Hunter in the snow

Almost knee-deep in snow, a German soldier patrols a birch forest somewhere in Russia. The ample winter clothing indicates the winter of 1942-43, when the Army had learned its lesson from the catastrophic winter of 1941-42. He carries a Selbstladegewehr 259(r) (“self-loading rifle 259 (Russian)”) and Zeiss 6×30 binoculars. Is he out for some sniping? Impossible to tell, as the sniper version of the rifle had the scope mounted far back, and in that case his body is obscuring it.

The rifle is the Soviet SVT-40, one of the first semi-automatic rifles in service in any army. Two models had superceded it, the AVS-36 and the SVT-38, but their construction left much to be desired. The SVT-40, which was intended to become the standard battle rifle of the Red Army, had its problems, too, but it was mainly the difficulty of manufacture that made the Red Army keep the bolt-action Mosin-Nagant 91/30 rifle, as the huge losses in 1941 necessiated replacement weapons that were easy to produce.

Poor fitting made the SVT-40 less accurate, and unless overhauled and modified, shots tended to be dispersed vertically. For a sniper rifle, this was something of a drawback, and production of the sniper variant of the SVT was terminated in 1942. Production of the SVT ceased in 1945, after 1.6 million SVT-38/40 rifles had been made.

The binoculars are made by the famous optics manufacturer, Carl Zeiss of Jena. The 6x magnification, 30 mm front lens Dienstglas was the standard binoculars of the German Army, being in production from 1910 to 1975. Probably the biggest improvement came in 1936, when a scientist at Zeiss invented an anti-reflective coating that reduced the loss of light to a minimum (uncoated lenses caused a 20-25 % loss of light in a pair of binoculars), which gave the Germans an advantage, especially in poor lighting.

The pristine winter camo consists of an overcoat, mittens, and a fur-lined hat with ear flaps. Underneath it, the soldier wears warm clothing and winter boots, a vast improvement from the previous winter.

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