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A Very Short History of Sniping in WWII

Discussion in 'WWII General' started by harolds, Feb 13, 2014.

  1. harolds

    harolds Member

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    This is a short synopsis and if anyone has anything to contribute please do so!

    There probably has been something like sniping ever since the development of the rifled barrel. Some seminal sniping was done in the American Civil War and the Boer War. However, modern sniping really got its start in WW1. Here, shooting accurate, scope-sighted rifles became the norm. Early lone snipers gave way to two-man teams, a shooter and a spotter/observer. This system has been carried on up until the present time, the only difference being that the equipment is now so much better. The Germans were the first to recruit and use snipers and they dominated the trenches of their enemies until about 1916 when British, and to an extent, the French, started catching up.
    After the war, sniping fell out of favor in almost every army. Perhaps it could be excused in the Heer since they were more concerned with totally rebuilding from the bottom up. The former Allies were mostly concerned about reducing their armies and sniping, never popular with those in charge, was one of the first things to be discarded, because, the planners said, sniping was a creature of trench warfare and all armies agreed that such a war could not be allowed to happen again. Therefore, sniping programs were felt to be unnecessary and disbanded.
    Only one army embraced sniping in the interwar years and that was the Red Army. One of the lessons they learned from the Spanish Civil War was that snipers were a cheap "force multiplier". So they promoted sniping, developed a sniping version of their trusty Mosin-Nagant rifles and started training snipers in wholesale batches.
    When war broke out in Europe sniping wasn't seen to be something that was needed. The quick campaigns of movement seemed to make sniping irrelevant. Certainly, the U.S. Army thought so as they started to build a mechanized army oriented to offence. Later, they would learn differently. At this time, other than the USSR, only the Waffen SS under the patronage of Heinrich Himmler had an ongoing, active sniper program.
    After the German invasion of the Soviet Union the Heer started taking bunches of casualties from unseen marksmen. Certainly, Soviet snipers contributed their fair share to the heavy German casualties of Barbarossa and also helped slow down the advance of the German forces. They also helped hold back German infantry and slowed encircling movements so that other Soviet soldiers could escape. To say the least, the Germans were impressed!
    Unfortunately for them, with the exception of the SS noted above, there wasn't any snipers or sniping equipment available to the Germans. However, the Heer was always able to jury-rig something up so individual soldiers, armed with captured Soviet sniper rifles started taking the sniping war back to the Soviets. We have all read accounts of Soviet vs. German snipers in Stalingrad (some true, some not) so at least some German units had snipers by that time. German sniper training schools were established and such courses could take up to four or five months to complete. "German thoroughness" again being evident.
    British sniping really got going after the invasions of Sicily and Italy. There, German snipers were much in evidence and the British had to play catch-up. This they did and by 1944 they had some very good sniper teams working in Normandy to combat what was seen as a German sniper behind every bush. (There certainly wasn't that many German snipers but this is a good example of sniping dominating the battlefield and limiting movement). Since there seems to be a British book about every aspect of WW2, is there a good one about the British snipers?? More info is needed here.
    The U.S. Army came into sniping late. Sniping rifles were developed and distributed, but their use depended upon the importance given sniping by regimental and divisional commanders. That meant that sniping might be important in one division or regiment while a neighboring unit might have none. Some units established their own sniping schools while others just handed out scoped rifles to soldiers who were good shots and they just did what they could within the platoon or company they were assigned to. After the war the U.S. Army again abandoned sniping, picked it up somewhat in the Korean War, abandoned it again, and then only after Vietnam came up with permanent, comprehensive program.
    With its emphasis on rifle marksman ship, the USMC was a whole different matter. Sniping was given a higher priority and by the end of the war progress had been made in what was to become the Marine Scout-sniper program which continues to this day.
    In the Pacific, Japanese snipers made themselves felt in most of the major battles of the island-hopping campaign. They had good field craft and camouflage plus they were accurate and effective out to say 400 meters, which in the jungles of the area was a long ways. Here I ran into problems! I have not found much on Japanese sniper training or doctrine. Obviously they had some but I haven't run across it yet. Can any of you help??
    As far as I can tell, the Italian army did not field and snipers but I could be wrong here.
     
