History of the Zf. 39 Turret Mount Sniper
In 1939 the OKW supposedly initiated a directive to start a sniper program. The turret sniper was the result of this program. Prior to this, only commercial mounting systems, such as the short side rail and objective mount, were used as sniper rifles. The turret system was the first scope mounting system that was specifically designed for the K98k. The designation for this new sniper system was the Zf.39. It seems clear that the development of this new system was done at Mauser Werke A.G. Oberndorf. The first mounts produced under this new program were the low turret, so named for being slightly shorter then their counterpart, the high turret.
In January of 1940, Mauser produced the first low turret snipers. According to Mauser documents, 200 rifles were equipped with scopes. In April of that same year, 875 rifles were completed and sent to the Army Ordnance Office Ulm. In May a total of 1,340 rifles were completed and delivered. Despite rifles being completed, Mauser was facing issues in the initial production. The most commonly cited issues were mounts breaking and scopes having parallax sighting errors.
Currently, these are the only production totals known. Suffice to say, initial production was slow. It would appear from the number of authentic examples observed that it would not be until 1943 that rifles could be produced in significant numbers. While the vast majority of genuine low turrets found today will be Mauser produced rifles dated 1943, J.P. Sauer did produce a small number of low turrets in late 1943 and early 1944. Sauer began production much later then Mauser and only assembled the low turret for a few months before changing over to the high turret.
In late 1943 the front base and front scope ring of the low turret was modified and thus became the high turret. The reasoning for this simplification was most certainly to produce a more cost effective, easier to produce sniper system. One of the results of this simplification was the front turret being 4mm taller. While the front base was simplified, it did not change in height. The earliest high turrets seen to date are in the k block of 1943 dated rifles. However, production of the low turret continued for a short time. Interestingly, low turrets in the k and i block will have the letter prefix included on the front scope ring along with the rifle serial number. The reason for this is most likely so that a low turret rifle can be quickly distinguished from a high turret in the same letter block without removing the scope. The terminology “low” and “high” turret is all modern day collector’s jargon. The only war time designation for the the turret system was Zf. 39.
Shortly after the high turret system was put into production, the low turret system was discontinued. Mauser was able to produce the high turret in relatively large quantities until near the end of the war in 1945. Sauer also made the switch over to producing the high turret but likely fazed out production of the turret in favor of the long side rail sometime in late 1944. It is important to not that all authentic Sauer Turrets found to date have bases produced by Mauser. This leads the theory that Mauser sent Sauer bases to complete rifles. Production totals for the high turret are not known and authentic rifles are found through-out most all letter blocks of 1944 and 1945 dated rifles. During test firing, if a regular production rifle displayed above average accuracy it was selected to be converted for sniper use.
As the war worsened for Nazi Germany in 1944, short cuts were beginning to be accepted in the production of the K98k. High turrets will display these short cuts such as the use of stamped parts as opposed to milled. A good understanding of non-sniper produced K98k rifles during this time period is very important to understanding the sniper rifles produced during this same time period. Also as the war continued, the use of recycled and salvaged parts will be seen. Renumbered front scope rings and early bases on later rifles can be seen. One rifle observed is a late 1944 turret sniper where early low turret bases were used to complete the rifle.
There were a number of scopes used on the Zf. 39 turret system. In the early years of production, several scopes from commercial companies were used in production. However, the amount of scopes was insufficient. As a result, in 1942 due to a shortage of available scopes, 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. These scopes are referred to as Jägerspende, hunter's donation. By 1943 there seems to have been a better supply of scopes available from various manufactures. Certainly by the production of the high turret there was a sufficient amount of scopes to assemble snipers. The main suppliers of military scopes for the Zf. 39 system were Carl Zeiss (blc), Kahles (CAD), Ajack, Hensdolt & Sohne (bmj), Hensdolt Werk (bek) and Schneider (dkl). Other scopes have been observed but these are rarely seen. The most commonly seen scopes on Mauser rifles are the CAD (Kahles) 4x, AJACK 4x90, bmj 4x, and bek 4x. The majority of scopes fitted to Sauer turrets from the factory were the Schneider (dkl) and Kahles H4x60. Some have been observed with the Lovec 4x and Carl Zeiss 4x. It is likely that other scopes were used in the Jägerspende program.
