91/30 PEM Sniper

29. PE
                          Finn captured 39.JPG (26897

Getting a handle on the origins of the Soviet Sniper program is not easy. Most sources indicate that it began in the early 1930's while others claim it was started in principal almost immediately after the conclusion of the First World War. It is no doubt true that the Soviets saw the use the use of sharp shooters as being critical from their experiences in WWI and began test programs almost immediately to integrate sharp shooters into their battle doctrine. However, these sharp shooters would most certainly have been equipped with standard infantry rifles and considered as scout or observation elements. The development of optical sights did really come into their own until the Germans began aggressive development programs in the 20's. I would submit that it wasn't until the use of optical sights and the improvements called for in the 19/30 program were converged that the Soviets began a real sniper program. Wrobel places this period as beginning in 1931 whereas a Soviet magazine article references 1927 or 1928. I will put my money on Karl-Heinz Wrobel's findings in that he is able to cite credible research sources. Either way, the two technologies of optics and improved battle rifles had to mature before an effective sniper rifle could be developed.  

The Early Years

The Soviets began their sniper program with optics from the German firm Zeiss who were world renown for the quality of their optics. Although different optical sights had been experimented with, the first production series snipers were equipped with Zeiss-Dialythan model scopes.


A quick note about optics

There are two terms associated with the optics used on sniper rifles that often misunderstood and confused. The general use of a sight that features a tube with glass objectives can be termed as the use of scopes. However, within that classification are two sub-sets: telescopic sights and optical sights. Telescopic sights allow for the adjustment of the focal length and magnification of the sight while the optical sights are fixed in focus and magnification.  

The PE

The first series of Soviet sniper rifles used the Model PE scope (VP in the Soviet designation) which was produced by the company Emil Busch AG and was basically a knock-off the Zeiss optics used on the first prototypes. This series of rifles ran from 1931 to 1939 with some evidence indicating that the production run went into the early 40's to use up surplus parts from the official production run. The PE scope is identified by its length which extends from just even with the iron sight base back to just beyond the cocking piece on the bolt and the use of an adjustable objective or eyepiece. The PE was a 4 power scope that featured adjustments for elevation and windage as well as the focus ring. The first mounting system was a hex shaped affair that mated with the hex receiver and mounted the scope on the centerline of the bore. This centerline mount was later adapted to the round receivers. Later mounting systems for the PE and PE/PEM series were side mounts that attached to a base affixed to the left side of the receiver.

PE/PEM Defined

The two early models of scopes mounted on the 91/30 were referred to as PE and PEM which stands for "unified model" and "unified model modern" respectively. The difference between the two are significant as the early PE allowed for focus adjustment whereas the PEM did not. The move away from the focus ring was to simplify production and to attempt to stem reported problems with the scopes "leaking" due to  poor seals. There is some confusion over the designation PE/PEM which according to the source you read designates a transitional production series from 1937 through 1939 or the entire series of rifles produced after the introduction of the PEM.


More On Mounting

In 1938 the PEM received the side mounting system that attached to the left side of the receiver in a side rail. This mounting system allowed better access to loading the weapon and gave more clearance for the use of the iron sights on the weapon. It should be noted that finding one of these examples today is extremely rare and the scope and mounting system when sold on the market tends to sell in excess of $1500 or more.

Other Snipers


Although the 91/30 was the standard sniper rifle in the 30's, Tokarev made a bid to modernize the sniper rifle with the development of the SVT38 and later SVT40. Both of these rifles were semi-automatic designs that fired the same 7.62x54r round as the 91/30. However, both rifles were plagued with problems related to accuracy and excessive noise and muzzle flash. However they did introduce the PU optical sight which later appeared on the 91/30 Sniper. Construction of the SVT40 was discontinued due to the complex machining required and the clear advantages of the 91/30.


Production of the first 91/30 Snipers did not officially begin until 1931 at Tula Arsenal. However, as pointed out above, there were a series of Dragoons that sported the Zeiss-Dialythan prior to that time as well as a series of other scopes. Interestingly, The only solid production figures listed by Karl-Heinz are for Ishevsk and even those figures are spotty at best. Vic Thomas seems to have a better handle on the figures but I am puzzled why the source of those figures were not shared with Karl-Heinz unless it was a matter of information that became available after Drei Linien was published. Since this section is intended as an overview, I would gladly refer the reader to Vic's article on Mosin Nagant dot Net. Irrespective of the production figures, there is a difference it seems between rifles produced by Tula and those produced by Ishevsk. Tula marked the barrels of their rifles with the distinctive Ch marking where Ishevsk did not use any special markings. In both cases, the arsenals hand selected the sniper rifles from normal production runs based on fit and finish, bore quality and accuracy testing. Some sources say that the rifles were later tweeked for accuracy before being issued by polishing the chambers and slightly modifying the triggers. Production of the prototype/Dragoon models ran from about 1927 to 1930. The PE series ran from 1931 to 1936 or possibly as late as 1939 and beyond. The record shows the PEM as running from 1937 to 1942. The confusion over the dates may be due to records being lost at Tula as well as the Soviet penchant for using all the parts of a particular series even after the series ends.

                          prototype Dragoon PE.JPG (12209



The PE/PEM series of sniper rifles defined the Soviet commitment to a sniper program and laid the groundwork for the 91/30 PU model which remained in service until the 1960's and still serves on battlefields around the world today. No other sniper rifle was produced in greater numbers at the time as the PE/PEM series nor did any other sniper rifle have such a profound impact on the tactics and battle doctine of an army far into the late 20th Century.