The stories behind the story
Read the full story behind the podcasts. There are plenty of ways to buy Bill's book and save on the RRP. All links open in a new window.
Published in hardback by Pen and Sword, Barnsley, England
Special Offer with Pen & Sword - Only £15.99 if you quote voucher code 231142
Over 100 5-star reviews
Harry concealed himself overlooking a place where the road emerged from a tree line, from where the engine noise was coming. With little delay a German dispatch rider came into view riding a military motor cycle and carrying a message satchel.
Fighting Through Podcast – Episode 53 – Sniper - WW2
There was a cry of help from no man's land and turning round I saw a man running round in circles.
The Brigadier, who must have been in agony during our hazardous descent now told us to halt and try to ease his discomfort. His leg was raised at the knee and supported by a rolled blanket.
The noise of a German MG 42 being cocked and rounds entering the chamber commonly brought fear to Allied soldiers who heard it. Harry knew the noise well, and hearing it now he was aware that at any moment ‘Hitler’s buzz saw’ would try to cut him down.
As the bread was baked the 80 odd people at the front were served. The queue would shuffle forward as the next batch baked and the whole process repeated all day.
Harry concealed himself overlooking a place where the road emerged from a tree line, from where the engine noise was coming. With little delay a German dispatch rider came into view riding a military motor cycle and carrying a message satchel.
Hello again and a warm WW2 welcome to you. I’m Paul Cheall, son of Bill Cheall, whose WWII memoirs have been published by Pen and Sword – in FTFDTH.
This episode is about snipers and I really have some smashing tales to share. Never heard any of them before.
And top of the bill is a tale of a sniper, Harry Furness from my Dad’s regiment 6GH which I’m using with kind permission of the author of a book called… Sniper.
More about that later. Derek Whittle kindly made a contribution to the show and mentioned that he uses the FTP as listening material before he goes to sleep at night. Be careful doing that Derek cos we have atom bombs and allsorts going off in this show don’t you know – so you need to be on the alert mate!
Before I go any further I would like to reach out to anyone affected by the corona virus emergency and offer my very best wishes.
It’s possible you’re quite surprised to see this episode popping up so soon but I thought I’d try to do my bit for morale if you’re one of those people affected by this crisis we’re in. Which is pretty much everyone I guess.
So for just this hour or so, at a time of strife which surely threatens our planet more than at any other time since the war, please do enjoy another episode of the FTP. Second world war history at its best.
Here’s a cracking story just to set the scene. It’s about the secret British resistance during the Second world war. Ahh … did you even know there was one?!
The story is taken from the BBC People’s War website and it’s written by Bridget Hunter about her grandfather Magnus Kelday Smith, Who was in the British secret army.
When the war first started, my grandfather was recruited into the Service Auxillary — a secret army or resistance. People were recruited and trained to gather and pass information in secret. One would be a hit man, sniper. My grandfather was a sniper. It was his job to pick out the enemy and shoot them.
If there was invasion his first job would be to shoot the chief of police, because he knew their identities.
My grandfather was a farmer, with a rifle — hence, he would be the hit man.
They had headquarters underground - it was deep in the woods in brambles. As a child I remember that as I was going to bed, he was getting dressed into his warm clothes. He would wrap his rifle in sacking, and tie it to the crossbar of his bike, and go out.
When I asked where he was going, he said rabbiting.
In the 60’s, we went out for a drive, and he led us to some woods. We entered the woods, with him guiding the way by looking at the trees. We came near a bramble patch, and he told my husband to move the bushes and undergrowth, which exposed a stone slab. It was lifted, there was a tunnel with rungs/steps down into it. My husband went down and found a room. All my grandfather would say is “oh, it’s still here. That’s where I spent the war.”
I love that story and it’s fascinating to learn just a little about what would have been the nucleus of the British resistance during the war, had the Germans invaded. I’d love to know if that little hideout is still there today, and I guess it is. I’d pay good money to have a sneaky look at it Even though I dare say it’s just a miserable hole in the ground covered in bushes. But what a fantastic scenario. The Germans have invaded and I wandering around seemingly invincible until, Pow, our snipers wreak their havoc!
Location of story:
2 THE BRIGADIER by RICHARD PATTERSON. EX - LANCASHIRE FUSSILIER
Archive List > World > Burma
RICHARD PATTERSON. EX - LANCASHIRE FUSSILIER
People in story:
Location of story:
30 October 2003
The Battle of Kohima was part of The Japanese plan to invade India in 1944. If the Japanese were able to gain a strong foothold in India they would demonstrate the weakness of the British Empire and provide encouragement to Indian nationalists in their decolonization efforts. This is just one story from Richard Patterson an EX-LANCASHIRE FUSSILIER
We were in slit trenches on a hill known as 5120 (it's spot height) when the Brigadier with his entourage arrived to inspect the positions. He had obviously been told that we were being hampered by Japanese snipers. As an ex-colonel of our First Battalion he was disgusted to find us below ground . "Snipers," he said, "Get down there and sort 'em out."
He walked a few yards along the track beyond our front, then dropped with a sniper's bullet through his thigh.
After being treated at the field dressing station he had asked to be carried down to the valley (Zubza) by Lancashire Fusiliers. A sergeant announced this, and called for four volunteers; as none of our stretcher bearers was available.
