Col. Patrick Ferguson, British Army
Patrick Ferguson was a leading developer of breech loading firearms. The Ferguson Rifle was considered at the time to be one of the most deadly weapons in the British inventory. Ferguson’s second claim to fame was the “Shot Never Taken.” As a Major, Ferguson found himself in position to make a shot on an unidentified Continental officer near Germantown Pennsylvania. When the man turned away at approximately 125 yards, the good major chose not to shoot him in the back. That man turned out to be none other than General George Washington. Had Ferguson taken the shot one can assume that the entire history of what is today the United States would have been affected. Recall it was Washington who turned down the offer to be King of the Colonies after the successful resolution of the War for Independence. Had he not been in charge of the Colonial forces, not only would the outcome of the war have been in question, but so would the very nature of the Republic which rose from that conflict. Ironically, Patrick Ferguson was later killed on 7 October of 1780 when a member of Morgan’s Kentucky Riflemen shot him at approximately 450 yards. As a result, Ferguson’s unit surrendered which forced Gen. Cornwallis to abandon his invasion of North Carolina. The loss was doubly hurtful to the British cause, since they had lost one of their premier weapons designers.
Timothy Murphy, Battle of Saratoga. Morgan’s Kentucky Riflemen
On 7 October, 1777, Timothy Murphy, a rifleman in Morgan’s Kentucky Riflemen shot and killed General Simon Fraser of the British army. Murphy was said to have taken the shot at roughly 500 yards. He was using the renowned Kentucky rifle. Fraser was leading a recon in force against the rebellious colonists at Bemis Heights in New York. As a result of Fraser’s death, the recon failed. This had a direct impact on the overall battle, leading to the British defeat. The Battle of Saratoga was considered one of the turning points of the War for Independence.
Col. Hiram Berdan, Union Army
Col. Berdan was the commanding officer of the 1st and 2nd US Sharpshooters. Himself a controversial figure, under his tutelage, skilled Union marksmen were trained and equipped with the 52 caliber Sharps Rifle. It has been claimed that Berdan’s units were responsible for killing more enemy than any unit in the Union Army.
Sergeant Grace, 4th Georgia Infantry
On 9 May, 1864 a confederate sniper took what was to be considered an incredible shot at that time. During the Battle of Spotsylvania, Sgt. Grace of the 4th Georgia Infantry, took aim and fired at a distant Union officer. Grace was using a British Whitworth target rifle and the distance was 800 yards. Grace’s target, Major General John Sedgwick, fell dead after uttering the words “Why, they couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist…”. Sedgwick’s death resulted in a delay of the Union attack which in turn gave General Robert E. Lee the edge he needed to win the day at Spotsylvania.
Captain John T Metcalf, US Army Engineers
During Red River Campaign in 1864. Using a heavy, 50-caliber muzzle-loading rifle – one authority states it weighed between 23 to 27kg – fitted with a 24x scope, Metcalf fired at and hit a Confederate officer at a distance of 1666 meters. The officer was standing in front of a tent on a distant hillside and Metcalf had previously established the range with a surveyor’s transit. The bullet took approximately five seconds to reach the target.
Capt. Metcalf purportedly shot Confederate General Lainhardt at one mile’s distance. Bill Edwards in “Civil War Guns” (Stackpole, 1962) proved that Metcalf did not receive his medal for sharpshooting. Second, there was no General Lainhardt and the Mr. Edwards traces the story to Charles Sawyers who started the fiction.
This information is put here as a correction, thus trying to correct the myth, rather than just removing the reference.
Unknown Confederate Sniper
On September 19, 1863, a confederate sniper armed with a Whitworth .45 caliber percussion rifle, most likely shooting a 530 grain bullet, mortally wounded Union General William H. Lytle, during the battle of Chicamauga. General Lytle was leading a charge at the time. He died the following day. The Confederate army relied heavily on these marksmen to make up for their lack of heavy weapons and war fighting material. They were quite effective at harrying Union troops, artillery units and specialized in the taking of union officers. They were certainly one of the most effective forces on the battlefield and the Union was hard pressed to match their skill. Unfortunately for the south, these sharpshooters were neither numerous enough or effective enough to halt the tide of the well equipped Union forces.
Alvin C. York. US Infantry. 1917 – 1919
In Germany in 1918, with the rank opf corporal, he took part in the Argonne-Meuse offense as a member of the 82nd division. His platoon realised they could not take the German machine-gun posts with a frontal attack and decided to take them from the rear to allow the rest of the Allied forces to be able to advance. When his commanding officer was wounded and most of his compatriats were killed or wounded, York began to fight the Germans single-handed. He killed about 25 Germans, knocked out 35 machine guns, and captured 132 prisoners almost single-handed.
