Q: What’s the importance of the guns of Mauser?
A: They are likely most widely used weapons system the world has seen, affecting almost every warring nation during the past 125 years.
Q: What makes the Mauser bolt-action rifle the quintessential soldier’s weapon?
A: Its design features have not been improved from the time it was developed in its most refined form as the G98 rifle and K98k carbine. The rifle and carbine have features that simplify the job of a soldier — mainly to kill the enemy swiftly and efficiently. The magazine is within the stock of the weapon, providing balance and trim lines. The bolt cocks upon opening, making it easier for a soldier to cycle the action. Because of the undercut extractor, gas-escape ports, shrouded bolt head, gas shield on the bolt sleeve, enlarged-diameter receiver ring, and dual opposing locking lugs and safety lug, this is the safest bolt-action weapon system for the battlefield.
Q: What are the ergonomic advantages of the bolt-action concept?
A: For the aforementioned reasons, people could easily use the Mauser bolt-action system. During the Boer war, Boer farmers used the 1893, 1895 and 1896 rifles, short rifles and carbines with devastating effect on British troops. The Boers were natural shooters, using their skills daily during peace and handily in wartime.
Q: What’s the basic operation of the rifle?
A: Held at the balance by the left hand, grasp the bolt knob with your right hand, lifting the bolt and withdrawing it to the rear until it comes to a full stop. You then insert a clip of cartridges into the charger guides at the receiver bridge (the rear of the action area) and press down on the five cartridges in the clip, seating them in the magazine well. The clip can be withdrawn by hand or dislodged by pushing the bolt handle forward while seating a cartridge in the chamber. Then, the weapon is ready to fire. If you don’t shoot it immediately, the leaf safety at the rear of the bolt can be pushed from left to right, locking the firing pin and preventing the weapon from firing. When you’re ready to fire, you can move the safety from right to left. After firing, operate the bolt to eject the empty cartridge case and allow the next cartridge to be fed into the chamber. Follow this sequence until all five cartridges have been fired.
Q: How many Mauser Model 98 system rifles were made?
A: Estimates exceed 102 million. During World War I and World War II, records were destroyed, so we don’t have accurate figures.
Q: How many countries used the Mauser rifle? How many firms manufactured them?
A: Almost every armed country has included Mauser rifle systems in their armories, including the United States, most European nations, and countries in Africa, the far East and South and Central America Rifles were manufactured by various German state arsenals, the Mauser Arms Co. (Waffenfabrik Mauser), the Austrian Arms Co., Steyr, Ludwig Loewe and Co. of Berlin, Fabrique National d’Armes de Guerrre (FN), Herstal of Belgium, and Deutsches Waffen-und-Munitionsfabriken A.G. (German Arms and Ammunition Co. Inc.), which was formed by the merger of Deutsche Metallpatronenfabrik A.G. (German Metallic Cartridge Co. Inc.), Ludwig Loewe & Co. Inc. of Berlin, Rheinisch-Westfaelischen Powder Co. of Cologne, Rottweil-Hamburg Powder Co. of Rottweil and Ceskoslovenska Zbrojovka (CZ).
Q: Why has this design never been improved?
A: Paul Mauser was the research and development genius, and his brother, Wilhelm, was the salesman extraordinaire. Paul Mauser foresaw design problems the brothers would have to overcome, and slowly, trial by trial, they conquered all obstacles, producing a system that fulfilled all requests from governments regarding safety, utility, manufacture and ease of operation. More than 100 years later, aside from cosmetic touches, the basic design cannot be improved.
Q: What about the Mauser sporting rifles?
A: Well known and well liked by sportsmen and hunters throughout the world, the Model 98 action design has proven itself time and again. The popularity of the Mauser Sporter can be attributed to its beautiful appearance, light weight, excellent balance and excellent accuracy. It was made in many calibers to provide the best performance in hunting light, medium and heavy game. Although patterned after the military action design, the Sporter rifles reveal much more care, and nicer fitting and finishing of components. All the fine details — such as headspacing, smooth operation, trigger pull and firing pin adjustment — are treated in loving fashion.
Q: Why did Germany choose the Mauser as its principal rifle in both world wars?
A: Well, that’s no mystery. Germany authorities realized they had the best bolt-action rifle available, and although the G8 had problems in trench warfare, the action was perfect and let them build another generation of rifles, which were shorter and more easily managed afield.
Q: The United States licensed Mauser ideas for use in the Model 1903 Springfield. Why?
A: In 1892, Germany had submitted rifles to the United States weapons trials, where they performed well but were rejected in favor of the Krag Jorgensen rifle system. By the time the G98 Mauser system was developed, the U.S. Weapons Evaluation Board realized the Mauser was far superior to other designs. Paying a relatively modest licensing and manufacturing fee, the United States acquired the rights to use the Mauser system in new weapons, and the Model 1903 Springfield Rifle was the result.
Q: How did the World War I and World War II Mauser rifles differ?
A: The G98 was 49.20 inches long, with a Lange Vizier, or roller coaster-type rear sight. With addition of the issue bayonet, it might stretch nearly another 18 inches. It also had an awkward straight bolt handle, which was often difficult to work during battlefield conditions. After World War I, the Germans revised the rear sight, making it a tangent, or flat rear sight graduated — like the G98 — out to 2,000 meters, making it easier for soldiers to use. The Reichswehr Weapons Evaluation Boards decided that instead of having one rifle for the infantry and a shorter version (the Model 98AZ (98a) Carbine) for specialized troops, one standard-sized short rifle would be produced to arm the entire army, navy and fledgling air force. That culminated in the Kar 98k, which followed in the steps of the Model 98b, Standard Mauser Banner Model 1933 Short Rifle and Mauser Banner Model 1933 Carbine.