Four of us; Cyril Livesey, George Glover, Lehman and I made our way to where the stretcher column was being organised. I then realised why our own stretcher bearers were not available. It seemed that the column was made up of the sick and wounded from every unit in the Brigade. Escorts also had to be found, or we would have been easy targets if attacked.
We set off along a track down the hill, but before long we were struggling as the track disappeared and each stretcher party was left to make its own way down the steep, wet and slippery ground. Here and there we came across the roof of a shelter, which the Nagas had built into the hillside. These were a Godsend because they enabled us to park the stretcher for a short while, take a breather and rest our aching limbs. The Brigadier (Hawkins) was a large man, over six feet tall.
Towards the bottom of the hill as we reached one of these shelters, a Captain, unknown to us at the time, sitting on a boulder under his steel helmet and monsoon cape, started to give us instructions in a positively pompous and critical manner, "Now, if you chaps would use a bit of common sense..." he started. The Fusilier behind me, Lehman, an ex-coal miner from Pendlebury, Manchester; slithered down and confronted the critic.
"If you'll get off your bleedin' arse and give us a lift, instead of makin' silly noises, we might do better", he said;- for all around to hear. (Incidentally, Lehman was charged with this offence, but the charge was dropped after he was badly wounded shortly afterwards.)
I should also say that the Officer, not infantry I seem to remember, was not typical. Our officers at Kohima and throughout the following campaign in Burma were 'the tops'.
We reached the valley with great relief, as the rain was a steady drizzle but at last we were on the flat, where we were to hand over the stretchers to Naga tribesmen, who were much more efficient at the job than we were (they were six to a stretcher and carried it on their shoulders). Without halting they would change sides for relief as they chanted along.
The Brigadier, who must have been in agony during our hazardous descent now told us to halt and try to ease his discomfort. His leg was raised at the knee and supported by a rolled blanket. Travelling along the valley the halts became frequent and so the M.O. took what must have been his first opportunity to move along from patient to patient injecting morphia. The Brigadier's gunman followed behind our stretcher becoming more impatient at each halt. I remember him in a bush-hat (we were in helmets) and he carried a tommy-gun slung on each shoulder. His boss was still trying to find a more comfortable position and must have been cold because at one stop he had asked for his 'Wooly'. No one seemed to understand until a Geordie in front said, "He means his gansy". We knew that the Brigadier was fully conscious, but the gansy halt was too much for his gunman; who stood reiterating, "Come on, never mind 'im,- ee's dilerious".
I often wondered about the outcome but never saw either of them again.
And I’ve tracked down a load more stories from James Patterson which make very entertaining reading. Link
3 Gerda Anne Honey
Contributed by bottomweight
Location of story: Berlin 1945
Background to story: Civilian
26 August 2004
I shall begin the story of my mother’s war at the end.
The end is the beginning of my life story, the story of how my parents met.
On the 1st of May 1945 the Russians famously raised the Red Flag on the roof of the Reichschancery and on the 7th of May VE day declared and the war officially over. The fighting may have ceased but the war for Berliners was now a fight for survival, a battle to find something to eat. My mother was 19 years old.
She lived on Falkenseer Chausse, a broad boulevard running through Spandau in the NW of Berlin, with her parents in a first floor flat. On the ground floor lived her best friend Rosie Buvach. Rosie was 6 years her elder and married.
The block of flats in which they lived ran at right angles to Falkenseer Chausse, just a stone’s throw away was a small parade of shops which included a bakery.
The devastation of the city meant that only a handful of bakeries survived and that any still operating drew custom from several kilometres around.
If the British think they are a nation of queuers, then they were not in Berlin in 1945. In order to buy your bread you were required to queue. The etiquette of the queue was heavily defined.
No queue jumping.
No preference for anyone.
If you left the queue, you rejoined at the back.
On joining the queue you would probably be number 4 or 5 hundred. As the bread was baked the 80 odd people at the front were served. The queue would shuffle forward as the next batch baked and the whole process repeated all day.
Early after VE day my mother had been queueing for several hours when walking down the street there appeared a Hitler Junge.
A boy of 13 or 14 still dressed in his army uniform.
"Junge, Junge" someone cried out" What on earth are you doing?"
"I am going home to Hakenfelve"
"You cannot, you must not - the Russians have snipers lining the whole of the street from here"
The crowd pleaded with him, emploring him not to go on, he would not agree.
My mother stepped forward.
"Look, I live two minutes from here, take my place in the queue and I will fetch my tracksuit, if you MUST go on at least disguise yourself"
The crowd roared their approval of this unprecedented breach of their code.
"NO, NO, I am only 30 minutes from home, I will be alright"
Then, as now, our youth knew better than anyone else and could not be persuaded. He had not gone 50 metres when a shot rang out.
He was buried where he died, in the grassy verge by the side of the road. A few weeks later his family disinterred the body and reburied it in a cemetery.
Andy Poll’s Dad
OK now for the main event.
Martin Pegler and other writers have a book called. The Sniper Anthology, Snipers of the Second World War.
