Brandon Webb’s first book, The Red Circle, is a very good book about his life, experiences and especially about the Navy Special Warfare (NSW) Sniper School that he help reorganize and teach. The Killing School is not about an actual sniper school but it is about a theoretical school that special operations, and even regular infantry snipers, go through as they graduate from being a grunt to being an experienced sniper with actual combat kills. This progression starts out with the student being a non sniper, then becoming sniper trained, then heading to combat, making the first kill and then surviving. This is Mr. Webb’s description of what the Killing School is. The concept is fine and when coming from someone with his experience we recognize that he is speaking from a position of authority on the subject. The intent of the book is no more than to outline to the reader how a person progresses and earns his PhD from the Killing School. How much of this idea and writing is Mr. Webb’s and how much is Mr. Mann’s is unknown, but the book is written as if from Mr. Webb’s perspective.

In order to help illustrate this progression through the school the authors use four real world soldiers and their progression through, and graduation from, this theoretical Killing School. It is five if you count Mr. Webb’s own story. The other snipers are Alex Morrison, Rob Furlong, Jason Delgado, and Nick Irving. If you have read books about recent combat snipers you have likely read about these four, or at least heard their names mentioned. The authors do a good job presenting new and different information about each of their lives and experiences and you can tell there is a personal relationship between all four and the authors.

The problem with the book is that it constantly switches to viewpoints of the different individuals every page, even sometimes on a single page. This jumping around makes it very difficult to follow what is going on and it doesn’t allow the reader to get as involved with each sniper as they otherwise could. In my opinion, if the book were laid out into four sections, one for each of the four snipers, and then stuck with that sniper as they went through the entire Killing School, it would have been easier for me, the reader, to get attached and care about the sniper. As it is written, it is difficult to track who is where and when. Especially since all four combat stories covers a period of about 15 years. The other area the book fell short in was with incorrect data. This really surprised me given Mr. Webb’s background. One section indicated the M40A3 was chambered in .30-06 and not .308/7.62, another mentioned drastically incorrect shooting angles, another mentioned jump speeds for airborne operations hundreds of miles per hour faster than is possible, and there were others. These are not horrible issues and do not affect the philosophy of the Killing School, but it was surprising and leads me to believe not much of the book was written by Mr. Webb or proof read by any of the four snipers mentioned.

The book isn’t a bad read if you are looking for some gritty hands on type of story telling about actual snipers and you don’t mind the author jumping all over the place. Do be aware it does contain a lot of killing and the typical glorifying of snipers, some out of character for a former SEAL. The parts written by Brandon Webb about himself are probably the most down to earth and best parts of the book. The rest of the book is just okay.

 

 

Sniper Central Rating:

One Comment

John Simpson

I have to start out by saying that I reaIly wanted to be able to recommend this book.

As far as this book was concerned I was really excited about reading this one because it promised to correct a major flaw in most military histories by finally addressing training.

When I’m trying to’ learn from history I get frustrated when I read, ‘After a period of intensive training” or “They conducted marksmanship training” and the like.

Marksmanship training? Was it in a classroom? Was every man limited to 5 rounds? Were there moving targets? What were the time limits? What did the targets look like? But you get the idea.

The concept of this book is that it interweaves the military training and deployment experiences of a short list of snipers: Marine Sgt Jason Delgado in 2004 Iraq, Army Ranger Nick Irving in 2009 Afghanistan, Canadian soldier Rob Furlong in 2002 Afghanistan, and Navy SEAL Alex Morrison in 1995 Somalia.

The title refers to what Webb calls “The Killing School” and shows an interesting take on the subject of sniper training because he refers to the 3 phases as primary school, high school and grad school.

What he calls “Primary School” is over before you enlist and is otherwise known as “childhood”.

So, in the Chapter titled Born to Shoot he talks about the influences of Rob Furlong growing up hunting and fishing up in Newfoundland, Canada; Jason Delgado growing up without firearms in the Bronx, New York; Nick Irving growing up outside of Fort Meade, Maryland practicing marksmanship with his .22 rifle; and Alex Morrison growing up on the California coast without guns.

The point Webb draws from this (and I tend to agree with him) is this isn’t about shooting but having a background in stalking and fieldcraft (Delgado was a cadet Marine practicing fieldcraft on the weekends and Morrison was a spear fisherman).

Unfortunately, he doesn’t keep up this device after the description of primary school so it’s never clear if Basic train- ing is high school or sniper school is or if grad school is your sniper school or additional training afterwards.

In fact, after describing that as what I thought was a useful metaphor, later in describing his efforts to reform the Navy SEAL Sniper Course he refers to that course as “The Killing School.”

We keep dipping in and out of each sniper’s narrative following them not only on their deployments but their training and often pre-training as snipers.

We get to follow examples from the careers of a Canadian infantryman, a Marine, an Army Ranger and a Navy SEAL all on their way to sniper training and then deployment in their respective combat zones and subsequent actions as snipers.

