SGT DAN MILLS
Early in 2004, with 18 years of service behind him, Sergeant Dan Mills of the 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales Royal Regiment began to wonder if he would complete his military career without seeing serious military action. As he admitted, ‘not actually being shot at by an enemy standing right in front of you, and not getting the chance to shoot back, used to make me question whether I could ever call my self a real soldier’.
That April, Mills – commander of the battalion’s sniper platoon – was sent to southern Iraq to provide support for the peacekeeping mission, which was designed to win over the hearts and minds of the civilian population. But within days of his arrival at the provincial capital of Al Amarah, Mills and his snipers would find themselves under a sustained five-month attack by the Mehdi Army, the radical supporters of Shia Muslim cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr. Mills’ fears that he might miss out on the ultimate combat experience were to prove unfounded.
British forces in Al Amarah held the Cimic house in the centre of the city, the sniper platoon assigned to defend the flat roof of the building. In a no-nonsense action-packed narrative Mills tells the story of how he and his men fought off repeated attacks by the Mehdi Army, as well as venturing out into the hostile streets of Al Amarah.
For the most part, Mills and his men concentrated on urban sniping, providing long-range top-cover to the company sized unit holding Cimic house below. As a result, there’s not much in this account of the classic elements of sniper fieldcraft, but the author provides telling detail on the weapons and tactics of fighting in built-up areas. The book concludes with the last, desperate enemy attack on the British position, which is nearly overrun as water, food and, above all, ammunition become perilously low. But what was beginning to look like an Alamo ended up as a Rorke’s Drift, the British troops winning a hard-fought battle against vastly superior odds. Mills adroitly captures the ebb and flow of the fighting in this narrative of the war in Iraq from the infantryman’s viewpoint – a first-rate, page-turning read.
Penguin, 374 pages, £6.99 (p/b); Michael Joseph, 374 pages, £25 (h/b)