It’s as fine a book as you could hope to read about the subject and I’ve been given permission to read a chapter about Harry Furness. I’ll let the book tell the story
Here’s the blurb …
REVERED BY SOME as the ultimate warrior, and condemned by others as ruthless assassins, the combat sniper is more than just a crack shot. These are highly disciplined individuals, calm professionals skilled in marksmanship, reconnaissance and camouflage. During the Second World War these lethal fighters were deployed by all sides to deadly effect. This collection of biographies written by sniper experts from around the world explores the careers of the top marksmen between 1939 and 1945. As well as providing incisive technical information, each author offers a glimpse of the character and personality of their chosen sniper, giving them a human face that is often missing in standard portrayals. These gripping, in-depth narratives go beyond the cursory treatment in existing histories and will be essential reading for anyone wanting to learn about the role and technique of the sniper during the Second World War. The impressive list of contributors to The Sniper Anthology includes Mark Spicer writing on Harry M. Furness, the last surviving British sniper who went ashore on D-Day; Martin Pegler, who details the famous Soviet sniper Vassili Zaitsev; Adrian Gilbert on the Wehrmacht sharpshooter and lone wolf Sepp Allerberger; and Roger Moorhouse on Simo Häyhä, the man with the most confirmed kills in any major war.
So – settle down sergeant for …
Chapter 10 HARRY M. FURNESS Fieldcraft Expert
In the British Army of the Second World War the art of sniping was not the respected skill that it is today and so for a young soldier to be selected and accept the challenge of this very dangerous and much misunderstood profession is indeed a testament to his commitment to the defence of his country and to the character held within. One such was a sixteen-year-old Manchester lad, who, like many across the country, decided he wanted to do his bit and took himself off to sign up for the infantry in 1941. Little were his recruiters to know that the young Harry Furness was to become one of the most successful snipers in British Army history. Harry’s desire to ﬁght should come as no surprise since his dad was a famous boxing champion and promoter. Harry was the son of Harry (‘Kid’) Furness, a ﬂyweight champion who then went into boxing promoting, and of whom it is said that his work as a showman would have put Don King in the shade. Harry almost immediately showed a skill for soldiering that caught his instructors’ attention, in particular excelling in shooting and ﬁeldcraft activities, both skills needed in the demanding world of the sniper.
He was duly selected to attend a sniper course, which he passed with ﬂying colours, and earned a posting to HQ Company, 6th Battalion, The Green Howards. Being posted to HQ Company was not the rear-line non-combat destination that it might ﬁrst appear, as a battalion’s snipers were viewed as a battalion asset in much the same way as the mortars or heavy machine-gun crews were. It was therefore normal practice for snipers to be attached to battalion HQ. This gave the battalion intelligence ofﬁcer (IO), who also acted as the deployment and controlling ofﬁcer for the snipers, close access to them on a day-to-day basis. Battalion snipers were seen not only as a direct-action asset, but also as an extension of the commanding ofﬁcer’s eyes and ears, and as such were often deployed in a reconnaissance role to gather information and intelligence to allow the battalion IO to formulate a broader picture of the battleﬁeld ahead to aid in the CO’s plans, an action not truly appreciated by the normal infantry soldiers, who viewed snipers with a certain mistrust and disdain, often labelling them ‘Murder Incorporated’ or com plaining about the backlash from the German mortars or artillery that often followed after a successful sniper mission. None of this fazed the young and determined Harry Furness, who very quickly established himself as a dedicated and ruthless professional, who by the time of his deployment on D-Day, was a seasoned sniper corporal at the tender age of nineteen. The 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division was to establish a beachhead between Arromanches and Ver-sur-Mer on Juno Beach and then head south towards Route Nationale 13, linking Caen with Bayeux. The ﬁrst wave was to be made of the 231st and 69th Infantry Brigades. Once the initial assault was over and the beachhead established, the follow-up brigades, the 56th and 151st, were to push inland to the south-west towards RN13 supported by the tanks of the 8th Armoured Brigade. In the landings the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Rangers), the 1st Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, and the 1st Battalion, Dorset Regiment, fought their way ashore on the western side, while the 5th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment, and the 6th Battalion, Green Howards, with Harry Furness and his sniper section, assaulted the eastern side of their objective area. As a side note to Harry’s D-Day deployment, Company Sergeant-Major Stanley Hollis of the Green Howards singlehandedly captured a pillbox which had been bypassed by the ﬁrst waves of troops. For his action he was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was the only soldier to earn that medal on D-Day. Later that day he led an assault to destroy German gun positions, and must have served as a great role model for young soldiers like Harry. Harry came ashore to a wall of withering ﬁre, as did all the brave men of the assault waves who would land on those beaches that day, and remembers using condoms and tape to seal his Lee-Enﬁeld No. 4T, the standard-issue sniper riﬂe of the British Army, from the seawater and harsh conditions, un wrapping it only when safely ashore, and very happy to be away from the rolling ships and sea sickness of the D-Day armada. Harry was wounded during a mortar attack in the early stages of the Normandy campaign, but recovered and was posted to the Hallamshire Battalion of the York & Lancaster Regiment, part of the 49th ‘Polar Bear’ Division, as a