‘Special Forces’ is becoming a much used and abused term to cover a growing number of military elite forces. Wellington had his ‘Rifles’ in the Peninsular War. They were specialist skirmish forces, snipers, and assistance for regular regiments. In WWII, the British SAS and SBS units were Special Forces deployed often on covert operations deep behind enemy lines. From there, the term has been used widely to the point where it may become meaningless. This new book defines what it means by Special Forces and describes the weapons which are used by similar organizations of many countries. The careful research and crisp text is supported by many photographs in full colour through the body of the book. A very worthwhile review of the types of weapons in use by Special Forces.
NAME: Guns of the Special Forces, 2001-2015
AUTHOR: Leigh Neville
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: 21st Century, 2001-2015, Special Forces, counter-terrorism, covert operations, elite troops, specialist firearms, automatic weapon, semi-automatic weapon, sniper rifle, guns, rifles, pistols, assault weapons
DESCRIPTION: ‘Special Forces’ is becoming a much used and abused term to cover a growing number of military elite forces. Wellington had his ‘Rifles’ in the Peninsular War. They were specialist skirmish forces, snipers, and assistance for regular regiments. In WWII, the British SAS and SBS units were Special Forces deployed often on covert operations deep behind enemy lines. From there, the term has been used widely to the point where it may become meaningless. This new book defines what it means by Special Forces and describes the weapons which are used by similar organizations of many countries. The careful research and crisp text is supported by many photographs in full colour through the body of the book. A very worthwhile review of the types of weapons in use by Special Forces.
During WWII, W H B Smith produced the first edition of his classic ‘Small Arms of the World’. His specialist knowledge and network of contacts in the arms industry gave him access to new weapons, sometimes before they arrived with troops. He provided a valuable information service to the US Military and obtained examples of enemy weapons from early pre-production onwards. His book on the subject was not unsurprisingly encyclopedic and it continued to be updated by Joseph E Smith (no relation) after the death of its originator. For each weapon, there was considerable detail, including use and field stripping information. That type of book is very difficult, possibly impossible, to produce today. In its place many authors have produced books covering parts of the story of guns and this new book is a good example of the approach. It can be argued that a narrow field can be easier to read and satisfy a specialist readership. However, it is really more a question of economics and time, particularly the time an author needs to adequately research, and the amount of knowledge the author already has of the broad subject.
In this book, the period chosen, 2001-2015 is a very interesting period for Special Forces and for their weapons. It covers the expansion of Special Forces to target terrorists in the environment that has developed since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Each country has slightly different approaches to Special Forces and the weapons that they carry. There is further division in that several countries now have two main forms of Special Forces.
The classic SAS/SBS approach, of using small teams of self-supporting specializations, can provide the greatest variation of weaponry. Each individual, in a 4, 6 or 8 man team, is free to choose virtually any type of personal gun or guns. Apart from personal preferences, the nature of each individual’s duty within a team will influence the suitability of particular weapons. Collectively, those weapons may produce a powerful capability. Each nation also usually has a ‘signature’ weapon that is probably unique to that country’s Special Forces. It may be a gun, but it is frequently a grenade, a knife or a bow. This type of team and its weapons is particularly suited to deep penetration covert operations under extreme conditions and the benefits of standardization that are very important to large military formations do not apply in the same way to small Special Force units. As covert operations are frequently carried out deep behind enemy lines, and with few re-supply opportunities, the individuals may opt for weapons of types used by the enemy, or at least weapons in the same calibres, making it practical to seize guns and ammunition from the enemy.
The other type of Special Forces comprise much larger units and may be very similar in size and operation to traditional military formations. The larger the unit, the more likely it is to employ the same types of weapon used by regular units in conventional actions. What may happen is that the units are issued with current service weapons, but then take in a small number of special weapons to meet special requirements. This is not unlike Wellington’s use of the Rifles and their Baker rifles during the Napoleonic Wars. A small number of riflemen would be attached to regular regiments as sharp-shooters, taking advantage of the greater. range and accuracy of their rifles, but where the rest of the regiment would carry the standard musket.
Today, the Special Forces of army and navy may end up operating with armed units that are some form of police organization and those paramilitary police are becoming more like military units than police units. At the same time, new large Special Forces are becoming fashionable and they may be armed in much the same way as regular troops, having specializations such as reconnaissance, but with the ability to be deployed as regular forces. That also means that they may have much heavier weapons than the smaller Special Forces units would wish to carry.
The author has helpfully presented the types of gun in logical groups: combat pistols, sub-machine guns, assault rifles and carbines, battle and special purpose rifles, combat shotguns, sniper rifles, squad automatic weapons and machine guns, grenades, grenade launchers and rockets, followed by a chapter on future trends. In each chapter it is possible to see the ways in which practises and weapons have changed during the fifteen years covered. However, some relatively old designs continue to be very popular with Special Forces .
An example is the Heckler & Koch P9S pistol. This personal weapon was a major advance when it was launched. It included some very good safety features, it performed with a high level of reliability, and it employed the polygonal bore barrel in place of the still traditional rifled barrel. Since then other pistols have become popular, particularly the Glock, with its large magazine and ability to use even larger magazines. Where the P9S was made in several calibres, and offered in the US as a four calibre kit, it was mainly produced in 9mm Parabellum and more recent pistols have selected larger and more powerful ammunition. Where the P9S still has its followers in Special Forces, its many virtues are preferred. Overall, it is a relatively small and lightweight pistol with a long proven ammunition that is widely used still and therefore likely to be found in enemy supplies systems. It has been produced with an extended and threaded barrel, providing for use with a sound suppressor. Then there are the many very individual preferences that are most likely to be found in Special Forces. Some will select a P9S because two pistols can be carried in a shoulder harness, with pockets for up to four magazines per gun. One pistol might jamb but that still leaves a functional handgun and the combined volume of ammunition is similar to a large magazine pistol. There will always be those who favour a larger number of small magazines because it helps in making the most economic use of the available rounds. This can be very important for Special Forces because of supply issues and the temptation, even for highly trained shooters, to to fire off a significantly greater number of rounds when using a large magazine handgun, and even more with a burst fire or full auto gun. Carefully aimed smaller numbers of rounds can prove much more effective. Special Forces may be happy to use a high quality older gun that is no longer in production, where other types of organization would always favour the latest products available.