M3 Infrared Sniper Carbine at RIA

The first US military night vision system used in active combat was the T3 Carbine system – an infrared light-amplifying scope and IR floodlight mounted on an M1 Carbine. About 150 of these were used on Okinawa, and were quite effective. The system was refined over time, and by the Korean War this version was in service – an improved M3 scope on an M1 Carbine.

The M3 scope here has a longer effective range (125 yards), and still required the user to carry a heavy backpack-mounted battery pack to power the scope and light. They were used primarily in static defensive positions in Korea to locate troops attempting to infiltrate in darkness. In total, about 20,000 sets were made before they became obsolete, and were surplussed to the public.


  1. If you ever wondered where they got the idea for the funky THRUSH M1 Carbine in the old “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” TV series, well, now you know;


    Although that looks suspiciously like a combination of a five-cell plastic flashlight and a tin grain funnel, spray-painted silver.

    There was a German analogue of the real thing, the Vampir sight;


    It was generally mounted on a StG 44 because like the U.S. original, it too only had a pickup range of about 100 to 150 meters. There was no point in putting it on a K43 with an effective range of around 500m.

    There was also a version mounted on an experimental remote-control MG34/MG42 mount for use on armored vehicles for defensive night operations. Like the Vampir itself, the actual combat use of that one is debatable. But in many ways it was the predecessor of the TUSK remote gun systems used by U.S. forces today.

    The IR sights of WW2 were a good example of a technological advance that almost outran its technology base.



    • While there is no evidence that the Vampir was ever used in combat, the FG 1250 Sperber night vision device was definitely used on Panther G tanks. It had a 30 cm IR searchlight for about 600 meters of effective range, which was enough to be useful in armored combat. In addition a 60 cm IR searchlight could be mounted on a half-track (designated SdKfz. 251/20 Uhu) to extend the range up to 1000 meters.

      About 50 of the FG 1250 system was installed and it was definitely used in combat. Some success in destroying Allied tanks in night combat was claimed, but at that time (March-April 1945) German record keeping was breaking down and the claims can’t be verified.

    • “There was a German analogue of the real thing”
      Soviet Union also has their IR (ИК in Russian for Инфракрасное) as described there: http://www.russianengineering.narod.ru/tank/russinfrarot.htm
      This article is not limited only for infantry IR devices but also cover tank and aviation usage. I’m not able to translate correctly the whole article, but I will translate photos descriptions from top to down:
      1.Television Laboratory, Nipkov disk can be seen (1930)
      2.IR system (ray emitter) for “Quantum” system for guiding “gliding torpedoes”, from text: it was designed to be mount on TB-3 bomber and to light target so “torpedo” can guide to it
      3-4. IR devices, making driving in night possible, mounted on BT-7 tank, named “Pipe” (instrument, in Russian «Дудка»)
      5. IKN-8 infrared devices for T-34-85
      6. IR [light] direction finder model C-1 and C-2 (1942) from text: it was used on ships of Black Sea Fleet for night navigation without attracting enemy attention
      7. PPSh sub-machine gun with night sight (1943)
      8. Thermovision device featuring Nipkov disk (1959)

      • Thanks. The U.N.C.L.E. Special P.38 was even funnier. Believe it or not, it was originally supposed to be selective-fire.

        They tried to make one of them work on full-auto, just once. As anyone who knows the Walther 9mm would expect, the tester squeezed the trigger, it emptied their welded-up 16-shot magazine before he could let up on it, and they got to find out what “Topless P.38 Syndrome” is when the dust cover, loaded-chamber indicator, firing pin, etc., departed in the general direction of the ionosphere.

        It takes a lot to make an Epic Fail out of a P.38, but they managed it.



        • That is pretty funny. However, I unintentionally managed something similar on an ancient, worn out 9mm once. I seem to remember it as a High Standard, but I’m not sure. This was a long time ago, and I was pretty young. Not to mention stupid. Trying to make the thing work properly, I had to do a fair amount of filing on the sear. It worked …………. maybe as an anti-aircraft gun. Oops!