battleﬁeld replace ment after it took heavy casualties. Harry served with distinction for the remainder of the campaign, through to the end in May 1945. A great part of the sniper’s role was observation and Harry generally operated in front of the battalion position, often alone, usually deploying at last light, to the abuse and cat calls of his fellow soldiers. He would locate a position of advantage over looking the coming terrain and build a carefully camouﬂaged position before dawn, and have to remain in it, effectively motionless, until dusk allowed him to move again. In at least one incident Harry and his snipers were concealed for several days while observing a German unit. During this time, they were able to build up a very detailed record of the German strengths, weapons, morale, positions and routines and were so close to the German unit that they could not withdraw to pass on this vital information to their own unit until the Germans actually retreated a little. Upon returning to their own lines and reporting to the Hallamshires’ IO, Harry found out that they had all been posted missing in action due to the time they had been gone. A sniper’s dedication and patience are unmatched on the battleﬁeld. The selection of any position had to be very carefully thought out, as a sniper’s worst-case scenario is that of an enemy sniper looking for him, or operating in the same area. This becomes a problem as both men are highly trained soldiers who think and act alike, and so a position that was workable for Harry would have been a position identiﬁed as a potential sniper hide by a German sniper and hence targeted. The skill is to select the position that is not obvious, and this tends to mean that it is generally more uncomfortable. German snipers were very well respected and feared opponents and Harry was to meet and kill several of them in the coming months, although in his humility, he argues that one of them could not have been a trained sniper, as even though he had a sniper’s riﬂe and equipment, his lack of skill and general mistakes made it too easy for Harry to win. However, there are those who would suggest that in fact it was Harry’s own level of skill that made it seem that way. A little-known fact is that German snipers deployed throughout Normandy with subsonic ammunition and clip-on suppressors for their Kar 98 riﬂes, as the Germans had recognized the psychological effects of sniping with a silenced riﬂe and the increased life expectancy of their snipers when equipped this way. Harry had suspected this early on in the campaign when he was searching through a German Army supply vehicle, aban doned in the retreat, and found box after box of subsonic ammunition. Proof was to come many years later from docu men tation and discovery of the previously unknown suppressors that had indeed been issued to German snipers. All German soldiers were aware of the threat posed by snipers and therefore set out their defences to cover likely British observation positions and sniper ﬁring points. During a moment of weakness in such circumstances, Harry almost lost his life. After a night of stalking Germans Harry was aware of the impending arrival of daylight but was too far away from his own unit to return and needed to locate a safe place to hole up for the day. After much searching, he came across an old isolated barn, and even though he admits his sixth sense was ‘screaming’ at him not to use it, his tiredness, the lack of time left before daylight and fear of being caught over-ruled his common sense and he cautiously advanced towards the barn. Having climbed onto the stack of hay, Harry started to pull some out so that he could slide in feet ﬁrst and then conceal himself. Within minutes of starting work he felt bullets tearing into the hay around him and then heard a sound he knew too well. A German machine gun was sending its ﬁre ploughing into the hay. Harry threw himself to the ﬂoor as the bullets continued to impact above him and took off running back the way he came for all he was worth, stealth no longer an option. The noise of a German MG 42 being cocked and rounds entering the chamber commonly brought fear to Allied soldiers who heard it. Harry knew the noise well, and hearing it now he was aware that at any moment ‘Hitler’s buzz saw’ would try to cut him down. Harry remembers the sound of bees buzzing past him as he ran as fast as he could towards the hedge line and sunken track that would provide him with sanctuary. He saw the hedge ‘dance’ ahead of him, but did not know what was causing it at the time as his racing mind was concerned with his own survival. He was later to realize that the ‘dancing bush’ was in fact the hedge being destroyed by the impact of bullets from the MG 42 that had just missed him. As Harry approached the hedge, he summoned up all his strength and launched himself headlong over the foliage and down into the safety of dead ground, hardly feeling the impact on the ﬂoor, before being up on his feet again and running away from the area as fast as he could. He became aware of the fact that his left leg was not functioning properly as his stride was awkward and ungainly, but at this stage he had no time to check his wounds. After a run of over a kilometre, Harry fell into a patch of dense foliage to catch his breath, prepare a ﬁghting position in case of pursuit and to check his leg injury, and it was now that he found out how close to death he had come. Looking down at his leg he found no signs of any injury, but when he touched his boot, he found that it had in fact been all but shot off by rounds from the German machine gun – it was the ﬂapping heel and not a wound that had caused his ungainly run. Relieved, Harry swore never again to discount his sixth sense, and returned to his unit lines safely. As the Allied advance continued, the inevitable move into urban areas increased the risk to Allied soldiers, especially the snipers. When a platoon had to advance down a new street, it was Harry’s job, with the rest of his sniper section, to move on a ﬂank and identify and eliminate the German machine-gun positions and any other weapon that posed a major threat to the advancing troops. The hazards were obvious; the snipers were few in number