NSPU 1PN34 (НСПУ 1ПН34) night vision rifle scope   Leave a comment

I’m republishing this old post in English, thanks to the outstanding help of my friend Mary Jo Barber, who kindly translated it for me. She is a professional translator, so she can deal with all kind of texts from Spanish to English, even the freakiest ones as you can see 🙂 So if you need anything properly translated, don’t doubt it, you have the link above to contact her. Thanks a lot (again) Mary Jo!!

> Original post in Spanish <

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Early August 1914.

The Great War between the European powers, announced for a decade (by some with glee, by others with horror), has finally broken out. The fearful German war machine, with its characteristic precision and discipline, is on the march.

Following plans laid down for some time, the formidable German right flank is trampling the fields of Belgium on its way to France, violating the neutrality of the young kingdom in the name of military necessity, and pushing a hesitant England definitively into the conflict.

As they advance through Belgium with blood and fire, a terrible memory of the former Franco-Prussian war obsesses German soldiers, strikes fear in their hearts and leads them to commit and justify disproportionate atrocities against the civil population: the franc-tireur.

Towns are burnt to the ground, civilians and even priests are shot indiscriminately, all with the aim of castigating the civil population and preventing farmers from defending their lands or indignant civilians filled with righteous anger and patriotism from taking aim at the invader from windows and crannies.

Captura de un Franc-Tireur , por Carl Johann Lasch (fuente: Wikipedia)

Capture of a Franc-Tireur, by Carl Johann Lasch

With the typical mentality of a tottering ancient regime, playing out its terrible final act right at that moment, the Kaiser’s armies are ready and willing to stand against and fight the regular armies of the other European  states. However, they hate the idea of coming up against guerrilla fighters, citizens belonging to no army, wearing no uniforms and having no training, acting on their own account and capable of delivering death without honour, off the battlefield, out of the blue.

Although the concept of the franc-tireur has evolved down through the years along with developments in technology, it always evokes the image of a lone shooter taking on a bigger enemy. It originally meant “free shooter”, referring to a fighter who is not a soldier, a civilian who spontaneously takes up arms to fight a stronger, better-organised invader. Logically, this involves the use of guerrilla techniques and surprise, things for which the German war mentality was not prepared, and so the existence (or mere possibility) of francs-tireurs filled the Germans with equal measures of dread and indignation.

Nowadays the term ‘sniper’ has acquired a more professional meaning, as modern armies have incorporated elite sniper corps, because of the advantages they offer in a range of combat environments, their potential now amplified by improved weapons and optics. Films and videogames have also popularised the concept of the sniper.

NSPU 1PN34

There is one essential element in the equipment of any professional sniper: his gun. This is usually fitted with telescopic sights to bring the target as close as possible, allowing the sniper to remain far away and under cover.

If the sniper fought with one of the Warsaw Pact armies during the second half of the Cold War, he probably used a Soviet-made NSPU 1PN34 scope like this one:

Kit NSPU 1PN34 completo.

The NSPU (HСПУ. Ночной Стрелковый Прицел Унифицированный – Unified Rifle Night Vision Scope) is also, as its name indicates, a night vision sight, offering added stealth and coverage factors.

 

This scope, with Generation 1 passive tubes and x3.4 augmentation, was manufactured and used from the end of the 1970s to the early 1990s. At the time, it was a huge improvement over former models used by the Red Army, which were Generation 0 and therefore “active”. As I mentioned in a previous entry, Gen 1 scopes required infrared illuminators in order to be effective, which, in addition to adding weight and volume, presented serious problems with regard to remaining undetected. If your enemy also has infrared-sensitive equipment, the initial advantage of your new night vision scope turns against you as you become somewhat of a walking Christmas tree 🙂

spetsnazenchechenia6cq

Spetsnaz with telescopic sights and serious faces. The second is using a 1PN34.

Nowadays these scopes are totally outdated, although for collectors they are magnificent relics of the Iron Curtain era. They can even be used for hunting or airsoft, if you are not too fussy. If they were good enough for the Spetznaz, they are probably good enough for you 🙂 They are relatively easy to find, even in complete kit form with carrying case and accessories, like in the photo. Apparently a batch of them was sold by the USSR to East Germany, from where they were sent to Finland along with an order of tanks, finally ending up as military surplus on the internet.

