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German snipers in Normandy
Material posted: Valetskiy OlegPublication date: 06-06-2013

Hated them, admired them, feared them, they did not retreat with the army and stayed to fight in the rear, they won't survive in captivity, they killed them, they are the snipers of the Wehrmacht.

After the allied landing in Normandy was a month of bloody fighting before the German troops were forced to begin a chaotic retreat.

In these battles the most distinguished snipers in the Wehrmacht. The task of the snipers was the destruction of particular categories of personnel such as sergeants, officers, artillery observers, signalers, medics, gun crews, etc. in addition, they also acted as observers and scouts. Another peculiarity of snipers was a great moral effect produced on the enemy. Up to fifty percent of losses in the American battalions was on account of snipers. Their stubborn resistance made them one of the most terrible and hated by the allies of the enemies on the battlefield. Quickly spread the legend about the possibilities of German snipers. Soon the fear of snipers was for the allies a serious problem.

Nineteen-year-old soldier, John D. Hinton, of company "M", 3rd battalion, 116 infantry regiment, recalls how he met with a sniper already in the landing. When they left the beach and reached the shaft, they tried to install it on top of the gun. Every time the soldier tried to stand behind the gun, a sniper from a distance of about eight hundred meters did only one shot – and the soldiers settled down with a hole in the head.

2nd Battalion "Royal Fusiliers Ulster" included in the 9th infantry brigade 3 infantry division also immediately ran into snipers. After the landing the battalion was ordered to take the heights North-East from Perier-sur-Le-Dan. On the way to the heights they captured seventeen German soldiers, seven were reported to have been snipers!

At 17:00 on the seventh of June "Royal Ulster Riflemen" were ordered to advance towards Cambrai, a small village about ten miles from the coast. Due to the fact that the village was surrounded by dense forest and by a stone wall, the observation of the enemy positions was impossible. It has been suggested that the resistance will be insignificant. Company "D" under the command of captain Aldworth were ordered to approach the village together with a company of tanks. When they had almost reached the edge of the forest, the unit came under heavy mortar and rifle fire. The company had split into two parts to attack through the forest from two directions, but were met by a deadly crossfire of machine guns of the enemy. Nurses from the medical Department were killed while attempting to carry the wounded soldiers. The tanks were powerless to do anything due to the high wall surrounding the village. Aldworth captain was killed outright by a sniper, one of the platoon commanders was wounded, after which the command of the battalion stopped the attack. The company commander and another fourteen people were killed, one officer and eleven soldiers were wounded, four soldiers were missing. Of Cambrai, was a well-fortified German position and when, at last, after processing of all types of light weapons from mortars to heavy naval artillery, the village was taken, it was filled with dead Germans. It was wounded and captured SS sniper.
Early in the morning of the ninth of July the vanguard of the allies reached the outskirts of Caen. Lieutenant Barges reached Saint-Julian, to the North-West of Caen, and slowly began advancing into the city. Initially, the enemy resistance was negligible. Soon, however, the resistance intensified, the patrol came under fire of snipers. Lieutenant Burges was wounded in the head. Soon two soldiers from non-commissioned officers were killed, whereupon the patrol was forced to withdraw.

Some of the snipers, which the allies met in Normandy, had an excellent training in the "Hitler youth". Some of them are trained in shooting from small-bore rifles. Before the war the Hitler youth increased military training of its members, many boys were trained in sniper shooting. Subsequently the most capable specially trained sniper the art. When they later got into the army, they would be given full training. In Normandy he fought 12 SS Panzer division "Hitler youth". This part was completed by soldiers from members of the Hitler youth and the 1 officers of the SS tank division "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler". In Cana of these adolescents received their baptism of fire.

Kang was an excellent choice for German snipers. Together with artillery observers who were correcting the fire of artillery, snipers completely dominated the surroundings of Caen. The British and Canadians were compelled to check literally every square meter of the area to ensure that the landscape smoothed out from the snipers, and it was very time-consuming. It is in Cana snipers like corporal Kurt Spengler has loudly declared itself. In the North-East of Caen Spengler chose a position that is isolated in a large minefield. He destroyed a large number of British soldiers, until he finally was killed during the shelling of heavy artillery.
The twenty-sixth of June member-engineer of the 4th company 12th armored engineer battalion of the SS Pelzmann located in position under a small tree acting as a forward observer. He dug a trench and then put a big piece of armor from Pz.IV, camouflaged shelter with grass. For surveillance he used a small cut in the armor.

barwith it was impossible. From this position, he destroyed a large number of British soldiers until, finally, he ran out of ammo. After that, he got out with a rifle from cover, smashed it into a tree and shouted to the British soldiers: "I got enough of your soldiers and now I have no ammo - now you can shoot me!". Big red-haired Englishman approached him, put a gun to her head and fired. Oberscharfuhrer Ernst Behrens, who, along with several other prisoners witnessed this incident, ordered to collect all the dead soldiers in one place. When he came to the place where Pelzmann, he averaged about thirty killed by the British.

