Enemy at the Gates



While the Nazi and Russian armies hurl rank after rank of soldiers at each other and the world fearfully awaits the outcome of the battle of Stalingrad, the celebrated Russian sniper, Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law) quietly stalks his enemies one man at a time. His fame, however, soon thrusts him into a duel with the Nazi's best sharpshooter, Major Konig (Ed Harris), and the two find themselves waging an intense personal war while the most momentous battle of the age rages around them.

Unassuming and self-contained, Vassili is just an ordinary man who performs his duty with extraordinary skill. Realizing his propaganda value, Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), a Soviet political officer, builds this simple soldier from the Urals into a much- needed national hero. After a string of defeats by the Nazis, the Soviet Union is on the verge of collapse, and the loss of Stalingrad to the invaders could ensure final victory for the Nazis in Europe. Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins) himself has been sent by Stalin to oversee the city's defense.

Vassili's fierce example, as documented by Danilov, boosts the defenders' will to go on fighting despite overwhelming odds. Danilov, however, soon becomes jealous of the man he created when, in the midst of war, they both fall in love with Tania (Rachel Weisz), one of the many courageous women soldiers fighting alongside the men.

The Germans send for their best sniper, Major Konig (Ed Harris), to track down Vassili and kill the man who has become famous in the German as well as Russian ranks. With exquisite patience and skill, each man stalks the other, fighting his war in solitude while countless men are dying all around them in the rubble of Stalingrad.

An epic film, Enemy at the Gates is based on the story of real-life hero Vassili Zaitsev, whose exploits at Stalingrad form one of the most famous sagas to emerge from the war.


Waged in 1942 and 1943, the Battle for Stalingrad was one of the defining moments of World War II and helped shape the political landscape for the rest of the 20th Century. In the summer of 1942, the Nazis launched a massive invasion of Russia, America's ally during the war and the nation bearing the brunt of the fighting against the Germans. In an amazing feat of logistics and fighting skill, the Nazis crossed 1,000 miles to reach Stalingrad, a major industrial center on the Volga River.

The Germans were confident they could capture the city and thereby cut traffic on the Volga River to southern Russia. The city would also provide a northern anchor for the German drive into the oil fields of the Caucuses, and capturing Stalin's namesake city would be a major propaganda coup for Hitler. The Soviets pat up heroic resistance, however, and Stalingrad was the easternmost point reached by the Nazis in World War II. Germany's failure to take the city marked a turning point in the war, and from that time on, the German army found itself in retreat.

Early in the war, the Soviet Union suffered a string of defeats by the Germans, and the loss of Stalingrad could trigger the collapse of the entire nation. Stalin ordered that the city must not fall, whatever the cost. Poorly trained and sometimes unarmed Soviet troops were poured into battle, followed by Russian security forces with orders to kill anyone who might try to flee or retreat. In addition, authorities forced several thousand civilian residents to remain in the city in order to give Soviet soldiers something more than ruined buildings and streets to defend.

Among the city's defenders was the real Vassili Zaitsev, an expert sniper and trainer of other snipers who became a national celebrity and hero.

Eventually trapped within Stalingrad and cut off from reinforcements and supplies by encircling Soviet forces, General Frederich von Paulus, commander in chief of the German forces, surrendered in February 1943, despite orders from Hitler to fight to the last man. An estimated 800,000 Axis troops from Germany, Romania, Italy and Hungary, and untold numbers of anti- Communist Russians fighting on the German side had died. Approximately 1,100,000 Soviet soldiers lost their lives (many thousands executed by their own security police for supposed desertion or treason). Of the city's peacetime population of 500,000, only a few more than 1,000 people remained at the end of the battle, the rest having fled or been killed.

It was the most disastrous military defeat in German history. Two entire armies - the Sixth and the Fourth Panzer - essentially disappeared, and the battle helped bleed the German military dry. It also galvanized the once-pessimistic Soviet population, who began to believe that the war could be won, and it gave courage to resistance forces in other nations occupied by the Germans.

