History Archives - Page 2 of 2 -
May 14th, 2016 by AmSJ Staff

[su_heading size=”30″]‘Sky Cops’ Protect Bases, Bombers, Missile Fields, And Take On New Roles[/su_heading]

STORY BY TROY TAYSOM

Editor’s note: Part I in this series last issue covered the U.S. Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations. 
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]T[/su_dropcap]he United States Air Force is a unique service for a multitude of reasons. It was the first branch of the service to allow women into combat roles (security police) and has an entire career field dedicated to protecting air bases, aircraft, Air Force personnel and nuclear weapons. All of the other services require individual units to provide security for themselves, i.e. an Army aviation unit’s members, including her mechanics, are armed and trained as riflemen. In the Air Force, only one group is trained in the art of Air Base Ground Defense (ABGD).


Chuck Norris started his martial arts training when he was an air policeman in Korea. Besides Norris, the “Sky Cops” have a storied past full of unsung heroes, hard-fought battles and the distinction that not a single air base was ever overrun during the Vietnam War – and not for lack of trying on the North Vietnamese’s part either. It has taken nearly 70 years for this career field to gain its true identity. Here is that story.

POST WORLD WAR II
In 1947 when the Air Force was officially separated from the Army, the need to protect not only the aircraft but now a cache of nuclear weapons became paramount. The old-time bomber pilot and commander Curtis LeMay saw the need for a unit to function like the infantry, but on Air Force bases. These airmen needed to be versed in the use of small arms, crew-served weapons, and squad- (fire team in the Air Force), platoon- (called a flight) and company- (called a squadron) level tactics. These units needed to be highly specialized in the deterrence and detection of unauthorized people or groups attempting to access a base (especially ones with nuclear missions) or missile field. The Strategic Air Command led the way in developing their APs into highly trained soldier airmen, known unofficially as “SAC Trained Killers.”

During the Korean War, very few air bases came under attack. The APs were basically law enforcement on the base and guarded aircraft. No tactical plans had been implemented, let alone training for a base attack. The Air Force was lucky, but their luck would be tested mightily in the next go-around. The SAC model wasn’t followed by units in Korea, as the nuclear weapons were kept stateside.

VIETNAM
As the Vietnam War ramped up in the 1960s, so did the need for the Air Force’s presence in and around America’s ally in Southeast Asia. The U.S. focused most of its air bases in South Vietnam and Thailand, with others further away in places like Guam and the Philippines. Those bases located on the mainland endured the greatest risk of attack, as they sat close to enemy forces. Amazingly enough, few of the Air Force bases came under attack in the beginning years of the war. The tactics and mindset were still very Korean War-oriented. Many APs arrived at bases in Southeast Asia to find no weapons had been sent for them to use. Other bases had WWII leftovers – Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs), .30-caliber Browning machineguns, grease guns, Colt .45 ACP 1911s and M1 Carbines.

I spoke with Senior Master Sergeant Pete Piazza (retired) at length about what the Sky Cops (as they were lovingly dubbed) endured from 1966-72. Piazza served three tours of duty in Vietnam as an AP and then as a SP. He witnessed firsthand the Air Force go from no real idea of how to defend a base to being awarded the Silver Star for his actions at Bien Hoa Air Base on Jan. 31, 1968, during the Tet Offensive.

Piazza took charge of his bunker when his leader, Capt. Maisey, was killed by a rocket. A staff sergeant at the time, he spent the next eight hours running through heavy machinegun fire, rockets and sniper fire to keep his men fully supplied with much-needed ammunition and water. Piazza was quick to educate me on a couple of little known facts.

“Ninety percent of the SPs that were at Air Force bases when Tet started had never seen combat,” he told me.

Air police, security police, security forces – the protectors of our country’s air bases and overseas assets have had several names, but the job they’ve done has never wavered. (TROY TAYSOM)

He also said something that intrigued me: “The Air Force was the only branch of the service that didn’t have one of their bases overrun by the enemy.”

Why was that? Men just like Piazza. But ask him and he’ll say, “I was just doing what everybody else was doing.” While humility is the true sign of a hero, I will have to disagree with Pete on this one. Silver Stars aren’t just handed out, especially to enlisted USAF airmen.

