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Sniper; the unseen killer

Private William Edward (Billy) Sing DCM, 31st Battalion, of Clermont, Qld, who enlisted on 26 October 1914 and returned to Australia on 21 July 1918. While serving with the 5th Light Horse Regiment on Gallipoli, Trooper Sing acquired notoriety as an accurate sniper, shooting over 150 Turkish soldiers. Trooper Sing sniped from a position at Chatham's Post, his tally stated as 150 confirmed, but a higher informal estimate puts his tally at 201. The discrepancy can be accounted for by the way such hits were recorded. On 23 October 1915, General Birdwood issued an order containing his compliments on Trooper Sing's performance accounting for the 201 Turks.  Private Sing was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre in early 1918, probably for his role in leading a patrol eliminating some German snipers at Polygon Wood in September 1917.  
The current record for longest range sniper kill is 2,430 metres (7,972 ft), accomplished by a Canadian sniper, of the third battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI), during the invasion of Afghanistan, using a .50 BMG (12.7 mm) McMillan bolt-action rifle. This meant that the round had a flight time of four seconds, and a drop of 44.5 m (146 ft). The previous record was held by Carlos Hathcock, achieved during the Vietnam War, at a distance of 2,250 m.
A Turkish sniper under armed guard at Gallipoli in 1915
This information comes from an article in the current (2005) issue of "Surplus Firearms" (Published by Guns and Ammo) and was written by one Martin Pegler who is listed as a Senior Curator, Royal Armouries, Leeds, UK. The title of the article is "Death from afar: Sniping in the Great War" and shows the picture of a scoped SMLE on page 44.

The contributor is paraphrasing somewhat from memory but basically the article said there were many SMLE's converted to telescopic sights during the great war. These initial conversions were done using a variety of mounts, scopes and rings produced by commercial English gun makers. Quality was a problem with mounting as the SMLE was not designed to take a mount easily. In 1915, contract SA390 was issued to insure quality and uniformity and the winner was  "Periscopic Prism Co" in London. Almost 5,000 SMLE's were eventually produced equipped with a PPC mount and scope. Aldis scopes were also used with these mounts. The mount was a dovetail/screw on type with q/d rings. He states the Canadian Ross and P-14 were also used for sniping. Furthermore he also mentions that Australia made SMLE conversions and they were stored for future use.

SMLE Mk 4 Sniper rifle with telescopic sights

The Parker-Hale M82 Sniper Rifle has been manufactured by Parker-Hale Company of Great Britain, and is in service with Australian, New Zealand and Canadian armies, as well as with some police and military units in Great Britain.

M82 is based on Mauser-type action, with rotating bolt with 3 lugs, that locks into the receiver, and with non-rotating claw extractor. Heavy barrel is cold hammer-forged and free floated inside the stock. Trigger is fully adjustable for weight and length of pull. The rifle has wooden stock which is adjustable for length of pull with inserts.

Caliber(s): 7.62mm NATO (.308 Winchester)
Operation: rotating bolt, a manual repeater
Barrel: 660 mm
Weight: 4.8 kg empty without scope
Length: 1162 mm
Feed Mechanism: 4 rounds non-detachable internal magazine

A member of Tactical Assault Group of the SASR

Deadly Assassins

Story by Cpl Dave Bastian of ARMY Magazine No 13 Dec 1992

Sniping, the word conjures up images of a soldier in Hemmingway's mould , the loner, the big game hunter, the individualist, the poacher. Through time, snipers have been glamorised by writers and maligned by soldiers for the way they earn their keep.

From the soldier's point of view, he is the snake in the grass waiting for the relaxed moment to catch his quarry unawares with a fatal consequence. From the book "With British Snipers to the Reich" Capt C. Shore, wrote: "The fear and admiration which the riflemen, and their shooting prowess roused in the breasts of the French, were made known by Marshal Soult, Commander in Chief of the French Army in Spain, in a letter dated 1 September 1813".  

Soult stated that the loss of prominent and superior officers was so disproportionate to that of the rank and file that he had gone to some pains to discover the reason for so extraordinary a circumstance.

He wrote: "There is an English battalion of the 60th, it is armed with a short rifle; the men are selected for their marksmanship; they perform the duties of scouts and in action are expressly ordered to pick off officers, especially field or general officers". 

<<< Sleeve plate with sniper qualification badge circa 1920. Note that the back plate went inside the sleeve and the crown & crossed rifles were the only things seen

"This mode of making war and of injuring the enemy is very detrimental to us. Our casualties in officers are so great that after a couple of actions the whole number are usually disabled".  

"I saw, yesterday, battalions whose officers had been disabled in the ratio of one officer to eight men! I also saw battalions which were reduced to two or three officers, although less than one sixth of their men had been disabled." 

One of the Marshall's staff declared "Les Rifleman killed all our officers between July 25 and August 31, viz: 500 officers and eight generals".

  According to W02 Steve King, an instructor at the School of Infantry Sniper Cell, today's sniper teams (pair) carry out the same role.  

"A sniper's primary role is to kill selected targets on the battlefield. That is his one and only role! Officers, commanders at any level, signallers ... you always want to take these fellows out. "Snipers have a limited capability to engage crew-served weapons, to put a round into a mortar sight or a machine-gun receiver.

