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Mauser "broomhandle" Boer War to star wars.

There are some arms, despite antiquated systems or calibers, that seem to defy time. In a few very special cases, form outstrips function and a "classic" is born. The C/96 "Broomhandle" Mauser is an archetypical example.

Despite a design rooted firmly in the late 19th century, this 10-shot auto pistol remains for some (including myself) one of the most aesthetically pleasing handguns of all time. Although the gun was a product of Victorian designers, its basic silhouette persists as a model for the "Star Wars" blasters seen in current sci-fi films.

Enough eulogizing. The fact remains that in its day (and that day lasted from 1896 to 1937) the '96 Mauser and its variants were popular as military, self defense, and sporting arms. Today it can still turn in creditable groups right alongside some of the more sophisticated Space-Age self-loaders.

The "Broomhandle" began life on the drawing boards of engineers in the employ of firearms legend, Peter Paul Mauser. Though Mauser had toyed with target pistols, revolvers, and a manually-operated ring-trigger multi-shot, development of a true Mauser auto pistol was not begun until 1984. Less than a year later, in March 1895, a prototype short-recoil-operated repeater emerged from the toolroom.

Mauser chose the 7.65mm Borchardt cartridge as a basis for the round of his new pistol. In fact the 7.63mm Mauser, as it was to be termed, was dimensionally identical to the round intended for the ill-fated Borchardt, though it was loaded to give its 86-grain bullet a 1,400 foot per second (fps) velocity--some 300 fps faster than its progenitor.

The C/96 ("construction"/1896) as the gun was called, featured a frontally-mounted box magazine that was charged with clips, in the manner of Mauser's highly-successful bolt-action rifles.

The grip, which was to remain virtually unchanged throughout the pistol's 40-year production history, was bag-shaped in the manner of many European revolvers of the day. Its ribbed walnut panels and rather stark, tapered appearance accounted for the gun's nickname--the "Broomhandle" appellation remains to the present day.

The C/96 employed a locked-breech, short recoil system involving a rectangular-sectioned bolt which operated within a channel housed by a barrel extension which was one with the 5-1/2-inch barrel. This assembly was slotted and locked within the pistol's frame. When the gun was fired, the bold (containing an inertial firing pin), the barrel and extension, and locking piece (which resides beneath the bolt, affixed to the barrel extension) recoiled slightly, unlocking the bolt and allowing it to move fully to the rear where it cocks the hammer. A recoil spring (also inside the bolt) returns the bolt to battery, picking up and chambering a cartridge on the way. When the last round was expended, the magazine follower stopped the block from closing, indicating that the arm was empty. The insertion of cartridges (early models came in six, ten and 20-round versions) and the removal of the clip allowed the bolt to close, and clambered the first round.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing features of the '96 was its almost total lack of screws. It is fieldstripped in much the same manner as a Chinese puzzle.

Making sure the chamber is unloaded and the magazine empty, take a soft-pointed (brass) implement and depress the magazine floorplate button (on the side of the magazine) and slide the floorplate towards the muzzle. With the floorplate forward, the follower and follower spring are in position to be removed.

Next, cock the hammer. Just below the hammer on the frame there is a small, rectangular protrusion--the stripping lever. Using the rim of an empty catridge, move the lever upward as far as it can go and, at the same time, slowly push the frame forward and the receiver assembly to the rear. The Mauser is now in two main pieces.

During the separation it's possible that the "subframe" (the hammer, sear and everything that accompanies them) may have come loose and produced another main section. Not to worry. If the subframe didn't come loose from the upper half of the gun, turn the barrel sights down and remove the subframe and the locking block it's attached to.

Insert the tip of a screwdriver in the slot that runs vertically in the rear face of the firing pin. Push in one the pin and turn it 90 degrees to the right and move the screwdriver back and out to free the firing pin and its spring.

Now pull back on the lugs of the bolt (note that the bolt is still under spring tension). Keeping the rear of the bolt pointed in a safe direction, locate the bolt retaining button on the right side of the barrel extension and slide it toward the muzzle, pulling it to the side and out of the barrel extension at the same time. The main recoil spring will emerge from the rear of the bolt where it can be removed. The bolt is now free to be pulled clear of the barrel extension.

I know it sounds rather complicated, but once you get the hang of it, the gun virtually falls apart. As an aside, the Mauser is so well-engineered that breakage is rare and fieldstripping, for other than a thorough cleaning is rarely needed. The most vulnerable part on the '96 was apparently the follower spring and a special pouch was stitched to the front of the holster "leather" to contain a spare one for emergencies.

