[Lone Sentry: WWII Tactical and Technical Trends]
  [Lone Sentry: Photographs, Documents and Research on World War II]
Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Intel Articles by Subject

"Finnish Views on Sniping" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following translated German document describes the Finnish views on sniping during WWII. The article was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 40, December 16, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The following excerpts from a translated German document give the views of the Finnish General Staff on Russian snipers, the general principles of sniping and the defense against sniping. The German translation of the original Finnish document was said to have been widely distributed by the German Training Command and can therefore, be considered as having been approved by the German High Command. A previous reference to German views on sniping will be found in Tactical and Technical Trends No. 29, p. 21.

*          *          *

a. Russian Training and Activity

This section is a Finnish summary of information derived from Russian sources pertaining to the training and activity of Russian snipers.

(1) General

As to moral and physical strength, the sniper must be a first-class fighter. Only a man utterly unafraid and imbued with the will to do his duty to the last, can measure up to such a task. During the attack his place is 10 to 15 yards behind the firing line; his task to lie in ambush for enemy officers and light and heavy machine gunners. In the defense his place is either on the ground or in a tree, preferably at the limiting points of the frontal sector or the open flanks. His task is the annihilation of enemy commanders and also soldiers about to execute special missions entrusted to them.

In patrol activity the sniper's place is in the center. When engaged, he withdraws slightly to the rear in order to be able to select his target better.

Snipers always work in pairs. One to observe with the binoculars and estimate distances, the other to fire. Their contact is either visual or by prearranged signals. They are supported by riflemen. Their alternative positions -- there are several of them -- are approximately 20 yards away from the firing positions. Of main importance in the selection of the positions are the field of fire and camouflage.

In order to be able to determine the location and nature of the enemy target by means of a few (very often barely noticeable indications) the sniper must possess a highly-developed sense of vigilance and faculty of observation.

It is claimed that in winter time a sniper discovered an adversary by his breath visible behind a stone or bush, and another behind a tree by some birds that picked up bread crumbs dropped by the soldier on the ground.

Especially in the defense, the sniper must possess patience and tenacity. He often has to watch hours on end for the appearance of an enemy observer in the slit of a pill box or a careless movement that betrays his presence in a trench.

The battle with the enemy is a continuous one decided by the one who makes the first careless move or fires the first premature shot.

The independent nature of his activity, the necessity of knowing how to take the best advantage of cover and concealment, and to fit himself into constantly (very often very swiftly) changing conditions make the sniper's thorough training in tactics a prerequisite.

He must be able in all situations to make a quick decision as to which of the enemy targets have to be eliminated first. Often he is entirely on his own and fights without contact with his command post.

The sniper must be thoroughly versed in the art of camouflage. Again, the use of firing tables, the calculation of errors, the making of map sketches, presuppose a sufficient amount of schooling and education.

(2) Replacements

Considering the fact that continual fighting often under severe conditions takes a high toll of both mental and physical energy and capacity, special attention must be paid to the proper clothing, feeding and rest of the snipers.

The training of new snipers should be in the hands of the experienced ones and should be conducted on the days when the latter are free from front duty.

(3) Reconnaissance Activity

For reconnaissance, snipers are to be employed solely for their own tasks. They are only to be attached to medium-sized reconnaissance parties and in pairs.

When the reconnaissance party advances, the two snipers follow the main body and observe distant targets. Sometimes it proves advantageous to use the snipers as a connecting link between patrols, committing them in the direction from which the enemy is expected to make his appearance. In this manner they help to support the points of the patrols and clear the way for them.

During combat the snipers take up positions from which they can actively further the development of the engagement. While the one selects moving targets, the other tries to put enemy gun nests out of action.

After having made a personal reconnaissance of the local terrain, the snipers continually change position, thus deceiving the enemy as to their whereabouts.

When breaking away from the enemy, the two snipers can be used together with automatic riflemen as security elements. Care has to be taken, however, in this case, to place the snipers somewhat apart, as automatic rifle fire will attract enemy fire.

