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Captain Eyestrain
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British Sniper 1944-45 : from the horse's mouth .

Harry M. Furniss

This is a very detailed article , based on a lot of correspondance with the subject : I apologise that it's so long , but there's a lot of information here that I wanted to put on record , so if you are interested , please read carefully .

Martin Pegler ( he of the books on Sniping etc. ) was my neighbour and friend for about eight years , and having him around was a great delight : he's now moved to France . He is also entirely responsible for addicting me to 1/6th figures !

Whilst working on one of his books , he introduced me to the careers of a couple of WW2 British snipers who survived the War , and whom he had interviewed for his research.
Frank Miller of the East Yorks , known as " Borrowed Time " was the first , and I made a figure of him which Martin now has.

The second veteran sniper was Harry M. Furniss .

Martin told me all about him, and hinted that a figure would be nice … to cut a long story short , Martin provided the introduction, and I was able to talk to Harry , who is still with us , and who has cooperated with me in producing these figures : an absolutely unimpeachable source .

This opportunity could not be passed up , and I hope that the information contained here will help anyone wishing to know what a British sniper in the N.W.Europe campaign might have looked like .
Of course , Sniper figures always present a problem : if you can see him , it's unrealistic !
We have to make some compromises in order to display the figure at all , so I've presumed with all the poses here that he's either going out or coming back , rather than actually concealed in his position .
This has been a longer term project than I had wished , but health problems and all sorts of little difficulties have got in the way .

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Detailed information on WW2 British snipers is difficult to come by : firstly , because very few survived ; secondly , the nature of their business makes them retiring persons in civilian life , who suffer random abuse and hate mail if their address is known .This makes them understandably wary of breaking cover to write memoirs, or appear at commemorative events.
This makes me feel very honoured to have been able to talk to Harry about his military career .
He has contributed to Martin's books , so he already appears on the record, and he's willingly agreed to be featured here in miniature form.

Harry was from Manchester , joined up in 1941 as a regular aged 16, and was early on selected for sniper training : he passed through the various training courses with flying colours , and was attached to the HQ of 6th Green Howards as a specialist battalion sniper corporal in time for D-Day , aged 19 .

What follows is based on his notes and my conversations with him, and gives a detailed insight into his gear and how it changed as his participation in the N.W.Europe campaign progressed.

Understandably , he won't talk much about what he did : it's best not brought back to memory . He was , however , extraordinary successful ; but as he said to me , he used up all his luck in the campaign .

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A great part of the sniper's role was observation : they operated generally in front of the Battalion position , usually building a carefully camouflaged position before dawn , and having to remain in it , effectively motionless , until dusk allowed them to move again .
Observation involved the binoculars , and for longer distances the Scout telescope , which was very useful for identifying German unit identities, ranks and the like . If it was essential to move during daylight , it was done with extreme care , and generally crawling, unless concealed by cover.
Firing a shot was best considered rather carefully , since it could bring massive retribution in the form of a mortar or artillery barrage : Harry was lucky to survive several of these ; but in the nature of things , split second decisions were often necessary : as he says , there was always one up the spout just in case. After firing , it was wise to remain competely motionless for about half an hour , since the enemy would be searching intently for your position : reloading was eventually done by sliding the rifle back under the body .

He often adopted 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 was supported by the left fist and the sling wrapped around the left arm. Another little trick in dry weather was to water the ground in front of the rifle muzzle , to prevent dust being kicked up by the muzzle blast .
Because of the intense physical and mental strain of the job , many snipers operated in pairs , which allowed them to give each other some relief from total alertness . Harry always preferred to work alone .

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The Figures

I've made four figures of him now , to show the variations in his appearance over the long months in which he served : and in this case I haven't attempted any kind of scenic background to make him disappear into , since it would be very time consuming and obscure the detail.
The head is a portrait from photos taken in 1945 .

He waded ashore and went straight into action on D-Day , and during the first months of the campaign was dressed and equipped as shown in this first figure :


This shows the veil on the helmet down : he could see through this perfectly well .

When secure behind cover he could lift it :




This one above shows him with his compass in hand : a very important aid to pinpointing enemy activity, and locating his own position .

The third shows the closed scout telescope : the metalwork was of blackened brass , with a leather binding . The telescope was usually only used from the prone position , because it need to be supported to use effectively :



The Outfit :

Battledress , Denison smock : modified with cuffs made from socks , a full-length zip , and a telescope pocket at the left rear : this was all done by the Ordnance tailors, and became an almost standard modification for snipers .
The webbing , blancoed dark green and with the brasses painted with standard green paint (" jeep paint ", probably Khaki Drab , the slightly greener British equivalent of Olive Drab ) comprised belt, braces , e-tool to dig himself into a shallow scrape, haversack containg waterbottle and food ( chocolate and sweets included ). Another waterbottle on a spare brace , .38 pistol & ammo pouch .
FS knife tied to his lower leg : this was mostly used for probing for mines ; it started matt black , but daily use wore off the finish , so it was quite shiny by the end of the War .
No.4 ( T ) rifle well camouflaged with scrim , binoculars (painted green )worn round the neck and often tucked into the top of the smock ; and the Scout telescope carried shut in the special pocket at the left rear hip of the Denison :



Ammunition and compass in his pockets.

