The Wehrmacht made extensive use of captured Russian sniper rifles during WWII. In the years leading up to and during the war, the Russians produced four types of sniper rifles from approximately 1933 to 1945. These rifles were the Top Mount PE, Side Mount Mod. 38 PEM, SVT 40, and Side Mounting PU.
Brief History of Soviet Sniping
During WWII no other country placed a larger importance on the use of sniper rifles then the Soviet Union. Nor did any country produced more sniper rifles or field more men and women as sharpshooters. It could be argued that as a result of the impact that Soviet snipers had on the early war years, the German Army put more time into their own sniper development.
The Russians began a sniper program in the late 1920s. Out of this development stage came the first M91/30 sniper rifles. Initially, several different systems were considered and there was difficulty producing a sufficient scope and mounting system. The first mounting system to show success was from the Gustav Genschow company. It was known as the Geco system and was a large side mounting system. This Geco mount would later be the basis for the Mod. 38 Side Mount. Several scope companies supplied scopes for the trials. It was the German optics company Carl Zeiss that supplied them initially. Later this Zeiss designed scope was improved upon and would become the PE scope. For the PE, the Russians copied the body of the Emil Busch Visarfunf scope and combined it with the Zeiss nine lens design.
This early Geco system was used on early prototype sniper rifles but never produced in significant numbers. Later in 1942 when there was a desperate need for scoped rifles, some of these early trial Geco mounts with Zeiss Nedinsco scope were used to fill that demand.
History of the Smirnsky PE Top Mount
In 1932 production of the Smirnsky Top Mount with PE scope M91/30 was started. Interestingly, the early Geco side mount was not used and it is unclear why. This new top mounting system used a base shaped as a hexagon (same as the receiver) and was placed over the bore atop the receiver. Six screws, three on each side, held it securely in place and a new scope mount was designed to be used on this base. This scope mount was rectangular in shape and used two locking screws to secure it to the dove tail of the base.
Factory No. 314 Tula was the only producer of the top mount PE sniper prior to 1942. In 1936 the hexagon shaped receiver was updated to a round shaped receiver. It was sometime during this year that Tula began using these rounded receiver in sniper production. Also during this time period, from 1936 to 1937, and unique version of the round receiver base was utilized. This version used only two screws on either side of the base as opposed to three. Certainly this was a transitional period for the new round receiver. Soon after Tula returned to using six total screws. Very few original examples of this unique four screw base are known to exist making it extremely rare.
It was determined that the PE top mount was a weak mounting system prone to breaking and as a result production was finished in mid 1938 when it was replaced by a side mounting system. However, it is possible that some top mounts were produced in small numbers until 1940. The reason for the continued production of the top mount is unclear but it is clear from war time documents that the drawings for the top mount were cancelled in August 1938. This means that the Tula factory would not have been allowed to assemble any. It was also in 1937 that the PE scope was simplified by removing the focus adjuster and designated the PEM scope (PE Modified). This change in scope and mounting system marked the beginning of the Mod. 38 PEM side mount.
Estimated production totals, by year, for the PE Top mount from 1932 to 1937:
Factory No. 314 Tula
1932 = 749 rifles, 1933 = 1,347 rifles, 1934 = 6,637 rifles, 1935 = 16,082 rifles, 1936 = 13,363 rifles, 1937 = 12,503 rifles.
Collecting the Top Mount PE Sniper
Factory original top mount PE snipers are extremely rare in today’s collecting market. What is commonly seen are “ex-snipers.” These are rifles that were converted to regular infantry rifles post war by removing the scope and base, filling in the base screw holes and replacing the bent bolt with a straight bolt. A factory original sniper will be similar to a regular infantry rifle with a few distinguishable features. During conversion, a СП was added to the barrel directly above the Tula star emblem. This practice did not start until sometime in 1934. Earlier rifles will not have this stamp. The bolt will be bent to allow for scope clearance. Often times it was necessary for the stock to be cut on both sides to allow for the scope base to be place atop the receiver. All serial numbers were stamped with the same set of dies after the finally assembly of the rifle. While there will be variation on the depth and completeness of stamps, all numbers should be identical. Also, an assembly number was placed on two places during conversion, on the hex flat and recoil lug of the receiver. It is unclear when this practice started but was certainly done from 1934 to 1936. In order to see these numbers the action has to be removed from the stock and scope base removed from the receiver.
