1893 Grand Exhibition. The world's intro to PBR, hot dogs, ice cream cones and the Ferris Wheel.

1893 Grand Exhibition. The world's intro to PBR, hot dogs, ice cream cones and the Ferris Wheel.
A view through the wheel. The black, horizontal line is the axle, the single largest forging to that time.
"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cover and Concealment, Great War Snipers

To your left: a (mis-named) "sniper shield". This is a German example - in case the helmet hadn't tipped you off.
This is an early pattern and similar shields were manufactured and used by all the various participants. They just didn't last long being used as cover for snipers.
The first thing is; you're looking at the outside - the bad guy's side. Maybe the guy who took the picture knew that and just stuck his helmet in front of the more interesting side.
A pre-war, "on manoeuvres" shot.Naive, of course but they at least got the trench thing right.
One clue is that the loophole is on the wrong side (Forgive me, Southpaws).
I know it doesn't look like it and as counter-intuitive as it may seem, all the things that seem wrong with this being the front actually make sense. The flare on the sides and top were meant to face forward to redirect ricochets and "splash" (molten lead resulting from the bullet's impact) and to keep both from hitting your buddies on the line.
Note that the loophole cover seems to be wrongly placed as well. My guess is that they didn't want it attached on the inside since a direct hit, when closed, would send it into the user's face.
These were initially issued, in the German army, as a simple piece of kit. I don't know if every ground-pounder carried one but many did and they couldn't all have been snipers.
Back when the prevailing fantasy was a war of movement, the thought was that the lads could advance, set up their little "fort" and proceed to reduce their next spot.
Of course, the war of movement lasted a few weeks tops and after that the shields had to become something else.
Let into the sandbag parapet, they would provide a protected firing position for a sniper, a plain rifleman or for observing the folks across the way.
The problem was that no matter what, they looked just like what they were, a piece of steel with a hole. A hole that would conveniently fit a rifle - for example. Hard thing to hide in a wall of sandbags.
The French had a slight advantage on this issue. Lacking the anal-retentive nature of the Germans, they made sandbags out of anything that came to hand, pillowcases, blankets, curtains, whatever with the result being the front of their line was this patchwork mishmash where the sniper's shield wouldn't show up a like a turd in a punchbowl.
The Germans also became very proficient at shooting through the loopholes. Or shooting the top mirror out of periscopes or anyone dumb enough to poke his head up.
It's reported that, at least once, a German bullet went into the muzzle of the rifle belonging to his British opposite number. Probably luck but he did hit the loophole.
That was the problem of the Brits, busting open these shields.
They started looking at the problem and, obligingly since they were obviously going to be the recipients of sniper fire, the Germans did as well.
They started the R&D circus with their K round, a pointed, tool-steel core jacketed in copper and fired through their standard Mauser infantry rifle.
The British farted around with some experiments but came up empty.
Of all the Great War battle rifles the SMLE had the lowest muzzle velocity so, bitchin' rate-of-fire notwithstanding, it was no good against these loopholes.
But, being The Empire carried certain advantages: ie a long tradition of big-game hunting.
What's pictured next is not a novelty pen. Nor is it an ironic sex-toy. Rather it is a round of .600 Nitro Express. A bullet for an elephant gun - and a big elephant gun at that.
These were the big guns the Brits brought to the party to deal with those pesky, steel shields.

Pictured; from the left: .303 ball Mark VII, .500 Nitro 3 inch, .500 Nitro 3 1/4 inch, .450 Nitro 3 1/4 inch, .450 No.2 Nitro, .475 No.2 Nitro, .475 No.2 Jeffry Nitro.
Just some of the lads posing with their little brother.
The "nitro" designation was because the propellant was cordite, nitroglycerin based.
Here are the stats comparing the little kid with the brother who restored order on the playground: "The regular .303 Mark VII ball round has a muzzle velocity of 2450 fps and at 100 yards 2236 fps. Energy at 100 yards is 1940 ft. lbs.
The same figures for the .577 inch Nitro Express are 2050 fps, 1874 fps and 5860 ft. lbs." Nearly three times the hitting power of the .303 - and that's the .577.
This ammo is still available although it's not really plinking stuff. The big boy above, the .600, will run you $45 per shot. Make 'em count.
So, the static sniper, safe behind a shield, was no more. Alas, poor cover. We hardly knew ye.
Now, these lads pictured next are using a bit of both but it seems to be mostly concealment.

"If you can be seen - you can be killed."
The words of the prophet.
The first technique to be adopted was that snipers simply kept moving.
Next photo, one Walter Schmidt, notable because he's in this picture, which is reproduced everywhere, but also he was known, at the time, at being shit-hot.
Interesting aside; There was an American sniper named Walter Schmidt as well.
He's the one in the middle, 1892 - 1966.
But I digress... cover is the big deal although concealment is nice too.
There's the moving one's high-value ass around after one or two shots (See Schmidt above) which minimizes both problems greatly.
Then there's concealment.
Cover of course is a spot where you are not only hidden. You're also protected. Concealment is just what it sounds like.
There are lots of ways to pull this off.
Here's one of the more ingenious:
First photo (ignoring that this is obviously not no-man's-land - but is a demo for the Yanks): a normal dead horse laying between the lines.











Or is it?

Apparently not.
The French really liked their paper mache horses and used them a lot - and who could blame them? Although occasionally, if the Germans had taken a few sniper casualties, they might just put a round into that particular horse out there, just to see.
Sometimes a cloud of flies would bloom briefly and settle back. Sometimes, a Poilu would come out and sprint for his own lines.
But there were "green" alternatives as well.
Apparently the evil German who conducted business from this hollow stump brought about the demise of several French soldiers before they took it.
Just buildin' up to the centennial  of the moment when the developed world just said: "Fuck it".
Twenty-eighth of this month.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Nothing I didn't know, but still really good. I have a DVD of WWII Wehrmacht training doctrine that I'm sure Monty Python saw as a missed opportunity.
Keep up the good work,

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