Undoubtedly, there were others who performed as bravely as Piazza did on that January day so long ago. I can’t possibly find and speak to them all; some, including his direct supervisor, Capt. Maisey, were killed on that day and in the days to come as Tet raged on. Piazza certainly wasn’t part of any “chair force.” He was every bit an infantryman that day as Audie Murphy and Chesty Puller.

Ask any soldier and he or she will tell you: Whoever owns the night has the advantage. The SPs were some of the first units in the Vietnam War to receive ANTVS-2 scopes, nicknamed “Starlight” because of their use of ambient star and moon light. These scopes were some of the first real attempts at night vision and changed the face of war forever. The riflemounted scope gave the user night vision out to 400 meters, while a crew-served weapons version, the ANPVS-4, worked out to 1,000, and an off-weapon version, the ANPVS-5, allowed sight out to 1,500 meters. For those airmen who had them, night shifts became a little less nerve racking.

One asset was in great supply, and gave the SPs another advantage at night – military working dogs, MWDs or K9s. The Sky Cops would walk the perimeter at night with their dogs. The SPs couldn’t see any better just because they had a dog, but the dogs could sense the presence of intruders, and on more than one occasion they stopped enemy sappers before they had the chance to breach the perimeter fence. For whatever reason, the Viet Cong also had a healthy fear of these K9s and kept their distance as word spread of their presence on the air bases. At the height of the K9 program, in January 1967, there were 476 dogs deployed. The dog handlers carried a special version of the M16, called the GAU-5/A. It was shorter and allowed the handler to control the dog and fire the rifle one-handed if needed.

It wasn’t until after Tet that the Air Force wrote its first definitive, battle-tested, air-base ground defense manual to be used in the years ahead – especially during the Cold War.
THE MAYAGUEZ INCIDENT
On May 12, 1975, Cambodian naval ships captured the S.S. Mayaguez, a U.S. merchant marine ship, in international waters. Negotiations broke down and a rescue mission was planned. The closest unit with combat experience was the 56th Security Police Squadron stationed at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. After the CH-53 Knife helicopters plus some HH-53 choppers left the base, Knife 13 disappeared from radar 40 miles out. It is widely thought that mechanical issues caused the crash. All 18 security policemen and four crew members and a linguist died.

Moments before take-off, a picture of the ill-fated Sky Cops in Knife 13 was taken. Thirty minutes later all 23 passengers were dead. The image leaves a haunting legacy of sacrifice and how short life can be in a combat zone.
COLD WAR
As the Cold War heated up, America’s nuclear arsenal followed suit. Most nuclear assets came under the purview of the USAF, and more specifically SAC. SAC was the brain child of LeMay and was arguably the best run major command in the Air Force. SAC operated bases for bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons, as well as bases that
supported missile field operations. These wings were subject to remarkably stringent inspections, the failure of which would result in the firing of the senior staff of the wing.

The USAF was the first branch of the military to deploy female snipers and has since trained multiple women in this role. (USAF)

The SPs were responsible for several missions on SAC bases: the protection of the weapons storage areas, where the nukes were stored; and the physical guarding of the B-52s and KC-135s, air refuelers, that were on “alert.” Being on alert required the aircrews to live in a special facility next to the aircraft. At the sound of the klaxon, the crews rushed to their aircraft and were ready for take-off to top secret destinations. The SPs guarded all of these locations, day and night, 24/7/365. At places like Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, guard duty tested one’s desire to be a cop.

Missile fields also demanded the attention of the SPs. These fields were vast and remote. Cops worked seven days straight, often living out of campers attached to the back of pick-up trucks. The missile fields weren’t located in tropical locales either. They were spread across states like Montana, Kansas, Wyoming and South Dakota. Working conditions for the cops were less than ideal; in fact, at times the conditions resembled the Arctic Circle more than the continental United States. But defend these locations the SPs did, and to this day, still do. In 1997 security police career fields of law enforcement and security specialist were merged into one field and renamed Security Forces. This change gave the cops more flexibility in manning assignments, as well as providing cross training.

MODERN-DAY WAR ON TERROR

The USAF’s modern-day Security Forces function even more like infantry units than the cops in the past. They have all the weapons of the infantry – the M240, M249B, M4, M9, M203, 81mm mortars and M24 sniper systems. They are the first service to deploy female snipers and have now trained multiple women in this role.