Example of a 1935 PE Top Mount
Pictures left and above show all numbered parts on Russian snipers which are: trigger guard, bolt and butt plate.
(Left) Factory emblem, date manufactured and serial number are stamped on top the barrel. Here the Tula sniper inspection stamp СП can be seen.
(Right) Picture showing how the bolt was bent to allow for scope clearance. This rifle was captured by Finland prior to or during WWII. At some point the rifle's scope base was removed.
Example of a 1935 PE Top Mount
In the pictures above the assembling number can be seen on the bottom of the receiver and side of the scope base. They match showing that this rifle retains it's factory base.
PE scope base and mount
(Below) PE scope with mount as used on the top mount snipers. Notice the focus adjuster. This was eliminated on the PEM scope.
There were two variations of the scope base. Which one was used depended upon whether the rifle had a hex or round receiver.
Pictures to the left and right show the assembly number seen on top mount snipers from 1934 to 1936.
(Above) A top mount with PEM scope produced in 1943 during the Seige of Leningrade. Notice the lack of any final machine work done.
History of the Side Mount Mod. 38 PEM
In 1938 production of the Mod. 38 PEM side mount began. This new system was very similar to the early Geco mounts. It moved the base from the top of the receiver to the left side. A large scope mount slide on to the base until it met a stop pin and was locked in place by a large screw that threaded though the scope mount and into the base. The scope was secured to the mount by two rings which each had four screws tightening the scope in place. From 1938 to 1940 it was produced solely by Factory No. 314 Tula using high wall receivers, which was necessary to mount a side mount. High wall receivers were not introduced to regular production rifles until 1941 making them unique to PEM snipers (similar to German Long Side Rails) prior to that year.
In 1940 is was decided that the M91/30 was no longer a suitable sniper rifle and production of all bolt action snipers stopped. A semi-auto sniper was desired to replace the M91/30 and so the SVT 40 was chosen to be the new platform. However, this idea was short lived when it was determined that the SVT 40 was not accurate enough for sniper use. As a result, in 1942 it was decided that the M91/30 would again be used. A new mounting system known as the Kochetov Mount (used with the PU) was selected to be the new mounting system.
In 1942 while waiting to produce the new PU system, the newly created and renumbered Factory No. 536 in Tula was ordered to resume production of the Mod. 1938 side mount system with the PEM scope. Factory No. 74 Izhevsk was also ordered to produce the Mod. 38 side mount. 1942 was the last year that the Mod. 38 PEM was produced by a Russian factory.
Estimated production totals, by year, for the PEM side mount from 1938 to 1940 and 1942:
Factory No. 314 Tula
1938 = 19,433 rifles, 1939 = 35,376 rifles, 1940 = 7,970 rifles
Factory No. 536 Tula
1942 = 6,811 Mod. 38 rifles.
Factory No. 74 Izhevsk
1942 = 31,689 Mod. 38 rifles
During the Siege of Leningrad, 1941 to 1944, the PEM side mount and PEM Top mount were produced for a short period and in very limited numbers. These rifles were made in Leningrad using what ever was available. Despite the extremely difficult conditions, in 1942 Factory No. 349 (GOMZ) was able to produce the Smirnsky top mount along with a PEM scope. These scope mount and bases are very rough showing very little final machine finishing. The majority of these scopes are dated 1943 and seem to have never been mounted to a rifle. This is likely the result of the siege being partially broken in early 1943 and the locally produced scoped rifles were no longer needed. Authentic Siege of Leningrad snipers are extremely rare and would be nearly impossible to authenticate since there is no regular production patterns to follow.
