August 13, 2020
By David M. Fortier
It can rightly be said Germany is the Edenic home of modern sniping. It wasn’t long after the first trenches were dug during the Great War that German Scharfschutzen (Sharpshooters) began plying their trade. Initially they pressed optically sighted hunting rifles into service to make life hell for Allied soldiers. However these didn’t hold up to hard military use. So in the spring of 1915 the German Army ordered 15,000 sniper rifles. These were built using Gewehr 98 service rifles carefully selected for their accuracy. The 7.92x57mm Gewehr 98 featured a long 29.1 inch barrel with an overall-length of 49.2 inches and weight of 9 pounds. Built on Mauser’s famous 1898 action it featured a five-round internal box magazine and a bolt with front locking lugs and 90-degree rotation. The basic rifle was simple, rugged and fairly accurate. However, it was also overly long with a slow rate of fire. A veritable hodge-podge of low magnification optical sights was fitted in various ways. Despite the primitive nature of these early sniper systems they proved shockingly effective. Not only were Allied soldiers being struck down from no-where, but his comrades’ morale was being sapped with each shot. German snipers and their telescope sighted Gew 98s instilled fear wherever they plied their trade.
Many lessons though were forgotten during the interwar period. While German snipers were the masters of the art in 1915, by 1941 they were playing second fiddle to the Soviets. To meet the challenge they re-established sniper training in 1942 and fielded a variety of optical sights and mounting systems mated to the Gew 98’s replacement, the Karabiner 98k. Basically a shortened and slightly refined Gew 98, the Kar 98k featured a 23.6 inch barrel and 43.7 inch overall length. Mounting systems for optics included claw, high and low turrets and side-rail mounts. In typical Teutonic fashion they tended to be overly complex, difficult to produce and insufficiently rugged. The scopes, considering the time period, were quite good optically. 4x models from Carl Zeiss, Hensoldt, Kahles, Ajack and others were employed.
The various models, as a whole, tended to have mediocre triggers and optics mounted uncomfortably high. The vast majority lacked any windage adjustments in the optic, requiring adjustments be made to the mount. The inability to make windage adjustments in the field, low magnification of their optics, lack of match grade ammunition, poor quality service grade ammunition, and some other factors led most German snipers to limit their shots to 600 meters with the vast majority made inside 400 meters.
While some top snipers did successfully engage out to 1,000 meters and beyond this was not the norm. As an example, a Kar 98k fitted with a 4x Ajack scope was tested at the German Infantry School in March of 1945. Firing at 1,000 meters in no wind conditions gave a 12 round group measuring 33 inches high by 51 inches wide. This was considered ‘good’. The most famous use of snipers by the Germans was during the Battle of Stalingrad. Here German snipers hunted their Soviet counter-parts under horrific conditions. Despite the quality of their equipment though the Germans were never able to overcome or even match the Soviet sniper threat. This is borne out in German after-action reports for the duration of the war. The Soviets simply fielded snipers on an unprecedented scale which, in the end, proved more than a match for the German sniper effort.
Top German snipers of the war include Matthias Hetzenauer (345), Josef Sepp Allerberg (257) and Bruno Sutkus (209).
Mauser Kar 98 Kurz Sniper Specifications
- Action Type: Manual rotating bolt with dual opposed lugs and controlled round feeding
- Caliber: 7.92x57mm IS
- Capacity: 5 round internal box magazine
- Barrel: 23.6 inches, 1-9.4 inch RH groove
- Overall Length: 43.7 inches
- Weight: 8.3 pounds without optic
- Stock: Laminated or hardwood
- Finish: Phosphate
- Trigger: standard military two-stage
- Iron Sights: Inverted ‘V’ blade front, tangent rear graduated to 2000 meters
- Dedicated Sniper load: Effect Firing sS 198-grain FMJ