Article from The Wall Street Journal.
Ukraine’s Elite Snipers Fight Russians, Bullet by Bullet
BY ALISTAIR MACDONALD AND DANIEL MICHAELS
HRODIVKA, Ukraine—The war in Ukraine is a meat grinder of artillery, missiles and deadly minefields. Running silently aside all that is a test of battlefield marksmanship for snipers pursuing the fight one shot at a time.
About 15 miles from the front line, near Bakhmut, three Ukrainian snipers recently emerged unseen from undergrowth. Their team, which calls itself “Devils and Angels,” has orders to kill Russian senior commanders, critical members of artillery teams and other high-profile targets.
The war in Ukraine is rich territory for snipers, reminiscent of World War I, with its long and largely static firing line across a flat landscape. The snipers training near Bakhmut are top shots, but they were honing a skill even more important for snipers: stealth.
“We work quietly, we are invisible,” said a team member whose call sign is Fisher.
As Kyiv looks to tip the balance in its continuing counteroffensive, the role of the sniper is evolving. Russian mines make a sniper’s trips into no man’s land more treacherous, while drones make it more difficult for them to hide. Training snipers also takes weeks that Ukraine doesn’t have to spare.
In response, Ukraine—like militaries in the West—is adding more sharpshooters with less technical training than elite snipers to back up ordinary infantry troops with precise targeting.
“Sniper shooting can’t win the war on its own, but one good shot can change a situation at a particular moment on a particular line,” said Ruslan Shpakovych, a former Ukrainian special forces sniper now training soldiers for the role.
Stealth is vital in part because snipers do more than just killing targets from a distance. They conduct reconnaissance and, when shooting, their goal is to shock and demoralize enemy troops, sowing disorganization—an enemy of any military.
“If you’re assembling to attack and your lieutenant is picked off, the unit goes into disarray,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, a military historian who served as commandant of the U.S. Army War College.
Russia’s army is dependent on officers for leadership because it doesn’t have a corps of noncommissioned officers, or soldiers who rose through the ranks to leadership positions, as in Western militaries and, increasingly, in Ukraine. Russian officers often can be identified from afar by their uniforms and even their boots.
“When you kill a Russian small-unit leader, you completely discombobulate the unit,” Scales said.
Urban warfare, such as Stalingrad and Bakhmut, is perfect for snipers.
“But snipers also become much more important when the front lines stabilize, as they have for the last many months in Ukraine,” said Mark Cancian, an adviser with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Stable front lines allow snipers to develop good ‘hides’ and fields of fire,” he said.
Snipers generally work in teams of two, with one typically serving as a spotter, calculating distance, wind speed and other variables that can affect a shot. When one sleeps, the other watches.
Trips into no man’s land can last for as long as nine days, though more typically are around a day and a half, during which snipers are cut off from their unit, said members of the Devils and Angels.
Infantry units support them from afar, providing cover fire if needed. Snipers feed crucial front-line intelligence back to commanders.
No enemy sneak attack should get past a trained sniper squad or shooter out front, “because they can spot it coming and they can shoot at it and correct artillery toward it,” said Shpakovych, who trains snipers for “Come Back Alive,” a Ukrainian charity that raises money to train and equip local forces.
Shpakovych says snipers are being used to varying success in Ukraine, depending on the unit. Ukraine only began properly training their snipers in 2013 and it takes several years and a lot of sophisticated equipment to make a good one, he said.
Russia has more and better equipped snipers, Shpakovych said. He and the Devils and Angels shooters hold Russian snipers’ skills in high regard.
In November, Ukrainian armed forces said one of their Special Forces snipers shot and killed “an occupier” at a distance of 8,900 feet, which they said is the second longest shot recorded.
Sharpshooters training for the Devils and Angels, attached to the 115th Brigade, were selected after surviving several tough battles. Snipers say their skill set is considered among the hardest infantry roles to perfect. Training courses typically have a high failure rate, former snipers say.
Fisher was told he was selected because he had been a hunter in his native Crimea, shooting rabbits, pheasants and deer. The two other snipers say they don’t know why they were chosen. One of the squad was a professional magician, who still loves to practice disappearing tricks with cards and cigarettes on the rest of the team.