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  2. Riter

    Riter Active Member

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    Britain had a 1940 sniper training phamplet which anticipated stationary warfare. They issued the SMLE No. III with the Aldis or Pattern 18 scope. Much of this equipment was abandoned at Dunkirk. Reequipping the army and the contesting of control over British skies temporarily halted training at the Hythe, but the British had several other locations that snipers could be instructed. They even had a school in the Middle East but it wasn't for the desert but in anticipation of wrestling Europe from the Axis. By 1944 the British updated their sniper phamplet to reflect mobile warfare (but it still addressed hides that could be made during stagnant period).

    In response to the Soviet snipers, the German Army issued its own manual in 1943 and within two months of its issuance American intelligence was aware of it. The SS followed suit in 1944. Both had different procurement methods and the SS had both the short rail and long rail mounting system.

    Regarding the Japanese, while they did have training, no manual has been located yet. We know the Japanese developed their doctrine in 1937 after adopting the Type 97 sniper rifle (because the Chinese would snipe or just pot-shot at the Japanese). Original Japanese response was either to shell a village or hit it with poison gas and move on. Have to find a Japanese researcher who can dig out their material from their archives.
     
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  3. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    Excellent and informative thread!

    We might consider how to deal with enemy snipers. Was the best tactic a mano a mano, sniper vs. sniper duel? Or was suppressive fire on potential sniper hides more effective? One impact of a sniper might just be to make the enemy waste disproportionate firepower.

    I've read that in Normandy the Allied command told troops to refer to "isolated enemy riflemen" rather than "snipers", an indication of their moral impact. We might also consider whether every soldier taking a shot at his opponents should be considered a trained sniper.
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2022
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  4. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    Many in Australia were already familiar with rifles and shooting in the bush...It made the average Australian infantryman a dangerous opponent in places like PNG. We had snipers on top of that...
    [​IMG]

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    Korea
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    Ian Robertson 3RAR wearing a US jacket...
    [​IMG]

    Today
    [​IMG]
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  5. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    What I have understood from books the longer the sniper stays in one place the sooner they know your position. Even after some two shots they could start to count where to fire with artillery or mortar fire. That would hit enough area enough soon. Sniper vs sniper would take a long time. The more shots from one place the easier to count the sniper's place. I believe you have to change "pretty" often where you are to make it safe to keep on sniping. You have to take some things into account as well. If you don't freeze the snow during Winter, a shot makes the snow go up and your place is easily noticed.
     
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  6. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    In places like PNG, Australia had snipers who would go out by themselves and usually sit in a tree or embankment...they would choose an area that Australians would go through knowing that enemy (Japanese) snipers would set up in the same area...Then they would sit and wait...Not uncommon for them to come back to base days later carrying "proof" trophies...
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2022
  7. Riter

    Riter Active Member

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    Just like every German tank was a Tiger, every German rifleman was a "sniper" whether he was armed with an ordinary rifle, smg or even a MG-42. The term has been very loosely applied.

    Counter-sniper attempted to locate the sniper by first determining the direction the shot was fired from. He'd speak with witnesses, ask where the victim was standing, how he was facing, where the bullet struck. Then he'd figure out the approximately location, stalk and wait for the other guy to fire a shot or make a mistake.

    No sniper to counter-snipe? Stonk the b*stard by having the artillery observor bring down the full wrath of the big bores or bring up the tanks and have them shell the snot out of the area. In the Pacific, sometimes the war dog was called.
     
  8. Biak

    Biak Adjutant Staff Member Patron  

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    Back in the olden days they were called Sharpshooters. The American Civil War may be the beginnings :

    This is the rifle Confederates used to snipe Union officers
    Look out, artillery crews, here come the sharpshooters.

    The rifle was first engineered by Sir Joseph Whitworth, a Crimean War veteran who noticed that the British standard-issue rifle wasn’t really performing all that well, but the cannons used by the British in Crimea were much more accurate than previous field pieces. He believed those cannons and their hexagonal rifling could be scaled down to be used by a one-man long gun. Whitworth’s gun would get the chance to perform against the Enfield rifle he sought to replace – and it wasn’t even close. Whitworth’s rifle was superior by far.

