Book Reviews: October 1999

By David M. Fortier

By Major John L. Plaster
Paladin Press
P.O. Box 1307
Boulder, CO 80306
ISBN 0-87364-916-8
$59.95 Plus S&H
Aprox. 120 Minutes
Reviewed By David Fortier

This is the sequel to sniping authority Major Plaster’s book and video “The Ultimate Sniper”. For someone interested in the subject of sniping this is quite a video! Starting off at the famous Gunsite Training Center, founded by Jeff Cooper, Major Plaster gives the viewer a in depth look at some state of the art sniping equipment. Demonstrations are given with .50 caliber sniping rifles, suppressed weapons, laser range finders, and the latest night vision equipment.

Advanced lessons in fieldcraft are taught in the desert, at night, in the mountains, and in the winter. There is something here for everyone. The night classes are superb with the footage being shot at night and filmed with the aid of night vision. Fieldcraft and shooting techniques are both taught, and this information is relevant to anyone no matter their location. Light discipline is taught, using a normal rifle scope at night, Night observation devices, use of tracers, flashlights to illuminate targets, infrared lasers, and much more.

The mountain classes are directly applicable for use in Yugoslavia or Korea. The effects of elevation on a cartridge and its ballistics are discussed. Normal troop movements in mountainous terrain are discussed and how to foretell where targets are likely to appear. Picking a hide location and what to look for. Making a hide and operating in one.

Winter operations was of particular interest to me as I live in Maine, and the information is excellent. Scope fogging, camouflage, skiing, snow shoes, temperature effect on trajectory, stalking, scope glare, and more are all covered. There is not a lot of information on this subject so this is a welcome addition.

The quality of this video is much better that Major Plaster’s previous video. The material is first rate and now the camera work and sound is up to snuff. I highly recommend this video, while it is expensive, it’s worth it.

The Stoner Machine Gun: A Navy SEAL Remembers
Written by Dennis J. Cummings and Ron Erb
Special guest appearance and co-narration by LCDR Michael J. Walsh, USN (Ret.)
35 minutes Paladin Press,
Review by Rob Krott

Dennis Cummings, author of Men Behind the Trident (Naval Institute Press) and producer of Navy SEALs; America’s Secret Warriors and other SEAL oriented videos, has once again come through with a winner. This one on the Stoner 63 machine gun. Eugene Stoner (designer of the M16, in case anyone forgot) and a Cadillac Gage engineering team developed the Stoner 63 weapons system. The weapon had six different configurations based on the Stoner receiver. The Stoner 63A light machine gun was the model most frequently used by the US Navy SEALs. Although the US Army and the USMC tested and evaluated the Stoner as a possible replacement for the M60, only the SEALs used the Stoner in significant numbers in Vietnam. It was the primary machine gun of the SEAL teams in Vietnam and the Cadillac Gage engineers received technical reports and requests directly from the field. The opening clips of this video show the various Stoner variants being fired on a range while the weapon’s technical aspects are described. The video also shows the Stoner being tripod mounted in its medium machine gun role.

The focus of the video is provided by LCDR Michael J. Walsh as he reminisces about the Stoner and its role with the SEAL teams in Vietnam. Walsh served five tours in Vietnam, three of them in assignments where he was intimate with the Stoner. In fact, the front cover of Walsh’s memoir, SEAL! Depicts a young Mike Walsh geared up for a mission and holding a Stoner. According to LCDR Walsh, “This added to our firepower like no other weapons could have... The Stoner was like nothing else around. It was different.”

LCDR Walsh’s participation in this video lends real credence to its historical and technical accuracy and really “makes” the video. He provides an informal technical brief on the weapon detailing its high-points and its foibles including the problems with its feed pawl mechanism and the infamous “dead man’s pin”. The “dead man’s pin” was a receiver pin which when it vibrated loose caused the weapon to fire. It caused the death of one SEAL by his own weapon before being corrected. Walsh discusses various field expedient modifications made to the weapon in Vietnam. He explains how the SEALs carried additional ammo; the adaptation of the box and drum magazines; and the expedient use of captured RPD drum magazines. Walsh gets off the subject a little, but only to make some interesting comments about the SEALs participation in the Phoenix Program and to provide some interesting operational observations such as “Most SEAL operations in Vietnam didn’t go past one evolution of darkness...you didn’t eat ‘til you got home.” Producer Cummings wisely decided to leave these interesting tidbits in the video.

War stories from LCDR Walsh’s personal experience make the video especially interesting. His on and off camera narration is accompanied by combat file footage on patrol. Vietnam film footage includes a mission brief. One thing you’ll notice is the long hair, mustaches, and beards.. especially the more “beatnik” styles. Some of these guys look like a cross between the Hell’s Angles, the Grateful Dead, and the “Green Berets”. Nobody I’d want to mess with. Other interesting spots on the video is the frequent wearing of Levi’s; what appears to be a SEAL on patrol barefoot; VC rice paddy farmer hats; and most impressive; an M60 gunner carrying a gun equipped with an aircraft feed mechanism and humping the door-gunner ammo pack on his back.

A professional narrator picks up the narration from time to time during the film clips, many of which apply directly to Walsh’s narration. Two of the clips are actually of Walsh’s platoon on actual combat operations. It’s a good summation and discussion of the Stoner’s use by the SEALs in Vietnam, however, I would have liked to have seen a disassembly-assembly of the gun and more technical data, including nomenclature on the weapon. But then again, this wasn’t meant to be a how-to video and a field stripping sequence might bore other people. Weapons aficionados, fans of the Stoner, SEAL buffs, and SEAL veterans will want a copy of this video tape.

