World War II was at its core an existential threat for the Soviet Union. Invaded by Germany, the Soviets were faced with a highly capable and determined foe. Making things worse, Soviet troops in the early part of the war were chronically short of both weapons and supplies. However, to effectively combat the invaders, Russia worked diligently to produce enough arms for its military. In addition to basic infantry rifles, the Soviets realized that more specialized weapon systems were also needed. These included not only handguns and submachine guns, but also rugged and capable sniper rifles.
The exact origin of the Russian sniper program is a bit sketchy, but sources place it between 1928 and 1930, which roughly coincides with the consolidation of the time’s three main battle rifles (Infantry, Dragoon and Cossack) into the modified Model 91/30. The basic 8.8-pound rifle, first developed by Captain Sergei Ivanovich Mosin and Belgian designer Leon Nagant in 1891, was redesigned in 1930 as the Model 91/30. It featured a strong, short-handled, bolt-operated action with two front locking lugs; an integral, five-round magazine; a 29-inch barrel; a tangent rear and hooded-post front sight regulated to 2,000 meters; a long, full-length wood stock with an upper handguard and sling slots cut through the wood; an under-barrel cleaning rod; an awkward (but very positive) “knob” safety; and a long, cruciform, spike bayonet with a flattened “screwdriver” tip.
The Model 91/30 was never considered elegant or svelte, and the quality of its machining, fit and finish was never on par with its German, British and American contemporaries on the battlefields. But, the Mosin proved to be a rugged design that could—and did—handle the worst combat conditions a Russian winter could throw at it as well as any other bolt action fielded by any military force of its day, and its simple manual of arms was well suited to the typical Russian soldier of the era. In service from 1891 till the late 1970s in some areas, the 91/30 was manufactured both in Russia and abroad and issued by more than one nation in more than one war. It’s one of the longest-lived active-duty military rifles in history.
All In The Scope
While there were attempts to extend the practical range of the Model 1891 in the 1920s, with the emergence of the 91/30, the Soviets stepped up their sniper program, initially buying optics from the well-known German Zeiss firm. The first general-issue Russian-made scope used on the relatively new 91/30s was the PE (Unified Model, based on the Zeiss optic) from about 1931 to about 1939, with some production from existing parts continuing into the early 1940s. The 4x PE initially used a centerline mount on the bore, which was later changed to a side mount, and featured windage and elevation adjustments along with a focus ring. The PE was superseded by the 4x PEM (Unified Model Modern, without a focus ring) to simplify production and reduce the tendency of the PE to “leak,” or fog up, in the field. The PEM was manufactured roughly from 1937 to 1942, when the fixed-focus 3.5x PU was introduced to replace it.