The Main Cast

Danilov................................. JOSEPH FIENNES
Vassili................................. JUDE LAW
Tania................................... RACHEL WEISZ
Khrushchev.............................. BOB HOSKINS
Konig................................... ED HARRIS
Koulikov................................ RON PERLMAN
Sacha................................... GABRIEL MARSHALL-THOMSON
Mother Filipov.......................... EVA MATTES
General von Paulus...................... MATTHIAS HABICH

Directed by............................. JEAN-JACQUES ANNAUD

Movie Stills

(90k) Jude Law as Vassili in "Enemy at the Gates." An epic film, "Enemy at the Gates" is based on the story of real-life hero Vassili Zaitsev, whose exploits at Stalingrad form one of the most famous sagas to emerge from the war.

(90k) Joseph Fiennes as Danilov

(104k) Rachel Weisz as Tania

(111k) (Left to Right) Rachel Weisz as Tania, Joseph Fiennes as Danilov and Jude Law as Vassili.

(110k) (Left to Right) Joseph Fiennes as Danilov and Jude Law as Vassili.

(88k) Ed Harris as Major Konig

(76k) Rachel Weisz as Tania and Jude Law as Vassili.

(76k) (Left to Right) Joseph Fiennes as Danilov and Rachel Weisz as Tania

(76k) (Left to Right) Bob Hoskins as Kruschev and Jude Law as Vassili.

(76k) (Left to Right) Bob Hoskins as Kruschev and Joseph Fiennes as Danilov

(76k) A scene in "Enemy at the Gates"

A scene in "Enemy at the Gates"
Left picture is 900 x 600 resolution (143k)
Right picture is 1350 x 900 resolution (243k)




by  "Cybersniper" Eduardo Abril de Fontcuberta:

It was mayor Koenig that was sent to hunt Vasily  Zaitsev from the 284 Siberiam Division under the command of General Chikov.
The sniper encounter took place in the zone of the Red October factory on the Barricady side.
After some ambushes on both sides that failed, Zaitsev saw a shine on some ruble and shot instinctively against it.   It was Koenig that got killed because of the scope giving away his position when he had nearly trapped the Russian sniper.
This story I teach on my sniper classes to show how important the proper camouflage and stopping any shines can be.
I hope that this clarifyes the matter BUT if you want to read some more opinions read Bernard Zimmerman and David C. Clarke VERY documented explanations.



I’ve studied the supposed sniper duel between Zaitsev and the Nazi “super-sniper” and here’s what I’ve found.

There are two near identical accounts of the Stalingrad duel between a Soviet sniper and a Nazi “super-sniper” in English language sources.

1) “Enemy at the Gates,” by William Craig (Ballantine 1974, p. 119-122).

2) “Barbarossa,” by Alan Clark (Signet 1966, p. 274-277)

Both accounts are similar down to the smallest detail. Here are some examples given side/by/side for comparison purposes from the (1) Craig and (2) Clark sources:

(1) German super-sniper from Berlin (2) Nazi super-sniper); (1) friend Nicolai Kulikov (2) comrade Nicolay Kulikov; (1) political agitator Danilov (2) political instructor Danilov; (1) “There he is! I’ll point him out to you!” (2) ”There he is. I’ll point him out to you.” (1) sheet of iron (2) sheet of iron (1) piece of glass glinted (2) something was glittering); (1) “There’s our viper!” (2) ”There’s our viper.” (1) German’s head fell back (2) Konings’ head snapped back (1) the telescopic sights of his rifle lay motionless, and glistened in the sun, until night fell. (2) Until the sun went down, the telescopic sight glittered and gleamed. At dusk it winked out.

These two accounts are without doubt describing the exact same encounter between a Soviet sniper and a German sniper. However, there are serious discrepancies between them.

In Craig's book, "Enemy at the Gates," the German sniper is identified as “Major Konings...the German super-sniper from Berlin” (not Koenig/no first name), and the Soviet sniper is identified as Vassili Zaitsev.

