Sniping is the art of accurate marksmanship from concealment. During the First World War the Germans employed expert sharp shooters with sporting rifles fitted with telescopic sights, causing the Allied forces substantial losses, especially officers. In one battalion no fewer than 18 officers were so killed in one day. In spite of all efforts it was not until the "SOS" (Sniping, Observation and Scouting) School was organised in 1916, and the training of snipers undertaken on a scientific basis with special appliances, that mastery over the enemy was achieved. Trench counter-sniping was followed by battlefield sniping to keep down enemy fire while captured positions were consolidated, and deal with machine guns and artillery. In one action in 1918 a single sniper put a whole German battery out of action, accounting for every officer and man, one by one.

The term is upwards of 250 years old dating from the American War of Independence. A letter of [the politician] George Selwyn of 1782 wrote of men being 'popped at or sniped, as they call it.' In the Burmese War of 1824 a military report stated 'Several Sepoys were killed and wounded by the enemy snipers.' The term established itself in military parlance in the Boer War. A curious historic note is that of the institution of regular regimental snipers was first proposed in the 17th Century by General Monck, Duke of Albemarle, when he was Commander-in-Chief of the Army during the reign of Charles II. [1]

References / notes

  1. Edward Fraser and John Gibbons (1925). Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases. Routledge, London p.262.

Glossary of words and phrases

The above term is listed in our glossary of words and phrases of the Armed Forces of Great Britain during the Great War. Included are trench slang, service terms, expressions in everyday use, nicknames, the titles and origins of British and Commonwealth Regiments, and warfare in general. These words and phrases are contemporary to the war, which is reflected in the language used. They have been transcribed from three primary sources (see Contents). Feel free to expand upon and improve this content.
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