Couple of Ravens in back of C-17 Aircraft - Photo by J Hines

Couple of Ravens in back of C-17 Aircraft – Photo by J Hines

The Air Force’s cops continue to become a “high speed, low drag” group. They have a squadron that is airborne qualified, stationed in Georgia. This group of cops even made a combat jump with the Army into Iraq. Air Mobility Command has also developed a group called the Ravens. In this group of Security Forces, airmen accompany aircraft into dangerous regions of the world where there is no on ground security for the aircraft. These men and women travel the world providing security for these USAF assets and serve as Force Protection advisors to aircrew members. Other major commands have similar.

In addition to guarding U.S. Air Force missile fields, “Sky Cops” also protect the nation’s bomber fleet. Here, Airman 1st Class Arlando Budd, assigned to the 509th Security Forces Squadron, provides security near a B-2 Spirit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (SENIOR AIRMAN NICK WILSON, USAF)

The Air Force continues to change with the times. It just so happens that the “Sky Cops” are leading the way when it comes to installation, asset, nuclear and personnel security. The lessons learned in the Jungles of Vietnam and Thailand, as well as the lessons of the Cold War in Europe and the frozen missile fields and bomber facilities of America are the foundation under which the new generation of Sky Cops continue to grow and evolve. ASJ

Posted in Law Enforcement Tagged with: , , , , , ,

May 4th, 2016 by AmSJ Staff

[su_heading size=”30″]History, Tradition And Heritage At The New Musket Range[/su_heading]

Story by Larry Case

[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]A[/su_dropcap]lthough not a soldier himself, Rudyard Kipling was familiar with the British army, their weapons and methods of fighting. No doubt he had soldier chums who were happy to tell him about the best girl they had, the Brown Bess musket.

From about 1722 to 1838 the Long Land Pattern musket (Bess’s official name) was the standard-issue long arm for all land forces in the British military. This weapon fired a .75- to .78-caliber ball. As this was the era of British expansion, Brown Bess saw duty around the world. From India to Waterloo all the way over to those pesky American colonies, this was the gun that did most of the fighting, and when mounted with the standard 17-inch bayonet it was deadly indeed! Think of an M1 Garand that stayed in service for over 100 years!

THE ORIGIN OF THE NICKNAME Brown Bess for this pattern musket seems to be uncertain. Some say it was an affectionate reference by the British soldiers to Queen Elizabeth I. King George I was, in fact, German and did not speak English (go figure), and others think it could have been an interpretation for the German braun Buss or brawn Buss, meaning strong gun or brown gun. (Büchse is an old German word for rifle, in the sense of a hunting weapon.)

Situated on 301 acres, Colonial Williamsburg allows visitors to be completely immersed in the time period. All the people who work and live here are well versed in the history and wear period attire. (COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

Situated on 301 acres, Colonial Williamsburg allows visitors to be completely immersed in the time period. All the people who work and live here are well versed in the history and wear period attire. (COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

Most experts on this musket, however, seem to think it is more likely the overall appearance of the weapon: dark brown wood on the stock and a barrel that often had a brownish tint due to the method of “bluing” the metal at this time known as russeting.

History is wonderful and if you are as crazy about guns as I am, you could get lost in the details and minutiae of any firearm. I will admit, however, that there is something better than just reading about it – hands-on shooting. The feel of the gun, the burning powder in your nose and getting your hands dirty – there is no substitute for this.

So, where can you actually learn to load and fire a Brown Bess musket? Glad you asked! Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, of course!

This 301-acre historic site features hundreds of restored, reconstructed and historically furnished buildings. Costumed interpreters tell the stories of the men and women in this 18th-Century city – black, white and Native Americans were all here. Some were slaves, some were indentured and some were free. When you come here, you will learn the challenges these people faced and you can also learn to fire the Brown Bess!

(COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

(COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

BRAND NEW THIS YEAR, Colonial Williamsburg has opened a firing range where guests can learn to load and fire this treasured musket. If you enjoy history (which you probably do if you are visiting Colonial Williamsburg), take the time to feel history in your hands by shooting these historical treasures.

Even though we were visiting the colonies and not Her Majesty’s home in England, the day my wife Helen and I visited Colonial Williamsburg, we were treated like royalty. Joe Straw, public relations manager for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and all of the staff went out of their way to make us feel welcome.

