WW1 Night Sights: Gewehr 98 and SMLE

Germany, Britain, and France all introduced luminous night sights for their service rifles in 1916. Today we are looking at a Gewehr 98 and an SMLE that have detachable WW1 night sights fitted (and the SMLE also has a metal muzzle cover device).


  1. I can picture some poor tommy or Frontschwein licking his radium sight clean in desperation, but at a time like that he’d be facing way more immediate risks.

    Now: Some clever tinkerer should recreate these sights using modern luminous material, and you could have the first night two-gun challenge.

    • Radiation illness notwithstanding, anyone using night sighting systems for sentry work would require a partner just to make sure nobody from the other team was sneaking around behind him with a shovel or knife. I probably messed up.

      • Actually, the most likely use for this would be sentry removal. Also, on sentry-go, you’d be using it from your own trench fire step to shoot some ambitious type trying to sneak across No Man’s Land for some clever trick like tapping your field telephone wires.

        So your six would be covered by your mates. You’d only have to worry about the guy in front of you.



        • As for sentry removal, how do you mask the sound of a rifle shot? Ask someone to commence noisy bombardment elsewhere? Or would you stick a huge suppressor on the rifle?

    • Tritium luminous sights are pretty common these days, so no need to wait for a ‘clever tinkerer’.

  2. The book Mauser Military Rifles of the World 4th edition show 2 different type of German WW1 night sights. On page 177 it shows a pressed steel night sight next to a machined steel night sight like the one you showed in the video.

  3. Radium in the sight does not pose any direct threat to health.
    But it carries the most immediate threat to the wallet.
    In some countries, ANY communication with ANY amount of a substance having ANY level of radioactivity will immediately attract an animation of the local secret service.
    Something like “preparing a terrorist attack.”

        • If I am not mistaken, the old clock and luminous nozzles on the sights are exempted from regulation if they were not opened. At least in the USA.
          And in Europe there may be complications. The local legislation, in some places, resembles a theater of the absurd.
          For example, I hear that in Holland(?) a piece of shrapnel from a torn ammunition can be qualified as a “part of the ammunition” and be subject to licensing.

          • “For example, I hear that in Holland(?) a piece of shrapnel from a torn ammunition can be qualified as a “part of the ammunition” and be subject to licensing.”
            You are kidding, right?

  4. One has to wonder just how well a soldier could see their little glowing sights after seeing the muzzle flash from a few rounds. Maybe they were meant for a few initial shots before the MGs and flare guns lit things up.

    The muzzle cover is really cool.

  5. The Mauser rear sight looks awfully wobbly during installation. Are the cutouts where the screws fit shaped to ‘bottom out’ reasonably close to zero?

    • I’ve only used more modern equivalents of these (those on the Yugo SKS and AKs from the 60s and 70s) and they are most certainly only roughly aligned, bit wobbly like these as well. I figure that was considered good enough for what sort of distances you can shoot without illumination at night.

      • They only had weak electric or even petroleum lamps in WW1, so engagement distances were very limited. Artillery or a flare pistol shooting ILLUM was possible, but expensive and you could not deploy it anytime you liked, like a bump in the night.

  6. I did hear recently that an eighty year old WW2 RAF bomber pilot visiting a preserved Lancaster bomber was denied access to his old ‘office’, the cockpit, because of the danger from the luminous instruments fitted. “A pity they didn’t warn us when we headed off to Germany all those years ago” was his comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.