USMC Winchester Model 70 Sniper

This Winchester M70 was a rifle owned by the Captain of the Camp Pendleton rifle team, and as such it is an excellent authentic example of the US sniper rifle of the early Vietnam era. It is chambered for the .30-06 cartridge, with a Winchester heavy target barrel and shorter stock. The scope is a 14x Unertl – quite high magnification, considering that the most recent official issue sniper rifle at the time was the M1D with a 2.2x scope. These rifles were used in a quasi-official capacity in Vietnam, and would ultimately evolving into the official M40 and M40A1 sniper rifles.

41 Comments

  1. Interesting story about Unertl. John Unertl, the company’s founder, was a WW1 German Army sniper stationed on the Bulgarian front. He was not impressed with the quality or magnification of the telescopic sights he had to use, and after the war, came to the U.S. to start his own company making telescopic sights from scratch to his own ideas of what they should be- based on his experience as a military sniper.

    Right up to the company closing its doors in 1994, Unertl ‘scopes always had lenses made right there, in their own factory in Pennsylvania, even when every other American company was using German or Japanese made lenses.

    During WW2, a lot of German Wehrmacht and SS snipers used pre-war sporting rifles, notably Mannlicher-Schoenauers, with American-made Unertl ‘scopes.

    Trivia note; When John Unertl came through Ellis Island in 1919, he filled out the same questionnaire every other immigration applicant did.

    When he came to the question, “Have you ever killed anyone?”, he wrote down, “two hundred and forty-six Bulgarians”.

    They let him in.

    cheers

    eon

    • Do you mean “Romanians?” Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire were the Central Powers and therefore allies…

      There were very many Allied contingents on the Salonika Front… Including Serbians.

      • You are right Dave.

        So were Bulgarians allies to Germany during WWII. They jointly with Italians and Hungarians attacked Yugoslavia in April of 1941. Roumania was kind of hesitant during WWI first, but hen settled firmly with Britain and France. They also gained huge amount of territory afterwards, as a result.

        • Romania did not join the attack against Yugoslavia in April 1941. The Bulgarians occupied territories in Yugoslavia and Greece afterwards, but their army didn’t do any actual fighting against Greek or Yugoslavian armies. They were very reluctant to help the Germans and only joined the Axis after considerable diplomatic pressure and veiled threats from the Nazis. In fact the Bulgarian Army didn’t fight against any official state actors during WW2. They did later fight against partisans and resistance in the occupied territories.

          Bulgaria maintained diplomatic relations with the USSR despite their membership in the Tripartite Pact, and even refused to fight when the Soviets invaded in 1944 in any case. For Stalin the only things that mattered were that Bulgaria was not communist and he could invade without diverting too much forces from the main effort against Germany.

          • You seem to paint Bulgaria in rosy colours; I guess you have reason for it. To me, they were always tricksters (mind you not alone in this game) and they ended up as is in their lived-in tradition – rather miserably.

            They had nasty attitude toward Serbia/ Yugoslavia in both wars. Always joined momentarily winning party – just to end up again – on their arse.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulgaria_during_World_War_I

            I did not say, Roumania held hostile stand against Yugoslavia in 1941. If you look at them today, they are both basket case. Huge invasion of educated Roumanians into Canada proves the case. This is one of reasons why I disdain to be called by misinformed “eastern European” (which I am of course not).

          • I thought I was just stating facts. The Bulgarians had many beefs with their neighbours and their attitude towards Yugoslavia was not very friendly, but the same applied to their supposed ally Romania, as well. Their occupation of Yugoslavian and Greek territories was certainly not bloodless, either, as I already wrote. On the other hand they did not jump to the opportunity to invade their neighbours and probably would not have done so without the Nazis insisting them.

            Eastern Europe is still often used in its Cold War meaning, which pretty much lumped all countries behind the “Iron Curtain” as Eastern Europe. Geographically only Russia and Eastern Ukraine belong to Eastern Europe (well, except Kaliningrad area).

          • All right E-Weasel, let’s leave it there. None of us as I presume has a vested interest in it.

            To speak of “Eastern Europe” vs. “Central” (where is my origin) has not much to do that they were 40 years behind wires. It has to do with deep and engrained cultural tradition including religious believes, way of conduct, ethics and so on. As for whatever is in south and east of Danube – may god protect me from it. Just speaking from my experience.

