I was reading a review of a new book about two British Snipers called Dead Men Risen: The snipers’ story
Operating from a remote patrol base in Helmand, two British snipers were responsible for killing 75 Taliban fighters in just 40 days. In one remarkable feat of marksmanship, two insurgents were dispatched with a single bullet.
The arrival at the newly-established Patrol Base Shamal Storrai (Pashto for “North Star”) in late August 2009 of Serjeant Tom Potter and Rifleman Mark Osmond marked the start of an astonishing episode in the history of British Army sniping.
Within 40 days, the two marksmen from 4 Rifles, part of the Welsh Guards Battle group, had achieved 75 confirmed kills with 31 attributed to Potter and 44 to Osmond. Each kill was chalked up as a little stick man on the beam above the firing position in their camouflaged sangar beside the base gate – a stick man with no head denoting a target eliminated with a shot to the skull.
Osmond, 25, was an engaging, fast-talking enthusiast, eager to display his encyclopedic knowledge of every specification and capability of his equipment. He had stubbornly remained a rifleman because he feared that being promoted might lead to his being taken away from sniping, a job he loved and lived for. Potter, 30, was more laid back, projecting a calm professionalism and quiet confidence in the value of what he did.
Potter had notched up seven confirmed kills in Bara in 2007 and 2008 while Osmond’s total was 23. Both were members of the Green Jackets team that won the 2006 British Army Sniper Championships.
These guys can shoot.
Most of the kills were at a range of 1,200 metres using the 7.62 mm L96 sniper rifle.
The snipers used suppressors, reducing the sound of the muzzle blast. Although a ballistic crack could be heard, it was almost impossible to work out where the shot was coming from. With the bullet travelling at three times the speed of sound, a victim was unlikely to hear anything before he died.
Walkie-talkie messages revealed that the Taliban thought they were being hit from helicopters. The longest-range shot taken was when Potter killed an insurgent at 1,430 metres away. But the most celebrated shot of their tour was by Osmond at a range of just 196 metres.
On September 12th, a known Taliban commander appeared on the back of a motorcycle with a passenger riding pillion. There was a British patrol in the village of Gorup-e Shesh Kalay and under the rules of engagement, the walkie-talkie the Taliban pair were carrying was designated a hostile act. As they drove off, Osmond fired warning shots with his pistol and then picked up his L96, the same weapon – serial number 0166 – he had used in Iraq and on the butt of which he had written, ‘I love u 0166’.
Taking deliberate aim, he fired a single shot. The bike tumbled and both men fell onto the road and lay there motionless. When the British patrol returned, they checked the men and confirmed they were both dead, with large holes through their heads.
The 7.62 mm bullet Osmond had fired had passed through the heads of both men. He had achieved the rare feat of ‘one shot, two kills’ known in the sniping business as ‘a Quigley’. The term comes from the 1990 film Quigley Down Under in which the hero, played by Tom Selleck, uses an old Sharps rifle to devastating effect.
Most people would struggle to shoot a stationary target at 196m let alone two on a motorbike attempting to get out of Dodge fast. The fact that these two regularly knock over bad towel-heads at over 1000m is a testament to their skill.
Coincidentally on The Brigade was a photo of a British sniper using this exact weapon in the circumstances explained in the book.