However, in Clark’s book, “Barbarossa,” the German sniper is identified as “...the head of the snipers’ school at Zossen, Standartenfuehrer SS Heinz Thorwald,” and the Soviet sniper is NOT identified.

How are these variations in the same story to be explained? We have the same duel, the same events, the same sniper assistant, the same political instructor, the same words spoken, but we have different German super-snipers. Why? In one we know the identity of the Soviet sniper, but in the other we are not given his name. How can this be explained in supposedly accurate historical accounts of the same sniper duel during the Battle of Stalingrad?

If the German’s name changed from one account to the other, did the identity of the Soviet sniper change too? It seems strange that author Clark would not tell us the identity of the Soviet sniper, although he quotes his first-person account at length. Very strange considering how famous Vasilli Zaitsev was. But is the sniper in Clark’s book still Zaitsev? We don’t know!

Clark’s source for this version of the sniper duel in “Barbarossa” is given as: The Sniper: Chuikov p. 142-143. But William Craig’s “Enemy at the Gates” gives different sources for the sniper duel: Interview with Tania Chernova. Also V. Zaitsev's "Notes of a Sniper" and V. Yuriev's "The Great Victory of Stalingrad;" V.I.Z., No. 8, 1966; Chuikov's "The Battle for Stalingrad."

Notice that all the references listed are Soviet sources. There is no German or other corroboration. I’ll bet that every other account of this supposed duel you can find, either in print form or on the History Channel or in film and movies can be traced back to these same Soviet sources.

Those who insist this duel actually took place, must provide additional non-Soviet evidence proving that either Major Konings from Berlin, or Zossen sniper school head Standartenfuehrer SS Heinz Thorwald actually existed, were sent to Stalingrad to kill a top Soviet sniper, and that one or the other was killed in action at Stalingrad. Certainly with such a prestigious Nazi “super-sniper” involved, records of some kind must exist.

Without such evidence, the story remains almost certainly a masterly example of Soviet propaganda given away by the fact they couldn’t even keep their versions straight. If the story is true, which version? They both cannot be true.

Certainly, Soviet snipers killed many starving, lice-infested German soldiers at Stalingrad, but for propaganda purposes it was much better turning it into a contest between a Soviet sniper--Zaitsev or whoever--and a fictional Nazi “super-sniper.”

I question whether there was a German “super-sniper” and that this dramatic sniper duel -- in any form -- ever took place outside the efforts of Stalin’s propaganda corps. Today, however, it is taken as historical fact. More research is needed.


