5 German Sniper Systems
The German Army Fielded A Bewildering
Array Of Scopes And Mounting Systems
Regular readers of this magazine may have noted I’ve been on a quest for most of the 21st century. It’s been about putting together a shooting, collection of WWII firearms from most combatant nations including handguns, carbines, infantry rifles, sniper rifles and even some full-autos.
With about 80 pieces in my assortment, I’ve slowed down to the point there is really nothing else I plan to acquire except sniper rifles. Of all the scores of guns I’ve put into the vault in this quest, they have entranced me more than any others—even the full-autos. Why? I’m not sure exactly. It could be some fascination with the “lone wolf” aspects of WWII snipers. Or more practically it could be that at my age a scope helps with shooting any sort of rifle.
Regardless, if you happen to look at some Internet firearms auction sites you will see WWII sniper rifles are not common or inexpensive. They sell for thousands, whereas the same exact model in ordinary infantry rifle dress costs hundreds. In price they might range from the Swedish Model 1941 to US Marine Corps Model 1941s (Model 1903’s fitted with 8X Unertl scopes). In the same order, prices on those might range $2,000 to 10 times that.
Two German sniper rifles considered failures even by German ordnance officers were
(top) the K98k with ZF41 1.5X scope and (bottom) the K43 with 4X ZF4 scope.
Of all Germany’s sniper rifle attempts, these three versions were the most successful.
All built on basic K98k Mauser 98 rifles, they include (top) short siderail mounts,
low turret mounts (middle) and has long side rail mounts (bottom). All scopes are
one brand or another of ZF39 4X power.
It seems buyer demand is greatest for German sniper rifles with correspondingly steep prices. A few years back I despaired of ever owning even one. Now I own five, albeit there are some “unoriginal” things about each one. Before describing them, however, let me give a caveat. With WWII German sniper rifles being so pricey, many have been counterfeited. Because most German sniper rifles are nothing more than standard K98k’s that have been accuracy tested, and after passing were fitted with mounts and scope, they are easy to fake. There is one exception to the K98k rule, which will be described later.
Someone studying German sniper rifles for the first time can be forgiven for bewilderment when trying to mind-catalog all the different types. I certainly was. Here’s how it plays out. While most German sniper rifles were K98k’s and chambered for 7.92x57mm (8mm Mauser to Americans), they came with many scope-mounting systems. Collectors have termed these high turret, low turret, shortside rail, long siderail, single claw, double claw, swept back and ZF41. Scopes were usually “Zielvier,” which stands for 4X. However, these scopes were made by a host of German and Austrian manufacturers such as Zeiss, Hensoldt, Kahles and more.
Collectively, the Germans termed Zielvier scopes as ZF39, and all were developed by civilian companies prior to war’s outbreak. Many have no military markings at all. One thing all ZF39’s have in common (to the best of my knowledge) is no provision for windage adjustment in the scopes. Zeroing for windage is done with the mounts. Also, elevation adjustments are not like today’s scopes. Instead they are bullet drop compensator types; meaning moving the elevation knob from say, 100 to 500, is supposed to then re-zero the rifle from 100 to 500 meters. Of course, all that is dependent upon exact ammunition ballistics.
Later, the German military’s ordnance people got into the scope designing act. Their first development was the tiny ZF41 1.5X. K98k’s fitted with ZF41’s were actually meant as marksman’s rifles for shooting relatively close targets such as pillbox or tank apertures. But the pressures of wartime shortages also saw K98k/ZF41 combinations issued to snipers. Of German sniper rifles these are perhaps the most common and, in fact, my first one was such. It is about as authentic as I can ask for as it is actually shown on page 88 of Richard D. Law’s book, Sniper Variations Of The German K98k Rifle. Its little 1.5X scope was so cloudy as to be useless, so a reproduction from Numrich (aka Gun Parts Corporation) was bought and installed in reproduction Accumounts rings.
A German sniper in action. Unfortunately the photo is not clear enough
to determine the mounting system used to secure scope to K98k.
