With the recent influx of vintage Model 1891/30 sniper rifles into the county, the desire for information on these once rare weapons has skyrocketed. There was a time when the only PU or PE snipers to be found were rare war trophies. Today, thanks to Cole Distributing and other importers, one can find not only original, arsenal refurbished M1891/30 PU snipers, but high quality reproduction rifles built on 1930s and 1940s dated rifles. The Mosin sniper rifle, in one form or another, was the standard sniping arm of the Soviet military from the mid 1930s until the SVD "Dragunov" replaced it in the 1960s. In the early 1940s the Soviets knocked around with a semi-auto sniper based on the SVT-40 rifle, but inconsistencies in accuracy led to the re-adoption of the M1891/30 in 1942.
The one thing I love about history is how it often shows us how little things change. Or, in this case, how one's modern view might not reflect reality as it was in the past. I recently acquired a translated copy of the 1942 Soviet Sniper's Handbook, a translation by James F. Gebhardt and Paul Tamony. I cannot stress to you how welcome this translation is. Books have been written for the collector, but most are analytical reference works, touching on the finer points of collecting Mosin M91 and M91/30 rifles. From a collector's standpoint, these are "must haves". However, for the individual involved in long range shooting and field craft, these works have left a hole in the historical perspective. Those works discuss the sniper rifles in some detail, but not how they were employed or maintained. Tamony and Gebhardt have given us a solid translation on the original manual as issued to Soviet snipers in the field. From my perspective, it's been illuminating.
In the west one often hears, I believe quite incorrectly, that Soviet snipers, throughout their history, were not snipers in the traditional sense… that they were used more as designated marksman than full out snipers as we think of them today. The implication often reflects the bias we have toward our own equipment and training methods. As I devoured the pages of the Soviet Sniper's Handbook, I was not surprised to find that the tactics used in the early stages of WWII were not at all dissimilar to what is being taught to our troops today. Field craft, no matter how crafty, is the result of common sense and logic applied to specific environments. The success of the Russian sniper in WWII is evidence enough that their training was sound, accurate and modern in all respects. As I read this work the parallels were impossible to escape. Portions of the book reminded me of our own current sniper FM (Field Manual) on the topic. In the west I sometimes think it was easy to concentrate on the somewhat bafoonish style of the communist state and its propaganda machine, but we did so at our own peril. Russians are as clever as any people on this earth and their military sniping tactics were as advanced as any. They learned the hard way in Finland and did not forget.
Good tactical advice notwithstanding, of interest to the historian, the Soviet Sniper's Handbook is also entertaining in a way you might expect from an official manual written in this era. Communism certainly loved its propaganda and the book is spattered with "inspiring" comments on the nature of the enemy (the Nazi's) and the superiority of the Soviet soldier. Amazingly to a westerner, the propaganda never gets in the way of actual training. The manual sticks with sound tactical advice, for the most part, and only falls to political hyperbole as probably required to appease the overseeing political officer or as an example of how a good Soviet sniper might act. A few lines set the tone:
"the ignoble and cowardly fascist horde is being rolled back to the west by powerful attacks of the Red Army. The Day of Retribution is near. Under the victorious banner of Lenin-Stalin, under the leadership of Stalin, onward to total and final victory over the vile and treacherous enemy!"
This and many other passages provide a historically fascinating look at the thought processes of the political mind of the Soviet Union, circa 1942. The wording today may seem comical out of context, almost caricature-like, but one can assume that after the massive losses to their nation the mood of the author reflected quite accurately how they felt. The soviet sniper is admonished regularly throughout that this was total war and one should treat his targets thusly. Without feeling or mercy.
In addition to the field craft side of sniping, the Handbook also details the operation, fieldstripping, and care for the SVT-40 sniper rifle with Model 1940 scope, which at this time was still the primary issue weapon for the Soviet sniper. The manual covers in detail, the Model 1940 sniper scope, often called the SVT in the west. When the SVT-40 was relegated to secondary status as a sniper rifle, the M91/30 was issued with a modified version of the SVT scope, now called the PU. As it turns out, many SVT scopes were mounted on the 91/30 as new issue, so the information in the book works for both rifles.
Not mentioned in the Handbook is the M91/30 PE or PU equipped sniper rifle. The PE model was considered obsolete by 1940 and the M1891/30 with PU scope was just coming into production in 1942, so the omission is understandable.
However as an added benefit to the collector and shooter, Tamony and Gebhardt have placed an addendum to the back of the book called "How to Zero the 1891 and 1891/30 7.62mm Three Line Rifle." This highly valuable addition constitutes one of the best reasons to purchase this book. Most collectors and shooters have concentrated on the M1891 series - in far greater numbers than the SVT. The translation is from the 1934 manual on the M1891 series and includes valuable tips on bedding and trigger adjustment. The bedding instructions alone pay for the book and the trigger adjustment guide is like icing on the cake. Using the latter, I was able to remove a fair bit of grit from a standard 91/30 in my collection and bring the pull weight to a comfortable 4.6 pounds.
For the SVT-40 owner, the Soviet Sniper's Handbook is a most welcome addition to their library. Having an SVT rifle and not having a reference guide to disassembly is like having a Victoria's Secret's negligee without the super model to fill it. The rifle is covered in exhaustive detail, as is the scope and mounting system. This being an operational manual, you will not see comments on marking detail and collector trivia, but you will find everything you need to know to operate the SVT. For a new collector, the handbook could save you in damaged parts and a fair bit of frustration.
A troubleshooting guide is provided, as well as sections on the Russian sniper periscope, grenades and hand to hand combat technique. Cover, concealment and camouflage are detailed as well as charts and formulas for precision long range shooting. As an aside, I've been hand loading for a 1943 dated M1891/30 PU sniper and anyone who laughs at these clunky looking beasts hasn't shot one. The accuracy has been amazing. Considering the wood stock and 113 year old design, the Mosin Three Line Rifle is an outstanding performer only limited by what ammo you feed it. That so many invaders fell to Russian snipers using this rifle comes as no surprise at all, once you've spent a little time behind one. The tables and charts cross over from the SVT to the 91/30 well enough that with only a little modification you can use them for both. As the Model 1940 riflescope and the later PU riflescope are essentially the same design with minor differences in shape, details concerning the operation as covered in this handbook will work for both.
In closing, if you are a collector or shooter of either the SVT40 or M91/30, the Soviet Sniper's Handbook 1942, definitely falls into the category of Must Have! Between the historical perspectives it provides and the functional data it presents, it will become a much-referenced work in your library.