The Pistols of Mauser
Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a two-part Q&A with Mauser expert Bob Ball. Click here to read Part 1
Q: Set the scene in history for the development of the automatic pistol.
A: Although the principle of the automatic or self-loading pistol was understood in the 16th century, the first successfully marketed automatic pistol was the Austrian Schonberger, a retarded blowback pistol. The first commercially successful automatic pistol design was the Borchardt, invented by Hugo Borchardt, an immigrant American, and that gun really started the era of military automatic pistols. Unable to finance the pistol in America, Borchardt returned to Germany and was employed by Ludwig Loewe & Co. as an engineer to develop and market the pistol, which was done in 1893. Theodore Bergmann also patented the first of his series of pistols in 1893.
The story of the truly successful automatic pistol begins in 1896, with the introduction of the 7.63 mm military Mauser pistol, which had been patented in 1895. This gun used the cartridge patented by Borchardt, and DWM credits Borchardt with much of the engineering work on the Mauser pistol.
The Mauser pistol was so well designed that only minor details were subsequently changed. In his history of the Sudan campaign of 1898, Winston Churchill wrote how he had purchased one of the first Mauser pistols in England and credited it with saving his life, mentioning its efficiency and magazine capacity when he had to shoot his way out of a crowd after the charge at Omdurman.
Hiram Maxim, John Browning, Andrea Schwarzlos and Mannlicher brought automatic pistol designs to market in the 1890s, and George Luger produced the famous Luger, which was based on the Borchardt, in 1898.
Q: Can you describe the operation of the C96 Mauser pistol?
A: The Mauser pistol is unusual because it has no screws. All parts are coupled or seated by bayonet-joint assembling or mutual interlocking. To load it, you grasp the bolt wings firmly and draw them to the rear as far as possible, letting the magazine follower rise and hold the bolt open. Then, you insert a loaded clip in the clip guide in front of the rear sight. Exerting firm pressure with your thumb will strip the cartridges into the magazine. After the last cartridge is seated, withdraw the clip, which lets the bolt run forward, strip off the top cartridge and seat it in the firing chamber. Unless you’re going to fire the pistol immediately, the thumb safety is rocked forward as far as possible.
Q: Describe the pistol’s demonstration for Kaiser Wilhelm.
A: In August 1896, Paul Mauser demonstrated the Mauser C96 Pistol for the kaiser at Potsdam, and the kaiser apparently fired several shots. The kaiser was very pleased with the performance of the pistol, and it was reported he suggested that Mauser look into developing a rifle along those lines.
Q: What were some of the early Mauser pistol efforts?
A: From 1872, Paul Mauser devoted himself to the production of rifles for the German armies. However, in 1874, he also developed an original concept for a service revolver: the zig-zag revolver, or Model 1878.
This revolver is noteworthy because of its design, even though it was not accepted for service use because of its expense and complication. The cylinder was grooved in a zig-zag manner around its circumference, with the trigger operating in single- or double-action mode, indexing the cylinder for the next shot. When the trigger is cocked, a rod thrusts forward, and a stud on its top engages in the oblique cylinder grooves to rotate the cylinder through one-sixth turn to present a fresh chamber in front of the hammer.
Another unusual feature was the method of loading the pistol. The barrel and cylinder are hinged to the frame above the standing breech, double-locked by a spring catch and a positive catch. Because of ornate decoration on the grips, the pistol was uncomfortable to fire for long periods. Relatively few of these were made.
In 1910, the first pocket model pistols were introduced in 6.35 mm as the Model 1910. These were exceptionally well made, and were somewhat heavier and longer than ordinary 6.35 mm pistols. In 1912, an enlarged model of the 1910 was made, with many internal differences. The Armeepistolet was in 9 mm. It was never accepted in service, and very few were made. In 1914, the design was used to produce a similar weapon in 7.65 mm, and the only differences were in dimension to accept a larger-caliber cartridge. This culminated in the Model 1934 pistol, which saw considerable use during World War II.