  2. Cool – A THRUSH rifle (that gives away my age!)

    You could actually get the first generation cascade image intensifer tubes for these on the surplus market. I got one for a school project. I got it to work, although I doubt whether they would let kids play with a 20Kv power supply as I was!

    • You could still buy surplus first gen tubes and the little high voltage converter in the early 1990s.

      The actual devices using first gen tubes usually had several tubes placed end to end in order to achieve a useable gain – and they suffered accordingly from the multiplied noise in the image.

      The alkali metal coating which forms the sensor inside the input end of the intensifier soon looses its sensitivity, especially in warm conditions and if it ever gets exposed to bright light – such as daylight. The useful life of the first gen tubes, even with careful use was perhaps 100 hours.

      I gather that many military surplus intensifiers were destroyed rather than sold as surplus, because they had the image of some sensitive facility permenantly burned into them, after watching it for too long.

  3. Nice system for its time but with some critical drawbacks. The range of the system, about 150 yards, was pretty well matched to the effective night range of the M1 Carbine. The cartridge had/has about the same power as a .44 Mag if handloaded. But the problem was penetration against the quilted winter gear of the Communist Chinese (ChiCom). The later problem with this night vision system was that when in use a counter-sniper could spot the user if they had a set of goggles that allowed IR detection … then you were using the equivalent of an anti-aircraft spotlight in a small room. When it was first introduced it was quite a surprise since the user/sniper could see you in the dark but you could not see him. Talk about induced paranoia! When they were released to the public as surplus, they were the darling of night time poachers and police alike.

    • I seriously doubt the winter gear penetration of the .30 Carbine was a serious issue. Attempts to replicate it, although admittedly not very scientific, have never been successful. Also, 9mm Para SMGs never had problems penetrating similarly thick Soviet winter gear during WW2. The .30 Carbine has much more energy and a smaller projectile cross section, so it penetrates much better than 9mm.

      The supposed penetration issues can probably be derived from two sources: firstly, non-disabling hits to non-essential organs and tissues. It is well established that soldiers with serious but not immediately disabling wounds can continue to fight for several minutes on adrenaline alone. Bleeding would be masked by the heavy clothing. Secondly: hits at extreme angles which might lead to bouncing. Then add a generous amount of frontline rumors and later war story telling, and suddenly you end up with a “major problem” with some weapon.

      Perhaps Ian would be interested in testing this?

      • There is also possibility 3; the guy shooting actually missed.

        I have a very, very difficult time believing that any amount of heavy clothing would actually stop a .30 carbine bullet. The guys at Box O’ Truth did some testing on this, and they found that multiple layers of heavy cloth soaked in water and actually frozen still did basically nothing to stop a bullet:

          • Be that as it may, it still seems far more likely that they simply didn’t hit. After all there’s been no reports AFAIK that the far weaker 7.62x25mm Tokarev had any trouble dealing with heavy winter gear during WWII.

          • Yes, that is what I meant by “not very scientific” testing. However, theoretically the .30 Carbine is a much better penetrator than 9x19mm or even 7.62x25mm and there is no evidence those cartridges did not penetrate well enough at sub-freezing winter temperatures against winter clothing. Both were extensively used in the Eastern Front in WW2, often at ranges exceeding 100 meters. What is well known is that a single hit in the torso was often not enough to stop a determined fighter, but that should not be a surprise to anyone with basic understanding of human anatomy and physiology, since much of the torso is non-essential to short-term functioning of the body. (What happens later is of course a different matter altogether.)

  4. Ze Germans had a similar version, I seem to remember…

    Amazing technology then, shrunk now exponentially, I was amazed when I looked through a Kite site, Milan Mira sights are cool, stickmen it picks creases up in uniforms – Heat apex points through trees miles away.

