The term “Sniper” originated from the British occupation of India in the 1800’s. The primary mission of a sniper is to deliver long-range precision fire on key selected targets and targets of opportunity. The secondary mission of a sniper is the collection and reporting of battlefield information.
During the revolutionary war a British sniper, Maj. Patrick Ferguson, was known for “The shot not taken”. General David Morgan’s snipers were known as Morgan’s Riflemen.
During the Civil War, COL Hiram Berdan was the first to recruit and organize Union sharpshooters. Their key targets were officers, NCOs, Right Guides, Enemy Scouts, Sharpshooters and Spies.
World War I
During WWI a stealthy riflemen emerged, whose mission was to exact his toll with the well-placed single shot, to gather intelligence and to demoralize the enemy as much as possible. Along with the continuous dread of Army Sniper Assn - WWI sniperdeath-dealing artillery fire and poisonous gas, the specter of the sniper preyed on the infantryman’s psyche in the trenches of WWI. German Sharpshooters dominated the trenches and “No Man’s Land” between the lines.
The term “Sniper” replaced “Sharpshooter” during this period. Major H. Hesketh-Pritchard, DSO, MC, (shown in the photo at right) commanded the first sniper, observation and scouting school for the British Army during WWI.
World War II
The Germans dominated sniper operations during WWII. The German motto, during WWII, for their snipers: “CAMOUFLAGE 10 times-SHOOT ONCE”. These snipers were the first to start fielding specialized equipment. Matthias Hetzenauer was credited with 345 KIAs and Sepp Allerberger with 257 KIAs.
The Soviet Union was the first to employ Snipers in two-man teams. Vassili Zaitsev (left) and two sniper comrades observed German positions in Stalingrad, Jan 43. He had 400 KIAs by war’s end.
The Soviets also fielded female snipers. Over 2000 were trained as snipers.
Although the US Army set up an advanced marksmanship course at Camp Perry, Ohio, the Army had no official sniper course during WWII. Between wars, the USMC sustained limited sniper training but not enough to compete with other countries during WWII.
With the outbreak of hostilities on the Korean peninsula in 1950, the upper hand was initially with the Communist forces. The Soviet Union and China trained and equipped North Korea’s snipers. Korean snipers used the Moisin Nagant Model 1891/30 rifle.
During 1955-1956, the Army Marksmanship Training Unit operated the first US Army Sniper School at Camp Perry, Ohio. Unfortunately a lack of understanding, and appreciation for the effectiveness and potential that snipers could add to the fight, caused sniper training to be abandoned after this short training period.
In Viet Nam, on July 1968, the US Army began centralized training in-country. The 9th Infantry Division established one of the first in-country Sniper Schools. The course, run by Major Willis Powell, lasted 18 days with the failure rate being 50%. In December 1968, a full complement of seventy-two snipers were ready for action.
The 6th Bn, 31st INF RGT of the 9th INF DIV, killed thirty-nine VC from 12 April to 9 May 1969, in the Mekong-Delta.
In November 1968, 8 enemy KIA’s were recorded by Army Snipers; December 1968, saw 11 kills. During the period Jan 7 to July 24, 1969, Army Snipers accounted for 1245 enemy killed.
The US Army Sniper School was established in 1987, at the Infantry Center at Fort Benning, GA, and continues to produce top-notch snipers today. It’s continuous existence reflects the longest sniper training course in the history of the US Army and is a testament to the high priority sniper training now enjoys among the Army’s leadership. Following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center buildings, the U.S. military entered into combat operations in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom. Snipers proved themselves as an invaluable asset due to their ability to engage targets at great distances in a mountainous battlefield.
Soon after O.E.F. and the fall of the Taliban, Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced. Again, Army snipers were in high demand mainly due to their abilities to use precision fire to engage high value targets, to destroy Vehicle and Suicide-borne Improvised Explosive Devices. Snipers also provide over watch with their high powered optics (day/night) and demoralize the enemy forces. Coalition snipers are the most hunted soldiers on today’s modern battlefield. Currently Army Snipers are deployed: Kosovo, Bosnia, Egypt, South America, Africa and Korea.