Collecting the PEM Sniper
Mod. 38 PEM snipers dated from 1938 to 1940 will exhibit many of the same features of a regular infantry rifle. The barrel, bolt, trigger guard and butt plate will all be stamped matching with the exact same font. The bolt will be turned down so that it will clear the scope when operated. СП was added to the barrel to designate the rifle as a sniper. In 1942 this was changed to СН at Factory No. 536 Tula. As mentioned before, the PEM made use of the high wall receiver and will only be found on PEM snipers until they were utilized in production of regular rifles in 1941. When rifles were being modified for optic mounting , the scope bases and mounts were added to the rifle as a set. These two will be numbered to each other and not the rifle. This means that scope mounts are not interchangeable. Typically scopes will have the same date as the rifle although there is most likely some overlap on original rifles. No 91/30 snipers were produced in the year 1941 as only SVT 40 snipers were being made. At this point in time, (until more information is brought to light) I am convinced that only Tula produced PEM side mounts prior to1942.
1942 dated Mod. 38 PEM rifles will also display similar features to their regular production counter parts. The same parts will be numbered and bolts will be turned down to allow for scope clearance. Factory No. 536 rifles will have a СН mark on the barrel above the Tula Star emblem. However, some legit examples have been observed without the CH. In a similar fashion, Izhevsk used a Circle C to indicate that a rifle was found suitable for sniper use and the scope serial number was added to the left side of the barrel shank. Also, Izhevsk rifles will have the scope serial number stamped on the left side of the barrel shank. The same font dies used on the other rifle’s numbered parts was used to do this. These two features continued to be used on the PU rifle. In 1942 Factory No. 536 Tula was supplied barrels by the same supplier of Izhevsk which was Factory No. 71. These barrels went through Izhevsk before being sent to Tula. On some examples a Tula produced rifle will have the circle C and CH stamps. Another unique feature to Izhevsk rifles will be the addition of a locking screw to the front ring of the scope mount. This screw makes it easy to identify authentic Izhevsk produced PEM snipers in war time pictures.
Factory original PEM snipers are extremely rare. What is most often found is a rifle that during refurbishment post war has had it’s scope removed therefore being turned into a regular infantry rifle. These rifles will be restored to sniper trim and can be claimed as factory original. An understanding of what a factory rifle looks like will save a potential buyer from over paying.
Example of a 1939 Mod. 38 PEM Side Mount
(Left) Left side view of scope when mounted. The large thumb screw that secures the mount to the base can be seen.
(Left) Matching bolt was bent to allow for scope clearance.
(Left) Pictures showing matching floor plate and butt plate.
This rifle still has it's original base secured to the receiver. Bases were numbered to a matching scope mount, never the rifle.
(Right) Factory emblem, date manufactured and serial number are stamped on top the barrel. Here the Tula sniper inspection stamp СП can be seen. Notice that the rifle serial number was stamped after bluing. As a result the bluing loss around the numbers can be seen. This is one way of determining if a rifle has been re-blued or not.
Below is a group of pictures showing a early, original matching PEM scope mount and base set. This example is numbered without a letter prefix, which is likely an early feature.These sets were numbered in four locations, the side of the mount, upper front ring, upper rear ring, and base. Sometime later the front upper ring was no longer numbered.
Number on side of mount
Number on base
Front upper ring
Windage scale on rear ring
Rear upper ring
Scope serial number
1942 Izhevsk Mod. 38 PEM
A Finn capture 1942 Izhevsk PEM side mount. This rifle is missing most of it's matching parts. However, original 42 dated snipers are dificult to find.
(Left) The Circle C can be seen on the left side of the barrel. This was Izhevsk's sniper barrel marking. In 19443 this would be moved to the right side of the barrel. Above can be seen pictures of the mismatch parts. The bolt is likely form a PU rifle.
(Right) A picture of the butt stock. Half liners were only installed on the rear sling cut out of sniper rifles. 1942 snipers can be found with and without the rear liner.
(Below) example of a canvas scope mount cover and leather scope covers for the lenses. While the Germans issues metal cans for the scope to be placed in while not mounted to the rifles, Russian soldiers where issued canvas covers to be placed over the scope while still mounted to the rifle.
(Right) Picture showing two soldiers holding SVT 40 snipers. The practice of covering the scope while attached to the rifles can be seen.
In original war time photographs Russian snipers are seen a variety of headgear. The picture above is a fantastic example of the most common Russian helmet. This sniper is where the first variation of the helmet known as the Ssh39.
1940 ZKO Ssh39
This helmet is a Ssh39 model made in 1940 by ZKO, Zavod Krasnyy Oktyabr (Red October Steel Factory) in Stalingrad.