  5. The first Stephen Hunter novel I read was “Black Light.’ Ran into it at my neighborhood branch library and said “This looks interesting.” Been hooked on Hunter ever since. In addition to being a great bang-bang novel (like all of Hunter’s stuff) it’s a well-researched look at the development of night-vision scopes from the M3 to the then-present (late 90s, I think, was when the novel came out.) “The Master Sniper” which I’m pretty sure was Hunter’s first novel gets into some pretty interesting “speculative history” about Nazi development of Vampir as well as self-silencing ammunition.

  6. Now if the new owner could be persuaded to let someone, fire it on a range using the IR sights…

    Is there any film online of the sights being used?


    • First generation image intensifiers have very limited useful life (100 hours or so), the performance of the scope was probably marginal at best without the illumination from the spotlight even when it was new. Actual “starlight” performance was still some years in the future.

  7. Re: Box O’ Truth M1 Carbine Penetration Test
    The test you cite, apparently at http://www.theboxotruth.com/the-box-o-truth-36-frozen-clothing-and-the-box-o-truth/, was conducted on a folded terrycloth towel soaked in water, frozen and shot at 45 yards, not against issue Chinese winter clothing. This is hardly a definitive test of the penetration capabilities of the subject weapon of the present discussion. The preparation and thickness of the test material is stated as “First, I folded the towel three times, making it 8 layers thick.” and later with “The frozen material was a little over one inch thick.” I often hunt with a high-powered pellet rifle that would penetrate this test media at that range, but most certainly not at 150 yards. The person who related the original story to me was Staff Sgt. Ralph DeLoach, USMC, who was a survivor of Bataan and later the Choson Reservoir. He said the ChiCom soldiers he hit with this system were knocked off their feet and got back up and continued to advance. This strongly indicates a hit, not a miss. Since his experience was under actual combat conditions, I stand by the statement. However, I have killed many deer, wild pigs of over 250 pounds and other creatures with am M1 Carbine at a reasonable range, and have had more than one failure of penetration of the “shield” over the vital area of larger boar.

    • Bill, I’m going to have to say your informant was full of it. There just isn’t enough kinetic energy present in a .30 carbine projectile to cause someone to be “knocked off their feet”, period. Guns just don’t work that way, except in the movies.

      If the .30 Carbine cartridge actually generated that much energy, you’d have a hell of a hard time firing it–Newtonian physics, y’know? Equal and opposite reactions? If the projectile could do that down on the target end, what the hell do you think it would do back at the rifle end? You tell me he saw someone “blown off their feet”, then I want to know why the hell he was still standing afterwards, himself.

      Want an illustration of a rifle/cartridge combo that could do something like that? Try one of the dangerous-game rifles with about a .500 Nitro Express loading:


      Even with a cartridge like that, you’re far more likely to leave the target standing, as the projectile breezes through the body without dumping its energy. If you somehow manage to get the projectile to actually stay in the target and deposit all of the energy it has, you might get to see someone “knocked off their feet”. Other than that, it ain’t happening. You see someone who looks like they’ve been “knocked off their feet” in a firefight, and it’s a hell of a lot more likely that you’re seeing muscle spasms, the effects of a nearby blast, or someone who just tripped and fell. Period.

      Anytime I hear someone talking about people being “knocked off their feet”, or “blown backwards by the impact”, I immediately start questioning whether or not they’ve actually seen someone hit with a live bullet. The only time I’ve ever actually observed someone “blown away” by a round’s impact has been watching FLIR video of Apache helicopters firing on insurgents, and even then, they usually just tend to fall down right where they’re hit. Physics, again–You’re not going to create movement of a mass equal to a human body by hitting it with with a 110-grain projectile moving at around 2000 fps. The victim hit with that round is going to react to it, perhaps with involuntary muscle spasms that make it look like the round did something spectacular, but the raw fact of the matter is that there just isn’t enough energy there to create the effect your informant blithely claims to have observed.

      Let me create an alternative, far more likely scenario: Your informant fired at someone moving towards him who just happened to have slipped and fell at about the same time he fired, causing him to conflate the two events. Reality was, he likely didn’t hit what he was shooting at in the first place, and happened to have observed the target’s fall at about the same time, and then assumed he was the cause for the fall.

