Herbert W. McBride

“Born on October 15, 1873 in Waterloo, Indiana to Robert W and Ida S. Chamberlain McBride, Herbert had a long family tradition of military service. His grandfather was killed in the Mexican War, and his father served the Union cavalry during the  War of Northern Aggression. His father had a distinguished legal career, becoming a judge on the Indiana Supreme Court.”

“While not much was is know about his youth, Herbert was very interested in military service and small arms.  He was also very involved in the Indiana National Guard before WW1 and by 1915 had over 21 years of service  and held the rank of Captain. There he  also coached a highly successful  rifle team.”

Fond of hunting as a youth he would accompany his father on hunting trips to the area around Saginaw Michigan. He said he remembered  at about this time that he placed about 10th in the local shoot match where his prize was a can of oysters. The top prizes being hams and turkeys. He declared ” that no medal or other thing  have I won since by shooting ever game me the thrill that that did ”

During the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897 he said he caught gold fever and spent more than 2 years in northern Canada. On his way back he hoped to go with a bunch of recruits to  South Africa to see service in the Boer War, but was not able to, for regulations were such that only British subjects were eligible. This was in 1900.

Returning to Indianapolis he rejoined his old guard outfit., Company D, 2nd Infantry. His commanding officer believed that individual proficiency with the rifle was the very highest attainment of the doughboy. McBride said that this that if a man could not qualify as a Marksman in his first year he had to get out, if not a sharpshooter by his second year he was gone, and finally after three years he must qualify as Expert or he could not reenlist. McBride became the captain of his company in 1907 and shot with them at the National Matches up to and including 1911.

In March of 1914 while working for the railroad on the Grand Trunk railway, he learned of events in Mexico. Believing that this would mean war and being “double damned if i am going to miss it” he started  out on ST. patricks day , 1914 after  ” a good feed and a bottle of johnnie walker I hit the trail”  Ten hours later he was at the nearest telegraph office.  He  sent a telegram to his father asking him if he though this would mean war?  His father’s reply was yes and for him to hurry back.

Returning to Indianapolis he was frustrated with the reluctance of American politicians to become involved in the Great War. He decided to resign from the Guard and once again go back to Canada to enlist in the 21st Battalion at Kingston as a private.  He was assigned to a machine gun platoon, but was happy to report “we also carried rifles”The men were issued Canadian built Ross Mark 3 rile in .303 british.  The men were carefully coached in marksmanship  by the time they shipped to England  and had a reputation as riflemen.

After a period in the machine gun platoon McBride was promoted to section leader, whose  job it was to find suitable positions to emplace the machine guns to give protection to the crews and fields of fire into no man’s land. He was well suited to this work from his hunting experience. This work enabled him to move around the battlefield unobserved by German snipers. Soon he was offered excellent opportunities to scout and to use the rifle he carried to fire on the enemy.

According to McBride “ up until this time I had taken the war more as  a more or  less impersonal affair and had not gone out of my way to look for trouble or for someone to kill, but on November 14th, a German sniper killed Charlie Wendt, one of my boys. This put me on the warpath right.”

On that day “the weather was setting in the bad and during the worst of it very little sniping went on, so we often went in and out by the overland route in broad daylight. This November 14th came  on a Sunday and it was just such an occasion for over land travel. The rain delayed the 20th battalion from reliving  us until about noontime. The trenches were crowded with troops and the going so bad that I talked it over with my crowd and we decided to save several hours time by going out down the open road. Al hands for it, so I started first  and had the others follow at fifty yard intervals. Our route  was in plain sight of the German lines, and we got well out under cover of a small hill without a single shot being fired at us. From here on out we were practically safe. as the ground was partially screened with bushes and the trees, so the bulk of the party went right on out across this covered ground, But Charlie Wendt and I stopped at the small hill to arange about the relief of a gun crew I had stationed there, Charlie stayed with me  few minutes and then went on by himself, saying he would meet me at the redoubt farther out, I continued t my walk with Endersby, the man in charge of the gun, and all at once Heard Charlie calling,m “oh Mac.” and looked to see him lying on the ground about a hundred yards back off, shot through the abdomen.”