- The Diary of Alvin York, By Alvin C. York
- Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation.
- Sgt. Alvin C. York’s Diary
- The Real Sergeant York
- Alvin York – Army Legend
- The Life of Alvin C. York
- Trenches on the Web – Bio: Sergeant Alvin C. York
Simo Häyhä. Finland. 1939 – 1940.
A member of the 34th Infantry Regiment and a farmer by trade, Simo Häyhä became a most feared sniper during the 1939-40 (30 November 1939 14 March 1940) Winter invasion of Finland by the Soviet Union. Using nothing more than an iron sighted Mosin-Nagant Model 28, Simo is credited with killing 505 Russians during a three month period – a feat still unmatched today by any sniper in any conflict. (Editor’s note: Some sources say as many as 542 kills in this period.) The impact of Simo and men like him forced the Soviets to pay dearly for their transgressions. While Finland lost the Winter war, it cost the Soviets 1,000,000 men killed out of the 1,500,000 man invading force*. The Finns lost a total of 25,000 men in that conflict. A testament to their bravery and determination in the face of amazing odds.
He passed away on April 1st 2002 at the age of 96
*Information gleaned from Rifles of the White Death. Doug Bowser. Camellia City Military Publications.
Sulo Kolkka. Finland, 1939 – 1940
During 105 days of combat Sulo was credited with 400+ enemy kills as a sniper in the Winter War (30 November 1939 14 March 1940). He used an iron sighted Mosin-Nagant rifle. He often took the war to the rear of the Soviet lines, causing much fear and frustration as this area was supposedly safe. In addition to the kills he made as a sniper, Kolkka also was apparently quite fond of the submachine gun as he made an additional 200 kills with it during this same time frame. Hunted often by the Soviets, he outlasted them all, killing the sniper sent to hunt him at 600 yards with a single shot after a running duel of several days. Like Simo Häyhä, Sulo Kolkka exhibited the hard determination and skill that kept Finland a sovereign nation even after its inevitable defeat. At the end of the Winter War a Soviet General is said to have quipped, “We gained 22,000 square miles of territory. Just enough to bury our dead”.*
NOTE: Often the name is given “Suko” – as was done here as well. We have received numerous corrections from Finnish people stating very specifically that this name is wrong, and that the name is “Sulo”. One email stated:
I just wanted to mention that Suko Kolkka is actually Sulo Kolkka. Apparently this error was already in the book since I have noticed in quite many sites using same book as a source.
*Information gleaned from Rifles of the White Death. Doug Bowser. Camellia City Military Publications.
Zaitsev versus Thorvald
Chief Master Sergeant Vasily Zaitsev (and all the Russian Snipers of Stalingrad)
The name of Zaitsev has become synonymous with snipers at Stalingrad. While many of the German soldiers did not know his name, he set fear and dread into the hearts of those who did and outright desperation in those who only knew of his work. While the political commissars of his time went out of their way to turn him into a hero of the people, his record withstands their propaganda efforts. He is credited with killing 242 German soldiers during the late 1942 siege at Stalingrad. His final count tallied 400 by the end of his service in WWII. His impact on the history of battle can only be surmised but his deeds had to certainly have affected the way his enemy operated. Fear can paralyze and no fear is worse for the average grunt than that of being shot while doing nothing. To the Germans in that cauldron city, Zaitsev represented their doom. Unseen, but certain. Just raise your head above the trench and meet your maker.
Known to the world for his famous and ultimately victorious sniper duel with SS sniper Colonel Heinz Thorvald in the Ninth of January Square in the southern end of the city, Zaitsev has earned a special note in history if for no other reason than to have been known so well by his enemy and survived. But his deeds go far beyond that single duel. His success deprived the Nazis the freedom of movement so needed to take and hold ground. To the average grunt, it reduced the war to animal survival and nothing more.
The duel between Zaitsev and Thorvald (also refered to as Koenig in other reports) has long been contested as to its historical accuracy. One such comment is well worth repeating and I have agreed to add it to Sniper Country as it does have merit.
Addendum by Martin Pegler
Curator of Weapons, The Royal Armouries, Leeds, UK
While researching for a book on sniping, I used some contacts at Russian museums to look into the veracity of the much reported fight between Zeitsev and Koenig [Thorvald]. Despite the fact that Russian company and regimental records were faithfully kept even throughout the worst days of the Stalingrad seige, nowhere is this duel reported in war diaries. This would seem to be an odd omission, particularly in the face of the cult of ‘Sniperism’ that the Soviet press were so keen to extoll.