and vulnerable to getting caught in a large ﬁreﬁght with overwhelming odds, but since they were a battalion asset and therefore a support weapon system, it was their role – they were trained to much higher standards for a very good reason. In one incident, a sniper from Harry’s section was quietly moving to the upper ﬂoor of a abandoned building when, without warning, the door at the top of the stairs opened, and a very frightened German soldier bulldozed over the sniper, down the stairs and out of sight. Assuming the German would bring additional troops, the sniper was left with no choice but to relocate as quickly as he could. It was during one such advance that Harry got momentarily left behind, as he identiﬁed a German soldier with a Panzerfaust anti-armour weapon concealed and awaiting an Allied tank. Harry rapidly worked his way to the optimum shooting position and removed the threat. During this time the platoon had advanced and Harry had lost his link with them and realized he had to catch up fast both to cover their movement and also to avoid possible fratricide. He did not want to be engaged by friendly ﬁre when he appeared in a position in which they were not expecting to see movement. Looking down the street, Harry saw a burnt-out German tank and decided to sprint from his present covered position to the tank and then use it as cover to plan his next rapid movement. As his heart raced, he fully expected to hear weapons ﬁre the second he broke cover. Harry sprinted straight towards the disabled German tank. After what must have seemed an age, he found himself sliding under the protective armour of the tank beside its tracks, and looking further down the street to a corner, his next objective. With the next bound decided, Harry was poised to break cover again and sprint for the corner, when he became aware of German voices coming from inside the tank, and to his horror he realized that it was not disabled at all and was indeed manned and fully functional, no doubt waiting to ambush the Allied Sherman tanks. With no choice, as to stay there would invite certain death sooner or later, Harry ran for his life, expecting to be cut down by the tank’s machine guns as he went. Harry’s luck was to hold and, gasping for breath, he rounded the corner and got out of line of sight of the tank’s gunners. Still trying to regain his breath, he risked a look back round the corner, as the soldier in him took over and he looked for vulnerabilities he could exploit on the tank. Open hatches, exposed fuel cans, even track linkage can be targets for a sniper with armour-piercing ammunition, a type all Allied snipers carried. Harry’s professionalism led him to overcome the fear he had just faced and resume his role of destroying the enemy, so he scanned for potential targets. It would appear that the tank crew had no idea a British sniper had just used them as cover to advance down the street. They never ﬁred and instead started up and moved away while Harry was looking for targets. With no shots available, Harry resumed his role protecting the platoon as it advanced on its mission, its members unaware of the life-threatening situation one of their snipers had just faced. As the campaign moved into Holland, Harry was called forward to assist the men of a company who were taking a large number of casualties from a German sniper concealed some where ahead of them. After receiving his brief, Harry set out with one of the company’s ofﬁcers to locate an observation position from which to carry out his counter-sniper task. After a detailed recon naissance, Harry settled on a large multi-storey building that gave a commanding view of the area and secluded himself and the accompanying ofﬁcer among the broken roof rafters. There then began the long and laborious task of searching and scanning the ground ahead of them for likely enemy sniper positions, and both Harry and the ofﬁcer spent much time using their binoculars to try and locate the German sniper. After a period of several hours’ searching, the ofﬁcer had to return to his unit and this left Harry alone to continue the task.
As the German sniper had not ﬁred for almost a day now, Harry wondered if he had withdrawn to a new location, waiting to ambush the advancing Allied troops again, thereby delaying the advance a second time, a common sniper tactic. At this time a building almost opposite Harry and some 400 metres away caught his eye. The building had been hit in the ﬁghting and now had broken windows and damage to the wooden walls, that had left several planks swaying around every time a gust of wind blew. As Harry watched through his Scout Regiment scope, he spotted what he believed to be a slight movement in the shadows of one of the damaged planks and quickly swapped his spotting scope for his riﬂe and waited. As Harry continued to watch he saw what he considered to be a hand moving to lift the damaged plank slightly and he aimed and ﬁred at the area he assessed would hold the body belonging to the arm he could now make out in the shadows. After watching the area for another hour and seeing no further movement, Harry withdrew to the company location and briefed the company commander on what had happened and his belief that the German sniper now lay dead in the building he indicated.
That night the company sent out a ﬁghting patrol to snatch a prisoner for HQ to question. During this foray, a corporal and two men from the patrol entered the building Harry believed the German sniper was in. On their return to the British lines, the corporal sought Harry out and handed him a German 4-power telescopic-sighted G 43 sniper riﬂe that they had found in the building on top of a table set back in the shadows, and that in front of it next to the house’s wooden walls, was the dead body of the German sniper, hit in the head by Harry’s bullet. Harry kept the telescopic scope but not the riﬂe, as he did with all sniper against sniper incidents – the riﬂes were too heavy to keep and using them, with their different sound to Allied weapons, would invite friendly ﬁre. Harry ended the war with several enemy telescopic sights in his possession and kept them for many years before ﬁnally parting with them, reluctantly, for ﬁnancial reasons.
