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Snipers

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Submitted By bball177
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July 29, 2008

The History of Snipers

Snipers are by definition expert marksmen. Even before firearms were invented, there have been soldiers such as archers, who were specially trained marksmen. Snipers have special abilities, training, and equipment that allow them to do jobs that deliver highly accurate rifle fire against enemy targets which can't be attacked by regular riflemen due to variables such as visibility, range, the opportunity, size, or location. Statistics compiled from the Vietnam conflict estimate that the average number of rounds used per kill by United States Army Soldiers were 200,000 however the average number of rounds used per kill by United States Army snipers in Vietnam was only 1.3 (History). From the days of Leonardo da Vinci to Gunny Sergeant Carlos Hathcock II days in the Vietnam conflict, the development and use of snipers in combat has significantly contributed to successful warfare. Leonardo da Vinci is considered one of the earliest rifle snipers in history. He reportedly defended the walls of besieged Florence with a rifle that he designed himself (Henderson, xii). Elite air-riflemen were trained to shoot knights for France's Louis XIV and were considered the first modern snipers. Some authorities claim that their use made the use of knights obsolete. Snipers had from the beginning of their history have proven their effectiveness. The outcome of the American War for Independence may have been very different had it not been for a decision made (or rather not made) by a British Army sniper, Colonel Patrick Ferguson. Ferguson's "Shot Never Taken" refers to an incident near Germantown, Pennsylvania when Ferguson had a chance to take a shot on a Continental officer who at the time could not be identified. Ferguson decided not to take the shot at the officer's back as he turned away. Later it was determined that the officer who Colonel Ferguson decided not to shoot was none other than General George Washington of the Continental Army. Washington later became the first President of the United States, turning down the offer to become King of the Colonies. A man of less caliber may have chosen to become king instead. Obviously the course of history would have been very different had Ferguson taken a successful shot. Sniping began to shape into a useful tool, early in American history. In The United States during the Civil War, Hiram Berdan (North) and Robert E. Lee (South) were the first in history to set up designated sharpshooter units. Although tactics and deployment of theses specialized units had not been perfected, both of theses great military leaders saw an opportunity for a different type of warfare. It wasn't until World War I that the term "sniper" was coined by the Germans, and the duties of the sniper became more specialized. The Germans got the word snipe refers to a type of bird which is extreamly difficult for hunters to sneak up on. The first Allied sniper school was started by Hisketh Pritchard who trained both British and American snipers for the First World War. This training would revolutionize the style of sniping for years to come. Vasily Zaitsev could easily have been considered one of the best snipers during the Second World War. However his actual existence is quite controversial, because his stories seemed so elaborate and impossible meaning he may have been Soviet nothing more than propaganda to scare the Germans and raise morale of the Soviets on the battle fields. In either case, the stories of Vasily Zaitsev say that he was a Soviet sniper who demoralized German troops with his skills during the 1942 Battle of Stalingrad. He is credited with killing 242 German soldiers during the Stalingrad siege and 400 by the end of the Second World War. Zaitsev's success kept the Nazis from being able to move freely about the city of Stalingrad and establish their dominance. Zaitsev is the hero in the award wining film Enemy at the Gates. In the movie, Jude Law who plays Vassili Zaitsev made such a devastating mark in the German forces that Major Konig (considered one of the best snipers on the day) played by Ed Harris, was sent to Stalingrad for one purpose, to kill Vassili Zaitsev which would ultimately raise the morale of the German forces occupying Stalingrad. Vassili made a big enough impact on the German forces that sergeants were constantly being promoted to replace the officers shot down by Vassili. Vassili stories, true or not, show the impact that a single well trained warrior can have on an entire war. The histories of sniper schools are also very important to the history of snipers. During the Korean conflict the first United States Army sniper school was set up in 1954-1955 by an Army Marksmanship Unit. This school revolutionized the sniping program in the United States because for the first time in history the use of snipers in America was considered to be a true occupation in the armed forces. One man that revolutionized the use of sniping was Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock II, who was considered by many to be the most famous United States sniper in the Vietnam conflict. Gunnery Sergeant Hathcock had over ninety-three confirmed kills and over three-hundred-sixty unconfirmed kills. His impact in the Vietnam conflict may have saved hundreds and maybe even thousands of United States Soldiers lives. Carlos Hathcock's impressive career started at a very young age. Hathcock was raised just outside Little Rock, Arkansas where he lived with his grandmother and mother. When Hathcock was three, his father who just returned from the Second World War gave him an old German Mauser rifle that he had found during the war. The rifle was plugged in order to prevent the rifle from being able to discharge. Hathcock would go outside almost every day with this capped rifle and pretend he was a Marine in the sands of Iwo Jima. He would work on his camouflage techniques by hiding from his mother and grandmother. He had a love for the outdoors and he was able to teach himself to hunt in the woods at a very young age. Hathcock would hunt small game and often bring back his catch for dinner. His parents were divorced and Hathcock had to become very self-dependent. The way he was raised may be attributed to his later ability to be so self-dependant. Hathcock's job as a sniper was like his true calling. At age eight he knew that he would be joining the United States Marine Corps, and in 1959 when he turned seventeen, his parents gave him permission to join. He was sent to Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) in San Diego where he became an expert marksman. Hathcock's skills as a sniper were already showing by the end of basic training. Not much happened