Wednesday, September 22, 2010
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND SHOTS ON SNIPING: THE MEN BEHIND THE TRIGGER
This is certainly not a training manual or a “how-to” course in sniping. It is merely a compilation of notes on sniping and the men who make snipers. To see the real military manuals in use today, see these:
Better than even the military manuals, IMHO, is Major John Plaster’s The Ultimate Sniper, which is THE book to have on ALL the aspects of sniping.
SELECTION OF SNIPERS
The military sniper is no longer just the man with the top marksmanship score who is one day handed a scoped rifle and told, “You’re our sniper.”
"Here ya go, Joe. You're now the sniper."
Since the Second World War, Korea in our case, various militaries have narrowed down the criteria to search for the best candidates.The above method was actually pretty common in the U.S. Army during WWII. The Marine Corps developed a professional sniper training program using their competitive shooting teams cadre, but Army sniper training was conducted, if at all, at various local unit levels.
A Lieutenant Raymond H. Ross ran his own sniper training for his unit on Bougainville: “When selecting men to be trained as snipers, especial care must be taken to obtain individuals capable of acting on their own. This means steady nerves, physical strength and agility, patience and judgment. Above all they must possess good eyesight and be natural marksmen.”
The British Army of WWII required its sniper candidates in an official memorandum to be: “Picked men, and fit men, and proud to be such; the best marksmen, skilled in fieldcraft, confident in their self-reliance, possessed of great courage and unrivalled patience.”
The Middle East Command sought a man who was: (a) a marksman—not just a “good shot”; (b) armed with a specially accurate rifle with which he is fully acquainted; (c) skilled in fieldcraft, camouflage, and stalking; (d) courageous, self-reliant, and patient.”
The WWII German criteria for sniper selection included almost exclusively veterans with more than a year of combat service, as well as excellent rifle scores. They had to pass various shooting requirements to be accepted to the official sniper training courses.
Other criteria Germany’s top snipers included were: patience, perseverance, excellent sense of observation, calmness, good judgment, courage, the ability to “outsit” the enemy, and being a “tactician at detail.”
Yet another Germany Army source stated the prospective sniper needed, “…a deep knowledge of nature, in addition to cunning and rapidity of decision, and the capacity for independent action…Natural proclivity, passion for the chase, fanatical love of firearms…”
Japanese sniper candidates were selected by their platoon leaders, a good idea IMHO, as who knows their men the best…a paper pusher looking at records on some distant desk or the man who leads them in combat? It was customary that the candidates usually did have superior marksmanship scores. The vast majority held the rank of Superior Private, indicating that they were seasoned veterans.
Men of short stature were preferred to tall men. The Japanese reasoned that small men would present less conspicuous targets to hostile fire. Take heart, ye runts. It is interesting aside to note that Finland’s top sniper in the Winter War of ‘39-‘40 was only five foot tall. The wearing of glasses did not necessarily disqualify a soldier from becoming a sniper. Take heart, ye nerds.
The Russians in WWII noted the importance of being a keen observer:
“In order to be able to determine the location and nature of the enemy target by means of a few (very often barely noticeable indications) the sniper must possess a highly-developed sense of vigilance and faculty of observation.
It is claimed that in winter time a sniper discovered an adversary by his breath visible behind a stone or bush, and another behind a tree by some birds that picked up bread crumbs dropped by the soldier on the ground.”
In the days of the Cold War, Soviet snipers were, “…selected from conscripts who were physically fit, intelligent, had good eyesight and hearing, and quick reactions. Candidates had to be consistent in hitting a 300-meter target with iron sights.”
The Soviets also had female snipers (as well as pilots, anti-tank riflemen, mortar crews, etc.) during WWII. I was able to find no criteria for their selection, but knowing high-ranking men in the military hierarchy, I’d be willing to bet big boobs were a prime consideration.
Western armies try hard to avoid the hardcore sociopaths who just enjoy killing. The Captain Jim Land, who started building the professional sniper training program for the USMC in Vietnam, began the first psychological screening of sniper candidates.
