“Sniper One: The Blistering True Story of a British Battle Group Under Siege” by Dan Mills

Sniper One: The Blistering True Story of a British Battle Group Under SiegeSniper One: The Blistering True Story of a British Battle Group Under Siege by Dan Mills
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book when I was going through a period of reading lots of the genre. Sniper One has to be one of the most honest stories I’ve ever read. Sergeant Dan Mills doesn’t hide anything.

The first thing that the reader has to accept is that snipers are a breed apart. They are specialists and they take great pride in their skill. To them, the more lethally effective they are, the better the chances of their comrades (and themselves) going home alive. If you deplore war, then don’t read the book! Dan Mills doesn’t pretend to be anything but a very effective specialist who enjoys being successful – bringing maximum harm to the enemy.  There’s one point in the story when the sniper squad are immensely excited to have access to the superior weaponry and ammunition of an American special forces member, which reveals just how these men think of their job.

The story involves the deployment of Dan Mills’ platoon of snipers, part of an infantry battalion, to southern Iraq. The battalion’s mission: win the hearts and minds of the local people. It was supposed to be no more than that. Unfortunately, events elsewhere had led to an explosion of violence in many areas, and the battalion walked right into a hornet’s nest that somebody else had just kicked! What followed was nothing less than a small contingent of soldiers trying to operate to mission intentions while virtually under siege from heavily armed militia. They were, effectively, engaged in the longest, most dangerous firefight any British troops had experienced in over half a century.

Mortars pounding the compound the soldiers operated from, militia attacking at every opportunity, these soldiers were isolated, fighting virtually alone. The snipers came into their own. They inflicted heavy damage on the enemy ruthlessly. But they were, after all, only a small platoon. Casualties mounted slowly, but they couldn’t afford any losses. And then the enemy came in waves that threatened to overrun the British position.

A tale of courage, brutal combat, and a soldier’s celebration of his comrades’ outstanding performance under impossible conditions, Sniper One is reminiscent of the famous Battle of Rorke’s Drift during the 19th Century Zulu War (filmed in Hollywood style as Zulu).

It’s not the only tale of British forces facing such a position. Many of those who have served in Afghanistan can tell similar tales of facing impossible odds under siege conditions. What’s remarkable here is the honest pleasure in the execution of combat skills expressed by Dan Mills. It’s also one of very few books concerning the war in Iraq.

I don’t hesitate in giving this book 5 stars, but I repeat my warning: if you are sensitive, don’t read it. And do remember that, while I believe many young people would learn valuable lessons from these books about real warfare, this is very definitely a book for adults!

View all my reviews on Goodreads

~ Steve

To Avoid Being Forgotten

Kendal War MemorialIn my library, I have several books by military personnel.  The oldest is an ebook of a diary from the Napoleonic Wars but the majority are written by men who have recently served in Afghanistan and Iraq.  This reflects my interest in military history.  Today, however, I was thinking about the plethora of modern books about real life experiences by our military.

Why are there so many?  Personally, I think it’s a demonstration of a desire to not be forgotten.  Not just those who wrote the books, but all those they served with.  War is, rightly, unpopular.  The political and economic aspects of war contribute in large portions to the unpopularity of most modern conflicts, and I can certainly understand that.  Sadly, this has produced a dread amongst our military personnel that we will forsake them.

We can honestly protest against war, especially when such is motivated by greed.  What we should never do is to treat those who serve as being part of that lust for money and power.  Nobody who serves can believe other than that they lay their lives on the line for just causes.  They don’t fight, and kill, and die to ensure that some business can improve their profits or gain an advantage.  They fight because that’s what they train for and are ordered to do.  They believe that they are helping the weak against the strong.  It may seem incredibly naïve but it’s simple fact.

Of course some know, in their hearts, that others have different agendas, but these men and women who risk so much believe that they can, and do, make a difference.  The number of books reflects a yearning to be understood and to be remembered.  Every time a soldier is abused by their countrymen, because of what they do, another knife is driven into the backs of all who serve.  By writing about what they have done, seen, and suffered, there is a hope that more will come to understand them.

Whatever may be said, soldiers fight first and foremost for their comrades.  It’s a survival essential.  Second, they believe that they serve to protect their homes, even when in distant lands.  Third, they believe that they can, and do, improve the lot of those who suffer under the heels of dictators and oppressive regimes.  If our military had been as proactive before the Second World War, would that war have happened as it did?  Could it have prevented the Holocaust?  We’ll never know, of course, but it may be that millions of lives could have been saved.

I find myself saddened that our bravest men and women are made to feel so insecure.  I’m also immensely grateful to those who write these books.  It will make it much harder to pretend that they were merely the tools of faceless companies and easily manipulated politicians.  Whatever the motivations at the top, we have a duty to acknowledge and remember those who risk all in the combat zone.

~ Steve

(Photograph, Kendal War Memorial, Copyright © Steve Smy, 2012.)