I tend to agree with Anthony Beevor’s opinion that the shooting match never actually happened and was the result of propoganda reporting by the press who were always keen to promote new ‘Heroes of the Soviet Union’. Apparently Zeitsev himself never confirmed or denied the event, an odd attitude in view of its apparent historical importance.
Addendum by David L. Robbins
Author of “War of the Rats”
The only light I can shed on your Thorvald/Koenig question is this: In an interview on the phone with me, I asked Zaitsev that question. He said he had always felt that the Germans claimed someone named Koenig had been shot in the duel and not Thorvald because the Germans didn’t want to admit their ace was down. He opined that Koenig was very close to the German word for king, as in a chess analogy; you win the chess game when you take your opponent’s king. Z was sure the papers he took from the body said Thorvald, and that’s the way he wrote it in his memoirs. So, true or not, I went with it because the man told me so.
Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock II – United States Marine Corps. 93 confirmed.
Probably the name most associated with modern military sniping in the United States, Carlos Hathcock has become legend in that nation for his exploits during and after the Vietnam war. The lessons learned by Hathcock and others during the Vietnam conflict were used to rebuild and revitalize sniping within the US military. His influence on the development of the military sniper cannot be exaggerated. Even today, some 30 years later, his name is still well known wherever sniper training is taking place. After his retirement from the Marine Corps, he took a very active role in developing snipers within the law enforcement community. Due to the extraordinary nature of several of his wartime missions, it is hard to single one out for listing on this page. Four stand out most.
The destruction of an entire NVA company over the span of 5 days. Hathcock and corporal John Burke pinned down a fresh company of NVA regulars in what was known as the Elephant valley. Craftily facing amazing but unskilled odds, the two snipers forced the company to sit in place while they slowly decimated the enemy, one by one. Interestingly, few if any of these kills are counted in either snipers’ tally. At the end of the fifth day Hathcock and Burke called down artillery fire which in effect took every man left alive.
The longest recorded kill with a .50 BMG mounting a telescopic sight. Hathcock was one of several individuals to utilize the Browning .50 caliber heavy machine gun in the sniping role. This success has led to the adoption of the .50 caliber cartridge as a viable anti-personnel and anti-equipment sniper round.
The sniping of a Vietnamese general under conditions that can only be described as impossible. Displaying the ultimate in patience and field craft, Hathcock crawled approximately 1000 yards across an open field for four days to get into a position enabling him to take this particular general. Under constant threat of discovery from walking dog patrols, he persevered on nothing more than will power and a single canteen of water. He successfully completed the mission with a 700 yard killing shot. This mission was a true double edged sword. While the goal was met, the reaction on the part of the enemy indicated that it may have been in vain. If anything, the shooting strengthened their resolve. Nonetheless, it was an incredible feat of field craft.
Last and probably most impacting to Carlos personally: his actions on the day he pulled wounded fellow marines from a burning AMTRAC and received burns over the majority of his body. The damage he sustained while repeatedly going back into the fire put paid to his career as a sniper and competitive shooter. Not one to be defeated, he turned his effect toward training others, both in the military and Law Enforcement.
Carlos N. Hathcock II exemplifies hard determination, self direction and skill. His actions put a serious dent in the free operation of the enemy in his area of operations, thereby saving many untold American lives. He is historically significant as his actions have affected and directed sniper training in the US ever since. For the first time, and by and large due to Carlos, Jim Land and several others, the military sniper has been looked upon as something more than a fluke of war. He is now a permanent fixture of the United States armed forces.
As a final note, unbeknownst to the Gunny, he was experiencing the debilitating effects of Multiple Sclerosis as far back as the 1960s. This site proudly honors the dedication and determination of this individual, who under the most harrowing of conditions fought on to the end in quiet resolve.
Team Sergeant Gary Gordon, 33, of Lincoln, ME, and Weapons Sergeant Randy Shughart, 35, of Blain, PA — Medal of Honor recipients, both of Delta Force’s C Squadron.
On October 3, 1993, members of the Army’s Rangers and SOCOM’s Delta Force went on a mission to capture Gen. Mohammed Farah Aidid and to arrest his staff. The mission went awry when the soldiers ran into greater than expected opposition. The Somalis began shooting down U.S. helicopters. The helicopter containing Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant went down.