A British soldier Percy Lewis, during and after the war was a professional boxer testifies to the atrocities of war. When he served in the 6th battalion of the 181st field regiment, he witnessed the death of German sniper who killed the soldier who lost from the sniper's bullet brother the day before. The attitude of the allies to the snipers on the Western front was hard, what was the consequence of their fanatical tenacity in battle.
Despite early experiences with snipers in Normandy, the most effective means of protection against them. They were a constant headache for the allied soldiers. Their presence somehow influenced the American soldiers. Cleaning the area from snipers was very time-consuming, and sometimes required a whole day to clean the area around the camping location. The soldiers of the allies has had to learn to behave so that to be least at risk from sniper fire. Soldiers began to move, bending down to the ground, ceased to salute officers, not to be called title. Everything was done in order to reduce the risk to give the sniper a reason to open fire. An unpleasant feeling of danger had become a constant companion of soldiers. One of the American officers commented on this phenomenon: "each soldier individually took steps to protect themselves from the bullets of snipers, now these measures are taken as whole units."

So, when the soldiers 653 anti-tank battalions began their advance inland, they noticed dead bodies lying along the hedges. Among the soldiers immediately spread fear of snipers. Were even circulated rumors that the French collaborationist specially remained in the rear of advancing troops to hunt for the soldiers. "The shelters we're being shot. We moved very carefully and never alone. We even sometimes took someone to go through the natural necessities".
German snipers were dissolved in the Normandy landscape. When the allies began to advance deep into France, they left behind a large number of German snipers who later shot showing a much greater carelessness of the soldiers, following the best practices. The terrain was perfectly suited for sniper ambushes. Hedges that separated the peasant fields, was possible to observe the terrain only a few hundred meters, this distance, even for an inexperienced sniper. Simple sniper could hit a chosen body part at a distance of 300-400 meters, the sniper is great for that distance was more. Dense vegetation, shrubs typical of hedgerows, meant to detect the sniper was extremely difficult. The soldiers compared the terrain with Guadalcanal.

The appearance of hedges in Normandy dates back to the days of the Roman Empire. It was grown to mark the boundaries of land and to use as a fence. Fighting among the hedgerows reminiscent of the battle in the maze. A thick, high hedge was forced allied soldiers to feel as if trapped in a tunnel. The landscape gave the snipers a maximum of possibilities for camouflage, while their goals were in the opposite situation. Usually in hedges snipers prepared several positions on the likely routes of advance of the enemy. At the level of the mouth snipers are usually used for conducting harassing fire on the enemy and cover the machine guns. Often the Germans dug near the hedges, and thus greatly reduced the effect of the mortar fire of the enemy. Among the hedgerows they also often arranged traps, laying mines, etc., firing from these positions of the enemy. Units that were in the rear behind the front line, were fighting up until do not run out of food or ammunition. In this case, they gave up, that was for the sniper, given the attitude of the allies, very risky.

In Normandy the allies faced with the new tactics of the Germans. If in the past the snipers, giving a few shots, tried to change position, now some snipers suddenly started to behave differently. Commonplace had a meeting with the snipers, leading continuous fire, not showing any inclination to change position. This tactic almost always ended with the destruction of the sniper, but caused heavy casualties among the allies. Because of their age these fanatical Riflemen was later given the nickname "boys-suicide".
However, the Germans ambushed not only among the hedges and trees. Tempting are also the intersections, which met frequently valuable purpose, such as officers and road police. Since crossroads was an explicit goal and well covered, snipers chose a large enough distance to fire. Bridges were also perfect places for shooting, here a sniper could easily create panic and confusion in just a few shots. Single buildings were too obvious positions, so the snipers were disguised at a distance from them. Sometimes snipers were hiding among the ruins, but in this case they often had to change position for firing. Another perfect place for the sniper team were field crops, as it was difficult to establish the exact location of the sniper. Often snipers tried to sit on higher points. The water tower, windmills and a Church tower were perfect positions for snipers, but most and suspicious objects on the ground. They were subjected to artillery fire in the first place. Despite this, often snipers were hiding there. More experienced shooters are usually housed in other, less obvious places.