The German military’s second attempt at scope design was the ZF4, a 4X, which borrowed much from the Soviet’s PU 3.5X. It was meant for mounting on the German’s semi-auto G43 (also termed K43). Being only 6 inches long, when the Germans decided to put it on K98k’s, a swept back mount had to be designed to get the scope close to the shooter’s eyes.
Such K98k equipped sniper rifles are so rare, I’ve never seen one in person. However, since all G/K43’s were built with scope mount rail integral with the receiver, all can be scoped. I actually paid more for a ZF4 scope in mount and rings than I did for my K43 made by Berlin-Lubecker Machinenfabriken in 1945. There is no saying this particular rifle was ever used by snipers. Then again, there’s no saying it wasn’t. An interesting fact is the German Heer (army) ordnance officers considered both the K98k/ZF41 and G/K43/ZF4 rifle/scope combinations as abject failures in regards to military sniping.
Probably Germany’s best WWII sniper rifles used the turret type mounts—either high or low. They get their name from the front mount, which resembles a medieval castle’s turret. Into the matching rings went one or another of the many ZF39 scopes, but here the Germans had a twist from other nations’ scope mounting techniques. They soft-soldered rings to scopes and bases to rifles.
A natural question here would be, “Why both high and low turrets?” It’s simple. The Germans didn’t alter the bolt handle of their K98k to avoid hitting the scope’s rear objective bell. Some of those scope bells were larger than others so those needed the higher turret mount. Otherwise the rifle got the low turret mounts. My rifle is the latter.
I detailed how this rifle came my way in the January 2012 issue, so suffice to say here I found it in a Montana pawnshop sans scope and rings. Then I found the proper Zeiss Zielvier scope with soldered on rings on eBay and nervously sent the funds amounting to almost twice the rifle’s price to the Czech Republic. Brother—did I breath a huge sigh of relief when they fit my rifle perfectly. There has been one bobble. After shooting about 700 rounds through my turret mount K98k, something broke inside the Zeiss scope. The Tulsa, Okla.-based firm of Iron Sight Inc. was able to restore the scope to bright clearness at a very reasonable fee, but with a 14-month waiting period.
The original ZF41 1.5X scope on Duke’s K98k was too cloudy to see through
so he replaced it with a Numrich Arms replica in Accumounts mounts and rings.
As a rule, German ZF39 sniper scopes were bullet drop indicator types. That means
if set for 300, the rifle was supposed to be dead on at 300 meters. Of course,
the ballistics of the exact ammunition used were a wild card in the affair.
The standard “cupped” K98k buttplate is smooth (left).
A checkered version was used for sniper rifles (right).
Next the Germans experimented with siderail mounts for sniper rifles. First came the short siderail (SSR) type, 2.5 inches long. The base was secured to the rifle by means of three screws. This was not considered a sturdy enough system so the long siderail (LSR) style, which was 1 inch longer, was tried next. The manner in which the base was bolted to the receiver for LSR’s varied. Mine has three screws with two pins. The LSR sniper rifles are the toughest for counterfeiting because the left action wall of the K98k’s receiver was made 1/8-inch thicker than normal. Then the siderail was milled flat so the LSR base could fit tightly against it. K98k actions for LSR mounts were built from the very beginning to be sniper rifles with only two manufacturers undertaking to produce them. (Those were Gustloff Werke and JP Sauer & Sohn). Furthermore, those made by the first company also had a checkered steel “sniper” buttplate made expressly for the LSR equipped rifles.
My SLR K98k came from a friend who had owned it for many years but needed to raise money for another project. It came wearing a ZF39 scope made by Kahles, but I can’t attest to the scope’s vintage. It is in such nice shape it could be a modern replica. The LSR K98k I have is more evidence of what I call “Duke’s Luck.” It was in the same pawnshop in which I had found the turret mount K98k two years before. Of course it was minus scope and mounts, but with the extra thick action siderail and “sniper buttplate” it was a super find. It now wears replica (Accumounts) LSR mounts in which I’ve set a Hensoldt 4X scope.
