Guns of ‘Enemy at the Gates’
This now classic tale of dueling WWII snipers from 2001 has plenty of authentic firearms from the Eastern Front.
Released in 2001, Enemy at the Gates has since become a classic World War II movie. The film centers around the real-life Battle of Stalingrad on the Eastern Front in which two snipers, Vasily Zaytsev (Jude Law) of the Red Army and Major Erwin König (Ed Harris) of the German army, engaged in a high-stakes, long distance duel to see which side had better snipers.
Let’s take a look at the guns in the movie and see how well the armorers did at maintaining historical accuracy.
Mosin Nagant 91/30 Bolt-Action Rifles
Without a doubt, the Mosin Nagant 91/30 is one of the most widely recognized Soviet rifles of all time. It is reported that more than 37,000,000 have been produced since its introduction, making it one of the most-produced military rifles of all time.
The gun’s namesakes are Captain Sergei Ivanovich Mosin and Belgian designer Léon Nagant. Elements of designs from rifles submitted by both men in the military trials of 1889-91 were combined to create the final gun.
Chambered in 7.62×54mmR, the rifle feeds from a 5-round fixed box magazine, most often loaded with stripper clips, though rounds can be inserted manually.
The 91/30 designation was a result of efforts to modernize the 39-year-old design. The main changes were switching to a hooded front sight, changing rear sight increment measurements from arshins (an obsolete Russian measurement) to meters, and shortening the barrel by 7cm, or just under 3 inches.
Vasily Zaitsev, played by Jude Law, and Koulivov, played by Ron Perlman, are the two main Soviet snipers in the film. They both field 91/30 sniper variants equipped with PU scopes, which are slightly anachronistic as they were not introduced until a year after the battle of Stalingrad, during which the film takes place. For the sake of accuracy, the rifles should be fitted with PEM scopes.
Mosin Nagant M38 Bolt-Action Carbine
Chambered in the same cartridge as the 91/30, the M38 carbine is carried by Tania Chernova, played by Rachel Weisz, early in the film.
Conceived in 1938, the M38 was essentially just a 91/30 that had had its barrel shortened by 21.6 cm, or 8.5 inches. The main purpose for this arm was to be used by soldiers fulfilling roles behind the front lines.
Essentially, it was meant to be a last-ditch defensive weapon in case things went horribly wrong and the engineers, artillerymen, and other personnel found themselves under fire.
Tokarev TT-33 Semi-Automatic Pistol
Fedor Tokarev designed his semi-automatic pistol to be a replacement for the M1895 revolver. While it never fully replaced it, the TT series of pistols were a marked improvement.
Chambered in 7.62x25mm Tokarev, this bottleneck cartridge packed quite the punch for its size. Depending on the bullet weight, it can clock in between 1,200 and 1,600 fps.
Based on Browning’s FN M1903 and M1911 pistols, the first version, known as the TT-30, was soon modified and gave way to the TT-33. This is the variant that is depicted in the film, as it was the one most widely used during WWII.
Rear cocking serrations are the most visually distinct way to determine whether a TT-33 was made before or after 1947. Those made before have alternating thin and thick serrations; those made after have uniform thin serrations. Both versions can be seen in the film.
Nagant M1895 Revolver
The M1895 is a really unique revolver with some unfortunate shortcomings.
The cylinder holds seven rounds of 7.62×38mmR, which was designed specifically for this revolver. Nagant’s design for the M1895 uses a gas seal mechanism to close the gap between the cylinder and barrel, preventing pressure loss common to revolvers.
This is accomplished by the cylinder moving forward toward the forcing cone when the trigger is pulled.
The cartridges feature bullets that are seated deeper in their cases with a crimp higher than normal. When fired, the crimp expands and helps seal the gap. The system works, but the 7.62x38mmR is a rather anemic cartridge in comparison to other options in use at the time. Though, this does make the Mosin one of the very few revolvers in history that can use a suppressor (and have the suppressor be effective).