    Except the British didn’t buy into the rifle. It was far more expensive than the Enfield Rifle. But Whitworth was able to sell his weapons to both the French and the Confederate armies.

    And then there was Carlos Hathcock,
    Meet the Vietnam War’s greatest sniper

    There have been many incredible shooters in modern American history. William Dixon, Nicholas Irving, and Chris Kyle are near the top of the list. But none of these exceptional marksmen have quite the same legendary status as Carlos ‘Whitefeather’ Hathcock, a USMC sniper during the Vietnam War. Earning his nickname because of the white turkey feather he wore in his bush cap, Hathcock’s career was filled with the stuff Hollywood writers could only dream of. Even if you’d never heard of Hathcock (shame on you if true), you’d no doubt recognize some of his exploits that have been worked into TV and movie scripts over the years.

    An avid shooter in the backwoods of Arkansas since he was 12, Hathcock joined the Marine Corps and was quickly recognized for his marksmanship abilities when he won the prestigious Wimbledon Cup shooting event at Camp Perry in 1965 when he was only 23 years old.

    A year later Hathcock was deployed to Vietnam as a military policeman. However, his time as a pseudo-police officer was short. Captain Edward James Land, famously known for starting the formal Marine Scout Sniper program, had convinced higher leadership to push designated marksmen down to every platoon. To further this goal he was given authorization to recruit from across the Corps. Hathcock’s victory at Wimbledon the previous year put him at the top of Land’s wish list.

    Almost immediately after arriving in theater Hathcock began to earn his reputation as one of the greatest shooters in history, eventually racking up 93 confirmed kills on Viet Cong and North Vietnamese enemy combatants.

    Eventually his awesome lethality drew the attention of NVA higher command, and a bounty was placed specifically on his head. Typically enemy soldiers were paid anywhere from $8 to $2,000 for taking down an American sniper. By the end of his first deployment Hathcock’s life was worth $30,000 to the North Vietnamese. Unfortunately for them he managed to kill every enemy marksman who tried to earn that money.
     
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  9. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    Ukrainian sniper dubbed "Charcoal"...
    [​IMG]
     
  10. harolds

    harolds Member

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    I was reading some accounts of German snipers that achieved high scores. They had some interesting things to say about sniping in general.

    The first skill a sniper must learn is how NOT to get killed. One German sniper deplored the Heer's policy of taking the best shots in an infantry training BN and sending them to sniper school. When they got to their unit at the front, they usually lasted less than 10 days. Why? They didn't have time to acquire the survival instinct that is absolutely necessary for long-term survival in a combat environment. Usually, they started banging away at everything, trying win the Knight's Cross in a hurry. As a result, they were soon pinpointed and disposed of by a counter-sniper or whatever. His suggestion was to flag these good shots, but then see if they survived for a month or two at the front.. If they did, they probably had that "feeling" that kept true veterans alive when by all logic they should have become casualties. Only then would they be sent to sniper school.

    This guy had a general policy of only firing one shot only from a given position. One shot is a hard thing to pinpoint but it does alert all the other enemy to listen up for a second shot, a second shot that doesn't come. He would then sneak out of his position and go to another "hide" that he had prepared in advance. He'd then repeat the performance as needed.

    We must also remember that even more important than shooting skill was skill in observation. Several snipers observing from camouflaged blinds could often detect enemy intentions to attack or retreat and would give a commanding officer warning of what's about to happen.

    Another skill that was frequently mentioned was the need to select and build blinds or hides that could be entered and exited without being seen in daylight. One German sniper, on his first mission picked a spot that was good, but could only be entered or exited after dark. So he had to stay hidder for a whole long northern European summer day. Since he couldn't move he ended up having to do "#1" and "#2" in his pants! More serious yet, had he been discovered, he had no way to get out of there before the enemy mortared him out of existence.

    As CAC noted, the best shots came from areas with a strong hunting/shooting traditions.
     