Very early '96s had spurred hammers which soon gave way to round, "cone"-shaped varieties which obscured the sights when forward, indicating to the shooter that the arm was not cocked. In 1890 these cones evolved into "large rings" which, some five years later, became a smaller, non-obstructive ring.

While the first guns had milled, recessed frames, for a short period guns were manufactured with "flat sides." This was deemed aesthetically unappealing, so the milling was reintroduced and retained throughout the remainder of the gun's life.

Though the first C/96s had no provisions for shoulder stocks, this was soon remedied and a hollow combination stock/holster which slotted into the rear, lower portion of the grip, was offered.

The adjustable rear tangent sight was routinely graduated to 1,000 meters in 100-meter increments and, with the stock affixed, good 300-yard groups were not unusual. In fact, there are reports of telling accuracy out to 600 yards.

Of course Mauser was interested in securing government contracts for his pistol, and thought it was tested, official reaction was surprisingly cool.

In 1897 Turkey purchased 1,000 '96s and two years later the Italian Navy placed an order of 5,000. As well, Siam and Persia used limited numbers of Mausers prior to the Great War.

If war departments were indifferent, however, initially the public was not. The Mauser was a qualified hit with officers of many nations, and not a few were privately purchased and used throughout the globe.

Perhaps the most famous "Broomhandle" afficionado was Winston Churchill who bought one, with a shoulder stock, from Westley Richards & Co. in London, prior to departing for the Sudan where he was attached to the 21st Lancers as a supernumerary lieutenant.

Churchill's account of the combat use of the '96 was one of the earliest reports of the gun's use in battle and surely one of the most vivid and telling.

At daybreak on September 2, 1898, the Anglo-Egyptian Army (including the 21st Lancers) under the command of Horatio Herbert Kitchner, found themselves near the city of Omdurman, only three miles from a force of 60,000 dervish supporters of the Khalifa.

Churchill and seven troopers were sent on an advanced patrol, where they found a large number of the enemy awaiting Kitchner's force. They watched the dervishes for some time, eventually riding to within 40 yards of the force where they drew a few stray shots.

Churchill potted at a patrol of Baggara horsemen with his Mauser to no effect. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, Churchill returned with his men to the main Anglo-Egyptian force.

Although Kitchener's troops numbered only 20,000, as opposed to the Khalifa's 60,000, the former had more sophisticated small arms, backed by machine guns and artillery. Soon the contestants were battling it out and the 21st was ordered to ride and determine how many of the enemy stood between the British/Egyptian Army and Omdurman. The horsemen rode away in a southerly direction and quickly found themselves within sight of the city. Churchill commanded the second troop from the rear which included about 25 lancers.

The regiment continued to move forward over the hard ground until, about 300 yards away, a large force of dervishes suddenly appeared. The cavalry wheeled into line and sounded the bugle for the charge.

Due to an earlier shoulder injury, Churchill opted to use his Mauser rather than his sword, and prior to the gallop, he returned the edged weapon to its scabbard and drew his pistol. He had practiced with the handgun during the campaign and was confident of its reliability and his own shooting accuracy.

Suddenly he found himself and the regiment racing pell-mell towards the crouched "Fuzzy Wuzzies" who were by now firing volleys at the onrushing horsemen. The two forces clased and Churchill was surrounded by scores of dervishes, their spears flashing and their rifles booming in his ears. He glanced to the side in time to see a man raise his sword for a ham-stringing cut on his horse. Winston spurred his horse, simultaneously firing two shots at his attacker. Immediately another dervish advanced and Churchill aimed the Mauser and pulled the trigger. He was so close that the gun actually touched the man. Looking up, he saw a chain-mail-clad horseman moving toward him about 10 yards away. Again he fired the Mauser and the rider pulled away.

By this time the 21st was completely enveloped by the enemy and the troopers were fighting for their lives. Churchill found himself cut off from his comrades--everywhere he looked were spears, rifles, and swords. Having no other choice, he hunched down in the saddle and urged his horse forward. The remnants of the 21st were attempting the regroup and he happily headed toward what was left of his troop, about 300 yards distant. Suddenly an unnoticed dervish jumped up in the midst of the British horsemen. Several troopers wounded him with their lances, but the man rose and came at Churchill with his spear. The young subaltern pointed his Mauser and shot the man at a distance of less than a year.

Though the action of the 21st at Omdurman was one of the few disasters in a successful campaign, Churchill acquitted himself well, abetted by his "Broomhandle." He would later write his mother that the Mauser was, "the best thing in the world."

Churchill subsequently took his '96 to the Boer War, where he also carried it with confidence.

The Mauser continued to undergo minor changes, including experimentation with a proprietary 9mm cartridge which was chambered in a quantity of sporting guns.

