What’s Wrong with Private Jackson’s Sniper Rifle? (Saving Private Ryan)

Today we are going to take a look at how Private Jackson’s sniper rifle is portrayed in Saving Private Ryan. It’s a great movie, and I enjoyed it a lot – but this sniper rifle is incorrect in every scene…

At the beginning of the film, the rifle is shown as an M1903A4 (which is appropriate) but with a Lyman Alaskan scope (which is wrong). Next, it is shown with interchangeable scopes, the seconds one being an 8x Unertl. While the Unertl was used by Marine Corps snipers, it is not interchangeable with the M1903A4’s Weaver M73B1 scope. Just to make it fit on the prop gun, the mounts have to be changed. finally, when it’s actually used with the Unertl, the scope does not move like it should, and Jackson tries to change his windage by adjusting the scope’s parallax (whoops).


  1. PLease note also, the “Unertl 8x scope” on Pvt Jackson’s rifle in this PIC
    is installed in the mount used for the Weaver M73b1 mount, so it is rigidly mounted
    AND the Unertl adjusting turrets are 90 degrees rotated so that the Elevation knob
    is facing to the left. No matter, because the Unertl knobs won’t work since the scope it rigidly mounted in the Weaver mount

  2. The guys at the barber shop noticed it also. Chesty Puller’s picture is on the wall.

  3. I would like to know if the US Army had any policy for teaching left handers to shoot during WWI?. Not so much of a problem with an M1 perhaps, but using a scope mounted bolt action rifle from the left shoulder is just awkward. It cannot be too hard to learn to shoot from the right shoulder. The British Army forces everyone to do this, because we have the POS SA80.

    • Not that I have seen.

      Lefties were sufficiently uncommon that they just weren’t addressed all that well in the manuals. It was mostly the “tribal knowledge” handed on by trainers, and whatever they managed on their own. The US Army usually preferred to force conformity to right-handedness, and if there were problems with dominant eye-edness, well… Concessions would be made. One of my old platoon sergeants made the comment to me that when the M16 came in, it was a godsend for him, because they actually had brass deflectors and he could shoot left-handed for the first time in his career, which went back to the M1 rifle in the early 1960s. His statement to that effect was never clarified to my satisfaction, because when I heard him say it, that was before I learned that the plastic brass deflector we put on the old M16A1 only came in during the 1970s… So, I dunno what period he was talking about. He might have had something in Vietnam that I don’t know about, or he might have been referring to his post-Vietnam career until retirement in the early 1980s…

      Lefties are not well-accommodated, until recent times. Anywhere. I suspect that the ambidextrous controls only became an issue for people once they considered off-handed shooting while wounded, or in situations where a right-hander had to expose too much of his ass to the enemy.

      • Kirk:

        Maybe there is not much in the written record. We need a WWII veteran to tell us. I just don’t feel that lefties would have been trained to fire a bolt action from the left shoulder, it is just too damned awkward to operate the bolt that way.

        • My left-handed uncle (Marine Recon) told me that in Korea they were taught to shoot right-handed, period.

          That said, in ambush situations, MOBUA and etc. the ability to be used left-handed was one of the reasons they liked the M1 Garand and M1/M2 Carbine a lot more than the Springfields that were still being issued as “sniper rifles”.

          One of the stupider ideas in ordnance today (Of which there are a multitude as so often recorded here) are rifles like the British Enfield SA80 family which simply cannot be fired from the left shoulder. This can be a problem if you’re trying to deliver fire around a right-hand corner without exposing yourself in the process.

          It isn’t just “bullpups”, either, as anyone who ever tried to fire a Ruger Mini-14, AC-556, etc. left-handed quickly learned, often painfully.

          clear ether


          • The only bullpup that’s somewhat solved the issue of ejection for left-handed folk is the FN FS2000. And, the way it does that is pretty problematic, in terms of clearing issues. You jam that freakin’ ejection tube with something, you’re screwed.

            I don’t think the bullpup configuration is going to ever really work, for real combat, until and unless we overcome the issues inherent to having to have the cartridge case. So long as something needs to be ejected, the mechanical complexity that issue mandates is going to lead to issues with the whole idea.