 "There are a number of general tasks a sniper team can fill ... to harass the enemy or reconnaissance but if it is doing that it is not being employed properly," W02 King explains. Historically, Australia has never trained soldiers to fill the sniping role. Soldiers that were good shots were given special rifles,  some scoped, some not, and tasked normally with anti-sniping duties.

In these early days, some soldiers racked up awesome tallies. Private William 'Billy' Sing of the 5th Light Horse (see above) was credited officially with 150 kills in a few months. To be credited with a 'kill', an observer had to confirm the demise of the target. Unofficially, Pte Sing's tally was put well above 200.

During WW2, some Lee Enfield 3T (T for telescope) rifles were supplied and some Diggers were trained at unit level to fill the sniper role. In Korea, the Malayan Emergency and later in Vietnam, Australia had no organised sniper concept or application,  the only exception being a few Australians training with the US 25th Division in early 1970, although this was primarily a marksmanship course using US XM 21 7.62mm rifles.

Since the early 1970s, there has been a change in perspective in sniping with the introduction of the Sniper Cell at the School of Infantry and the Parker Hale rifle in 1978. W02 King says there are criteria the potential sniper must fill. He has got to be an above-average shot preferably a marksman,  and have good basic infantry skills.

"The six-week course is very practical. We are out in the field nearly the whole time and there are a number of disciplines the students must get through. "Of course, there is shooting which is the main one, navigation, stalking, observing and reporting, judging distance and camouflage.

"He has to be fit and I like to see a bloke who can pick things up quite quickly. We find the 'bushies' have no problems at all," W02 King says. "Soldiers wearing spectacles and smokers are at a disadvantage for sure. "The Parker Hale rifle we use at the moment is a right-handed 'gadget' and left-handers have difficulty carrying out the instant actions and chambering rounds," W02 King adds.  


<< Australian sniper qualification badge 2002

New Zealand sniper qualification badge 2002 >>

At this time, the sniping rifle in service with the Australian Army is the Parker Hale Model 82, a bolt action repeating rifle in 7.62mm calibre. It weighs just under 6kg, has a TX 1200 heavy barrel and is fitted with a Kahles Helia ZF69 6x42 power telescopic sight and Number 7 reticle (crosshair) pattern.  

Parker Hales are carried by the number one sniper in the team while the number two sniper/observer carries a standard F88 Steyr 5.56mm rifle. A sniper team can be tasked by the commanding officer but normally snipers work with the 10 (intelligence officer) and the OpsO (operations officer).

"A pair will be deployed for a maximum of 72 hours before they are withdrawn for a rest and to be reassigned," W02 King explains. "Only the necessities such as ammunition, rations, radio and optics are carried by the team to keep the load as light as possible. "The number two will carry about 200 rounds for the Steyr while the number one, depending on his task may only carry 30 rounds for the Parker Hale.

"If a sniper fires too many rounds he, will give his 'Possie' away and then he will have to move to another position," W02 King says. "He is restricted in his range. 

In the book it says a sniper can get a body shot at 600m and a head shot at 300m. "The way the Parker Hales are now, they are so worn, that range can be taken back a bit more, but he can provide harassing fire out to 900m."

In the future, the Australian Defence fence Force will look at replacing the Parker Hale with a completely new system consisting of a rifle, sight system, uniform and target acquisition suite.

 Maj Peter Demaine, Ammunition and Light Armament Acquisitions, says the ADF has a requirement for a sniping system to replace the ad-hoc arrangement based around the Parker Hale.

"The Parker Hale is a target rifle which does not have the ruggedness for in-service use and it is intended the new system will contain three sub-systems. "It will include a thermal imager, laser range finder, rifle and sight, uniform, communications and a navigational system. "It is likely the weapon requirement will be satisfied by a combination of .50cal and 7.62mm rifles and an eye-safe laser range-finder coaxially mounted with the night sight," Maj Demaine suggests.

So what for the future? Technology is helping the sniper put his rounds on target and new rifles and calibres theoretically will allow body shots to 1500m. 02 King comments that "if you look at the history books, at all the sniping in WW 1 and WW2, blokes just had the basic kit. You got him a rifle and he went out and killed people ... it's pretty straight forward.

"There is nothing mystical about the job. It is a soldier taking his basic infantry skills and honing them to a higher level," W02 King stated. Author Ion Idriess wrote: "The most dangerous individual soldier, and the world's best rifle‑shot, is the sniper". "The sniper holds his life by his initiative, his wits, even more than by his fearlessness. He can kill where an army cannot and he can bring down the highest."

This sniper is wearing an Australian designed and manufactured "Yowie" suit. The rifle has not been camouflaged for this photo although in the field it would be.  Photo Army Magazine
Snipers with 1RAR in Somalia

Story by Sgt Noel Gilby , ARMY Magazine No 23 June 1995

The SNIPER is still very much a part of most modern armies. His task has remained virtually unchanged for the better part of a century: the elimination of key opposing personnel. harassing and counter-sniper activity and surveillance work. He is well trained and specifically equipped, taking great pride in his marksmanship and ‑ equally importantly,  his ability to hide .

