The Soviet Union produced more sniper rifles during WWII than any other country, and was one of very few to have a well-developed sniper program in place before the war began. Starting in the early 1930s, they developed a sniper variant of the standard M91/30 infantry rifle, with technical assistance from Germany (of all places). The early (PE) scopes had adjustable focus and 4x magnification, with a relatively large objective lens. Experience in the Spanish Civil War exposed a weakness in the adjustable focus ring of these scopes, and they were replaced by a new PEM version without that feature. By 1940, the plan was to replace the 91/30 with the new SVT-40 as the standard sniper’s rifle. This plan fell apart when the SVT rifles proved to be inferior in accuracy to the Mosins, and not capable of meeting the requirements for snipers.
In a scramble for a new solution, it as decided to just mount the PU scope onto 91/30 rifles. The PU had been designed for the SVT, as the older PEM scopes were too large to effectively mount on the Tokarev rifle. The PU was smaller, lighter, simpler, and cheaper to manufacture, and it made good sense to make use of the development work put into them. They has a smaller field of view and slightly reduced 3.5x magnification – a very pragmatic choice for a country that needed to mass produce weapons in wartime conditions. Starting in 1942, the 91/30 PU sniper rifles began flooding out of Russian factories – by the time major production ended in 1945 hundreds of thousands had been made.
The 91/30 PU was given better fit and finish than the typical 91/30 rifles produced during the war, but they are still rather cruder than the typical Western idea of the custom-made and hand-polished masterpiece sniper’s weapon. These were practical tools, and their design reflects that. Cheek welds in particular are difficult to maintain, because the comb is designed for the iron sights and no riser was provided to make up for the height of the scope. I don’t find the stock particularly ergonomic, and the triggers are not particular outstanding. On the other hand, they can survive plenty of rough handling.
Finding an original Russia PU sniper is difficult today – there are plenty of them out there, but they are hugely outnumbered by fakes. Because of the simplicity of the PU sniper and the price differential between stock rifles and snipers, a whole niche industry has developed in making them. There are new production mounts and scopes being made, and mounted to all sorts of 91/30 rifles. You may find all types of combinations of infantry rifles and ex-snipers (many PU snipers were torn down and returned to infantry configuration by the Red Army after the war), original and reproduction mounts, and original and reproduction scopes. It really take a lot of experience to distinguish the true originals, and I don’t have enough experience to write a thorough article on that (yet). However, determining the validity of the rifle itself is a bit simpler than the scopes and mounts, so here are a couple starting guidelines:
Any PU dated 1941 or earlier is fake. Also, any 91/30 PU with a hex receiver.
Any Century import with a new serial number beginning with 9130S is a reproduction. They are real Russian 91/30s, but not originally snipers.
A sniper made by Tula (star with an arrow in it) will have a cyrillic “СП” marking above the arsenal mark, indicating a sniper. Real ones without this mark do exist, but are very rare.
A sniper made by Ishevsk will have the scope serial number marked on the left side of the receiver. If there is such a number crossed out without a new one added, it means the rifle started out as a sniper, but was decommissioned by the military (ie, an “ex-sniper”). If it has a scope on it now, it was assembled a commercial seller at some point.
That being said, a reproduction 91/30PU can be a great way to get into the sniper rifle field, as long as you understand what you are getting. They are far less expensive than any type of authentic WWII sniper’s rifle, but will still give you close to the same performance as the originals, if you get a good one.
Apex Gun Parts, one of our longtime sponsors, is having a 4th of July sale, which has already started (I suppose they are pretty excited about Independence Day – and who isn’t?). I took a look through the items they have discounted for the sale, and found a couple in particular that jumped out at me:
Surplus eastern European AK mags (7.62×39), 10 for $90. I have a ton of these, and have had excellent results with them – I have a lot more confidence in military surplus mags than modern made copies (like the South Korean AK mags). Nine bucks each is a great deal – definitely worth grabbing a pack or two to supplement your stash if you have an AK (or several).
