Pipe God of War: The Story of Semyon Danilovich Nomokonov

Pipe God of War: The Story of Semyon Danilovich Nomokonov

The Second World War has countless stories of heroes who displayed impressive heroism to defeat the forces of fascism, many of whom were known pipe smokers. Few, however, have a story as unique as that of the Soviet sniper Semyon Danilovich Nomokonov, who terrified the Nazis as few others could, earning the respect of his comrades on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Nomokonov was as well-known for his love of the pipe as for his military valor, and his trusty briar was said to have never left his hand, except, of course, when it was replaced by a Mosin-Nagant rifle.

Born in 1900, Semyon was one of the indigenous Evenk people, who are among the original inhabitants of Siberia. His early years were uneventful, though he came of age at the time of the First World War, October Revolution, and ensuing Russian Civil War between the Red and White armies that engulfed the fledgling Soviet Union in turmoil throughout the early 20th century. Growing up in the taiga, Semyon learned to hunt from an early age, taking up the rifle from the age of seven. In time he became respected within his community for his skill at hunting sables and elk. As a young man, Semyon found work as a carpenter, supplemented by income from selling furs from his hunts.

Semyon Goes to War

Pipe God of War: The Story of Semyon Danilovich Nomokonov

When the Second World War broke out, Nomokonov was already 41 years old but joined the Red Army nevertheless, leaving the "Dawn of a New Life" collective farm, known as kolkhoz in Russian, for the Valdai Front, near Leningrad. He did not immediately start as a sniper, however. In consideration of his age and carpentry skills, he was stationed in a military hospital to make crutches for wounded soldiers, of which there were many in those years.

In the shadow of the Cold War, it's easy to forget just how much the USSR sacrificed in the fight against Hitler when, however briefly, we were on the same side. Official estimates count the number of casualties in World War Two, known in former Soviet countries as the Great Patriotic War, at 27 million dead, including civilians, which was a third of the Soviet Union's entire population and the largest number of losses of any Allied nation, with China close behind. It was in the midst of this carnage that Nomokonov would prove his mettle. During a firefight, he was attempting to evacuate a wounded comrade when he spotted a Nazi soldier aiming at him. Reports say that he instinctively picked up the wounded man's rifle and eliminated the enemy with a remarkably accurate shot before taking him back to the hospital for treatment. When his superiors heard of Semyon Danilovich's heroism, they immediately transferred him to a sniper platoon.

Nomokonov's crack shot was no fluke. During the Soviets' westward advance after the pivotal battles at Stalingrad and Leningrad, the middle-aged sniper racked up an incredible 360 confirmed kills, a number that becomes even more impressive considering he made many of those shots using only iron sights. His presence on the battlefield inspired confidence in his comrades and terror among the Nazis, who called him the "Siberian Shaman."

... he was stationed in a military hospital to make crutches for wounded soldiers

Nomokonov used inventive and unorthodox tactics that, when combined with his sheer skill and will, proved remarkably effective. Drawing on his Evenk traditions, Semyon would go into battle wearing bits of rope and skins, talismans to help him in the fight, which is how he earned his shamanic moniker from the enemy. In addition, Nomokonov often placed mirrors strategically around his position so that they would catch the light and lure Nazi soldiers into firing at them and giving away their locations.

The sniper wouldn't come out of the war totally unscathed, however. During his military service, Nomokonov was wounded eight times, and was struck by shellfire twice, making a quick return to the front after each injury. His prowess and determination earned him many awards during the war, with his comrades giving him their own nickname of "Hawkeye." Semyon Danilovich's honors included the Order of the Red Banner, two Orders of the Red Star, and the Order of Lenin, which was second only to the Hero of the Soviet Union medal.

Pipe God of War: The Story of Semyon Danilovich Nomokonov

The "Pipe God of War"

While Nomokonov was at the front, he developed a reputation for his love of pipe smoking almost as much as his extreme accuracy. Contemporaries described Nomokonov as never being without his pipe and almost never not smoking. During the war, he is often pictured with a small, rather plump Billiard, as well as traditional Siberian pipes made of brass.