            Then, another part of experience is telling me that people almost always showed their better part on their home turf.

    • Not unsimilar to story of another German immigrant named Ernst Leitz who landed in Canada and started optics company in Midland, Ontario. Obviously, from location of headquarters of both we can tell with certainty that they were “American” and “Canadian” companies providing for American and Canadian troops.

      Now however we have such ‘juicy’ case like Chinese made military boots, which are worn by (wow) American soldiers. https://www.rt.com/op-edge/360501-us-chinese-made-boots/

      Apparently, they are the proverbial “boots on the ground” politicians love to bleat about.

  2. From what I understand, sniper Carlos Hathcock of Vietnam War fame preferred the same rifle with the 8x Unertl scope instead. Is this correct or is there other information to the contrary?

    • Fixed 14x magnification seems a bit excessive for a rifle chambered in .30-06 to me. The field of view at shorter ranges must be quite limited.

      • Quite so. Which may explain why Carlos Hathcock preferred the 8x scope as a better all-round instrument under battlefield conditions ( assuming what I have been reading so far is correct ).

      • Hmm… It appears that one must use the iron sights and/or spotter input for target acquisition. This rifle is definitely not good for tactical flexibility. Its role: sniping enemy patrol members or distant skirmishers from behind very good camouflage (foliage disguise optional).

        There is a good reason not to have fixed power rifle scopes with high magnification power: narrow field of view. The same applies to tank mounted machine guns.

        Did I mess up?

        • I believe you are largely correct, Cherndog, hence the adoption at the time of the two-man sniper team. As for fixed-power rifle scopes, those have mostly been replaced with variable power scopes ( except for fixed low-magnification applications such as 2x, 3x or 4x for specific applications such as CQB ).

        • The coaxial machine gun on tanks is aimed through the main scope, so it’s properties as designed mainly for engaging vehicles and other targets larger than a single man with the main gun. On the other hand, you don’t want to have a too narrow field of view for the main gun, either, because you will have to be able to track moving targets and even lead them (with older vehicles that didn’t calculate lead automatically in the FCS). Fixed magnification tank sights were anywhere from less than 2x (1930s) to 12x (final generation fixed). Modern ones are variable, although fixed ones are still around for machine gun sights on APCs and other lighly armored vehicles.

      • That was my first reaction too. I fiddled a bit with 4x scope and that is just about what (for assault rifle) I can live with. This 14 power is just off. Luckily we have nowadays variable power copes.

      • “Fixed 14x magnification seems a bit excessive for a rifle chambered in .30-06 to me.”

        I agree, it seems a mismatch. If a 14x scope was indeed needed for ultra-long range shots, the Winchester Model 70 was available in various higher-velocity calibers that would have performed much better at those longer ranges. Perhaps snipers back then were forced to use standard infantry ammunition?

        Although I know next to nothing about the art of military sniping, I’m going to guess that a somewhat “layered approach” would have been chosen, with some snipers using lower-power scopes (8x seems to be common) and positioning themselves for shorter shooting ranges or night time use, and the 14x scope specialized for perhaps beyond-800 Meter range — basically the effective limit of a .30-06.

        • Special long range anti-personnel sniping rifles chambered for powerful cartridges didn’t really emerge until the 1980s and their actual adoption took even longer. Some European countries did adopt the Sako TRG-41 in the 1990s, but wider adoption took place with the the TRG-42 in the 2000s. For example the Finnish Army officially adopted the TRG-42 in .338 Lapua Magnum in 2000.

          Only in 2010 started the US Army convert their rifles to fire the .300 Winchester Magnum, although it had been considered already in 1988 when the M24 was originally adopted, which actually enabled the conversion (the M24 was based on the Remington 700 long action variant). The USMC continues to use the venerable M40 in 7.62×51, although the optics have been upgraded a couple of times after Vietnam.

  3. Weapon of choice scenario:

    Okay, all targets are initially very far away. I have a bad feeling from the intel that says that our opponents are “cyborg zombies,” which are basically corpses reanimated with cybernetic processors (complete with wireless telecommunication capability and internet access). They were not allowed to decay prior to conversion, so it would appear that despite being legally “dead,” they are not like the usual horror movie zombies and do not simply rot away. Good news: these cyborg foes are still “mortal” and will die if their vitals or processing hardware is damaged beyond repair. Bad news: most of the zombies are made from the preserved bodies of soldiers, and so they do come armed. Better news: taking out the maniac controlling the hordes may cause the whole zombie army to collapse (in more ways than one, unless you’d rather take the controls yourself). The enemy has no air support apart from a few spotter drones (kill them by all means available), but I cannot guarantee that there are no enemy ground vehicles (armored or otherwise).