The other main failing lies in the double-action trigger pull on pre-WWI officer’s models. Because the cylinder had to move forward by means of the trigger, it created an extra heavy trigger pull.
After WWI, only single-action models were made, and final production numbers estimate that approximately 2,000,000 were made before being completely phased out by the Makarov in 1952.
PPSh-41 Submachine Gun
Introduced in 1941, the PPSh-41 replaced the earlier PPD submachine guns due to simple economics. The PPD guns were made of machined parts that were time-consuming and expensive to produce. The Soviets needed something cheaper and faster, and so Georgy Shpagin created the PPSh-41.
While still chambered in the same 7.62x25mm Tokarev pistol rounds, the gun was made out of stamped metal parts. This made it much easier for the Soviet Union to create and field more of these guns as WWII went on.
Designed to fire from an open bolt with a blowback action, this select fire submachine gun could use stick or drum magazines. The former held 35 rounds; the latter held 71.
Degtyaryov DP-27 or DPM Light Machine Gun
Invented by Russian engineer Vasily Degtyarev in the 1920s as the DP-27, it fires the same 7.62x54mmR cartridge used in the standard issue Mosin-Nagant rifles. The gun fired from a 47-round pan-shaped magazine attached to the top of the receiver, similar to what you’d see on a Lewis machine gun.
An updated design, known as the DPM, fixed some of the DP-27’s design flaws. Namely, it beefed up the bipod, which had been prone to easy damage, and protected the recoil spring in a tube to prevent overheating and loss of temper, which had previously led to stoppages due to feeding issues.
Even with those improvements, the design still fell behind in terms of efficiency. Because it utilized pan magazines, it had a slower rate of fire than the belt-fed MG34 and MG42 machine guns used by the Germans. The DPM’s rate of fire was 550 rounds per minute, while the German MGs’ rate of fire was 800-1,200 rounds per minute.
The aforementioned recoil spring improvements necessitated the addition of a pistol grip to the gun. Unfortunately, there’s not a good enough view of the DP-series guns in the film to see if they have a pistol grip or not. The DP-27 is historically correct for the film, but it’s possible that they’re using a slightly anachronistic DPM.
Maxim M1910/30 Machine Gun
This derivative of Hiram Stevens Maxim’s machine gun was adopted by the Soviets in 1910, and it fired the same Soviet-standard 7.62x54mmR cartridge. A handful of changes were made to the design in 1930, the most visually distinct being the addition of ribs/fins added to the water-cooled jacket.
The guns were mounted on a wheeled carriage for easy transportation and had a protective shield mounted at the front of the receiver. Some of the carriages featured folding legs to raise the gun up and provide a more sturdy shooting platform.
By 1941, the jackets began to see further modifications known as “tractor caps” because they were outfitted with larger openings covered by tractor radiator caps. These larger openings made it easier and faster to fill the jacket with large amounts of water, packed snow, or other cooling liquids.
There are a number of larger arms seen in the film, but they are basically there as set dressing.
The DShK Heavy Machine Gun, which fired a 12.7×108mm cartridge, entered Soviet service in 1938 and was designed by two previously mentioned individuals: Vasily Degtyarev and Georgy Shpagin. The DShK can be seen mounted on one of the Russian boats in the film.
The M1940 25mm Anti Aircraft Gun was traditionally mounted on an integral four-wheel chassis, but it was also very popular as a defensive weapon on armored trains beginning in December 1941. This is how the gun is seen being used in the film.
The M1942 76mm Divisional Gun began production at the end of 1940. It utilized the carriage from a 57mm anti-tank gun and the barrel from the 76.2mm divisional gun that it replaced. It could fire up to 25 rounds per minute and had an effective range of more than eight miles.
The M1939 85mm Air Defense Gun were generally used against high and medium altitude targets, as well as anti-tank guns in case of an emergency. They were organized into regiments of 16 guns, which were further organized into divisions of field anti-aircraft forces.
