Shanina volunteered for the military after the death of her brother in 1941 and chose to be a marksman on the front line. Praised for her shooting accuracy, Shanina was capable of precisely hitting moving enemy personnel and making doublets (two target hits by two rounds fired in quick succession).
Allied newspapers described Shanina as “the unseen terror of East Prussia”. She became the first Soviet female sniper to be awarded the Order of Glory and was the first servicewoman of the 3rd Belorussian Front to receive it. Shanina was killed in action during the East Prussian Offensive while shielding the severely wounded commander of an artillery unit. Shanina’s bravery received praise already during her lifetime, but came at odds with the Soviet policy of sparing snipers from heavy fights. Her combat diary was first published in 1965.
The Soviets found that sniper duties fit women well, since good snipers are patient, deliberate, have a high level of aerobic conditioning, and normally avoid hand-to-hand combat. They found the same with women as bomber crews, very fine adjustments and intense technical expertise actually gave them a better reputation than most all male bomber squadrons.
The Soviet Union made use of their female population because it was a necessity. It’s just one of those situations that’s unique in history, an enemy attacks with at first such great success that you have to throw everything you have at them. If children could hold rifles they were put in or joined partisan divisions, if you were a woman you could drive a tank or fire a rifle. The whole situation in the Soviet Union was unique. It actually had a lot less to do with the Soviet command needing bodies to hurl at the Germans, and more with a few other factors. For instance there was never a shortage of male volunteers to be pilots, and yet three all female squadrons were stood up, all of which saw some pretty serious combat.
On the ground, women that ended up as tank drivers, machine gunners, or snipers ended up there mostly by their own tenacity. Obviously it was a different system for them back then, but concerning women on the front, there was no written policy against it (that policy would’ve violated the whole egalitarian principle of Communism), and when asked, senior command usually left it up to the company commander to decide. When Germany launched operation Barbarossa and caught the Russians off guard they made great gains and were within reach of Moscow. This is arguably getting close to the “knock out punch” they wanted. When an enemy attacks you in such force you have to use everything available to you. This includes women and younger males, the same as they did at Stalingrad. Not to mention the propaganda gains from women in combat roles. Some got there because they donated equipment, some because of their training, but all were needed (though maybe not utilized). You also have to remember that Russia had been in and out of war from 1905, which was another drain to the male population.