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The Mauser rifle story.

Can you name one of man's mechanical inventions that after 86 years is considered state-of-the-art and still being made? Think about it. Today, man's combined knowledge literally doubles every two years and new products are obsolete before they can even be manufactured. Yet there exists a manually operated firearm mechanism known as the '98 Mauser which seems to defy time, and according to most experts, improvement.

Whether you agree with those experts or not, the fact remains that upwards of 100 million '98 Mausers were made by the Mauser firm and by dozens of other European companies under license, as well as in Mexico, China, Iran and Argentina. Indeed, most manufacturers who made commercial versions of the '98 for sporting purposes ceased production or went to more "modern" designs primarily because the Mauser required complicated machine operations which eventually made it too expensive to produce.

Without question the '98 was Paul Mauser's most triumphant achievement, but it was the result of nearly three decades of intensive development during which many models preceded it and paved the way for the definitive design of 1898. In the half-century between the end of the First World War and the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, which banned the importation of surplus small arms manufactured since 1898, literally millions of surplus Mausers were imported. Some of these guns made their way into collections, but the vast majority were used as-is or as a basis for custom hunting rifles.

To even superficially review here all of the variations of Mauser turnbolts since the first model of 1871 would be impossible. We can, however, segregate the early, black powder models from the smokelessera ones and then further break down the latter category into major model types.

The first successful Mauser was the Model 1871 which was adopted first by Prussia in 1872 then over the next five years by the other German states. The '71 was a relatively simple turnbolt single-shot mechanism whereby the root of the bolt handle acted as a single locking lug as it turned down against the right front wall of the split receiver bridge. By "split" we mean that when the unlocked bolt is pulled rearward, the root of the handle passes through an opening in the receiver.

The 11 mm black powder round for which the '71 was chambered was also of Mauser design; its 370-grain, paper-patched lead bullet developed a nominal muzzle velocity of 1,440 feet per second (fps) through a regulation 33-1/2-inch barrel.

By the mid-1880s, the repeating rifle had reached a state of development that had all the major powers in Europe salivating at the prospects. Instead of coming up with a new rifle at the time when firearms technology was changing rapidly, Paul Mauser succeeded in converting the basic Model 71 into an underbarrel, tubular magazine nine-shot repeater. Outwardly, the new 71/84 as it was called, didn't look that different, but inside was another matter. What once was a receiver for a single shot now had a magazine tube fitted, complete with spring and follower, a cartridge cut-off, an elevator mechanism to pick up and lift the feeding carttridge into alignment with the chamber, an ejector, and a new trigger mechanism. Though just around the corner, the smokeless age had yet to dawn, so with the adoption of the 71/84 the 11 mm Mauser was retained as the German martial cartridge.

The Second Reich was completely outfitted with 71/84s by the end of 1886, but they were replaced just two years later by the famous Commission Model 88, the first smokeless powder arm of the German Empire. As its name implied, the commission rifle was actually a consensus design developed by a formidable-sounding group known as the German Military Rifle Testing Commission. As such, the '88 was a composite of the best ideas of the day; some were their own, some Mauser's, and some were taken from the gifted Austrain inventor Ritter von Mannlicher (most notably his clip-loading magazine).

In any event, Paul Mauser was not consulted and had no direct involvement in the design of the '88. Besides, he was too busy enlarging his factory at Oberndorf trying to fill an order for over a half-million rifles placed with him in 1887 by the Turkish government. The contract called for a modified Model 71/84 chambered for an extremely efficient 9.5 mm black powder cartridge of Mauser design.

Ironically, the Model '88's new, smokeless powder rimless cartridge was designed by none other than Paul Mauser himself, yet it would be another 10 years before his factory would be making rifles chambered for it. That interim decade would be spent designing and building rifles for foreign governments and "wildcatting" his German 7.9 mm cartridge to suit those governments' whims.

The first Mauser of the smokeless powder era was the Belgian Model '89 which was adopted by that country after extensive field trials of every available arm. Ironically, no '89s were ever produced for Belgium by Mauser; rather, the Belgian government arsenals at Liege and Herstal made them under license.

Though it was but the first modern Mauser, the '89 would already have many of the design hallmarks that would carry over in subsequent models, including the '98. The bolt, for example, was forged in one piece with an integral bolt handle. It had twin-opposed locking lugs at the head which abutted shoulders inside the receiver ring. The left (or top) lug was split lengthwise by a groove which allowed passage of the ejector arm to make contact with the cartride rim as the bolt reached its rear-wardmost position.