Unusually , Harry always wore a helmet , particularly after it saved his life in Normandy during a mortar barrage . It had a conventional hessian cover , green net with scrim , and a torn and scrimmed face veil mounted on the front , which could be draped over the rifle telescope when observing.
Many snipers preferred soft headgear , such as the cap-comforter , but of course camo nets were worn on top .
Face camouflage was very important : at sniper school , they had Max Factor make-up , but that was unavailable on campaign , so he tiger-striped his face and blackened his hands with soot from the cooking pots.
This inevitably varied from day to day :



Sandbags over the boots were an occasional addition : they broke up the outline of the feet when lying in more exposed positions , and also helped hide footprints :



From the rear you can see the e-tool , the pistol case , and the haversack : he always wore these slung on one shoulder rather than crossed on his chest , because they would not then constrict his chest when lying -up:



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He was wounded by a mortar in Normandy ; recovered , and then reposted to the Hallamshire Battalion of the Yorks & Lancaster Regt. , in the 49th " Polar Bear " Division, with whom he served for the remainder of the campaign , through to the end in May 1945..

The outfit in the first figure above was his preferred and usual wear , but once the winter came he was issued with a camouflaged Windproof suit , which he sometimes wore in preference to the Denison during the colder weather:





At the time he was under the impression that the Windproof was in some way experimental , which suggests that it was not by any means a universal issue , at least in his division , but we now know that in some Divisions , such as the 52nd Lowland Division, it was standard issue to all the Infantry .
This picture also shows the silenced Sten which he carried for a brief while : it turned out to have been ruined before he got it , by someone firing it a lot on automatic , and the silencer no longer worked properly . It was also a nuisance to carry , so he didn't use it for very long:



On his belt is the .38 pistol , and the Sykes-Fairburn fighting knife , by now carried in an American scabbard he had scrounged from a US soldier :



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1944-45 was a very cold winter , with a lot of snow , and often a snow-suit was more appropriate : this was cut like the Windproof , and on limited issue to patrols and snipers .
Harry modified his snow suit by painting it with green stripes (" jeep paint " again ), which broke up his outline ; the snow was not always deep, but patchy and persistent .
He also added some white bandages to the rifle and helmet camouflage.
The equipment was worn mostly underneath :



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There is a quite well-known picture of Harry wearing the Windproof outfit for a publicity photo, taken by the Army Film and Photographic unit in Arnsberg Caserne in the summer of 1945 : as he explained to me , this was a rush job , and since he has no face camo nor scrim on the rifle, it is an unrealistic portrayal of what he looked like in the field : however , it's a nice pic , and I couldn't resist trying to fake it !



And with the colour restored:



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He has also given me a just post-war photo showing him looking very smart , wearing a new 1946 pattern BD , with the "American " faced collar , and various badges.
For this figure , I have slightly back-dated this rig to recreate his appearance as it might have been at the end of the War in May 1945, since I don't have a 1946 pattern BD !
By that time he was a Sniper Sergeant , and along with all the non-commisioned ranks since December ' 44 he was permitted a tie when walking out : on the tie is a gold tie-pin, worn in the manner of , and as a tribute to , Major Hesketh-Pritchard , the great sniping instructor.
The badges were , from the top :
the Hallamshire shoulder title , the Polar Bear division sign , the York & Lancaster silver rose , then the crossed rifles of a Musketry instructor worn over the Sergeant's stripes .
On the right forearm , four service stripes ; on the left , two gold wound stripes.
Medal ribbons were not worn until some time after the end of the War:





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Making the figures : Everything is DML or BBI , but much of it heavily modified . The webbing is all rebuilt , and I turned and cast the Scout telescope .
Richie Elbourne retailored the Denison , which I have slightly repainted to improve the red-brown , and provided the snowsuit , to which I've added the lower pocket flaps .
The Head was cast to provide several copies : the face camo of course rather messes these up , so I've kept the original for the last two figures .The camo is actually gouache , so could be washed off .
The scrim on the helmet and rifle is made by cutting up an old pale tan shirt , then painting 6" squares of it various greens and browns . Once dry these are cut into scale strips and attached . The sandbags were sewn from some unbleached linen .
The rifle slings are variously my own and the Newline version .

These figures are all going to good homes .

My unreserved thanks to Harry Furniss , and Martin Pegler, and Richie Elbourne for the snow suit and converting the Denison smock , making these figures possible.

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It might be worth saying finally that each sniper was given considerable latitude in what they wore and how they worked : it all depended on circumstances of terrain , mission , and weather ; so although the outfits in these pics are" typical " , and are supported by other sniper's descriptions , there are no absolute rules to lay down .

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wave man TDY staff
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41,776 Posts
A right fine reference for a late-war sniper, down to the small details. Better than many publications on the subject, for all the information. Splendid work.
 

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Registered
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809 Posts
I loved reading this and studying the pics again with the info handy.
Great work. An honour to the Britisch sniper, well deserved. You did them proud!
Museum quality kitbashing.
My compliments.
 

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3,876 Posts
looks great! very british looking!
There is a quite well-known picture of Harry wearing the Windproof outfit for a publicity photo, taken by the Army Film and Photographic unit in Arnsberg Caserne in the summer of 1945 : as he explained to me , this was a rush job , and since he has no face camo nor scrim on the rifle, it is an unrealistic portrayal of what he looked like in the field : however , it’s a nice pic , and I couldn’t resist trying to fake it ! this pic is da best!
 

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1:6 puppy
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985 Posts
i think we have a contender for 'sniper of the year bash'.this is just amazing.i have a picture of him in my sniping book by mark spicer.first rate all the way.top notch bash and i love that snow camo.right in the 10 ring.
 
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