Founded in 1811 by the minor Prussian King, Frederick I, the Königliche Waffen Schmieden (which translates roughly to “Royal Arms Forge”) came to prominence in the 1870s, when their line of bolt-action rifles and semi-automatic pistols was brought into service by the German armed forces. Also known as Mauser, the forge was born of the collaboration between two brothers, Peter Paul and Wilhelm Mauser, both of whom performed distinct roles within the company. Peter Paul was the inventor, the engineer. Wilhelm was the businessman.
The first Mauser rifle was the Model 1871, a single-shot bolt-action rifle. Bolt action means that the movement of cartridges into and out of the chamber is achieved by manipulating the bolt via a handle. The handle unlocks the bolt from the receiver, pulling it back to open the breech, from which the casing can be extracted and ejected, and a new cartridge can be loaded. From the late nineteenth century through to the World Wars, the bolt-action rifle was the standard infantry firearm used by most militaries. The Mauser M71 was an improvement upon the Dreyse Needle Gun—the first breech-loading rifle to utilize bolt-action—and the design of the M1871 was further improved upon in 1884 when an eight-round tubular magazine was introduced into the rifle, making it Germany’s first repeating weapon.
The most famous Mauser rifle is the Model 1898. This manually-operated, magazine-fed, controlled-feed bolt-action changed the world of repeating rifles irrevocably. The M98’s controlled-feed bolt-action system is regarded as a major development in the history of firearm design. The controlled-feed mechanism consists of a large claw extractor that engages with the cartridge casing as soon as the round leaves the magazine, holding the cartridge in place until the round is ejected from the chamber. This extractor makes it so that the M98 bolt-action will cycle correctly, regardless of the manner in which the rifle is jostled or jerked during the cycling action, however, a jam may result if the bolt is not actuated properly.
The M98 was introduced into military service in 1898 and was first used by the East Asian Expeditionary Force during the Boxer Rebellion. At the outbreak of World War I, over two million units of the M98 had been produced, and an additional seven million were produced during the war’s arc. The M98 was also produced as a civilian weapon adapted to hunting and other sport. These M98s were seen as luxury items, displaying inlays, engravings, and various surface treatments.
In addition to rifles, Mauser also produced pistols. The C96, for instance, is a semi-automatic pistol produced by Mauser between 1896 and 1937. This gun has a distinct look to it, with an integral box magazine in front of the trigger, and a broom handle grip. With its long barrel and high-velocity cartridge, the C96 was known for its range and penetration, making it an incredibly popular sidearm. Winston Churchill used the C96 during his career in the British army. Lawrence of Arabia carried a C96 during his travels in the Middle East. The C96 was used by Communist revolutionaries to execute the former Russian imperial family following the February Revolution. C96s were used to assassinate several world leaders, including the King of Yugoslavia, and a Spanish prime minister.
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