Due to the high levels of stress and the physical effort required during a sniper mission, snipers are trained to operate as individuals, to allow them to continue the ﬁght even if one is killed, but even so are generally deployed in pairs to reduce the workload and stress. Harry Furness preferred to work alone and it makes his achievements even more impressive. Deploying alone and in advance of your own unit had many disadvantages as, with the loneliness of being isolated, often far from immediate friendly supporting ﬁre or back-up, it was not un common for units to forget or even discount their deployed snipers if a major opportunity presented itself. Many a sniper found himself left behind with only his skills as a soldier to aid him in surviving and ﬁnding his parent unit again. On more than one occasion, Harry was to ﬁnd himself hungry and without supplies, as the resupply and feeding had taken place while he was deployed, and nobody thought or cared about the ‘murdering snipers’ out ahead of the unit, completely un aware of the mortar crews, machine gunners and enemy raiding patrols that had fallen foul of these lone hunters during the night, and how this had in fact increased the line infantryman’s life expectancy. It was to be another sixty years or more before the sniper would receive the accolades he deserved from his fellow soldiers and the world’s media. Harry’s time was largely spent searching and scanning the ground ahead of his unit, looking for signs of German positions, equipment and, of course, German snipers. To do this he would have followed the taught methods of searching and scanning using the issued 7-magniﬁcation binoculars (binoculars of the type that I, the author of this story was myself issued with, still stamped 1944 on the side, some ﬁfty years later - thanks to the lack of investment in sniper equip ment!). The system calls for a sniper to break down the ground into sections of left–centre–right, and near–middle– distant and follow a logical scan, near–to–far looking for threats and enemy positions. Harry would have been taught to check the ground nearest to him ﬁrst as this was the biggest threat to his safety. For longer distances and for target identiﬁcation, Harry would use the Scout Regiment telescope. The Scout Regiment telescope was a relic of the nineteenth century in design and would not have looked out of place in the hands of Admiral Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar. It was, however, a very good optical instrument and telescoped into itself for ease of carrying in its purpose-designed leather case and could be stripped down into its component parts for ease of cleaning the lenses. However, it was far from an easy design to master and many a sniper put the lenses in backwards or in the wrong place and struggled over several hours trying to work out why his scope no longer worked! (I was also issued with a Scout Regiment spotting scope when I became a sniper ﬁfty-plus years later, again high lighting the lack of understanding and commitment to the skills of the sniper.) Harry did not always have the security of darkness to hide him from German eyes. Movement in daylight towards or around an enemy formation was a day-to-day occurrence for Harry and all British snipers. When it was essential to move during daylight, this was done with extreme care, and generally by crawling, unless the sniper was concealed by cover. A sniper’s role is that of gathering intelligence and engaging targets of opportunity to reduce the enemy’s ability to ﬁght, and so Harry would be on the look-out for ofﬁcers, or for specialists such as engineers, machine-gun and mortar crews, exposed tank crews, and personnel manning the dreaded 88-mm guns. Once he identiﬁed a target, Harry would have to consider very carefully what effects his possible actions would create. If his unit was advancing covertly, or the Germans did not know they were moving towards them, then a single shot would provide an indication of a British presence in the area and place the Germans on high alert. He also had to consider the retaliatory actions of the Germans against his own lines and weigh this up in comparison to the value of his target, as the life he took might well cost several lives among those behind him in defensive positions. So ﬁring a shot was best considered rather carefully, even though the lowly sniper did not always have the tactical knowledge and understanding of the big picture – ﬁring a shot could bring massive retribution in the form of a mortar or artillery barrage. The sniper might well ﬁnd himself between a rock and a hard place. On one occasion, ahead of his own lines and alone, Harry identiﬁed an orders group involving several German ofﬁcers, clearly discussing their next plan of action, huddled around a set of maps spread over a vehicle body. After several minutes of close observation, watching for signs of deference to rank – no unit wore rank in the ﬁeld because of snipers – Harry settled on the one he believed to be the senior ofﬁcer and began to make the calculations needed to adjust his No. 32 sniper scope to maintain point of aim and achieve point of impact on his selected target. Harry’s opinion on what happened next is based on the reaction of the German troops in the surrounding area. Harry believes he killed either a very highranking or a very popular ofﬁcer, as within a matter of minutes his world became a vibrating, deafening hell on earth, as every thing from small arms ﬁre through mortar and artillery and even tank rounds poured into his general vicinity, as the Germans vented their anger and tried to avenge the loss of one of their own. For a very long eight minutes, Harry was thrown around like a rag doll as the very ground on which he lay, bounced and shook from the impact of the German assault, and a very lucky and partially deaf Harry Furness crawled back into his own lines some time later to such encouragement as ‘Serves you right’ from his own troops. Harry would have several encounters like this throughout his advance through Europe and into Germany and his luck would hold out, where others failed, and he soon became one of only a few snipers left from his original section. When I asked Harry what had made him better than anyone else and helped his survival during the campaign, he told me attention to detail and luck.
Harry’s world was often one of split-second decisions. His ability to remain unseen in any terrain was the key to his survival, along with learning to trust his ‘sixth sense’, some thing I have instilled in all the snipers I have trained in my career. And a good sniper always has one up the spout, just in case. After ﬁring, Harry would remain completely motionless for about half an hour, since the enemy would be searching intently to identify his location, kill him and remove the threat. Being a sniper has never carried the option of surrender; history has shown that few soldiers are willing to take snipers prisoner, and so remaining undiscovered and unseen is the best defence a sniper has. Even reloading a riﬂe has to be done very slowly and where possible in dead ground. It is a proven fact that move ment catches the eye, and so any sudden or quick motion will draw attention, even if it is only caught in an enemy’s peripheral vision. Once a sniper’s general area is known, artillery or mortars will usually ﬁnd him. Harry was to suffer several minor wounds from mortar and artillery fragments during the war. Harry would adopt the shooting position best suited to his environment but more often than not chose the Hawkins position, a very low-proﬁle ﬁring position, in which the riﬂe is effectively on the ground, with the butt in a little scrape, and the