German World War One Gewehr 98 Sniper

Germany was the earliest adopter of scoped rifles in World War One, and produced more of them over the course of the war than any other power. After an initial stop-gap effort to scrounge up civilian hunting rifles, a sniper conversion program was adopted by the main German rifle factories. Germany was a world leader in optics production at the time, and so at least 10 different manufacturers provided scopes for military use. Each pattern of scope was unique, and fitted to its own specific mounting bases.

In general (and particularly early on), the Prussians tended to prefer 3x magnification, left-offset scopes with 100-1000 meter range adjustment. The Bavarians, on the other hand, opted for 4x scopes (more magnification but less field of view) that were center-mounted and had range dials marked for 200, 400, and 600 meters. These preferences were never absolute though, and tended to blur as the war progressed.

This particular rifle was originally a sniper, but I believe it was originally fitted with a 3x Voightlander optic. It is currently fitted with a 3x Oigee that has been unfortunately renumbered and mounted on what appears to be a reproduction rear base.

20 Comments

  1. … over the course of the warthog any other power? (either I’m unaware of this piece of idiom, or this is the weirdest spelling-correction glitch ever…)
    – small correction: It’s Voigtländer (name still in use, by a Japanese firm though…) Nice read as always

    • Pretty sure it was meant to be “over the course of the war than any other power”.

      Also pretty sure that the Prussians preferred 3x magnification rather than “magnificent”.

    • You could expect to see absolutely any German sporting rifle (in 7.9mm) that had any optical sight then available in the trenches. Germany literally collected people’s deer rifles and issued them snipers. So…yes.

  2. It doesn’t look like a factory job.
    I read that such transformations (among other things) were carried out by line gunsmiths right at the front.
    And this continued into World War II.
    In any case, I have come across such sights on self-made (but quite high-quality) brackets.
    In this case, the sight itself could be anything. For example, one of these adaptations included two self-made brackets with half-rings and a sight from a 5.5 or 7.5 cm AT cannon.

    I’ll try to search, I should have some photos left.

  3. Most of the PreWW1 and early WW1 snipers I have seen tended to be rushed affairs. As Striven noted, done by local gunsmiths. The only one I can think of that was Pre war factory was the Argentine 1908 Sniper, and that program might have been started after WW1 commenced.

    At any rate, it was almost the same rifle as the Gew 98, slightly better imho

    • And all scoped rifles of the day were hand-fitted by the dedicated gunsmith, since no two weapons of the same production batch were ever completely and exactly alike in terms of forging details (no surprise). Switching optics between weapons was a bad idea on the frontline. I could be wrong.

  4. It was very interesting to learn that Czarist Russia did not adopt any scoped rifles in WWI, particularly taking into account the later Soviet excellency in optical sharpshooting.

    Afterwards, some nations learnt the lessons, other did not.

    I wonder if the 1939 Polish Army wasn’t the only major European military power _without_ a single sniper rifle?

  5. The Osprey history of modern sniping ( https://ospreypublishing.com/the-military-sniper-since-1914-pb ) says the 1914 German Army (or Armies, picking up on Ian’s point about Bavaria and Prussia ordering their own scopes) saught and requited gamekeepers for sniping; but once they were dead they didn’t have anywhere to get new.

    The British, on the other hand, near tried to recruit marksmen, but once the need became obvious they trained soldiers to do the job. I believe that was down to the bloodmindedness of a few officers (as is the way so often; and that the training was for soldiers to work in pairs. One sniper and one observer with binoculars or telescope. That proved to be the best formation then, and seems to have vanished from history now. The WWI Western Front siege war was different to most later wars; but why did the observer disappear?

    • Pretty sure the spotter is still a part of Western sniper teams, to the extent the Navy purchased an AR in 7.62x51mm for its sniper spotters, so the team could share ammo – back in the 90’s.

    • “(…)why did the observer disappear?”
      They did not at least until 1994.
      According to FM 23-10 Sniper Training dated 1994 available at archive https://archive.org/stream/milmanual-fm-23-10-sniper-training/fm_23-10_sniper_training_djvu.txt
      Each member of the sniper team has specific responsibilities.(…)Responsibilities of team members areas follows(…)b. The observer—

      • Properly positions himself.

      • Selects an appropriate target.

      • Assists in range estimation.

      • Calculates the effect of existing weather conditions
      on ballistics.

      • Reports sight adjustment data to the sniper.

      • Uses the M49 observation telescope for shot observation.

      • Critiques performance.

  6. Idiots never learn anything.
    In almost all countries, during the 20th century, the same story was repeated three times.
    1. “Suddenly” the war broke out and
    2. “Suddenly” it became clear that there were no suitable weapons or trained operators.
    Hysterics began with cries of “all learn to shoot straight!” and “donate your scopes to the army!” (eg in Germany GW).
    With the end of the war, the preparation of operators and the development of new systems stopped, and the former war heroes “suddenly” turned out to be bloodthirsty maniacs and generally non-humans.
    Then, just as “suddenly” another war began and …
    back to 2.

    • The history of U.S. Army and Marine Corps sniper “programs” reflects that.

      Revolutionary War; Frontiersmen with “Pennsylvania” rifles were the first American “snipers”. No, they didn’t engage in open battle with British regulars, but early on George Washington gave them priority on the limited supply of gunpowder on the grounds that they aimed at what they were trying to shoot, rather than simply pointing as a musket-trained soldier had to do with a smoothbore. The Battle of King’s Mountain was a classic “snipers vs. skirmishers” engagement which cost the British Army Major Patrick Ferguson, the nearest thing to a “sniping” expert they had.

