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For those who think bolt guns can't be of any use. . .

Exerpted from "Workhorse of the British Empire, by John Enright, American Rifleman June '99

"Lord Roberts, one of Britain's most distinguished soldiers, had become Commander-In-Chief of the British Army, and it fell to him to oversee and implement new tactics and techniques for the Army. A great concern with the SMLE was the loss of reach in bayonet fighting that the shorter barrel (as opposed to the Magazine, Lee-Enfield Mk1*) gave. At a time when all regular armies were trained in the use of the bayonet, this was viewed as a serious deficiency. Lord Roberts had the length of the bayonet increased to make up for the shorter barrel length so there was no loss in reach. Utterly practical, it resulted in the SMLE baynoet being one of the most fearsome looking of any type in use at the time.
Lord Roberts also outlawed the single loading of individual cartridges in British service. The cut-offs were to be left open and the magazines were to be loaded onyl by charger. The chargers held five rounds, and two were required per magazine. Rapid reloading became a reality and the small regular army was thoroughly trained until a high level of dextrerity was achieved. Roberts was determined that when the pending European conflict came -- which seemed inevitable in the first decade of the century -- the British and Empire servicemen would be second to none in marksmanship. . .The shooting method eventually adopted was simple, but almost revolutionary. The loaded rifel was placed at the shoulder, a shot was fired and the rifle was held in position by the left, or supporting arm. The shooting arm was removed from the small of the butt, sweeping upwards to the turned down bolt ahndle, which was in the ideal postition for rapid fire. The open hand on teh shooting arm then slapped the bolt upwards and rearwards, extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge. At the end of the bolt travel, the open hand was turned slightly, and the bolt pushed forward, thingying the rifle and chambering a fresh round. The bolt handle was turned down, and when the hand left the bolt handle it was int eh ideal position for the trigger finger to return to the trigger and the hand to the small of the butt. It was found that a rate of up to 35 aimed shots per minute could be fired if the rifle was held in position while the chargers were employed to replenish the magazine. . .During the retreat from Mons and Arras, the BEF (British Expeditionary force) was almost fully engaged. It followed the marksmanship training its troops had received and the German advance was halted. The rate of accurate fire was unbelievable to the Germans who were not trained in such methods. The Mauser could not be manipulated nearly as quickly and the Germans thought the British were using massed machine guns rather than rifles. . .The Mauser, as a military rifle, was slightly inferior to the SMLE. The advantages were a smoother and quicker bolt throw, larger magazine capacity and a shorter barrel. Mausers never saw the day they could compete with the SMLE as a military rifle in speed of bolt manipulation, magazine capacity, and the ability to take sand, dirt, mud and abuse and still come up shooting."
 

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Discussion Starter #3
"At Gallipoli and in the Middle East, where much of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) fought, it was a different matter. Here the Australians, British and New Zealanders learned the advantages of marksmanship, rapid fire and accurate shooting.
The Turks prized individual marksmanship as much as the British and Australians. In 1914, they had the largest body of specialist snipers per number of troops in the world. Most of their troops had marksmanship training and long-range musketry duels were a feature of the middle eastern campaign. The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was the equal of the Turkish army in these duels. In an areas where fixed positions were not as relied upon as in France and the machine gun was not as common, the rifleman ruled the battlefield.
The advantages of rapid fire were to be proven yet again. When the Turks employed human wave attacks, the Australians came up with a tactic that made them extremely costly. They modified the rapid fire technique so that more than 55 aimed shots per minute could be fired.[NOTE typically employed within 100 yards]"
 

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SING THE SNIPER

By: Brian V.Tate

In 1915, during the First World War, attempts were made by the Allies to force the strategically important Turkish Straits of the Dardanelles. Success of the operation would allow the movement of much needed munitions to Russia. In turn, Russian grain, then locked up in Black Sea ports, could be shipped to France and England. There was much at stake. Combined British and French naval assaults had failed and it was eventually decided to put forces ashore to march on and capture, Constantinople (Istanbul).