Brown Bess

OUR FIRST STOP was the gunsmith shop. To be honest, I could have spent the entire day in there. As with much of Colonial Williamsburg most of this sweeping landscape is just like stepping back in time. Try to imagine walking into an 18th-century gunsmith shop. It’s all here! The guns, the powder horns, the tools and every accoutrement that you can think of and some you might never have realized existed, all with the absolute authenticity and attention to detail that Colonial Williamsburg is known for.

The gunsmith shop is like stepping back in time. All of the muskets and tools, including barrel rifling, engraving and carpentry tools, are handmade in the same tradition and manner that they were created in the 18th century. (COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

The gunsmith shop is like stepping back in time. All of the muskets and tools, including barrel rifling, engraving and carpentry tools, are handmade in the same tradition and manner that they were created in the 18th century. (COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

I stood in awe of the blacksmith’s shop next door as a flat piece of metal was repeatedly heated, hammered and forged around an iron rod, transforming it into a rifle barrel. I had always been curious about this process and wondered how it was even possible. There I stood as sparks danced with each blow of the hammer and black smoke rolled.

I was very fortunate to spend some time with George Suiter, the master gunsmith here. Suiter has been working in this gunsmith shop for over 30 years and after about 10 minutes of speaking with him I had already forgotten more about making these rifles than I would ever know. Suiter makes these Colonial-era “rifle guns” right in this shop and people can order their very own. The waiting list is quite lengthy, currently eight to nine years, and on average a rifle will fetch about $20,000.

“The best way to preserve a trade is to practice it,” Suiter told me, “ … and that is what we do here at Colonial Williamsburg.” He assured me that one would never find tools in this shop which were not true to the time period.

(COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

(COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

I also spent some time talking to Erik Goldstein, curator of mechanical arts and numismatics. Goldstein is the coauthor of The Brown Bess: An Identification Guide And Illustrated Study Of Britain’s Most Famous Musket. This is, at the very least, an exhaustive study of the British Land Pattern musket. I do not believe you could be a serious student nor a proper collector without owning this book.

JOE STRAW WAS ULTIMATELY ABLE to hustle me out of the gunsmith shop and took Helen and I to the musket range. A highly capable group and just as knowledgeable in their craft awaited us. You will find this level of commitment and passion all over Colonial Williamsburg, and this is also depicted in the clothing and demeanor.

Portraying a Colonial-era militia man, armorer Justin Chapman met us at the range with a host of well-trained helpers. Chapman gave us an extensive safety and background briefing on the Brown Bess, as well as a period “fowling piece.” The “fowler,” we were told, would be a muzzleloader that would have likely been used by colonists at the time. A predecessor to the modern shotgun, it could be loaded with bird shot or ball load, making it very versatile for the hunting colonist.

This Brown Bess’s loaded pan is primed to fire. Notice the 18th century version of a safety – a leather cover on the frizzen. (Inset) Williamsburg’s blacksmith shop is perpetually in motion as they create the barrels, among many other items, from bare metal by repetitively heat treating and hammering the soon-to-be musket barrel. (COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

This Brown Bess’s loaded pan is primed to fire. Notice the 18th century version of a safety – a leather cover on the frizzen. (Inset) Williamsburg’s blacksmith shop is perpetually in motion as they create the barrels, among many other items, from bare metal by repetitively heat treating and hammering the soon-to-be musket barrel. (COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

Both the Brown Bess and the fowler are smoothbores (no rifling in the barrel). They could be loaded quickly, but are not especially accurate over 50 yards. For the European style of combat used at the time, where armies marched in formation to within range of their foes and then sent volleys of lead chunks at them, the Brown Bess was a deadly weapon; for the long-range shooter, not so much. A British soldier was expected to be capable of firing four shots in one minute. After a few volleys of fire, a charge was ordered using those wicked triangular 17-inch bayonets. The line that could stand against such a charge was stalwart indeed!

(COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

(COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG)

MY WIFE HELEN HAD the privilege of being the first visitor to fire a round on the brand new musket range here. I enjoyed watching her do that as much as anything on this trip. There is something about watching a new shooter that warms the heart. The look on her face after the smoke and boom of her first shot was priceless. When she was asked if she wanted to shoot again, she immediately replied, “Of course!”

