivors and in the dispatches of Grossman, whom I had met while I was living in Moscow during the early 1960s. Although Grossman died in 1964, I was lucky enough to meet his daughter Yekaterina on several occasions in her Moscow flat. No one should forget the huge contribution of Red Army men and women in winning the war over fascism. None more so than the people and soldiers of Stalingrad.
Jim Riordan, author of The Sniper, was born in Portsmouth a long time ago, even before World War II. Several of his novels centre on war — two of which have gained national awards. As professor of Russian he has a particular interest in Russian history and speaks Russian fluently.