Q: Can you describe the history, background and personalities of Paul and Wilhelm Mauser?
A: Paul Mauser, four years younger than his brother, Wilhelm, was the design genius of the family. Wilhelm was more outgoing and sales minded, so he became the salesman par excellence. It was a winning combination, ensuring the company’s success.
Q: Describe the “needle guns” and their limitations.
A: Developed in the early 1820s, the Zundnadelgewehr, or “needle gun,” became the Model 1841 and existed on the rolls of German armies to 1876. It was the first bolt-action rifle accepted for general service. The “needle fire” was a rudimentary bolt-action rifle, with the bolt locking in a forward recess on the receiver bridge. It had a very long firing pin, which detonated the fulminate within a combustible paper cartridge. There was tremendous potential with this Dreyse system, and although it was weak, it filled a place in military history until Mauser improved on it. The Dreyse system had considerable gas leakage, and because the firing pin had to pass through the main charge of powder to ignite the fulminate, the firing pin rapidly corroded and might break at the worst moment.
Q: What’s the historical context of the needle gun? Did it make any difference in war?
A: The needle gun was used to good effect during the brief war with Denmark in 1864 and also worked well in the war against Austria in 1866. Those countries were still using muzzleloading weapons against a true bolt-action rifle. During the Franco-Prussian War, the Dreyse was again used against the French Chassepot bolt-action rifle, which proved to be superior. After the war with the French, the Germans began searching for a new design.
At that time, Paul Mauser was an employee of the Wurttemberg Government Arsenal at Oberdorf, where — among other duties — he developed a self-cocking mechanism for the Dreyse needle-fire rifle. Officials showed little enthusiasm for his efforts, but unfazed, he returned to the drafting table and found the idea for a modified rifle firing a self-contained metallic cartridge. Rejected by Prussia and the Wuerttembergers, Paul showed his invention to the Austrian ambassador, who realized the potential of the weapon and forwarded the plans to Vienna. Unfortunately, Austrian authorities preferred a block-action weapon, though they saw advantages of the Mauser design.
Q: Describe Mauser’s first breakthrough weapon, the Mauser Norris rifle.
A: In 1867, Mauser’s prototype rifle caught the attention of Samuel Norris, the agent in Europe for Remington Co. of New York. The Mauser brothers and Norris reached an agreement in which Norris would finance the design a new weapon, and the brothers would handle the start-up of the business. Moving to Liege, Belgium, the brothers worked on developing the rifle, and Norris attempted to interest the French in converting their weapons to metallic cartridge feed. Norris failed, which led to the breakup of the partnership. The brothers returned to Oberndorf in 1869 and 1870.
Q: How was the relationship between Norris and the Mauser brothers?
A: The Mauser brothers realized they were in partnership with a very successful and high-powered salesman who knew his way around legalities. They also knew he believed he was dealing with peasant artisans who wouldn’t understand legal implications. Although they received an annual pittance, the Mausers watched and waited, and when Norris defaulted on their third annual payment, the brothers decided to go on their own. They proved to be a formidable team, with Wilhelm turning into a master salesman and negotiator.
Q: How were weapons sold in those days?
A: Most major weapons-producing firms retained the services of high-powered salesmen who would deal directly with government weapons trials, where competition was fierce and bribery was not unlikely.
Q: How did Germany come together as a modern nation?
A: Prussia had defeated several other German states, and after the war with France in 1870 and 1871, Prussia established the German Empire under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Germany became a major European power in the late 19th century, featuring a booming industrial economy, flourishing agriculture, small colonial empire and growing military might.
Q: Why was Mauser’s first rifle ignored by the German army?
A: As happened so often with government, the mindset of “it was not developed here” was apparent. Further, efforts were often committed in other directions and could not be shifted.
Q: What’s the story behind the first adoption of a Mauser M71 rifle by Prussia?
A: The Royal Prussian Shooting School had become enraptured with the performance of the prototype Mauser-Norris rifle submitted for trials. The rifle was modified and accepted on Dec. 2, 1871, with further improvements and changes resulting in the acceptance of the Infantry Rifle Model 71 on Feb. 14, 1872.
Q: Describe the evolution of the Mauser rifle.
A: Model 1871 was the first successful single-shot bolt-action metallic-cartridge rifle to be accepted into universal service.
With the Model 71/84, the single-shot rifle was improved by the addition of a tubular magazine beneath the barrel, giving the rifle an eight-round capacity.
With the Model 1889, there was an urgent need to reload the rifles faster, which led to the development of a 7.65 mm clip-loading magazine rifle with a radical departure from previous action designs. This Mauser clip-loading system was one of the most outstanding achievements in military rifle development. Cartridges were issued in a five-round expendable clip made from sheet steel.
It could be loaded rapidly by stripping the rounds from the clip directly into the magazine.
Before 1898, Mauser had experimented with prototype rifles, such as the Model 96 Experimental Rifle, first and second versions, which were in 6 mm. After considerable experimentation, the German Rifle Testing Commission recommended the improved Mauser Model 1898 in 7.92 mm be adopted. On April 5,1898, it became one of the most famous and widely used military rifles in history. It was faster and safer, and its design had no room for improvement.
The 17 years between the advent of the Model 1871 and development of the Model 1898 are minuscule in weapons research. In fact, it’s astounding the design progressed as rapidly as it did, considering the usual stultifying effects of government.
Bob Ball is a U.S. Army veteran and long-time collector of military weapons, specializing in Mauser military rifles. He is also a lifelong student of military history. His book, Mauser Military Rifles of the World, currently in its fourth edition, is the leading reference on Mauser rifles and their values. He is one of the nation's leading experts on historic military firearms and their use throughout the world.