On Sunday 25 April, 1915, French forces landed on the Asiatic side of the Dardanelles, while British troops from the 29th Division were put ashore at 5 separate locations at the toe of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Simultaneously, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) attempted to push inland up the rugged face of the gullies and cliffs north of a promontory called Gaba Tepe. The initially confident Anzac assault was stopped that same day by a tenacious Turkish commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Mustafa Kemal.

The fury of the initial offensive on Gallipoli soon settled down to the rigours of static trench warfare. One particular area on the Anzac front became a relatively quiet back-water of the Allied line. The occasional sea-mists which rolled in across the low coastal heath, only added to the misconception that the war rarely visited these dormant hills.

This was Chatham's Post. And sitting as it did up on Harris Ridge it gave its Australian occupants commanding views of the Turkish positions at the Balkan Gun Pits and the Echelon Trenches. The opposing trenches higher up at the middle of the Allied arc which radiated out from the landing site, were in some cases less than 20 feet apart. But at Chatham's the Australians and Turks faced each other over distances of several hundred yards. It was ideal sniper country.

In May 1915, the Australian Fifth Light Horse Regiment, along with fellow newly-arrived and dismounted light horse units, was split up to be dispersed among the infantry battalions. But by the middle of June, as the summer heat intensified, the regiment reassembled. It was then allocated as its area of responsibility the ground around what would soon become known as Chatham's Post.

Mounted infantry rather than cavalry, the regiment was from the Australian State of Queensland and its officers and men were primarily from country areas. As such, most had grown up and worked with horses in the Australian bush. Part of their cumulative stock-in-trade was an ability to ride well, estimate distance carefully, track strayed stock and animal pests and as a corollary of the latter, to fire both rifles and shotguns accurately.

In the ranks of the Fifth Light Horse was a private whose considerable skill with a rifle was well-known in central Queensland even before the outbreak of the First World War. He was a member of a district rifle club and a leading kangaroo shooter around his home town of Clermont.

Fellow lighthorseman and later prolific Australian author, Ion `Jack' Idriess, described him as `... a little chap, very dark, with a jet-black moustache and a goatee beard. A picturesque looking mankiller. He is the crack sniper of the Anzacs.'

Soon made aware of this efficient Australian assassin, the British commander of the Anzac forces at Gallipoli, General (later Field Marshall, Lord) W.R.Birdwood, enthusiastically and perhaps a little patronisingly, referred to the marksman as his `pet sniper'. But in saluting the rifleman's homicidal ability, Birdwood was more pragmatic when he told the Allied supreme commander, Lord Kitchener, that if his troops could only match Sing's capacity, the Allied forces would soon be in Constantinople.

Notwithstanding; future authors' expressive descriptions and generals' wistful exhortations, were generally lost on the men who shared the horror, the fear and the filth of the reeking Gallipoli trenches. In their unequivocal way, Billy Sing was morbidly but accurately known simply as The Murderer.

Between May and September 1915, 29 year old Private William Edward Sing, was officially credited with accounting for 150 Turkish casualties through his persistent and unerring sniping. For this he was awarded the British Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). Unofficially Billy Sing's tally was probably in excess of 200 Turks.

William Edward Sing was born at the Australian mining town of Clermont, north-central Queensland, on 2 March 1886. His mother Mary, was an English-born nurse, whilst his father, John, was a Chinese national from Shanghai. To add to this exotic family mix, John Sing worked as a local cowboy.

While he was still only a child, Billy Sing began to learn the fundamentals of the deadly skill which would bring him recognition thousands of miles away in 1915. In an age not generally conscious nor mindful of animal rights, young Billy honed his rifle skills by shooting the tails off small piglets with a .22 calibre rifle, at 25 paces.

In October 1914, 2 months after the declaration of the First World War, Billy Sing, then working as a wagon driver, signed his enlistment papers and became a member of the Australian army. Along with other recruits from north Queensland, one of whom was his later Gallipoli spotter, Jack Idriess, Billy Sing travelled by ship to Brisbane. There Sing underwent training during which he was allocated to `A' Squadron of the regiment, before it set sail for Egypt, 5 days before Christmas 1914.

