Colonel William S. Brophy & Sniping In The Korean War


As the Korea war rages in 1952 and A captain in IX Corps Ordnance and veteran of infantry combat during WW2  in the Pacific , William S. Brophy  recognized a total lack of US Army sniping equipment and marksmanship compared to its current and future needs.  In an effort to reverse some of this and educated units in the field he visited several units to discus with and educate the on sniping equipment and tactics.

At this time the Army had  the scoped m1 rifle as their standard sniping rifle.   This system limited the sniper to a range not much greater than 600 yards.     To demonstrate what a skilled marksman with proper equipment could do and to hopefully get the Army to pay serious attention, Captain Brophy  bought at his own cost a Winchester Model 70  “Bull gun” in ,30-06  and Unertl 10X target optic. The Winchester rifle listed as the “bull gun” was a target gun with heavy target stock and 28 inch heavy barrel.

Brophy  using his rifle and skill developed during a career in competitive shooting was able to register several Chinese communist kills.  The reaction to his ability was quick and people began to take note.   However it was still the usual position of the Army that the weapon was not durable enough for combat use.  Brophy and  the selected men who used the rifle to demonstrate  what it could do and endure did finally get the Army to seriously consider the Model 70 as a sniping arm.

Ultimately it was decided that it was not desirable to inject a special rifle into the supply system with a requirement for match ammo for it.    Oddly enough over the coming years in Vietnam match ammo which was earlier labeled too hard to supply to troops in the field was readily available to snipers so much so that not one ever said that concern for having enough match ammo never crossed their minds.

The Model 70 was not the only effort then Captain Brophy put forth to improve US Army sniper ability.  While out sniping with the Model 70, targets appeared beyond the range of even the match .30cal sniper rifle .    To remedy this Brophy had the barrel of a Browning .50cal aircraft model machine gun mounted to a Soviet PTRD 14.5mm antitank rifle.   A butt pad and bipod were also added as well as a 20x Unertl optic.

With this set up, Brophy and his team was able to make several Communists into good communists.  Hits with the 50 were recorded at ranges from 1,000 yards to 2,000.

This rifle went on to inspire several other of its types with different  barrel and scope combinations.   This attempt at a longer range sniping arm no doubt was one of the predecessors to today’s Barrett M82.  Below Brophy demonstrates one of the 50 cal rifles in Korea to higher officers.

The concept of the 50 caliber sniping rifle was further developed by the AMTU and Col. F.B Conway.  Later attempts used optics such as the ART scope system and even a Boys Antitank rifle.

And of course one of the more more famous early 50 cal sniping systems.

In these early attempts , accuracy of the ammo was the main problem holding back  the weapons.  Standard service ammo was  the only thing available for use  at the time.

Colonel Brophy passed away in 1991 and left behind an amazing record of accomplishment as a shooter, an  Army officer who served in WW2, Korea and Vietnam and writer of many definitive books on US small arms.


  1. I’d say it’s a pretty fair estimation that Bill Brophy forgot more about small arms than the goofs in the Ordnance hierarchy who came out with such pronouncements as the Win70 wasn’t durable enough for military use. It was, after all, just a slimmed down, slicked-up Mauser action – pretty much on-par with the 1903 Springfield.

    Bill Brophy wrote several books on firearms – one on the Springfield 1903 and all the attachments, doo-dads etc that went on that rifle. Another was the history of Marlin firearms, and the last were a set of two books on LC Smith shotguns. One of these books was a collection of the engineering drawings for the LC’s, some tooling drawings, etc. I have the 1903 book and the LC Smith books. Bill Brophy was a very good writer of gun documentation – not too dry, not florid and puffed-up like W.W. Greener was. Pretty straight-ahead stuff, on par with what Townsend Whelen was noted for writing.

    The Unertl scope with external adjustable mounts – now that was a little bit fiddly, but I think a sniper who cared about his weapon would have kept it in good shape. Those fixed-power Unertl target scopes still have a following today. There’s very little to go wrong with them.

  2. Wonder how long those scopes lasted on the tripod mounted 50 cal. Bet they took a lot of abuse on top of that monster!

    • The fixed-power Unertls were ferociously tough scopes. They had no zoom, no focus (that I recall), no windage or elevation. They were nothing more or less than a fixed-power telescope with a set of crosshairs in them.

      The way you adjusted windage & elevation was through the external mounting system. Here’s a pic of a Unertl that is off a rifle, so it’s easier to see what’s going on:

      OK, see that spring? The scope was allowed to free-recoil against that spring, so that’s how they protected the scope from heavy recoiling rifles – like your .50 Browning. They were already thinking about the recoil issues.

      In that picture, the bell on the right side of the pic is the objective, and on the left side is the eyepiece. Do you see the knobs on the rear mount? Those were your elevation and windage settings. The front had a gimble mount of sorts that would allow th escope to pivot on the front mount when you adjusted the rear mount for windage and elevation.

      • Unertls do have a way to focus. The objected on the target models had an adustable Obj lens that you could focus much like older redfields. The model meant for field and varmint hunting also had an ability to focus though it was a little more involved, even the BV20 models could be focused, most of the focus was on the objective lens, other later models would focus through the eye piece

        • Learn something new every day!

          I’ve never looked through one where I felt a need to focus. I always thought they were “just right” the way I picked them up.

    • They are essnetial solid tubes with the glass and cross hairs. the scope set suspended it its windage and elevation mounts and could move during recoil. the pring put it back into “battery” they are very hard to break. even then they were very simple to work on and could even be serviced at home if you knew enough about them. The unertls are so tough in fact, that when I first was introduced to BR shooting and the 50 cal BR was still new in the early 90s, the unertls were still considered the only scopes that could be trusted not to break on a 50

  3. Very interesting article. I had never heard of LTC Brophy before. What sources did you use when researching this piece? It has inspired me and I would like to do some more research. Keep up the excellent work!

    • His books., old Precision Shooting articles, The Long Range War, The One Shot War and The Complete Book of US Sniping, by Peter Senich, Death From Afar from Norm and Rocky Chandler and some other things

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