During Operation Solace in Somalia, snipers were tested to the limit in MOUT and proved equal to the task of plying their trade in an urban environment. The general perception of the sniper is of some super soldier who is a crack shot only with his specialist weapon. who always shoots from 600m and can only hit the target with careful. deliberate shooting.

1RAR's sniper supervisor, Sgt Lance Nayda, has a problem, with the term super soldier when referring to snipers. "A lot of people think the sniper is something special. He is only an infantryman with infantry skills honed to a high level. His close-quarter battle-shooting skills have to be up to speed and he must be proficient in all the small arms he carries and uses," Sgt Nayda says.

He relates an incident that occurred while in Somalia which puts a lot of the other myths about snipers to rest. "We were on a four-man night patrol and one of the snipers was as acting as scout carrying a Steyr. He came around a corner and there were four or five armed bandits coming towards the patrol. The scout challenged the lead bandit who then put his rifle to his shoulder and pointed it at the scout. The scout, who was wearing night‑vision goggles at the time, fired at the bandit shooting instinctively from the waist. The automatic burst killed the bandit instantly.

"The burst of fire initiated a contact which resulted in the bandits shooting through. I went back and measured the distance from the muzzle of the scout's rifle to where the bandit fell. It was just 15 paces. He had no time to think about it at all, it was purely instinctive." Sgt Nayda says one of the times where deliberate, aimed shots were used was in controlling the local dog population which was causing problems around the air base.

"The dogs were potentially more dangerous than the bandits and the locals were very afraid of them. The dogs were disease ridden, they had been feeding on corpses and nobody wanted to guess whether they were rabid or not.

"One of the number ones (the soldier of a sniper pair who does the firing) had a total of 19 and he hadn't fired a shot in anger at that stage. But it was a chore that had a number of positive sides: for one it gave the snipers confirmation of their rifles' Zero without the need for a zeroing practice. If the firer aimed and hit the dog in the head that was good enough and that was what happened 99 per cent of the time.

"The Somali understands and respects force. When they observe a sniper kill a dog with one shot at 400m, it gives the locals confidence that the soldier with the long rifle and paint on his face can protect them if necessary."

One of the sniper's most successful 'kills" was made without a shot being fired by the Aussie marksmen: but they did provide the ammunition to allow democracy to take place. "Probably our most successful operation in Somalia was carried out with a camera. We were involved in the surveillance and capture on film of a bandit wanted for crimes against humanity.

"One of the pairs took his photo with a 35mm camera attached to a telescope. Subsequently, it was found where he lived and he was arrested and tried for his crimes against humanity." Sgt Nayda believes Operation Solace was very successful from the sniper's point of view.

"It was a reasonably boring one at times because there was a lot of observation and escort-type duties to perform, which is very repetitive, making it difficult to keep soldiers motivated. "But then, we knew that already. We've known that since WWI. If you occupy an observation post for any length of time your biggest enemy is complacency."

You get the feeling talking to Sgt Nayda that he takes a lot of pride in what he does and the professional way his snipers go about their business. "We don't need a large support structure, a lot of men or money to get the job done. The sniper is, beyond an element of a doubt the most cost-effective weapon on the battlefield today."

USMC Sniper story.  

I waited till Vaughn Nickell gave the okay to tell the story of his shot with the M1 D at Phu Loc 6, Jan 1967. Confirmed by a Platoon from 2/5. It was the longest kill, 1100 Meters plus (1203 yds.) using the M 1D.


The outpost was manned by a Company from 2nd Battalion 5th Marines, and the Company Commanderís concern was that he had started to hear that some of the Marines were teasing Charlie and challenging him to shoot. The unfortunate thing was they didn't know where he was going to show up. And, the unfortunate thing for 6 O'clock Charlie was that after slightly wounding a teasing Marine in the back side, the Marines at Phu Loc 6 got their own Sniper team.


Aside from other duties the Sniper team of Ron Willoughby and Vaughn "Nick" Nickell would start to hunt Charlie each evening around 6PM, moving to different locations each night. One evening in Mid January 1967, Ron had been called away briefly by the Company Commander.   He left the Sniper weapon, a M1D, with Vaughn.  When a call came from another location on the hill saying that they thought they saw Charlie, Vaughn grabbed the rifle an took off toward the location. Sure enough after looking through his scope,( a 4power fixed scope) he saw 6 O'clock Charlie 1,100 meters out positioning himself for the evening attack. Not having time to make any sight adjustments Vaughn got himself into a firing position. Using one of the Marines as a spotter he fired, the first shot was slightly to the left and about 3 feet short. The second shot kicked up dirt right next to 6 O'clock Charlie. Now realizing that someone had him in his site, Charlie started to make his move to get out of harms way when the third shot rang out dropping Charlie in his tracks. It was an excellent 1,100 meter shot on a cold rainy day by Vaughn Nickell at Phu Loc 6 using the M1D. 

Time of Charlie's death - 6 o'clock. Body and weapon recovered.

Submitted by: Ron Willoughby, for comments click here to e-mail him.


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