In November 2007 I got an email from Greg Nichols at Paladin Press, asking whether I would be interested in reviewing Maj. John Plaster's latest book, "The History of Sniping and Sharpshooting", to come out early in 2008. Of course I would. What a question to ask of somebody from a site called Sniper Country.
Shortly before Christmas 2007 the book arrived, and I was immediately impressed. Due to their prices I don't have valuables such as the Chandlers' series (Death from Afar) on the US Marine Corps' sniping, nor Peter Senich's books on sniping in specific wars (WWI, WWII, Vietnam, etc.) – though I would love to still get them. Thus I don't have anything to compare this volume with, but then, quality shows and need not be compared to be appreciated. And this book shows quality from start to finish.
A large book, coffee-table quality, with lots of drawings, illustrations, photos and facsimiles of brochures – all black-and-white - it is an excellent read. Its 670-odd pages are crammed with information, and the bibliography alone is a veritable treasure trove.
It is divided into six parts, namely:
Each of these parts is further divided into chapters covering specific periods of interest, for example The Asian Wars is divided into two chapters, one each on Korea and Vietnam.
The book starts at the beginning of it all, in essence the first rifled-barreled rifles appearing around 1450. And it ends with sniping in Afghanistan and Iraq as late as 2007.
And basically every page I said to myself "I have to remember this" only to repeat it later on the same page, or on the next page. The book does not go into all the technical detail of every firearm discussed, neither is that the intention. It discusses the different developments and how it evolved through the ages, and how these developments affected the wars they were used in, from being new in one and the standard in the next, leading to new innovations. And around every war or era it also goes into more details on specific inventors, shooters and shots, and their influences on it all.
An incredible revelation is that, after EVERY war, right from the start until after Vietnam, that which was just learned at the cost of much blood and many lives, were just discarded, and all training stopped. All the lessons learned regarding musketry, accurate shooting, sharpshooting, sniping – all just swept under the carpet. And after Vietnam it may have well happened again, had it not been for Major Jim Land, who bullied Marine HQ until the Marine Corps started a sniper school. Thus he ensured that with the Desert Storm invasion of Iraq in the early 1990's, the US Armed Forces were for the first time ready in terms of their sniper capability when going into a war.
And that is my one beef with this book, albeit a small and understandable one – it is written very US-centric. Other countries are mentioned almost as a matter of fact, or merely because they are part of the same war as the US – most often on the other side. In those cases Plaster does not neglect them, not at all, but other than the US conflicts he barely touches anything else. Being a South African I would obviously have wanted to see more on the Anglo-Boer War, but that is only very briefly mentioned. But then, there's not necessarily all that comprehensive documentation available on specific shooters and techniques employed in all these other countries and conflicts.
And it also mentions on of our Sniper Country own – Brian (In)Sain, and his efforts with the Adopt a Sniper project/organization. One whole page is dedicated to Brian and the wonderful work he and his fellows do in equipping current-day snipers deployed all over the world.
This is almost a lifetime of work, being the result of Plaster's own research, originally just done in order to be able to better teach his sniper students, later to ensure that the information is not lost – in all the work of almost three decades. Drawing on his 36-month combat experience as a operative with the top-secret MACV-SOG in Vietnam and later 24 years as a sniper instructor, Plaster combines this with his writing skills to put together a very definitive work.
This book is a must on the shelves of anybody who is serious about precision shooting, or who is in any way interested in the development and influence of firearms over the centuries. At $90US it is not cheap, especially if one has to multiply that by eight or more to get it into South Africa, but it is well worth the money.