, Chuikov's book "The Battle For Stalingrad" first published in Moscow in 1959 tells the story of Vasili Zaitsev and the much-questioned duel. Chuikov also mentions meeting other well-known snipers: Anatoli Chekhov and Viktor Medvedev. He also credits Zaitsev for for starting the "sniper movement" in the Soviet 284th Infantry Division. He mentions that in the 284th Division "all units, dug-outs and trenches started producing their 'snipers' registers', to keep an account of the number of Germans killed day by day. Every day, the Divisional newspaper
published material about the marksmen".
I include this information only to show that the cult of the sniper was well-developed in the Soviet Army defending Stalingrad. Also, I don't think anyone questions the existence of Zaitzev himself. As to the duel, Chuikov writes that the name of the "super sniper" and the information about his origin were given to them by a German prisoner. Specifically, he writes,
"This happened at the end of September. One night our scouts brought in an identification prisoner, who told us that the head of the German school of snipers, Major Konings, had been flown in from Berlin and given the task, primarily, of killing the leading Soviet sniper".
That is the information given by Chuikov, he doesn't say the sniper school was in Berlin, only that the prisoner said the sniper was flown in from Berlin. If you picture the situation, the source (a probably very frightened soldier who may have heard some camp talk) and the limited quality of the information given, Chuikov's memoir has the air of reality to it, IMHO. Particularly considering the paragraph he writes a few lines later;
"By this time our rapidly expanding group of snipers had killed over a thousand Germans. This feat was written about in the papers and in leaflets. Some of the leaflets fell into enemy hands and the enemy studied our sniper's methods and took active measures to fight them. This is a thing of the past, so I say quite frankly that at that time there should have been less haste in publicizing our experience. No sooner did our snipers kill one or two enemy officers than artillery and mortars lying in ambush would start firing. Our men would hastily have to change position in order to get out of a tight corner."
It's clear from his memoir that Chuikov thought highly of Zaitzev, that the "sniper movement" wasn't an invention of a propaganda mechanism and that Chuikov himself felt that the sniper movement's publicity hampered it operationally, while being important for troop morale.
As to the "Duel", Chuikov quotes a report obviously given in the first person by Zaitzev, who refers to the sniper not as Major this or that but simply as "the sniper from Berlin" or "the Nazi super-sniper". Zaitzev, who gives
a backhand credit to German snipers--"I knew the style of Nazi snipers by their fire and camouflage and without any difficulty could tell experienced snipers from the novices, the cowards from the stubborn, determined enemies"-- makes it clear that while the upcoming "duel" was a hot topic of conversation in his division, it became a real concern only after two experienced Soviet snipers were shot. The Soviets were on the watch for this "super sniper" but couldn't locate him or find anything out of the ordinary until the two Soviet snipers were shot. My personal conclusion is that Zaitzev believed he shot an expert sniper due to previous events, but the identity of that sniper is highly questionable, since in his account, he doesn't identify the sniper by name. His victim may, in fact, have been one of the stubborn, determined local enemies he mentioned earlier. While I agree with you that more research has to be done, I don't accept the premise that Soviet historical accounts are invalid unless cooborated by German accounts. One could counter that no German account of the Western Front is valid unless cooborated by an American, British, French, Canadian or other Allied account. Remember that this was World War II and each nation's propaganda systems were running in high gear. Best Regards, DCC





We may simply have to agree to disagree. From reading Chuikov's book, I'm convinced that "a duel" happened. I don't think I was quite clear enough in my first post, so let me try to give you my impression of what is actually written by Chuikov, as opposed to later Western writers:
1. Zaitzev is the leading Soviet sniper and with Chuikov's support, takes part in the building of the "sniper movement"
2. Germans take active countermeasures (mortars, artillery) against Soviet snipers.
3. Field interrogation of captured German who says Konings is being flown in from Berlin to deal with the best Soviet Sniper.
4. Chuikov shares this information with Colonel N.F. Batyuk, commanding Zaitzev's division.
5. Batyuk meets with Zaitzev and other snipers, warns them of the pending arrival of a "super sniper" and gets Zaitzev's (and the other snipers') assurances that the German will be "got rid of".
6. Amongst the Soviet snipers, the issue is discussed and debated, but nothing happens despite their attempts to locate the "super sniper".
7. Zaitzev's friend Morozov is killed and another sniper Sheykin is wounded by a rifle with telescopic scopes. Zaitzev concludes that the "super sniper" is present and a duel with a sniper ensues three or for days later.
Neither Zaitzev or Chuikov actually says that the German sniper killed is "Major Konings" although it is implied by the sequence of events. Certainly Zaitzev has been fueled up by his division commander to exect a visit from an expert German sniper. Certainly amongst the Soviet snipers the anticipation of a "duel" ran high. Therefore, I tend to believe the story as written by Chuikov, it's fairly simple and straightforward. The issues of whether or not a German sniper was flown in, what his name and rank were, and whether or not he participated in this duel are not conclusively dealt with in the account. What started as unverified information from one prisoner took on a life of its own--that much is readily apparent. That later writers have filled in the name of Zaitzev's opponent is not a fault of Chuikov's book, which links the interrogation and the subsequent "duel" but doesn't come right out and say who the German participant was. As to the the general issue of the accuracy of Russian historical accounts, well, I think it's best to take all accounts from whatever side under close scrutiny. But I would sincerely doubt that Zaitzev, with his record of confirmed kills, would lie about this single encounter, even if he drew the wrong conclusion.