From the long gone rifleman’s journal

Like the uncounted numbers before and the uncounted numbers who would follow, the twenty-one year army conscript stood rigidly at attention. The rough wool collar of his newly issued tunic chaffed his neck raw and his feet were clamped in heavy high boots.  His hands tightly gripped the wood stock of his rifle. Despite the discomfort of the galled skin on his neck and the possibility of worse discomfort at the hands of the non-commissioned officer standing at the front of the formation, he could not resist the temptation to slightly tilt his head downward and to begin to carefully examine the rifle, then considered almost a military secret, held diagonally across his chest.

Photo above: Paul and Wilhelm Mauser

Until this time Peter Paul Mauser’s life followed the typically orderly Teutonic path  similar to the young men of his time, social class, and country. He was born June 27, 1838 in Oberndorf am Neckar, Germany and given a basic education in public school.  Upon completing elementary school in 1852, he was apprenticed in trade, that being the same as his father, gunsmithing. He was placed in the workshops of Obendorf’s government firearms factory where he labored at learning his craft until called to the colors.

Assigned to an artillery regiment, young Mauser would have a great deal of time to become intimately familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of Nicholas Dreyse’s Zündnadelgewehr, or needle gun. Upon completion of his active duty Mauser returned to Obendorf and resumed working under the direction of his father, gunsmith Franz Andreas Mauser, and several of his twelve older brothers at the Royal Württenberg Rifle Factory.

Mauser soon completed his apprenticeship training and turned his mind to firearms design, in particular the improvement of breechloading arms. After a less than successful attempt to market a breech loading cannon, he directed his considerable talents to developing a bolt-action rifle.  Paul, and his older brother Wilhelm, began a sometimes tumultuous business relationship soon after Paul completed his training. It was to last until Wilhelm’s untimely death at the age of 48 in 1882.

While Paul dealt with development and manufacture, his older brother managed the financial and marketing of the partnership.  Early on in their on-again off-again relationship, the two brothers managed financing to purchase tools and machinery to establish a workshop. There Paul devoted most of his time trying to cure two of the needle gun’s biggest shortcomings, gas blowback and an alarming tendency for accidental discharge to occur as the bolt was being closed. 

Young Mauser’s older brother, Franz, had immigrated to the United States and obtained a position with Remington Arms. The United States firearms industry was a virtual cornucopia of new ideas and developments in the antebellum days leading up to the U.S. Civil War (1861 – 1865). This was the day of the likes Spencer, Henry, Dahlgren, Colt, and Maynard.

The Mauser brothers were soon exchanging letters at a furious rate, giving Peter a direct pipeline to the innovative ideas generated by the wartime expansion of the arms industry.  From his older brother he was able to learn much about metallic cartridge theory and application. This insight lead Mauser to solve the gas blowback problem by simply adapting the rifle to use a metallic cartridge of his design rather than the more commonly used paper ones.

Accidental discharge of the Dreyse was caused when the long needle like firing pin would pierce the paper cartridge case as the bolt was being closed and strike the primer.  Mauser redesigned the bolt to cock as the bolt handle was being lifted. This action drew the firing pin into the bolt body while it compressed the firing pin spring. The firing pin no longer protruded enough to cause accidental discharge. Additionally Mauser fabricated an extractor that pulled the expended cartridge case out when the bolt was withdrawn.

Unfortunately, for the Mauser brothers, the Prussians believed the Dreyse to be the epitome of firearm perfection and would not consider changes. The Mauser brothers’ timing was just off as most of the principalities and petty kingdoms that made up Prussia had settled contracts for rifles with other manufacturers.

The first step in the development of a rifle is the design of the cartridge that will be used in the new firearm.  Paul built upon his earlier cartridge work with the Dreyse to design a locking action that both sealed the breech of the rifle and was strong enough to withstand the great pressures generated by the new high powered metallic cartridges. The idea of a turnbolt style action was not the idea of the Mausers but they perfected it to a point that there is no turn bolt action rifle created since that is not derivative of the original Mauser designs.

The Mauser brothers were shopping their new rifle around in 1867 when they fell in with Samuel Norris who, like brother Franz, worked for Remington Arms. Norris, an itinerant European salesman for the Ilion, New York firm, saw the great potential of the Mauser design and soon had a questionable contract with the brothers. Acting independently of his employers, Norris agreed to provide financial backing in return for a royalty on any rifles sold. He arranged for patents to be taken out in the United States and on June second of 1868 the newly styled Norris-Mauser rifle came to life. The irony of having the first Mauser protected by a United States patent would not be seen until long after the inventor was dead.

