Lysander wrote:I am aware of the general bits and pieces, in that it takes place in the backdrop of the Battle of Stalingrad and the hero/sniper was a real person.
Vasily Zaitsev is a real person, but of course, the character in the movie is fictional. Even his biography was changed.
He was a sailor, serving in the Pacific fleet. During the WWII, there was no active engagements with the Japanese until 1945, when their army in China was completely crushed in two weeks. So, he wrote 5 letters to his commander asking to transfer him to active duty. Finally, he was granted a permission and with other sailors was transfered to Stalingrad area in 1942. He fought bravely and was extremely good shot. He received his sniper rifle from the commander of 1047 infantry regiment (not the mythic commissar Danilov) after shooting German soldier at the distance of 800 meters using non-scoped Mosin-Nagan rifle!
His main achievement in his own eyes, was that he was a chief trainer of the Russian snipers school established in Stalingrad. By his example he trained a lot of successful young snipers. They even called themselves "Zaichata", which means - "the little hares" ("Zaets" is "Hare" in Russian language)
Seriously wounded in the end of Stalingrad operation by mortar round he was almost blinded, but after a series of surgery operations returned to active duty and continued to fight and train young snipers. He was wounded again, and met the end of the war in the Kiev's hospital in Ukraine. He stayed there, studied in light-textile college and managed several factories in his after-war career. He died in 1991 and is buried in Volgograd (Ex-Stalingrad) at the Mamaev Kurgan war memorial.
The duel with the German sniper-ace did occur, but is mentioned only briefly in his memoirs "Notes of the Sniper". I think that it became famous after Russian director Sergey Bondarchuk who included this episode into his film "They Fought for Their Homeland" - a very good movie, watch it, if you get a chance.
As for the "War at the Gates" movie, I found it hard to sympathize to it, because the whole Stalingrad battle is shown in fictional and non-respectful way to the people who participated in it.
Human wave attacks, rear-echelon machine gunners manned by commissars and evil nkvd troops. Lack of arms and ammunition for a fresh troops, which are by the whims of the script are thrown in the battle right off the boats. It's a cold war cliche all over.
Zaitsev falling asleep and losing his party member id? That is the lethal crime, almost the same as losing the army battle banner in battle. Commissar Danilov? Did somebody mentioned to the film makers that war Commissars were disbanded in 1942?
He is the politruk which means "Politicheskiy Rukovoditel" and has the same rank as 1st Lieutenant in army.
His reports about Zaitsev and Jewish girl? Ridiculous, to say at least. Could work is she was a German, for example. But at the times of war any such report that goes against "friendship of all soviet nations" doctrine would be dealt with. We needed to stay together, of we would fall.
Not to mention German bombers with unlimited bombs and their officers taking baths just a hundred meters from the front line
Other than that, I enjoyed it for what is was on a non-historical level, especially every Russian character having an English accent...
Ohh, that's the least of the movie problems in my point of view, believe me.
P.S. Here is picture of the real Vasily Zaitsev made at Stalingrad in 1942, you can see that he still has the navy belt with his infantry uniform:
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/c ... aitsev.jpg