Even so, many remained active up to the 90s and beyond and it is quite possible that some are still in use somewhere around the world.

Francotiradores Ccbanos con el fusil de precisión Alejandro

Cuban snipers carrying Alejandro precision rifles fitted with IPN34 scopes.

The scope is quite big, due partly to the fact that, in order to be more effective in low lighting conditions, it has a three-stage image intensifier, each stage picking up on and augmenting the previous one. Consequently, there is a marked fisheye effect around the edges of the image, although this is quite easy to get used to.

Conceived to be used with the most common single-person firearms used by Soviet infantry, the NSPU IPN34 uses a standard fixture allowing it to be attached to different kinds of rifles, machine guns and even portable rocket launchers. Thus, one of the accessories included in the kit is a collection of ballistic cams to be used with different weapons: AKM, PK, RPK, RPG-7 and, of course, the Russian precision rifle par excellence: the SVD Dragunov.

Ballistic cams

Ballistic cams for the RPG-7 (РПГ-7), AKM (АКМ), RPK (РПК) and SVD (СВД)

The ballistic cams are used to adjust the height of the grid to the characteristics of each weapon and ammunition type. The grid pattern is very characteristic and was conceived to allow shooters to calculate the distance to target on the basis of apparent size and how it fits between the grid lines. The manual that comes with the scope sets out the correspondence between distance, size and grid lines, and even gives a practical table with examples.

Tabla de cálculo de distancias del manual

Table for calculating distances included with the manual

After calculating the distance, the shooter must then adjust the height of the scope to compensate for gravity, because even bullets don’t travel in straight lines but, like any other object that doesn’t escape velocity, follow a ballistic path. To do this, the shooter rotates a drum-shaped control on the front of the scope, and this is where the ballistic cam for the weapon and ammunition type being used is attached.  This part is marked with a series of notches, each corresponding to a range of distance, so the shooter just has to rotate the control until it clicks into the corresponding notch and the grid is moved up or down depending on the circumstances.

A similar control allows the shooter to move the grid left or right to compensate for wind or any other circumstances that might cause lateral shift.

Mirando a través del NSPU 1PN34

Looking though the NSPU 1PN34. The photo is taken in daylight, with the diaphragm on and isn’t great quality (the scope is actually much brighter). It is taken with the scope on its side, but it gives a good idea of the fish-eye effect and the appearance of the grid.

The grid itself is printed onto a small transparent disc covered in opaque paint in such a way that only the template is left unpainted. A small LED bulb on one side of the disc projects the grid lines which are picked up by a complex system of lenses and prisms and superimposed on the image seen through the scope. A rotating control regulates the intensity of the grid (or, in other words, the LED that projects it), and is also used to switch it on or off.

A common defect of the 1PN34s that you can find on the Internet is that the grid is incomplete. This is due to dirt or too much glue or paint on the disc and, fortunately, can be fixed very easily 🙂 You don’t need any special equipment, as the scope comes with a very handy multitool for maintenance.

Desmontando el LED

Using the multitool to remove the LED

Pieza del zócalo del LED desmontada.

LED casing dismantled

Disco de la retícula en su posición.

Grid in position

Disco de la retícula y anilla de sujeción.

Grid and retainer disc

First of all remove the LED light (the lower part sticks out of the telescope adjustment section and is easily recognisable). The multitool has a round hole just for this purpose, fitting onto the bulb and rotating it to remove it.

The part from which we have removed the LED has four screws, which must now be removed. The part comes loose, although it remains attached by the power cable. On one side there is a ring with two screws. This ring secures another disc which is the grid itself. The ring has a pair of oblong holes which line up with two similar holes on the grid disc: it’s important to remember exactly how they line up so that when we reassemble they are in exactly the same place (see photo). When we take off these last two screws the two circular pieces are loosened and can be removed. Now we just have to clean the grid carefully with a damp Q-Tip to remove any remaining adhesive or dirt that could distort the pattern.

