Some More Vietnam USMC Sniping History

Lately  my mind has been  stuck on Vietnam war era sniper optics and rifles.  Friends keep asking me about the subject and it has come up a lot this month.    It is an evergreen topic for most people interested in US martial arms , sniping and long range shooting  anyway so I thought I would touch on it a little more today before my longer article on the Unertl 10X USMC sniper optic some times next week( hopefully).

I like to think most of our readers are already familiar with the M40 and Redfield 3x-9x optics since I’ve covered it a few times already.  When the M40 came from Remington originally the rifle. the optic and mounts were all marked with the same serial number.  Remington had very carefully zeroed the optics to as to nearly bottom out at 100 yards with only a few clicks lefter over.  This gave the scope its 40plus  minutes left over and allowed the scope to dial up to shots at 1,000 yards. Of course once the guns got to Vietnam, things got taken apart and mixed up and precious kept the scope/base/gun matching.  As a result  most of them could not be dialed up to 1,000 yards. Or much past  500 really.    Below is an example of how things got mixed up.

The Redfields were had a range finding capability. The reticle was standard crosshairs but there was also a range ladder to the right side with two extra  horizontal stadias.   As you can see below the idea was to adjust the zoom ring until the two top stadias  fit with the top on a man’s shoulders and the bottom on his belt.  The ranger scale would then show the yardage.   The redfields ranging scale and measuring stadia  worked well with the average measurements of an adult  asian male. Now if that was done on purpose  or not I have yet to find out.   One you had the range you could either dial in the DOPE ( usually never done as it took too much time) or you held off.  This system was also incorporated as part of the US Army’s  ART system used on the XM21. But that is another day.  Word has it few Marine snipers used the scope’s ranging ability very often.  The  range finding stadia and ladder  often  melted when the sun came through the objective lens after a  relatively short amount of time so care was taken to keep it covered or out of direct sun.  Because of that a lot of the scopes are minus the range finding  ability.

And here we have a picture of The Master Sniper himself  with the M40 he used on his second tour as a scout sniper.  The picture is noteworthy not only for being who it is but for he gear he is carrying.  What  Hathcock carried with  him on most missions has been recorded multiple times.   He noted many times he usually took nothing more than his rifle, binos a belt with two canteens, a pistol, a poncho ,   a knife, a compass and a bandoleer of 30cal match in cloth  bandoleer tied around his waist.  This was done in case he had to drop his pistol belt  to run, he still had “all he really needed.”  Yes, a gun and some ammo is truly the only thing Hathcock really needed if you  had the idiocy to chase him through  the countryside.   The rest he carried in his pants cargo pockets.  Here is is wearing the M56 belt with what appears to be two M56 ammo pouches, a flak vest and his  NVA pack.  I found it interesting that  Carlos appears to have a lanyard  attached to his 1911.   Hathcock wears his signature 3rd pattern  ERDL jungle fatigues and his boonie with his white feather in it laying on his back.

Here is a photo taken from where Hathcock took perhaps his record breaking 2,500 yard shot.  If you have seen this photo before else where claiming that is Hathcock in the image beside the gun, it is not .  That is SSGT Roberts, his spotter on that mission and the picture is from Carlos’ own collection so I think he knows who was in the picture.    You can see the 8x Unertl mounted to the M2 Browning he used to make his famous shot and the terrain beyond. Perfect position to make a shot like that.

Back to the 3x-9x sniper Redfield.  Few seem to know but it was also used on the M2 browning.

Back to the Unertl 8x for a bit.  The scope is forever tied to Carols in the minds of many when it comes to USMC sniping and of course the gun Carlos used in his first tour  during the time he made most of his most celebrated accomplishments of combat sniping. Below is pictured a real USMC Model 70 sniper rifle with USMC contract Unertl 8x.   I’m sure many younger people would look at that and see ancient gun tech and wonder how they did what they did with it.  Truth is even today that combo would wreak havoc  as a sniper rifle in capable hands.

