The first night vision devices were introduced by the German army as early as 1939. The first devices were being developed by AEG (Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft) Development started in 1935. By the end of World War II, the German army had equipped approximately 50 Panther tanks, which saw combat on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. The “Vampir” man-portable system for infantrymen was being used with Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifles.

The “Vampir ZG 1229” system was a rifle mounted scope that weighed about 5lbs and was attached to a backpack power unit that weighed about 30lbs.


Diagram of the Vampir ZG1229 System


Parallel development of night vision systems occurred in the USA. The M1 and M3 infrared night sighting devices, also known as the “sniperscope” or “snooperscope”, were introduced by the US Army in World War II, and also used in the Korean War, to assist snipers. They were active devices, using a large infrared light source to illuminate targets.

The M1 and M3 infrared night scopes were fitted onto the M3 Rifle (a varient of the M1 Carbine that was used by the US Army in World War 2) The original scope was the M3 Rifle with the M1 Night Sight which used an Active Infrared system in a Photocathode tube to intensify the electrons produced by the infrared beam to enable the soldier to see in the night time. The M1 Night sights first saw action in the invasion of Okinawa, Japan in 1945. Although less than 500 of the M1 Units were used, they still accounted for 30% of small arms casualties that the Japanese took during that campaign.


The M1 Night Sight on the M3 Carbine


The M3 Night Sight had an effective range of 125 yards apposed to the effective range of the M1 Night Sight which was about 70 yards. The design of the M3 sight meant that it was easier for the shooter to lay prone to take down his targets. This scope however wasn’t made available until the Korean war.

An M3 Carbine with an M3 Night Sight

The image intensifier tubes function using an anode and an S-1 photocathode, made primarily of silver, caesium, and oxygen to accelerate the electrons.


Diagram of a Photomultipler Tube