The Great War: Snipers In World War One (Watch)

US Marines with the Springfield Rifle and bayonets in France.
US Marines with the Springfield Rifle and bayonets in France.

During the First World War, combat on the Western Front took a number of different forms. The most iconic strategies we now remember are the “over the top” charges, when men would cross No Man’s Land and face a hail of bullets as they attempted to reach the enemy lines. However, even when they were still in their trenches, troops on both sides of the war still had to worry about enemy snipers.

Although many nations had trained sharpshooters in their military, Germany was the first of the European factions to equip their snipers with scoped rifles, specifically for the purpose of picking off Allied troops from a great distance. When they began to do this successfully, many French and British soldiers assumed the long-range deaths were just lucky shots.

However, after they had captured several of Germany’s sniper rifles, they realized what they were really up against. Although the Allied forces would then go on to emulate their enemies, the German snipers still gained a level of infamy for their deadly accuracy on the Western Front.

A range of techniques was devised to combat enemy snipers, including papier-mâché heads that were designed to draw fire. The damage caused by the bullets could then be examined, giving the soldiers with the dummy an idea of the sharpshooter’s position. With this information, they could then direct shell fire towards that area, killing or at least driving the sniper back.

This video is part of an on-going series by The Great War YouTube channel, which provides week-by-week analysis of the First World War. They also post content focusing on specific aspects of the conflict, from technology and strategy to the individual men and women involved. While this video explores the use of snipers, the rest of the channel’s work is also well worth viewing, as it provides a comprehensive and accessible insight into the complexities of the First World War.

Malcolm Higgins

Malcolm Higgins is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE