Bolt Action WWII British Sniper Team | Warlord Games, Picture from War and Peace Games
This isn’t an article about the history of snipers or even about the “rule of cool” snipers have around them (WWII Russian army players, take note!). This is an article about what their role should be in your average wargame. The truth is that most people, including most wargamers, misunderstand what snipers do. Snipers are great in the precision rifle fire business and can put a bullet in a target up to 3800 yards away. But the specially trained sniper making these kills? That’s kind of an aberration.
In the First World War, the first British “snipers” were mainly big game hunters who had their elephant guns shipped over “for a bit of sport.” Many of them, being rank amateurs, ended up dead rather quickly. The German Army, having learned from their own experiences in East Africa, made sniping a priority and were fielding trained snipers from the outset of the war. It took the British until 1916 to take the German sniper threat seriously. Until then, British snipers tended to have short, brutal lives.
Thus, in a World War I game, you should have German snipers present in the trenches from the start, with the occasional, spirited, British Army snipers appearing to counteract them. As the war goes on, though, the quality of British snipers should slowly increase. By 1918, both sides should be fielding roughly equivalent sniper units.
After the end of the First World War, the countries quickly disbanded their sniper schools, and the scoped rifles went into storage. Thus, when the Second World War broke out, most of the combatants had to start from scratch. Some minor powers, such as Finland, had robust sniping capabilities built out of necessity. Men like Simo Hayha built a deadly reputation while shooting unremarkable rifles, sometimes without even scopes! Most of the training these snipers received was rudimentary, and most of these men, just like in the previous last war, were former hunters, poachers, or groundskeepers.
As the war went on, the true “clash of the titans” among snipers was happening on the Eastern front. Dueling German and Soviet snipers (some of them women) stalked all sorts of targets, even each other. In the Soviet Union, a “cult of sniping” was born. The Soviets had learned from the Finns how useful snipers were in the defense, and they had a large population base to draw from for suitable personnel to train. The Germans, even though they had rapidly rebuilt their sniping capabilities in the 1930s, were overmatched by increasing Soviet skill…and numbers. The British and American armies didn’t field as many snipers during the second war, but they did train them, with American snipers dueling Japanese “snipers” in the Pacific Theater (Japanese snipers were not formally trained, and often they simply tied themselves to a tree and fought until they were inevitably killed).
Where modern sniping came into its own was in the “many wars of peace” that occurred during the backdrop of the Cold War. Many of these wars were counter-insurgency conflicts, where precision rifle fire works better than an artillery battery in that you don’t have to level the neighborhood just to kill that insurgent leader.
28mm Soviet World War II Female Sniper Team from Bad Squidoo Games | Beasts of War Blog
So, how does all this relate to wargaming? Look at the average sniper. Snipers have a particular mindset, and snipers fight a very personal war. They see the soldiers they kill through a magnified scope. Many infantrymen are reluctant to even be around even their own snipers. Enemy snipers, when caught, are often executed immediately. So, how do we reflect this in wargaming?
Snipers aren’t guys who want to get close to the enemy. Why should they; it’s not their job. So, you shouldn’t allow players in your games to use snipers as another standard infantry unit. That simply is not their role. Snipers, for the most part, are more deadly with a radio and a notepad, observing enemy elements and calling for fire, than with their rifle).
I always treat snipers as a recon element with all the associated rules. I give them better spotting numbers, make it so they cannot assault enemy elements, and give a better to-hit statistic for small arms fire. Also, if they are hit in a close combat situation, I do not include a surrender option. Snipers are rarely given the chance to surrender. Snipers should also not respond to any leaders on their side. They fight a solitary war), and to be honest, nobody gives a damn about them on their side, or the enemy.
As for units under sniper fire, I immediately have the unit seek cover. If anyone is wounded out in the open, I make the unit roll a morale check to PREVENT someone running out to assist the wounded unit (this is often a tactic used by snipers). If your game has a referee, then make it hard to find the sniper. One method I like, pulled from the old Stargrunt II science fiction rules, is to put out three markers. Two are dummies, one is the sniper or sniper team. If the targeted player rolls to find the right marker, he finds the sniper. If not…he’s out of luck. If a sniper pulls out of line of sight, he can put out the markers again.
These are just some thoughts. But, above all don’t make snipers invincible, nor too weak. They are a useful reconnaissance asset, with some good precision rifle fire that’s useful in certain situations, and great in a rear-guard game. One scenario I played in a World War II East Front Game was two German sniper teams with some artillery against a Soviet infantry company. The Germans had to prevent the Soviets from exiting the board for 8 turns. And, no, it’s not nearly as easy as it sounds.
A good game can be had with snipers if you keep their limitations in mind. Aim straight and, as always. Good Gaming Everyone.
Further Reading and Viewing
- Out of Nowhere, A History of the Military Sniper by Martin Pegler – Osprey Publishing, 2004
- The Military Sniper Since 1914, by Martin Pegler – Osprey Elite Series Volume 65, Osprey Publishing. 2001
- The movie Full Metal Jacket – The Second half of the film is a great example of a sniper hunt in an urban environment, as well as how psychologically debilitating a sniper can be against a small unit.
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(This article is credited to Jason Weiser. Jason is a long-time wargamer with published works in the Journal of the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers; Miniature Wargames Magazine; and Wargames, Strategy, and Soldier.)