(4) The Attack

For the attack, snipers are mainly employed to select such enemy targets as most impede the advance. Best results are obtained if they operate on the flank.

Snipers are not only to be given clear instructions as to their own positions and tasks when advancing, but also should be familiarized with the plan and object of the unit.

In the attack, snipers concentrate especially upon eliminating enemy officers, men directing enemy fire, automatic riflemen and antitank personnel. Should they not succeed in silencing these objects, they indicate by tracers their position to friendly MGs, mortars or antitank guns, and move without delay to alternate positions.

In case of counterattack by the enemy, the two snipers organize their activity as follows: one destroys enemy weapons, the other the man-power of the enemy, especially officers, automatic riflemen and sharpshooters.

The activity of friendly shock troops is to be supported by two to four snipers. Well-placed hits in enemy fire slits enable the shock troops to force their way into enemy emplacements.

(5) The Defense

The firing positions of the snipers vary with situation and distance from the enemy. During an engagement snipers are placed in the outpost line or even moved further ahead. If the fight is carried on over a short distance only, they may be moved even behind the M.L.R. provided there are commanding hills or elevations.

b. Finnish Observations

This section details Finnish combat experience with Russian snipers.

(1) Enemy Organization

The main factors contributing to the effectiveness of enemy sniper activity are first: a good weapon (rifle with telescopic sight) and secondly, the concentrated use of snipers in as large numbers as possible. It is true that the sniper contingent of a rifle company consists only of 3 to 5 men (formerly only 2) but to this have to be added the sharpshooters sent forward in support by the rear formations. As these reserves take part in the struggle and put up a good fight to make a name for themselves, a great deal of their own glory goes to the snipers of the units in the line.

As far as number and position of the snipers are concerned there have not been any hard and fast rules. Recently snipers have usually worked in small groups (4 men); however, every man has his own post which he leaves within a given time to change over to another.

(2) Fixed Positions

The determining factors controlling sniper activity vary naturally from sector to sector, but generally it can be stated that the enemy very aptly takes advantage of local conditions and constantly keeps in mind that the secrecy of the sniper's hideout is of utmost importance.

Usually the sniper takes his stand in a well-camouflaged dugout or other covered position connected with the trench. However, there are also cases where snipers have been observed in open positions.

The covered positions and dugouts are provided with one or several small fire slits. The face of the sniper cannot be seen, and in winter only the appearance of a small whirl of snow in front of the fire-slit betrays the fact that a shot has been fired.

When operating from a dugout, the sniper aims sideways from the ordinary fire directions, probably to deceive the enemy or to provide cover for himself. In one instance snipers seem to have been posted in the background of the dugout or covered position firing through the openings of the front wall. This seems to be borne out by the fact that sometimes no sound of explosion was perceptible.

When posted in a trench the sniper observes through a very small, hard-to-find, fire-slit in the parapet. Once in a while they have been seen posted in front of or behind the trench, even on top of the roofs of dugouts probably to secure a sufficient field of fire in low terrain. On moonlit nights snipers have been observed in no man's land. Flares were then fired to illuminate the targets.

Houses and rubble furnish snipers with excellent hiding places, hatch opening in attics and cellars being used as fire apertures. Also by removing some bricks, slits for observation and firing have been created. Snipers have also hidden themselves in lumber-stacks and wood-piles. During the summer several snipers were shot out of trees. In winter, however, trees have been avoided by them.

The Russian snipers seem to execute their tasks with extraordinary patience and tenacity and seem to have excellent material at their disposal. This can be concluded from the fact that they were able to discern even the least movement at great distances and that they concentrated their efforts only upon well-selected, sure and visible targets. Generally speaking, they were interested only in sure targets. Also the cooperation between several snipers seems to be smooth and the allocation of the different phases of the work well-organized.