            And, I still don’t like the magazine back up under the armpit, where there’s nothing to index it. If the human animal came with something that enabled indexing the elbow the way we can our fingers, accurately placing the magazine…? Things would be a lot better, for the bullpup. As we ain’t built that way…? Between the magazine location and the ejection issues, the bullpup idea is inherently flawed from the standpoint of ergonomics and mechanics.

          • As I’ve said before, the bullpup mania was a result of fundamental errors in measurement in MICV design. (“We design our infantry vehicles around the standard 1.72 meter tall soldier.” “Um, soldiers today tend to be around 1.8 meters tall.” “WELL, THEY SHOULDN’T BE!!”)

            They were also designed around the fallacy of engaging with infantry rifle fire at 500 meters. (“We have to have a rifle capable of ‘taking back the infantry half-kilometer’, and that means a minimum 50 cm barrel length.” “It doesn’t work that way in the real world.” “It works that way on our ranges and at Camp Perry, so STFU.”)

            The much-maligned M4 is probably the first IW designed with a reasonable amount of common sense since the M1/M2 Carbine. It could probably use either a slightly longer barrel or a better-thought-out muzzle device to reduce signature, but other than that there’s really nothing wrong with it, as long as you remember that shooting much beyond 200 meters is a waste of time and ammunition for anything other than a tripod-mounted GPMG or HMG.

            I once had the odd thought that bullpup rifles would make perfect sense for the Ulleran infantry described in H.Beam Piper’s 1953 novel Uller Uprising;

            (H)e saw four combat-cars coming in, firing with 40-mm auto-cannon and 15-mm machine-guns. They swept between the hovels on one side and the warehouses on the other, strafing the mob, darted up to a thousand feet, looped, and came swooping back, and this time there were three long blue-gray troop-carriers behind them.

            These landed in the hastily cleared street and began disgorging native Company soldiers- Kragan mercenaries, he noted with satisfaction. They carried a modified version of the regular Terran Federation infantry rifle, stocked and sighted to conform to their physical peculiarities, with long, thorn-like, triangular bayonets. One platoon ran forward, dropped to one knee, and began firing rapidly into what was left of the mob. Four-handed soldiers can deliver a simply astonishing volume of fire, particularly when armed with auto-rifles having twenty-shot drop-out magazines which can be changed with the lower hands without lowering the weapon.

            The solution to the bullpup problem may end up in the laps of the geneticists. Some of them are probably panting for the opportunity already.

            clear ether


          • I’m still of the opinion that the entire IFV concept is… Nuts.

            Slapping an armored combat-oriented turret on top of an infantry carrier is insane. You’ve just combined two totally disparate missions, and exposed those infantry (who can’t possibly have the slightest influence on action between armored vehicles…) to all the vicissitudes of armored combat. On top of which, you’ve just vastly decreased the survivability of the armored vehicle because you can’t build the thing with heavy enough armor to survive because then it’d be too damn big and heavy, what with the size needed to fit the troops into…

            On top of that, you need protected transport to get those troops to their most effective debarkation point, which is extremely rarely even remotely close to where you’re going to have the most effect on the action with those turreted combat weapons…

            The IFV should be two separate, yet closely-partnered vehicles. One designed for armored combat, heavily armored, and the other designed for troop transport whose operators aren’t going to try playing Erwin Rommel with the tanks.

            The only reason that things like the Bradley even begin to look like they make sense is the fact that there ain’t nobody out there doing the logical thing and separating the two functions. It’s all idiots, all the way down. You don’t have anyone who is building an effective “infantry support vehicle” and partnering it with an “infantry transport vehicle”, and because of that, the whole insane IFV paradigm that came out of the fantasy-land of the Soviet Union’s military-industrial complex still dominates.

            This has got to be the most baffling thing to me, in the entire post-Cold War military culture around the world. It’s like watching an insane clown-car action, with the poor bloody infantry debarking from within the cramped quarters of a fighting vehicle… Nuts.

          • Kirk:

            You are not wrong. The British Army’s Ajax IFV comes in at 42 tons. That’s damn near the weight of a Panther. It was meant to be air portable by a Hercules, but just kept getting bigger and bigger, Anyway, we just retired our Hercules fleet, so that went by the wayside. It is now too big for its suspension, so shakes and rattles so much that it deafens anyone unfortunate enough to be inside it. As you say, clown world scarcely begins to describe it.

