Historic Sniper Scopes
A comparative Study
The No.32 Mk1 (Britain)

28 November 1999
By Scott Powers

The PU telescopic Sight (Soviet and Satellites)
The Gw ZF4-fach (WWII Germany, some post war use)

We begin the comparison with the 3.5 powered No. 32 Mk1. Introduced to service in February of 1942, this sight has an interesting history in that in its original form, it was intended to mount on a BREN machine gun! This never came about and the scope was adopted instead for use on the Enfield No.4 (T) rifle. Due to its machine gun heritage, the No. 32 is quite robust. Its construction is of heavy brass. When mounted on the rifle with its heavy iron scope mount, the No. 32 Mk1 added upwards of 2.5 pounds to the system. The scope measures approximately 11" in length and has a 1" tube. The turrets are located forward of the center and as seems typical of European scopes of that time period, the lateral adjustment (windage) turret is on the left when viewed from the rear. The No. 32 Mk1 was the least popular of the No. 32 series, which consisted of the Mk1, Mk2, Mk3 and the L1A1. I will only detail the Mk1, as it is the unit I have on my desk.

The Mk1 required a somewhat dubious method of adjustment and it often took two individuals, plus some patience, to complete the act of zeroing this telescopic sight. The later marks were much improved and thereby relatively loved by all. In its final version, the No. 32 Mk3 was re-designated the L1A1 and could be found on the L42A1 sniper rifle that saw use throughout the 1970s. Not bad for a telescope designed in 1937. The British simply felt there was no better alternative and after several improvements, they thought themselves to be correct in that assessment.

For elevation changes, the No. 32 Mk1 has a Ballistic Drop Compensating (BDC) type turret marked for 50-yard increments, from 0 to 1000 yards. There is positive but marginal feedback from the clicker plate. I am reluctant to call the clicks sloppy but in this earliest version, that is about the best way to describe what you experience when adjusting the drum. In unmodified form, there was no provision for anti-backlash springs. After much complaining from both the troops and armorers, the No. 32 sight was given both anti-backlash springs and a 1 moa elevation turret. This was re-designated the No. 32 Mk2 in April of 1943. The unfortunate Mk1 user simply had to rely on the 50-yard BDC turret and try to ascertain the affect of weather on his ballistics the hard way. This type of BDC is notoriously undesirable in that it is so gross that when the weather affects the ballistics, there was often no way to compensate other than by using holds. With a 1 moa turret, one can easily adjust fire incrementally to compensate for all conditions. In this way, the Mk1 can be considered a bit of a failure. It worked, but was quickly replaced by the improved Mk2.

The Mk1 windage drum was somewhat better. It provided 2 moa in lateral adjustments per click, although this still did not make it ideal. This too was rectified in later marks. Again there is no provision for backlash. The total adjustment equals 16 moa in one direction from zero, or 160 inches at 1000 yards. While not overly precise, this adjustment was sufficient to make first-round hits on targets well beyond the normal fighting ranges of WWII. We must keep in mind that at the time, the goal was to be able to accurately engage targets beyond 400 yards -- 600 yards was considered a long shot in most armies, even for snipers.

The lenses on the Mk1 are uncoated. Again, this was rectified in later marks. The glass is relatively clear but age may show some clouding in either the ocular or objective. The particular telescopic sight I have is clear. Using a Zeiss Test Pattern as described in previous articles, I could easily resolve down to the number 5 block, and possibly the number 6.3. Much to my delight, this resolution held up almost right to the edge of the glass with only a little loss at the very edge! This would indicate almost zero spherical aberration. Quite impressive for a wartime scope. I could find no distortion in the glass either. Vertical or horizontal lines remained straight right up to the edge of the glass. All in all, an impressive showing and an indication of the level of workmanship that went into making this telescopic sight. Light gathering ability however, is not the long suit of the No. 32 series. While it is sufficient, it was not what we would call outstanding.

On the range, adjustment of the early mark as stated above is interesting and typically British. Whoever came up with the original idea should be drawn and quartered. As he has most likely been in his grave for years, I will not have this satisfaction, but thank God saner heads rectified the issue in later marks. To adjust the turret, one must first zero the rifle on paper via the usual means of live fire. You then have to loosen a locking ring that is internal to the turret. Sounds easy so far. The problem lies in the fact that there is another, centrally located stud which actually controls the movement of the single post reticle. Picture three rings. The outer most is the edge of the turret drum. The second ring is the locking ring. The third and central ring is the actual adjuster. Somehow you have to figure out how to hold the central adjuster, known as the lead screw, while loosening the locking ring. This is a must as you cannot upset the center adjuster or you will move your zero! You can then turn the outer drum to the proper range indication. When you tighten down the locking ring, it is again very easy to move the lead screw. In practice, it often took two people to solve this problem. The sight was issued with special tools that in all accounts actually compounded the problem and were often tossed out accordingly. This problem was solved in the No. 32 Mk3 that came into service in October of 1944. It had what we would now consider a normal method for adjusting zero.

The reticle of the No. 32 Mk1 is a single vertical post with a thin horizontal line (wire) spanning the width of the field of view. Think of a German post reticle minus the heavy horizontal bars. The target is placed on the tip of the vertical post and the horizontal wire is used to help level the image. A good design but not ideal in that there is little in the way of reference points for setting up leads. Without any side posts, one seems doomed to guessing horizontal leads. Not being trained in this reticle, I am sure I am missing vital information as British snipers have obviously used this sight to good effect. I have always felt post sights were a disadvantage because they obscure so much of the target. Conversely, they do stand out well in low light, which seems to have been more important to the European nations employing this system. It was quite popular in its day.

In summation, the No. 32 Mk1 telescopic sight was quite sufficient for its task. It was capable of hits out to 800 yards with the average being a much more realistic 600 yards. It was an extremely robust sight and held up well in all conditions. Its descendants have soldiered on for 50 years and have only recently been replaced by the modern scope found on Britain's new SWS, the AWP.

The PU telescopic Sight (Soviet and Satellites)
The Gw ZF4-fach (WWII Germany, some post war use)

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