IMG_6873

The grid up close

After cleaning it’s just a matter of putting everything back in place (being very careful with the position of the two discs; I used a pair of toothpicks to hold the pieces and line them up) and checking whether the grid is properly visible.

Having three intensifiers in series, in addition to causing a fisheye effect, also means that the scope is very light sensitive and we have to be very careful to avoid burning it. The first precaution is to always keep the daytime use diaphragm on and closed. This is a kind of cover that goes over the front lens, with a tinted glass as a filter and a diaphragm to regulate the amount of light that enters. This means that the scope can also be used in daylight.

In a well-lit urban area this diaphragm should be used even at night. Otherwise a protective mechanism based on a photoresistor that limits the voltage that the electoral unit sends to the amplifying tubes comes into operation, partially or totally wiping the image, and preventing the tubes from being overexposed and burned. From experience I know that this protective mechanism works, at least in my unit. Just as well! Once a twice I forgot to check that the diaphragm was completely closed when I turned the device on in daylight…

In artificially-lit environments is not possible to check the real level of night vision offered by the IPN34, either because the diaphragm is in place or because the photoresistor is activated. Being a Gen 1 appliance, it is also quite sensitive to flashes, and the after-image remains for several seconds.

The full kit comes with the following elements:

  • Carrying case
  • NSPU IPN34
  • carrier bag
  • three wet-cell nickel cadmium 2НКБН-1.5 batteries
  • diaphragm for daytime use
  • red filter for increased contrast
  • capsule containing four ballistic cams plus a fifth one mounted on the scope
  • multitool
  • four replacement LED lamps on a stand
  • spare desiccant cartridge plus another one inserted in the unit
  • NSPU IPN34 use and maintenance manual
  • Battery user maintenance manual

A copy of the manual, in English, with diagrams and pictures, is given at the end of this post.

On the whole, this is a fantastic collector’s item and is also fully functional, providing you have a weapon to which it can be attached. Moreover, units from the famous Finnish lot (many references I found in forums and websites refer to units from this batch) come with an adapter so it can be used with two standard AA batteries instead of messing around with the original wet cell batteries. This is a non-invasive mod and can be done quite easily, by simply removing a pair of screws. However, if you prefer the original experience, the electrolyte is the same one used in the Soviet radios of the time and which I have explained how to make in another post 🙂

Legendary snipers

And what could a good shooter do with a piece of kit like this? Okay, let’s take a look of some of those who have gone down in history, including some from the 19th-century, who had no assistance other than their own good aim!

Thomas Plunkett

The oldest reference I can find to a famous long-distance shot goes back to January 1809, during the Spanish War of Independence.

The British Army under General Moore was retreating towards La Coruña from Leon, pursued by the French led by Marshal Soult, while Napoleon waited in nearby Astorga.

During the pursuit, in addition to episodes of looting, drunkenness and lack of discipline among the demoralised English soldiers, there was a series of clashes with the French vanguard. One of these took place on 3rd January in Cacabelos, a village in the El Bierzo region of León.

Moore had decided to try to stop Napoleon’s forces at the bridge over the river Cúa. The regiments led by General Auguste-Marie-François Colbert made a first attempt to cross the bridge, but were pushed back by heavy fire from the English. The charge was led by the general himself and it was now when Henry Paget, Duke of Uxbridge, bet the 95th Fusiliers the contents of his purse if they could hit Colbert. Out stepped Thomas Plunkett, an Irish soldier. He lay down on his back in the Creedmore position and squeezed off his shot, hitting the enemy general in the head from a distance of 150 to 200 yards (130 to 550 m), depending on whose version you believe. In any case, a very respectable distance for the time and the type of weapon used.

Next, to prove that it was skill and not just luck, he fired off a second shot, hitting the general’s aide-de-camp, who had rushed to help him. Other witnesses maintained that it was another shooter from the same company who fired off the second shot at the same time Plunkett fired his.

Plunkett y la muerte del general Colbert

In spite of successfully turning back the French for the rest of the day, General Moore took the controversial decision to continue to withdraw, allowing Napoleon’s troops to cross the river. Moore didn’t get very far however, and was killed in La Coruña as he attempted to reach the port.

