Everything Wrong with the Sniper Rifles in “Enemy at the Gates”

One of the very few blockbuster American movies about the Eastern Front in World War Two is Enemy at the Gates, a film about the Soviet sniper Vasily Zaitsev. The movie is based around a duel between Zaitsev and the fictional German sniper Erwin König during the Battle of Stalingrad. There are lots of points of contention surrounding the historical accuracy of the film overall, but today I want to look at specifically the small arms.

Enemy at the Gates really has just one problem when it comes to guns: it portrays a lot of things before they would have actually existed. However, it portrays them quite accurately besides the chronological issues. The Soviet snipers are all shown with M91/30 PU rifles – which were not in production until just after the film’s events take place. Zaitsev actually used a PEM model of Mosin sniper, dating from before the war. Major König is similarly shown with a single-claw Mauser K98k sniper, which was only introduced in mid/late 1943.

Overall, I would give the film a pretty solid grade for its small arms. The PU was the most common and recognizable Soviet sniper rifle of the war, and it really doesn’t have a noticeable impact on the story of the film unless you are really obsessive about historical details.


  1. Most sources agree that while Wehrmacht sharpshooters were issued Kar98Ks with the small, forward-mounted ZF41 1.5X telescopic sight, “SS snipers” (what few there were) generally used commercial sporting rifles with commercial scopes, some with magnifications up to 10X.

    Calibers ranged from 7.9 x 57 on down to 6.5 x 53mm Mannlicher. In fact, Mannlicher-Schoenaur sporters were favored for their accuracy.

    Ironically, in spite of Zeiss and etc., the “best” telescopic sights were considered to be pre-war American imports, notably Bushnell and Unertl. The latter is especially so considering that John Unertl Sr., who founded the Unertl Optical Co. in 1928, had been a sniper in the Hungarian Army in the First World War who had been dissatisfied with the mostly German-made optical sights in use at the time.

    clear ether


    • Yeah, that was my guess – they had 7.62x54R but not enough stripper clips, and a Maxim belt can be repurposed as a bandoleer for single cartridges. Still kind of funny for them to be half-loaded, but maybe having the rounds spaced out makes it easier to pull them out with your fingers.

  2. “descriptional” ??
    PS A review of the accuracy of the arms used of the Finnish movie “The Unknown Soldier “ would be another great FW episode!

    • I’ve read that apparently some of the people in the movie actually watch Ian (fw) on a regular basis and actually used some of the info for their movie.

      One of of the nice anecdote’s in the movie was where Rokka mentioned ”We didn’t have many of those in the winter war” referring to the Suomi kp-31 as the kp-31 was only produced in small numbers at the start of the winter war.

  3. “it really doesn’t have a noticeable impact on the story of the film unless you are really obsessive about historical details.”

    You do realise it’s us you’re talking to?

  4. I suppose one could object to the one rifle for every two Russkies scene at the beginning. That is firearms related, false, and misleading melodramatic

    • Right up there with the prominence of a zampolit (political officer) named Nikita Khrushchev. Yes, he was there. No, nobody took any notice of it at the time.

      clear ether


    • That is a falsification that made strong impact on quasi history buffs for many, many years, they casually presented is as a fact “look how bad it was”. I even read it from some german gun buffs.

      I have a(nother) different problem with whole intro scene and its second part, where after dramatic and chaotic slaughter, everything shifts to casual risk free solo shooting at the germans by our rifle acquiring hero, like a complete tonal switch.