Remington was understandably upset with the renegade actions of Norris. As knowledge of his shady dealings became public Norris was unable to raise the necessary capital needed to establish the Mauser plant, as he had agreed. He escaped from his contractual obligations with the Mausers by simply failing to provide the agreed money.  Norris, in one fell swoop destroyed what might have been left of his reputation and a share in the fortune that would be generated by Mauser genius. And, while the Mausers no longer had a contract with Norris, their former partner had attracted the attention of the Prussian government.

The Norris-Mauser was a jumping off point for Mauser. The rifle was redesigned and it eventually won the approval of the Prussian government. A contract was soon let for what would become known as the Model 71 Mauser. The first Mauser rifles were originally manufactured in a new factory built in 1872 in Oberndorf. Soon after it’s opening, the factory would be destroyed by fire, the first of three times that the Mauser Werke would be reduced to rubble. The second two occurrences happened during the two great wars that laid waste to Europe. As a result serious students of the company and its products have very little of the original records and artifacts for research.

Soon after the loss of the building the company recovered and was up and running with an order for 100,000 rifles. The factory was unable to handle the vast production and other arms making firms and government arsenals produced the rifle with each finished piece earning a royalty. The single shot Model 71 was manufactured for many countries with Japan and China purchasing the bulk of those exported. The rifle was chambered for an 11X60 mm bottlenecked rimmed cartridge. The 385-grain bullet was propelled at 1440 feet per second by 77 grains of black powder. Production of this rifle ended after 12 years, in 1884, and while new models superseded it, it remained in service for many years.

The Model 71 was upgraded in 1881, a year before Wilhelm’s death. Mauser was an observer of world military affairs and was keenly aware of the results of a poorly led but well armed Turkish army over a superior Russian force at the Battle of Plevna. Under the generalship of Osman Pasha the Turks employed lever-action Winchester repeating rifles to lay waste to a vastly larger number of Russian troops. The lesson was not lost on Mauser. He created his first repeating rifle based upon the Model 71 design and it became known, with the addition of a tubular magazine under the barrel, as the Model 71/84. The Model 71 was not retrofitted with the magazine but was rather a new rifle.

While the rifle was only in production for eight years, from 1884 until 1888, it was a major advance in military firearms.  1500 Model 71s and 45,000 rounds of ammunition were purchased in May of 1914
at Hamburg and packed aboard the yacht Asgard moored in the harbor. Erskine Childers owned the Asgard. Childers, the author of The Riddle of the Sands, was an ardent Irish nationalist. After leaving German waters the Asgard met another vessel, the Kelpie, at sea and transferred 600 of the rifles. On July 26th, Childers conned the Asgard into Howth harbor. In short order they were moored and 900 rifles and ammunition were transferred to waiting taxicabs, much the same way French troops were rushed from Paris to the Marne, and taken to Dublin. At the height of “The Troubles” these rifles armed the Irish Rebels during the Easter Rising of 1916 and are fondly remembered in the Irish Republic as the Howth Rifles.

Childers served gallantly during the Great War in coastal motor torpedo boats and intelligence, returning to his beloved cause of Irish nationalism after he was demobilized.  In 1922 he was found with a pistol, given to him by Michael Collins. In the new Irish Free State, as when Ireland was under British martial law, the offense carried an automatic sentence of death. At dawn on November 24, 1922 Childers stood against a wall in Beggars Bush Barracks and moments before he died he told his firing squad to, “Take a step or two forward, lads. It will be easier that way.” There is no record available to
determine if any of the Mausers he had run into the country a few years earlier were used at his execution.

Germany adopted a new service rifle in 1888. Known as the Model 88 Commission Rifle it was not a Mauser, even though it incorporated various Mauser design features.  Mauser was not in serious contention for this contract. He was directing his efforts to improving the Model 71. To that end the Model 88 experimental rifle came into being chambered for the newly developed Mauser cartridge, the 7.65mm, a strengthened action and a nine shot box magazine. The rifle was brought to various trials but attracted no real interest.

With the failure of the Model 88 Mauser directed his efforts to developing a new design. The result was a departure from the Model 71 with the appearance of the trademark Mauser one-piece bolt with double opposed locking lugs. In 1889 the Mauser 7.65mm chambered rifle was adopted by Belgium and was designated as the Model 1889 Belgian Mauser. This was the first, but not the last, use of a country’s name to identify a Mauser designed rifle. Interestingly none of these rifles were manufactured at the Mauser factory in Germany. They were all produced in Belgium or England. In the next few years the rifle was marketed at the Model 1890 Turkish Mauser and the Model 1891 Argentine Mauser.

In time Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey would become adjectives to describe a model of the Mauser rifle. Siam, renamed Thailand, would be the only nation with two names used as a descriptor. In addition Arabia, Brazil, The Congo Free State, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Luxemburg, Greece, Iran, Liberia, Lithuania, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Yugoslavia would all use the Mauser to arm their troops. In the end about two dozen nations would fill the arms racks in their armories with Mauser rifles and pistols.

