The Sniper Rifles of The Red Star
Mosin Nagant M91/30 and Variants
From Vic Thomas
“The principal task of the sniper is the destruction of the most important enemy targets he can find. Officers, observers, scouts, liaison officers, enemy snipers, gun crews, trench mortars and machine guns, anti-tank rifleman and motorcycle skirmishers are to be his primary targets. He shall “blind” enemy armored car and tank drivers by firing at their vision visors. He is capable of independent action under the most difficult conditions of battle.” (2)
This statement was from an official Soviet military publication dated October of 1943. It clearly shows the importance the Red Army gave to the sniper in its ranks. The Soviet Union more so than any other combatant in W.W.II, used the sniper in the greatest numbers and capacities. The sniper was a key element in the doctrine and actions taken by the Red Army on a platoon or company basis. He served as the eyes and ears as well as the unseen soldier that bogged down and created fear amongst the enemy. No other nation involved in W.W.II fielded as many snipers as the USSR. Both men and women served in this capacity to a devastating effect.
Orders were often given on the platoon or company level to directly support the actions of the group. Whether it is for scouting or the elimination of key enemy personal in preparation of an attack or in defense, the sniper was always involved. In a defensive position, as the Soviets found themselves so often in the early portion of Operation Barbarosa, the sniper served as an observer to enemy movements. These observations were quickly relayed back to the company commander and up the chain of command. When need be the sniper used his hidden position to slow the enemy advance and to hamper armored vehicles with aimed fire at the driver’s slits with 7.62mm AP rounds. The Soviet policy was to operate the sniper in pairs or teams, a shooter and an observer to record necessary data or scout for targets. Many times the snipers formed small groups of 3-5 to bring concentrated fire upon advancing troops, resulting in slowing the advance with a devastating effect on morale not to mention manpower. Often times the Soviet sniper allowed the advance to pass by his concealed position in order to bring fire upon the officers directing the attack from the rear. When operating in these groups it was not uncommon for the observer or other team members to be armed with a sub- machine-gun to provide close quarters support should they be detected.
m/91-30 PE and PEM (1932-1940,1942)
The Soviet Union took the task of telescopically aimed riflemen very seriously early on. The use of snipers to “tie down” enemy troop concentrations was not lost on the Soviets in their brief experiences in the First World War. In response to the use of snipers by both sides in the conflict, the Soviets began testing and obtaining optical sights from aboard, primarily from the Carl Zeiss company in Germany. The serious experimentation with telescopically sighted rifles began in the mid 1920’s. Initial experimentation began by mounting commercial scopes then military contracted optics upon the m/91 Dragoon. (photo below)
During those early years of the Russian sniper program, the Soviets did not have the ability or equipment to mass produce optical lens's and so forth. Partly due to money nd partly due to facilities. So in the infancy of the Soviet sniper program of the early 1920's the Red Army had to look elsewhere for optical equipment and mounts. The primary source of fine optics in that day was Germany. So orders were placed for several different optical sights from makers such as Zeiss, Busch, Hensoldt and Voightlander to name a few.
The purpose of these scopes was to conduct trials with various mounting systems provided. The spit bridge tube by Zeiss was tried but found to be over complicated. The version that drew the most attention was a side mounted bracket with base developed by the Gustav Genschow company known as "GECO" commercially by the logo for "Genschow Company". This mounting system was a large dovetailed base that allowed a mating split ring one piece mount to be slid on and affixed with a large thumb screw. The rings were solid and required the scope to be silver soldered in place. After many trials and errors the decision was to proceed with roughly 170 of these types of mounts fit to Mosin Nagant rifles model 1891 (dragoon length as this was the standard length in 1926). Two types were used. The first had no provision for the range plate on the side of the mount. That was because the scopes were made with range graduations that were not based upon the 1907 cartridge in 7.62x54r. The shooter was supposed to "memorize" the correct adjustments. This style of scope and mount was known as the Dynamo 2. This system used a large thumb screw that was attached to the base by use of a small chain attached to the front of the mount and to the thumb screw itself so it would not be lost. This system was used on rifles assembled at the "Dynamo" shooting facility run by the NKVD at the time and became known as the D-2 system. The scopes used were the Zeiss manufactured optics whose components were made in Germany and assembled then shipped to the Zeiss affiliate Nedinsco located in the Netherlands. This allowed Germany to circumvent the restrictions placed upon them by the Versailles treaty that ended WW1. The scopes sold through this outlet are marked with the Nedinsco logo and such a marking was to indicate that they were purchased "commercially" and not under a militray contract.