McBride and Endersby  both rand to help him. Endersby then ran back to call for stretcher bearers, while McBride bandaged Charlies’s wound. While McBride knew of the seriousness of the wound, he thought Charlie would pull through, but Charlie didn’t think so. ” Finally he told me to get about ten of them for him and I  told him I would do so “

According to McBride the sniper continued to fire but that it was a miserable display of shooting and he told Charlie that he ( McBride) would be ashamed to have such a rotten shot in our  outfit. McBride felt it was a stroke of luck that the sniper had managed to hit Charlie at all. The bearers came up and took Charlie away, but the next day McBride learned that he had died.   Not long after this , in the same area McBride felt that the same sniper was responsible for shooting down several unarmed stretcher bearers attempting to bring in a wounded man from an exposed area behind the British line. A total of six men were shot, 2 soldiers and 4 stretcher bearers who were clearly marked with red crosses, from a range of about a hundred yards. At that distance McBride felt it was plainly visible that they were bearers and not to be shot at while bringing in the wounded. Of the six shot five died from their wounds, Angered by this event, McBride vowed to Charlie Wendt and these men “should  go to their God in state: with fifty  file of Germans to open Heavens gate”

With permission from his commanding officer Colonel Hughes, McBride went back to a newly organized sniper school at the village of La-Clytte to be issued a Ross rifle with a Warner& Swasey telescopic sight and a spotting scope with a tripod stand,  McBride thought the best feature of the scope was this it mounted on the left side of the rifle, which left  the iron sights to be used for close up work. He had some trouble with the mount screw becoming jarred loose from the rifle recoil.  So he used safety razor blade salt water to rust the screw tight. He later said this it worked so well  that “I was nearly court martialled as the armorer couldn’t get the mount off!” The Ross rifle that he was issued was one that had been built for the Canadian Army rifle team to use to compete in the American National Matches shot at Camp Perry Ohio in 1913 and was extremely accurate.

McBride now teamed up with a friend, one William Bouchard, who with his sharp eyes was to be McBride’s observer on the spotting scope. The US Army and Marines  in WW2, Korea and Vietnam later used many lessons learned by these two in the trenches of the Western Front of the first world war.

McBride was not in favor of the “lone” sniper, he thought a man on his own would bot do as well as a proper,paired team of two, the sniper and observer. Not so far away in their sector was a small hill behind the Canadian trenches where there were the shelled ruins of a french farmhouse and barn. When the Cananians had arrived in this sector they found a dead French sniper in the barn and 8 dead German soldiers nearby in the front of the farm assumed to have been killed by the sniper.  His Lebel rifle still protruding from a window. So the place became known as “sniper barn.”

The barn was some 500 yards from the German lines and being slightly higher gave good observation. McBride knew it would be foolhardy to sniper from the buildings, as the farm was shelled almost every day. But a few well protected  areas in front of the buildings  in a hedgerow offered a good view. This tactic of using a “hide” in an area close to the obvious  place or building that would draw the enemy’s attention without being too near that place  would become a tactic used by snipers in wars to come.  McBride reported that “fortunately, although the shrapnel bullets cut off two legs of the tripod and one buried itself in the stock of my rifle, neither one of us was actually hit, although we both had one or more holes through our caps and tunics. That was before the advent of the tin hat. We were all the time working on new nests and, eventually  had six all well concealed and offering good fields of fire””

