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"Prevalence of scoped rifles in WW2" Topic

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World War Two on the Land

937 hits since 20 Jul 2018
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Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP20 Jul 2018 3:03 a.m. PST

I've just been told that it was standard for a 12 man US squad to have a marksman with a scoped rifle, is this true?
I've never seen this modeled in any wargame, were snipers always are a distinct unit at platoon or even company level.
Was scoped rifles as common in other nations too?

Starfury Rider20 Jul 2018 3:15 a.m. PST

No, the US did not have one scoped rifle per Squad. Until around late 1943 the M1 rifle could not fire rifle grenades. The interim solution was to keep a number of M1903 Springfield rifles on the books, which in the 1942 Inf Bn T/O&E included one per rifle Squad. It was the weapon of the Asst Squad Leader and is specifically identified in both the T/O and the relevant training literature as being used for anti-tank rifle grenades.

I have seen the line repeated that each US Squad had an M1903 sniper rifle, which I can only assume is a misinterpretation of the reality, because the M1903 was also the basis for the sniper rifle.

The authorised strength of M1903s in the sniper role for US Inf was one per Platoon, not one per Squad, and then only from late 1943.

Proper sniper rifles were issued in different scales in different armies; quite heavy in both German and Soviet units, but varying by time, with British/CW mostly having just two snipers per Rifle Coy.


Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP20 Jul 2018 4:30 a.m. PST

Thanks, do you have any sources so I can show it to this 3rd party

Starfury Rider20 Jul 2018 4:42 a.m. PST

This is probably the most accessible;


Also see here;

Also note (f) to Table of Organization 7-17 dated April 1, 1942, which lists the nine M1903s as being 'provided for antitank defense'.


Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP20 Jul 2018 4:47 a.m. PST

YouTube link
YouTube link

These videos give a good idea of US squads and platoons were organized.

Legion 420 Jul 2018 7:13 a.m. PST

Generally in WWII rifles with scopes were small compared the standard Infantrymen's weapon. Obviously mainly scoped weapons were give to Snipers. And I know at the beginning of WWII the US ARMY & USMC were behind the power curve a bit in having/using Snipers.

To be really effective, generally an Infantryman needs additional training to be a useful Sniper. I.e. just giving a trooper a rifle with a scope is usually not the "best" way to do things …

ZULUPAUL Supporting Member of TMP20 Jul 2018 8:36 a.m. PST

My Father was USMC sniper/scout & was armed with scoped rifle but was not assigned to any platoon. The war ended before he went into combat (thank God).

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP20 Jul 2018 9:21 a.m. PST

I think the Marines had a Scout/Sniper platoon at the Regiment or Division level and attached them as needed. On Tarawa, they spearheaded the assault taking out the pier defenses.

One account was on Saipan. The Marine Snipers sounded like they had been part of a Marksmanship Team. An infantry platoon was held up by a Jap machine gun bunker. A two-man sniper team of gunnery Sergeants shows up in their competition shooting jackets and Smokey the Bear hats. One unrolls his shooting mat and puts on his sling and the other sets up his spotting scope. The shooter has a Springfield with a 10x 1/4 minute dot Unertl scope. When the machine gun fires, the sniper shoots, and the gun stops firing. A few seconds later the gun starts shooting again, the sniper shoots and the gun stops. This continues until the there was no more fire and the Marine unit advanced and took out the bunker that had numerous dead with headshots. The range was about 1000 yards. The sniper team put their hats back on, rolled up their mat and returned to the rear. Just another day at the office.

I've done long range shooting like this. With the typical spotting scope, you can track the vapor trail of a 30-06 round and walk the rounds onto the target. I've done it many times with my M1 at 600 yards with iron sights. A rifle with a 1 minute MOA accuracy or less (typical sniper rifle) it would be fairly easy to put a round through a 12-inch bunker opening once you got sighted in on it.


ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP20 Jul 2018 9:47 a.m. PST

As I recall, in WWII there were no specially trained snipers in the US Army. A scoped sniper rifle was part of each company's equipment, but the intent was for the company commander to give it to whoever he thought would make the best use of it. So whether a company would have a sniper, and how good a sniper he would be, could vary significantly from unit to unit.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP20 Jul 2018 10:21 a.m. PST

Don't know about US Army, but I've photo's of Pacific
war (Guadalcanal; Bougainville; Tarawa) of USMC
snipers. The Guadalcanal photo's show a group (6 men)
with 4 scoped rifles (all bolt action, so Springfields)
and one caption explains they are 'anti-snipers'.