With the bolt handle not acting as a locking lug as on earlier Mauser designs, it was positioned behind the receiver bridge, thus not requiring the bridge to be "split" for passage of the handle. The bolt was bored only from the rear and threaded to accept the striker assembly which included the wing-type safety that survived all subsequent designs in its basic concept. Even the general shape of the forged receiver didn't change much with the models that were to follow, nor did the trigger system.

The three features of the '89 that were to be different in future Mausers, however, were the extractor, the magazine and the cocking system.

While most the European powers, including his own homeland, had already adopted or were leaning toward the packet-loading magazine developed by his archrival, Mannlicher, Paul Mauser had worked out in the '89 what he felt was a superior system. Unlike the five-round Mannlicher clip which was thumbed down into and became part of the magazine system, the Mauser used a stripper clip. It too held five rounds but when positioned in the clip slot milled into the top front edge of the receiver bridge and the cartridges thumbed down into the magazine, the clip stayed behind protruding from the top of the action. When the bolt was pushed home to strip off and chamber the top round, the expendable clip was ejected.

Compared to the Mauser, the Mannlicher system had several shortcomings. For one, being an actual component of the magazine system, a bent, rusted or otherwise defective clip could affect the functioning of the rifle. Also, the gravity-ejected clip fell through the open bottom of the magazine so the rifle was more prone to problems arising from entry of snow and dirt. Yet another disadvantage was that the Mannlicher system would not allow the magazine to be "topped up" with dividual rounds like the Mauser; only full clips could be inserted and only after the last cartridge of the previous one had been stripped and the clip ejected.

For its martial cartridge the Belgian government preferred something a bit smaller than the Mauser-designed 7.9 (8mm) adopted by Germany, so Mauser shortened and necked his rimless case down to .30 caliber. Known as the 7.65 Belgian, it too would eventually be referred to with a Mauser suffix, i.e., 7.65 Mauser. In its original loading the 7.65 propelled a 216-grain round-nosed bullet of .311 diameter at about 2,025 fps.

Mauser's rimless case design made for much smoother, more reliable feeding but with the '89 he had not yet perfected his compact, staggered column magazine. The cartridges, therefore, were stacked in a single row, thus resulting in the box extending far below the stock's belly. Because the '89 had a protruding "nose" at the front of the magazine, it had a distinctive silhouette. This protrusion, by the way, housed the hinge pin on which the magazine follower pivoted.

Upon seeing the rifle Mauser had developed for Belgium, the Turkish government exercised a clause in their contract which said they could specify the remainder of any existing order be filled with new-model Mausers. After producing some 220,000 black powder Model '87s, the Mauser plant at Oberndorf switched over to producing what was essentially the Belgian Model '89 for Turkey. The following year, the Argentine government placed a large order for the same gun and in the same 7.65 caliber. These models became known as the Turkish Model 90 and the Argentine Model 91, but both are basically identical to the Belgian Model 89, differing only in stock, barrel length and sight configurations. Following the Argentine order, Bolivia, Colombia, Equador and Peru also placed order for '91s, all in 7.65, which again differed only in stampings and minor details.

On the '89, '90 and '91 models, a hook-type extractor measuring about 1-1/2 inches long and 3/16 inch wide was housed flush in a lengthwise slot just above the right locking lug. As such this extractor rotated with the locking and unlocking rotation of the bolt. Cartridges stripped from the magazine were pushed ahead by the bolt face and it wasn't until the round was fully chambered and the handle lowered that the extractor engaged the case rim. If for some reason--like battle panic--the loading cycle wasn't complete, the unfired cartride was left in the chamber to cause "double loading" when the bolt was worked again. At best the result was a jammed rifle; at worst the chambered cartridge was detonated by the nose of the second round being forced behind it. Granted, with a round-nosed bullet it took a helluva shove on the bolt handle out when FMJ spitzer bullets came into general use well before WWI, it wasn't so rare an occurrence.

The cock-on-closing feature of the '89, '90 and '91 was not generally considered disadvantageous and, as we shall see, continued to be a design characteristic of the next two generations of Mausers: the 93/95s and 94/96s. On all pre-'98 Mausers, the cocking cycle began when the sear engaged the cocking piece when the forward-moving bolt was about one inch from being fully forward. At that point, the striker spring begins to compress so it takes a stiff push on the handle to move the bolt forward that last inch required to close and lock the action.

