by Dean Roxby
- Full title: The Green Meanie L96A1
- Author: Steve Houghton
- ISBN: 978-1-5272-7461-7
- Copyright: 2021
- Binding: Hard cover, with color dust jacket
- Dimensions: 8.5 x 11 inches
- Pages: 280 pages
- Publisher: Swift and Bold Publishing
- Website: swiftandboldpublishing.co.uk
- Price: £58.50 plus shipping
The L96A1 rifle, nicknamed the Green Meanie in reference to its lethal efficiency, served as the primary sniper rifle of the British Army for nearly three decades. Adopted in 1986, retired in 2012, it saw use in Northern Ireland, the Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
This book by author Steve Houghton examines the unlikely history of this weapon and of the people and company behind it. The three founders of Accuracy International (AI), Dave Caig, Dave Walls, and the late Malcolm Cooper designed a rifle from the ground up to be supremely accurate. Unlike previous sniper rifles that were basically tricked out service rifles, this new rifle featured the best practices found in civilian long range competition rifles. The most significant difference was the chassis system that uses an aluminum “spine”, thus completely eliminating the wood stock of the typical military rifle.
Author Houghton explains how “the two Daves” often made various bits and pieces for their own guns and for other fellow shooters, as well. The two Daves shared an interest in competitive shooting, and this led to a chance meeting with Malcolm Cooper, a two-time Olympic gold medal target shooter. This led to the idea of building a better target rifle. Initially, this would be a single shot bolt action rifle for civilian use, but Cooper thought a magazine fed version might be of interest to the British military. Cooper used his connections to speak with members of the famed SAS to arrange a demonstration. The SAS were most impressed with the new prototype rifle and offered a number of minor suggestions. A reproduction of Cooper’s own hand-written notes from the demo meeting is shown in the book. Eventually, AI was given a contract to build a small number of “Precision Marksman” (PM) rifles for the SBS (Special Boat Service, the Royal Navy equivalent of the SAS), followed soon after by the SAS. Both units bought a combined total of 42 rifles. Even this small contract was too large for what had been up to that point just three hobbyists with one lathe and milling machine in Dave Walls’ garage! For this first real contract, AI outsourced the machine work to local machine shops they knew and trusted. Chapter Five, The PM Rifle Takes Shape has a funny anecdote about two MoD inspectors stopping by. The two Daves took the two MoD men to one of the local shops already making parts. The inspectors had a quick look around, and then headed out for a typical English pub lunch. On the drive, one of the officers said, “The only reason we’re here is to just make sure they aren’t being banged up in some fella’s garden shed”.
The British Army was still using the L42A1 in the early 1980s. The L42A1 was simply a re-barreled (From .303 British to 7.62×51 NATO) Lee-Enfield No.4 Mk1 T sniper rifle. The Falklands War of 1982 revealed the L42A1 to be sub-standard, especially the telescopic riflescope which dated back to WW II. A new sniper rifle was needed. In 1984, the British Army issued a General Service Requirement (GSR) for a new sniper rifle, with trials happening in 1985. Firearms firms Beretta, Browning, BSA, H&K, Mauser, Parker-Hale, Remington, SIG Sauer, and Walther submitted rifles to test. Also competing was AI with three of their Precision Marksman rifles. This book does a great job of explaining the path AI took to winning a major contract, and of the fine service the L96A1 gave.
Houghton covers the history of both the company and the guns in detail, enough to do justice to both, but not so much as to become dry and tedious. The book features over 400 images, most in color, including technical cutaway illustrations of the rifle and its Schmidt & Bender telescope. Numerous sketches, sectional drawings, exploded diagram with parts lists, and even some early doodles are included. Two specially commissioned artworks by noted artist Anthony Cowland (argc-art.com) are included; one covering one page, the other is a two-page foldout.
Besides the L96A1 itself, the entire CES (Complete Equipment Schedule) is described and shown. Both variants of Schmidt and Bender riflescopes are covered in detail. These are the original fixed six-power L13A1 scope, and the later 3-12 variable power L17A1. This is covered in chapter 19, Mid-Life Upgrade. Also, the entire line-up of night vision devices is covered in chapter 21. These range from the 1980s era Common Weapon Sight, L8A2 and up to the Sniper Thermal Image Capability (STIC) Sight. The STIC was used with the L96A1 up until the retirement of the rifle.
The book also has recollections of battles as told by sniper team members. This gives a real-world authenticity to the text.
This is actually the second book Houghton has written about sniping. The first book, now unfortunately sold out, is The British Sniper, A Century of Evolution. It covers from 1915 to current day. His website describes it as “…the first of a series of books…” about sniping. So perhaps we will see future books in this series. Based on this one, I hope so. In an email, Houghton says: “There are plans afoot to write a new title featuring the L42A1 sniper rifle which is at the very early stages at the moment”.
As with the first book, this book is limited to a print run of 2000 collector edition copies. Each is signed and numbered. The original artworks by Anthony Cowland are also available as signed and numbered prints as well. Both pieces are limited to 150 copies each. The prices are a bit dear, and shipping from the UK doesn’t help… The book is £58.50 plus shipping which because of the current lack of transatlantic flight traffic currently sits at £31.60. The prints are still available priced at £55 each, shipping on these is £22.10.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V26N4 (April 2022)