    Most of our ammunition at hand is surplus British .303 and 8×57 IS. I have a dozen crates of .30-06, if you want them. Enemy soldiers seem to carry mostly Soviet weapons and ammo.

    If you’re a marksman or sniper taking on the hordes and their creator, which will you get for your spotter, your regular friends, and yourself?

    1. Winchester Model 70
    2. Dragunov Sniper Rifle
    3. M1D Garand
    4. K98 with ZF-41 or Gewehr 98 with Gerard scope
    5. Scoped Ross Mk III
    6. Custom-built CZ Model S with low power scope and Maxim Silencer
    7. Type 99 Light Machine Gun with scope
    8. Barret M82A1, five magazines
    9. 2 Beardmore-Farquhar light machine guns sharing a single 77 round drum, a clip feed attachment, and lots of ammo
    10. 8.8cm Flak 18, crate of STG-44s, and 3 MG-42
    11. Or per the usual, screw the budget and add your favorite toys to this list!

    This activity is completely voluntary. You are not required to stave off a cyborg invasion if you do not wish to do so. Please keep any and all criticism of this post humane and free of foul language.

    Thank you,

    Cherndog

  4. In regard to scopes, just one thing that I think deserves mentioning (but which I’m sure most people already know) is the brightness factor –or lack thereof– of high power optics. It’s a stark choice (or delicate balance) between bright-sunlight-only usage or having something that’s too bulky and heavy to be hand held (as well as very expensive). As many game animals (and perhaps enemy soldiers?) tend to come out after the sun goes down, a scope’s low-light capability is an important factor to consider — and one that often gets overlooked.

    Another thing is the tendency of very old (and especially cheap) optics to be poorly sealed, and the inside of the lenses can cloud up from the buildup of dust, dirt, and “oily stuff” that additionally hinders low light capability.

    In addition to the field-of-view issue mentioned earlier, that’s why low-medium power magnification is generally the better all-around choice in a rifle scope. (though strangely, it seems a common tendency for many people to automatically think that the higher the number, the “better” it must be.)

    … just my 2¢.

    • Higher magnification is better for precision shooting, not for target acquisition. I mean, seriously, we do not live in a first-person-shooter game!!! High magnification lens setup is done after the target is spotted, not before that time.

      • As I felt like I was responding to some kind of oxy-moron, I took the time to look up what “first-person-shooter” could possibly mean.

        I’ll try to restate the crux of what I was trying to convey in my previous post, in more direct, simplistic terms:

        In very low light, a scene that is marginally visible through a low-power scope will appear completely dark with a high-power scope. Thus, a low-power scope will work in such situations where a high-power scope will not work.

        I apologize to everyone for the crude over-simplification.

        • I believe the low light passage in high magnification scopes is partly overcome by size of objective lens/ aperture and lately even by combination with infrared image intensifiers.

          It’s getting fancier all the time. That’s one reason I am sceptical about widespread optics use on assault weapons. But I do recognise that sniping is a special territory and deserves attention.

          • Low power optics are robust enough for assault rifles. Nearly every army with the necessary budget has either adopted or is adopting optics for assault rifles. By 2030 only the poorest third world armies and insurgents will be relying solely on iron sights. Irons will be kept as backup sights in most cases, but soldiers will receive relatively little training in their use. In fact today already the primary rifleman training in most Western armies is done with the optics.

    • Good observations, aa. The advent of modern scopes with a much wider range of low to high magnification than before is a good partial solution since they have a better inherent capability to enable the user to conduct a wide-view scan of the area of interest followed by zooming in to a chosen specific point where desired. Modern optical lens technology and coatings also contribute significantly with superior light transmission, even under higher magnification in low-light conditions, although there is an obvious physical and mechanical limit to this.

      The new generation of digital day/night scopes appear to offer the sort of technology needed to take these capabilities further, albeit at the cost of added complexity as Denny has already implied.