The men of the Fifth Light Horse chaffed at the bit during April 1915 as they cooled their spurred heels on the Egyptian desert. Meanwhile a few hundred miles away, their infantry colleagues were creating Australian history at an obscure region of Turkey which was known to the British as Gallipoli. Eventually, the rising casualty toll on the Gallipoli Peninsula saw Sing and his mates embark for the Dardanelles on 16 May.

For the first month, the lighthorsemen were scattered through the infantry battalions to gain vital experience. But by mid-June the troopers from the Fifth Light Horse had rejoined their regiment when it moved to the seaward side of Bolton's Ridge. In honour of a young English-born light horse officer the new position was called Chatham's Post. It was here that Billy Sing commenced in earnest his lethal occupation.

The half-Chinese sniper's daily routine began with his taking up position in the pre-dawn darkness. This and the fact that he rarely left the area until well after dusk, ensured that usually there was no tell-tale movement near him during daylight hours. Once Sing and his observer were in position and had settled themselves in, the true discipline of rigidly maintaining a quiet and motionless patience began. This was not a job for hyperactive fidgeters, nor men with a tendency towards constant activity. It demanded infinite resolution, an almost unconscious yet alert tranquillity and the steady pursuit of professional perfection; snipers rarely get a second shot at a specific target.

The weapons available to the Australian snipers on Gallipoli were basic and in most cases nothing more than the standard-issue Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) No. 1 Mark III .303 calibre rifle. However, there is evidence that some former rifle club members were granted permission to take their own privately purchased weapons with them when they left Australia. Similarly, a number of these specialists used issue rifles which had been fitted with various target and peep sights, primarily the Lattey optical sight. There is also information which suggests that a few of the sharpshooters had carried rifles equipped with Periscopic Prism Co. telescopic sights.

But in the end, the fundamental qualifications for snipers were and still are an above-average eyesight and a cold-blooded resolve, when at that moment of truth a sniper's finger falls finally to the trigger of his rifle. Billy Sing, a methodical man, encompassed, exemplified and expanded upon all of these characteristics.

The uncompromising commitment and business-like approach the Eurasian Sing brought to his work impressed not only General Birdwood but other senior officers. Major (later Lieutenant-Colonel) S.Midgley of the Fifth Light Horse, once candidly asked Sing how he really felt about killing men in cold-blood. Idriess's quiet and `picturesque looking mankiller', simply replied that shooting `the bastards' had not caused him to lose any sleep.

As the campaign dragged on, it was steely comments like these and prominent men like Billy Sing among the Anzac troops, which gave the Australian commanders on Gallipoli ample opportunity to boost the tenuous morale of their battle-weary troops. So it was probably with official blessing that word of Sing's steadily mounting macabre score was passed mouth-to-mouth along the Allied trench-lines.

Each new day saw Sing's persistence, resolve and consistent accuracy, bring a bereft wailing to households throughout Turkey in 1915. But on occasions his detached professionalism wavered and an undisguised callousness took hold of the apparent indifference the sniper generally brought to his killing. Oliver Hogue in his book, Love Letters of an Anzac, describes an incident which coldly illustrates the unnecessary malevolence that Sing was capable of.

An elderly Turkish soldier was spotted one day repairing the overhead cover of the enemy trench system opposite Billy Sing's position. Another Australian rifleman fired, smashing a brick which formed part of the Turkish trench support, collapsing the roof onto the hapless repairman. As the now exposed and helpless Turk lay kicking and yelling attempting to extricate himself from the ruins, Sing said `I'll put the poor cuss out of his agony'. Without any compassion whatsoever for the vulnerable Turk's situation, Sing promptly put a bullet through the man's brain.

It was careless men such as this and raw reinforcements who presented easy targets of opportunity for snipers on Gallipoli. The nervous curiosity of these newcomers compelled them to snatch quick and often fatal glances over the parapet toward the enemy trenches. While the target presented by their momentarily exposed bodies was minimal from the front, it was the view from the flanks of the zigzagging trenches which saw inexperienced soldiers often fall victim to the waiting marksmen.
The world of the static sniper on Gallipoli was appropriately described by Idriess as being like a cat watching a wall with many mouse holes. Behind the holes worked the cautious mice, with ever-watchful felines waiting for just one mistake.