Riding in a Blackhawk flown by a pilot by the name of Goffena, call sign Super 62, was Randy, his team leader Gary Gordon and another sniper by the name of Hallings. They heard about Durant’s Blackhawk going down and there was no way a rescue team could be inserted in time. The Somalis were closing in. The Blackhawk crew didn’t stand a chance. Randy, Gordon and Hallings picked off numerous skinnies, but at the same time, the chopper took a lot of hits. A couple of other gunships came in to help and they were successful in somewhat holding the crowds back. Meanwhile, Randy and Gordon made their third request to go in. They could provide first aid, set-up a small perimeter, and possibly hold back the armed crowd until a reaction force showed up. Just maybe. Randy knew it was one hell of a gamble. But they were confident. Both were good at killing. They made a formidable team.
Goffena braved the ground fire and hovered about two meters above the ground. There was a small brown-out with sand and dirt blowing which made it hard to see. Randy got wrapped up in his safety line at the last second and had to be cut free. Gordon had a hard time seeing as he ran for cover and tripped and fell to the ground. They made it to cover but weren’t sure in the maze of huts which way to go. Goeffna pointed the way. Randy and Gordon worked their way through a maze of shanties following the smoke a crew chief and popped. They got to Durant first and lifted him out of the wreckage. Then they moved to the starboard side to help out the rest. That’s when the Somalis came in and started checking out the wreckage. Durant shot at them with his MP-5. He heard more firing on the other side of chopper. About a hundred meters away was a Little Bird, OH-6, waiting to help load the wounded. They were SO close. But the Blackhawk crew were too badly wounded and couldn’t be easily moved to the Little Bird. Besides, the OH-6 was a sitting duck out there in the open and they were running low on fuel. They left.
Gordon shouted out that he was hit, and then nothing more. Randy came around to Durant’s side and asked if there were any more weapons onboard. When Gordon got hit, Randy picked up his rifle and now gave it to Durant. Then he asked for the frequency on the radio. Randy made an urgent call and he was told to hang tight, that a reaction team was en-route. The Somalis closed in by the dozens. Randy grabbed his rifle and ran back to the opposite side of the wreckage to face the music. At first there was only sporadic firing. Then the Skinnies got organized and suddenly a heavy barrage of automatic fire opened up. It sounded like a torrential downpour that lasted about a minute. Randy, completely out of any ammo, was hit and fatally wounded. It was all captured on video by the P3’s flying overhead.
They radioed to the command on the ground:
“Indigenous personnel moving around the second crash site. Over.”
That was it.
Durant was captured and spent several days as a prisoner. He was the only survivor. The CIA quietly negotiated for the release of the bodies of the dead American soldiers, including Shughart and Gordon. Of those, Gordon’s body was the most badly mutilated and was dropped off in a plastic garbage bag at the front of the U.S. mission.
Throughout their involvement in the firefight, all who were around Gordon and Shughart commented on their composure and coolness. No matter how hopeless it seemed (or was) the two commandos carried out their mission smoothly and without fear. Said Geoffena, “anyone in their right mind would never have gone in.”
As a result of their actions, the United States Government awarded the two commandos the Medal of Honor for their honor and bravery against insurmountable odds.
Historic firearms have always fascinated me. The precision with which they were made during wartime and their unique feel has long held sway over me. While I have a fair amount of experience with their modern counterparts, I find myself often drawn to the old warhorses. Each ding and scratch holds a story and the seemingly endless number of proof marks, inspection stampings and manufacturers’ codes can keep a collector busy for weeks at a time trying to sort them all out. As part of this loss of sanity and cash, I have been bitten (no surprise here) by the sniper rifle bug. Many of these so-called sniper rifles are nothing more than a standard service rifle pulled from the production line when it exhibited above-average accuracy. In some cases, no effort was made at all to separate out accurate rifles for conversion. Perfect or not, a telescopic sight was mounted and the rifle issued to the troops, qualified or otherwise. Some rifles, like the Enfield No.4 Mk1 (T), went through a detailed accurizing process. Others were issued as is after the installation of a telescopic sight, with little else in the way of improvement. The telescopic sights varied greatly, but two trends seemed to have been adopted by the warring nations. You will find either long-tubed commercial grade optics no different than those found on hunting rifles, or you will find short-tubed telescopic sights manufactured specifically for the weapon in question. There are some aberrations from this state of affairs like America’s M-85 and Britain’s No.32 Series. But for the most part, especially in the European nations, one finds high-grade commercial sights or mass-produced sights of abbreviated stature.
Having an evening free, I decided to compare the units available to me: a British No. 32 Mk1, a Russian PU and a German ZF4-fach. The combatants at large employed all three of the sights with varying success. Two of the three lived on to fight almost half a century after their inception. Both the No. 32 and the PU were employed well into the 1980’s in one form or another. I am sure that if you visit the armory of some third world countries you will certainly find them still performing reliable service. Though not high tech by today’s standards, both of these telescopic sights were capable of delivering fire precisely where their snipers directed. I thought it would be interesting to compare these units as a break of sorts from the modern optics we actively analyze today. It is interesting to note that for over a century, the battlefield sniper had been achieving excellent results with optics and rifles we in modern times would consider substandard or highly obsolete. In many ways, this just proves the adage that the man makes the success, not his equipment.