Sergeant Arthur Colligan served in the 2nd U.S. armored division, he recalls with horror a Church tower: "They were used to fire at us German snipers." Commanders of tanks and armored vehicles were also a tempting target for snipers. Sergeant Eugene V. Luciano often stood in full growth in its half-tracked Transporter to better manage the driver. "I know that you heard the shot on the conveyor and the whistle of bullets, as soon as we started moving". He also remembers that they used to have a tracer (incendiary) bullets to fire at the haystacks and wooden sheds, which could be hiding snipers.

German snipers always tried to hit on the most important goal of officers, noncommissioned officers, observers, signallers, gun servants, orderlies, commanders of tanks, etc. Captured by a German sniper during the interrogation showed how he was able to distinguish at a distance officers if they wore regular uniforms, were armed with rifles and had no insignia. He simply stated that "we shoot at the soldier with the moustache". Over time, the Germans found that moustache usually worn by officers and senior sergeants.

In contrast to the heavy, when opening fire the sniper has revealed his position just as easily. A good sniper can, under certain conditions, to stop a whole platoon of infantry. After the first shot, the unit is usually laid down, and attempted to escape, giving the sniper time for a decision about change of position. A typical mistake of inexperienced soldiers coming under fire from a sniper, to lay low and not try to shoot. The platoon commander of 9 infantry division recalls: "One of the main mistakes that constantly make new recruits is that, once under fire, they lay on the ground and not moving. One time I ordered that a platoon has moved from one fence to another. While moving from first shot, a sniper killed one of the soldiers. All subdivision immediately fell to the ground and were killed one after another by the same sniper."
The year 1944 was a turning point for the German sniper art. In 1944 he released an educational film "Invisible weapons" were created by the new doctrine of sniper fire, based on past experience. Stressed the need for proper use of snipers, the need to strictly follow the developed doctrine. So, for instance, stressed that snipers should work in pairs. Developed a special camouflage, the new sniper equipment. Heinrich Himmler was very interested in the development of art in the SS sniper fire; from the early stages of the existence of this organization, he signed the program of training snipers to SS. During the second half of 1944 the number of snipers in popular Grenadier and Grenadier companies had to increase.

The ten commandments of the snipers (1944):

  • Fight fanatically.
  • Shoot safely and prudently, rapid fire leads nowhere, concentrate on the shot.
  • Your main opponent is the enemy sniper, outsmart him.
  • Don't shoot unless I am sure that will not be detected.
  • Shantsevyj the tool prolongs your life.
  • Practice distance estimation.
  • Become a master at using terrain and camouflage.
  • Practice constantly - at home and at home.
  • Take care of your rifle, don't give it to anyone.
  • Survival to ten parts and the camo one is shooting.

Snipers existed on different levels. Trained snipers were usually in companies, battalions and above, they receive special training, set specific tasks. Typically, these snipers worked in teams of two people, a sniper and observer, but could also act independently and in large groups. There were also snipers on the platoon level, but they were given no special training and usually acted in the interests of a platoon or company.

The following case occurred during the fighting in Normandy. German company for a long time was under accurate artillery fire. Because adjustment of fire was excellent, it was concluded that somewhere at the forefront is the artillery observer. To determine his whereabouts was sent a team of snipers. For hours they lay, watching the front edge of the enemy. Ahead in the distance about two hundred meters stood a broken tank. The sniper suddenly found in front of the tank a piece of paper, which before was not there. The suspicion was reported to the company commander, then pushed forward anti-tank gun. The shell hit exactly in the tank, after which it seemed to two Englishmen. The first bullet hit in the chest by one of the observers. The second soldier was right in front of the snipers, his confusion turned out to be fatal for him. Sniper's bullet hit him in the head and killed outright.
According to statistics, during the second world war typically required 25 000 shots to kill a soldier. For snipers this number was on average 1.3 to 1.5.

Later the allies developed new tactics that allowed to reduce losses from sniper fire. However, the snipers continued to pose a constant threat and were a source of fear among allied soldiers by the end of the war. A new surge of activity of German snipers was at the time of the entry of the allies directly on the territory of Germany and within the Ardennes offensive. In this period the German resistance increased again, the focus was on the use of snipers.

Oleg Ryazanov

Source: "Brother", 2009

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