As 1915 moved inexorably on and Sing's persistence and precision took their toll, it was inevitable that a response would come from the Turks. At first orthodox military methodology was applied to put an end to the Australian who had taken out as many as 9 of the enemy in a single day. Just such a Turkish reaction saw Sing's growing confidence shaken by a very near miss one quiet morning in late August at Chatham's.

Billy Sing and his observer on this occasion, Trooper Tom Sheehan, sat silently surveying the enemy trenches waiting for an unthinking Turkish `mouse' to appear. Their eyes and telescope swept the ground to the front, seeking the almost imperceptible giveaway signs: a quick hazy puff of vapour from a weapon discharge, the unguarded tell-tale movement of an arm or a body; anything which would identify for them the whereabouts of another potential victim.

A Turkish marksman with similar designs seized upon some sudden inadvertent disclosure of the Australian sniping team and fired on them. His shot passed through Sheehan's telescope end to end, wounding the Australian in both hands, before entering at his mouth and coming out through the soldier's left cheek. The by now almost spent bullet travelled on completing its pernicious run by striking Sing himself in the right shoulder. Undoubtedly the famed sniper would have been begrudgingly impressed by the unknown Turk's skill, or his freakish luck.

The extraordinarily fortunate Tom Sheehan was evacuated to Australia to reflect on his own mortality. It was to be another week before Billy Sing was both physically and psychologically able to climb back up to his elevated post and face the newly-respected Turkish snipers once more.

The next attempt by the Turks to clear their left flank of the unrelenting Australian sniper was much more formidable. Reports of these efforts came to light later from accounts by Turkish prisoners, as well as translated extracts from diaries removed from the bodies of their dead.

It was almost classical that the Turks would eventually summon their own champion from his busy work near the centre of the front-line. Already personally decorated by the Sultan for his proficiency, one suspects that the Turkish sniper, who the Australians melodramatically called `Abdul the Terrible', relished the fatal challenge of this new assignment. `Abdul' brought with him a determination which matched Billy Sing's and the Turk's hunt to locate his Australian counterpart's location took on all the professional vigour of a forensic scientist.

Each fresh description of yet another sniping victim would see `Abdul' quickly despatched to the spot, where he would thoughtfully examine the `crime scene'. There was an inexplicable ability by the Turks to separate the indiscriminate good fortune of some of the Anzac shooters, from the true craftsmanship of the anonymous master-sniper. Accordingly, the only reports passed on to `Abdul' were those confidently assessed as having been the work of the deadly and unseen Australian rifleman.

Reconstructing each fatal shot, the Turk plotted the bullet's angle of trajectory from the entry and exit wounds on the victim. He would then take into consideration the exact position and stance of the Turkish soldier at the precise moment of impact as recounted by those who had stood nearby.

With each calculation the Turkish sniper drew with his eye a line which ended at an area of the Australian trenches on Harris Ridge. Eventually a pattern began to emerge, as his gaze consistently returned to fix on one specific location: a small rise on the heights at Chatham's Post. At last he had found the lair of the too-efficient Australian killer.

Mirroring Billy Sing's own pre-sniping preparations, the Turk selected a suitable site and in the darkness each night he built his position. When it was finished, `Abdul', like his Australian adversary, took up his post each morning well before dawn. For sometime his long days were spent simply watching and waiting.

Despite tempting targets which appeared from time to time the Turkish sniper held his fire. He knew full well that his quarry would not be among these reckless Australians and that an opportunist shot might in turn give him away to much bigger game. Eventually however his persistence paid off. He returned to the Turkish trenches late one evening certain that he had found his rival and that the new day would see him finally end the Australian's devastating winning streak.

The following morning Billy Sing and his spotter took up their position. As Sing settled himself in, his observer began the day's first semi-alert and yawning frontal sweep with a powerful naval telescope. Almost immediately the man's movement abruptly ceased and he whispered to his sniper that he already had a target. The light horse sniper took the telescope and glancing towards a point indicated by his partner, he looked into the face, eyes and rifle-muzzle of `Abdul the Terrible'.