  4. Ain’t no movie, from any source, that can really ever manage total fidelity to reality. The story-telling has to take precedence over “the truth”, ‘cos “the truth” isn’t attractive or sexy to the story-teller.

    This was as true for the village-square story teller going back to Homer, and it’s equally true now.

    That said… It is ever so vaguely possible, albeit highly unlikely, that someone might have taken a private-purchase scope into combat in Europe. How long that would have lasted, I don’t know. I do know that at least one “gun guy” of my acquaintance described taking his National Match-built 1903 with him to the war in Europe, and he forever after bemoaned its loss to “the system” when he got separated from it after being wounded. I forget which scope he said he’d put on top of it, but he said it was way, way better than the Army-issue one they’d given him.

    Veracity of said tale? No idea; he told me about it, I took his word. I doubt he had a Unertl on the rifle he had, though… It was more likely an Alaskan or something else.

    WWII was really before the big crack-down on private arms in the US military. Guys took their own handguns along to war, if the command looked the other way. Sometimes that extended to long arms, per what I have been told. I don’t think it was at all common, but… It reputedly did happen.

    My informant’s commander wanted someone with a good rifle and skills; he was willing to look the other way, and when said young man reported back from leave with something that looked more-or-less like the issued rifle, weeeeeelllllll… He got away with it. Supposedly. Anecdotal, apocryphal, totally undocumented. Your Mileage May Vary.

    • For what it’s worth, Lt. Col. John B. George, an enthusiastic rifle shot, used a Lyman Alaskan scope in combat on Guadalcanal.

      George wrote about his pre-war success in long-range rifle competition and then about using his own equipment while a lieutenant in the Illinois National Guard of the Americal Division.

      “Shots Fired in Anger” is available through the Internet Archive and makes more interesting reading than the brief excerpts that follow.


      “In due time, I enlisted in the Illinois National Guard, shooting my way onto the State Rifle Team each year that I was able to attend the national Rifle Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio.” –p.3

      “At this time I wired Bill Otis, in Moline, Illinois, asking him to ship me some of his sniping rifles at once, addressing them to me at the nearest express office to Indiantown Gap. I also managed to get the folks on the phone and had a last word with my mother and father–went through the old routine (new at that time)–telling them that it would be a long time before I could write, but not to worry, everything would be okay. I also told them to ship my rifle as soon as it was returned from the factory, and to hurriedly send me a Lyman Alaskan scope with a G. & H. mount for a Springfield to my new A.P.O. number.” –p. 25

      “We sat on New Caledonia for what seemed like centuryies to everyone but me. For me the time passed quickly because I received my M-70 soon after my arrival and had begun to capitalize on the islands’ natural resources. The place was bountifully infested with deer.” –p. 26

      “I only took time off to check the zero of my rifle, using a few rounds of my carefully husbanded M1 boat-tail stuff.” –p. 28

      “I withdrew the little Lyman Alaskan scope and checked it over, working the scope mount levers to see if there had been any dirt lodged within their bearing. Assured that it was in perfect order, I carefully restored the scope to its leather case . . .” p. 92

      “I must have been pretty steady at the moment of the shot because I remember being able to set his chin precisely on the flat-topped post in the Alaskan reticule.” –p. 121

      “The salt water had nibbled a bit on the scope tube and mount–that was the first thing I had noticed. But in a moment I examined the weapon and found that corrosion had set in on the action to a dangerous extent. I could no longer depend on the little piece and there would be no immediate opportunity to get it back into shap. I regretfully turned it over to an officer from rear echelon and transerred my pistol from holster to hand until I located a good M38 Ariska .25 carbine and some ammuntion fo rit. I fired a few shots at some floating bottles to check the sighting and the results were pleasing.” –p. 150

      “I secured my rifle and got it into good shape again. The scope had not been damaged; all the corroded parts were found to be all right, After a good boiling and a light going over with some emery cloth it was a s good as ever. Indications were that there would be more Jap hunting so I hurried to sight the weapon in. Accuracy was good–unaffected by the submersion in salt water.” –p. 154

      Ian may appreciate this tidbit:

      “There were different models of Mannlichers, Steyrs, Enfields (M1917 and British), Mausers, and of course their own [Japanese] rifles as well. . . I, being the accepted battalion authority on firearms identification, was embarrassed several times by my inability to identify guns brought to me.” –p. 158