The Unertl was used  on the model 70s and the M2 browning, but some imaginative snipers managed to mount it on other rifles they  wanted to snipe with.  I’m don’t think I need to say how much I would love to try that out.

The Mil-Dot reticle used by the USMC was made by Premier reticles and sent to Unertl to be installed into the Unertl 10X USMC sniper scope.    Below  is a  tray of the mildot reticles ready to be shipped out to J. Unertl.

 

SO, WHAT DID HAPPEN TO UNERTL OPTICS?

As you may have noticed my love o vintage target/varmint weapons and optics have been on my brain recently.  Last night I got thinking about Unertl again after a friend asked me something about those old beauties and remembered some years ago there was a forum discussion some where or other about what happened. As usual with most gun forums, few of the poster new much about much and were posting all kinds of BS about Unertl and US Optics ( which did some shady stuff after Unertl went into limbo and got sued for their troubles irrespective of what you may hear otherwise) until most unexpectedly John R Unertl himself popped up to set the record straight.  I saved his comments as they were a peak into the history of a legendary firearms industry company.   I have long forgot where I got it from but a clever googler I’m sure could turn it up.  No need anyway.  I saved Unertl’s only post on the matter and the rest of the posts were nonesense. AS one forum “expert” even made the idiotic claim that the Unertls were made in a barn.. 

 

Gentlemen, Let me clear up some inaccurate or most likely a lot of bogus information out there regarding the Unertl Optical Company and make clear some facts about the rifle scopes themselves. I have the authority to discuss the intimate details of this since I AM the last John Unertl that worked at the company you are referring to.

My grandparents started the company, my parents worked at the company, I worked at the company. All of the personalities involved here were strong personalities in their own right. Each conmtrbuted to, and detracted from the business. I don’t plan on writing a book here so I will condense this discussion to it’s bare bones form. My grandmother being a company founder was quite reluctant to leave the company even though she was getting up in years.
This gradually built a resentment within my father and their relationship began to fall apart. My father John Unertl Jr., was a brilliant engineer, but frankly didn’t care much at all about ‘marketing’, relegating this to mostly bullshit.
He also had quite an abrasive side and could alienate people fairly easily. I was schooled as a mechanical engineer because that was what was expected. Going  into the late ’70’s several issues were at play. Family discord for one. Secondly I could see that my father was not doing the necessary training and improvement for future development and expansion. I elected to resign at that point and move on. I took a job with Leitz, a well known optical instrument company. We used Leitz autocollimators and related equipment in our optical testing. Ultimately I became a Division President for that organization.

When my father died, my mother (who did not have a clue about the technology here) asked if I was interested in coming back to run the company. When I went back, I saw the company in the shape I figured it would be in. Not much had changed. It would have needed a small fortune to bring it up to speed. I had neither the time, inclination, and didn’t want to make the financial
commitment. I already had another business. I must say it was a sad moment. My heart strings pulled, but the realities of the situation were compelling. I suggested to my mother to pursue other alternatives.

Enter Rocky Green. My understanding is that he had two different involvements in the company. One as a liason to an initial group of buyers. They couldn’t handle the project, so the second time around he was a principle. I met Rocky one time when he came to visit me with the 1911’s. At that point I knew they were not
going to make it building scopes. I fear that anybody who wasn’t involved directly with the company couldn’t know the painstaking manufacture and care that went into building them. They were assembled, taken down, re-assembled,, numerous times. Hand fit parts meticulously assembled by true artisans. I can only assume the guys that bought the company just figured to buy some drawings,
program a CNC machine, stamp it Unertl & watch the money roll in. Sorry, didn’t work that way. I’m not sure if any of you out there were aware we made very sophisticated optical/mechanical instrumentation, optics for military jet gunsights, fire control optics (military stuff, not firemen) and wind tunnel instrumentation. Unertl Optical was far from operating out of a barn. We made the money with the high end optics, not making scopes. The scopes were that
labor of love because that’s how the company started. The scopes had the benefit of this financing. I fear the other guys missed this key ingredient.
The Unertl employees were true atrisans that made these rifle scopes. I doubt you can find guys like this any more with this kind of skill and dedication. The marine corps sniper scope was the last offering that my father made for Rocky Green when he was still in the service. At that point our old guys started dying off, and with them closed a page in the anals of the shooting industry.