Karabiner 98k Bolt-Action Rifles
Just like the 91/30 is the most recognizable Soviet rifle, the Karabiner 98k is the most recognizable German rifle. Some reports claim that as many as 14,600,000 were made, which is an absolutely staggering number of rifles.
Standing on the shoulders of a long line of Mauser rifles, the 98k was adopted as the standard German rifle in 1935. It has a fixed box magazine that holds five rounds of 7.92x57mm Mauser, which can be loaded individually or with the use of a stripper clip.
Germany’s previous rifle, the Gewehr 98, had a straight bolt handle. The 98k’s bolt hand is turned down, which made it easier to reach, reduced the gun’s projection, and enabled optics to be installed directly over the receiver.
The standard rifle iron sights are measured out to 500 meters. A sniper version, equipped with a ZF42 4X scope increased the range to 1,000 meters when in the hands of a skilled sniper. This would be the case with the sniper rifle fielded in the film by Major Erwin König, played by Ed Harris.
Luger P08 Semi-Automatic Pistol
Despite the many different guns made by Luger, if someone asks about a “Luger pistol,” chances are good that they’re referring to the P08. They were very popular as war trophy “bring-backs” by U.S. soldiers, which is detailed in HBO’s Band of Brothers.
Adopted in 1908 and technically replaced by the Walther P38 in 1938, the P08 saw a lot of use in WWII. Initially chambered in 7.65mm Parabellum, this is the gun for which the now-ubiquitous 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge was originally created.
Not only does the pistol have an iconic shape, but it lends itself to an equally recognizable holster shape. This is seen in the film by the officer who briefs Major König, whose belt is outfitted with one of these holsters.
MP38, MP40, and MP41 Submachine Guns
These three guns, all chambered in 9x19mm Parabellum, are all very similar to one another. As such, they’re grouped under this heading.
Designed by Heinrich Vollmer, the MP38 was a simplified version of the previous MP36, which will be a common thread with these guns.
The 38, 40, and 41 all feed from 32-round detachable box magazines. They fire from an open bolt in fully-automatic mode only, with a rate of fire of 500-550 rounds per minute.
The MP38 and MP40 both have forward-folding wire stocks. This was a first for a submachine gun, but they weren’t always durable enough to withstand the rigors of battle.
The MP40 was created as a way to save money and time. While the MP38 featured machines parts, the MP40 utilized the same parts stamped out of sheet metal. The only visual different were the fins/flutes on the MP38 receiver that are absent on that of the MP40.
The MP41 was the most different of the three. It featured an actual wooden stock and had the capability of firing in semi-automatic and fully-automatic. Other than that, it’s the same as the others.
All three guns can be seen in use by the Germans in different scenes of the film.
MG34 and MG42 Machine Guns
Like the submachine guns above, these two are related and are grouped as such.
The MG34 is an air-cooled machine gun. It fires 7.92x57mm Mauser rounds at a rate of 800-900 rounds per minute.
The cartridges were issued in non-disintegrating metallic links that made up 50-round belts. The belts could be combined making a 250-round belt, and this was often seen with guns used in bunkers and other static locations.
Other feed options included 50 and 75-round drums.
The MG42 was introduced as a more cost-effective version of the MG34. They fired the same cartridges and weighed similar amounts, but the MG42 had a much higher rate of fire compared to the MG34: 1,200 rounds per minute versus 800-900 rounds per minute.
Both guns saw extensive use during WWII, with the MG34 being more widely used at the battle of Stalingrad, as depicted in the movie, simply because of the battle’s 1942 date.
The only anachronistic part of the MG42 is that it is shown with a vertical charging handle that wasn’t introduced until after 1943.
10.5cm leFH 18/40 Light Field Howitzer
Like the Russian heavy artillery section above, the German equivalents are only seen in a set dressing capacity.
In March 1942, the need for a lighter field howitzer emerged. The 10.5cm leFH 18/40 fit the bill by combining the barrel from a leFH 18M with the carriage of a 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun.
The naming convention of “18/40” reflects the combination of those two types of guns.