These mounts are reproductions of the originals and can be purchased if any remain from the seller. If you are interested in a reproduction D2 or D3 mount and scope please contact "Feldscher" at email@example.com and see the review of these mounts on the sniper forum located at
The second system produced at Dynamo had an improved scope that allowed lateral adjustment for windage on the side of the tube and a slightly modified mount. The mount now had a ballistic plate attached to the side that allowed the shooter a quick reference as to the proper setting of the range on the elevation dial for the 54r cartridge. Also the chain was removed from the mount as it proved bothersome in snagging on clothing and items..
By the 1930’s the Soviets had adopted a style of mount and scope based upon Zeiss designs, and had begun production. The adoption of the model 91/30 fitted with a telescopic sight of Soviet manufacture but based upon Zeiss designs, and reportedly manufactured with machinery purchased from Zeiss, was in 1931. By the following year of 1932 the first rifles were in production and being distributed to the Army. The rifles were fitted with a unique over the bore mounting system that incorporated a base that mimicked the hexagonal shape of the receiver. The base was retained on the rifle with 6 screws, 3 per side and often time’s silver soldered as well. The mount was a uniquely Soviet design. It was a two-ring set up with a rectangular shape. The center being open to allow use of the rifles iron sights should the need arise. It was retained upon the base by two large thumbscrews. These screws when tightened forced a triangular wedge against the angled rail of the base. A block retained in the rear of the mount provided the correct placement in regard for forward seating of the mount.
This system was fairly effective in providing a reasonable self-zeroing effect. The scope was of a 30mm tube diameter and initially was focus adjustable by means of a knurled focus ring on the rear ocular. Some transitional versions are known and have been examined that use a focus ring set in front of the rear lens housing. These examples are dated between 1935 and 1937 and seem to bridge the gap in PE production changes between the PE and the PEM. A standard European three-post reticule was used.
This scope with focus capability was referred to as the PE and in Soviet nomenclature is "unified model"(3). There are some references which refer to it as a VT; however, no other documentation can be found that explains this use so in this reference the scope will be referred to as the PE scope. The rifles to be used for snipers were specifically selected and a more precise polishing of the bore and chamber area was undertaken as well as a trigger tuned for smoother operation and lighter pull. The fitting of the stock and bolt were held to a better tolerance as well. A small amount of stock relief was needed to accommodate the base when seated upon the receiver. Production of the PE sniper rifles of the Red Army began at the Tula arsenal in 1932 when 749 rifles were produced and remained there until 1940.
The bolt of the new sniper rifle was turned down and elongated to allow clearance of the mounted optics. The PE scope was an improved Zeiss design according to the Soviets and the initial production version with focus capability-the PE- remained in production from 1932 to 1936. These initial production versions utilized brass lens fittings, which were later replaced with aluminum or steel. In 1936 a simplified version was produced and the earlier model discontinued. The new scope was referred to as a PEM, "unified model-modernized"(3) . It was identical to the earlier model but for the lens fittings and the lack of the focus adjustment capability.
PE Top PEM Bottom
Also at this time the base for mounting the scope was changed as well to correspond to the newly modified receiver shape of the Mosin Nagant m/91-30 in the later half of 1936. This new base was changed from the earlier hexagonal shape to the round interior needed to fit upon the new round receivers.
Round Receiver Mount
It was retained in the identical fashion as earlier and the mount was not changed at all. This version of the rifle, top mounted scope and round receiver remained in production for approximately 1.5 years, until 1938. Another version of the round receiver base also appeared at this time, 1936-1937, in extremely limited numbers. This base utilized only two screws-front and rear of the base on each side. This base was used with the transitional version of the PE/PEM scope with the tube mounted focus ring. This base and configuration is the rarest of the PE/PEM styles and only a few are known. It was produced in extremely limited numbers prior to the return of the six screw version as reported by my friend and colleague Karl-Heinz Wrobel, author of Drei Linien Die Gewehre Mosin Nagant.
In 1938 the PEM was again modified to a newly adopted mounting system. This system moved the base and the optical mount to the left side of the receiver in a “long side rail” configuration. This new system used a raised wedge shaped rail upon the base to retain the mount. A protruding pin mated to a slot in the mount indicated full seating of the mounted optics. The mount itself was retained in place by a lone thumb screw that was conically shaped at the tip to provide a self seating capability when screwed into the corresponding hole in the base. Again a “self zeroing” system was attained. The new mounting system incorporated the PEM scope again and was used until the rifle was discontinued as a sniper in the spring of 1940. The rifle was discontinued in favor of the self-loading SVT 40 fitted with optical sights that were specifically produced for the rifle. These short optics would later be redesigned and fitted to the venerable Mosin Nagant in a sniping role only two short years later. The “side mount” PEM is a respectable sniper but its weight was increased dramatically by the large base and mounting system. It is the heaviest of the Mosin Nagant snipers at 10.5lbs compared to 9.5lbs for the earlier versions using the “top mount” system.