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  11. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    Excellent posts! One thing not mentioned is terrain. I'm currently reading Monte Cassino and the success of the German infantrymen (the author refers to them as snipers) is that they were in a position above the Allies. As a result, Allied movement during the day allowed German snipers easy targets. Because of their location it was difficult, if not impossible, to detect their location. They hid while Allied firepower and planes did their best to overwhelm them. Because of the terrain, they were successful in limiting Allied advancement.
     
  12. Riter

    Riter Active Member

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    harolds is correct about sending newbs straight to sniping school. Lack of combat experience and they can get killed rather quick. Better to send an experienced soldier with potential but in wartime, it is what it is. Replacements may not be formally school trained but trained in the field from among candidates who were combat proven soldiers who were also good marksmen. Within the British Commonwealth, men could be selected and trained that way instead of being sent to one of its formal schools.

    One should remember that every army had a different approach in appointing or training snipers.

    Regarding Monte Cassino, shooting at varying angles is difficult and it's easy to overshoot a target. The lasered (or measured) distance of a hypotenuse is longer than the horizontal measured distance (if both shooter and target were at the same elevation). Modernly snipers laser the target, figure out the cosine and multiply by the cosine to get the approximate actual distance. Of course there's short cuts like figuring 45 degrees, 22.5 degrees and taking it from there. Like everyone else at one place, I was shooting a flintlock at a silhouette and kept missing. Had to aim 1 foot in front of it to knock it down.

    Zaistev at Stalingrad difficulty and his suggestion was to make ranging shots before laying in wait.

    Sharpshooters was mentioned and the Whitworth was the first scoped rifles issued by any power, albeit the Confederacy, for war purposes. The Union Army had more scoped rifles, but there was no standard pattern and they were made by individual gunsmiths. There's a famous photo of a burial detail of the First Andrew Sharp Shooters and if you look at the trigger guards, many are different. While the Union was the first to raise real sharpshooters (and not a honorific titled unit), there was no formal marksmanship training for them as they had to be marksmen before enlisting. The Confederates relied on British musketry manuals to train its sharpshooters (both light infantrymen and the smaller group who served as the equivalent of snipers). Patrick Cleburne, late of the British Army, was the first Confederate General to formally have his division trained and is the father of the Confederate sharpshooter.

    Modernly both the Germans and the Finns still use "sharpshooter" and have no modern word for sniper. The Russians use sniper (sounds the same but drawn out sniiiiiii-pah). There's a good 1931 movie of that same name. If you look at the rifles, they're Canadian Ross rifles which were leftovers from British armaments provided to the White Russian Army. The Russians had no sniper rifles in WW I and when the film was made there was no optics industry in the Soviet Union. Hence the Ross rifles with British Aldis (or was it Pattern 1918 scopes) being used to make this film of the glorious peaceful proletariat peoples repelling counter-revolutionary attacks (sorry about the propaganda).



    BTW, the first scoped rifle in America was made during the American Revolution for the famous portrait painter, Charles Wilson Peale, by Boston instrument maker David Rittenhouse. Peale was a painter (and militia lieutenant before being accepted/transitioned into the Continental Army) and not a rifleman. Ignorant about cheek weld, he got a black eye from shooting it and had Rittenhouse install some springs to soften the recoil.
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2022
  13. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    A couple of notes I have read:

    A "veteran": Germans did not talk to the newbies until they had stayed alive for two weeks. After that they believed he could live longer in the frontline.

    Häyhä did not use optics because you had to put your head just that much higher you made yourself a bigger target, too.
    In his book he also said he checked the shooting places the previous evening and in case made them more suitable for shooting.
    During loading be careful and don't scratch the lead head. This might affect the ballistics. If not sure of hitting shoot immediately a second shot. Use clothing that also help you aim longer, and shoot during exhale.
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2022
  14. Bolshevik

    Bolshevik Active Member

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    I read somewhere long ago that in the Red Army of WW2, "sniperism" became something of a cult practice, particularly at Stalingrad in the close environment of a street, with many little nooks and crannies to hide in and move to.

    The main problem with this form of warfare achieving cult status was, in the Russian experience at least, that any Ivan who fancied himself would move into the territory of an already established sniper and bang away, making occupation of the same position by the trained man extremely problematic and often downright dangerous, as the ordinary Ivan had been spotted, so when the "professional" tried to use the same position he was often spotted very early before he had a chance to make the position into a "kill".