      “One day a lizard got up in a tree and we all witness a neat exhibition of pistol marksmanship by Major Butler. His Frontier .45 knocked the reptile out of the very top of the high palm. The major was might handy with that weapon; it was all he had carried in combat.” –p. 159

      “My rifle, newly bedded and zeroed in, rested well oiled in my arms, and comprised more than half the weight of my entire kit. . . . a few rounds of Denver Ordnance Depot ball ammunition that I had selected back in New Caledonia. By allowing myself only a few rounds of the special stuff for each trip away from out baggage, I had managed to never run out. (I was to fire the last three rounds of that store months later in Inida, bringing down three fine head of game–but that’s another story.)” –p. 180

    • Kirk:

      I wonder why they picked a left handed actor for the role of sniper in this movie? Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

      • He did well on the casting couch…?

        I’ve got no idea. I’ve given up on trying to figure out WTF the casting people do, a lot of the time. I quit watching The Expanse because I couldn’t buy the chick they put in as Bobbie Draper. She couldn’t sell “Marine” to me with a million-dollar rebate, let alone the badass combat veteran she was supposed to be portraying. Took me right out of the series, that did…

        • Put it on the reliability matrix, somewhere above Taxes but slightly below Death: Adaptations Always Disappoint

        • I assure that some decision regarding actors of high-budget U.S. movies are head-scratching for non-U.S.-dwellers. I am still confused why, when selecting actors for role of Genghis Khan they decided John Wayne with glued mustaches is best fit

          • Studio system. Contract actors.

            At least, back in those days. These days? Who the hell knows? I suspect that a lot of the actresses get their roles based on whether or not they’ll do the nasty with the pasty freaks in the back offices of the studios…

            Not all of them, of course, but enough to answer the question of “How the hell did that person get cast in that role…?”

  5. Regarding left-handed shooting in the post-WWI US army: My father served a hitch from 1920 to 1923 in the 13th US Cavalry. His service rifle was an M1903 Springfield. Because he was left-handed, he was trained to rotate the rifle almost 90 degrees to the left and reach over the action to work the bolt. This was, in his hands, a fast and low-visibility method. (I’ve agonized through many of Ian’s demos in which he swings the muzzle up while working the bolt right-handed, lifting the barrel into the skies and giving Hans or Naburo or Giuseppe a clear mark to aim at.) Pap did this all his life, and big post-war civvie scopes mounted on our various Springfields, Enfields, and Mannlichers gave him no trouble. I’m pretty certain that his Army training taught him how. Was that War Dept. standard? Dunno. The 13th Cav was a horsed unit based at Fort D. A. Russel, Wyoming, and, I suspect, ran its affairs without much reference to anybody else’s opinion.

    Someday, if you don’t watch out, I’ll relate Pap’s adventures with the horse they assigned him, Regimental No. 25, known as Two Bits.

    • If you ever do write that down, I’d read it.

      That era of the Army fascinates me, because it shows a different way of doing things than we followed after WWII, with the whole “factory training environment”. I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from that era that we’ve abandoned to our detriment, not the least of which is putting the conduct of basic and advanced training of soldiers into the hands of the actual men who will be leading them, vs. the current practice of the institution handing them to you ready-made. Supposedly ready-made, that is…

      • Roger that, Kirk, reading you numbah one. Next time Ian reviews McClellan saddles, Patton sabres, or The Old Oaken
        Bucket, I’ll take it as a green light on telling the tale of Two Bits the Warhorse.

        All of it will be 100% true, because my father taught me early in life that telling tall ones about the Old West invariably backfires: the greenhorns believe every bit of it and even jot down notes. “Wow, I never knew any of this!” The only way to get known as a colorful fibber is to stick to the rock-hard facts. Damn right it’s fun.

    • Ed:

      That is interesting, because Eon above notes that the Korea era USMC taught everyone to shoot right handed. I think this might show that there was no one doctrine on this, and depending upon the time, the place and the service, different rules applied.

    • Wehrmacht snipers used Kar98ks with low-power scopes. RThey were chosen by the instructors in basic based on who were the best shots. They shot right handed because that was SOP.

      SS snipers used mostly sporting rifles, generally Mausers or Mannlichers, with much better (civilian) optics. They didn’t receive much if any special training, either, and the SS really didn’t give a rat’s ass how they shot as long as they got results.



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