army sniper

Snipers

“We have been trekking hard all these last days. Heat and dust terrible… We got in a wood and were surrounded by Germans. The Germans are very fond of wood fighting and detail snipers to get up trees. We lost considerably including nine officers.” Letter from Lt. Neville Woodroffe during the Mons Retreat, 1914.

Snipers can trace their lineage to hunters who began using rifled firearms that could fire accurately at longer rangers. In the North American colonies, settlers adapted the rifle to warfare, and riflemen were used as snipers by both sides during the American Revolutionary War, and by the British in the Napoleonic Wars. During the Second Boer War, Boer marksman with accurate Mauser rifles took a heavy toll on regular British forces. In response, the British formed the first professional unit of trained snipers, the Lovat Scouts, using telescopic rifles and wearing camouflage suits. Their commander said of them that they were “half wolf and half jackrabbit.“

A British officer shoots from a camouflaged position.

The trench warfare of the First World War suited the sniper perfectly. At the beginning of the war, sniping was an amateur affair, practiced mostly by officers used to hunting from before the war. Armed with personal hunting rifles, sharpshooters spent their spare time trying to pick off enemy soldiers. Only the Imperial German Army issued out telescopic sites, and soon the trained German snipers developed a fearsome reputation in the Entente armies.

In response, the British and French set about professionalizing their own marksmen. Big-game hunters like Hesketh Hesketh-Prichard worked hard to develop sniper tactics to counter the Germans. All armies set up training schools, and following in the Germans’ wake the British and French began issuing standard-issue scoped rifles. Optics underwent significant development; a major example was the “periscope” rifle that used sloped mirrors to allow soldiers to fire without revealing themselves above the trench parapet.

A British soldier at Gallipoli tries to lure Turkish snipers into firing; his friends don’t seem amused.

As snipers improved in quality, the danger they posed increased. Working in pairs, snipers were expected to memorize the layout of the land in front of them, noticing any subtle change. They wore camouflage and shot from disguised or armored positions to remain safe themselves while they watched for any sudden enemy movement. Even a man who exposed himself for a fraction of a second might become a casualty. The most valuable targets were officers, signalers trying to lay communication lines, and soldiers bringing up rations from field kitchens.

A camouflaged British marksman next to a fake tree he used as a platform.

The sniper war became a daily feature of life on the front line.  Soldiers developed methods to cope. Robert Graves remembered being troubled by one particular German sniper, but he found a response: “Later we secured an elephant-gun that could send a bullet through enemy loopholes and if we failed to locate the loop-hole of a persistent sniper, we tried to dislodge him with a volley of rifle-grenades, or even by ringing up the artillery.”

The randomness of death scared troops. It even created one superstition - never light a cigarette three times from the same match. “The sniper sees the first light, he hones in on the second, and when he sees the third he takes the shot.”

Anzac troops use a periscope rifle on Gallipoli.

Soldiers hated snipers and a captured one could expect no mercy. Nevertheless, sniping had a mental toll of its own. Some treated it like hunting, but others were disturbed by its oddly personal nature. R. A. Chell remembered feeling so during his first try at it:

“After about fifteen minutes quiet watching - with my rifle in a ready position - I saw a capless bald head come up behind the plate. The day was bright and clear and I hadn’t the slightest difficulty in taking a most deliberate aim at the very centre of that bright and shiny plate - but somehow I couldn’t press the trigger: to shoot such a ‘sitter’ so deliberately in cold blood required more real courage than I possessed. After a good look round he went down and I argued with myself about my duty. My bald-headed opponent had been given a very sporting chance and if he were fool enough to come up again I must shoot him unflinchingly. I considered it my duty to be absolutely ready for that contingency. After about two minutes he came up again with added boldness and I did my duty. I had been a marksman before the war and so had no doubt about the instantaneousness of that man’s death. I felt funny for days and the shooting of another German at 'stand-to’ the next morning did nothing to remove those horrid feelings I had.”

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Smart, beautiful and deadly, 19 year old Russian sniper Roza Shanina had 54 confirmed kills during World War II.

<<OK so I know for a fact I’ve blogged most of these photos before but I sincerely don’t give a rat’s ass.  I have no qualms about reblogging Ms. Shanina 100 times a day if it suits me…hell, no doubt I could devote a blog entirely to her remarkable accomplishments.  I am totally intrigued and mesmerized by her.  And not simply because she is amazingly beautiful and modest and bold, but also because of the unequivocal expertise she displayed in her “trade”.  Maybe it’s also because she has that certain look about her like she might be just a little too shy to come up and talk to you…and yet have zero reservations about calmly dispatching your ass from 1000 meters.>>

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.

Supposed photo of at least one “Armagh Sniper”, nicknamed either “Goldfinger” or “Terminator”, armed with one of the dreaded Barrett M82 .50 caliber rifles that were smuggled into Ireland in 1986.

“What’s special about the Barrett is the huge kinetic energy… The bullet can just walk through a flak jacket. South Armagh was the prime place to use such weapon because of the availability of Brits. They came to dread it and that was part of its effectiveness.”  —Unidentified member of the South Armagh Brigade sniper teams

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U.S. Soldiers and Marines, with Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Dutch, Spanish and Lithuanian soldiers competing in the European Best Sniper Squad Competition at the 7th Army Training Commandâs, Grafenwoehr training area, Bavaria, Germany, Oct. 23, 2016. 

Λουντιμία Παυλιτσένκο. Υπολοχαγός και η κορυφαία ελεύθερη σκοπευτής του Κόκκινου Στράτου που σκότωσε 309 ναζιστικά σκουπίδια. • αυτό για όσους λένε “και οι φασίστες άνθρωποι ειναι” ή “μορφώστε τους ναζί”.