By the 1930’s the Soviet Union possessed a considerable number of sniper rifles. A Soviet document indicates that 54,160 rifles were produced in the PE form between 1932 and 1938. Production of the PE was very slow at first due to the complicated and time consuming nature of machining the mounts. Production in the first year of 1932 was only 749. In subsequent years, recorded numbers are as follows. 1,347 in 1933, 6,637 in 1934 and 12,752 top mount hex and round receiver PE/PEM’s in 1936. No data is given for production in 1935 as all Mosin production was slowed considerably that year. 13,130 top mount round receiver PEM’s were produced in 1937 and 19,545 of the new long side rail mounted PEM’s were made in 1938. No production numbers are available for the final two years of PEM production. (1) While many rifles were randomly selected for accuracy potential, there is an indication from my research and that of a friend/colleague (4) that “blocks” of snipers were produced at Tula. This is supported by a sampling of PE snipers all in the same letter prefix and serial number block indicating a planned production and not a random pull of rifles off the line. All Tula produced snipers, including the later version produced during wartime in 1943 and 1944, bear an accuracy mark above the five-pointed star logo of the factory. This proof is a “C” and an upside down “U” for lack of a better description of Cyrillic letters. This marking is the designation of “sniper” on Tula produced guns. The marking literally translates to " Snayperskaya Provernnaya" meaning tested for use as a sniper. .
The markings of a sniper rifle manufactured by the famed Tula arsenal. Note the "cn" marking above the star indicating manufacture as a "snipers" rifle. This marking is only found on Tula produced rifles.
Ishevsk did not mark their rifles in this unique way to differentiate them from standard rifles. The production of Mosin Nagant snipers was halted at Tula in 1940. By October of 1942, the SVT40 proved to be a failure as a consistently accurate sniper rifle. Manufacture of the Mosin Nagant m/91-30 was again ordered back to full production capacity at both Ishevsk and Tula. The need for a capable, accurate sniper’s rifle was urgently needed. Ishevsk began production of the Mosin Nagant “side mount” PEM in early 1942. This production was a stopgap to provide optically sighted rifles for the front until the newly designed and still in it’s infancy, m/91-30 PU, could be swung into full production. A 1942 dated PEM is an extremely rare rifle. Only one is reported in US collections. Tula did not produce any snipers of Mosin Nagant configuration from it’s last PEM in 1940 until it’s resumption of production with the PU in 1943.
Another use of the PE/PEM scope was the Finnish army during W.W.II. On every occasion that presented itself the Finnish army captured and reissued any m/91-30 sniper rifles they had. Most were returned to front line service immediately upon capture but those that suffered damage were returned to the arms depots for either repair or cannibalization of the optical components and mounting hardware. The rifles captured by Finland and in use were given a special code designation of TJ34 to hide the use from enemy spies (4). The number of rifles that were captured during the Winter War was rather small due to the Soviets doctrine trained snipers. These soldiers were not “normal” conscripts but highly trained professional soldiers and thus they did not tend to surrender easily. The bulk of Finnish captured sniper rifles came from positions quickly overrun. Soviet snipers were trained to damage or destroy their equipment in the event of defeat or imminent capture. The other problem encountered was the propensity of Finnish soldiers to keep the captured rifles as war booty and not report them. An inventory in June of 1940 indicated that 213 sniper rifles of almost exclusively the top mount PE design was in store.
A m/91-30 PE sniper rifle bearing the capture marking of Finnish forces. This gun was more than likley captured during the 105 days of the Winter War as very few sniper rifles of any kind were captured during the Continuation War or WW2 by Finnish forces.