However …

The first danger flag appeared when I saw an early chapter was titled “Warrior, Assassin and Spy”. Call me old-fashioned, but back when I was in uniform as a sniper if you called me an “Assassin,” you’d have a fistfight on your hands.

No matter how much folks want to romanticize it or make video games about it, assassination is more often than not a criminal act. As for being a “Spy”?

Apart from the fact that we used to summarily execute spies you’re performing a function as eyes and ears of the commander. That doesn’t make you a spy. Webb fails to grasp the difference between deception and treachery. But anyway…

So, I get into reading the text and I started running into factual mistakes of such a magnitude that I started my usual investigation to make sure that the author was everything he said he was. For openers I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for his military records from the Navy.

I can state without hesitation that Brandon Webb was indeed a SEAL for 10 of his 13 years in the Navy before being discharged. He served as a sniper in Afghanistan and was decorated with the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat “V”.

He was also decorated for his 2002 service as Primary Sniper Instructor and “organizing the first Naval Special Warfare Center Scout and Sniper courses.” He was also a gold star on his Commendation Medal for “Meritorious Service as Sniper Course Manager and Instructor at Naval Special Warfare Center Advanced Training from October 2003 to September 2006.”

With all that stipulated to, it only makes the screw-ups in this book all the more incomprehensible. As we’ll see, some of these are on the order of “That’s embarrassing” but my biggest problems are the ones that put out the same erroneous information time and time again so that a rookie sniper reading this for pointers will walk away with a head full of junk sniper knowledge.

To begin the following page references are to the hardcover first edition from St. Martin’s Press.

Page 11: Identifies the Marine Corps M40A3 as being caliber .30-06! He even goes into detail in the text about the history of the “aught six” cartridge. The M40, of course, fires 7.62mmx51 NATO which is close enough to the .308 Winchester but shares nothing but bullet diameter with the .30-06 round.

Page 48: Twice identifies students in Army Airborne school parachuting out of an “AC-130 transport plane” the AC-130 of course being a gunship with a 105mm howitzer sticking out of one of the doors you would normally jump out of. This is the one that made me file the FOIA request to get this guy’s story.

Page 107: This one is an example of his shortcomings in doing research on sniping. He skeptically refers to Rudyard Kipling’s story of Kim as a source and then parrots the whole “KIM is an acronym” nonsense. Although I have a chapter devoted to this subject in my first book “Sniper’s Notebook” I’m going to tell you not to believe me.

And I won’t even give you a link so you can search on your own for an online source for the 1908 edition of Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts. You look up a summary of Kim and then find the instructions on how to conduct Kim’s Game (that’s how it should be written)

Page 193: Says a red star cluster signal flare “burst into an illuminated five-pointed star”. I refuse to believe a SEAL has never seen one of these things go off in real life. There’s no five-pointed star floating in the sky after you launch one of these things.

Page 212: Says that because the M40A3 has a muzzle velocity of 2550 feet per second the time of flight out to 1015 yards is a little over a full second. You don’t divide the distance in feet by the muzzle velocity to find time of flight.

There’s this thing called drag that causes deceleration? The published time of flight for the current M118LR out to 1000 meters is over 1.96 seconds. The problem is he uses this bogus number in an anecdote where the sniper is counting off how long a shot takes to connect and it matches the incorrect number.

Page 217: He says for long range shooting, the “natural position for spotter” is opposite the sniper’s firing shoulder. That’s actually backwards because the closer the spotter is to the rifle/target line the better.

Page 218: Actually repeats the nonsense of estimating time of flight by dividing distance by muzzle velocity.

Page 285: This is the clearest example of what I was referring to earlier that makes me unable to recommend this book:
“Finally, for a split second, he got the machine gunner in his scope. This was the opposite of that high angle shot in Baghdad. There he’s been aiming down at a target on ground level from fifty-plus stories up. Now he was at sub-ground level himself, aiming upward. To compensate he moved his point of aim to slightly above center mass.”

If you actually do that you’ll miss.

This begs the question, how can someone proven to be a primary sniper instructor not know the science behind angle shooting and that whether you shoot up or down the compensation is the same, to aim or adjust the sights lower?

Page 337: He continues his caliber confusion by identifying .300 Winchester Magnum as “.30 caliber.”

Now yeah some of this can be met with a shrug and “So what?” but the unwary will be led astray by the ballistics.

There’s some good insights into sniper selection activities by various services, but you have to wade through a bunch of misinformation to get it.

There’s more, lots more. Like Rob Furlong getting an extra few yards out his .50 caliber ammo by leaving it in the direct rays of the Sun to “warm the powder” and repeating the urban legend about the Vietnam POW who played mental games of golf becoming the US Rifle Coach.

Suffice it to say this was a terrific idea for a book that was poorly executed and is one you need to stay away from. In the words of Robert Shaw in the 1973 film The Sting, “We’ve got to discourage this kind of thing.”

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