between boot camp and when he made it onto the Hawaiian Marine Marksmanship team. However On August 25, 1965 Hathcock became what the Marines called distinguished, which means that Hathcock had placed either first, second, or third in many competitions and earned enough points to earn the title of Distinguished. According to Henderson "A distinguished marksman in the Marine Corps is the top dog among shooters. He wears a gold shooting badge and is a member of an elite few marksmen”. Just the day after he reached his distinguished mark Hathcock shot his best match ever at the Wimbledon cup at Camp Parry, Ohio. The competition was a thousand meter competition, which is considered to be one of the hardest distances to shoot for. The compaction was against civilians and military marksman that were considered to be the best in the world. Hathcock out-shot all the contestants with a nearly perfect competition. He only missed the V ring once, which was a record for the range. This was only the beginning of Hathcock's impressive career in the United States Marine Corps. Hathcock ended up voluntarily serving two tours of duty in the Vietnam conflict zone. During one of his tours of duty he served under Major Land. Land was a devoted leader that truly cared about his Marines. Land once had to actually arrest Hathcock and restrict him to his quarters in order to get Carlos rested and prevent him from being killed. This happened because Hathcock had spent so much time out in the field that he was malnourished and dehydrated (U.S.M.C.). This just shows how devoted Hathcock was to saving the lives of his fellow Marines. Hathcock was well known for a white fether that he wore in his brush hat. Which Hathcock found that feather on one of his missions. He had shot a Vietcong soldier in the head with his Winchester Springfield rifle and once he was sure of the kill and the area seemed secure, he decided to retrieve the weapon to avoid the possibility that the rifle would find its way back into another Vietcong's hands. On the ground next to the dead Vietcong, Hathcock found a single white feather, which he picked up and placed in the brim of his brush hat. The Vietcong came to know him as "Long Trang" (which in Vietnamese means The White Feather) and feared for their lives when they saw him. Part of the reason that Hathcock was considered to be such a great sniper is because he was able to destroy the morale of the Vietcong warriors and strike fear into their harts. Hathcock's career abruptly ended in an unfortunate way. In 1969 Hathcock was riding aboard a vehicle which accidentally hit a hidden enemy mine. Hathcock heroically pulled seven Marines from the flame-engulfed vehicle before jumping to safety himself. This unfortunate event left him with second and third degree burns over forty percent of his body. The burns and injuries received by the incident left him unable to effectively use a rifle. In 1975, Hathcock was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a fatal disease. The disease eventually claimed his life on February 23, 1999. Carlos N. Hathcock II is historically significant because he has affected the direction of sniper training in the United States. He proved the effectiveness of using snipers in warfare and snipers are now a regular part of the United States Military. After Hathcock was forced to retired from his military service he helped train snipers for police departments. The tactics that Carlos developed are still used in most Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) departments to this day. Snipers are not just used during conflicts and wars. For example they are used in hostage rescue situations. Police snipers are trained to shoot for the cerebellum at the base of the brain. If the cerebellum is hit, the criminal will be unable to pull the trigger and will not involuntarily spasm and accidentally pull the trigger of their firearm, and their hostage will be unharmed. A big difference in police sniper training versus military sniper training is the distance between the sniper and his target. Military sniper training extends out to one thousand meters or more whereas most police Special Warfare and Tactics snipers operate at distances of three hundred meters or less. Snipers are trained to place bullets in a thirty center meter circle at three hundred meters in all weather at all angles. Trainees are screened for talent and are then trained with daily shooting in extreme conditions of weather, wind, angles, and ranges. Shooting uphill or downhill requires adjustment and when shooting longer ranges the bullet drop must be calculated and adjusted. The skill of sniping is an art, it takes an extreme amount of pastiche and isn't for everyone. Because sniping requires extreme accuracy you would expect the same of their rifles. Sniper rifles are built to the most stringent specifications of any firearm. Most importantly, the rifle must have a reliable cold zero, which means that when the rifle is cold, it must be predictable to less than a minute of arc when used with a bench rest. This is because most sniper missions only get one shot to hit their targets. Most sniper rifles have lightened hammers and firing pins, and stronger springs that help reduce the time between releasing the trigger and the bullet exit from the rifle. This helps reduce any inaccuracies that are caused by wobbles from the body. When shooting for accuracy the last thing you want is for the bullet to be pulled one way or another because you couldn't stay still long enough. Snipers have the power to not only take lives but also to demoralize troops, because they can camp out in the woods for weeks on end and take out all the officers and radiomen in charge that they see. As Major Land once put it when trying to sell the idea of sniper schools to the Marine Corps, "There is an extremely accurate, helicopter-transportable, self-supporting weapon available to the Marine Infantry Commander. This weapon, which is easily adapted to either the attack or defense, is the M-1C sniper rifle with the M-82 telescopic sight in the hands of a properly trained sniper". The use of snipers in warfare has been highly successful a remains a vital part of today's military.

Works Cited

Enemy at the Gates. Dir. Jean-Jacqyes Annaud. Joseph Fuebbes. Jude Law. Rachel Weiz. Bob Hoskins. Ed Harris. Paramount Pictures 2001
Henderson, Charles. Marine Sniper. Berkley Books, New York Jan. 1988
"History Famous Snipers Kill Board" The Sniper Logbook. March 8, 2004
"Snipers History @ The Snipers Homepage: All the Naked Facts!!". Some Important Sniper Moments. 2000. 7/20/2008
"Snipers in History".2001. March 8, 2004
"Snipers Paradise". Introduction and History. 2004. March 8, 2004
Thurber, Jon. "Goodbye to a legend." Los Angeles Times. Feb. 28,1999.
Tribute to Gunny Hathcock. Apr. 1999. March 8, 2004

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