I still have the opportunity to get together with the few remaing
company people. They have all played an important part in my life and I hold  special reverence to each and every one of them. They are truly the last of abreed.

Enjoy those scopes, I would have no reservation saying they are STILL probably the best scopes out there.”

John Robert Unertl

There it is from the man himself.  I only wish he would have written a book or an article about the company in some form for posterity.

If you didn’t know, this Rocky Green fellow did market a few  M1911s made with the Unertl name on them  and they were a take on the  older USMC  used 1911s  before MARSOC. I never touched one but I did see a couple.   They were pretty meh if  you are a real 1911 guy. Around that time a few scopes trickled out.   Some years ago I got in touch with a fellow who did work at the original Unertl and had bought out the rest of the bases and accessories  that were on hand when the real Unertl closed its doors.   I regret that I have since forgot his name and lost his contact info.  I do agree with Mister Unertl.  They are pure art and they  are still some of the best optics ever made.   A man can only dream about what they would have made had the younger J. Unertl had taken over the company and expended it and moved into modern designs.   The original Unertl closed its doors in the mid 1980s.  You can see in the image below what a high grade riflescope with all the trimmings looked like.  Box included.

J. Unertl Sr.  immigrated to the US from Germany and  worked for J. W. Fecker. Fecker scopes was a company that built the highest of quality target scopes which started selling his optics in 1922.  How high quality? Well, in 1926 when a Winchester Model52 rifle cost $36 yankee greenbacks, a Fecker optic would cost from $30 to $50 yankee dollars.  You can do the math on what the equivalent to 30 dollars   in the mid 20s  would be to today.   Unertl worked there as one of Feckers most talented and skilled engineers  until leaving to start his own optics business in 1928. In the early days of the Unertl Optics Co.  J. Unertl even supplied his scopes with Fecker mounts ( or what you would think of as “rings”) until developing his own.    Below is a Fecker advertisement and you can see the resemblance.  Fecker as a rifle scope maker more or less ended July 1956 as it was bought out by some one who had no interest in shooting. The company was purchased for its advanced designs for missile tracking and guidance systems during the cold war.  As of 2002 it still exists as a division of Contraves Co.    But the story of Fecker scopes will have to wait for another day.

AS mister Unertl said above, the last Unertl to  be developed and sold  as a new design was the USMC  10X sniper scope. A very tough optic that was the first to use the Mil-dot crosshairs.  A model was also made for use on the M82, 50BMG sniper rifle.  The original was developed for use on the M40A1 sniper rile and was in use even through to the M40A3 and A5  models though it is now probably complete phased out.  The USMC sniper 10X was a fixed power scope but it had some pretty trick features, especially for its time.   I promise that there will be  a longer upcoming article about it. The 10x was much loved by  Carlos Hathcock himself as he was one of the original  testers of the optic for adoption  to be used on the M40A1.   He even told of using the scope to pound a tent stake into frozen ground one day and the scope  was unfazed. 

It is a little sad to me that today few younger shooters even know the name.  A few years ago I saw a post on TFB where one of their worthies ran into a guy who had a Unertl optic and he was shocked as he had never seen nor heard of one.  Though I would expect  that from TFB.    Unertl optics helped set many world records,m win matches and make history in wars.  All of the  who’s who, of the shooting world used Unertls and knew  John Sr. back in the day and John Sr. was very active in the shooting community. He tried to give shooters what they wanted and offered nearly anything the heart desired.  

John Unertl Sr. pictured below, top row second from left. If you know who the other famous shooters are witout me telling you I will be very impressed. You can see  how well they thought of Mr. Unertl’s  product. The picture was taken in 1948 in Johnstown, PA at an important event in precision shooting history.