There is narrative detail in a Bougainville AAR about
Japanese moving away from a firefight. The platoon
leader calls for ' \names, which I forget\ ONLY fire !'
The Japanese were moving into close terrain so the
detailed men were apparently skilled beyond the USMC
norm as marksmen. Do not know if they were snipers
or using scoped rifles.

At Tarawa, the pier/wharf was assaulted by the Scout/
Sniper platoon of the initial assault battalion, if
memory serves (my uncle was a member of that unit and
was killed at Tarawa. Story from a friend of his who
came to see my grandparents post war and shared stories
about Uncle Steve.)

Starfury Rider20 Jul 2018 11:26 a.m. PST

The USMC Scout-Sniper Platoons don't show up in any of the Regimental T/Os, D through G. The references I've seen in war diaries indicate they were formed from the 'overage' for Marine units, a surplus of about 5% I recall being recommended. If they didn't have the surplus, the Platoons were not a given.

Only things I found on their organisation I put up in another post many moons ago…

TMP link


Legion 420 Jul 2018 2:03 p.m. PST

Yes, as I had heard it, in WWII the USMC didn't have any real Sniper "organization" and initially those issued '03s with scopes had little training. They were ad hoc "snipers" and units. At least in the beginning. IIRC the US ARMY was similar.

I think this link is pretty accurate, and similar to what I have heard, read, etc. link

From that link …

A sniper operates autonomously or with an observer/helper. A designsted marksman is a guy who stays with his platoon and is a good shot.
The Germans, Soviets, British, French, and Japanese all had purpose trained snipers but the American military did not. In World War II the American military had "designated marksmen", but not snipers. Neither the Army nor the Marines had sniper schools, sniper tactical doctrine, nor a sniper specialty. This was because the pre-war US military incorrectly presumed that WW2 battlefields would be characterized and dominated by fast moving armored formations, and that snipers could never be effectively deployed.
This was an incredible mistake by the way. Snipers in World War 1 were proven to be incredibly effective.

mkenny20 Jul 2018 2:03 p.m. PST

I believe the Russians had far more designated 'sharpshooters' than any other nation and produced specially tested rifles for them. They also had their superb small PU Scope that was rugged enough to survive rough handling and abuse and still turn in excellent results.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP20 Jul 2018 6:03 p.m. PST

Whaling's formation of units within the 5th Marines
(1941) and later consolidation of men who'd served
as scouts (and possibly snipers) into a special unit
designated as scouts and snipers in the 1st MARDIV
(Guadalcanal) is the genesis of today's Force Recon

The 'sniper team' as we know it today is not what 'sniper'
meant to the small units which followed Whaling's
original idea. Those were (generally) very highly trained
marksmen, even for Marines, but their primary duty was
not 'sniping,' per se, it was, using fieldcraft,
scouting and reconnaissance.

But from such beginnings arose men such as Carlos
Hathcock and others.

Wargamer Blue20 Jul 2018 6:30 p.m. PST

The Australian jungle divisions issued out one scope per section. And that ended up on the best shot of the sections rifle. I do recall reading the US Army in New Guinea were doing the same thing but I can't offer any evidence because I read that a long time ago.

Simo Hayha20 Jul 2018 7:08 p.m. PST

if you want a great read on an american sniper read

it is an amazing book. he brought his competition rifle to the pacific.

Simo Hayha20 Jul 2018 7:13 p.m. PST

every nation seems to have handled it in multiple ways
sending the best shots back to sniper schools
giving the best shots sniper rifles in the field
using captured sniper rifles.

snipers seem to have been division level assets mostly and used where needed.

The germans late in the war tried to issue a lot of gewehr with sights, but these had limited zoom (1.5 i think) and were really marksman rifles.

maybe somewhere around 20 per division is a good guess? more as the war went on and scope production increased.

I know that the us army had priority over marines in terms of sniper rifles and fewer were in the pacific.

You had to be trained to zero, recalibrate and maintain the scope otherwise its useless.

Hornswoggler20 Jul 2018 8:37 p.m. PST

According to Zaloga, it was common in US armoured infantry battalions to have a "sharpshooter" armed with a Springfield "sniper rifle" (ie scoped) attached to the platoon leader's halftrack.

I think we have had the discussion a few times around the comparison of training and doctrine between the various combatant nations of so-called "sharpshooters", "marksmen", "snipers", etc, …

Starfury Rider21 Jul 2018 11:27 a.m. PST

Figures as I've seen them, predominantly later war period but that's where the information is generally more accessible I find;

British Inf Bn – two snipers per Rifle Coy, equipped with No.4(T) rifles with telescopic sights. Latterly the eight snipers were concentrated as a Section in Bn HQ, tending to work with the Intelligence Sec (the Canadian Army added an extra officer to their establishments and termed their equivalent a Platoon). Motor Bns and Recce Regts each had six No.4(T) rifles authorised from around 1944. Sniper rifle issue was much higher in British Airborne units.