As World War I wound down in 1918, Mauser saw the potential in producing a small pistol and developed the Westentaschenpistole, or vest pocket, pistol line, including the WTP1 and WPT2 in 6.35 mm.
In 1937, Mauser developed a double-action pistol called the Mauser HSC in competition with Walther’s PP and PPK models. HSC stands for Hahn Selbstspanne, or hammer-self-cocking,” with the “c” denoting the third model. An advanced design, the pistol was in production well after World War II, it appears that most of the production went to the German Navy and the Luftwaffe.
Q: What were Mauser C96 production figures and use as a substitute weapon in World War I and World War II?
A: I have no firm production numbers. During the world wars, the C96 Mauser Broomhandle Pistol and its later variants were used as substitute standard pistols for German armed forces. In World War II, the pistol was widely used by the Waffen SS. Production of the Luger Pistol ’08 and P-38 pistol was insufficient for the needs of the German armed forces.
Paul Mauser was born June 27, 1838. His brother, Wilhelm, was born in 1834.
Paul Mauser was drafted in Spring 1859 and served as artilleryman at Ludwigsberg arsenal. He was released from service in Fall 1859.
He was employed Wurttemberg Royal Arsenal, working on a self-cocking modification of Dreyse needlefire rifles. The modifications were rejected in 1866.
Paul Mauser developed a rifle (the forerunner of the M71) using a self-contained metallic cartridge. It was rejected by Prussia and Wurttemberg. He presented it to the Austrian ambassador, and it was sent to Vienna, where is was well received but not accepted.
1867: The rifle was brought to the attention of Samuel Norris, a Remington representative for Europe. Norris convinced the Mauser brothers to have him finance development while they worked for little compensation. Norris considered the brothers talented but naive country bumpkins.
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1867: The brothers moved to Liege, Belgium, while Norris tried to convince the French to convert Chasspot rifles to the metallic cartridge system based on the Mauser design. In the 1860s, Norris failed with the French and broke the contract with the brothers.
1869: Because of financial stress, Paul Mauser returned to Oberndorf, and Wilhelm follows in Spring 1870.
Concurrently, the Prussian Royal Shooting School tested Mauser-Norris rifle, and shooters were thrilled. The school requested improvements, which resulted in the Model 71 Mauser rifle being selected Dec. 2, 1871, as the replacement for the Dreyse. Final improvements led to its adoption Feb. 14, 1872. However, Prussia wanted the Royal Arsenals to produce the rifles and reduced the design-rights payment from 60,000 to 8,000 thalers.
April 1872: The brothers received a contract from Prussia to produce sights for the M71 rifle — the first order for the small firm. That led to the start of a small factory. Later in 1872, the brothers received an order for more sights from the arsenal at Amberg, Bavaria, which required larger facilities. They purchased land on the Neckar River and built a plant (Upper Works).
1874: The brothers were offered a contract to produce 100,000 rifles for the 13th Wuerttemberg Army Corps if they would agree to buy the Wuerttemberg Royal Armory for 200,000 Gulden. They accepted and purchased it in partnership with Wuerttemberg Vereins Bank of Stuttgart. The agreement was signed Feb. 5, 1874.
1878: The order for Wuerttemberg was completed. 26,000 M71 rifles were produced for China, and more M71 sights were made for Bavaria
1878 through 1881: This was a quiet, lean time for the brothers, with production and sale of the zig-zag revolver
1881: The firm signed a large contract (120,000) with Serbia for the Model 78/80 single-shot rifle.
1881 through 1882: Wilhelm Mauser experienced failing health and died Jan. 13, 1882.
April 1, 1884: Mauser became a stock company, with the name Mauser Arms Co. Paul Mauser became the plant manager and technical leader.
1884 through 1887: The company flourished under Paul Mauser, seeing the development and production of the M71/84 tubular magazine rifle.