Unertl Scope Base Chart

I been working on something pretty long lately and so won’t have anything meaty up for today 7-19-2018 since It will be a few days before it is finished.   So today I am posting this and another shorter post later this evening.     This is something I am often asked about  from people who are interested in getting a Unertl for a rifle they have . This info sometimes can be hard to track down.  It also shows some interesting options  available at the time.    If you have an old target rifle or varmint rifle with the old hole spacing it may still worth tracking down these bases and putting them on the gun to complete it.

Optic Of The Week Unertl 20x Target RifleScope

The Unertl rifle scopes are  something most shooters know about today thanks to the web and videogames.  Few of them  know much about them otherwise. They know  Hathcock used one  on his sniper rifle during his first tour in Vietnam.  They know it’s “old”  and they know it looks ancient and complex.   And if you ever looked into buying one you know they are expensive and no longer  made.    So this week we will take a closer look.

John Unertl Sr. worked in the optical field while in the service with the German army in WW1. In 1928 he and his family  immigrated to the US.  He was hired by the J.W Fecker telescope manufacturing company  in Pitssburgh, PA where he later became the superintendent.      In 1936, Unertl left Fecker to start his own company. During WW2 Unertl provided the USMC with the 8x  rifle scopes most casual observers are familiar with then post war  continued on with new models.    In 1960 John Sr. passed away and his son John Jr. took over further expanding the line and company.   Commercial production for rifle optics ended in 1985. I doubt many shooters would realize the external adjustment Unertl scopes were made as  late as 1985.   Maybe even later as various people bought the left over parts from the shop and turned out a few more, Then various people bought the rights to the company name and things get really muddy and fuzzy there and I won’t go into it.

Now lets finally get to taking a look.  The Unertls  set on target blocks common in the past.   Basically target blocks are various sized and drilled metal blocks with a dovetail that the mounts on the scope slide over and secure to.   The mounts have  a bolt that tightens onto the block  and the dove tail keeps it from coming out of place.   Picture below shows a target block. The target blocks worked on iron sights and optics mounts.

Above is the rear mount with elevation and wind and below is front mount.  Both are aluminum and came in  a variety of styles I won’t go into here but will in comments if asked.

Also in the above picture you will note the spring.

The  body of the scope  set suspended between the two mounts.  This allows the scope to travel freely during recoil as its adjustments are external. That is, they move the rear of the scope  up.down/ left/right.  The spring is set depending on recoil force of round used. and the tension of the spring will return the scope to its full forward  position. If not you have to do it by hand.   Not all Unertls came with this feature  as it was an optional add on.   You will have noticed the USMC 8x sniper scopes do not have these as the Marines feared sand would get between the spring and body and score the tube. At the front of the mount is a clamp that holds it all in place of course.   This can be adjusted if you want the eye piece of the scope to come back further or to move it away from you.   Unlike modern optics you can also notice the rib that runs on the  top and through the mount. This makes sure the scope and crosshairs stay straight up and not canted.

Below is the rear mount. Here you can see the external adjustments and how they move the rear of the tube. The micrometer turrets  are very precise and repeatable.   And very tough.

On this model the objective lens can be focused by a  pretty nifty system.  Not as fast to use as modern systems but very precise.

The other setting are made on the eye piece.   At one time a piece was sold to replace the rear of the scopes that would allow you to boost the magnification by a few Xs.

The glass on these optics are outstanding.   Even  with all the modern advances in modern optics, a full 2 inch ultra varmint model Unertl is  super clear and sharp.   The crosshairs on this model are the pretty standard fine crosshairs. I  really regret that I did not have the right camera set up to  show you just how clear and sharp a Unertl in good condition can be.  Unfortunately  trying to take apicture through a 20x target riflescope is not easy.

Lastly the scope come with a front and rear metal screw on protective caps.

Needless to say, these scopes are fine quality and  old craftsmanship. Everything about oozes quality and I am not kidding.   They were made to last.

