History of the Short Side Rail
One of the earliest mount systems of the war was the short side rail. In the 1930s it was common to use a side rail mounting system on sporting and hunting rifles. Perhaps this is why it was attempted on the K98k. J.P. Sauer und Sohn produced snipers with this mounting system from 1941 to 1943. In war time German documents, the short side rail was referred to as the “Schiebehalterung” which translates to Sliding Bracket (Sauer). Whether rifles were purpose built or selected is unclear. However, it is safe to assume that Sauer had the same practice of other factories and chose the most accurate rifles from production to be converted to snipers.
Once rifles were sent to be converted, the inside of the stock was relieved and a base was attached to the side of the receiver. In original war time pictures it can be seen that Sauer did not cut the stock all the way through to the outside. The stock was merely relieved on the inside to allow space for the base. It is likely that this was the way in which Sauer made all short side rails. This is however a educated guess since original rifles are so rare making it difficult to observe a trend. Besides the scope base and mount, there are no other features that distinguish a short side rail as authentic. No markings were added to denote sniper conversion.
During this two year production period, the scope base suffered from an issue of loosening during firing from the recoil of the rifle. Attempts were made to fix this issue. From what has been observed, three different base mounts were used, each one improving on the first. These terms are not official war time designation but instead collector terminology. Type I mounts secured the base via three screws. When this proved unreliable, three locking screws were added. This base is referred to as Type II. Type III base added two stop pins along with the three screws and locking screws. Also on Type III mounts, a wing nut placed atop the scope mount to better secure the mount to the base. It is likely that all type III improvements were applied at depots. There is a original German document dated 1944 that gives instructions to depots on how to repair the Sauer sliding mount and the two pins and wing nut are discussed. The fact that short side rail production ended in 1943 and this document is dated 1944 lends credence to this theory.
It is difficult to say with certainty all the scopes used on short side rails. The scopes used were most likely similar to the early low turrets snipers being built by Mauser. There are a few scope makers that are known which are Kahles, Ajack 4x90, Zeiss Zielsechs, and Zeiss Zielvier. It seems safe to assume that other scopes makers were also used as there was a shortage of scopes available. As a result, in 1942 there was a procedure put in place to confiscate scopes from civilians and use them in production of low turret snipers and short side rails. Civilians were reimbursed for their scope and the rings, if any, were returned to the original owner.
By late 1943 it had been decided that the short side rail was not an effective mounting system and so it was abandoned. It would appear that at this time Sauer started to develop the long side rail. As a result, it seems unlikely that any short side rail snipers were assembled after late 1943.
J.P. Sauer produced more types of mounting systems then another other factory. After production of the short side rail stopped, a new design was developed and would ultimately become the long side rail. During the time between the short side rail and the long side rail, Sauer manufactured the turret mount. And finally, near the end of the war, a mounting system referred to by collectors, the swept back was created. The Swept back sniper utilized the smaller Zf. 4 scope and therefore the mount had to be “swept back” to allow for the short eye relief to the scope.
Collecting the Short Side Rail
Determining if a short side rail is authentic or not is extremely difficult. As previously mentioned, there are no markings on the rifle itself to denote it as a sniper. Commercial short side rail bases and mounts are not difficult to locate. As a result, it is not difficult to make a rifle that would be nearly impossible to distinguish from a original. Extreme caution should be used when purchasing one. If someone is new to German sniper collecting, it is recommend to not start with a short side rail.
Example of a Sauer Short Side Rail
Original Short Side Rail sniper rifles are so rare that these are the only pictures of a example that could be found. This example has a Kahles 4 power scope. The practice of not cutting the stock all the way through can be seen. This rifle has a matching mount and has a Type III base.
There were three different methods used for attaching the base to the side of the receiver. Type I mounts secured the base via three screws. When this proved unreliable, three locking screws were added. This base is referred to as Type II. Type III base added two stop pins along with the three screws and locking screws. Also on Type III mounts, a wing nut placed atop the scope mount to better secure the mount to the base. It is likely that all type III improvements were applied at depots.
Base was secured using only three screws
Locking screws were added to each larger screw
Two stop pins added in addition to locking screws
History of the SS Short Side Rail
The SS also made use of the short side rail system. Although the same mounting system, the SS rifles are considerably different from their Sauer counterpart. The majority of SS short side rails were assembled in depots. However, some were built on army contract rifles. Commercially supplied parts were utilized to mount the base on the side of the receiver. The scope mount used to assemble these snipers came from Hermann Weihrauch, Zella-Mehlis. These mounts will have a “HWZ” logo stamped on top the scope mount. After the base and mount were fitted to the side of the receiver, the rifle serial number was stamped on the side of the mount and base. The serial number was also engraved on the the tube of the scope. There was more then one type of engraver used on scopes.
The most commonly seen scope used was the Ajack 4x90. These Ajack scopes were marked on the turret base with a skull and cross bones along with SS runes. Hendsoldt Wetzlar also provide a small number of scopes and will also have SS runes and a skull with cross bones. The last scopes observed are P. Kohler and Ebra. It is possible that other scopes were used but these three makers are the only legitimate examples seen to date.
These snipers were built by ordnance personal in SS-Hauptzeugamt shops. From observing authentic examples, the SS assembled these snipers until around late 1941 to early 1942. It is likely that much like Sauer, the SS discovered that the short side rail system was not ideal for combat conditions. Unlike Sauer rifles, the stock was cut completely through exposing the entire base. Type I, Type II and Type III bases also appear on SS short sides rails just as they do on Sauer rifles.
As a result of the majority being depot built, a understanding of SS depot built rifles is necessary. An SS short side rail will have all the same commercial firing proofs as a rifle not equipped with optics. In Karabiner 98k Volume IIb, author Mike Steves goes into great detail on this subject.
Collecting the SS Short Side Rail
Rifles built and used by the Waffen SS are some of the most sought after by collectors. As a result, it is one of the most faked rifles in all of firearm collecting. There are several subtleties to SS rifles, so extreme caution should be used when looking to purchase one.