We love to compare modern precision optics. However, there are a multitude of choices that can make it very confusing. Modern optics has achieved levels of reliability unimagined just 40 years ago. It would be easy to discount sighting devices from the past as being less than ideal. From our modern perspective, these devices look downright useless. Certainly when compared to what is available now, they show a definite lack of refinement and ability. Yet many of these systems have been used as front line equipment, with deadly success, right up to and including this very year, 1999. I find that a little telling about the way we think. While we are proud of our technological advancements, and firmly believe in the superiority of our equipment, I find it sobering that something designed 100 years ago was capable of making shots at ranges in excess of 1500 yards, or that so seemingly crude a device as any of the following telescopic sights were capable, even in the 1940s, of delivering one well-placed shot time and again at ranges we still consider excellent.
Not surprisingly all three of these sighting systems proved affective and accurate enough for their design purposes. While none can compare to their modern descendants, they were the leading technology in their day. They enabled their users to go forth and place fear into the heart of their enemy, robbing him of freedom of movement and killing his field level leadership and valuable trained assets, which is after all, the military sniper’s reason for being. While not one of the rifles these sights were placed upon was capable of sub moa accuracy, they all did their part effectively.
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.
3.5 Power PU Telescopic Sight
I have very little historical information on the 3.5 power PU telescopic sight. They were used primarily on the Russian Mosin-Nagant 91/30 sniper rifle system. The PU was also used on the Hungarian 91/30 sniper rifle as well as just about every other 91/30-based sniper rifle utilized by nations employing Soviet equipment. One of the more interesting uses of this scope was on the Finnish M39, a much-improved variant of the original Mosin-Nagant design and considered by many to be arguably the best bolt-action service rifle ever made. This particular usage is interesting in that these telescopic sights were typically removed from captured Russian 91/30’s when the parent rifles became less than reliable or their accuracy began to decay. It is somewhat historically satisfying to know that the Finns were able to use the invading Russian’s own specialized equipment against them.
First introduced in a slightly different model for the M1938 and then M1940 Tokarev (SVT) rifles, the PU in its final form, as found on the M91/30, measures 6-5/8th inches long and has a 30mm tube. It had an eye relief of approximately 70mm and the field of view is 4 degrees, 30 minutes. The PU telescopic sight, along with the longer 4 power PE, was the principal optical device used throughout WWII by Soviet forces. A simple design, it lasted in front line use right through the 1960’s and can still be found in use in several third world nations. The recent influx of Soviet paraphernalia has brought many of these sights into the world market. These scopes are typically in excellent condition and make a nice conversation piece for any collection.
While simple, the PU seems to be quite well made and robust. There is no means for focusing the sight so corrected vision is a must. The low magnification allows some leeway, but if you were not blessed with perfect vision, you would not have been issued this sight as a Soviet sniper. The reticle is typically European; a three-post system consisting of a sharply pointed vertical post and equally thick square side posts that end just short of the vertical post. The gap between the horizontal posts can be used for range estimation and leads. The PU has a BDC style elevation turret calibrated to the 7.62x54R cartridge utilizing the .310 caliber bullet. The elevation turret is marked from 0 to an optimistic 1300 meters. There is no clicker plate and the turret may be turned smoothly between markings. One has to pay attention when dialing in an elevation change, as there is no positive feedback. Adjustment is strictly visual and in low light, a problem. Like the No. 32 Mk1, the BDC is rather gross in adjustment but in this case, the PU has a little “guestimation” room as you can infinitely adjust the turret between ranges. Of course this is anything but precise. Again, I believe the sniper would resort to holds to correct for changes due to weather. The lateral adjustment (windage) turret is similar to the BDC. There are no positive clicks and one must rely solely on vision to set the drum. The turret is marked from 0 to 10 in either direction. I can only assume this represents minutes of angle, but until I can shoot this scope, I have little to go by but faith.
As an interesting aside, the Germans were so impressed with the PU that they based their ill-fated Gw ZF4 telescopic sight on it. The idea of a mass-produced sniper scope must have been overwhelming to the hard-pressed German military. They had to rely on what essentially amounted to high quality sporting scopes, which where both expensive and hard to come by. The lure of a small and easily produced telescopic sight soon had them creating a copy of the PU with the intent of massive distribution. I’ll cover this in the following text.
