German Optical Equipment of WW2

The World War 2 German Entfernungsmesser EM 34


Thanks to companies like Emil Busch, Ernst Leitz, Hensoldt and Carl Zeiss German industry at the outbreak of war was already renowned as world market leaders in the development and manufacturing of optical equipment. The industry was well known for producing precision optical instruments long before World War 2 with products like microscopes produced by Carl Zeiss for example. As no great surprise the Wehrmacht also enjoyed this advantage, with the development and circulation of a wide range of optical observation devices employed by all services during the war. At the outbreak of war these precision companies rapidly put all there vast expertise and technical knowhow into producing high quality military optical equipment for the field with a wide range of applications. In fact such was the advanced nature of some equipment developed that for example with Panzer main Gun optics came the guarantee (if following carful instructions) of hitting the target with the first shot every time, such was their confidence in optical performance! Because of the exceptional quality of German made optics it is also worth bearing in mind that a great number of German Optics were used by many other countries both during and after the war, most notably by Finland for example who always identified such items with a large engraved or stamped ‘SA’ on equipment supplied by Germany to the Finnish Army during the war. Norway also made a great deal of use with left over German supplies after the war concluded often repainting a great deal of this equipment in a shade of NATO olive green and using this equipment as late as the mid 1990’s. Naturally with the expansion of German occupied territory other optic firms were swallowed up and put to use manufacturing field optics for the Wehrmacht, firms such as the French company ‘Huet’ of Paris fell under this occupation.

Since a lot of equipment as the war progressed was destined for the Ostfront special measures had to be taken to deal with the extreme winter conditions experienced and this is indicated on most military issued optics with the presence of a small light blue triangle, Circle or plus sign which signifies that a special cold resistant lubricant or grease was used in the final assembly process. This symbol found on the optics body can also help indicate the manufacturing year as the different symbols appeared in different years as improvements in lubricant performance or availability changed.

It would seem the earliest considerations for fighting in cold weather were made around May 1940 when the Symbol ‘K.F.’ was applied to equipment serviced with the cold weather lubricated "Invarol" serviceable to -20 degrees Centigrade. This was then updated around mid-1942 after the experiences of the first Russian winter with the next symbol to appear, a light blue circle ‘O’ (hellblaue Kreisfläche) which used a new cold resistant grease called ‘Vacuum’ (Vakuumfett 1416), suitable for use in temperatures as low -40 degrees C and documented in the German manual for winter warfare "Taschenbuch für den Winterkrieg", dated 5th August 1942.

However Vakuumfett 1416 quickly proved unsatisfactory when the revised version of the "Taschenbuch für den Winterkrieg" dated 1st November 1942, mentioned the new light blue cross "+” (hellblaues Kreuz) in use and indicating ‘Instrument Grease 1442’ being adopted for all Heer observation and surveying instruments and again serviceable to -40 degrees C.

The Light blue triangle “Δ” appeared in late 1943. Unfortunately it would seem little information regarding this change has come to light so far with reference to the "triangle", the name of the grease and its suitability is presently unknown but is understood for use between -40 degrees C and 50 degrees C.

K.F. : 1940-41
O    : 1942
+    : 1942-43-44 (mainly applied in 1943)
Δ    : 1943-45 (mainly applied in 1944)

However it is worth bearing in mind that these dates aren’t definitive because different manufactures probably changed over as stocks ran out and the new improved lubricants arrived also worthy of note is that some instruments returned for servicing would have had the latest lubricants applied and thus the current symbol being added even if a previous is already there and of course will only help with optics specifically bound for the Ostfront. Although since most optics are not explicitly dated one can perhaps, based on style, maker, design, manufacturing materials and paint colour applied determine an approximate year of manufacture, fortunately for us collectors Carl Zeiss made optics can using the unique serial numbers pin point the exact year of manufacture.

Manufacturing techniques of the optics naturally changed during the course of the war with most pre-war devices containing large amounts of expensive materials such as brass and bronze. Inexpensive alternatives were sought as the economy of raw materials shrank with late war devices being made from low carbon extruded steel, soft cast zinc alloys and Bakelite fittings where possible. The optic manufacturer can be deciphered by using the three letter code found on the optic body; typically these would appear as for example ‘ccx’ indicating ‘Optische und Feinmechanische Werke’ of Hugo Meyer & Co, Görlitz being the manufacturer, another example ‘beh’ stands for Ernst Leitz, Wetzlar. 

