The Skills, the Weapons, and the Experiences
By Adrian Gilbert

06 August 2001
By Mike Chambers

Non-fiction books about snipers come in two classes: personal experience books and historical reference books. SNIPER is a well-researched, well-written book of the second genre. History books containing this much information have a tendency to put the reader to sleep. Mr. Gilbert avoids this by adding enough action scenes to keep the reader's blood flowing.

SNIPER has chapters dedicated to the basics of the sniper's craft but it is in no way a training manual. This book's main focus is providing a general overview of sniper-tactics and -use, by various nations, throughout history.

Adrian Gilbert starts his story in the War for American Independence. He follows the use of precision riflemen through the American Civil War, WW1, WW2 (both Eastern and Western Theaters), the Korean War, Vietnam, and through to today. Mr. Gilbert also emphasizes the training, or lack thereof, between these wars.

During his study of the War for American Independence, Mr. Gilbert shows how in June, 1775, the American Continental Congress, in authorizing the raising of ten independent companies, gave birth to what became the sniper. These riflemen were armed with 45 cal. Kentucky rifles while standard troops were armed with smoothbore muskets. The muskets were chosen because they were faster to reload. The Kentucky rifle was accurate to 400 yards, over four times the range of the smoothbore musket. The riflemen were dressed in fringed buckskin clothes and carried tomahawks and knives. The standard troops of the day were dressed in much more colorful uniforms and carried bayonets.

In response to the threat of the Kentucky rifle, Englishman Captain Patrick Ferguson developed a breech loading rifle that was both accurate and fast loading. Ferguson chose not to shoot General George Washington in the back, missing his chance at altering history. Shortly afterward an American rifleman shot Ferguson in 1780. After his death his rifle corps was disbanded.

In his study of the American Civil War, Gilbert covers the many innovations in small arms, including the telescopic weapon sight, the origination of the term sharpshooter, and the development of counter-sniper tactics. The psychological effects of sniper fire are also touched on here.

In the chapter covering WW1 Mr. Gilbert describes how the Germans were the first to acknowledge the suitability of the scope sighted bolt action rifle to the sniper role. The Germans are also given credit for the practice of the sniper moving alone or in pairs. The success of the Germans in sniping brought the British back to the reality of the benefits of sniping, but interest waned after the war. The origination of the term sniper is covered in this chapter, with credit given to the British. The use of the sniper team as skilled observers is also covered in this chapter.

Gilbert describes the importance of stalking skills in the chapter on WW2. The Germans had more accurate weapons, but the Soviets were able to overcome this advantage by developing superior stalking skills. This is shown in a blow-by-blow commentary of the battle between Vasili Zaitsev and Major Konings during the Battle of Stalingrad. Camouflage is also covered in this chapter. Although the ghillie suit is mentioned, it seems that smocks and veils were more common. The Germans and Soviets are also represented as more dedicated to the training of snipers, while the Americans and British tended to issue the weapons to men who had a natural aptitude for it. What training that was done is seen as inadequate and non-uniform. Both European and Pacific theaters are covered, as is the development of the M1C and M1D by the Americans (and whether or not they were an improvement over the Springfield that preceded them).

The time between WW2 and the Korean War is shown as a low point in sniper development and training. Only the British Royal Marines and the United States Marine Corps preserved scout/sniper methods and training in the west, while the Soviets maintained their snipers as a standard element of every Red Army Company.

In the short chapter covering the Korean War, Gilbert gives the U.S. Marine Corps credit for successful use of their sniping skills and covers the use of the .50 BMG for long-range shooting. The use and training of snipers by the bulk of the western armies was still considered a battlefield expedient, and was ignored.

The chapter on the Vietnam War shows how the American sniper finely became legitimized, due largely to the work of a Marine officer Lieutenant (later Major) Jim Land. Land is credited for setting up the Scout/Sniper School in Hawaii in 1960, the implementation of the Winchester model 70, and sniper TO/E (table of organization and equipment). There are a few descriptions of combat scenarios in this chapter showing the tactics of NVA snipers as well as U.S snipers, including Major Land, Gunnery Sergeant Hathcock, and Joseph T. Ward. The further evaluation of rifles and scopes by the Marine Corps is also covered in this chapter with the change to the Remington model 700-40 in .308 cal. and the Redfield accurange 3x9 scope.

Mr. Gilbert gives an interesting insight in the chapter on British sniping after 1945. The battles covered include Maylaya, Borneo, Djebel Akhdar in Oman in the 1950's, the Aden Emergency 1963-67, Dhofar, action against IRA terrorists in the 1970's, and the Falkland Islands in 1982 (which confirmed the usefulness of sniping to the British Army and encouraged further development).

The chapter titled "The basics of sniper training" covers just that: the basics. It is in no way a comprehensive training manual, but it does give an overview of the skills required and a few exercises or drills to help acquire them.

The chapter on recent conflicts gives a modern picture of what a sniper can experience. Examples include Lebanon in 1982, Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, The Gulf War in 1990-91, the Balkans, and Soviet experiences in Afghanistan in the 1980's.

In the last chapters of SNIPER, Mr. Gilbert gives a country-by-country review of sniper rifles, including a brief description of the specifications of each. My only criticisms of this section are that the average accuracy of each weapon was not listed, and that pictures of each rifle would have aided in identifying the rifles in the future.

I found SNIPER to be a well-written and informative text, giving the reader a good overview of the sniper's role. The best use I have found for this book is as a reference to further study. Mr. Gilbert did a great job of giving credit to his sources, and the bibliography of this book is an easy to use guide to the best reference materials on snipers and their art.

This book is available at Amazon via the Sniper Country Bookstore, in the Snipers section.

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