      War of 1812; The Battle of New Orleans in 1815 was another like King’s Mountain, and the only major “rifles vs musketry” engagement of the war. Ironically, it was fought a month after the Treaty of Paris ended the war; news traveled slower back then.

      Mexican War 1846-48; No noticeable “sniping” on either side.

      American Civil War 1861-65; Sniping was a major factor, especially in the sieges in the East. Dedicated and purpose-built sniping rifles, mostly adapted “benchrest” types with optical sights, appear for the first time. See Civil War Guns by William B. Edwards, Stackpole, 1962, available at archive.org.

      Indian Wars 1866-91; No evidence of dedicated snipers and no apparent Army interest in same.

      Spanish-American War 1898; Ditto.

      Philippine Insurrection 1899-1907; Ditto, in spite of Luzon being the sort of place that seems ideal for snipers to operate.

      World War 1; No actual sniping “program”. Sniping rifles consist of M1903A1 Springfields or more often M1917 Enfields fitted with off-the-shelf commercial optical sights, mostly 2.5X-4X. Strangely, ‘scopes designed for .22 rimfire target rifles were favored; they did not react well to .30-06 recoil forces.

      World War 2; Again, Springfields and ’17 Enfields at first, often WW1 issues degreased and issued from store. Later the M1903A4 and M1D dedicated sniping rifles, neither of which was particularly satisfactory, again mainly due to .22RF type ‘scopes. No actual systematic training programs; “snipers” were mostly chosen on the basis of whoever showed above-average aptitude for rifle shooting in Basic.

      Korea; Leftover WW2 and even WW1 “sniper” rifles. Again, “sniper” training essentially nonexistent. Never mind that the static nature of the war after Inchon was a nearly ideal sniper “environment”.

      Vietnam; Self-trained snipers like Carlos Hathcock become legendary. The Remington M40 bolt action (Model 700) becomes the standard “sniper rifle”, with the scoped M14 as a “spotter’s” rifle. Neither one is particularly satisfactory; Hathcock mostly used a commercial (pre-1964) Winchester Model 70 .308, which is another way of spelling “Mauser 98 sporting rifle clone”.

      Since then, the U.S. Marine Corps has had a dedicated sniping program, hence the 3801 (Scout Sniper) and 4602 (Scout Sniper Instructor) MOS. How much of it is “scouting” (i.e. Artillery/Air FO) and how much is “sniping” seems to depend on where the scout/sniper is trained (Parris or LeJeune).

      The idea of a “Designated Marksman’s Rifle” (DMR) in 7.62 x 51 is an outgrowth of the USMC program. It was the result of the Corps noticing that in Afghanistan, the Taliban noticed that our forces had 5.56 x 45mm rifles, and accordingly made use of older 7.62 x 54R and etc. weapons to engage from beyond 400-500 meters. As Kirk has pointed out, proper use of 7.62 x 51 GPMGs would have ended this pretty quickly, and there probably would never have been a “need” for the DMR.

      In short, “sniping” is something the U.S. military only pays attention to when it becomes very obvious that it is necessary. And even then, they usually go about it the wrong way.

      Meaning, they’re really no worse at it than just about every other army on earth. But they also are no better, either.

      cheers

      eon

      • Yeah, as Kirk put it, the current US Army (and sadly, the Marine Corps as well) SUCKS at developing and deploying general purpose machine guns owing to the obsession with making every rifleman a perfect shot. With the demand for marksmanship, the machine gunner is left at the very rear to do almost nothing unless the other team is ALREADY AT THE DOOR. And what was the machine gunner’s order? SPRAY UNTIL YOUR WEAPON EXPLODES FROM ABUSE OR UNTIL THE ENEMY IS ALL DEAD. Yes, I’m just joking.

      • The Marines in WWII obtained some of their own scopes not part of the Army supply system and even used small numbers of Model 70 type hunting rifles. OSPREY volume on SNIPER RIFLES. They had a good reputation.

  7. Ian,
    Send me an address and I’ll send you my copy of “Sniping in the Great War” by Simon Pegler. The Germans took formal sniper training VERY seriously, and the book treats it in some detail.

  8. Ian says that those non-standard markings and replacement parts are sad. Maybe to a pure-quill collector, but to me they’re history, part of the story of that old gun and scope combo. We all want authenticity in our antiques, and Prussian screw slots still standing at attention are plenty of that.

    • Knowing the full histories of rifles like that is a goal that could drive you into madness, just poring over record after record. That’s kinda the point, though, and all of those wacky little markings are what make a gun interesting. Who cares about something that just sat in a warehouse.

  9. 7.62×51/54 LMG and DMR go hand in hand – LMG is able to suppress up the significant range, DMR picks pinned targets. Rest of squad mostly makes noise at those ranges, no matter the rifle.

  10. The Gewehr 98 rifle was the main small arms of the German army during the First World War. Adopted in 1898, it was produced until 1945 and was used by the Wehrmacht and SS troops along with the Mauser 98 K carbine. More than 18 thousand of these rifles were equipped with optics and were used as snipers before World War II. To install the optical sight, the shutter handle was bent down. With comparable ballistics at a distance of up to 800 m, the rifle was heavily inferior to the carbine in terms of weight and dimensions.

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