The Sniper Rifles of The Red Star
Mosin Nagant M91/30 and Variants
From Vic Thomas
These range from the earliest version described above to a simple tie string pattern introduced in 1942. There are variation in the strap and it’s length, short to go through the trigger guard and longer to go around the magazine and back up to the buckle. Post war Warsaw Pact versions are of different material from a rough weave as the Soviet version but of a deep olive green used by Poland. And bordered in white cloth and tie. A light buff color cotton cover marked 0/2 on the interior with an ink stamping identifies a Hungarian made cover for the m/52 sniper rifle. The lens caps have also as many variants as the covers. The standard Soviet lens covers are a light brown to dark brown mixture of leather. The Hungarian lens caps tend to be a very light almost whites leather while the East German covers were made of plastic with a plastic “cord” connecting them. No unusual varianances are know in Polish caps as no large grouping of them have been observed. The Poles used refurbished PU snipers and it is an educated guess that the covers were not different in any substantial degree. The covers on the authors Polish made PU are of dark chocolate brown leather.
Slings were the standard issue m/91-30 slings for the Soviet sniper; both web and leather versions. The Polish produced slings for the sniper and all long rifles are identified by a bright green color and green painted buckles. Often a P-1 within a diamond will appear as an ink stamp on the slings interior. The Hungarian sling was a light tan colored sling of all leather construction and polished steel riveted fixtures. Markings on the interior will include possibly a date as well as a 02 designation.
Stocks of the snipers were primarily of a hardwood construction. A Soviet gun exhibiting the standard red/orange hue and varnish finish. The Soviets did however experiment with a laminated stock for the Infantry rifles beginning in 1943. This included the m/38, m/44 and the m/91-30 including the PU sniper. These are extremely rare variants and rarely encountered. Two variants seem to be evident, varnished and unvarnished. These snipers in this type of stock are all reported to be Tula made guns. It is evident that the Soviet experimentation with the use of laminated stocks began in 1943 as no known weapons dated prior to 1943 are reported to have this type of stock. A matching set of unvarnished laminated Mosin Nagants are in the authors collection m/38 ,m/44, m/91-30 and m/91-30 PU all dated 1943. These stocks have an additional rear cross bolt/recoil lug installed in the wrist area.
With the conclusion of heavy fighting during the Second World War, precise aimed gunfire proved to be extremely effective and demoralizing on enemy troops and proved to be of great importance, particularly on the eastern front. After the war, the Czechoslovak Army was interested in several types of scoped rifles and had several different versions to examine and try of both Soviet and German production. A decision was made to develop several sniper rifles based upon the standard caliber of the Czech Arm at the time-the 7.92mm cartridge in an effort to unify the equipment of Czech design and production. A promising trial design was the ZG49 Sn that was built in the 7.92 caliber. The requirements of the army soon changed after Soviet intervention and the caliber of the rifles in development were changed to the Russian 7.62x54rcartridge of the Red Army. Design changes also were undertaken to the stock and sights of the rifle to become the ZG51 Sn. The designator of “sn” apparently indicating a trial rifle that is of a scoped version of the weapon. These developments and trials were undertaken at the production facility located in Brno Zbrojovce in eastern Czechoslovakia.. With the new caliber designation of 54r, a final production model was presented to the army in December of 1953 and would be soon adopted as the Vz 54 sniper rifle. This production project was undertaken and completed again at the arsenal located at Brno and overseen by the designer Otkar Galase
VZ54 sniper rifle
The Czech Army also produced a variant of the m/91-30 PU sniper rifle. The rifle was produced at Povzske Strajirny Narodni Podnik in Slovokia. This translates to the Povazska Engineering Peoples Enterprise and is abbreviated on the weapon as SHE. This version initially called the Vz-51 but was later refined and produced in greater numbers as the Vz54. This weapon outwardly resembles a Mosin mated with some Mauser style features. These include the front and rear sights as well as the lock screws that Mausers utilized. The stock on this gun is only a half stock, being cut to expose the barrel just in front of the rear barrel band. The bolt knob of the rifle was designed to allow the tightening and loosening of the scope mount retaining screws. The head portion of the screws had a raised slot that corresponded to a recessed slot in the bolt head. While the initial production versions used a Soviet PU scope the later versions incorporated a Czech designed scope of 2.5 power marked Yal 2.5x and the crossed swords marking of Czech military acceptance.
A rubber eyecup was also issued with the scope as a sun shield for the rear ocular. This scope was affixed to the rifle on the left side by an angled rail that allowed the scope to be centered over the bore. The mount was also swept back to improve the scope position in terms of eye relief.
The buttplate on this model is also similar to a Mauser style and is checkered. The rifle stock is the only version that utilized a pistol grip design in the wrist area. The bolt on the scope was designed to also allow the tightening and loosening of the scope mount retaining screws. These screws passed vertically through the mount and base then tightened securely. The head portion of the screws had a raised slot that corresponded to a recessed slot ion the bolt head. Thus the bolt could be used to remove or tighten the mount. The gun was issued with a unique breech/scope cover as well. It again was reminiscent of the Mauser design with a full coverage of the mounted optics and action from the rear sight to the wrist of the rifle.
It was affixed with two leather straps and buckles. Inside the cleaning rods, oiler, jag and brush, as well as the colored lens filters in their fitted bakealite case. These filters were gray for sunny days, red for dusky times and yellow for low light conditions. Also a rain shield that snapped on the end of the scope and of a wire grid design in the end was stored in the cover. These rifles are considered extremely rare and not often encountered in the US.