      • While “modern” firearms might have hardly changed since then, it’s interesting how technology in optics, and especially night vision, has literally exploded in the last half-century since this sniper rifle was made, and particularly so in the first part of this century. Something I often try to do (rarely with much accuracy) is attempt to put myself back in that era, while trying to understand the problems, limitations, or even just ingrained ways of thinking of the people back then. Or at least what I think might have existed back then. Like seeing antique rifle scopes with puny magnification and tiny objective lens size, suggesting that perhaps the country didn’t then have the necessary tooling and expertise (or money, or even just desire) to make what we would consider “bare-minimum” optics by a more modern definition.

        The cost of optics has also come down remarkably over the years. Before the Japanese manufacturers swept the market in the late 1960s-1970s, decent-quality optics of any kind were just about unaffordable, and then successive waves of Korean and Chinese wares continually gave us much more product for much less money.

        I also didn’t realize (until just now) that night-vision sniper rifles went all the way back to WWII, making me adjust my assumptions on this subject somewhat. (such a wealth of information here on Forgotten Weapons)

        https://www.forgottenweapons.com/m3-infrared-sniper-carbine-at-ria/

        • The Germans also had an active infrared night sight for the StG 44 and machine guns:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zielgerät_1229

          Long range sniping with night sights has become possible only quite recently with a new generation of relatively light high resolution thermal sights with a “staring” (focal plane) array instead of the traditional scanning thermal sensor. Long range sniping with image intensifiers only is difficult unless there is plenty of ambient light like a clear moonlit night. If the target has good light discipline, there simply is not much visible light and near infrared for the image intensifier to intensify, if there is very little ambient light, like overcast sky with no moon.

          • I think we may have had a discussion about the Zielgerat 1229 “Vampir” and similar IR sights of the era quite awhile back on FW in relation to another topic, although I can’t remember exactly what that topic was ( it may have involved either man-portable IR rifle sights or AFV-mounted IR optics ). At any rate, it was quite interesting and there were many insightful comments.

  5. Just a bit of commentary…
    Having more recently become somewhat more knowledgeable about truly high magnification scopes, I can vouch for their use as (again) truly “precision” shooting.
    However, one must pay strict attention to the job description of the piece to make a rational judgement on suitability of purpose. There seems to be much discussion on how “unsuitable” a 14 power zoom is for an AK or M4 or the like. Well, son, nobody says it is. Precision shooting (on a combat theater target) means, at 800 yards, selecting which shirt-button will be impacted
    If that’s the requirement, one selects the available hardware to do the job.
    Dad told the story about the campaign on Luzon about a Japanese artillery officer blatantly standing in full view on the adjacent ridge directing fire on the advancing US Army and Philippene guerilla forces.
    Dad reviewed his resources, selected the best available hardware, and caused a direct fire of one significant round. Distance? Somewhere in excess of one mile. Scope? An early 10X.
    “Did you hit him?” I said upon hearing the story.
    “Don’t really know,” he said. We just noted he instantly dropped out of sight an we didn’t see him again. Ever.”
    Special equipment? A Sherman wielding a 76mm high velocity rifle.
    It’s amazing what a 40 or so ton tripod/support can do to improve ones score. :):):)

      • With HE a tank gunner would try to deliberately fire slightly in front of the target. If the shell goes too high, it might easily miss the target by dozens of meters or more. With good range data hitting right in front of the target would be relatively easy, but WW2 tanks did not have rangefinders (with a few exceptions).

    • Besides, a fully-loaded M4 Sherman ( even the later M4A3E8 with 76mm HV gun and additional armor ) only weighed in at 30 tons or so.

    • There’s a similar story in the book “Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors”.

      A Japanese officer was on a beach, waving his sword in anger at the U.S. ships shelling his positions.

      The gunnery officer on one of the destroyers takes over the gun director and lays all batteries on the officer and fires.

      Apparently there was nothing left but overlapping craters.

      He was commended for his gunnery and admonished never to waste ammunition like that again.

  6. Most likely, that rifle was the officer’s personal target rifle. Very common in the 1960’s. I used a similar one at Camp Perry in 1967. .300 Win. Magnum at 1,000 yards, and had a 36x Lyman on it. Both the Lyman and the Unertl had very short eye relief, so the scope slid in it’s mount to keep from punching out your eye. The recoil spring on the scope was for when you put it on a .22 rimfire rifle.

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