World One War: C96 'Broomhandle' Mauser
One of the most famous pistols of the First World War was the C 96 ‘Broomhandle’ Mauser.
The C96 was a semi-automatic pistol that was originally produced by the German Arms Company Mauser between 1896 and 1937. The guns universal use meant that unlicensed copies of the weapon were manufactured in Spain and China.
The immediately recognisable features of the pistol were the magazine located in front of the trigger, the long barrel and the grip shaped like the handle of a broom. The grips distinctive shape itself earned the weapon its nickname ‘Broomhandle’ or as the Chinese called it ‘Box Cannon’.
Following its release, the C96 was not only sold to governments but also to private civilians. Becoming extremely popular with British Officers, the pistol was purchased by many of them. The popularity though had waived by the outbreak of war in 1914.
The pistol saw service with a variety of nations in a variety of colonial wars as well as World War One, Chinese Civil War and the German Revolution. The pistol became a staple sidearm often recognised from pictures from the Russian Civil War, China’s ‘Warlord Era’ and Inter- War conflicts.
In particular, Winston Churchill was fond of the Mauser C96, which he used at the Battle of Omdurman. The famous Lawrence of Arabia often used a C96 Mauser whilst in Arabia. Imported and domestic variants were used extensively by the Russians, Chinese and Spanish during their various minor conflicts.
Not only did the gun use the 7.63x25mm round, the pistol also commonly chambered the 9mm Parabellum round. The C 96 pistols chambered for 9mm are often recognised for having a red nine painted on the grip. Despite the guns popularity and fame, the only country to use the C 96 as a sidearm of both is military and police was China.
There were a number of variants which became and have become famous since the guns introduction in 1896.
The first well known variant was the ‘M1921 ‘Bolo’ Mauser’. Mauser began manufacturing a commercial variant from 1921. The gun featured a shorter 3.9inch barrel and was chambered for the 7.63mm round. An experimental 8.15x25.2mm was designed to replace the banned 9mm Parabellum round, but it never caught on. The ‘Bolo’ variant was produced from 1921-1930 and sold extensively to the Poles, Lithuanians, German Freikorps and white Russian forces. The Bolshevik Government purchased large numbers of this model. It was its association with the Bolsheviks which gave this gun the name ‘Bolo’.
The second well-known variant was the ‘red 9’. During World War One the Imperial German Army contracted Mauser for 150,000 C96 pistols with 9mm Parabellum ammunition. This variant was named ‘Red 9’, after a large number 9 was painted in red in the handle. This was to warn the pistols user that this model took 9mm rounds, not the usual 7.63mm round. Of the original 150,000 pistols ordered, around 137,000 were delivered by 1918.
The third well known variant was the M1932/M712 ‘Schnellfeuer’. Mauser began to produce the ‘Schnellfeuer’, own fire, detachable magazine version of the M30 designed by Karl Westinger. The production began in 1932 and ended in 1936. This variant was largely exported to Spain and China.
Finally, one of the most famous versions was the ‘Shanxi Type 17 (.45 ACP). During the violent ‘Warlord Era’ of China (1912-1930), the province of Shansi was ruled by the Warlord Yen His-shan, who had established his own arms factory in his capital city of Taiyuan. Yen equipped his troops with a local produced Thompson Sub-Machine Gun, which was chambered for the .45 ACP round. Added to this, Yen experienced supply difficulties as his troops side-arms were 7.63 calibre C96 pistols.
Yen’s solution was to produce a .45 ACP calibre version of the C96. Designated the ‘Type 11’, production on the .45 calibre began in 1929 at his arms factory. The guns were inscribed, in Chinese, ‘Type 11’ on the left hand side of the gun and ‘Republic Year Eighteen, Made in Shansi’ on the right hand side.
The ‘Broomhandle’ Mauser is one of the most famous pistols of the Great War and Inter-War Years and has become a collector’s item. Since the end of World War Two, the C96 has often featured as an ‘exotic’ or ‘foreign’ armament in a number of films and TV dramas. In particular, a C96, due to its unique and strange shape, was modified to form Han Solo’s blaster pistol in the Star Wars films.