Carefully taking up his rifle, Sing made a final check that nothing would betray their position before gently easing the loophole cover back and cautiously pushing the weapon forward. It was at that precise moment that the Turk also saw Sing and began his own firing sequence. As he settled the Mauser rifle into his shoulder, drew in a breath and steadily sighted in on the minuscule aperture of Sing's emplacement, the Australian's bullet hit him squarely between the eyes.

It was probably a short time after this extraordinary duel that the Turks once more discovered Billy Sing. However, this time they were not prepared to waste more of their own men in eliminating the enemy sniper. Instead they opted for impersonal but effective heavy artillery to carry out the mission. The first Turkish round was ranged with almost pin-point accuracy. It landed close to Sing's position, serving a timely warning on he and his mate, both of whom quickly evacuated the site. Seconds later the next shell landed on the spot completely destroying the sniper's hide.

Along with the occasional mercilessness shown by Sing, there was often a morbid sense of dry humour surrounding his work. Perhaps this was a conscious act; a putting on of psychological armour to help ward off the trauma and strain always present as unavoidable factors in Billy Sing's deadly day.

This surfaced on one notable occasion when the sniper had as his observer none other than General Birdwood. It was a windy day, not one conducive to long-range rifle accuracy, as Sing fired on an exposed Turkish head. His first shot missed, its path minutely deflected by a fleeting gust. Billy waited for the wind to drop before sighting once more. The second bullet spun a Turkish soldier out of sight below the trench line; a satisfactory effort given the blustery weather conditions at the time.

With just a hint of virtue mixed perhaps with unintentional irony, the poker-faced sniper told the general that he would not add the latest kill to his score, as he had been aiming at another Turk! The wind had caused the bullet to partially drift from its true course and strike the ill-fated Turk who was standing a fraction off-target. But Sing's wry comment underlines the latent and seemingly ambiguous integrity that was part of his professional make-up.

Billy Sing once described his firing technique to a friend. It was surprisingly simple and completely logical. The sniper said that if he had to hold the relatively heavy .303 rifle to his shoulder for any period of time, his grip naturally became unsteady and the weapon would soon waver. Instead, he claimed, he would select his target and begin taking up the first trigger pressure as he actually raised the rifle. If the range was over several hundred yards, he would quickly `read' the heat mirage and evaluate its likely effect on the rushing bullet.

With computer-like precision and speed he would then estimate distance and finally wind direction and velocity. At the exact moment when the rifle was firstly against Sing's shoulder, then pressed into his cheek and the sight picture clear before him, he would fire. The entire procedure was completed in less than 5 seconds.

The discrepancy between Billy Sing's official total of some 150 Turks and the informal estimate of over 200, probably lies in the way in which the sniper's confirmed hits were recorded. It has been suggested that the formally recognised tally was only updated if a Turk was seen to drop by either a sergeant or an officer.

However, this would seem impractical given the requirement that there be as little movement as possible near Sing's sniping post. As well, neither he nor his observer were in a position to call for a suitably ranked member of the regiment every time they were ready to fire on another target. It is therefore reasonable to assume that a more acceptable procedure would have been that someone apart from Sing himself, actually confirmed the hit. In most cases this would obviously have been the man working with Billy at the time as his observer.

Eventually official recognition of Billy's exceptional sniping skills began to appear. On 23 October 1915, the General Officer Commanding Anzac troops, Sing's sometime sniping team assistant, General Birdwood, issued an order announcing his compliments on Billy's performance in accounting for 201 Turkish soldiers.

But what compulsion drove Billy Sing on as he recorded more and yet more kills during the summer and autumn of 1915? Certainly the implicit support of the Australian high command placed no official obstruction in Billy's way. And when one considers General Birdwood's enthusiasm for Sing's marksmanship, the latter's position as a rising symbol among his Allied contemporaries receives almost exalted license.

