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Snipers at War: An Equipment and Operations History from Naval Institute Press

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The sniper is probably the most misunder­stood, and by some accounts the most controversial, soldier on the battlefield. To some, the sniper is a master marksman who heroically strikes fear into the enemy from great distances, while to the less educated (Michael Moore comes to mind), the sniper is a coward who hides in the shadows and preys on unsuspecting victims.

Author John Walter proves that the word “coward” should never be used in the same sentence as “sniper­ in his new account on the subject. While Snipers at War: An Equipment and Operations History, published by Greenhill Books, is far from the first serious study of these skilled shooters, it is arguably one of the best yet most concise looks into these top shots.

In just 294 pages, Walter is able to chronicle the history of marksmen from the age of bows to the latest high-powered rifles, offering insights on individuals, weapons and even tactics. This new work breaks down the tools of the sniper’s trade, and acknowledges that for much of its history, luck played as much a role in mak­ing the kill shot as skill.

Walter, a noted author on small arms with more than 70 books to his name, is further able to explain how advancements in firearms technology have increased the abilities of snipers and how the right weapon can make all the difference.

An entire chapter (“What Does Sniper Need?”) addresses the development of small arms, and just as importantly, the evolution of telescopic sights. This is all presented in a way that would appeal to learned readers, including those who think they know everything about snipers, as well as complete gun novices.

As an author, Walter's style may appeal more to the veteran shooter, but this book will still be appreciated by history buffs and even those with anything more than a passing interest in the subject.

The majority of this work actually tracks the evolution of the marksman on the battlefield, and Snipers at War includes dozens of vignettes on notable men such as Gerald Littlehales Goodlake, commander of the Guards Sharpshooters in the Crimean War; Arthur George Fulton, who had won two Olympic sharpshooting medals before being credited with more than 130 confirmed kills during World War I; and William Edward “Billy” Sing and Francis Pegahmagabow, the two deadliest snipers of WWI.

As one might expect, an entire section is devoted to the famous Soviet snipers of World War II, men and women alike, as well as Ger­ man snipers of the era. The book of course chronicles the snipers of the Vietnam War and even today’s continuing Global War on Terror. While many of these stories have been written in far greater detail, these accounts are nice concise recaps of these individual exploits.

Finally, the book also does an excellent job exploring the post-WWII era by highlighting the development of modern military snipers and the role these men continue to play on the battlefield to this day. Given that this subject has received much study, Walter has managed to provide detailed insight without creating an overly laborious analysis. If a sniper truly lives by the mantra of “one shot, one kill,” this could be considered the “one book, one read” on the topic.

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