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World One War: Mauser 'Gewehr 98'
The central powers main rifle of World War One was the Mauser Gewehr 98. The German bolt action Mauser which fired five 8mm rounds from an internal clip loaded magazine was Germany’s main service rifle between 1898 and 1935. This rifle not only saw action during the First World War, but in various colonial wars and subsequent Inter-War conflicts.
Despite the rifle being accurate and powerful, its long range and length were handicaps in the close confines of Trench warfare.
The Gewehr 98, named from the year it was produced, superseded the earlier Gewehr 1888. The recognisable bolt-action was patented by Paul Mauser in 1895. The German ‘Gewehr- Prüfungskommission’ or Rifle testing commission adopted the rifle in 1898. The rifle was first used in combat during the boxer rebellion of 1900, and in 1904, contracts were placed with Waffenfabrik Mauser for 290,000 rifles and Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM) for 210,000 rifles.
In 1905, the 8x 57mm IS round replaced the old 8 mm M/88 8x57mm I round which, was loaded with a new 8.20mm spritzer bullet. The ammunition conversion was indicated by a small ‘S’ stamped above the chamber and on the barrel at the back of the rear sight.
The Gewehr 98 was a manually operated, magazine fed, bolt-action rifle. The rifle was 49inches in length and 9 lb. in weight. The rifle had a 29inch long rifled barrel and carried 5 rounds of 8mm ammunition in an internal magazine. The gun also had two sling swivels, and open front sight and a tangent-type rear sight.
In particular, a three position safety lock is attached at the rear of the bolt. The safety can be flicked from right (safety on), to middle (safety on but bolt can open for reloading) to left (ready to fire). The safety could only be released by firing the rifle with the ‘safety’ set in the ready to fire position or by closing the cocked bolt. It is worth noting that although the safety catch lever was quite large and easy to operate, it posed a problem for mounting a telescopic sight.
In looking at the ammunition and magazine, the G98 internal magazine consisted of an integral box machined to match the round for which the rifle was chambered. The rounds were stored in the magazine, in a staggered column at a stacking angle of 30 degrees. The magazine could be loaded with single rounds by pushing rounds into the receiver top or via stripper clips. The stripper clips could hold 5 rounds to fill the magazine. The empty clip is ejected when the bolt is closed. The magazine could be unloaded by opening the bolt.
Originally, rifles were issued with leather slings, but due to increasing shortages of leather during World War One, slings were made from canvas. The rifle was able to fire rifle grenades and various variants were produced during the war. The G98 was designed to be used with a bayonet. For this reason, the rifle had an H style top barrel-band with a 1.8inch bayonet lug. The long surface of the G98 eliminated the need of a muzzle ring. The advantage to this design was that muzzle rings often interfered in the accuracy of firing rifles. The rifle was originally fitted with the ‘Seitengewehr 98’ pattern bayonet, but by 1905, the rifle was fitted with the more practical ‘Seitengewehr 98/05’ . The bayonet was often referred to as the ‘butcher blade’ by the allies due to its shape, and was intended for artillerymen and engineers as a chopping tool as well as a weapon. Due to the severe material shortages in Germany by the end of the war, the ‘Seitengewehr 84/98’ was introduced late in the war. It is interesting to note that this model of bayonet became the standard issue of German forces during World War Two.
Overall, the G98 was an extremely effective and practical weapon. Not only used by the German Army, the rifle saw service in the Russian Civil War, Chinese Civil War and the Second World War.