To illustrate the difficulty in capturing these rifles and the lack of reporting to company commanders, the inventory of rifles from the Continuation War declined dramatically. In 1941-1942 the first year of the Continuation War, only 32 rifles were reported captured to divisional HQ. The following year of 1942-1943 only 24 more were reported captured and finally in the last year of hostilities a meager 11 were reported captured. That gives a total of only 67 the entire three years of the Continuation War. (4) A veteran of both Finnish wars reports to me that number is truly a fabrication as he had some 6 in his unit alone for some time and knew of many, many more. He reports that these guns were prized hunting rifles and often “disappeared” quickly! (5). Initially the captured units that were damaged were kept for repair of other rifles that were captured and required parts, but the inability of the Finnish war industry to meet the demands for sufficient quantities of optical sights soon found these mounts and scopes being fitted to the m/39 rifle.
m/39SOV mount and base arraingment
This match of Soviet mounts and optics as well as bases to the m/39 created the Finnish army’s m/39SOV sniper rifle. Supply of captured optics and their mounts soon was not meeting the demand for sufficient numbers and the Army placed an order with the State Rifle Factory or VKT, to begin production of a Finnish version of the Soviet over the bore mount for the PE as well as bases. VKT did begin production and approximately 150 units were produced to be used on the m/39SOV in conjunction with captured PE/PEM scopes from 1943-1944.
The order was also given to begin production of 2000 telescopic sights and parts were obtained from abroad to begin this project but it was never realized and abandoned. The bolts of the m/39 were elongated and turned down to provide clearance of the mounted optics and some minor stock relief was done to accommodate the mounting of the base. Only 200 or so rifles were produced during the war. This rifle is one of the rarest snipers of W.W.II, as well as all Finnish used sniper rifles owing to the extremely small numbers produced and or captured. (4)
m/91-30 PU (1942-1963)
The new model 91-30 PU sniper was hurried into production in 1942 as the field reports regarding the SVT40 sniper were not promising. Even after various attempts to remedy it’s first shot inaccuracy; they were not corrected sufficiently for the SVT40 to remain the primary sniper rifle of the Red Army. In October of 1942 the SVT 40 was no longer produced in a configuration that would mount an optical sight. The PU sniper rifle was an attempt to update and lighten the earlier PE/PEM and restore to the sniper the first shot accuracy that is so crucial . The Red Army was pleased with the new 3.5x short scope that was designed for the SVT series of rifles and decided to continue it’s use with the new PU in a slightly altered form. The new scope was to do away with the raised seating portion of the scope in its center that allowed proper placement in the SVT mount. It also streamlined the tube to a consistent diameter from front to back to simplify manufacture. The initial PU scopes though did however have some design features of the earlier PE/PEM scope. These early scopes were constructed using some prototype patterns, materials and design. The earliest of the scopes produced for use in 1942 had an elevation and windage housing very much like the earlier PE scopes.
A close up of the aluminium or "Silium alloy" scope windage and elevation housings.
Lightweight Alloy early scope for the PU sniper rifle. Many of the features were hold overs from the earlier PE series of scopes like the tureet housings and brass lens retainers.
The lens fittings were also made using the earlier brass fittings. Some tubes were manufactured using a lightweight alloy, presumably aluminum, to lighten the weight. These scopes are extremely rare. These features were quickly abandoned in favor of the final result that emerged in late 1942-early 1943. These scopes utilized a steel tube and fittings. The tube was now streamlined to an even diameter from front to back. The windage and elevation knobs now protruded directly from the tube. A new mount and base was also developed for the rifle. A side-mounted base on the left of the receiver was agreed upon as the last previously produced PEM was. This mount was again simplified to provide a basic “self zeroing” feature. A small knob in the anterior acted as a “ball and socket” for the mount and the rear of the mount was held in place by a large knurled thumbscrew through pressure. Vertical rough elevation was done with the use of an upper and lower set screw on the base as well.
“Ball And Socket” arraingment of the PU scope mount and base.
The base was affixed to the left side of the receiver by means of two locating pins and two screws. The screws were retained and prevented from loosening by two setscrews. (see above photo) The receiver of the new rifle also was different. The left wall of the receiver was not milled out to an angle sloping towards the wood line as in previous standard infantry rifles to reduce weight. It remained “high” to provide a “high wall” to affix and support the scope base. This feature was also used in the lean mid-war years as a time saving production procedure. This feature can also be observed on the carbine variants. After rough elevation was attained the screws were either staked or noted in a notebook of their position and not touched again and conventional zeroing was undertaken. The earliest versions of the new mount, which rose vertically then at a right angle to place the scope over the bore, utilized two small cutouts in the center portion to reduce weight and bulk.