Parts kits – they have a bunch of different types. One that I haven’t seen for a long time are M72 (the Yugoslav heavy-barrel AK) kits with intact barrels, for $285. They are very explicit that the barrels are basically trashed, but hey, for a blaster they would probably be just fine. They also have UK-59 kits (no barrels) with slings and belt boxes for $400. Not bad, for someone who wants to build their own or get a set of spares for a professionally-made semiauto or post-sample.
And one last one, just for kicks – random mag pouches 5 for $10. No choice of type, but the photo shows pouches for the HK91, Mosin-Nagant, VZ-58, and a couple types of flare pistols. If you’re like me you probably have a big box of this sort of thing, because they’re just neat. If you’re ordering something else already, why not throw in a set of these?
There are 109 items in all for sale, so head over and take a look – you might find something you didn’t know you couldn’t live without!
In totally unrelated news, I am hosting an “Ask Me Anything” session over on Reddit this afternoon, from 4-7pm PST. I have no idea what people will ask, but I expect it will be a fun time – if you’re interested, come join us!
Gavrilo Princip being arrested in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.
Gavrilo Princip’s FN 1910, used to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand (on display at the Military History Museum in Vienna)
Precisely 100 years ago today, Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip (through a rather intricate series of coincidences) managed to assassinate the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. From this localized (and botched, in many ways) event quickly grew one of the most ghastly wars in human history.
Princip was arrested on the spot, and eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison (not execution because he was under the age of 20), where he died of tuberculosis while incarcerated. No photographs exist of the assassination itself, and his pistol was initially reported as simply being a Browning. This led to news sources and artists making their own assumptions about its details. The Model 1900 was the most common Browning pistol in use at the time and many sources specified it as the specific model, creating the common believe that persists today that Princip used a 1900. In actual fact, it was a Model 1910, of which the conspirators acquired four. The one pictured above is one of the four, but it is not known which one was actually used by Princip.
Interestingly, part of the conspirators’ attempt to deflect blame from the Serbian government was to argue that the pistols were French army pistols (not commercial guns whose purchase could be tracked). This was apparently based on the fact that the slide markings were stamped in French. Not surprisingly, the argument fell flat.
The Ithaca Gun Company introduced their “Auto & Burglar” model of side-by-side shotgun in 1922. This was not the only gun of its type made for the commercial market, but it was one of the better ones, and is probably the best remembered type today. The premise was simple: take a standard SxS shotgun, cut the barrels down to 10 inches (255mm) and replace the stock with a pistol grip. Presto, you have an intimidating and compact defensive weapon.
Early Ithaca Auto & Burglar guns, 12ga and 20ga
When introduced in 1922, there was no particular legal status for a firearm of this type, although the passage of the National Firearms Act in 1934 effectively ended their production and sale (they sold for typically about $40, and the NFA placed a $200 tax on their transfer). They actually didn’t sell all that well before the legislation – only approximately 4500 were made between 1922 and 1934, and not all of those were sold (unconfirmed rumor is that the remaining stock was sold to the UK after Dunkirk, when the British were desperate for firearms of any sort).
Two primary models of the Auto & Burglar were made, as Ithaca introduced a new SxS shotgun action in 1925 (and the Auto & Burglar was simply a conversion of standard factory actions). The early guns (1922-1925) are easily distinguished by a prominent spur on the grip, which was designed to prevent the gun from rolling in the hand upon firing. However, that spur proved to be a bit fragile, and easy to hit on things and break. When the new action was introduced in 1925, the Auto & Burglar grip was redesigned to have a much more squared-off grip, without the spur to potentially damage (it was also a less expensive grip for Ithaca to make). The barrel length was also increased to 12.2 inches (310mm) around the same time – the later style guns can be found with both long and short barrels.
