Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Snipers

Title: Soviet sniper
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Individuals firing at long range from concealment against an enemy force. Sniping was a phenomenon of World War I that did not seem likely to occur in the World War II because of the initial rapid advances of invading German and Japanese troops. However, when military operations began to take on a more static aspect, it was realized that sniping could be of great value, especially in affecting morale. The ability of a seemingly invisible sniper to kill individuals at a range of 400 or even 600 yards could have a significant effect on the attacked unit. Snipers generally worked in pairs, one acting as a spotter while the other shot.

Heinrich Himmler can be considered the instigator of German sniper training. He began a Waffen-Schutzstaffel (Waffen-SS) sniper training program. The Germans had sold off many of their sniper rifles and had not reordered any telescopic sights, but Himmler reversed this situation. At first, the Germans used any rifle to which a telescopic sight could be fitted, but later they concentrated on the standard infantry rifle, the Kar 98k, fitted with turret-mount telescopic sights.

When the German army invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, it encountered many Soviet snipers and needed to neutralize them. The Soviet snipers were at first more numerous than skilled, but they improved with training and experience. Stories abound of Russian snipers' effectiveness. One sniper killed 75 German soldiers and wounded another 25 from the German 465th Infantry Regiment in September 1941. Russian snipers were armed chiefly with the Moisin-Nagant 91/30 rifle, which was fitted with a variety of telescopic sights.

As the war progressed, snipers appeared in increasing numbers on both sides on the Eastern Front. The Soviets had snipers who recorded tallies of 400 or even 500 dead. The leading German sniper managed about 300 kills. The movie "Enemy at the Gates" (2001) celebrates the success of Soviet sniper Vassily Zaitsev in the Battle of Stalingrad.

In the Pacific Theater, U.S. snipers were equipped with the Springfield .30 caliber M1903 A-3 and A-4 rifles, with a commercial 2.5 magnification telescopic sight. The sight was fragile, having been designed for deer hunting. Because the rifle had no iron sights fitted, if the telescope was damaged the rifle was rendered useless for sniping. In all, the U.S. Army issued some 28,000 Springfield sniper rifles. The M-1 Garand service rifle was also fitted with a telescopic sight, but this came too late in the war to have great effect on sniping techniques and practice.

The U.S. Marine Corps has always had a great interest in sniping, and it parted from the commercial telescopic sight to fit a Unertl scope, which had military durability. One marine sniper, Private David Cass, shot down a Japanese machine-gun crew at a range of 1,200 yds. Japanese snipers often, to their own danger, were roped into trees from which they could fire on advancing Allied troops. Many were killed by machine-gun fire, and on one celebrated occasion a Japanese sniper was comprehensively dispatched by a round from a Boyes .50 caliber antitank rifle, which went straight through the tree and the sniper.

The British army had long been intensely interested in long-range rifle marksmanship, and in February 1940 it established a sniper training school at Bisley Camp in England. Initially, British snipers used the vintage P1914 rifle. The British seldom used snipers in the first half of the war; the war of movement in France and the Low Countries in 1940 did not offer opportunities for sniping, and in the Western Desert Campaign, heat distortion and the lack of cover made sniping virtually impossible. In the campaign in Sicily, however, sniping regained its importance for the British. By this time, snipers were using the new British service rifle, redesignated Rifle No. 4 Mk 1 (T). Originally standard-issue weapons, the rifles were then sent to London gunmakers Holland and Holland for rebuilding. Although there was some criticism of the telescopic sight used, at least one British sniper engaged Germans at a range of 700 yards and scored several hits.

Begun as a minor activity in all armies in World War II, sniping soon accumulated its own lore, and the sight of an oddly dressed rifleman clutching a telescopic rifle, accompanied by another rifleman with a spotting telescope became more and more common. The effect of these men was remarkable, and defending troops went about their business in considerable peril of their lives. Sniping is a tradition perpetuated by many armies today.

David Westwood


Further Reading
Pegler, Martin. The Military Sniper since 1914. Oxford, UK: Osprey, 2001.; Senich, Peter R., and Howard Kyle. The German Sniper. Wickenburg, AZ: Narmount Technical Publications, 1975.; Wynn, Barry. The Sniper. London: Macdonald, 1966.
 

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