Drawing on his Evenk traditions, Semyon would go into battle wearing bits of rope and skins, talismans to help him in the fight, which is how he earned his shamanic moniker from the enemy

As a hunter and carpenter from a poor taiga family, Nomokonov never learned to read or write. In place of a sniper's logbook, he used his trusty pipe to keep a record of his kills, burning spots onto the stummel for each one. Eventually, he was forced to keep a tally in an official logbook when he ran out of room on his pipe. It was because of his close association with pipe smoking that some sources, particularly from China, referred to him as the "Pipe God of War."

Due to his skill with the Mosin-Nagant, Semyon was later assigned to instruct other snipers headed for the front, training over 150 sharpshooters. When the Red Army, after liberating Auschwitz, Treblinka, and dozens of other concentration camps, finally raised the Soviet Banner of Victory over the Reichstag in Berlin, there was still fighting left to do. Nomokonov was redeployed on the Trans-Baikal Front from East Prussia to fight the Japanese, who still occupied much of Manchuria, Korea, and northern China. Semyon would add another seven kills to his logbook there, bringing him to a total of 367.

In place of a sniper's logbook, he used his trusty pipe to keep a record of his kills

Finally, in 1945, the unlikely alliance between the Eastern Bloc and the West declared final victory over Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito. The last entry in Nomokov's logbook, most likely written by another officer, reads, "In total, according to confirmed data, in the battles for the honor, freedom and independence of the Soviet Motherland, for world peace, sniper Comrade Nomokonov destroyed 360 Nazi invaders, and on the Trans-Baikal Front - 7 soldiers and officers ... during the moments of counterattacks or during the days of offensive battles, the results of the sniper's work could not be known."

Life After the War

Pipe God of War: The Story of Semyon Danilovich Nomokonov

With his military service concluded, Nomokonov would return to his native Siberia to live and work at one of the USSR's many collective farms, continuing his work as a carpenter and family man. True to his rugged character, Nomokonov returned on horseback wearing his kit and uniform, with his trusted rifle in tow. His discharge papers read, "S.D. Nomokonov was given, in connection with the instruction of the command, he personally, as a particularly distinguished hero in the war and returning to the taiga hunting collective farm, was given a horse, binoculars and rifle No. 24638 ... request to allow Comrade Nomokonov to cross the border without hindrance."

He remained a popular figure in the public life of the Soviet Union, with occasional news stories continuing to be printed about his exploits. Once in a while, prominent leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, as well as fellow veterans of the Great Patriotic War, would visit Nomokonov to go on hunting trips. Semyon spoke very little about the war, and not much is known of his experience beyond what was published at the time. In his later years, Nomokonov focused on his family, instilling a love of woodworking in his children, many of whom would become carpenters themselves, and one son, Yura, who carried on his father's hunting trade.

"... sniper Comrade Nomokonov destroyed 360 Nazi invaders, and on the Trans-Baikal Front - 7 soldiers and officers"

Nomokonov passed away in December of 1973, survived by his nine children and 49 grandchildren. His children have worked to preserve and promote their father's legacy, as well as other citizens of the Trans-Baikal region, who began a campaign to award Semyon the posthumous title of Hero of the Russian Federation, formerly called the Hero of the Soviet Union award, the highest honor a Russian citizen can achieve. In light of his valor and grit in the defense of his country, one would be hard pressed to say he hadn't earned it.

Pipe God of War: The Story of Semyon Danilovich Nomokonov


Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   History Pipe Culture


    • Ray G on September 3, 2023
    • Stories like this are why the Smoking Pipes Blog has earned a place among my bookmarks (and among the reasons 90% of my pipe-related purchases are from Smoking Pipes).

    • Miles2623 on September 3, 2023
    • Another fantastic Sunday morning read. Wonderful stuff, gentlemen. Thank you for bringing this man’s story to my attention.

    • Simon H on September 3, 2023
    • Why do a piece now to celebrate a pipe smoking USSR soldier? When Russia is in waging war with Ukraine? When Putin seeks to revive its imperialistic past by invading a European nation? Sorry, but in the context of what is going on right now, I find this unfitting and thoughtless. As a European, I have to react. It is precisely nostalgia for USSR and the patriotism of soldiers that fought in the ”Great Patriotic War” that fuels Putin’s propaganda today, evident from his untruthful cause for invasion (accusing Ukraine goverement for nazism). Today, many indigenous peoples in Russia are also opposed to being recruited in the war, and unlike many ordinary russians, today they raise their voice against Russian imperialism.

