British snipers

Discussion in 'General' started by Longlance, May 23, 2015.

  1. Longlance

    Longlance New Member

    Hi all

    I'm interested in finding out some more information about British snipers in WW2. I've read Captain Shore's brilliant book (British Snipers to the Third Reich) and it's very helpful, but I still have many questions.

    How was someone picked for sniper training? Did everyone have to attend a sniping course, or were good marksmen just given sniping scopes and told to go out? Are there are first hand detailed accounts of British sniping that I could read about? (I've heard about Harry Furness' story and I'd like to get hold of as much info about him as possible).
    brithm likes this.
  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

  3. Longlance

    Longlance New Member

    Thanks so much dbf! :biggrin:
  4. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

  5. AB64

    AB64 Senior Member

    Jim Swan who was a sniper in 1 Border told me they didn't have designated snipers when he joined but shortly after they got a delivery of (from memory) 12 x No4(T) rifles - the 4 Rifle Companies were each asked to put forward 4 of their best shots and they would be whittled down to 12 men . He did say of the 16 a few normally carried Brens or SMG's, so for the first week they were basically allowed to refresh themselves on working with Rifles and getting them properly zeroed so they could be fairly judged against the others. I have some notes he wrote up on the course they then went through which I think lasted about 12 weeks (the notes are in a box somewhere I'll see if I can find them)

    dbf likes this.
  6. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member Patron

    I once had a fascinating conversation with an ex-serviceman (sniper), who had worked in Cyprus, Near East and N. Ireland in the 1970's. Interesting to hear about the strict protocol for taking a shot, and having to wait for the order before dealing with any target. Slightly different of course from conditions in open warfare.
  7. idler

    idler GeneralList

    I'm struggling to remember where, but I've read something recently about sniper sections being formed by concentrating the two marksmen/snipers on the establishment of rifle companies. I think it's in the depths of an Army Training Memorandum which often summarised and explained changes in organisation.

    My favourite sniper fact is that the No.32(?) scope was originally developed for the Bren - hence the dovetail sight bracket on the side of the body of the earliest marks.
  8. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    From my own writing on the Infantry Battalion in 21 Army Group.

    The Sniper
    The sniper was introduced into the War establishment of the infantry battalion in 1943. Originally there were two per rifle company but from November 1944 the battalion snipers were concentrated at Battalion Headquarters. This was probably as a result of the experience in Normandy. Snipers were not only skilled marksmen but were also trained in intelligence gathering.
    sniper serjeant
    corporal sniper
    2 X lance corporal sniper
    4 X sniper.

    Snipers would be assigned to a sector of the battalion front and would then be very much free to decide on their exact positions. Usually leaving before dawn they would select a good position in which to spend the day, there being little chance to return to their own lines before dusk. Ideally they would select a position from where they could see a section of the enemy line while remaining in good cover. They would also select a number of alternate positions since once they had revealed their presence by firing they could expect machine gun and mortar fire in reply.

    The primary function of the sniper was to keep the enemy on edge, never knowing when they might be observed and fired at. The preferred targets were officers or NCOs and communications personnel, but anyone foolish enough to show himself was fair game.

    Snipers used two types of rifle in 21 Army Group. The most accurate was the older Rifle No1 MkIII SMLE. However in the interests of standardisation most rifles were the sniper version of the Rifle No4 (T). The rifle was fitted with a No32 MkI telescopic sight. Sniper rifles were carefully selected and provided with a breech cover and a felt valise to protect it from the elements and accidental damage. A special sling was also fitted to the rifle to enable it to be braced for aiming and firing.

    Snipers used the standard ammunition pouches containing the following
    50 X .303” SAA rounds of ammunition selected by the sniper.
    5 X tracer bullets
    5 X armour piercing bullets
    2 X No36 grenades

    Other equipment included
    A pair of No2 MkII binoculars in a carrying case
    A compass with carrying case
    A watch
    A camouflage net
    The sniper could also have a camouflaged Denison smock as worn by paratroops.

    In addition to sniping the sniper was a valuable source of intelligence. With his ability to get close to enemy positions, and to observe them with binoculars and telescopic sights, each man would have a detailed knowledge of the sector of the front, and could readily spot any changes. On return the sniper was debriefed by the intelligence officer.

    Of course the sniper could be almost as unpopular with his own soldiers as he was with the enemy. A persistent sniper would almost certainly bring down mortar fire which would bring down artillery fire which would bring down counter battery fire and generally make life difficult.