    And women seemed to take to sniping very well, as they were often more patient than the men, and their breathing was a lot shallower, making them steadier shots generally speaking.

    William Craig's book of the Stalingrad fighting("Enemy At The Gates") features a story of Zaitsev " hunting" a specialist German sniper and achieving his "kill" by getting his spotter to "fake" a hit between the eyes, and to act as such to convince his German quarry that the shot was good.

    When the German sniper raised his head to take a look at the performance, Zaitsev shot him between the eyes instead.

    It's probably the most famous sniper dual or "kill" in military history. An entire film was based around this story from a few pages of the book.

    The film Hollywoodises the story, with the German being lured out into the open at the Lazur Chemical works, and shot in a manner that was fine for the film, but if you read the book was pure fantasy.
     
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  15. Bolshevik

    Bolshevik Active Member

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    Something else I might mention....

    When I used to read Sven Hassel, he used to convey a whole lot of sheer terror with a single word...

    SIBERIAN

    He always said that Siberian snipers were the best and most ruthless killers in the Red Army. And also, that Soviet soldiers and snipers in particular would wear any medals or other chest embellishments INTO COMBAT. Sven describes an action where Josef Porter spots a very bemedalled Siberian climbing a tree, and whispers to Sven that "Oh God! This one has the Hero of the Soviet Union on his chest!!!!". Porter manages to pot the Siberian before he gets off a shot, to the relief of everyone else.

    Another aspect of sniping that you haven't mentioned is the attitude that sniping is a "dirty" form of combat, and that captured snipers were often mistreated or even executed on the spot, revealing just how demoralising being on the recieving end of sniper fire can be, particularly if your unit has taken its fair share of casualties from them. If you capture a soldier who is tagged as a sniper, he often gets the blame for EVERY casualty your unit has endured in that position.

    Sniping at Stalingrad in particular demoralised whole units of Germans, and restricted movement to a great degree, holding up advances for hours at a time and sometimes for several days until the area could be cleared of the pests.

    No wonder that snipers and sniperism is far from popular in the world of the common soldier. Beware the treatment of your enemy if you get captured!!!!

    Bolshevik
     
  16. Bolshevik

    Bolshevik Active Member

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    Excuse me for using Sven Hassel as a source. I believe Sven was a real veteran, but that a lot of his stories were fictional, but mixed in with incidents that had actually occurred.

    His first book, "Legion of The Damned", is probably the closest thing he ever wrote to a comprehensive storyline that was based on actuality.
    Other books like "Wheels Of Terror" or "Reign of Hell" or even "Blitzfreeze" also had a ring of truth to them, but the more Sven published, the more fantasizing he indulged in.
     
  17. Bolshevik

    Bolshevik Active Member

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    I mean, there are stories contained within Sven's books that really do seem to be based on what he experienced.
    For instance, in "Blitzfreeze", they play a game called "Arse slap", to keep warm. The slapped man has to bend over and face away from the rest of the platoon or squad, and then he is slapped on the backside by everyone else until he can guess whichever man has slapped him.

    When it is Tiny's turn, he carries on as if he cannot feel the slaps at all. So Josef Porter gets a wooden plank with a nail in one end and hits him as hard as he can, driving the nail into his backside. Tiny roars with pain for the only time during the game, and still cannot guess who the slapper is!

    Stories like this have a certain ring of truth to them. In Winter temperature, how else would you keep warm?
     
  18. Bolshevik

    Bolshevik Active Member

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    Sorry. Off topic.
     
  19. Bolshevik

    Bolshevik Active Member

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    I understand the best shots in the German army were Tyroleans, from the Tyrol region
     
  20. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Shooting between the eyes sounds glorious and makes the enemy more scared. Personally I believe more in making the enemy soldier badly wounded. Dead enemy-totally kaput. Nothing to do to help him. Badly wounded-it takes 2-3 enemy soldiers to carry him to the doctor and they are out of fighting until returning. Which helps your side more? Generals and staff soldiers-death.
     

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