“For the sniper, there is no hate of the enemy, only respect for him or her as a quarry. Psychologically, the only motive that will sustain the sniper is knowing he is doing a necessary job and having the confidence that he is the best person to do it. On the battlefield, hate will destroy any man—especially a sniper. Killing for revenge will ultimately twist his mind.”
Other forces gladly seek out the blood-thirsty types. A favorite tactic of the Chechen jihadist snipers was to deliberately wound one man in an extremity. When medics or other soldiers came to aid the first casualty, they too were deliberately wounded. When it appeared that no one else was coming to their rescue, the sniper deliberately and coldly killed each wounded man one by one.
Iraqi jihadists posted on a Web site a list of “duties” of the insurgent sniper. This included: “Killing doctors and chaplains is suggested as a means of psychological warfare.”
“Apparently the Jap soldier not only would go to any extreme to avoid surrender, but would also try to see that no civilian surrendered...He had spotted a Japanese group—apparently father, mother, and three children—out on the rocks, preparing to drown themselves but evidently weakening in their decision. The Jap sniper took aim. He drilled the man from behind, dropping him into the sea. The second bullet hit the woman. She dragged herself about 30 feet along the rocks. Then she floated out in a stain of blood. The sniper would have shot the children, but a Japanese woman ran across and carried them out of range. The sniper walked defiantly out of his cave, and crumpled under a hundred Marine bullets.”
The comparison to, and call for, hunters in the sniping trade is widespread. Anyone who has spent hours shivering in a duck blind or a tree stand, low-crawled through prickly pear to get within range of an antelope, or just still-hunted squirrels knows a great deal of the sniper’s tasks already.
The most famous Soviet sniper of the Second World War, Vassily Zietsev, grew up hunting wolves. Finland’s top sniper of the Winter War, Simo Haya, was a lifelong hunter. Chuck Mawhinny, with a higher confirmed count in Vietnam than even Carlos Hathcock, made his choice in regards to joining the Army or the Marines upon which one wouldn’t ship him out until after hunting season. We all know Alvin York was a lifelong hunter in the Tennessee hills. Many Canadian crack shots were Natives, particularly Objiway, who had grown up hunting. Lord Lovat formed Lovat’s Scouts (half wolf, half jackrabbit) during the Boer War and introduced the Scottish game wardens’ Ghillie suit to sniping. Major Hesketh-Prichard, a noted hunter of dangerous game, formed the British School of Sniping Observation and Scouting to counter the superior German sniper threat in WWI. Then there’s the Aussies.
In WWII, the Australians were particularly noted for their marksmanship by both friend and foe, especially the Germans and Italians in North Africa. The best of the best were the ‘roo hunters. They were already familiar with the Lee-Enfield action and had to be, by profession, crack shots. Shooting a kangaroo and only wounding it caused the rest of the herd to scatter. Shooting it in the wrong place ruined the valuable hide. These skills served them extremely well in the Pacific and Burmese Theaters.
Germany’s top WWII sniper, Matthais Hetzenauer, with 345 confirmed kills, hailed from the mountains, wooded Tyrol country, said of the selection of snipers, “Only people born for individual fighting such as hunters, even poachers, forest rangers, etc. without taking into consideration their time of service.”
Land again: “The sniper is the big game hunter of the battlefield. He uses all of those skills regularly studied, admired, and accepted by people who would apply them to hunting deer, elk, or perhaps bear. Certainly, the sniper, like the big game hunter, must know and understand the habits of the quarry which he hunts. He must possess the field craft to be able to successfully position himself for a killing shot. Finally, the sniper must have highly developed marksmanship skills to effectively place a single bullet into his intended target. In short, a sniper must be self-reliant and possess the keen skills of a still hunter or poacher.”
The good hunter is a prime candidate for American snipers. In an interview with Major John Plaster before his death, Marine Corps Vietnam sniper legend Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hatchcock, when asked who made the best snipers, merely chuckled and said, “Country boys.”