US Inf Bn – three .30-cal M1903A4 rifles per Rifle Coy, officially one per Rifle Pl, from July 1943 onwards. Same scale for Armd Inf Bn (Sep43) and Para and Glider Inf Bns. Somewhat oddly perhaps the airborne T/Os only show sniper rifles from Aug44, but I'd be surprised if they weren't available before that date.

German Inf Bn – the late 1943 reorganisation drops a ton of sniper rifles into the New Type Division, and there are conflicting totals of just how many. Initially the Rifle Coy show with 16 self-loading rifles with x4 optical sights, which latterly may have been adjusted to ten. The Volks Grenadier Bn introduced a section of six 'sharpshooters' eventually shows them each with a scoped semi-automatic rifle.

Red Army Inf Bn – by end of 1942 had two sniper rifles per Rifle Platoon in the Rifle Regiment, Guards Regts adding two more at Coy HQ. I think the highest concentration I've seen for the Red Army Rifle Regt was three per Pl plus two more per Coy under the Mar42 organisation.


Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP21 Jul 2018 2:58 p.m. PST

Well, I give up on the guy, after showing him the videos he claims they prove his point.
He then claims that "one marksman per 12 man squad"
Doesn't mean one marksman in each squad.

He's supposedly Australian but doesn't understand basic prepositions.

Starfury Rider21 Jul 2018 5:22 p.m. PST

If you feel like getting stroppy with him, direct him to FM7-10 "Rifle Company, Infantry Regiment" of 18 March 1944.

Page 3, "One M1903A4 rifle, equipped with a telescopic sight mounted directly over the receiver, is furnished to each rifle platoon for use in sniping. This rifle is employed by an individual designated by the platoon leader to act as a sniper."

Or you could dare him to sign up to TMP and join the thread. Unlikely to change his mind, but at least he'll have to show his workings out in the margin!


Steve Wilcox22 Jul 2018 8:51 a.m. PST

You can show him this:
PDF link

Lion in the Stars22 Jul 2018 3:42 p.m. PST

Even today, the US Army doesn't put a 'sniper' in each squad. There is a Designated Marksman in each squad instead. (Stryker companies do have an actual 3-man sniper team, one Barrett .50, one 7.62 rifle, and one M203 for breaking contact)

The difference between a DM and a Sniper is usually training, sometimes weapon. A DM skips the fieldcraft part of sniper school and shoots where his squad leader tells him. A sniper gets all the fieldcraft and gets to pick his targets.

So most of the 'snipers' in Russian service (these days, one per platoon is armed with an SVD Dragunov) are actually Designated Marksmen by US definitions.

I really need to get a PU scope for my SVT-40, but Katyusha doesn't have the slots milled in the receiver for the scope mount… So I'm using a modified rail block in the rear sight to mount a modern scout scope with ~8" eye relief.

goragrad22 Jul 2018 10:12 p.m. PST

Based on Hogg's commentary on the effects of firing rifle grenades on Enfields, I really doubt that any of the M1903s being used for that in US squads would be very useful for sniping or as a DMR.

Legion 423 Jul 2018 6:37 a.m. PST

Well if the '03 had a scope, it would be as good as about any of the bolt-action "sniper"/DMRs at that time. IIRC, the US Army used the '03/scope as a Sniper weapon in Korea,'50-'53, too.

In the ROK in '84-'85 our Mech Bn had Snipers who had gone thru additional training. And each Sniper had an M21[accurized M14] with both Day & Night scope. A sniper scope back then had to be "zeroed" to each sniper. We had 6 M21s, 2 for each sniper. One with Day Scope and one with Night/NVD.

Many US Divs, etc., had sniper training courses. As a Mech Cdr at Ft. Benning, GA., '87-'89. I sent many of my soldiers to the Sniper course there. Even if we didn't have any Sniper weapons assigned to/in our TO&Es. We were supposed to get them(?) when deployed for combat. But sending a trooper to a sniper course does make him a better marksman, improves his fieldcraft, etc.

As after all, an Infantryman still has to be able to hit a target no matter what. With or without a scope.

Legion 425 Jul 2018 7:50 a.m. PST

Also IIRC today, Since we talked a bit about Snipers. The History Channel is showing the US Military Sniper Competition at [my Beloved !"] Ft. Benning, GA. Tonight from 8-10 [Civilian] EST …

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