Did This Sniper Rifle Save Russia From Nazi Germany?

 In Government, Land, UK, U.S. Army, Russia, Ukraine, Germany

The Soviet gov­ern­ment often exag­ger­at­ed tales of its front-line snipers for pro­pa­gan­da pur­pos­es. The sniper duel between famed Soviet sniper Vasily Zaitsev and “Major Konig” was prob­a­bly myth, although Zaitsev was unques­tion­ably a remark­able sol­dier.

Such myths are a weapon in a fight for nation­al sur­vival, and a tool for build­ing morale. But in terms of his­to­ry, the myths com­pli­cate the pic­ture.

However, the Soviet Union cer­tain­ly embraced the sniper, per­haps more than any other com­bat­ant during World War II, field­ing them in larger num­bers and on a wider scale ear­li­er in the con­flict than Nazi Germany. The Mosin-Nagant rifle mod­i­fied for long-dis­tance work was the Red Army’s pri­ma­ry sniper weapon.

The Soviet sol­dier in World War II com­mon­ly car­ried the unscoped Mosin-Nagant M91/30 — a weighty, nearly inde­struc­tible bolt-action battle rifle capa­ble of car­ry­ing five 7.62x54R rounds, shared today by the Dragunov sniper rifle and PKM machine gun.

The pow­er­ful car­tridge and simple con­struc­tion means the Mosin kicks like a mule, but pro­vides accu­rate and reli­able fire­pow­er in a weapon that is easy to main­tain and hard to damage … too much. And most impor­tant­ly, it was easy to pro­duce in vast num­bers.

A Mosin with­out a scope — rely­ing on the rifle’s iron sights — has an effec­tive aimed fire range up to around 500 meters, adding to or sub­tract­ing from the number given the indi­vid­ual rifle’s con­di­tion and the shooter’s skill. A well-trained and sharp-eyed shoot­er can con­ceiv­ably hit a human-sized target at longer dis­tances, but it’s not easy.

Following pro­to­type attempts in the 1920s, the Soviet mil­i­tary began adding a vari­ety of scopes to Mosin-Nagant rifles in 1932, even­tu­al­ly set­tling on the 3.5‑power “PU sniper” vari­ant in 1942. Another ver­sion with a longer four-power scope, the PEM, was less common.

By 1942, as the German army renewed its offen­sive into the Russian heart­land, the USSR was pro­duc­ing 53,000 PU sniper rifles annu­al­ly, accord­ing to Martin Pegler and Ramiro Bujeiro’s illus­trat­ed book  The Military Sniper Since 1914 . That’s a stun­ning number.

The Soviet mil­i­tary high com­mand also handed out mil­lions of sharp­shoot­er badges, most likely in a looser fash­ion than com­pa­ra­ble armies at the time, but it did reflect a com­mit­ment to the sharp­shoot­er craft in a way that struck fear into the German mil­i­tary. Pegler and Bujeiro note that during one ambush in September 1941, Soviet snipers killed at least 75 German sol­diers of the 465th Infantry Regiment before dis­ap­pear­ing into the woods.

There were simply more Soviet snipers, with more scoped rifles, than Germany could match early on. “Initially the Germans faced little oppo­si­tion apart from ill-equipped French and Polish snipers who, though valiant, were woe­ful­ly few in number and could do little to stem the invad­ing flood,” Pegler and Bujeiro wrote. “The first real proof of the power of the sniper was to become evi­dent during the German inva­sion of Russia in 1941.”

Like the stan­dard Mosin-Nagant, which is one of the most heav­i­ly-pro­duced rifles ever, the PU sniper pro­lif­er­at­ed world­wide fol­low­ing the end of World War II. But because they were less common than the mil­lions of unscoped Mosins the USSR would pro­duce, a gen­uine PU sniper today can fetch $1,000 or more on the civil­ian market.

A stan­dard Mosin is  con­sid­er­ably less expen­sive.

But the high price is mainly a prob­lem for col­lec­tors. A modern-day sniper with a Mosin-Nagant whether in  Ukraine or Syria can find other ways to add a scope. Photographs from the wars show a wide vari­ety of cre­ative scopes, some in the “ scout” con­fig­u­ra­tion fea­tur­ing a long eye-relief scope mount­ed for­ward of the bolt, as the Mosin’s stan­dard “unbent” bolt will inter­fere with a scope mount­ed far­ther back.

The PU sniper fea­tures a bent bolt handle, allow­ing for the closer eye relief, but to repli­cate this with a stan­dard Mosin requires making sev­er­al unal­ter­able mod­i­fi­ca­tions which — if done by a hired gun­smith — could cost as much as the rifle itself.

Historical col­lec­tors tend to frown on these kinds of per­ma­nent changes due to the required drilling into the receiv­er and cut­ting of the bolt handle.

But for snipers fight­ing very real wars in the 21st cen­tu­ry with early-20th cen­tu­ry rifles, keep­ing a weapon his­tor­i­cal­ly authen­tic falls down the list of pri­or­i­ties com­pared to whether it’s effec­tive on the bat­tle­field.

This first appeared in WarIsBoring here

Source: National Interest

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