    • Astrocomical on September 3, 2023
    • Wow, he had terrific eyesight probably because he never strained his eyes reading and eating traditional foods. That last picture says it all of how his fellow comrades admired him.

    • Ralph M on September 3, 2023
    • Let's do a story on Sir Douglas Bader, or Chesty Puller. Some allies.

    • jack s on September 3, 2023
    • Another great read, keep it up.

    • B H on September 3, 2023
    • Elk and wapiti are the same animal. Your article was tainted by your revolting admiration of commie scum. Go back to reddit and quit poisoning a site I usually enjoy.

    • LEE BROWN on September 3, 2023
    • One of the best pieces I've read by Mr. Bass.

    • Charlie on September 4, 2023
    • Interesting read. And, now I'm genuinely interested in what was in that pipe? What type of tobacco were they smoking? Do we know anything about the blend type?

    • Charlie D on September 4, 2023
    • I enjoyed the article. We must remember at this time in history, the Soviets and United States. Were on the same side, fighting against a common enemy. He showed his valor and his skill in killing the enemy. My curiosity is piqued by where he got his pipes and tobacco in the time of great shortages? Again, a very interesting article.

    • Chuck Stanion on September 5, 2023
    • B H: Thanks for the correction. We've reconciled the redundancy regarding Elk and Wapiti.

    • Dmitry on September 5, 2023
    • Great article! And unexpected from you) Especially at a time like this.... Be careful in your choice of material, or you'll be so "canceled" and the site will be shut down. I'll be sorry if that happens.

    • Juan P on September 5, 2023
    • Sergeant Major Dan Daly U.S.M.C. was another famous pipe smoker. How about doing an article on him as well?

    • Dmitry on September 5, 2023
    • Dears, I’m Russian and I was surprised to read such article at this particular time. I was surprised positively. Despite of the current conflict and propaganda this is a story of the simple man who did what Ukrainians are doing now fighting against the invasion. This is part of my home country history and I have nothing but respect and proudness of such people regardless of their nationality. Thank you for the article.

    • Ray G on September 5, 2023
    • I hope you continue to publish good, well-researched human interest stories without regard to the politics of the day, and don't adjust your editorial policy to accommodate vague (or specific) threats of "cancellation."

    • PD on September 5, 2023
    • This is a good article you have done. Predictable confusion for some of the people reading this sight/article. It's history. "History". And pipe smoking. The person in this story has nothing to do with current affairs.

    • Truett on September 5, 2023
    • Thanks for the suggestions on Sir Douglas Bader, Chesty Puller, and Sergeant Major Dan Daly. As you can imagine, discovering people (and finding enough information on them) for these articles can be a challenge. Suggestions like these are exactly what we hope for. Since it also seems we have some new readership, I'd highly recommend checking out some of our past articles that also focus on pipe-smoking Allies during WWII. To name a few: "Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart: Toughest Pipe Smoking Tough Guy" by Chuck Stanion; "Frank Jack Fletcher: The Pipe Smoking Admiral" by Chuck Stanion; "The History of the MacArthur Corn Cob Pipe" by John McElheny; as well as "How World War II American POWs Grew, Cured, and Smoked Pipe Tobacco in Captivity" and "How World War II American POWs Made Pipes in Captivity" both by Jeffery Sitts. All the best, and enjoy.

    • Mordechai G on September 7, 2023
    • Great article! Super informative, thank you!

    • Charle Buck on September 8, 2023
    • Excellent article about a remarkable soldier. How many 41 year-old Americans (male or female) would leave the farm, their comfortable vehicles or air-conditioned offices to pick up a rifle against their nations' enemy. As a former enlisted Marine and retired Army Captain I salute this courageous and stalwart comrade!

    • Aaron Wright on September 8, 2023
    • Outstanding article! As a Veteran who has trained with and competed at the Best Ranger level I applaud you for writing of such a man- a man of valor regardless of current events. He was clearly a Patriot for his Country and as we know from not only this article but the entire historical record, a man who helped us defeat Hitler and his evil. Again- well done! I particularly was encouraged by his life post war. Thank you! RLTW 12-92

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