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9th February 2005Sniping and Counter-Sniping in the AZW
By Coll
I'm aware that several men within companies wore a type of marksmanship badge.

Although the vision of redcoated soldiers volley-firing at the enemy is quite common, I wonder if these individuals were the 'snipers' of the Victorian era and were selected specifically because of this talent to target particular enemy figures, such as the leaders, Zulu marksmen, etc., but to work alone, or with a 'spotter' as I think the modern term is ?.

Also, were there any modifications made at the time, regarding sights, etc., to the Martini Henry rifle to help the marksmen perfect their skills ?.

10th February 2005Martin Everett
Dear Coll,
My impressions was that these badges were 'musketry' badges - successful completion of a musketry course - at Hythe or other official course.

I do have a big book which lists the history of all the army trade badges. But I am home - you are throwing out all these questions - perhaps a larger library would help you.
10th February 2005Coll

In 2 titles by well-known authors about british uniforms around the time of the AZW, it has written below two different photographs that crossed rifles on the left sleeve of the tunic are a marksmanship badge, also mentioned when describing a colour plate of a 24th soldier.

On looking at black-and-white group photographs, this particular badge does not appear on many of the soldiers, which made me wonder if these were indeed expert rifleman who would perform as the 'snipers' of the companies they were part of.

Considering this, if there was a detailed account about their function within a unit as a marksman, I thought there would be details included of the rifles they used and any modifications made to them, but as I have not read anything about this, which really is just one question as they are connected, I wondered if anyone else had encountered details.

Any questions that I have been asking are not just random, but thought about for quite some time, usually I obtain as much facts as I can, hopefully without appearing too naive, but would like someone else's opinion.

10th February 2005Adrian Whiting

You are describing the Marksman badge, worn on the lower sleeve of both the Frock and the Tunic.

The badge was worn by all men up to the rank of Sergeant who passed through the annual musketry exercise and obtained a score within the top 10% of the battalion or unit concerned. The badge was accompanied by a cash prize, for privates in 1879 this was £1.

Subsequently the cash prizes continued to be awarded to the top 10% but the badge was made available to every soldier who achieved a score over a threshold set by the Musketry Regulations.

There were separate badges and prizes for the best shot in a Battalion and the best shot in the Army.

The Marksmen were not specifically singled out as snipers - not part of Victorian doctrine - although there are some accounts of particularly talented men being able to take rather more challenging shots. Marksmen still received the standard service rifle and were not issued any different or auxiliary sights.

This began to change during WW1.


11th February 2005Martin Everett
Dear Coll,
I was trying to answer you from memory - which is not the ideal - my problem is having the time to look up the reference for your questions - the book you need is British Army Proficiency Badges by Denis Edwards and David Langley - you may be able still get a copy from the Victorian Military Society.

The were two badges - (1) crossed rifles (or muskets) (2) crossed rifles (or muskets) with a crown.

The first badgecreated by Royal Warrant in 1856 at the time of the AZW - in gold - 'for the best shot in each company or regimental depot' - in worsted 'each qualified marksman'.

The badge with a crown in gold appears to be awarded to all the sergeants in the best shooting company. And the best shot in the battalion. It was also worn above chevrons for the rank badge of the Sergeant Instructors of Musketry (who would a passed a Hythe course) and worn by all the Instructors at Hythe.

As Adrian points out, I can find no reference to 'snipers' at the time of the AZW. I believe is that this badges were used as an incentive to improve the performance of shooting overall
in the battalion rather then to employ these skilled men in battle.
11th February 2005Coll
Adrian and Martin

Thankyou very much for your replies.