“You can train to shoot well, but psychologically you have to be calm,” which you can’t learn, said a private whose call name is Beard.
Patience and stealth are vital. Sniping also requires a particular psychological profile.
While most soldiers go into battle knowing that they may be forced to shoot and kill, they don’t always set out to take lives. Snipers, in contrast, always head out seeking to kill enemy soldiers whom they can clearly see, and generally have little doubt if they have taken a life.
The three snipers in training said they have killed before.
None of the snipers feel much empathy for their targets after pulling the trigger. Many have lost close comrades. Of the original 26-member Devils and Angels team, only 14 are left. One sniper and one infantry support member were killed, and the rest were injured. —Oksana Pyrozhok contributed to this article.
A sidebar to the main article:
‘Cuckoo’ Waits, Then Strikes
A sniper with the call sign Cuckoo, who once spent three days lying in wait, said that in the field she only thinks of the moment.
“I am thinking, ‘There is not enough water, there is too much dust, when I am going to have my next shower,’ ” said Cuckoo, whose handle was first used by Finnish snipers fighting Soviet troops in 1939, for the bird’s ability to disguise itself. “ You are disconnected from your personal life.” A reporter before Russia’s invasion last year, the 32-year-old is currently fighting with the 47th Brigade in Zaporizhzhia. That part of the front line has seen some of the fiercest battles of a counteroffensive that has become bogged down by Russian mines, fortifications and helicopter attacks.
A combination of those obstacles—which impede snipers’ advances— and the time needed to train crack snipers has prompted Kyiv to deploy a type increasingly used by the U.S.: top shots who move alongside ordinary infantry, often carrying higher-powered rifles, to pick off more distant targets.
“Helicopters are firing, artillery is hitting your lines, Russians that were hiding just minutes before are suddenly moving,” she said. “ You hit what you can see.”
Cuckoo declined to say how many she had killed but said she wants to kill more.
“I don’t see their faces, the emotions on them, the photos of their wives, or anything else about their lives,” she said. “I just see figures that move, and I shoot.”
Tons of pro-RUS vids on this type of action too. Apparently both sides feel the same on the issue.
America, Land of the Free - because of the Brave
Would that come as a surprise to anyone? Seems to me they always will.
It actually has come as a surprise to various military leaders several times.
In the history of military sniping as at least a partial list and at different times, the Americans, British, and Germans had to learn, and sometimes relearn, the value of the trained and dedicated precision marksman. The Germans taught the British the value of sniping in World War I, and then the Russians reeducated the Germans in WWII. Although I’m much less certain about why the British established formations armed with rifles (rather than smoothbore muskets) after the American revolution, the use by Americans of rifles and precision fire may have had an influence. And even now I’m not sure what to make of the USMC’s most recent changes to their program.
The reasons for why successful military sniper programs have been killed or allowed to die following various conflicts have been discussed by various students of their history. They range from the fact that sniping, although valuable in its own way, and especially for what it costs, isn’t a major killer on the battlefield to actual distaste by those on the outside. Many military snipers have been shunned even by their own side, and the fact that they operate out of sight of everyone keeps their accomplishments from being better recognized. As I recall, even General Omar Bradley in WWII made disparaging comments about snipers, and the common practice of murdering captured enemy snipers out of hand was either officially approved or at least not discouraged.
I had a C.O. years ago that said something to the effect of:
Look, we have the worlds biggest, baddest and best military out there. Trillions of dollars spent on aircraft, naval ships, satellites, smart bombs and all sorts of other cool stuff. At the end of the day, it's some Grunt with a $300 rifle and $30 boots that's gotta put a bullet on target to win a war.
He wasn't wrong.
"When its time to shoot, shoot. Dont talk!"
“What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else.” —Author Tom Clancy
The part about the Russian army not having a corps of veteran noncoms is what I understand to be true from my time living in Russia and reading about it.
Officers do not trust enlisted men, probably fear them. And politically only the officers are considered reliable.
I don’t know why, when the RF spent so much on “modernizing” their military, they retained this Soviet hierarchical structure.
“ What all the wise men promised has not happened, and what all the damned fools said would happen has come to pass.”— Lord Melbourne
It will always be brave men, with boots on the ground, and a rifle who will win the day...
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