When it was my turn to shoot, I found that it was not difficult to hit the NRA target, as the musket was more accurate than I had expected. The Brown Bess has no front sight, but the small lug where the bayonet attaches serves as one. Again, this was not meant to be a sniper rifle. Quick and easy to load, I could see how shooting this type of muzzleloader could be addicting. Straw had to drag me off of the range before we all froze
to death – it was a cold March day – and I shot up all the powder and ball in the county.

The latest at Colonial Williamsburg is the musket range – now open to the public. (LARRY CASE)

The latest at Colonial Williamsburg is the musket range – now open to the public. (LARRY CASE)

The author’s wife Helen Case (right) stands with a Colonial Williamsburg guard and demonstrates the length of the Brown Bess complete with bayonet. (LARRY CASE)

The author’s wife Helen Case (right) stands with a Colonial Williamsburg guard and demonstrates the length of the Brown Bess complete with bayonet. (LARRY CASE)

AT THE END OF THE LONG DAY, Helen and I would not be denied another stroll down Colonial Williamsburg’s streets. It was a blustery evening with not many visitors around. I stood and peered down Duke of Gloucester Street; nobody was in sight outside of those in period attire. Far down the street I could see a soldier in uniform hastening into the evening gloom. Trouble was coming, but in the end came freedom and the rise of the greatest country the world had ever seen. Just for a minute I imagined it was 1774, and I was there. ASJ

Posted in Black Powder Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

March 26th, 2015 by AmSJ Staff

Story by Frank Jardim

In 1944, the War Department Basic Field Manual FM 21-75, Infantry Scouting, Patrolling and Sniping defined the sniper as “… an expert rifleman, well qualified in scouting, whose duty is to pick off key enemy personnel who expose themselves. By eliminating enemy leaders and harassing the troops, sniping softens the enemy’s resistance and weakens his morale.” That definition remains consistent through the broader history of sniping, before and since, whether the weapon was a crossbow or a high-powered, telescopically sighted rifle.

Lie and wait

A sniper and spotter settling into a concealed position

The sniper is an incredibly efficient fighter, compared to the typical infantryman. Consider that in World War II, American infantry units fired 25,000 rounds to kill just one enemy soldier. By the Korean War, that figure jumped to 50,000 rounds, and the select-fire M14 and M16 infantry rifles of the Vietnam War only seem to have produced more misses, requiring the expenditure of 200,000 rounds to kill one enemy combatant. Nowadays, it’s a quarter million rounds of spraying and praying to kill a single Taliban.

By comparison, on average, a sniper requires only 1.3 bullets to kill an enemy. During the Vietnam War, it was noted on many occasions that a handful of snipers accounted for more enemy killed than the entire infantry battalion (and sometimes even regiment) they were assigned to.

It was the wildly disproportionate contribution of snipers in the Vietnam War that set the stage for the first permanent peacetime sniper training programs. The U.S. Marine Corps set theirs up first at Quantico, Va., in 1977, and the U.S. Army followed suit at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1985. Snipers were finally on the TO&E (Tables of Organization & Equipment) of combat units, which meant they would always be ready for deployment. The rigorous training programs ensured the accumulated knowledge, gained from combat experience, would be preserved and ready when it was needed.

130326-A-DK678-006Another critically important achievement of the USMC Scout Sniper and U.S. Army Sniper Schools was the creation of the U.S. military’s first purpose-built sniper rifles. Again, the USMC led the way with the M40A1 and the U.S. Army followed with the M24 Sniper Weapons System. Both were based on the Remington 700-bolt action rifle, chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO. Prior to that, snipers used standard service rifles, specially selected for their accuracy and equipped with telescopic sights or commercial, off-the-shelf sporting rifles, as was the case in the black powder era and the Vietnam War. The upside of using the standard service rifle as the basis for a sniper conversion was complete parts and ordnance maintenance support from the normal supply channels. The downside was that the most accurate service rifles were not nearly as good as the best commercially available hunting rifles. The accuracy of the service rifle was always hampered by hand guards, stacking swivels and bayonet lugs hanging off the barrel – items totally useless to a sniper.

It is ironic that a country built on a tradition of rifle marksmanship took nearly 200 years to formally embrace the sniper, the man that represents the military apex of that long tradition. In each major war, through Vietnam, our armed forces began with no snipers and had to create training programs, usually in the theater of operations, to train them on the spot. Training varied from none to good, but the typical formula that has made many a successful American sniper is a rural background with early and continuous exposure to hunting or competitive, rifle shooting.

