Ah, war stories. They grow with every telling. To wit, take this tale of daring-do from battle-torn Syria where Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS), a commando-style unit, is allegedly squaring off against the rag-bag militias of the Islamic State (IS). First up is the right-wing tabloid slut-shamers of the Daily Star who are thrilled by reports of an incredible long-distance shot across almost 1200 metres of open desert:
“AN SAS sniper blew the head off a terrorist commander while he was teaching Islamic State recruits how to decapitate prisoners.
The shooter fired at a range of almost 1,200 metres after his team sneaked into a terrorist-controlled enclave of northern Syria two weeks ago.
It is understood the marksman was using a special bullet which “tumbles” when it strikes a target, causing a massive wound.
“The SAS sniper was using a Dan.338 equipped with a suppressor which reduces the sound and eliminates any flash from the barrel.
He had to aim off by more than a foot.
He had assumed it would take at least two shots to kill the commander but the first shot hit him in the back of the head.
One minute he was standing there and the next his head had exploded.
The commander remained standing upright for a couple of seconds before collapsing and that’s when panic set in.”
The Israeli-manufactured IWI DAN .338 Lapua Magnum long-range rifle was introduced to the international market in 2014. A bolt action weapon with a ten-round magazine, an integral flash hider, and a maximum effective range of 1200 metres, it was adopted by the SAS in 2014-15, replacing the previous L115A .338 rifle (the Accuracy International AWM .338), a so-so performing UK model acquired in 2001 and upgraded in 2008. While one might well query the rhetoric of tumbling bullets, exploding heads and decapitated bodies remaining upright for any amount of seconds, a shot on the theoretical edge of the DAN .338’s range is certainly possible. Even with the use of the rifle’s purpose-built quick-attach sound suppressor (contrary to popular belief, modern “moderators / silencers” do not adversely effect the range of a gun. The greater issue is the extra weight on the barrel unbalancing the aim of a long-distant shooter who fails to compensate for it, though military-standard electronic-scopes with inbuilt laser and computer targeting make such things far easier).
However, as I said, war stories grow in the telling. By the time we get to the Sun newspaper almost 1200 metres has expanded to over 1207 metres in the gutter-press king:
“AN ISIS commander training recruits to decapitate enemies got a taste of his own medicine when his head was blown off by a single shot from a crack SAS sniper.
The northern Syrian jihadi was hit from over three quarters of a mile away.
The round from the DAN .338 rifle was so powerful that the target’s head exploded, decapitating him just like his victims.
The twenty jihadis he had been training ran away frightened, and have reportedly abandoned their cause.”
How edifying. Meanwhile in the Daily Mail we are informed that the super-duper marksman was in fact firing over a distance of 1219 metres. Sure, what’s nineteen metres or so between friends? (About sixty-two feet)
“A SAS sniper has beheaded an ISIS executioner with a single shot while the militant was teaching jihadis how to decapitate prisoners, it has been reported.
Some 20 Islamic fighters were taking part in the executioner’s outdoor lesson when he was killed by the elite British soldier – hiding 4,000 ft away and using specially-designed ‘wounding’ bullets.”
If you’re wondering what a “wounding” bullet is, a related Australian report helpfully explains:
“The slug in question is known as a “wounding” bullet and makes a “tumbling motion” when fired. That means it basically cartwheels around a body instead flying straight through flesh — with devastating effect.”
Of course the accuracy of a bullet which leaves a barrel and begins to “tumble” across 1200 metres of simmering air to hit a target with the explosive impact of a missile, even for a fat round like a .338 Lapua Magnum, is pretty questionable. But then again, a lot about this story is pretty questionable.