The Model 89 was a watershed development. It was the first Mauser to be designed for smokeless powder. It used rimless military ammunition in a five round detachable box magazine. This was the first instance where ammunition was loaded into the rifle by the use of a disposable metal charger. The more modern, and less accurate, nomenclature is stripper clip. While this describes what the device does it is not truly a clip. Like a charger, a clip is also expendable but it is loaded directly into the rifle and remains there until ejected. The eight shot en bloc clip which fits into the magazine of the M1 Garand Rifle is an example of this type of device. A magazine is a cartridge holder, such as that used in the Colt 1911 pistol, that also fits into the firearm until ejected, but is not considered expendable.

Mauser continued to refine the rifle’s design and this work brought about the most famous iteration, the Model 1893. This rifle had a redesigned bolt, improved safety, modifications to the trigger, a flush staggered column box magazine, and other minor manufacturing changes. Designed to shoot the 7mm smokeless cartridge, the rifle was quickly snapped up by Spain and became known as the Spanish Model 93.

The Spanish Mauser would have a great effect on the development of a bolt-action magazine fed rifle in the United States. On July 1, 1898, just five years after the Mauser’s adoption by Spain, five thousand United States Army troops, armed with single shot .45-70 Trapdoor Springfields and five shot repeating Krag-Jorgensens, swarmed up San Juan Hill. The seven hundred Spanish troops had two advantages. They were dug in on the top of the hill and were armed with Spanish Mausers. In the ensuing assault, thirteen hundred troops fell victim to the Mauser superior range and velocity. The mad hornet like sound of the 7mm bullet was the last sound that many of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders ever heard.

The handwriting was on the wall and within five years the Springfield ’03 would become the United States’ service rifle.  It was now that the irony of earlier United States Norris-Mauser patent became apparent. A close examination by Mauser engineers of the United States Krag-Jorgensen rifle, the Springfield ’03, and its charging clips indicated that various Mauser patents had been infringed. After some negotiations, the United States agreed to pay Waffenfabrik Mauser a royalty of seventy five cents per Springfield ’03 and fifty cents for each 1,000 clips manufactured, up to an amount of $200,000. Upon reaching that amount the United States government would have title to both the rifle and the charger.

Continuing the tradition of constant improvement, and naming rifles after the countries that purchased them, Mauser produced the Model 1894 Swedish Mauser Carbine and then followed it with the Model 1896 Swedish Mauser. The Model 96 sported more gas escape holes and a guide rib to make the action less prone to binding when the bolt was worked.

Peter Paul Mauser would introduce the rifle that would see action until the middle of the next century in 1898. The Model 1898 was the apogee of Mauser’s development. He strengthened the bolt by adding a third locking lug, perfected the receiver ring, and fine-tuned the trigger. Without a doubt the Model 98 is the definitive turnbolt action rifle. In various forms it served in combat from its introduction in 1898 through the end of World War II in 1945. Known officially as the Gew 98 it was more commonly, and affectionately, known to those who carried it as das Braut des Infanteristen, the Bride of the Infantry.

Raised in an atmosphere of extreme patriotism and fierce nationalism Peter Paul Mauser could have felt no greater pride then when his Model 1898 was adopted by his homeland to arm its soldiers. He died in his 76th year on May 29, 1914 in the town of his birth, just three months before the outbreak of Word War I, a conflict which would see his rifle design ideas used on both sides of the battlefield. During his lifetime, and in ensuing years, few men cast such a long shadow in the field of small arms development, as did Mauser.

A Note On Sources: The article was compiled from information gleaned from the following sources. Anyone wishing a detailed study of Mauser rifles, cartridges, and the personalities discussed are directed to these books. In addition Mauser-Werkes maintain a site on the World Wide Web at http://www.mauser-werkes.com/  with a direct E-mail connection to Mauser-Werkes, PO Box 1349, D-78722 Oberndorf a.N, Germany. Their fax number is +49-7432-70-655.

Barnes, Frank, Cartridges of the World 7th Edition, Northbrook, IL, 1993

Campbell, Clark, The ’03 Springfield, Philadelphia, PA, 1978

Childers, Erskine, The Riddle of the Sands, Annapolis, MD, 1991

de Haas, Frank, Bolt Action Rifles, Northfield, IL, 1961

Hallahan, William, Misfire, New York NY, 1994

Hogg, Ian, The Encyclopedia of Infantry Weapons of World War II, Greenwich, CT, 1982

Kee, Robert, The Green Flag, New York, NY, 1972

Senich, Peter, The German Sniper 1914-1918, Boulder, CO, 1982

Smith, W.H.B., Small Arms of the World, Harrisburg, PA, 1966

Smith and Smith, The Book of Rifles, New York, NY, 197

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