The turret mount sniper rifles were arguably the most successful sniper rifles the Germans ever produced. The mount system was cost effective, reliable, well balanced and had a quick detach scope that could be removed without affecting the zero of the scope aim. In addition a variety of scopes could be used.
Collecting the Turret Sniper
Authenticating a Zf. 39 turret sniper is not difficult. However, what is most commonly seen are original rifles that have significant issues being sold as 100% original. The primary example of this is a rifle that has been sporterized post war and has been restored. There is nothing wrong with owning a rifle like this as long as advertised as such. For this reason, it is critical to understand standard rifles. Fakers tend to be lazy with the base rifle making mistakes with barrel bands, stocks and the like. There is a number of attributes that a High Sniper will have that a regular infantry will not. Prior to the Mauser L block all of the same parts will be serial numbered as a regular rifle. The receiver will show signs of filling to make for a stronger solder joint at the front base. Also note that rifles assembled later in production will display a sloppy soldering job around the bases. Clearly the procedure of cleaning the excess solder away had stopped. In order to clear the scope the safety will be shortened and made flat. These shortened safeties were introduced near the end of low turret production and continued to be used until the end of high turret production. The “key” safety found on Long Side Rails snipers was never used on the High turret. Once assembled the left side of receiver was stamped with a sniper proof. Mauser used a small eagle over 135 and Sauer a small eagle over 37. Mauser snipers will have this inspection stamp behind the serial number. It will be to the left of the serial number on Sauer assembled rifles. Be warned that these marks are often faked.
Another key feature of Mauser High Turret snipers is the presence of what are referred to as tang inspection stamps (commonly called “bunny” proof marks by collectors). Inspection stamps start showing up some time prior to the change from low to high turrets. These tangs stamps will typically coincide with a inspection stamp on the front scope base. Early 1944 rifles typically have a R on the receiver tang and a RW on the front scope base. At some point in mid 1944 other inspection stamps will show up with the same letter appearing on the front base. The most common stamps found are 2, R, U, L, N and O. 1945 dated rifles will also have a two letter assembly number on the receiver below the wood line. This same number will be written in the stock channel. Early and mid 1944 rifles will not have this two digit number.
The serial numbering of rifles was ordered to change at Mauser in late 1944. These numbering changes are a great aid in authenticating a high turret sniper and is another example of why a good knowledge base of regular infantry rifles is helpful. There are a few key changes that should be noted. By late 1944 many production short cuts had been accepted. In the late k block, Mauser stopped numbering barrel bands, stocks, safeties and floor plates. However, on high turrets, it was ordered that stocks continued to be numbered. Serial numbering of receivers and barrels is another important feature. In the i block, it was ordered that the rifle serial number be moved from the receiver to the barrel. This continued through the i and k block and will also be seen on snipers. However, by the L block it was ordered to be placed back on the receiver. This is where a turret sniper’s numbering deviates slightly from a regular production rifle. Once assembled, the rifle serial number was stamped on the barrel as well. Thus, all turret snipers assembled during the L block and later will have the rifle serial on both the receiver and the barrel. It would appear that this barrel numbering was hand stamped. This only applies to sniper rifles making it a critical part to authenticating a late war high turret.
During sniper assembly the stocks were also updated. In addition to being numbered internally, they often had a higher degree of fit and finish. The smooth butt plate was removed and a checkered butt plate added. Mauser began using the checkered butt plates in the middle of 1944 around the G block. If the rifle was a Kriegsmodell, a take down disk was also added. However, a bayonet lug and cleaning rod were not.
Numbering at J.P. Sauer was more consistent in 1944. Sauer had stopped production of the high turret prior to these numbering changes in order to produce the Long Side Rail. Checkered butt plates were used near the end of production. Bases have the Mauser RW stamp on the front base since they were made by Mauser and sent to Sauer. However, the rear base will not contain an e/135. This was likely an inspection stamp done by Mauser after fitting the rear base to the receiver. Sauer produced high turrets are encountered less frequently then Mauser are are considerably less common.
The Zf.39 turret sniper is one of the more iconic German sniper rifles. They are sought after by collectors and often command good prices. While easy to authenticate with experience, extreme caution should be used and a lot or research done before a purchase.