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Sniper James A. McGuire, Mount Kemmel, Belgium, World War I, 1916

Sniper
New York State Archives, NYSA_A3166-78_B1_F18_McGuire
 
Document Description
World War I sniper James A. McGuire in the loft of a wrecked house near Mount Kemmel, Belgium in February, 1916.
 
Questions
What is a sniper?
When were soldiers vulnerable to sniper fire?
What precautions were taken to prevent being hit by a sniper?
 
Historical Challenges
Although snipers could be very effective when attacking infantrymen and artillery crews, they were by no means invincible or unstoppable. What were some tactics used to counter a sniper attack?
 
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: You are in charge of choosing a location for an observation station so that military commanders can see the progress of the war. If a sniper can fire accurately out to 875 yards, how many feet from the front lines must your observation station be? Round your answer up to the nearest ten-foot interval.
Science: A telescopic sight uses lenses to make an object appear larger. What is the shape of the lenses used in a telescopic sight? How are they arranged?
 
Resources
Haskew, Michael E. The Sniper at War: From the American Revolutionary War to the Present Day. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2005.
32nd Division (photograph of American sniper) http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww1/127.JPG
 

Historical Context
The static trench warfare of the western front during World War I created miserable and dangerous conditions for soldiers on both sides.  While machine guns largely prevented soldiers from performing massive charges as in previous wars, individual soldiers were also threatened by enemy snipers.   A soldier needed to move and act with caution to avoid being seen and hit by a marksman both in battle and during routine daily activities.

The use of snipers – marksmen often equipped with an accurate rifle and telescopic rifle scope to magnify their view of their target – dates back hundreds of years.  These marksmen often attempted to kill enemy officers or unwary soldiers.  While a trench provided soldiers with protection against most gunfire, the open landscape and specialized rifles used by marksmen meant that a proficient sniper was capable of killing enemy soldiers who were even slightly exposed from the trench.
 
Despite the presence of snipers on the battlefield, supplies were constantly needed and troops were still required to relocate at times.  If movement was necessary, the safest time to move was at night when it would be most difficult for snipers to see. During the daylight hours, soldiers used periscopes to see above the parapet (top edge) of the trench.  Some snipers  mounted their rifles on stands with periscopes.  This allowed them to attack the enemy while remaining out of sight of the enemy snipers.

Sniper James A. McGuire in the loft of a wrecked house near Mount Kemmel, Belgium.  Snipers were a constant fear in the trenches of World War I.  The presence of snipers meant that front line soldiers' very lives were often at risk at every moment when they were not hidden within the trenches or behind other cover.

 
Essential Question
How does technology change the way a war is fought?
 
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and discuss the impact of this technology on the war.