Post-1925 Ithaca Auto & Burglar shotgun – note the squared-off grip
Despite these changes, the standard Auto & Burglar throughout production was chambered 20 gauge shells (2.5 inch in the early guns and 2.75 inch in that later ones), with cylinder bores and double triggers. There are a few references to .410 and 28 gauge examples, but I have been unable to find any suggestion of a 12 gauge version. That makes sense, given the punishing recoil such a gun would have – but it is odd in light of a set of photos I was recently sent by a reader (thanks, Robert!). This fellow has a pair of Auto & Burglar guns (both legally registered) which he inherited from hist grandfather. One is a standard 20 gauge example, and the other is a bona fide 12 gauge version:
12ga Ithaca Auto & Burglar (top) with a nickel in the chamber for size reference. Standard 20ga version below.
Since the Auto & Burglar was made from stock shotgun actions, there is no reason why a 12 gauge version could not have been easily made by special order, and that is almost certainly what happened in this case. The gun otherwise appears identical to a typical example.
Ithaca Auto & Burglar 12ga receiver
Ithaca Auto & Burglar 20ga receiver
The early guns are generally referred to as Model A and the later ones as Model B, although these are designations created by the collecting community and were not applied by Ithaca. Ithaca also marketed a flap holster for the gun, which is a fairly valuable accessory today. According to the catalog it was, “A special designed sole leather holster which may be attached to one’s belt or hung in a convenient place in an auto, sleeping room or bank – costs $4.00.” A couple Chicago banks were in fact some of the first buyers for these guns, as this was also prior to FDIC insurance to protect banks from robbery.
Ithaca Auto & Burglar holster – note the factory lettering on the flap.
If anyone has additional information on 12-gauge examples of the Auto & Burglar, I would be very interested to hear it!
Most of the books I look at are primarily text-based, and today I figured we should do something a little bit different. Armor Plate Press, run by Tom Laemlein, specializes in photographic studies of various weapons (and vehicular) topics. Today’s book is The Yanks Are Coming! Firepower of the American Doughboy in World War One – a volume that appealed to me in particular because of the wide variety of gear used by American troops in that conflict (French, British, and American). Instead of researching the history and development of a particular piece of equipment, Laemlein has collected a plethora of photos of that piece of gear throughout its service use. He is clearly quite passionate about the work (publishing books came as an idea after many years of collecting photographs), and I think it adds a valuable extra dimension to a library of academic textual research.
As an example, consider the American use of shotguns for trench warfare. The evidence is quite substantial that US forces used them, between formal paper records, anecdotal troop recollections, and even German formal protest against the practice. However, in decades of searching, no photograph of one actually being used in combat has ever been found. Why not? Laemlein believes it is due to censorship – US leadership wanting to prevent German propaganda from being able to portray the US as using uncivilized weapons (whatever that means in the war that gave us poison gas and the flamethrower). It is only the search for photographs that brings this to light.
The pictures in The Yanks Are Coming! ranges from training camps to front line combat, and from candid to carefully posed. For the student of history interested in the era, it brings a touch of the human perspective to a topic so often relegated to dry text.
On this day 138 years ago, the combined forces of the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho tribes delivered a staggering defeat to the US Army’s 7th Cavalry under the command of General George Armstrong Custer. The battle was glorified in the East for largely political reasons in its immediate aftermath (and there were no white survivors to contest the story), and it has only been in the last few decades that the true story of what happened in that fight has become well understood. A major academic revelation (not counting the Indian accounts of the battle, which gave a pretty accurate description all along) came from a field study in 1984 and 1985 which collected and mapped thousands of artifacts, mostly cartridge cases and bullets (for a full account, the book written on the study is Archaeological Perspectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn, reviewed here).