The story is wreathed in controversy, as no first-hand accounts are available and details regarding the position of Plunkett, his target, the distance etc. are either vague or vary from one person to another. In any case, true or not, Plunkett’s exploit earned him great fame and his story has come down to our times.

Local history, however, has it that Colbert was actually hit by a Cacabelos man perched in a tree…

Simo Häyhä

The war in Afghanistan wasn’t the only dead-end that the Soviets got into with a high cost in troops, material and morale. Long before the Soviet Vietnam, the Russians had already had a precedent in the Winter War against Finland, which began on 30 November 1939 when Stalin decided that it was time the Finns joined the great Communist family. According to the history books, the USSR won the war but, as one red Army general said later, “We won 57,000 km2 of territory, just enough to bury our dead”. The Red Army suffered a total of 320,000 casualties, compared to 70,000 on the Finnish side.

The Soviet Union had the overwhelming advantage in terms of human and material resources, but in spite of that, could not conquer more than 10% of the country. One of the causes of the debacle was the Stalinist purges, which had decimated the number of officers and notably reduced the army’s efficiency.

Simo Häyhä

Seems like a nice guy!

Another factor is that the USSR was facing a proud, combative people, resolutely defending their independence against the aggression of a bigger enemy with the spirit of the original francs-tireurs. One of those who best personified this spirit was Simo Häyhä.

For good or bad, this man holds the absolute record of sniper kills of all times. Over a period of barely three months, he had 542 confirmed kills (other sources say 505), often over distances far greater than 360 m. Additionally, it seems he had a previous tally of 200 kills when fighting as part of a squad.

We should add here that Simo refused to use scoped sights, as they could steam up or increase his bulk or reflect light, revealing his position to the enemy. He used a Mosin-Nagant M28 or M28/30 and a Suomi KP31, using no more than a standard rifle scope to aim.

With a record like this, it’s no wonder the Soviets called him White Death and sent more and more men out to hunt him down, all of whom Simo eliminated mercilessly. They even tried artillery strikes, but by the time the bombs landed Simo was no longer to be found (on one occasion he escaped by the skin of his teeth, taking a lump of shrapnel in his back as a souvenir).

Key to his skill and lethality were his in-depth knowledge of the terrain, extensive experience in the use of firearms (acquired both during his military service and as a hunter) and a series of tactics that made him practically invisible to the enemy; when in position he would stuff a fistful of snow into his mouth, so his position would not be revealed by the vapour from his breath.

And of course, he was fighting with the determination of one defending his country from unjust aggression.

Simo Häyhä

Now what?

These characteristics may also be applied in general to his comrades and countrymen and women during the war, as the differences between the two sides was immense. The region where Simo was active remained in Finnish hands throughout the war, in what became known as the miracle of Kollaa; on one occasion 32 Finnish soldiers held back some 4000 Russians.

In March 1940, Häyhä was hit with an explosive bullet which, in the words of his comrades, “blew half his head off”. However, even that couldn’t finish him off. He awoke from a coma 11 days afterwards, right on the day the peace was signed. He had lost part of his jaw and his left cheek, but lived to 96 years of age, enjoying the peaceful death that he himself had denied to so many who had had the bad fortune to cross his path.

Vasily Zaytsev

If we take Simo Häyhä off the World War II sniper kill ranking, on the pretext that he fought in a different, though related, theatre, the the next 10 on the list are all USSR marksmen. First up is Ivan Sidorenko, with 500 kills (numbers and names may vary according to which source you consult). This deadly top 10 all boast figures of 400 to 500 kills, which, apart from adding up to a chilling total, can be explained by the enormity and brutality of the conflict.

However, you will probably not have heard any of these names until you reach numbers 11 and 12 on the list: Erwin König and Vasily Zaytsev. If you have heard of them, it’s probably because you’ve seen the film Enemy at the Gates, which dramatized the particular duel between these two elite snipers during what was possibly the toughest battle of the most terrible war in history: Stalingrad, where, as a German infantryman wrote to his family, “Animals flee this burning hell of the city… the hardest stones do not last for long. Only men endure.”

