‘Mauser’ is the common name of German arms manufacturer ‘Mauser-Werke Oberndorf Waffensysteme GmbH’, as well as the line of bolt action rifles they built for the German armed forces. Their designs were widely popular and have been exported to a number of countries, and their design remains the model on which almost every successful bolt action rifle has been built.
What was to become Mauser started on July 31, 1811, when Friedrich I of Wurttemberg established a royal weapons factory in Oberndorf , a small town in the German Black Forest . The factory opened for business the next year, employing 133 workers.
In 1867 Wilhelm and Paul Mauser invented a rotating bolt system for breechloaders that was simpler and quicker to operate than systems currently in service. It didn’t take very long for the advantages of the weapon to make themselves clear, and in 1871 the most recent version of their design became the standard German infantry rifle, known in service as the ‘Gewehr 71’ (infantry weapon model 1871), ‘Gew 71’ or ‘G71’ for short. Production started at the Oberndorf factory for the infantry version firing a 11x60mm round from a long 85cm barrel, and shorter versions were introduced with the 70cm barreled jaeger and 50cm cavalry carbine. A number of slightly modified versions were widely sold to other countries, with rounds that would today be considered very large, typically 9.5 to 11.5mm in caliber .
In 1887 Vetterli-Vitali introduced the box magazine to rifle design, and the Germans introduced this into their own service with the Mannlicher Model 1888, better known as the 1888 Commission Rifle , which was chambered for a round designated “7.92x57J”. This classic round, with minor modifications, became the standard round for the vast majority of all subsequent Mauser designs, and is known to this day, in common parlance, as the 8mm Mauser. Paul started work on his own designs using box magazines, but had trouble with the design and instead used a long spring-loaded tube in the buttstock for several models. In 1892 Paul designed a new extractor, the small claw that pulls the empty cartridges out of the barrel after firing, that did not rotate with the bolt and helped prevent “double feeding” of rounds from a box magazine he had been struggling with. Four hundred of a shorter carbine version known as the ‘Model 92’ were sold to the Spanish Navy using a new smokeless powder in a 7.65mm caliber round.
The next major innovation was the ‘Model 93’, which introduced a short staggered-column box magazine holding five 7x57mm rounds flush with the bottom of the rifle, which could be quickly reloaded by pushing a strip of rounds down from the top of the open bolt. The new 7×57 round became the standard round for the Spanish armed forces, as well as for the militaries of several Latin American nations, and is dubbed, in common usage, the 7mm Mauser. This model was widely employed by the Spanish Army, and was used to temendous effect during the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba where 700 Spanish regulars held off an attack by 15,000 US troops armed with .30-40 Krag rifles for twelve hours. This led the US to develop their own version of the Mauser design, which would become the Springfield Model 1903 .
The results of this battle were seen around the world, and orders soon poured in for Mauser rifles. Turkey purchased the Model 93, Brazil and Sweden the ‘Model 94’. The ‘Model 95’ was very similar to the Model 93, and was sold to Mexico , Chile , Uruguay , the South African Republic (Boer Transvaal and Orange Free State ), China and Iran . The South African versions faced the British during the Boer War and proved deadly at long ranges, forcing the British to design their own rifle on the Mauser pattern, eventually delivering the SMLE which would remain the standard British infantry weapon until the 1950s.
In 1896 Mauser also branched out into pistol design, producing the design of another team of brothers, Fidel, Friedrich, and Josef Feederle as the C96 . This design was rather impractical due to the forward mounting of the magazine making it so nose heavy that many were equipped with a small stock to keep it under control. Nevertheless its distinct “broomhandle” shape remains well known to this day. Over a million C96’s were produced between 1896 and 1936 when production ended.
In 1897 the Mausers were given control of the factory, forming ‘Waffenfabrik Mauser AG’.
In 1898 the German army also purchased a Mauser design, which would become the most famous of them all. The ‘Model 98’ incorporated all of the improvements of earlier models, and entered German service as the ‘Gew. 98’. Like the newer models the 98 used a rear-mounted bolt handle that was easier to access than the more common designs that placed the handle directly over the bolt, forward of the trigger. In 1905 the “spitzer” round was introduced which used a modern pointed tip instead of the older rounded nose profile, and most existing Model 98’s were rechambered for this new round, designated “7.92x57JS”.
A slightly shorter carbine version known as the ‘Kar 98’ was introduced in World War I but appears to have seen very little production and remains rare. An even shorter version, the ‘Karabiner Kurz’ (carbine, short) was later introduced and served as the primary German infantry weapon from 1935 until the end of World War II , known in service as the ‘K98k’ or ‘KAR 98’.
In 1940 Mauser was invited to take place in a competition to re-equip the German army with a semi-automatic rifle, the Gewehr 41 . The requirements specified that the design should not drill holes into the barrel, thereby requiring “odd” mechanisms that proved unreliable. Two designs were submitted, and the Mauser version, the ‘G 41(M)’ failed miserably in testing and was cancelled after a short production run. The Walter version didn’t do much better, but was later improved with the addition of a simpler gas-actuated system.
With the fall of Germany at the end of the war, Oberndorf came under French control, and the entire factory was dismantled by the occupying forces. All records in the factory were destroyed on orders of the local US Army commander. Edmund Heckler, Theodor Koch and Alex Seidel, former Mauser engineers, saved what they could and used it to start Heckler and Koch .
The Allies held control of the Mauser company and its resources until 1952 when some former managers were allowed to resume gun manufacture under the Mauser name. Some light arms were made but the company eventually began to focus on large automatic heavy weaponry used by NATO, such as cannons on ships. Today, they only make one rifle used for snipers which is still based on the Gewehr 98 bolt design. Along the way, the patent for many of the Mauser gun designs had expired, prompting Mauser to patent a new logo/name of “The Original Mauser” which became the brand of the sporting rifle division of the company.
Sigarms’ parent company, SIG (Swiss Industrial Co.), acquired part of Mauser in 1999. This civil arms division was split off from the Mauser group, forming the Mauser Jagdwaffen GmbH, which roughly translates to Mauser Hunting Rifles Ltd.. SigArms recently made a Mauser branded M2 Pistol in 2000. Let’s hope they continue to make fine Mauser guns.