This was at a time when the newly independent nation of Australia sought its own heroes as it came to world attention. And Billy Sing slid comfortably into the public role of champion that his death-dealing rifle had created for him. The international press did in fact know of the Queensland marksman. Reports of his Gallipoli successes appeared in a prominent London newspaper and at least one other which was published in the United States.

It is of course quite conceivable that the Australian sniper also found that his special trade carried with it the addiction of the adrenalin rush, compelling him to constantly seek extra statistics to add to his terrible and rising ledger. The unremitting tension which enveloped Sing as he waited for hours on end, day after day, must have seen him begging for some relief. But on Gallipoli any kind of leave was rare. There was certainly no promise of women or alcohol to bring to him the soldier's traditional momentary dulling distraction.

By the end of 1915 the last of the Anzac troops had evacuated the Dardanelles and were regrouping on the sands of Egypt. During the 8 short months of the struggle on Gallipoli they had sustained over 27,500 casualties. For most, the incompetence of the high command which had robbed them of so many of their friends and stamped the campaign with overall strategic failure, was now simply a bitter and best forgotten memory.

But Sing's personal acclaim continued. In February 1916 he was mentioned in the despatches of the commander of the Allied forces, Sir Ian Hamilton. The following March, Sing was formally awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his conspicuous gallantry as a sniper at Gallipoli between May and September 1915.

By June 1916 the Australian army, apart from the bulk of light horse regiments had either gone from Egypt, or were in the process of leaving bound for the big league on the distant battlefields of France and Belgium. Many of the Gallipoli lighthorsemen saw little chance of further action if they remained with their regiments in Egypt, preferring instead to transfer to the less colourful infantry battalions. One of these was Billy Sing and in July of 1916 he officially marched into the 31st Australian Infantry Battalion at Tel-el-Kebir. After further training in England, Sing rejoined his battalion in France early in January, 1917.

Over the next 19 months Billy Sing was frequently in and out of the line as fresh wounds, illnesses and at least one chemical gassing took their toll on his physical condition. As well, he was often laid low by the recurring effects of old ailments and injuries from his debilitating Gallipoli service. During these periods of recuperation Sing travelled to Scotland on leave. It was there that he met a restaurant waitress, Elizabeth Stewart, the 21 year old daughter of a naval cook. The couple were married in Edinburgh on 29 June 1917.

It is unclear whether or not Billy Sing continued to carry out sniping duties with the 31st Battalion while he was in France. Snipers did of course operate on both sides during the war, but the sheer immensity of the conflict, plus the heavy use of artillery, saw this tactic employed on only a limited scale. But Sing's army file provides occasional hints that whatever he was doing, he was often involved in hazardous activities against the Germans. Once again his worth as a soldier was recognised by the Allied high command, when in October 1917, the Army Corps Commander expressed his appreciation for Sing's `...gallant service during recent operations'.

Early in 1918, Billy Sing was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre. In July 1918, he finally found himself posted to a submarine guard on an Australian-bound troop-ship. Sing's pre-discharge medical examination in Brisbane is a grim testimony to the havoc those years had wrought on his body. He had contracted influenza, rheumatism, mumps, been shot on 2 occasions, sustained shrapnel wounds to both legs, as well as to his back and finally, had suffered the desperate horror and interminable legacy of having been gassed.

When Billy and Elizabeth Sing arrived in Proserpine, Queensland in late 1918, the town's residents turned out in force to welcome home their famous son and his young Scottish wife. Unfortunately, the rough and ready ways of Billy Sing and the Clermont mining community seem to have been too much for Elizabeth and after a few short years she left her husband.
As the post-war exuberance waned, Sing briefly took up a cattle property near the town before moving onto a mining claim on the Miclere goldfield. For a time the claim, curiously called the Mae West, produced good results. By 1941 however, it and others in the area had dried out and all were finally closed down. If Billy Sing had taken gold of any value from the mine the money hadn't lasted long.

In 1942 he left the district for the Queensland State capital of Brisbane. By December of that year, Sing had taken on a labouring job which did little to help his poor health. On Wednesday 19 May 1943, William Edward Sing's aorta ruptured and he died alone in a cheap working man's hotel in Brisbane. He was 57 years old.
 
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