shoulder over rather than behind it. The barrel is supported by the left ﬁst and the sling wrapped around the left arm, with the sniper’s cheek ﬂat on the butt-stock and at the correct eye position for the No. 32 scope. A little trick in dry weather was to pour water or lay a dampened cloth in front of the barrel to prevent dust being kicked up by the muzzle blast and presenting any German observer with an indication as to where the sniper was concealed; this would invariably bring retaliatory ﬁre and increase the chances of death or injury . Harry was never a smoker but learnt very quickly that the daily cigarette issue could be used as hard currency to secure items he needed or desired to make his life easier. One such trade involved frequent visits to the machine-gun crews who, in exchange for cigarettes, would allow Harry to search through their ammunition supplies to locate batches of ammunition with the same production run numbers on them. Harry, and indeed all snipers, knew that ammunition from the same production batch had a higher level of consis tency of manufacture, which translated to better accuracy over longer ranges. This was clearly of importance to snipers, who have to engage targets of opportunity and also ﬁre at longer ranges, and so this was a great trade in Harry’s eyes. For a machine-gun crew, whose weapon is an area weapon with a ‘beaten zone’ of impact to hit as many men in a given area as possible, consistency was irrelevant, and even detrimental to their task, and so Harry’s cigarettes were of much higher value to them. Harry was also very careful not to use German equipment left behind or found, as in his worst-case scenario, that of being captured, any chance of survival, assuming he had managed to conceal his sniper’s role, would quickly disappear if the Germans were to ﬁnd some of their own side’s equipment on him. They would assume that Harry had looted dead German soldiers, as did happen, which would anger his captors and probably lead to his death. Harry also rarely approached any of his targeted quarry, as he was never sure who else had witnessed his actions and might well be lying in wait, bent on revenge. Conﬁrmation of a sniper kill was far less important than staying alive in Harry’s eyes. One exception to this rule was when, deployed ahead of the main Allied thrust and prowling around for targets, Harry was preparing to cross a rural road when he heard the increasing noise of an engine approaching his location. Aware that the approaching vehicle could only be German, Harry concealed himself overlooking a place where the road emerged from a tree line, from where the engine noise was coming. With little delay a German dispatch rider came into view riding a military motor cycle and carrying a message satchel. Harry was faced with a decision: the satchel could contain vital intelligence but he had not watched the area long enough to be sure there were no German units concealed in the tree line opposite and so ﬁring could expose his own position. In the end, well used to splitsecond decisions, Harry ﬁred and the dispatch rider was knocked clean off his motorcycle by the impact of Harry’s .303 round. The easy part was done; the enemy rider had been cleanly killed and lay on the road some 300 metres from Harry’s concealed position, so now the wait began. Harry knew that to approach the body quickly to secure the satchel and its possible intelligence could be a death sentence for him should there be any enemy witnesses to his actions, but to wait raised the likelihood of another German vehicle arriving and the satchel being lost. Harry had to weigh the value of his life against the satchel’s possible contents – after all it might just contain the week’s weather reports. He began very slowly to stalk his way around by a covered route towards the downed rider, always being careful to remain in sight of the motionless ﬁgure. After a painful and time-consuming stalk, Harry was at the road’s edge, almost within arm’s reach of the body, but still he had to resist the temptation to cut corners and make a sudden movement, and so he lay motionless and concealed for a further thirty minutes until he was as certain as he could be that the body was not under enemy observation. With heart racing and sure he would hear the sound of gunﬁre as soon as he rose, Harry broke cover and moved to the body, retrieved the satchel and a Luger handgun from the rider’s holster, ever aware of the trade value of such an item, which over-ruled his fear of being caught with it. He was later to sell it to an American soldier. The satchel now slung around his body, Harry started the long stalk back to his own lines where he would hand in the bag to the IO, never caring to ask about its contents, merely intent on doing his job. Harry’s war would come to an end on the outskirts of a small German village where, having received the order to halt all movement, and be prepared for a ceaseﬁre, Harry’s commander deployed him, alone as usual, to scout ahead and around the village for German forces, just in case they were told to resume the advance. After circumnavigating the village he found himself concealed a short distance from a German girl in her late teens, hanging laundry on a washing line to the rear of her home. Having been very active over the last few days and having missed all meals, Harry was very hungry and so made a calculated risk to expose his position and approach the girl and ask for food. His hunch that the girl would not run or panic was a sound one, and in true German hospitality she led him into the house, introduced him to her elderly parents who then prepared him a meal from the meagre rations they had, a sign of the respect the German people had for soldiers, be they their own or others. Being touched by the generosity and hospitality of the family, not to mention the obvious beauty of the young girl, Harry went back to his commander, reported that the village was indeed devoid of any and all military units, and proceeded to trade all his booty for tea, coffee, sugar and other foodstuffs. He then stalked into the woods and shot a deer, and with this and all his traded food, returned to the house and repaid the kindness shown to him the day before. Harry’s unit did then indeed receive the order to cease all hostilities and the war in Europe came to an end. For Harry, the end of the war had started a new chapter in his life, and his relationship with the young German girl would develop into a love that lasts to this day. The very successful British sniper would spend the rest of his life with a German girl he met at war’s end.
That passage was taken from the chapter written by Mark Spicer who himself was a sniper in the British army later in the 20th C. And there’s more for you to read about Harry in the book which is The Sniper Anthology, Snipers of the Second World War available from Greenhill Books. It includes contributions from a variety of authors and it’s actually just been reprinted in paperback, always a sign of a good book methinks.
If you think you might want to buy it there’s a link …
Thank you so much for listening. Please do hear me next time.
And I do sincerely hope you come through this corona crisis unscathed, with your health, wealth and work all intact.
As I’ve prepared this episode in double quick time, I haven’t prepared an unheard PS on this occasion, but I am going to finish off with an extract from the Gallipoli episode about a sniper. I’m sorry if anyone has only recently listened to this but the passage fits the subject matter so well that it would be a shame not to include it. So I’ll say toodle pip to those who might want to leave now and I’ll just let this story end the show.