In 1912 a new variation of the C/96 emerged. Though it looked like its predecessors, the grooves in the rifling were reduced from six to four, and the twist itself changed from 1/18 to 1/25-calibers. Perhaps the most salient difference was the fitting of an improved safety (termed by Mauser "NS" or Neues Sicherung--new safety).

Now the catch could only be applief if the gun was cocked. Arms with this feature bear a distinctive "NS" stamped on the rear of their hammers.

Again, these pistols continued to be popular with officers and civilians of practically all nationalities (the gun never really did catch on in the United States, though) and many carried them into World War I. Strangely, the British seemed particularly enamored with the "Broomhandle" and there are numerous photos extant of English officers in Flanders with them.

Feeling the pinch of war, the German Government itself decided to adopt the '96 and ordered Mauser to produce 150,000 guns chambered for the service 9mm Parabellum caliber. Outwardly these guns were virtually identical to the 7.63 versions with the exception of sight graduations), so the grips were incised with a large red "9" to indicate at a glance that the gun was not chambered for the .30 round.

Following the Great War, Germany was restricted, for the most part, from making 9mm pistols by the Treaty of Versailles. As well, barrels on pistols were not to exceed 4 inches. Consequently, Mauser built its '96 in .30 with shorter barrels. Most of those guns featured grips that were somewhat flattened at their bases, in the manner of some earlier models. These pistols were favored by the Russian Communists and were thus nicknamed "Bolos," a period diminutive of "Bolshevik."

In 1930 the safety was changed to allow the hammer to be safely dropped from a cocked position by pulling the trigger. Termed the "Universal Safety," this was to be the last major change on the standard "Broomhandle" before production ceased in 1937. Specialty guns were occasionally devised, however.

Perhaps the most interesting aberration of the '96 was the Schnellfeurpistole, a member of a select group of truly automatic pistols.

Originally designed in the early 1930s by Josef Nickl (Following the lead of a similar Spanish arm offered by Astra), the M-32, as it was called, had a ten or 20-round detachable magazine, was recoil operated, and capable of firing 850 7.63mm rounds per minute.

Its silhouette (excepting the extended mag) was virtually identical to that of the C/96; however, it had the added feature of a selector switch on the left side of the frame. When the pointer was placed on "N" the gun could be fired in the normal semi-auto mode. On "R" (reihenfeur--repetitive fire), the M-32 could discharge all of its rounds with a single pull of the trigger. The switch was modified in 1936, and the gun redesignated the Modell 712.

If imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery, then Mauser must have been flattered all to blazes. The C/96 was copied (with variations) by such Spanish firms as Astra and Royal and by the Chinese (some in .45 ACP!) in dizzying quantities. In fact Mausers and Astras were particularly popular in China and the Far East. Currently, there has been in influx of these Chinese "Broomhandles" on the U.S. market, creating a renewed interest in the Mauser and its copies. With the relaxation of import regulations there promises to be even more '96s wending their way to these shores.

As an expression of confidence in the burgeoning "Broomhandle" market, ammunition is now being commercially loaded by several firms, and reloading equipment abounds. El Paso Saddlery, Dept. GA, P.O. Box 27194, El Paso, TX 79926, offers a stunning recreation of a Chinese-style leather 96 Mauser holster and copies of the original scarce stock/holster leather are being remanufactured. New books are coming on the market and reprints of original manuals from Blacksmith Corp., Dept. GA, Southport, CT 06490, replicas of cleaning tools and copies of composition Bolo grips (Byrons, P.O. Box 796, Dept. GA, Casselberry, FL 32707) have also found their way into the marketplace.

On these pages are represented a few of the fascinating '96 variations, which should help to pique your interest for this fascinating arm even more.

Shoot the "Broomhandle?" I do. Granted one shouldn't take a mint collector's piece to the range, but any good condition '96 that has been declared serviceable by a competent gunsmith is a joy at the firing line or on a plinking expedition. Despite the gun's front-heavy appearance, it is surprisingly well-balanced, and even the antediluvian grip design is not disconcerting when mated to the Mauser's peculiar bodily characteristics.

The "Broomhandle" is a gun which one can safely predict will never be reproduced. Given today's manufacturing costs, the fitting and machining involved in this intricate, finely-crafted arm would probably boost the per-unit cost into the thousands of dollars.

I guess this just reinforces the arm's classicism--a unique product that can never be adequately reproduced. The Mauser "Broomhandle" is a pistol for its time and ours; it simply transcends technology.
COPYRIGHT 1985 InterMedia Outdoors, Inc.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:James, Garry
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Jun 1, 1985
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