The episode has all the necessary ingredients to go down in history and legend (and be made into a film). However, many aspects of the story are debatable and it is quite possible that König never even existed, and that the duel was created by the Soviet propaganda machine to keep troop morale up.

In any case, at least one of the protagonists did actually exist.

zaytsev

Not a looker, but probably best not to say it to his face. Or from 800 metres away

Vasily Zaitsev was born in 1915 in Chelyabinsk Oblast, on the border with Kazakhstan, in the southern Urals. Like many famous shooters, he learned to use firearms at a young age, hunting for deer and wolves and acquiring skills that stood him in great stead years later.

Like many of his contemporaries, he seems to have been afflicted by the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times”. He was born just a few years before the Soviet Union came into being, he fought for his country in the Great Patriotic War, and he died just 10 days before the Soviet Union fell in 1991.

When World War II broke out Zaitsev was a Navy clerk, posted close to Vladivostok. When Hitler decided to tear up the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact and commence the Russian campaign that would his final downfall, Zaitsev and many of his colleagues signed up to go to the front to hold the Germans back.

He was sent to Stalingrad, where the sides were locked in an interminable battle. The Germans need to break the Soviet resistance, while the Russians needed to hold on to lives and resources at any cost. From a historical standpoint, it is easy to emphasise the importance of this battle to the course of the war, but, from the very first moment, all the participants, from Hitler and Stalin to the last foot soldier in the trenches, knew that, one way or another, the outcome would decide the course of history.

Lucha en las calles de Stalingrado

Fighting in the streets of Stalingrad

This is the scenario that awaited Zaitsev on 22 September 1942, after receiving infantry training and changing his Navy blue for the khaki of a Land Army sergeant. At first he fought alongside the other soldiers, until his commanding officer soon noticed his rifle skills. He once pointed out a German solider in a window 800 metres away. Zaitsev zeroed in with his standard Mosin-Nagant and killed him. Two colleagues who rushed to his aid suffered the same fate.

Snipers were highly regarded in the Red Army, as a single man could eliminate many high-payoff enemy personnel targets, picking off officers or the occupants of machine-gun nests and other difficult positions. This gave them a heroic air and the ‘sniper movement’ attracted more volunteers than it could use.

A good aim, stalking skills and a familiarity with weapons, all qualities that a good hunter, and sniper, must possess, were sufficient to be assigned to sniper duties. So it was with our hero, whose feats and tactics became famous, passed from mouth to mouth and reported with relish by the Soviet press.

Zaitsev, whose name means “hare” in Russian, was put in charge of training young snipers, in what was laughingly known as the “sniper school”, although this seems basically to have consisted of giving two-day courses to the walking wounded. In any case, his students, known as “the leverets”, developed a strong esprit de corps and elite snipers were highly competitive, each trying to outdo their colleagues’ kill rates.

Prisionero alemán

German POW

It is at this point that our story shades into myth and the famous duel crops up. It all began when a captured German prisoner admitted that the Nazis were becoming increasingly unnerved by the efficiency of Stalingrad’s Russian snipers, whose high casualty rate was torpedoing troop morale. To remedy the situation, the story goes, they had sent their best sniper, Major König, from Berlin, to “hunt the daddy hare”, in what can only be a reference to Zaisev.

Shortly afterwards, two of Zaitsev’s colleagues were hit. They were both experienced marksmen, so the Russians came to the conclusion that the famous German special envoy had arrived and commenced operations. Zaitsev and his spotter Nikolai Kulikov trekked over to the area where their opponent had been seen, and thus a four-day war of wits and nerves was declared.

On the first day the two Russians scanned the zone. They studied each street, each house and smouldering ruin and wreck that could provide cover for a sniper. In the evening, König tried a typical sniper’s ruse, raising a helmet on a pole. The Hare and his colleague were not so easily fooled: the helmet wobbled unconvincingly and they refused to take the bait.

