M91/30 sniper rifles
Factory issued sniper rifles
D2/D3 & Walther mounts sniper rifles
Expedient and field made sniper rifles
Sniper modifications of the M91/30 rifle are very popular nowadays. They were manufactured in relatively high numbers in the past (comparing with sniper rifles, manufactured by other countries during the same period), and often can be seen on the wartime photos, movies, and private collections.
But what was the approach to sniper rifles production in the Soviet Union? What were the features of the legit sniper rifles?
Currently, collectors can find many articles and videos on this subject, but almost none of them are based on the real sources, any reproduce wrong myths. But there is at least one research, that should be mentioned - nice overview, with good summary is available on the https://www.wwiigermansniper.com, so it's worth to visit it. Some observation from WWIIGermanSniper project were used during creation of this section.
Mainly pages of the current sniper section will contain summation of the sniper chapter from the "Model 1891/1930 Rifle and its variations" book (sniper chapter there contains 134 pages), link to the sources are provided in the book. While book contain mainly historical facts, related to development, production and use of the sniper rifles and scopes, text on the website will be updated with some collectors-focused information.
So what was the sniper rifle in the Soviet understanding? Of course, main purpose of their production was to increase shooter's accuracy. It was supposed to be reached with two aspects - installation of the sniper scope with magnification, and use of the more accurate rifle (comparing to the regular). But approach to sniper rifles production was different during the initial production period and later periods.
Soviet sniper program was started in mid 1920's. Considering Soviets did not had their own sniper scopes production, they ordered some existing scope models for trials from German manufacturers (later German manufacturers produced some modified scopes versions, which were updated according to Soviet requirements). In addition to scopes, design of the scope mounts was also ordered abroad, but some local efforts in this area were made in the same time.
Real result was reached in 1929 - Soviets received shipment of 500 Zeiss Zeilvier scopes, and small number of Walther mounts. Also, they had their own scope mounts designs at that moment - 2 of them were created, one by A.Smirnsky, and one by two designers E.Kabakov and I.Komaritsky (they also designed button-locked M91/30 bayonet). Early 1930 was the period when Soviets tried all possible combinations of mentioned above mounts and scopes, also, was tested Busch Visar 5 scope, only few of them were available at the moment of trials.
After the proving ground trials and filed trials in military units, Main Artillery directorate decided to focus on the Smirnsky top mount, and Busch Visar 5 scope, because comparing to Zielvier scope it had possibility of the windage adjustments.
What was the destiny of the existing Zielvier scopes and Walther mounts (and in the end of the trial Soviet already received 450 Walther mounts)? At first, they were supposed to be used for production of training sniper rifles, but as we know now, the majority of them were sent to military-sport organizations, like "Dynamo" and OSOAVIAKHIM. Officially Walther mounts and Zeiss scopes were never accepted to the service in Red Army, but during WWII they were used in limited scale by army snipers because of lack of the standard serial produced sniper rifles. Same thing happened with D2/D3 setups (Geco mounts with Zeiss scopes) - they were not officially used by the Red Army, design was ordered by sport club "Dynamo" in 1930. "Dynamo" was within the structure of the OGPU (Joint State Political Directorate), and later NKVD. Because of these D2/D3 Geco sniper had limited use within OGPU/NKVD troops - border guards, convoy troops and so on, but mainly they were used by sport shooters.
After Smirnsky mount and Busch scope were selected for further trials and updates, their construction was redesigned few rimes. Original Smirnsky mount had base (dovetail) welded to the receiver, soon it was updated to two-piece design, with a separate base. Closer to the end of 1930 Soviets got modernized version of Busch scope, where windage and vertical adjustments were made with turrets, not by eccentric rings like original version had. Few such scopes survived in museums and private collections. After updated design of the scope was available, Soviets started creation of their own copy of this scope, and in 1931 it was officially accepted to service as "rifle scope mod.1931" (Smirnsky mount was also adopted this year). Similar efforts were already made earlier, first Soviet sniper scope "PT" was based on the Busch Visar 5 scope design with eccentric rings, but it was unsuccessful.
So in 1931 Red Army got first officially accepted to service sniper setup - mod.31 scope and mod.31 Smirnsky mount. Because of the delays with scopes production, sniper rifles production in this configuration was started only in 1932. The very first snipers with mod.31 top mount were issued with German Busch scope (with turrets).
During initial production period (since late 1920 trials and up to 1934) rifles, that were used for sniper rifle assembly were selected from regular rifles according to accuracy results, since 1934 factories started production of the sniper barrels on the separate line, they were made with higher accuracy and smaller tolerances.
This fact explains why 1932-early 1934 sniper rifles with mod.1931 setup (they are referred by western collectors as PE snipers) do not have special "СП" sniper marking - they were produced as regular rifles and because of their good accuracy were converted to sniper rifles.
Generally, sniper proofmark do not mean "sniper configuration" of the rifle. Obviously, rifle with scope and mount is different from the regular rifle and do not require special marking. Prewar Tula "СП" sniper proofmark, and later wartime "СH" Tula marking and "C in circle" Izhevsk marking actually identify higher grade of the barrel, comparing with regular rifle. Barrels were marked with this proofmarks before first shot was made. Also, such barrels rarely were used on regular rifles, because of the excessive production or issues with mounts supply (sometimes). And such rifles are not "non drilled sniper", like they are described often, they are just regular rifles with sniper grade barrels.
Details about different sniper rifles models are provided on the separate pages, linked on the top of the page.