The snipers who are first into battle — Western Daily Press, March 2003

By Richard Edwards in Northern Kuwait


Specialist snipers from Royal Marines 42 Commando yesterday completed what may be one of their last chances to carry out live firing before war.

On a hot and dusty day in the middle of a vast allied training ground, more than two dozen snipers nestled into positions in the sand. They were aiming at targets ranging from cardboard cutouts at 500 metres to vehicles barely visible to a squinting eye, over a mile away.

Shooting on a range in Kuwait – aiming due north towards Iraq – the specialists were acutely aware that soon they may be across the border and picking their targets for real.

For long periods there is silence and deep concentration. Then the air suddenly rattles with the burst of gunfire, puffs of dust exploding around the sniper.

In the field, snipers establish a position well beyond the front line of troops, hiding by digging themselves into the terrain.

Remaining perfectly still, their eyes are constantly fixed on the enemy through the magnifying sights of their weapons. They can lie there, in the same position, for up to 10 days.

It is a lonely existence – but the snipers know they are a crucial part of any campaign.

Lance Corporal Nick Young, a West-based trainer at the Marines’ home in Lympstone, Devon, said: “We are not only there to be a specialist sharp shooter. We can also sit for over a week gaining intelligence on the enemy and report back to headquarters.”

Here in the Gulf, the troops will use three types of sniper weapon, which can target tanks, armoured cars and personnel from up to one-and-a-half miles away.

They also work with a “spotter” – a man who carries a thick notepad full of distances, wind speeds, information on the enemy and the weak spots in their armour.

They follow the track of the spiralling bullet. If it hits the target the spotter can see the damage.

Colour Sergeant John Davidson, a veteran who served in the Falklands, knows what it is like to pull the trigger with a man in his sights.

He said: “It is definitely the hardest aspect of any man’s job. We tell the troops to make sure they have everything right, and if they are not 150 per cent sure they do not take the shot.”

PC Chris Kedward was hot on the heels of a burglar in Clifton, Bristol, when he received his call up. He is one of many specialist Reserves working with the Royal Marine snipers as a spotter.


© Western Daily Press