It is ironic that a country built on a tradition of rifle marksmanship took nearly 200 years to formally embrace the sniper

Time after time, at the conclusion of the war, the sniper schools were closed and the snipers faded away. The knowledge they gained in the deadly art of hunting men faded away with them and had to be re-taught in the next war. This happened because America’s senior military leaders saw the sniper as a specialist, of small importance compared to the conventional infantry, artillery, cavalry (and later armored) forces who massively outnumbered him. From the general’s point of view, snipers didn’t win wars; huge armies did.

During the American Revolution, volunteers from the frontier colonies took their long rifles to war. No British soldier within 400 yards was safe, and 200-yard, one-shot-kills were common. Riflemen terrorized the British, on the march and in garrison, picking off officers and noncommissioned officers from hidden positions. Without any formal guidance, they were doing exactly the same mission as snipers do today, but the British had far greater respect for them than General George Washington. Slow to load and lacking the capacity for a bayonet, the rifles and the unruly men who wielded them were ill-suited to the linear tactics of the day. General Washington thought the riflemen were more trouble than they were worth and didn’t want them in the Continental Army.

Trey Dominick USMC Scout Sniper

 In the American Civil War, snipers were called sharpshooters and recruited for their marksmanship skill. The percussion-lock rifled musket and minie ball of the period greatly increased accuracy, without sacrificing speed of loading, and made the battlefield a much deadlier place. Some sharpshooters made use of early telescopic sights and many used their personal weapons in battle. The breech-loading Sharps rifle was popular among Union sharpshooters because it could be loaded lying down, behind cover. The standard muzzleloading, rifled musket required the soldier to stand up to load it, thus exposing himself to enemy fire. Confederates favored the British Whitworth rifle, when they could get it. With its unique hexagonal-shaped, fast-twisting bore, instead of conventional cut rifling, it fired a six-sided bullet accurately just over a mile. It was the first military rifle built for long range accuracy. A Confederate sharpshooter, armed with a Whitworth rifle, killed Union General John Sedgwick at the Battle of Spotsylvania from a range of 800 yards.

During WW I, the skill sets and standard operating procedures of our present-day snipers were developed and codified in no-man’s land and the trenches. By that time, the bolt-action rifle reached the pinnacle of its development as an infantry weapon. It had a five- to 10-round magazine and fired a much smaller caliber, high-velocity and aerodynamic bullet, propelled by smokeless powder, up to 3 miles.

Once he had a suitable modern weapon, the scout sniper emerged in a form identical to the present day. Now actually called a sniper, he can engage targets at 1,000 yards with more precision than luck. Whether shooting from behind or in front of friendly lines, he selects his hiding place carefully and uses camouflage to conceal himself and his spotter. He may wait for hours or days to get a shot at his target. When and if he does fire, it is rarely more than a few shots before he must move to avoid detection. (Smokeless powder makes it much more difficult for the enemy to locate his position.)

Sniper rifles are now commonly equipped with telescopic sights. Germany, thanks to their world-renowned optics industry, initially dominated the battlefield by putting 20,000 scoped rifles (some of them civilian hunting rifles) in the hands of its best marksmen. The Allied nations had to play catch up. The United States Army fielded the ungainly 6x magnification prismatic Warner & Swasey scope, mounted on the .30-06 M1903 Springfield Rifle. It looked strange and it was clumsy, but it worked. It had over twice the magnification of most scopes of the day.

PHOTO 3 Military Sniper on a rooftop

The rooftops of the buildings in Iraq and Afghanistan created some of the most intensely-hot shooting platforms which created yet another obstacle for these Snipers

 

By World War II, telescopic sights improved and rugged, domestically made ones with fair weather resistance, like the 2.5x-power Lyman Alaskan (military M81/M82), were mounted on the standard .30-06 M1 semiautomatic rifle. The old M1903 Springfield, with an improved 10x-power Unertl scope, served the USMC, and the simplified M1903A4, with a 2x-power M73B1 scope was a substitute standard for both services.

In World War II, the United States was almost continuously on the offensive. Both the Japanese and Germans often used snipers, suicidally, to cover their withdrawals and stall the allied advance. The greatest threat to a sniper is another sniper, so U.S. Army infantry platoons commonly designated a scout sniper in the headquarters section to be employed at the commander’s discretion.