      Assuming he was ever actually there–The Chosin Reservoir campaign is one of the more popular claims made by fabulists, and it’s been my observation that men who were really there won’t talk about it, ever. They sure as hell don’t talk about the people they killed, or any of the gory details. Most of the crap stories in popular circulation come from people who were never there, and who make up details that the rest of the public doesn’t know enough to call them on–So, you hear someone talk about the way the .30 Carbine “knocked them off their feet”, and the first safe assumption to make is that the only time they’ve seen the .30 Carbine projectile hit something is in a Hollywood movie.

      I’ve had the pleasure of knowing men who were on the Bataan Death March, and who I know were involved in the Chosin Reservoir fights. Exactly NONE of them ever talked about it, or described the details of the fights they’d been in. I only found out about their history from people who knew them, and one time, by discussing portable military bridging equipment. Every time I’ve heard the war stories about this and that, the guy telling them has generally turned out to be a complete liar about his involvement. The liar tells you about the men he supposedly killed, while the guy who was really there generally tells funny stories about the stupid shit he and his buddies got up to when they weren’t in action. Talking about the fights where he killed and saw his friends die is just too fucking painful, and the real veterans don’t share that shit with just anyone. Maybe one of the friends who was there with him, or someone who was somewhere else and who would understand, but never with casual acquaintances. That’s what I’ve seen, at least, over the years.

    • He said the ChiCom soldiers he hit with this system were knocked off their feet and got back up and continued to advance. This strongly indicates a hit, not a miss.

      What that tells me is not “they got shot and their clothes stopped it and they just walked off an annoying bruise” (because as mentioned it doesn’t work that way; there’s not enough kinetic energy in a .30M1 to knock a man over).

      What that tells me is “he shot them, and they got up after being shot and kept coming despite the wound”. Known to happen even against people with light clothing and 5.56×45, today, because some people are pretty badass.

      (Also, I wouldn’t be too surprised if the alternative for the Chinese at, say, Chosin, was “freezing to death or being left to die for failing to achieve the goal” anyway. That’s … a motivator.)

      • Actually it’s worse than that, since the relevant property is momentum, not (kinetic) energy. Kinetic energy is calculated E = ½mv², but (linear) momentum is calculated p = mv, where m is the mass of the body and v is the velocity. Momentum is conserved on impact of two bodies, whereas kinetic energy is not (large part of the energy is transformed to heat on impact).

        So, the mass of the projectile affects momentum more than energy, which in turn means that light projectiles have to move really fast in order to move a much more massive body even a little bit.

  8. Guys, I really hate to bring up an irrelevant idea, but what if I combined the IR set with something with a longer range and greater penetration power than an M1 Carbine, like a K98.b (which is just a Mauser Gewehr 98 with “carbine” features like a turned-down bolt handle and tangent rear sight)?

      • The most useful thing you could do with it would be mount it on top of an M2 .50 caliber HMG. Leave the IR spot off to save your battery, and wait.

        When an SdKfz 251/20 Hanomag with an “Uhu” IR illuminator searchlight (about the size and output of a regular AAA searchlight) shows up and turns on, it should be visible to the passive IR as a point source out to about 800 meters.

        Then, you put his lights out (literally) with the fifty.

        First Rule Of Not Being Seen; Don’t Stand Up.




        • OUCH! Suppose I were to use a Japanese Ho-5 aircraft cannon or even the odd 25 mm SAL Puteaux anti-tank gun in place of the M2 and hunted the Hanomag’s crew after putting out the lights?

          • At 800, the 750-grain APs from the fifty should make Swiss cheese out of the Hanomag’s 12mm frontal armor and 7mm side plating. A side to side shot will penetrate both sides and keep going, a frontal hit will lose just enough velocity to bounce around the inside a few times like a billiard ball.

            The first burst would make sushi out of them. Problem solved.

            Moral; Half-tracks shouldn’t play tag with HMGs. “It” hurts.



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