The second day passed slowly, both parties exercising immense patience. The Russians combed the area with binoculars, noticing a sheet of metal on the ground that would make an ideal sniper hideout. Now it was their turn to try to coax their opponent out. They tried the same ruse, this time using a glove instead of a helmet. König took the bait and fired off a shot. Zaitsev, however, didn’t catch sight of him, so they move carefully to another position.

Day three was a day of manoeuvring and moving about, trying to get their enemy to reveal his position. For much of the day they remained hidden, idle, as it was a bright day and the shooters could be betrayed by sunlight glancing off their scopes. However, as evening fell, the conditions favoured them and, on day four, they glimpsed a reflection coming from the metal sheet. Could it be the Nazi sniper?

Kulikov carefully raised his helmet. König fired off a shot. Kulikov stood up, cried out and dropped to the ground, pretending to have been hit. That’s all Zaitsev needed: the German took the bait and stuck his head out to see his kill. It was the last thing he ever did: Zaitsev killed him with a bullet between the eyes.

That evening, the Soviets swept the zone with mortar fire and went down to where König’s body lay. Zaitsev, later wounded and named a Hero of the Soviet Union, took his opponent’s rifle scope as a souvenir. Today it is kept on show at the Armed Forces Museum in Moscow.

Carlos Hathcock

If you are wondering why Carlos Hathcock features on all the top sniper lists, here’s a testimony to his effectiveness: the Viet Cong placed a record bounty of $30,000 on his head. A tidy sum, particularly in Vietnam in the 60s, when rewards put on US snipers by the NVA typically ranged from $8 to $2000.

This kind of reputation has to be earned, and the reasons the Viet Cong wanted to see Hathcock dead are the same ones that made him a legend among his own, the Elvis Presley of the US snipers.

In one now legendary episode, Hathcock and his spotter went after a North Vietnamese sniper who was causing many casualties among the American troops and who had, as they believed, had been sent specifically to finish off Hathcock. As they scanned the territory they saw a flash of light in the bushes: the sun reflecting off the enemy’s scope. Hathcock fixed his crosshairs on the spot and squeezed off a legendary shot. The bullet traversed the distance between the two men, went through the enemy’s scope and hit him in the eye, killing him instantly. A shot in a million that, as Hathcock meditated later, could only have been feasible if both snipers were zeroing in on each other at exactly the same time; Hathcock just happened to fire first.

The daring and lethal Hathcock is said to have volunteered for every possible mission, no matter how dangerous. During his two 13-month tours of duty in Vietnam, he stepped forward so often that his commanding officer once had to restrict him to quarters to make him rest. However, courage and a good aim are not enough to guarantee success in missions behind enemy lines, often alone. Unless they are combined with nerves of steel and immense powers of concentration, they can be a ticket home in a body bag.

In one of his best-known exploits, Hathcock crawled on his belly over 1000 metres of enemy territory to shoot a high-ranking NVA officer; he had not been informed of the details of the mission until after he had accepted it. This may not sound like much, but it took him four days and three nights without sleep and, after hitting his target, he had to exit quickly, pursued by furious enemy patrols. On another occasion, a Viet Cong soldier almost trod on his face as he lay concealed. Only camouflage and cold blood prevented him from ending his days right there or being taken a prisoner of the NVA. Another time he was almost bitten by a poisonous bamboo viper. Once again, he had the presence of mind to avoid moving and giving up his position.

Hathcock never matched the record of confirmed kills in Vietnam. His tally was 93, while Charles ‘Chuck’ Mawhinney held first place in the macabre ranking, with 103. However, his bravery and his exploits made him a legend, even among his enemies, who called him Long Trang, or White Feather, for the feather he liked to wear in his bush cap. When the NVA sent a platoon of snipers to hunt him down, many Marines in the same area donned white feathers in their hats to deceive the enemy, making themselves targets in order to confuse the counter-snipers.

Carlos Hathcock

Pow, pow!

This detail alone gives us an idea of the importance of his figure.

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RESOURCES

  • NSPU 1PN34 –  Technical description and Service manual in english, OCR – PDF | Word
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Publicado 18 diciembre, 2015 por bravido en Cold War, Collecting, Militaria

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