The down sides now.   The price for any of these is going up by the second.   The internet has made more people aware of these and of course the price  goes up.   Also, unless you are close to a gunsmith, you are not going to be able to pop one on most factory guns made after  the mid 1980s. And that is if you are lucky.   Old Remingtons, Winchesters,  and target guns will most likely  have the correct hole spacing  in the places needed to mount one. The down side is, most of those companies making factory guns in the 70s and early 80s also were prone to have barrels not straight and receivers not drilled in line and all manner of problems. If you over come that,  you need to find the correct target blocks. They came in a variety of heights and thickness to account for barrel contour and hole spacing and  models. Charts are out there people have scanned and put online  and some small companies make blocks new.  I don’t mean to discourage  you, just do your research carefully.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Winchester Model 52

The Winchester Model 52.  One of the greatest rifles of all time. Some even have called it “perfect” in the past.  I don’t know if it is perfect but it comes about as close to it as I would want in a rimfire target rifle that comes from a factory.     The M52 was made in a time when manufacturers still made  stuff mostly by hand. Especially when it was prestige or target model.

The 52 came out in 1919 and was used in the national matches that year and it was an instant hit.   The original models, often referred to now as “As’ or Pre As”  looked more like  a training rifle for the military ( which it was meant to be) than it looked like most people’s concept of a target rifle.   It went on to be refined over the years before it was discontinued.

The two we are going to look at here is the model52 “B” and “C” variants.

The differences in the two variants is slight.   The triggers are different designs, the barrel band is slightly different than the stock has minor differences but they would not really have been different enough for Winchester to bother to note  them as different models in catalogs at the time.

The top rifle is the “C” and as you can see, it has mounted on it a 20x power Unertl combination rifle scope. The Unertl/Fecker type optics attached to the guns via target blocks that are screwed to the barrels.  You can see see the target blocks the optics mount to  on the barrel of the lower rifle. I will have more on the Unertl in a few days if it as caught your attention

All rifles would accept all of the popular target iron sights of their time. Usually something made by Lyman or Redfield.   The lower gun has mounted Redfield  Olympic competition ironsights. The rifles take a standard 5 round detachable magazine that is removed via the mag release button seen on the right side.

The rifles have an accessory rail on the bottom of the stock forend.  This allowed attachment of the front sling swivel and the  combination handstop/sling swivel seen on both guns.  This was for shooting with sling in matches.  The rail also would accept  other items for use off hand standing,    The pattern of stock is known as the”marksman” stock and was used  on the Model70  national match  andd Bullguns. It was so well thought of that it continued on into the early 2000s but as a synthetic model made by HS-Precision with a bedding block and pillars for the heavy varmint line of Model70s.

The barrels are  heavy contour match barrels. When I say match I do mean match. They have a flat 90 degree target  crown  and you can see the target block  for placing the olympic  front sight with either globe of post.

Accuracy testing the rifles was done with the 20x Unertl on a rest. All groups were fired at 50 yards.

 

As with center fire rifles,  rimfires have their favorite loads.   If you want the best out of your rimfire,match ammo is a must and not the high velocity stuff.   A well known phenomenon is that  a 22 rimfire will shoot better of damp days.   For further accuracy  I recommend a Niel Jones rimfire headspace gauge for measuring rim thickness for consistency and weighing live rounds into lots.

http://www.neiljones.com/html/rimfire_gauge.html

rimfire

Both guns were shot with a variety of ammo in five shot groups.

 

I won’t give any commentary  about the groups pictures and will allow readers to view them  all sine each group has ammo type used noted.

As you can see three different people  fired both guns using a large range in ammo. The Eley Edge and Federal ammo being the  best performers across all three shooters and both guns.   No surprise there.   The Fiocchi  320  was a surprise to me though.  My friend who purchased mentioned that only that lot shot that well. That identical boxes of a different lot shot terribly.  That is why you always test  your zero when going to a new lot of factory ammo. Especially if  you are a Police sniper.  Even if you are not, it is very prudent to check zero and accuracy when you use a different lot of the same ammo.

The Winchester Model52 is another great American classic. If you are into vintage target rifles or you want a rifle you could do well with in any local match , you can’t go wrong with a M52.