Steel Helmet Steel Helmet Mess tin Shelter Quarter Kar-98K Cartridge pouches Kar-98K Cartridge pouches Leather belt Straps Straps Assault Pack Gas mask container Gas mask container Gas mask container Bread bag Water bottle & cup Entrenching tool Water bottle & cup





WW2 German Doppelfernrohr - Dienstglas 6 x 30 Service Glasses

Doppelfernrohr - (Dienstglas 6 x 30 Service Glasses)

The German army used an extensive variety of optical equipment during the war, items such as the 6 x 30 power binoculars (6 power magnification with a 30mm diameter objective lens) were one of the most common types seen since they were the standard issue field optics utilized by all branches of service. These are generally encountered in a black painted finish and were typically constructed from zinc and aluminium alloy metal.  Late war (post 1943) manufactured glasses came in an ordnance tan paint finish often fitted with moulded brown Bakelite fittings and some encountered were manufactured entirely from Bakelite. The right lens usually has a horizontal reticle pattern with vertical bars originating from the centre, in increments of 10 degrees up to 40 degrees to each side. Standard markings on the body can normally be found on the left hand side, ocular body panel with the impressed designation, "Dienstglas 6 x 30", (Service Glasses) along with a production serial number. The right hand ocular body panel is also often marked with the impressed manufacturer’s three letter code in this case being 'cxn' - the code for Emil Busch A-G, Optische Industrie, Rathenow.

Most service glasses came in either a leather or moulded Bakelite case to afford maximum protection during service life.  Since the 6 x 30 power binoculars were of a relatively low magnification being well-intentioned for just general field observations, specialized troops such as Kriegsmarine, Artillery observers, Reconnaissance personnel, Flak & Searchlight personnel etc required far stronger optics and assorted larger more powerful binoculars were issued to these specialized personnel on a limited basis.


WW2 German Doppelfernrohr - Dienstglas 10 x 50 Service Glasses

Doppelfernrohr - Dienstglas 10 x 50 Service Glasses

In 1934 the German OKW, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, (High Command of the Armed Forces), requested a mobile, multi-purpose, high power binocular with a wide field of vision. The Emil Busch optical firm of Rathenow submitted a 10 x 50 power binocular which was found suitable and accepted for production. The 10 x 50 power binoculars were produced by assorted optical firms in three minor variants with the main difference being in the angle alignment of the prism and ocular lenses with a twenty degree angle pattern, a forty-five degree angle pattern and eighty degree angle pattern.  

This set is stamped 'blc', indicating that they were manufactured by Carl Zeiss.


Doppelfernrohr 10 x 80 Flakfernrohr

Doppelfernrohr 10 x 80 Flakfernrohr

In 1935 several companies’ including Emil Busch, Leitz and Möller competed for a contract to produce a 10x binocular for aircraft observation for the Wehrmacht. 1936 saw Emil Busch AG of Rathenow win that contract with their design chosen for its lighter weight and wide field of view over the models by Möller and Leitz. Full production by Busch began almost immediately and continued right through the war, typically the design being produced by several other firms in Germany and occupied Europe but note all models had identical optical dimensions of 80mm cemented achromatic objectives with 280mm focal length, 70-deg eyepieces and 45-deg Schmidt roof prisms, some differ only in coated lens or other minor details. Characteristic markings found on the body of these glasses always include a large D.F. engraved before the 10x80 which stands for Doppelfernrohr and meaning double telescope. Other markings usually refer to the particular factory that made them with only the early Busch models having the manufacturer's name, post 1942 models will carry the three letter manufactures code; beh (E. Leitz, Wetzlar), dkl (Schneider, Bad Kreuznach), cro (R. Fuess, Berlin Steglitz), bpd (C.P. Goerz, Vienna), eug (Optische Präzisions-Werke, Warsaw) or cxn (E. Busch, Rathenow). Many models will also carry markings indicating use for extreme weather conditions as mentioned in the earlier text (see above). They came with an array of extra’s including an aiming sight, mounting cradle, rubber padded eyebrow cushion, rain shields, elevation drums, heavy tripod, spirit levels, filters and a protective wooden storage case.

The 10 x 80s were primarily used by Luftwaffe Flak Artillery ground crews for spotting and identifying enemy aircraft and directing the crew served Rangefinders, Searchlights and Flak Cannons of the Anti-Aircraft batteries based around many German cities and industrial centres. Naturally they also proved useful on the battlefield for tactical observation and a version with 20-deg inclined eyepieces was also produced for the Kriegsmarine at sea. A single half of the 10 x 80 binocular can also be encountered and was used as a sight for the 8.8cm artillery, referred to as Z.F. (Zielfernrohr) 10 x 80.

EM34 & EM36 Entfernungsmesser 1m - Range Finder

WW2 German Entfernungsmesser EM34
When using any artillery or anti-aircraft guns effectively, accurately estimating range to the target is critical to the success of a direct hit on the target. Many armies around the world employed optical equipment specially designed for range finding and although most looked very similar in design, two schools of thought existed with one type working on the theory of coincidence and the other being a stereoscopic based vision system. The German’s like most other armies favoured the coincidence of images principal. These Rangefinders using this coincidence theory work on the known principal of triangulation were by knowing the distance between two points which we call the base line (i.e. the two objective lens being 1000mm apart in the device) and the angle of these two points relative to the target, one can work out the distance by using trigonometry. 