Robert Krott is a former US Army M60 machinegunner (PFC) and Infantry officer. He is a senior foreign correspondent for Solider of Fortune and a staff writer and columnist for Behind the Lines: The Journal of US Military Special Operations, as well as the Military Affairs Editor for SAR.

From a Stranger’s Doorstep to the Kremlin Gates: A Word from the AK Man
By Mikhail Kalashnikov
Published by Military Parade Ltd., Moscow 1997
ISBN 5-7734-0009-X
Review by Charles Madurski

For most of his career, Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov was surrounded by a state controlled “impenetrable veil of secrecy”. In the paranoid days of post World War II and well into the cold war, his work and existence was considered critical to the defense of the Soviet Union. Not allowed to travel outside of the country and limited in his movements internally, he managed to change the world of military weapons forever. With the break-up of the Soviet Union and other political changes in the world, he decided the time was right to tell his story.

Written in a style reminiscent of a letter to one’s great-grandchildren, “From a Stranger’s Doorstep to the Kremlin Gates- A Word from the AK Man” is a fascinating read. It’s an important one too. A large part of the book is devoted to detailing Kalashnikov’s development of the AK-47. Many arms enthusiasts are familiar with the generalities of the story, how the wounded tanker somehow came up with the idea during his recovery and managed to have prototypes made while convalescing. Few knew, until now, that when he was injured it was because of an encirclement deep in German held territory and he had to travel for days on foot through enemy lines to get to help.

Drawing from an extensive personal archive of letters, commendations, notes and drawings, he recreates the events of his life in great detail, giving new insight into the process of Soviet small arms procurement and exposing new information to complete the legend. Such as the fact his first design was really for a 7.62x25 chambered submachinegun, and it was after this design was rejected that he was invited to compete in the design of a new arm using the then very new M-43 (7.62x39) cartridge.

Through his years of service, Kalashnikov crossed paths with nearly every Russian arms designer of note. They are almost all here, Degtyarev, Goryunov, Makarov, Shpagin, Simonov, Sudayev and Tokarev. Due to the circle he worked in, he is able to discuss other well-known Russian designs from some of his contemporaries. Arms such as the Pistolet Makarov and its adoption or the SKS carbine and the circumstances surrounding its removal from front line service. Unfortunately, his detail is a little lacking when he goes over the development of the AKM, RPK, PK/PKM series, and the AK-74 generation of weapons. At least he does explain, once and for all, that the so-called rate reducer in the AKM was designed simply to “achieve closer grouping of shots”.
Kalashnikov delves into philosophy, poetry, politics, hunting and more. He sheds light on the Russian trait to consider all Slavic people brothers, an important lesson to remember. In a special chapter near the end of the book titled “My Black Box Data Recorder”, he recalls the events that led to his family’s internal exile to Siberia in 1931. Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, he expresses a tremendous love for Mother Russia constantly throughout the book, which may explain his involvement in Party politics.

Kalashnikov doesn’t directly address his political career; he only mentions it as part of larger tales or where it needs to be included to fill out some details. He does, however, give the reader a look into the dichotomy of Russian politics, stating at one point that he “never was a staunch communist”, yet it seems he worked his way from being a member of the Young Communists League to his multiple terms as a Deputy of the Supreme Soviet.

At one point during a sales trip to Argentina, Kalashnikov considers all of the gifts he has received while there, mostly souvenir cartridges and several pistols, and he frets over the trouble he will have with customs if he tries to return home with these things. He expresses amazement over the Argentine’s lack of control over such objects, the expectation of responsibility. In contrast, he muses over the inability of his homeland to react the same way. “...how much trouble, grief and sorrow Russians would have to suffer and how much tragedy Russia would have to go through until it outgrew its obsession with arms the way Argentina had...” The lesson is clear.

Miktim Kalashnikov’s autobiography is full of history. Entertaining on many levels, it should be considered a companion volume to the late Dr. Ezell’s AK-47 Story, at least. When viewing all of the innovations and weapons systems and equipment to come from this man and his design teams, Kalashnikov could be called ‘Russia’s Browning”.

Death From Above, The German FG 42 Paratroop Rifle
By Thomas B Dugelby
and R Blake Stevens
Produced and edited
by R Blake Stevens Published by Collector Grade Publications Inc.
PO Box 1046
Cobourg, Ontario
Canada K9A4W5
Price $39.95 plus $4.50 S&H
Reviewed by Stephen Stuart

The German FG 42 was born out of ‘Operation Merkur’ in May of 1941. The operation called for German paratroopers (Fallschirmjager) to attack the island of Krete in the Mediterranean Sea. The German paratroopers, unlike their American counterparts, jumped without their primary weapons. These were dropped in canisters to be retrieved later, once the paratroopers were on the ground. The British took advantage of the situation, decimating the German troops in the beginning with their full power .303 Enfield rifles and BREN machine guns.

Because of this reason, when the opportunity arose to field a new rifle for the paratroop force. The call was for a rifle firing the standard 8mm Mauser cartridge, instead of the new 7.92x33mm Kurz round for the Sturmgewehr rifles. This new rifle was the FG 42. There are over twenty different variations of the FG 42, they are divided into a basic alphabetical series starting at ‘A’ and ending at ‘G’.

From a personal perspective, I have only seen two FG42s in my entire life, both of them in museums. The author pacifies one’s appetite for information by detailing the different models in pictures and line drawings. Accessories are given special attention in the text; particularly the scope, and field manuals (which have been reproduced in English). Of particular interest to small arms historians is the legacy of the FG42, and the weapons that were derived from it’s earlier innovations.

If you are a history buff of the German Fallschrimjager, or just want to trace the lineage of your pet M-60, this is the book in which to start. As with all of the Collector Grade Publications, this is truly an excellent text. I highly recommend it for your small arms library.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V3N1 (October 1999)
and was posted online on December 25, 2015


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