February 1887: Mauser secured a huge order from the Turkish government for 500,000 Model 1887 rifles and 50,000 carbines in 9.5 mm. 270,000 rifles and 25,000 carbines were to be manufactured by Mauser, with the rest made by Ludwig Loewe & Co. Loewe’s share was diverted to Mauser. Clauses by the Turks included improvements by Mauser had to be incorporated into future weapons, and if Germany adopted a new rifle during the contract, Turkey could compel Mauser to complete the contract with that new rifle. The new order required a plant expansion and construction of the “Turkish building” as headquarters for Turkish officers overseeing the project.
Dec. 28,1887: The bank sold its shares of stock, including those of Paul Mauser, to Ludwig Loewe and Co. It’s not known why. Loewe then handled many contracts for Mauser military rifles and pistols. Loewe also owned more than 50 percent of the stock in Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre at Herstal, Belgium. FN was founded in 1889 to make Mauser military rifles for the Belgians.
Nov. 7, 1896: Deutsche Waffen-und-Munitionsfabriken A-G was founded by the merger of Deutsche Metallpatronenfabrik A-G (German Metallic cartridge Co. Inc.), Ludwig Loewe & Co., the Rheinische-Westfaelischen Powder Co. and the Rottweil-Hamburg Powder Co. Mauser and FN became part of the deal because they were owned by Loewe. After World War II, DWM was renamed Industrie-Werke Karlsruhe A-G. and is still in charge of Mauser.
1896: The Mauser Military Model semiautomatic pistol (C96 broomhandle) was introduced.
1898: On April 5, the GEW98 (Mauser Model 98) was adopted. It was ordered by many other nations, with actions based on the 98 design, in many calibers and model designations. Employment at the firm averaged about 3,000.
May 29, 1914: Paul Mauser died.
World War I: Employment increased to 7,000, and the plant was expanded, with rifles and pistols produced throughout the war. From 1918 through the end of hostilities, the 13 mm Mauser anti-tank rifle was manufactured.
Between the wars: Because of Versailles treaty restrictions, Mauser manufactured calculators, sewing machines, precision measuring equipment and tools, and other peacetime industrial items. It attempted to produce a car but failed.
1922: The company name was changed from Waffenfabrik Mauser A-G to Mauser-Werke, A- G (Mauser Works Inc.). Times were hard for the business. Employment decreased to 750, and the outlook was bleak.
Advent of Hitler and rearmament: With rearmament, orders to Mauser were huge, and the company took over the empty buildings of DWM at Berlin-Wittenau in 1934. This Berlin plant had 4,000 to 5,000 employees and produced 98k carbines, light and heavy machine guns and machine pistols. At Oberndorf, employment increased to 7,000 in 1936, reaching 12,000 (5,000 slave laborers) by 1944. Production included 98k carbines, Lugers, P38s, Hscs, MG 34s, MG81s, 2cm. Flak 38 AA guns and MG151 automatic aircraft cannons.
April 20, 1945: The French army occupied the Mauser plant and continued production of some weapons until 1947, when the firm was liquidated. The order was lifted in 1959, and production of peacetime items resumed.
Mauser affiliated with OTNIMA, a producer of automotive items, and is now known as Mauser-Schaerer. Manufacturing rights were obtained in 1963 for a rifle developed by Walter Gehmann, and the gun is currently marketed as the Mauser Modell 66, or, as it’s known in America, the Model 660. Hsc. Lugers have been made, and sporting rifles made by Heym for Mauser. Other than the Heym rifles, commercial rifles are produced at the Oberndorf plant by the division Mauserr-jagdwaffen, G.m.b.H.
Countries that used the Mauser rifle system include Germany, China, Serbia, Turkey, Belgium, Argentina, Spain, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Sweden, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, OVS, Transvaal, Luxembourg, Venezuela, Siam, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Austria-Hungary, Congo Free State, Montenegro, Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Japan, the United States, Portugal and Britain.
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.