The Gewehr-Zielfernrohr 4-fach (Gw ZF-4-fach) or 4 power telescopic rifle sight was the great white hope of the beleaguered German sniper. Faced with increasingly skilled Soviet snipers, as well as massive numbers of regular troops, the military leaders pressed for a sniper rifle and scope combination capable of mass production. After a thorough examination of the Soviet PU telescopic sight and the semi-automatic M1940 Tokarev rifle, it has been indicated that the German military wanted a copy as fast as possible. This new scope was to be mated with the newly produced G-43 semi-automatic rifle. The general idea was to produce every single G-43 with the capability of having a telescopic sight mounted on an integral rail milled into the receiver. I believe the end result was meant to field a designated marksman's rifle as opposed to a dedicated sniper rifle. In practice, skilled snipers employed the G-43 system. Production levels never reached the point where every good marksman could be equipped with one.
When carefully produced, the Gw ZF-4 was quite capable as a sniper sight. Unfortunately for the Germans and subsequently fortunate for the allies, the quality control on the ZF-4 was anything but consistent. It never saw the mass production requested in the original orders and workmanship tapered off under the constant bombing raids by the allies. Voigtlaender u. Sohn AG, Braunschweig (ddx), the company that designed the sight, seemed to have the most problems. Sights made by Opticotechna GmbH, Werk Prerau (dow) and J. G. Farbenindustrie, Camerawerk Muenchen (code: bzz) seem to have experienced less problems. Compounding the problems, the accuracy of the G-43 rifle never met expectations, which when combined with the ZF-4 made for little hope of first round hits at longer sniping ranges. It is interesting however, that even today the theory of having two distinct types of sharp shooting equipment available is still being experimented with. Several large armies have experimented with placing optics on accurized infantry rifles and placing them into the hands of above average but regular shooters. Even so, many forces prefer to retain truly skilled and trained snipers as a separate occupational specialty. The US Marines are even now fielding the Designated Marksman. Whether the original German attempt at fielding optics for the average grunt succeeded or not, the idea lives on strongly today.
In capable hands and when constructed properly, the Gw ZF-4 was sufficiently successful in its role. Measuring 6" long (not including the removable sun shade and rubber eye cup), it was made of stampings to save production time and material. It had flat sides that flared out to round cylinders at the objective and ocular ends. Elevation adjustment was via a turret mounted on the right side of the telescope body. It was a BDC-type turret marked in 50-meter increments from 100 to 800 meters. Each positive click approximated one half moa. This was somewhat better than the No. 32 Mk1 and the PU. Unfortunately, I understand that the BDC did not exactly track the ballistic curve of the issue 7.92x57mm round that it was calibrated for, being off a click or two at the farther ranges. Windage was adjusted via a turret mounted on the top of the telescope. This arrangement seems rather odd to those of us born in the United States but when compared to its contemporaries, it was not all that unusual.
Turret adjustment was simple. Each turret has three locking screws. To zero the rifle, one first removed the screws from one turret, either elevation or windage. A small circular cover is then removed from the turret top, exposing the center adjuster and thereby allowing the shooter to adjust the reticle as needed. The adjuster moves quite smoothly and is easy to align. Once the reticle is in the proper position, the circular plate is placed back in position and the locking screws are reinstalled. Again, this system makes the early No. 32 Mk1 look like a monkey on crack designed its turret. As in the PU, the ZF-4 does not have an optically centered reticle. You can observe it moving downward as you dial in longer ranges.
The turret clicks feel fairly precise, however any ham-fisted operator could easily overshoot his mark. The clicks are positive but the distance between each click is quite small. For instance, if you wanted to dial in 450 meters, it would be very easy to overshoot and click in 500 or even 550 meters. The windage turret is a bit of an odd ball in that there are no numerical markings on it. It has nine vertical hash marks consisting of a center mark with four marks on each side for left or right adjustment. There are two clicks between each mark. I am guessing that these represent half moa movements. The windage turret seems useless for adjusting fire in the field as you might with a modern sniper scope. I believe it was only used to zero the rifle and then covered with the provided sheet metal cap. One can adjust fire horizontally via the gaps in the reticle, but I just cannot see a troop dialing in this windage turret under stress and in windy conditions. I am sure it was done, but my feeling is that one set up for a condition and didn't mess with the turret from that point on. Further, it seems to me that all of these scopes are best utilized by holds as opposed to actual adjustments. But this, I must admit, is probably a result of my being spoiled by our modern sighting systems and their easily tracked windage turrets.
The reticle is the typical German Three-Post system. Ranges can be accurately estimated out to maybe 500 yards with this system, possibly beyond. The posts are very heavy and the aiming point, while triangular, is fat and slightly flat on top. This is quite unlike the sharp point in the PU scope and moderately sharp point on the No. 2. I believe that in this case, it is a function of the ranging system as you could use the width of the center post as a ranging tool as well as the point of aim. Typically point of impact was zeroed to be just above the actual physical point. The posts as stated are quite heavy and stand out well in low light. However, the low light ability of this scope is typical of its stable mates and nothing to scream about.
Optically this particular ZF-4 is fairly clear. The lenses appear to be coated which would not surprise me considering who made the scope. The glass has a slight tint to it and importantly, the scope is charged with nitrogen for anti-fogging in inclement weather. The body of the ZF-4 was always marked with a stamped triangle. This was filled with colored paint to indicate what climate the particular sight was capable of operating in. The particular scope, made by Opticotechnica (dow), was stamped with a blue triangle, indicating severe weather. Tested against the Zeiss Test Pattern, the scope resolved down to number 5 on the scale. I could almost resolve the 6.5 block. This seems fairly good and beats the PU handily. The image appeared crisp to the edge of the glass with only a hint of compression on one side right at the very edge. Interestingly, the image stayed crisp everywhere else. I did not notice any discernable distortion.
Had the Germans been able to produce this sight under ideal conditions and in the numbers originally required, I have no doubt that the damage would have been telling on the allies. While the G-43 was hardly an ideal weapon system, it was capable of hits to 400 yards and beyond. Thankfully for the allies, they were not able to put into effect the theory of the designated marksman. Having a telescoped rifle in each platoon certainly has its advantages, and with every G-43 capable of mounting a scope, the average grunt may well have been able to really reach out and touch someone. A later version of the ZF-4, the ZFK 43/1 closely matched the PU scope and was quite excellent considering how badly Germany was being pounded by the allied air campaign.
The history of Gw ZF-4 and its subsequent marks can hardly be considered a success story. Be that as it may, it was a good attempt at a universal sight. Had production issues been resolved, the sight was slated for mounting on the K98k, the G.43/K43 systems and the StG44 assault rifle. It was also used on the FG-42. As Germany's first attempt at a standardized sighting device it made a lot of sense. At the time, its parent nation was using countless commercial sighting devices and standardization was at best, a dream. In this light, the Gw ZF-4 must be viewed as a worthy attempt at ending a logistic and maintenance nightmare.