The glass in the PU is fairly clear but appears to be uncoated. Tested against the Zeiss Test Pattern, I found an interesting anomaly that I am unsure how to classify. The scope was capable of resolving down to the number 4 block. At times I felt I could resolve to the number 5 block, but not with any consistency. The odd anomaly I spoke of still has me stumped. When viewing the center of the field of view, the Zeiss pattern appears sufficiently crisp, but it actually sharpens as I move toward the edge of the image area! This is exactly opposite of what you would expect. The closer I looked toward the edge, the better the resolution. This held up right up to the edge, where the image darkened slightly and lost a little focus. I have never experienced this before. Typically the sharpest image is at the center of the scope and one usually loses that clarity out near the edge of the glass. This anomaly could be the result of not being able to focus the sight to the individual’s eye. In the field, I could not notice any difference in the image, but under close examination with the Test Pattern, it was easily discerned. On the plus side, I could discern no noticeable distortion. Straight lines remained straight right to the edge.
Zeroing the PU scope is quite simple. Verify zero on paper. Loosen the two large screws found on the top of the turret and gently slide the marked outer drum to the correct range indicator. Gently tighten the screws again and re-verify the zero. This is a quantum leap ahead of the No. 32 Mk1. Bore sighting the PU is relatively easy. The turrets provide enough resistance to stay at the desired setting, yet are easily displaced when needed. While I would much prefer a positive clicker, the smooth action of the PU turret works sufficiently for its intended purpose.
I would have to rate the PU quite acceptable for its purpose. While simple, it provided a mass-produced means of arming the Soviets and her satellites with an efficient and reliable telescopic sight. By no means a precision instrument by today’s standards, it was sufficient to net kills in excess of 800 yards in capable hands.
The No.32 Mk1 (Britain)
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.
In the book “To Ride, Shoot Straight and Tell the truth” author Jeff Cooper tells the story of a German footsoldier with the nom de guerre of “Gerhard Taubnitz.” If Cooper’s “Taubnitz tale” is more that of one soldier’s unconquerable will than it is of rifle marksmanship, do know that some pretty good shooting is described in the story- and the equipment used is interesting.
But the point that Cooper is trying to make is that unless someone writes such stories down, they’ll be lost forever, as the men who performed such deeds die off. Sniper Country is at least one such place where some of those stories can be told, and for my first effort I thought that I’d repeat, to the best of my ability, a story from the closing days of World War II that I first heard around 1965.
The Old Soldier telling the story had spent his time in the Army Air Corps, figuring conditions would be at least more comfortable than they were at the time for an expendable mudfoot infantryman. They gave him a Tech Sergeant’s rank and a slot in aerial photograph interpretation, doing bomb damage interpretation of targets in Norway that the Eighth Air Force wanted removed from the map. Since the young Sergeant spoke a little family Norwegian, all seemed cozy in his nice, safe, rear-area job until, during the last days of the war, somebody got one of those really great ideas. Given that the Germans were pulling out of Norway, wouldn’t it be a really great idea to send a team in to photograph the actual targets of the bombing runs against the estimates that the intelligence types figured the enemy had suffered…and since that one Tech Sergeant spoke a little Norwegian, guess who was picked to go on that little trip!
The unit had two jeeps, one with a driver, a photographer and a Captain. Our fearless Tech Sgt. drove the other, and had a 2nd Lieutenant with his personal camera as a spare to the “official” photographer’s rig and so he could shoot any really interesting stuff that turned up. Since neither jeep had a machine-gun mount, someone thoughtfully provided a security detail in a 3/4 ton truck with a mounted thirty caliber Browning MG, a driver, a couple of scared Privates with rifles and another Sergeant to keep track of them. And off on their secret mission they went.
The first thing they found in Norway [under new management] was that the Germans had removed all of the highway road signs. This should have provided no great challenge to these experienced intelligence types, but within the first hour they managed to get lost anyway. And then came the difficulty that has greeted travelers since the very first roads: a fork offering the choice of two possible directions, and no such intersection appearing ANYWHERE in their area on the maps that had been provided to them.
So the Captain made one of those Command Decisions: He’d take one jeep on one fork of the road, the LT and the Tech Sgt would take the other path, and the 3/4 ton would wait at the junction- and if the truck’s crew heard firing down either path, they’d do their best imitation of the Cavalry coming to the rescue.
Like lambs to the slaughter, down their respective paths these bold warriors charged, as thoughts of sugarplums, mines and snipers danced in their heads. The Lieutenant and the Sergeant peered carefully ahead and crossed a bridge that spanned a dry gully. About five miles beyond that they came to a village that wasn’t supposed to be there, according to those ever-reliable maps they were carrying. There was wreckage in the middle of the street- a fountain perhaps, or maybe a statue. Whatever had wrecked it had not come from an aircraft’s belly, but it was worth a photograph.