The Vz54 served in the Czech Army from its adoption in 1954 to the 1970’s where the weapon was finally replaced with the Russian semi automatic snipers rifle, the SVD-63. The Vz54 was then removed to serve in secondary units like the SNB which was the initial name of the National Security Corps. This unit would later be renamed the URN. The Vz54 would serve 14 more years alongside the SVD-63 in such service before an updated design was required. In the early 1990’s some refinements and improvements to the rifle were done to improve its performance and update its abilities. A new wooden stock was designed and fit to the rifle which incorporated an adjustable cheekpiece for a proper sight picture and the addition of a removable adjustable bipod to provide stability in the firing position. The rifle was also reequipped with the scope (4x25) and mount of the SVD-63 rifle. This optical package added a range finding reticule and an illuminated reticule for low light conditions. The optical sight could be safely removed as well without losing its zero. This new rifle was designated the Vz54/91 and would continue to serve in the URN and other provincial police and security agencies until its eventual replacement a few years later by the SSG-3000 rifle.
The rifle now retired from military serve have found their way into the surplus market was they are prized rifles in shooting sport clubs and with military and police competitions. Exact numbers of the Vz54/91 rifles are not known but the rifles command a high price on the Czech sport markets and are highly sought after by shooting enthusiasts. Heavy weighted bullets are preferred to be used in this rifle such as the Czech Tz bullet of 11.75gr.
While the Finnish Army did not produce the m/91-30 sniper rifle of the PU version, they did use them when captured. Small numbers were captured during the Continuation War and, as before, put back into service immediately. Those that required repair were often returned to the arms depot were necessary work was performed. In some instances the guns were modified to some Finnish specifications either by order or just by availability of parts. The author has two Finnish captured PU snipers; one is a typical Soviet gun made at Ishvesk in 1942 that exhibits little change if any. The other is a first year production gun from Ishvesk dated 1942 that has undergone some major modifications. It’s stock has been replaced with a Finnish made version and the front sight changed to the Finnish style high blade. The bolt also has been renumbered to match. These snipers are again extremely difficult to obtain in original shape. It is not known exactly how many PU snipers were captured by Finnish forces, the numbers reported are “insignificant quantities“ numbering less than 100 (4). Unfortunately Century International Arms built many replica PU snipers using Finnish captured m/91-30 rifles they had on hand. These guns are easily detectable though as they are often ,if not always, in the improper date ranges. Almost all are 1930’s production were an authentic PU sniper would not be dated prior to 1942. The stock relief for the base is freshly cut and the bolt handles show a hasty cut and weld job.
The recent imports of many of these fine snipers have made them finally available to the US collector. All of the recent imports are of the Soviet manufacture guns. These guns were rearsenaled than packed away for long-term storage should the situation arise that they be needed again. These guns are in unissued condition and show matching of the mounts to the guns by means of an electro-penciled serial number on the mount. These numbers, scope serial numbered to mount and mount to gun, were placed by the Soviets to prevent a mismatch of mated optics to the guns.
These numbers were placed on the mounts by the Soviet arsenals and not by the US importers
The final fitting of the mount to the base entailed an adjustment of two small pads on the rear of the mount. These were ground down slightly to bring the mount to a parallel relationship to the bore. Unground/unissued mounts not fitted to a particular rifle will appear to be canted to the right of the bore line. These numbers were placed on the mounts by the Soviet arsenals and not by the US importers. The optics with inspection papers included in the scope pocket was packed with covers on and cosomline paper to seal against moisture on the lenses and turrets. Guns were packed ten to a crate with optics mounted in a muzzle to butt fashion-alternating direction.
The crates were lined in a desiccant oilpaper and folded over and sealed. The crate was then closed on a rubber gasket and latched shut and pinned. A banding strap is then added with a wire lead seal to prevent opening. The number of PU sniper rifles imported into the US number less than 5000. Many rare and unusual maker and variants can be encountered in these guns such as Tula made guns and late and early models. The current importer of these fine rifles is R-Guns a Gunboards.com sponsor. You can find the link to the store at our home page at www.Gunboards.com
Crated rifles as they arrive from Russia in thier long term storage transport crates of 10 guns per crate.
Inspecting some of the fine PU Sniper rifles from R-Guns
I hope that this article is informative and helpful to the collector in identifying and recognizing the Soviet snipers built on the m/91-30 rifle from 1932-1963. As with all references this article is not meant to be the definitive end all word on the Soviet snipers as many variants unknown or unobserved can and will be revealed. Production numbers for some years, Tula as an example, are impossible to ascertain due to loss of the archives or simple refusal by Soviet authorities to release the information without substantial payment. Information can and will be added to the text if and when it becomes available. Good hunting and collecting!
Saturday, 19 February 2000 19:50
- Soviet Small Arms and Ammunition (Both Russian and English versions)-D.N. Bolotin
- The German Sniper-P.R. Senich
- Drei Linien Die Gewehre Mosin-Nagant Vol 1 and 2 -K.H. Wrobel with some personal additions from this fine author
- Soltiaskäsiaseet Suomessa 1918-1988-M. Palokanagas
- Lt. Umro “Al” Lehikihoinen-Veteran of both Finnish wars and an invaluable asset in transcribing and translating of Finnish documents as well as personal insight
- Brian Johnston- Advanced Mosin collector
- International Armaments by George B Johnson and Hans B Lockhoven Vol 1-2
- Guns of the World by Ed Ezell -first edition
- Odstřelovačská puška vz. 54 - http://www.strelci.com
- Many unnamed/unaccredited bits and pieces of information and data as well as 17 years of accumulated data and all of the physical examples pictured from my personal collection.