This proved to time consuming and the feature was dropped in favor of two dished out slots and one large cutout. The mount incorporated two split rings that allowed the scope to be slid into the mount from the rear and then tightened by four screws, two in each ring. It was a simple and effective design. The snipers were initially not impressed with the new rifle and scope. They favored the earlier 4x scope, which provided a larger field of view and an easier eye relief. The new rifle’s scope is placed higher up so slight adjustments needed to be done before becoming comfortable with the arraignments. The rifle soon won over it’s users and became a favorite owing to it’s smaller scope which eased handling and the reduced weight from the earlier PEM. The rifle proved to be deadly accurate. Range estimation was taught by placing and measuring the amount of target mass between the horizontal cross hairs which were as before on the PE, a typical European three post design. Typical target engagements were 200-400 meters but many were undertaken at its extreme range of 900 meters.
Scope production was undertaken at five different optical firms. Each of these firms stamped the logo of the factory on the scope tube as well as the date of production and the serial number. Many scopes do not exhibit a date and it is not known as of yet why this is so. It is possible that these scopes are replacement or inventory models. One maker did not use a traditional date as the others did. They incorporated the year of production into the serial number of the scope. The first two digits identified the year of manufacture. An example of this would be the traditional marking of 1943 - 23455, while the other maker would mark this scope as 4323455. The dating of the scopes began in 1932 and ended in 1945 with the close of the war. PE scopes were initially dated on the rear inside the optical maker’s rectangular logo. Later PEM scopes were dated on the side of the elevation turret with the maker’s logo appearing on the rear bell. Many PU scopes exhibit an "inspection/refurbishment” date upon the tube below the optical maker’s logo. The diagonal slashed box proof of the refurbishment often splits these. Dates observed are often in the 50’s through late 60’s. Some are marked POM 59 indicating an inspection repair in 1959. The PU remained the Red Army’s primary sniper scope through 1962 when the self-loading SVD or Dragunov replaced it.
The famous SVD
It is not unusual to see some SVT scopes used in a PU sniper mount. The quantity of SVT scopes on hand at the close of production was considerable and these scopes being useable in the new PU mount were fitted until existing supplies were exhausted. These scopes are often the 1942 and 1943 dated examples, early 1943 being the last year of SVT scope production.
Production of the PU sniper began at the Ishevsk arsenal in early 1942 and remained in production there through 1944. No known examples recorded or observed are dated 1945. In the excellent book “Drei Linien Die Gwehere Mosin Nagant” by Karl-Heinz Wrobel, he reports that 2483 rifles were produced at Ishvesk in 1946. An example known in the authors collection is dated 1947. A small batch of 150, 50 in 1948 and 100 in 1958 were produced at Ishevsk. (3) Total Ishvesk production of the PEM and PU sniper rifles from 1942 through 1958 amounts to approximately 275,250 rifles. Ishevsk in it’s first year of production in 1942 produced 53,195 alone. (1)
Tula began production of the Mosin Nagant sniper rifle again in 1943 and 1944 . This brief production was of only the PU variant. The production totals are not known for the Tula produced weapons that can be differentiated from the combined totals recorded. There are some small production deviance’s between the Tula produced guns and the Ishevsk made guns, such as stamped magazine covers that can be found on some Tula produced snipers. Fit and finish seem to be more consistent on Ishvesk made guns in comparison. The Tula made PU is by far the rarer of the two makers.
The PU sniper and PE/PEM were issued with some specialized accessories specific to a sniper rifle. The primary accessory would be the scope/breech cover. This cover was used to protect the optical package both mounted and dismounted from the rifle of dirt, debris and field wear. There at least 12 different versions of this cover depending on time frame and country of manufacture should you consider the post war Warsaw Pact makers. The earliest versions for the PE have two variations. One with an exterior pocket and one without.
They are constructed of a rough khaki colored cotton weave material trimmed in leather for reinforcement. The end caps of the cover that were placed at each end of the scope were also reinforced with leather. Some of these covers had exterior pockets to hold the optical cleaning tools and field bore sights for scope calibration. A leather strap and buckle attachment secured the cover over the mounted optics by passing through the trigger guard. A separate buckle was sometimes fitted to the top of the bag on the exterior to allow the cover to be rolled up and secured to protect the mount and scope while dismounted from the rifle. The scope was issued with a set of lens caps connected by a leather strap. These covers were then twisted around the scope to tighten them securely. Later versions of the scope cover for the PE /PEM were of darker green cotton and used a tie string to secure it to the rifle.
Later light weight cotton cover
The early version of the PU cover mimicked that of the PE/PEM and SVT covers but without the exterior pocket. The pocket was instead moved to the interior of the cover and any cleaning materials or optical records were placed there. These covers have a wide range of variants. At least 12 alone in the PU version.