sniping1 As the need for snipers grew, so the need for detailed training became obvious. One of the first men involved in setting up sniper schools was Major H Hesketh-Prichard, DSO, MC.

Hesketh-Prichard was an experienced big-game hunter and deer stalker with a wide knowledge of rifles and telescope sights. By the end of 1915, having shown the worth of trained snipers, he was ordered to set up a School of Scouting, Observation and Sniping for the 1st Army, initially to train officers as instructors down to battalion level. Note the full title of the School. Snipers were not merely good marksmen, they were also expected to observe and record the smallest detail of enemy activity.

The 1st Army Sniping School was established at Linghem near Aire in Northern France, and the staff at first was only six in number. Officers and men attending the course went through a rigorous programme which covered all aspects of shooting and rifle maintenance, map and compass work, use of telescopes, fieldcraft and camouflage. Courses lasted 14 to 17 days and ended with examinations and practical exercises.

sniping2Sniper sections within battalions usually numbered about 16 men with a sergeant and came under the battalion intelligence officer. Some battalions had a sniping officer. Snipers generally worked in pairs, one man using a three-draw telescope to spot potential targets and the other with a rifle. The team would spend three hours on duty and would change over roles every 20 minutes or so.

Considerable emphasis was placed on observation and snipers would work closely with artillery forward observation officers. Hesketh-Prichard tells the story of how a sniping team noted the frequent presence of a well-fed cat on the enemy parapet. The intelligence Officer requested aerial photographs of the area and these revealed a new German H.Q. which was duly dealt with by the artillery. The cat survived the bombardment and was last seen streaking towards 'Martinpunch'.

In tactical terms, most snipers operated from hides built into the trench parapet. The aperture would be protected by an iron loophole plate and would be very carefully camouflaged. Sandbags around the loophole would be made bullet-proof by being filled with stones, scrap iron or empty cartridge cases. The entrance to the hide would be covered by a Hessian curtain so that no light could show when the loophole was open. Entry to the hide was forbidden to anyone who was not a sniper.

Great care was needed in using the hide and snipers had to lie as still as possible. Dummy loopholes, more obvious than the real ones, would be constructed to mislead the enemy. Hides were always placed at an angle to the opposing trenches - a loophole directly facing the enemy would be easily spotted.

sniping3The weather dictated how snipers would operate. A still, frosty morning could mean that the slight smoke from firing a rifle would hang in the air and be seen. Dry conditions could result in dust being disturbed in front of the loophole by a muzzle blast. Bright sunshine onto the loophole could make any movement behind it immediately obvious.

Attempts were made to draw enemy sniper fire so that their posts could be located. Dummy heads would be displayed briefly above the parapet. These dummies were very realistic - some could even smoke a cigarette, connected by a tube to a live smoker in the trench. When a dummy received a bullet it would fall. By carefully replacing it with a small periscope on the line of the bullet holes through he front and back of the head, the enemy post would often be revealed.

sniping4There were numerous similar ruses, many of which must have appealed to men with a sense of practical joking, but it was by such methods that British snipers gained the initiative in this side of the war.

sniping5

In the 1960's, I was privileged to know one of the men who served with Hesketh-Prichard. Len Carr was an armourer staff-sergeant at Linghem - he even named his house Linghem. On occasion he would talk about his days as an instructor at the sniping school and it became apparent that Hesketh-Prichard required his staff to spend time in the trenches so that they could use personal experience to back up their lectures. I found it difficult to associate a very affable and sprightly 75 year old with such a deadly craft, but Len was an extremely good target rifle shot despite his age!

If you are interested in the story of sniping in the Great War, I would recommend Hesketh-Prichard's book 'Sniping in France', re-published by Leo Cooper.

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