The year 1892 was an important transitional time in the evolution of the Mauser. New magazine, feeding and extraction systems were being developed and incorporated into experimental guns requested by the Spanish and our own U.S. government for testing. Over here, the Mauser lost out to the Krag-Jorgensen which we adopted as our service rifle to replace the '73 Springfield .45/70. In retrospect, had Mauser had just a few more months to refine and incorporate his new ideas into the test rifles he submitted to our government, as he was able to do for the Spanish trials, we probably would never have adopted the .30-40 Krag. So impressive and so dominating was the performance of what was to become known as the Spanish Model 93 that Mauser was conferred Spain's highest civilian award, the Grand Cross of the Order of Military Merit.

The '93 had many improvements, but the most visually apparent was the new magazine. Gone was the protruding, single-column box of the '89, '93 and '91 models and in its place was a flush-fitting one. Because cartridges were staggered, the magazine still held five rounds yet required only half the depth of the previous one to accommodate them. And it could still be charged with the same stripper clip.

In place of the small, rotating extractor of the previous Mauser was a huge, non-rotating one which stayed positioned in the right lug raceway. Held by a flush-fitting annular collar which allowed the bolt to rotate within, this new extractor ushered in what we now refer to as controlled round feeding. In short, it precluded those problems associated with double loading. The moment a cartridge cleared the feed rails, its rim slipped under and was held captive by the extractor claw; therefore, if the action was "short-stroked" it pulled the cartridge with it and ejected it. Not only did this new Mauser extractor change the feeding mechanics of previous designs, it was exceptionally strong yet could be changed in the field without tools.

And, last but not least, Mauser developed a new 7mm cartridge that made its debut int he Spanish 93. Like the 7.65 adopted by Belgium, turkey and several South American countries, the 7x57 was based on the 7.9mm case that Mauser developed five years before; it had been adopted for the Commission Model88 as the German service cartridge.

Again it was Mauser's best customer, Turkey, that immediately saw the merit of Herr Mauser's latest model and placed an order for '93s, but in the 7.65 chambering they had adopted with the Model 90. Brazil soon followed with an order for '93s in 7mm, followed by Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, Persia, China, Transvaal, and the Orange Free State, all in 7x57.

Sometime during this clamor for '93s over the next couple of years, the designation was changed to the Model 95, though for no real good reason since the '93 and '95 are virtually identical. Early '93s had a flat-bottom bolt face that provided more contact with the rim of the cartridge feeding up from the magazine but it was found to be unnecessary and was done away with. Confusing the issue, however, is the fact that some of the later '93s had the square bottom lip removed making them look like '95s. Still more confusion is thrown in by the fact that, like msot Mausers, the '93 and '95 were produced at several factories--the Ludwig Loewe firm and Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken in Berlin; in Spain by the government arsenal at Oviedo and by Industrias de Guerra de Cataluna, in addition to the Mauser Werke at Oberndorf. This, and the fact that each country often requested detail changes in mid-contract, explains why it can be difficult to pigeonhole a given specimen. Later model '95s, for example, had a shallow thumb slot in the left receiver to make clip loading easier, but not all of them did. And all were not stamped with a model and/or year marking.

The last major design variation in the Mauser prior to the '98 was another pair known as the Swedish Mausers, the Models' '94 and '96. As far as the actions are concerned, there is little difference between the two, but both exhibit significant new features when compared to the earlier ones. Though they still cocked on the closing stroke of bolt, the Swedish Mausers had a vertical extension on the cocking piece with a serrated top surface to presumably allow restraining the striker while the trigger was pulled to safely lower the firing pin on a chambered round. The upright or intermediate position of the wing safety withdrew the firing pin from contact with the primer so that a blow on the cocking piece would not discharge the chambered cartridge. On the 93/95 and the later '98, the safety cannot be moved with the striker in the uncocked position.

With the Swedish Mausers, the internal guide rib found in the '93 and '95 which ran along the left locking lug raceway and engaged the ejector slot in the left lug was done away with. In its place was a 2-1/2-inch-long guide rib integral with the bolt body and which moved through a slot in the ceiling of the receiver bridge. With the bolt in the locked position, the rib rotated to where it was positioned beneath the rearward extension of the extractor. Most '94s and all '96s had a full-depth thumb notch in the left receiver wall to facilitate clip loading. Some early '94s had a shallower notch that only extended about midway down the left lug raceway. All Swedish Mausers had two small vent holes in the bolt body on either side of the extractor collar and for that reason are the safest of the pre-'98 Mausers. Not stronger, mind you, but safer due to their better venting in the case of a pierced primer or case head rupture.

