Object Title

Trench periscope (Spiegelkolben) with auxiliary bolt, for overhead fire, for the Mauser Gewehr 98 rifle

Trench periscope (Spiegelkolben) with auxiliary bolt, for overhead fire, for the Mauser Gewehr 98 rifle


The threat of succumbing to a sniper's bullet was a reality for all who inhabited the trenches of the First World War. Keeping one's head below the line of sight was essential. In order to see out of a trench, loopholes were constructed into the parapets. These might be a simple gap in the sandbags or a steel plate, however with the increased use of armour piercing bullets different solutions needed to be explored.

The trench periscope was a device by which soldiers could fire their rifles from the safety of the trench. All sides developed various types of periscope, the simplest being a stick with two angled pieces of mirror at the top and bottom. By 1915 more advanced types were being manufactured. British born William Beech, veteran of the Second South African War enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force in 1914 and was the inventor of a type of trench periscope. The Beech periscope was a simple design on which the main body of the periscope was attached to the butt of the rifle at a point behind the trigger guard. A cord or wire was then wrapped around the butt in order to secure the rifle to the periscope. Using the mirror at the bottom of the device a view onto the battlefield could be obtained. However, to fire the rifle one would have to lean far forward in order to the reach the trigger. This could potentially alter the aim of the rifle affecting the accuracy of the shot.

Use and effect

The German made 'Spiegelkolben' was designed with an auxiliary trigger to avoid the firer having to expose any part of himself to enemy fire. As with the Beech design, the butt of the rifle was secured into the periscope by a catch, strapping the rifle securely in place. A second wooden stock was positioned below the real rifle's stock, minimising the need for extra training. The resulting contraption was heavy and poorly balanced, and had to be rested on the parapet of the trench for any kind of accurate fire. The auxiliary trigger was attached to the actual trigger with a chain which ran on a roller through the centre of the periscope. The user would then look through the periscope and be able to line up their shot through the iron sights of the rifle. However, once the shot was taken the rifle and device would have to be lowered back down into the trench in order to chamber a new round.

By 1915-1916 more technologically advanced versions of the 'Spiegelkolben' were developed, allowing the user to adjust the height of the periscope for an enhanced sight picture. An auxiliary bolt mechanism with a series of connecting rods was clamped to the rifle's bolt handle, permitting reloading from the safety of the trench.


Country of manufacture Germany
Date entered service 1916
Height 70 cm (28 in)
Manufacturer Unknown
Overall length 1.68 m (67 in)
Primary operator Germany
Weight 3.86 kg (8 lb 8 oz) (on rifle)


Lisa Traynor