German EM34 breast plate and tri-pod

In the R36 this calculation is worked out with a very complicated internal mechanical computer which reads out the data using dials and a split overlaid image reticule seen through the view finder which the viewer matches up and reads off the scale the distance to target. However to do this the operator must have extremely good eye sight to accomplish this accurately so candidates must be evaluated for suitability first. Worth remembering also is that the bigger the baseline the more precise the ranging is and to this end Germans employed range finding equipment frequently up to 4 metres in length specially developed for coastal and anti-aircraft batteries because of the typically large distances involved ranging ships and high altitude aircraft. Naturally of course the limitations of accuracy reached are often dictated by air quality and weather conditions and then ultimately the curvature of the earth.

Grossdeutschland soldier uses the Entfernungsmesser EM36 rangefinder



The Scherenfernrohr S.F.14.Z.Gi.The Scherenfernrohr S.F.14.Z.Gi, Gestell 31 tripod, battery box and rain shields


The Scherenfernrohr S.F.14.Z.Gi.

1894 saw the famous German optics firm of Carl Zeiss introduce a new and unusual type of prism binoculars. Zeiss called its invention the Scherenfernrohr (scissors telescope) an 8 x 10 power device fitted with adjustable twin periscopic extensions connected by a hinge. An observer could position the tubular "ears" upright and parallel to each other or splayed out horizontally for greater depth perception (stereoscopic vision), causing objects to appear in modelled relief, strongly distinct from the background and thus estimate the range.

This hybrid between binoculars and a periscope enabled the observer to remain safely concealed in dug outs, behind walls or even tree trunks with only the objective lens visible to the enemy. 1905 saw the design refined further with an army-issue variant and a field artillery model being trialled and adopted. Naturally other countries produced their own versions of the scissors telescope and when World War I broke out both opposing armies all along the Western Front observed each other from their trenches using such equipment. By World War II the design remained virtually unchanged except for an upgrade in magnification to 10 x 50 and continued to be a useful tool in the Wehrmacht for general observation (in both vehicles and on the ground) and for artillery fire observation and direction throughout the war. Oddly the post-war West German Bundeswehr never use the Scherenfernrohr device at all, but East Germany's Nationale Volksarmee and other Warsaw-pact countries including Russia continued to do so long after the war ended.

According to "Der Artillerist, (1) Der Kanonier (1940) the SF was to be used for:

1) Observation and reconnaissance
2) Measuring angles of azimuth
3) Measuring angles of site and elevation
4) Measuring height of shell bursts
5) Establishing safety zones for advancing friendly troops
6) And to lay field guns.

To aid ground infantry and artillery observers the Scherenfernrohr was used in conjunction with a tripod leg assembly. It normally came with accessories such as the azimuth mount and spirit level, tripod, carrying case, and other items such as a battery powered removable illumination lamp kit and a trench mount (often referred to as a tree screw which was approximate to a sort of cork screw that could allow the mount to be imbedded in wood or the ground).

The Scherenfernrohr S.F.14.Z.Gi was often seen employed in different roles such as in vehicles being specifically delivered as standard equipment in many German armoured fighting vehicles such as the StuG III, Jagdpanzer IV, Panther and on the King Tiger where it can often be seen poking out the commanders cupola primarily as a safe method for him to observe the enemy without risk to life.

Most if not all Scherenfernrohr’s came equipped with a reticule grid pattern and were designated as such in their markings found on the base of the right tube as ‘S.F. 14Z G.i.’. The G.i. meaning "Gitterplatte" (Grid Pattern). This can apply to models with either the grid or rarer L-shaped style reticule pattern. This grid pattern feature is used for ranging using lines graduated at 10 mil intervals where the H/6400 is a common artillery scale used by the Wehrmacht where the ‘H’ stands for Heer.

Also pictured is the Gestell 31 tripod, battery box, rain / sun shields and the spanner / screwdriver.


Sfl.Z.F.1a Selbstfahrlafetten-Zielfernrohr

Sfl.Z.F.1a Selbstfahrlafetten-Zielfernrohr
Featured here along with its transit case is a classic example of the periscope style Sfl.Z.F. 1a (Selbstfahrlafetten-Zielfernrohr) main gun sight used for armoured fighting vehicles such as the StuG III and StuG IV. It was also successfully employed on the Hetzer, Jagdpanzer IV/70 SdKfz.234 8 Rad Armoured Car and the Sturmpanzer IV (otherwise known as the Brummbär). The reticule had a magnification 5x with 10° of vision, the reticule aim pattern consisted of 7 triangles laid in a horizontal row, each separated by 4 mils. Placing the target on the point of a triangle allowed the gunner to aim without obstructing his view of the target. The distances between triangles were used to lead moving targets. The triangle height and separation distances in mils were also used as an aid in estimating the range to a target. The sight was mounted to the left of the main gun with the head just protruding through the roof of the armoured superstructure which can be often seen in many original pictures as being the case.

Article submitted by Simon Garner.

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