So they circled the mostly-residential block and came upon the blockage from the opposite side of the street, and then noticed a two-story church, complete with steeple, about three hundred yards down the street.
Now any original sniper is not going to hole up in a church steeple where his routes of escape are too easily limited by even a squad of eight or ten enemy troops. And such towers are so obvious that the real trick is to find a sniper’s roost where the targets can be taken under fire while they’re avoiding the obvious roost- like a church steeple. Church steeples are much better hiding places for three other critters: bats, chaplains, and artillery forward observers.
The shooter in the steeple had read all the wrong books however, and introduced himself with a shot that hit the jeep in the hood. As the two passengers jumped for cover, he put a second, hurried shot into a front tire. Ten or fifteen seconds later he carefully hit the other tire that was visible to him, then as an afterthought, put five or six more into the hood and radiator. From around the edge of the rubble pile, the two new veterans of fire took stock of their assets and situation: Two personnel, two .45 automatic pistols, and three magazines of seven shots apiece. This was not state-of-the-art, even then, for three hundred yard shooting. And the sun was going down.
The good news was: maybe the guys in the truck had heard- but probably not. No grenades, no cannon fire, just the bark of the rifle fired by someone who clearly appreciated the advantage that he held over his targets, and was quite ready to exploit it.
So who was this hard-core sniper? Some SS trooper who decided to send a personal message to the Americans before he left his position? Maybe an ordinary rifleman who’d been told to delay the oncoming horde of less-than-a-dozen yanks until a given time- sundown, perhaps? Or maybe just a Norwegian who was tired of foreigners from any army defiling his nation and his home town. Whoever he was, and whatever kind of equipment he was using, he could shoot.
The two G.I’s voiced their thoughts to each other, it helped replace the terror of possibilities that were undreamt of when they were safe at their base in England just 24 hours ago. How much ammo does this guy have? What if he slips out a back door and takes us from behind? And WHAT IF HE HAS FRIENDS…?
The scary possibilities were replaced by the dreams: if only we’d brought a Thompson, if only the 3/4 ton had come with us, if we only had a radio. Another shot was fired and another bullet danced off the rubble pile kicking up dust. He knew exactly where they were.
Another shot tore through the jeep’s spare tire. The two sitting ducks ducked anyway. He could get in real trouble for destroying government property like that….
Well, they had to do something. The Sergeant lined his .45 up on the very tiptop of the steeple, cranked in a little more elevation for good lucks sake, and squeezed off a shot. Both GIs could hear the solid whack as the .45 slug tore into the clapboard siding on the first floor of the building, at least 10 or 15 feet below the sniper’s window. In the next ten minutes or so, the sniper fired off a clip of five rounds, all of them coming within inches of his hidden victims. This interesting but unpleasant situation had been going on for nearly an hour and the light was fading fast.
They couldn’t back away; they’d be easy targets in the open. They couldn’t go left or right in the street; he’d get one or the other of them for sure. And any thought of charging three hundred yards at a capable sniper was certain suicide for both of them. Their jeep was useless, and their hopes for outside assistance seemed less likely with every passing minute. If they had a guitar with them, they could have written a hillbilly song about the predicament that they were in.
As if things weren’t bad enough, their canteens were in the back of the jeep and their throats were dusty and parched. That was when the LT got the bright idea that cost them their canteens.
Only 10 or 15 feet from the back of the jeep, they were still easy targets if they ran for the water, or even tried to crawl to it. But there was another option.
The Lieutenant carefully fired at the jeep, just under the seat. He fired seven times, then changed magazines and fired seven more. [He saved the last seven, however.] Once he’d had his fun, he had the Sgt fire at the same place, marked by the filler cap for the gas tank. After 28 of the big .45 slugs had torn through the little car’s sheet metal, the scent of gasoline made its presence known. Shortly thereafter a hastily assembled torch was improvised from the map that had turned out to be not so useless after all, and without ceremony was pitched toward the jeep’s ventilated carcass.
The result was as spectacular as they had hoped for. There was just enough light for the truck crew to figure out that Something Was Very Wrong and come to their aid. Even better, the smoke from the jeeps burning tires gave them enough concealment to escape from behind the rubble pile to the better cover of the corner of the closest building. It was a shame about the jeep, the camera and the canteens, but it was an improvement. The map was no great loss.