Like the '93 and '95s, the Swedish Mausers had a small blade-like extension on the forward beam of the sear which projected up into the bolt raceway. On the bolt body was a corresponding notch into which this projection had to fit before the sear could drop far enough to release the striker. This feature prevented the firing of the rifle unless the bolt was fully rotated and locked.

The Mauser factory at Oberndorf produced about 15,000 Model 94s and 45,000 Model 96s. Far more, however, were produced under license by Sweden's two arms makers: the Carl Gustav factory at Eskilstuna and by Husqvarna. In fact, '96s were produced in Sweden at late as 1943.

Concurrent with the development of the Swedish action, Mauser whomped up a new cartridge as well. Again based on the same case as his 8mm, 7.65 and 7x57, the 6.5x55 was to be Sweden's and Norway's service cartridge until well after the Second World War.

After 10 years of watching one of their native sons build better rifles for other countries than they themselves had built, the German Military Rifle Testing Commission adopted a further improved version of Paul Mauser's turnbolt action. Designated the Model 1898, it was officially declared the German military shoulder arm on April 5th, replacing the Commission Model 88. The 7.9mm cartridge was retained.

Since the '98 is the Mauser that G&A readers are most familiar with, we'll just highlight its major improvements over previous models. Most of the changes can be found on the bolt assembly which now cocked on the opening or uplift stroke of the handle. The long, 1-inch striker fall of the previous Mausers was reduced by about half, resulting in a correspondingly faster lock time.

A non-bearing safety lug was added just ahead of the bolt handle which turned into a recess in the receiver floor. A much smaller bolt shroud on the '98 retained the basic three-position wing safety of previous models, but it now had a flange at the front edge which sealed off both locking lug raceways to deflect particle-bearing gases in the event of a case head separation. If such an incident did occur, immediately fore and aft of the extractor collar two elongated 5x10mm vent holes were incorporated into the bolt body to help dissipate those gases. An enlarged thumb slot in the left receiver wall also contributed slightly to gas venting.

To preclude the firing of the rifle unless the bolt was fully into its locked position, the firing pin now had a flange which had to align with matched surfaces inside the bolt before it could move forward. This feature eliminated the sear stud and bolt body groove of earlier models.

The left locking lug, which on earlier models projected as far forward as the face of the extractor, was shortened on the '98 to where its front surface was on the same rotational plane as that of the right lug. This change resulted in the bolt head having a projecting nose extending about 1/4-inch forward of the locking lugs. This nose portion of the bolt head fits snugly within an annular ring inside the receiver to tightly seal the breech area. The front surface of this ring abuts the barrel shank and makes fitting and headspacing a barrel an easy matter.

While the actual shape of the '98 receiver was changed slightly over previous ones, the most noticeable difference was that it now had a receiver ring of larger diameter than the rear of the action, hence the "large ring" designation. Later variations of the '98 would see "short" and "small ring" actions.

The difference between the large and small ring '98s is easily seen but the short action is not readily discerned unless one has a standard-length action against which to compare, or a ruler to measure the distance between the guard screws. Screw spacing on the standard action is 7.825 inches; on the short it's 7.625. Overall length differs by exactly 1/4-inch. Naturally, the bolt body, magazine, and the length the bolt travel are shortened accordingly, and the weight is about two ounces less--43 as opposed to 45 ounces.

While the '98 is a safer action, most of those made up through the First World War are on the soft side and should either be heat treated again or handloaded on the mild side. I'd recommend the latter option rather than the former. Even these softer actions of the 1898-1918 period are extremely safe in that the lugs will set back in the receiver in the event of an overload. This, of course, ruins the action, but that's far better than the alternative.

With the recent passing of the amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968 which again allows the importation of military surplus arms produced since 1898 (none have been imported since the GCA went into effect 16 years ago), we'll soon be seeing whole new caches of collectible surplus firearms of all types and descriptions made available. Hopefully, these historic arms will be available at the kind of reasonable prices that will stimulate the interest of a whole new generation of shooters, hunters and collectors--just as they did for me and my contemporaries.
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Author:Sundra, Jon
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Sep 1, 1985
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