  5. As for the presence of the Finnish Mosins – well, some were indeed captured in Winter War, and although it was not a hell of a lot, they might have gotten to Stalingrad, because why not? They were just regular Mosins, so they were simply recycled – wire strap hangers, or not. BTW, the “Finnish” wire hangers were in fact first introduced by the AUSTRIANS in WW1 to their captured Mosins – and they had A LOT of it, like close to 1 million Mosins recycled to the Austrian troops – and firing Austrian 8mm x 51R ammo. The Russian early brass case was patterned after the Austrian one and they are close to each other in shape and measurements – it’s only that the Mannlicher neck is 3 mm shorter, but the shoulder is right where it belongs and Mannlicher would chamber in a Mosin no problemo, but not the other way round. The 1930s era Soviet case was redesigned to ease making it out of steel in wartime – they were still of the same size and general shape (enough to be exchangeable), but used conuses rather than radiuses (radii?), and that’s why it LOOKS different from Mannlicher 8x51R mm (not the 8x56R which is a different brass at all).
    During the famous November 7, 1941 Moscow Revolution Day parade, related in weekly newsreels and press, there was a workers’ Moscow defense regiment marching past the Lenin Mausoleum, carrying Polish Mauser wz.29s and wz.28 BARs, as well as Polish-captured Berthier. All of these were captured in Sept 1939 – just few months before Winter War and firing completely different ammo. If these were already used in 1941, why not the Finnish Mosins a whole year later? There are numerous photos from the 1941-42 period showing Soviet troops with foreign weapons, ranging from Arisakas and Winchester 95s (which were probably ex-Tsarist) to Polish and French, and then e.g. .303-in Enfield P14s, probably taken from Latvia, where they were regulation rifles. If we can live with a scene where one rifle is issued to two soldiers – why that rifle being a foreign-outfitted Mosin seems to be all of a sudden that controversial? And not only that early period as well – there is a well-known photo of a sailor in 1943, taken in the relieved Leningrad with a brand spanking new Medal For Defense of Leningrad (established Dec 22, 1942, first issued in the spring of 1943) on his chest, and he is armed with a P14.
    The usage of Maxim belts in lieu of ammunition bandoleers is well documented and dates in photos (and even October Revolution artwork) back to WW1 – often with every second round removed to ease taking them out of the pockets. In many cases the 250rd belts were cut into halves, as the 250 belt is very LOOONG and the soldier cocooned in it looks like a part of Laocoön Group and not a warrior. Anyway, a half belt with like 60 rounds in it is much more confortable to wear than boxy pouches, coming your way when you try to crawl under fire. It might as well be considered a prototype load-carrying vest 🙂

  6. No, I’m not obsessive about choosing the precise small-arms for movies. BUT, I do prefer it. In this case the actual visible differences are not critical. So long as its a Russian WWII rifle.

  7. in written histories – I – like to see that kind of historical accuracy, but as long as its a nation/army unit-specific weapon, it will, still, work for me.

    it’s more likely to bother me if I’ve fired the relevant weapon. Unless from the side the Bren.303 and L4 LMG look historical enough! Ian, did you know that for a short period in the 70s both Britain and Australia were issuing 7.62 conversions of the SMLE/1V and the Bren. We ALL absolutely HATED the M60 GPMG aka ‘the PIG’, it has more ways of stopping, than a group of fundamentalists. The M50 GPMG is almost as good an example of why Ordnance Bureaus are KKRAPP as was the MK14 magnetic mine. As you may recall I was a Marksman/Coach at about ~50 yrs ago. I even managed to get variable length buts issued for the SLR-L1A1 – plus tools – in my unit! Our unit’s firing-range performance climbed substantially!!!

    Lithgow SAFactory had heaps of them, in storage. VERY USEFUL, in a whole-army setting, eh?!!! During ‘nam, in particular!!! I did hear later that they began promoting the idea of getting some of them out to active units. But I heard a ‘rumour’ that our active SAS units were ‘too tough’ to bother!

    All organised groups of working folks are KONSERVATIVE, as the managers are LAZY b’ds!

    Less work, as in less training, and less LEARNING – for ME!!!!

    Tim B

  8. I’m studying at the history faculty, which is why I don’t like watching historical movies because they often distort history. I prefer to read books instead. However, I once had to complete an assignment on this movie in college. They couldn’t make me watch it, so I ordered this paper from those guys https://edubirdie.com/book-movie-review-writing Now, I’m wondering if it was you who wrote it for me, as their notes are exactly like what you wrote here. lol

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