Contrary to our image of the American sniper as a lone wolf on the battlefield, they also fought as platoons. When the Marines invaded Betio in the Tarawa Atoll on Nov. 20, 1943, Lt. William D. Hawkins led his platoon of scout snipers on a mission, far in advance of the main forces. They hunted down, and eliminated, enemy machine gunners and snipers to protect the advance of their fellow Marines at the long pier. They fought with grenades and flamethrowers, as well as precision rifle fire. Lt. Hawkins died in the battle, but his ferocity in combat earned him the Medal of Honor.

The snipers role in the Korean War bore similarities to World War I: static lines, an attrition strategy and costly frontal attacks. Once again, the precision contributions of the hastily trained snipers (now equipped with M1D sniper rifles and 2.2x-power M84 scopes) was overshadowed by the mass slaughter wrought by concentrated small arms and artillery fire. Korea was a big war fought in a small place. If machine guns had trouble stopping human-wave attacks used by the Communist Chinese, what could snipers possibly do?

CarlosHathcock

The legendary Carlos Hathcock (left) in Vietnam

By contrast, snipers made undeniably significant contributions in the Vietnam War and all the wars that followed it. The nature and scale of combat changed in a manner that favored the sniper. Vietnam was a big war, but only in the aggregate. It was fought in small engagements over a large area and a long period of time. In this environment, the sniper was on more equal terms with the enemy. Combat actions in Grenada, Beirut, Iraq and Afghanistan were likewise small in scale, compared to the World Wars and Korea.

P57fW

Carlos Hathcock mounted a scope on an M2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun and used it to make the longest recorded sniper kill in history.

The superior equipment, training and communication of today’s snipers makes them the deadliest warriors on the battlefield. In Vietnam in 1967, USMC scout sniper legend Carlos Hathcock mounted a scope on an M2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun and used it to make the longest recorded sniper kill in history. His 2,286-meter record stood until 2002, when a Canadian sniper broke it by 24 meters in Afghanistan using a MacMillan Tac-50 bolt-action rifle in the same caliber. Hathcock’s improvised, ultralong-range, sniping demonstration was a harbinger of things to come. In 1990 the U.S. Army purchased the .50-caliber BMG M82 Barrett, semiautomatic sniper rifle for use in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in Iraq. Later it would be standardized as the M107. This rifle was used by Army Ranger Sgt. Bryan Kremer in Iraq, in March 2004, to make the 2,300-meter kill that now stands as the farthest for an American sniper. His was the fourth-longest kill shot in recorded history.

For the record, the credit for the farthest kill goes to British sniper Craig Harrison, who made an incredible 2,475-meter shot with an Accuracy International L115A3 rifle in .338 Lapua Magnum. The .338 Lapua round was designed to outrange the powerful .300 Winchester and extend the sniper’s lethality to 1,600 meters. Chief petty officer Chris Kyle used a McMillan Tac-338 bolt-action rifle in .338 Lapua Magnum to make his farthest kill, at 1,920 meters, against an enemy combatant about to fire an RPG at a passing American convoy.

Army Ranger Sgt. Bryan Kremer made a 2,300-meter kill in Iraq that now stands as the farthest for an American sniper.

In World Wars I and II, American snipers were expected to make 600-yard hits. This was reasonable, in light of the limitations of their service-rifle-based sniper rifles, and the ordinary ball ammunition they had to use. Today’s sniper is expected to hit the target at twice that range. The sniper’s skills remain the same, but his tools have greatly improved. Laser range finders, bipods, high-magnification scopes, night-vision scopes, match-grade ammunition, rugged specialty rifles built to take the abuse of combat and deliver competition accuracy, and excellent, often continuous communication, all contribute to getting the bullet where the sniper needs it to go, with greater accuracy than ever before possible.

The film American Sniper has grossed over $250,000,000 as of this writing, making it the most popular war film in American history. Its themes resonate with the public right now and are sure to generate an increased interest in long-range rifle marksmanship that will serve the cause of freedom well in wars to come. The film tells a slightly fictionalized account of the life of the aforementioned SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who learned to shoot as a boy in rural Texas, perhaps not unlike our sharpshooters of yore, and became one of the most successful snipers in U.S. military history, saving countless American lives on the battlefield with his shooting ability. ASJ

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