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Hedgerow Sniping

by Ernie Pyle
Reprinted with the generous permission of the Scripps Howard Foundation



June 26, 1944

Sniping, as far as I know, is recognized as a legitimate means of warfare. And yet there is something sneaking about it that outrages the American sense of fairness. I had never sensed this before we landed in France and began pushing the Germans back. We have had snipers before--in Bizerte and Cassino and lots of other places. But always on a small scale.

Here in Normandy the Germans have gone in for sniping in a wholesale manner. There are snipers everywhere. There are snipers in trees, in buildings, in piles of wreckage, in the grass. But mainly they are in the high, bushy hedgerows that form the fences of all the Norman fields and line every roadside and lane. It is perfect sniping country. A man can hide himself in the thick fence-row shrubbery with several days' rations, and it's like hunting a needle in a haystack to find him. Every mile we advance there are dozens of snipers left behind us. They pick off our soldiers one by one as they walk down the roads or across the fields. It isn't safe to move into a new bivouac area until the snipers have been cleaned out.

The first bivouac I moved into had shots ringing through it for a full day before all the hidden gunmen were rounded up. It gives you the same spooky feeling that you get on moving into a place you suspect of being sown with mines. In past campaigns our soldiers would talk about the occasional snipers with contempt and disgust. But here sniping has become more important, and taking precautions against it is something we have had to learn and learn fast. One officer friend of mine said: "Individual soldiers have become sniper-wise before, but now we're sniper-conscious as whole units." Snipers kill as many Americans as they can, and then when their food and ammunition run out they surrender. To an American, that isn't quite ethical.

The average American soldier has little feeling against the average German soldier who has fought an open fight and lost. But his feelings about the sneaking snipers can't very well be put into print. He is learning how to kill the snipers before the time comes for them to surrender. As a matter of fact this part of France is very difficult for anything but fighting between small groups. It is a country of little fields, every one bordered by a thick hedge and a high fence of trees. There is hardly anyplace where you can see beyond the field ahead of you. Most of the time a soldier doesn't see more than a hundred yards in any direction. In other places the ground is flooded and swampy with a growth of high, junglelike grass. In this kind of stuff it is almost man-to-man warfare. One officer who had served a long time in the Pacific says this fighting is the nearest thing to Guadalcanal that he has seen since.

Ernie Pyle