When the two built a new sniping nest, they would immediately sight in after finding the ranges to all prominent objects in the area. The information was noted in a book that McBride carried for the purpose. Oright in front of that big tree just to the right of number 4 post, see him”? McBride  spotted him, he was apparently a German officer observing their lines though  binoculars.  “He was standing upright with the large tree right behind him. McBride said he had looked over the officers several times and only the kids’ keen eyesight had found him but when Bouchard pointed it out, McBride saw him quite clearly. Finding him again through the rifle scope. McBride fired and the officer dropped, shot int he chest.”   The two lay motionless for  a long time  while looking  for something else to shoot when suddenly a bullet hit in their nest. At first both thought it a stray round fired that happened to come there way as strays came across the front lines all the time. Then a short time later another came into the nest and went through McBride’s cap barely missing his head. Then a third shot came hitting his spotter. This was not random stray rounds, a German sniper had found them. Both men carefully crawled out  backwards and escaped to the ruins of the farm for cover. After checking Bouchard’s wounds , the bullet had skimmed his head and shoulder and continued to hit the calf of his left leg.   After dressing the wounds they wisely decided  to try it again from another constructed hide site on the opposite side of the farm ruins.

The nest they used next had been constructed at night since it was about 100 feet out from the corner of the furthers building out.  This nest was in an open field that was reached by  a tunnel like trench about 3 feet high and 3 feet wide. They  had removed the earth back to the barn setting the sod aside the trench which when covered with boards and the sod put back on appeared to heave never been disturbed. This took many nights of hard labor to finish. The rest was large enough to hold them both, with two holes in front for the rifle and spotting scope with brush and glass in front to screen them from the Germans.  After being finished, they left it unused for over a week to wait and see if the Germans had detected it. Since it had not been shelled it apparently had not been discovered.

They entered and waited. Nothing was spotted that day, until they were readying to leave. Then Bouchard noticed some activity on the German side. It seemed some construction of a new machine gun emplacement was going on behind a mud covered cloth whose purpose was to hide the work being done. These  clothes were used up and down the trenches to hide  construction as they blended in with the muddy terrain to make observation of the work parties behind them  difficult. Taking a shot through the middle of the cloth, McBride made the Germans scramble out of the trench climbing over one another. Bouchard thought one was hit”

As time passed, McBride and his spotter racked up over 100 German kills,more KIA  than most infantry companies.  By 1916 the British and the Canadians had put together their own organized, official sniping programs.  These turned out many of the desperately needed snipers. When it was discovered McBride had been a Captain before the war, he was quickly promoted and finished the war as a Captain.  Sad to say Couchard was transferred to another unit and was killed on September 15, 1916  by enemy shell fire.  McBride finished  his service with the Canadian Army in Feb 1917. He was wounded a total of seven times while in the service of the Canadian Army. After being retired from the Canadian  service due to wounds, he reentered the Indiana National Guard as a Captain in 1917 and was assigned as an instructor to the 139th Machine Gun Battalion, 38th Division. He served out the rest of the war at Camp Perry teaching marksmanship  marksmanship and sniping.  He resigned from the Army in  October 1918 and spent several years  after the war in the lumber business around Portland Oregon. Much of the 5 years  before his death writing his classic book on sniping in WW1 and his experiences , ” A Rifleman Went To War”  which was published in 1935.  He died in  1933.

 

On November 9, 1935 McBride’s former commanding officer , Brigadier General W.S. Hughes wrote about the author of “A Rifleman Went To War” as follows.    The Author of this book, the late Herbert W. McBride , served in my Battalion as a private, non commissioned officer and officer. He was one of the best fighting men I knew and was promoted and decorated on my recommendations.    He was considered one of the best machine gunners in the allied army. Also  one of the best with a rifle.  Herbert McBride was outstanding as a fighting man, fearless. untiring , a genius for invention and always seeking authority to be given opportunity of damaging the enemy. I had the greatest admiration for Captain McBride as a soldier and with an army of such men it would be an easy matter to win against any troops. It was such fighting ability that enabled my 21st Battalion to come home with the record of never having been given a black eye in the over four years of active participation in the war. They never went after anything they did not take, and they never gave up anything they captured.  Of the original 1058, less than 150 are  now still alive, most of them buried in Flanders’  Fields and in the Somme.”

 

The Emma Gees- H.W McBride

A Rifleman Went To War- H.W. McBride

PS Magazine – Bill Bentz 

The Complete Book Of US Sniping  – Senich

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