Karl with an 1866 Winchester
One of the results of that study was indisputable evidence that the Indian forces were much better armed than had been previously believed. Among the 40+ different types of firearms carried by the warriors were a large number of lever-action Henry and Winchester rifles and carbines. With that in mind (and because of his interest in frontier history), my friend Karl decided to shoot this month’s 2-gun match with a replica 1866 Winchester. He used it in place of both rifle and pistol, since handguns saw minimal practical use at the Little Bighorn (or the Greasy Grass, as the Indians called it). He isn’t shooting black powder, simply for ease of use (it was 105F during the match), but his .45 Colt ammo pretty much matches the ballistics of the original loads.
So in memory of the desperate fighting on that day, let’s see how the 1866 Winchester performs in this set of stages…
Interestingly, I happened across a photo (in Guns of the Western Indian war) of an buckhorn sight almost identical to Karl’s added to a Trapdoor Springfield:
Vintage buckhorn sight added to a Trapdoor Springfield
First up, you may recall that a while back we had some photos of an MG17 belt-feed adapter salvaged from the wreck of an Me-109. The fellow who owned that piece was hoping to restore it to functionality, and use it on his MG15 ground gun. Well, he did finally get it completely disassembled and sent us some more photos:
He also came to the conclusion that it would be more work to fit onto his MG15 than the project is worth to him, and is wondering if anyone out there would be interested in having it for the parts – he just wants to recoup his initial investment. It is a left-to-right feeding adapter (they were mounted in pairs, so there are versions that feed both ways). If you are potentially interested, drop me a line at email@example.com and I’ll put you in contact with the owner. He reports that the internals are in pretty good shape, with the exception of the rechtsförderung, which was pretty far gone and fell apart upon disassembly.
On a totally unrelated note, I also was sent a link to a YouTube video of some interest. It is a home recording made of the 1968 closing ceremony of Springfield Arsenal, when the facility was shut down for good. The film is short, jerky, and has no sound (think Zapruder film, but in black and white) – it’s really pretty lousy except for the subject matter. It’s hard to say for sure, but at about 0:44 in the speaker on the podium appears to be John Garand. Thanks for pointing that out, Lee!
Oh, and one other thing – I will be doing a couple hours of “ask me anything” over at Reddit on Sunday the 29th, from 4-7pm PST. I’m sure it will be entertaining (possibly too entertaining), and if you have anything gun- or non-gun-related that you’ve been wanting to ask that will be a chance to do it wil my undivided attention.
For this month’s 2-Gun Action Challenge Match, I decided to try using my Yugoslav M76, in 8x57mm. The M76 is one of the triad of eastern marksmen’s rifles – the PSL, the SVD, and the M76. Like the PSL, the M76 is mechanically just a scaled-up AK – but made to a much higher standard of fit and finish than the PSL. It is also chambered for the 8mm Mauser cartridge, as that was a standard cartridge in the Yugoslav army.
The M76 is obviously better suited for long range slow fire, and this month’s match was all up close and personal – so it gave me a good opportunity to try out the M76 under non-optimal conditions. The M76 did pretty well for me, with no malfunctions of any kind. At long range, I have been able to make hits on 12″ plates out to 400 yards with it, which is pretty well at the limit of my own shooting ability, so I can’t complain there. In this match, I found the scope to be a handicap, because the targets were all within 50 yards – after the first stage I shot almost everything using the iron sights, which are visible through the scope mount.
Several years ago I had the opportunity to interview Bin Shih, who had just published a book in both English and Chinese on Chinese small arms – China’s Small Arms of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). It was basically self-published, and sold out very quickly. Well, I have been informed by Bin that a second printing is now available – so if you missed it before you have another chance.
I should do a standalone review of the book, but it will take me a week or two before I can. I the meantime, folks who are interested should be aware that the English and Chinese versions are not the same. The Chinese version ($30) has good color photos, while the English translation’s pictures are all in black and white, and not as crisp. Getting just the English copy ($40) will give you the written information, but getting both the information and the good photos will require both copies ($60 for the set). It’s not information that is available elsewhere, but $60 seems to me a bit steep for the size of the book – I wish he had been able to use color photos in both language versions.