  9. idler

    idler GeneralList

    ATM No 29 Feb 1940:
    26. Responsibility for Snipers
    Battalion snipers will be trained by and work under the orders of the intelligence officer. As their name implies, they will be trained as expert scouts, observers, and snipers, and will also be grounded in intelligence duties.

    ATM No.31 Apr 1940:
    14. Snipers and Infantry Training Centres
    Proper facilities for the training of snipers do not exist at Infantry Training Centres. This form of training is therefore deleted from the syllabus.
    [Pity it doesn't say if those facilities were anywhere else.]
  10. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Excerpts from Training in the Army WO 27/36:

    The table makes the important point that - as was the way in the British Army - the Schools produced instructors who would then go back to their units/formations to train the practitioners. Essentially, snipers were supposed to be trained by and within their units. However, it's quite possible that some formations could have pooled their instructors and resources to run, say, Divisional Sniper Courses.
    dbf likes this.
  11. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I am a little puzzled, Mike. I know the No. 4 was the most common sniper rifle in 21 AG, and I believe that some No. 3 (P14) rifles with telescopic sights may also have been used. However, I have never read any references to SMLEs in use as sniper rifles with 21 AG nor seen any photographs either. The SMLE was used extensively as a sniping rifle in WWI with a variety of telescopic sights, and the Australians used some heavy barreled SMLEs with 'scopes in the SWPA. But were 'scoped SMLEs also used by the British in 1940, the Med, and/or NWE?
  12. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Reference made in 1IG War Diary to Gds sniper courses at Bisley, in 1939...

    Brief reference to organisation 3IG snipers:
  13. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron


    I am happy to accept your view. It is 15 years since I wrote my piece on the infantry battalion and sources are somewhat hazy in my memory. There is a IWM photo showing what purports to be a sniper in Normandy with a No1 MkIII and binoculars. Also I read that snipers in the US Army preferred the old Springfield rifle to the new Garrand.

    I also have this.
    Support Sub Section
    corporal Thomson sub machine gun 5 Thomson magazines, 2 No36 Mills bombs
    sniper Rifle No4 MkI or No1 MkIII with telescopic sight
    10 X 5round clips, 2 Bren magazines
    mortar lance corporal Rifle No4 MkI 10X 5 round clips, 12 X 2” mortar bombs
    mortar No1 Colt pistol 2” mortar, 6 X 2” mortar bombs
    mortar No2 Rifle No4 MkI 10 X 5 round clips, 12 X 2” mortar bombs

  14. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

  15. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Snippets from Military Training Pamphlet No.3 - Notes on the Tactical Handling of the New (1938) Battalion published April 1938:

    Para 7:
    Para 8( B):
    Amendments No.1 was issued in December 1938. The referencing isn't great, but the section from Para 8( B) is deleted and that for Para 7 becomes:

  16. Over Here

    Over Here Junior Member

    The P14 with telescopic sight was on issue between the wars, at eight per infantry battalion. Surprising to read there were no snipers to use them.
  17. idler

    idler GeneralList

    With all the other new toys infantry battalions were being given in the run up to the war, I imagine that the sniper rifles were put to one side. Anyway, it makes more sense to have the tools available before the training starts - it'd be difficult to have fully trained snipers without them.

    The pleasing thing is that the fieldcraft aspects of sniping were in the frame from the outset, it wasn't assumed that any old marksman would make a sniper.

    The P14 is identified as the sniper rifle in the 1940 pamphlet 'Notes on the Training of Snipers'.
  18. redtop

    redtop Well-Known Member

    This is from Phamplet 10 Sniping 1951 superseding the 1946 copy.
    I imagine it should consolidate lessons learnt during WW2.
    Hope scan is readable. Sniper Section Organisation.jpg
  19. idler

    idler GeneralList

    It's very consistent with the wartime approach. Training is still a unit responsibility, but I'd have thought they might have formalised the status of the 'school'. The 'non-specialist officer' puts me in mind of 2 Para's padre's role during the Falklands War.
  20. Jonesy123

    Jonesy123 Junior Member

    Hello guys.
    I have a question.

    Did the snipers during WWII also worked with spotters?
    I have to ask because I read about two snipers ( a Corporal and Private) who where decorated because they where trapped in a house after the German recaptured the house. They stayed and hide themself for 2 days. Before and after they inflicted many enemy casulties...

    I can not imagine two snipers in the same location?

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