That briefly describes the five German sniper rifles with which I’ve been lucky enough to gain shooting experience. I have made no secret they may not be 100 percent in their scopes and mounts, but the rifles themselves are mostly still the way Germany produced them 65+ years ago. Here are some of the finer points concerning the shooting aspects of these five rifles.
This was the 4-shot group Duke’s K98k/ZF41 sniper rifle delivered after dismounting
and remounting the scope. The bullet holes are numbered in the order fired.
This is about typical for a 100-yard group the K98k sniper rifles in Duke’s collection will deliver.
This was the 4-shot group from Duke’s K43/ZF4 sniper rifle, which demonstrates the
return to zero capability after dismounting and remounting the scope. The bullet
holes are numbered in the order fired.
For one thing, German military doctrine had all their scopes fitted to rifles by means of what today would be called “quick-detachable mounts.” The idea was for German snipers to keep the scopes in protective canisters when not actively engaged in combat. Early on such canisters were leather, but metal ones soon appeared. Both types were fitted with shoulder straps. Not only were delicate scopes protected, but every sniper rifles’ iron sights were then available for shooting. In fact, with the high mounted SSR and LSR system, a K98k’s iron sights are usable under the scope. The turret type mount systems actually had tunnels though the mount bases, through which iron sights were visible.
Modern American sportsmen as a rule distrust “quick detachable” scope mounting systems, not trusting the scope to return to zero each time it is detached and reattached. However, I’ve checked several of my German sniper rifles in the following manner. Two shots are fired, the scope removed and replaced and then two more shots fired. So far the second two rounds have never been more than an inch or so from the first two. Often they just overlap.
The Germans actually chose K98k’s for sniping duty by test-firing them for precision. However, according to my understanding, criteria was fairly liberal. According to Law’s book mentioned before, a trained shooter with military issue ammunition had to place five bullets inside a 120mm circle at 100 meters (110 yards) for a rifle to be accepted for converting to sniper configuration. By my checking, a 120mm circle is roughly 4.75 inches—even considering iron sights and run-of-the mill ammunition that is loose grouping by modern American sportsman’s hunting rifle standards.
After considerable shooting, and I mean several thousand rounds of 7.92x57mm (8mm Mauser) handloads collectively through these five rifles, I’ve settled on one combination. That is 200-grain HPBT bullets (Sierra or Nosler) over 48 grains of Hodgdon’s Varget powder in Winchester brass with Winchester Large Rifle Primers. Velocities from the K98k’s break 2,500 fps, and from the 22-inch barrel of my K43 bullet speed is reduced to about 2,450 fps. With that handload all five of these German sniper rifles will group 5 shots at 100 yards into 2 MOA with a couple of the K98k’s capable of half that for 3-shot groups.
All in all, after gaining experience with German, American, British, Soviet, Japanese, Finnish, Swedish, and even Czechoslovakian sniper rifles of WWII vintage, I won’t say Germany’s were the best. That honor, in my humble opinion, goes to Sweden’s and Finland’s rifles. But, of the major combatant nations, I would count Germany’s and the Soviet Union’s rifles as tied for first place. But I’m not finished—there are still the claw-type and swept back type mounted K98k’s to dig out of the woodwork.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos: Yvonne Venturino
Scope Mount Variations
By today’s standards, this is an odd way to fit scope rings into the front
turret mount on Duke’s K98k. Also odd is the way the base screws are angled.
On short siderails, the mount is attached to the K98k rifle
using three screws each with a locking screw to insure tightness.
This photo shows how the long siderail mount was affixed to its base on
a German K98k sniper rifle using three screws and two pins.
The left siderail of the K98k receiver was built 1/8-inch thicker
than normal so the long side rail base would match to it better.
P.O. Box 1802, Troy, MI 48099
Iron Sight Inc.
4814 S Elwood Ave., Tulsa, OK 74107
Numrich Gun Parts Corp.
226 Williams Lane, West Hurley, NY 12491