It seems that once in a while two snipers go after the same target, for it happened that two men walking side by side were hit almost at the same time. On another occasion, one of our [Finnish] snipers was taking aim at his opponent when another enemy sniper shot his rifle to pieces. The sniper's mate not only takes care of the observation, but also the deception of the enemy. He tries by all conceivable means to lure lookouts and guards from their protective cover.

Enemy snipers have used "dum-dum" ammunition, which made it more difficult to locate the spot from which the shot was fired but easier for the enemy to observe a hit.

(3) Time of Activity

The activities of enemy snipers have been the liveliest on bright, sunny days, in winter after snowstorms when snowdrifts covered trenches and communication trenches. Also light snowfalls and dusk were selected by the enemy snipers to step up their activity, as then our men moved about somewhat more carelessly, but the enemy's telescopic sights still offered a clear enough view to secure a hit. Our mealtimes, too, when again our men dropped some of their watchfulness, were utilized. In daytime, snipers generally preferred the mornings and noon-time.

(4) Ranges and Performances

Depending upon the distance between the lines, the ranges run from 100 to 900 yards, but occasionally enemy snipers have tried shots up to 1,400 yards. The usual and most effective distance is 200 to 400 yards, but even at 600 to 700 yards the accuracy of fire has been fairly satisfactory.

The fire readiness and speed of fire have been good even on moving targets, a proof on the one hand of thorough training, and on the other of the indispensability of the telescopic sight.

The speed and accuracy of fire gave rise to the suspicion that snipers posted in buildings made use of special aids. The accuracy of the fire may be illustrated by the following examples:

At 200 to 400 yards several scissors telescopes and periscopes were smashed to pieces. One sniper shot down a small rock which had been placed in an observation slit three times in rapid succession.

When one of our MG platoon commanders lifted his hand just once above the snow-wall to repair the alarm wire a Russian sniper scored a hit on his hand at 100 yards. A sniper was hit several times through an observation slit fashioned into the snow-wall with a stick. Various objects lifted by our men above the parapet, as a trial, were generally hit. It also happened that Finnish observers behind periscopes, were shot at through the snow wall.

(5) Deception

Enemy snipers made use, among others, of the following methods of deception:

In order to induce our men to become lax in their watchfulness they leave a position in our line alone for as many as 8 days.

The sniper's mate shovels snow from a pit for a while then raises a helmet above the parapet, or a sniper puts a helmet visibly into a fire slit and then opens fire from an alternate position. One sniper takes up position behind a rock, then the other moves a completely equipped dummy back and forth in the trench. By opening heavy fire in a certain sector the enemy tries to confuse our men and cause them to expose themselves. Long bursts of automatic weapon fire have been used for the same purpose.

c. Finnish Counter-Measures

Most of the losses from enemy sniper fire have been caused by carelessness, inept utilization of cover and concealment, use of dirty snow capes and caps, or by not wearing any suitable garment at all that would afford protection against detection in a given terrain.

These losses are a proven fact, and soldiers must be forced to do everything in their power to impede the activities of snipers.

The following counter-measures may be used among others:

(1) Careful movements and the taking of full advantage of the ground in the danger zone;

(2) The best of camouflage;

(3) Sufficient depth of trenches and appropriate danger signs in the trench;

(4) Struts placed across the trenches to force the men to walk in a bent body position;

(5) Use of snow capes;

(6) Use of clean and complete snow suits in the front line;

(7) Careful selection of the fire positions and their thorough reinforcement (steel plates, sandbags) and camouflage;

(8) Frequent changing of observation points;

(9) Avoiding of unnecessary firing from observation posts and application of various proven methods of deception;

(10) Intensification of our own sniper activity by the use, for instance, of additional snipers from the reserve troops;

(11) Freeing snipers from other duties and continuing their training, especially with a view to improving their accuracy of fire;

(12) Organized use of other weapons against snipers who cannot be eliminated by our own snipers.


[Back] Back to Articles by Subject | Intel Bulletin by Issue | T&TT by Issue | Home Page

Web LoneSentry.com