Vasily Zaytsev, the prolific Soviet sniper of World War II, liked the rapid-fire ability of the SVT-40. Even with his beloved Mosin-Nagant racking up most of his enemy kills, the Hero of the Soviet Union believed in the rapid follow-up shots of the semi-automatic rival of the M1 Garand.
It, the SVT-40, a refined version of the SVT-38 was to be the standard rifle of the Soviet Union, but it was turned into both a sniper's rifle and automatic weapon by the close of World War II. And while Zatsev became the most famous Soviet sniper of his era, his female opposite plied her deadly trade with the SVT-40.
A basic, often copied method of operation, the SVT-40 tapped gas off the barrel as the bullet passed. Expanding gases flowed back against a piston, operating the action, ejecting the spent case and stripping a fresh round off the 10-round removable box magazine.
With a fairly hefty recoil and some fussiness in austere field conditions, the SVT-40 was not as widely distributed and re-purposed as a sniper rifle which benefited from closer preventive care and maintenance. A rear-receiver mount for the 3.5 power Soviet PU scope turned the semi-automatic rifle into something a touch more accurate.
The main drawback of the SVT-40 as a sniper rifle was its inherent first shot inaccuracy. Issues with the barrel and its relation with the stock caused what is known as a first round flyer, meaning the first round veered off target. In the world of sniping, missing the first shot was unacceptable. But with the Soviet mantra of mass-fire, the rapid follow-up shots afforded by the SVT-40 semi-automatic action made it a sniper rifle, the choice of sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko.
Pavilchenko would be credited with 309 kills during the Second World War, the first with the bolt-action Mosin-Nagant, later with the SVT-40, which she can be seen posing with in the photo above. Over 50,000 SVT-40 sniper rifles were produced between 1940 and 1942. The standard SVT-40 was also a popular battlefield pick-up among German forces during their invasion of the Soviet Union (below.)