This story is taken from the memoir of the Battle of Gallipoli, written by Sergeant Fred Reynard.
Fred was in the 8th Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment, Princess Beatrice's Isle of Wight Rifles.
The brigade landed at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, on 10 August 1915 when Fred was aged 22.
The lads stood about in little groups; for some having their last chance of a chat with their pals. My pal was a lad from Wootton, near Bedford, Dink Watson by name, and we made our arrangements over what to do in the event either going under. A good lad was Dink. The hour arrived, then the first order. “Over the side you go”, and soon hundreds of dark shadows were making their way down ladders into small boats the Navy had placed alongside.
"Full up sir", a midshipman shouted, then, “Away you go”, the answer came and I found myself in one of a string of boats being towed ashore by a naval pinnace. Sometimes straight, sometimes in a bow. We went skimming over the water, the dark outline of the shore began to show up, and nothing happened. We were to make a landing undetected I thought, but I thought too soon. Another 50 yards then hell let loose.
A hail of machine gun and rifle fire swept through us. Men slumped across the oars. Now it was a case of every boat for itself. The Turks had placed barbed wire just under the water and boats stuck fast and its men soon wiped out. My boat was lucky to find a gap through which we passed to the beach and we scrambled outonto the shores of Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, 1915.
Our machine guns were to follow us in after a landing was made, so I had my section with just rifles. Other boats were getting through, and I gathered my section, I had only lost two, and sheltered behind some rocks, until we could establish a line to go forward. Then the firing stopped and with a yell of 'Allah, Allah' the Turks charged. They bore down on us like fiends, and soon I was fighting for my very life.
Three more of my section fell, never to rise. We fought like tigers - sword, butt, and everything.
I found myself in an uncomfortable position but Dink Watson was there to save me.
Once my sword jammed tight in a Turk's equipment and I was disarmed.
I was kicked in the shins and went down, a big Turk trying to gouge my eyes out.
Then a limp body fell across me, and Dink had again saved my life.
Thrust and counter thrust, kill or be killed.
Another rifle was thrust into my hand, and the fight swayed both ways but all the time more were getting ashore for the 162 brigade were landing.
We’d gone inland about 500 yards, and the shore was strewn with dead and wounded.
Then some order was restored and we got dug down in earnest.
[Days later], a tragic incident happened, one which was to prove a turning point in my army life. There was a cry of help from no man's land and turning round I saw a man running round in circles. He was either mad or blinded. It was the latter. But there was something else - a figure of a man running towards him and that man was Dink Watson. I saw Dink reach him and then he fell wounded himself. No time to think then, and I found myself running towards my pal. The fifty yards I must have covered in record time, but I reached him and he was still alive.
He said, "Sgt Freddie". Where my strength came from I shall never know, but I threw him over my shoulder, as if he was a child and started back with a hail of bullets following me.
Something hit my side and it pained a little; then a bang on the chest as I tumbled with Dink into our shelter. Dink was dead, and so we could do nothing for him, so I had to look to myself. A bullet had broken my bayonet off short and had driven the steel of the scabbard into my hip, tearing the flesh apart. Another had hit the prayer book I carried in my breast pocket, and the steel mirror inside had deflected it and so saved my life. And the mirror was one that Dink had given me.
I was filled with remorse and sorrow, for I had lost a good pal but over his body I swore I would not rest until I had put that sniper in his grave or he mine.
That evening we dragged Dink's body to the shelter of a large olive tree where we buried him. The picture of his girl, I placed in his breast pocket and buried it with him. I crawled away from that spot bitter in heart, it seemed, to everything.
Capt Seely was waiting for me when I got back. He said that he’d seen everything and he would send his report to HQ.
But I only wanted that sniper.
Late afternoon, an officer of the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) came to us and with him we crawled to our ridge. I shall not forget his words when he looked on to that sunken road, "The dream of an RA officer," he said. The road was jammed with traffic moving toward the 32 Div sector - wagons, guns, troops etc - and we’d about a three mile view until they vanished from sight by a gap in the hill. In his excitement he jumped to his feet and was rewarded with two shots through his helmet, and I never saw a man move more quickly than he did.
But those shots had done something more, for there was not a breath of air, but I saw the leaves of a tree move. We got back nearly to our position and I put my helmet on a piece of stick and pushed it gently up. I didn’t have to wait for long, and it had a hole in it. But it was the same tree and I knew where my sniper was. I got back and the RA officer left me. I took every care with my gun and spaced the belt. I got the range and put a burst into that tree. The leaves and branches shattered but nothing else, so I tried another burst and a body came falling to the ground.
I waited until nightfall and went out to that body. The features were not course, as I expected to find but the skin was painted to suit the surroundings. There was a belt on the body severed by my bullets, but still in position, and then I made a discovery, for that sniper was a woman.
That discovery shocked me for I’d killed a woman, then I saw around her neck was a string of discs, 48 in all, of those she’d killed - and five were men of my own battalion.
I thought of my pal Dink, forgot my scruples and cursed her as she lay there and went back. We were never troubled with a sniper at Anafasta again.
To think that Fred Reynard was only 22 years old and out there bravely fighting our battles.
I'm Paul Cheall saying
WW2 and WWII, World War II and more
Link to Amazon hardback and Kindle etc