The Great Battle with the Sniper Somewhere in Norway was over, no more shots were fired. The two seasoned veterans retreated along the road that had brought them to their day’s adventure, found the bridge that they’d crossed- it seemed further back now that they were traveling on foot- and finally found the other jeep and the truck, happily unaware of the smoke plume or the gunshots down the road.
The next day the whole team cautiously returned to the village and, under the careful eye of the machine-gun, inspected the building where all the shots directed at them had come from. There wasn’t so much as a cartridge case to be found, and though the burned-out jeep added to the litter in the main street, all of their .45 cartridge cases had been policed up as well: a tidy battlefield is a happy battlefield.
The Sergeant never went anywhere off his air corps base without AT LEAST a carbine again.
Medal of Honor
The only two people ever to receive the Medal of Honor while serving their country as snipers.
MEDALS OF HONOR AWARDED FOR ACTION IN SOMALIA
*GORDON, GARY I.
Rank and organization: Master Sergeant, U.S. Army.
Place and date: 3 October 1993, Mogadishu, Somalia.
Born: Lincoln, Maine.
Citation: Master Sergeant Gordon, United States Army, distinguished himself by actions above and beyond the call of duty on 3 October 1993, while serving as Sniper Team Leader, United States Army Special Operations Command with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia. Master Sergeant Gordon’s sniper team provided precision fires from the lead helicopter during an assault and at two helicopter crash sites, while subjected to intense automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade fires. When Master Sergeant Gordon learned that ground forces were not immediately available to secure the second crash site, he and another sniper unhesitatingly volunteered to be inserted to protect the four critically wounded personnel, despite being well aware of the growing number of enemy personnel closing in on the site. After his third request to be inserted, Master Sergeant Gordon received permission to perform his volunteer mission. When debris and enemy ground fires at the site caused them to abort the first attempt, Master Sergeant Gordon was inserted one hundred meters south of the crash site. Equipped with only his sniper rifle and a pistol, Master Sergeant Gordon and his fellow sniper, while under intense small arms fire from the enemy, fought their way through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to reach the critically injured crew members. Master Sergeant Gordon immediately pulled the pilot and the other crew members from the aircraft, establishing a perimeter which placed him and his fellow sniper in the most vulnerable position. Master Sergeant Gordon used his long range rifle and side arm to kill an undetermined number of attackers until he depleted his ammunition. Master Sergeant Gordon then went back to the wreckage, recovering some of the crew’s weapons and ammunition. Despite the fact that he was critically low on ammunition, he provided some of it to the dazed pilot and then radioed for help. Master Sergeant Gordon continued to travel the perimeter, protecting the downed crew. After his team member was fatally wounded and his own rifle ammunition exhausted, Master Sergeant Gordon returned to the wreckage, recovering a rifle with the last five rounds of ammunition and gave it to the pilot with the words, “good luck.” Then, armed only with his pistol, Master Sergeant Gordon continued to fight until he was fatally wounded. His actions saved the pilot’s life. Master Sergeant Gordon’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest standards of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit and the United States Army.
*SHUGHART, RANDALL D.
Rank and organization: Sergeant First Class, U.S. Army.
Place and date: 3 October 1993, Mogadishu, Somalia.
Born: Newville, Pennsylvania.
Citation: Sergeant First Class Shughart, United States Army, distinguished himself by actions above and beyond the call of duty on 3 October 1993, while serving as a Sniper Team Member, United States Army Special Operations Command with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia. Sergeant First Class Shughart provided precision sniper fires from the lead helicopter during an assault on a building and at two helicopter crash sites, while subjected to intense automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade fires. While providing critical suppressive fires at the second crash site, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader learned that ground forces were not immediately available to secure the site. Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader unhesitatingly volunteered to be inserted to protect the four critically wounded personnel, despite being well aware of the growing number of enemy personnel closing in on the site. After their third request to be inserted, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader received permission to perform this volunteer mission. When debris and enemy ground fires at the site caused them to abort the first attempt, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader were inserted one hundred meters south of the crash site. Equipped with only his sniper rifle and a pistol, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader, while under intense small arms fire from the enemy, fought their way through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to reach the critically injured crew members. Sergeant First Class Shughart pulled the pilot and the other crew members from the aircraft, establishing a perimeter which placed him and his fellow sniper in the most vulnerable position. Sergeant First Class Shughart used his long range rifle and side arm to kill an undetermined number of attackers while traveling the perimeter, protecting the downed crew. Sergeant First Class Shughart continued his protective fire until he depleted his ammunition and was fatally wounded. His actions saved the pilot’s life. Sergeant First Class Shughart’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest standards of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit and the United States Army.
The asterisk ( * ) indicates the honor was awarded posthumously.