The Mauser Gewehr 98 (formally as the "Infantry Rifle Model 1898") was a manually operated, magazine fed, bolt-action rifle and became one of the most successful military and sport firearms ever produced (numbering over 5,000,000 units). The rifle was patented by Paul Mauser in 1895 with initial production running from 1898 to 1918, becoming the standard German Army rifle used during World War 1. The Mauser rifle, and its classic bolt-action system, went on to set the standard of such guns - a standard still followed by the arms industry today. The Gew 98 proved so popular that a myriad of offshoots and variants were born from her design, seeing action in all parts of the globe. The Model 1898/Gew 98's historical influence was such that other notable foreign developments was born of its reliable and robust approach including the famous American M1903 Springfield and Japanese Arisaka Type 38/Type 99 series.
Origins of the Model 1898 could be traced back to its immediate predecessor, the Gew 88 (also Model 1888 or M1888). The rifle was quickly developed in response to the arrival of the new French 8-round Lebel bolt-action service rifle of 1888 - the first firearm in the world to make successful use of small bore smokeless powder ammunition. This development immediately rendering all other black powder guns obsolete and brought about a new era in firearms. In an effort to match their foe and long-time neighbor, the Germans utilized a committee approach to formulate the new Model 1888/Gew 88 to make use of its own brand of smokeless powder in 7.92x57mm cartridge form.
The Model 1888 held its bolt-action function within a single-piece stock which incorporated the butt, grip and forend. The magazine was integral to the design and projected through the bottom of the body as part of the trigger ring. Sights were located at center of the stock top and just aft of the muzzle while sling loops allowed for a shoulder strap. The bolt-action handle stuck out in the horizontal for quick access though this feature increased the likelihood of snags (addressed in future Mauser revisions). Consistent with the times was a mounting point for a field bayonet intended for close-quarters combat. Loading was by way of a Mannlicher-style "clip" system which required all 5 rounds to be fired before the magazine could be accessed, the clip dropping through the bottom of the rifle. The rifle managed an existence throughout World War 1 (used in a frontline role until 1915) but was seemingly lacking many of the frontline qualities required of a service rifle - proving generally unsuccessful and something of a failure - partly due to the all-new ammunition in use and the lack of a single-loading/topping off capability of the magazine. The outgoing rifle was then pressed into service with Austro-Hungarian and Turkish forces after the Germans abandoned it in favor of the newer Gew 98.
Development of a new service rifle managing the same 7.92mm ammunition (with greater powder charge) spurred the Model 1898/Gew 98 into being. The Gew 98 weighed in at approximately 9lbs (4.09kg) and was 49-inches long (1,250mm) overall with a 29-inch (740mm) rifled barrel. It was fitted with an internal magazine holding five cartridges and fully held within the receiver. With the soldier in mind, the rifle was designed to incorporate two sling swivels for a shoulder strap, useful in transport of the gun by infantry or helping to sight the rifle on a target. The two swivels connected on the bottom of the stock supported a leather sling, but as the war dragged on the slings were made out of canvas. The rifle made use of an open front sight post and a tangent rear sight mounted perpendicular to the line-of-sight (LOS). This open-wide aiming sight was designed for field use in all levels of light and for a quick-shooting action against large targets like men in units or groups at ranges from 200m to 2000m in 100m increments. The Gewehr 98 had an oil finished rifle stock with a slight pistol grip made from walnut. Though a highly-effective and efficient weapon, the Gewehr sported the negative found on most other turn-of the century rifles - she was simply too long to be used effectively in close-quarters. Where trench warfare ruled the battlefields of World War 1, the rifleman could quickly be assaulted at close range by his enemy. The Gewehr could become a liability in such combat. In end, however, the Gew 98 proved a robust, accurate and excellent weapon system.
Every combat rifle was designed to use the weapon of last resort, the bayonet. The Gewehr 98 had a top barrel clip with a 4.5-cm (1.75-inch) long bayonet lug. The advantage of using the clip instead of muzzle rings increased the firing ability of the rifle. The rifle was originally issued with the Seitengewehr 98-type bayonet, itself a 500mm (19.8-inch) long quillback blade. This bayonet was found to be too long for trench close-quarter combat. By the end of the war, this bayonet was replaced with the 10-inch Seitengewehr 84/98 blade introduced due to German soldier complaints fighting in narrow trenches.
The heart of the Mauser M98 bolt-action system was the bolt itself. A new larger and stronger receiver design became the U-shaped shroud that held the controlled bolt group, itself having three locking lugs. Two larger main lugs were fitted to the bolt head while the third lug was used for safety at the rear of the bolt - essentially a redundant lug if one of the first two lugs had failed. The third lug was the unique feature not seen on the previous bolt-action models. The bolt handle was straight with a round knob on the end and attached directly (and permanently) to the bolt. The firing pin striking the primer on the bottom of each cartridge ignited the cordite and fired the bullet. The firing pin was cocked when the bolt was opened by the operator. Working against the M98 was the fact that it was not an easy component of the rifle to mass produce in number.
The internal box magazine held up to five 7.92x57mm Gewehr Patrone 1898 cartridges, each loaded with the new 8.20mm (.323-inch) 9.9g (154gr) "spitzer" pointed bullet. Almost as impressive as the bolt was the cartridge feed system - the rim of the cartridge was grabbed tightly by a non-rotating "claw" when the cartridge left the magazine. This was set in place until the round was formally ejected from the receiver. Jams could be experienced when the bolt was operated slowly. Removal of the bolt group from the receiver was easily accomplished by pulling out the bolt stop located along the left side of the receiver then rotating the bolt out of the of the receiver itself. The magazine could be loaded by pressing single rounds into the receiver when the bolt was open or with a "stripper clips", these holding five rounds vertically so thumb pressure pressing down would force all five rounds into the magazine in one simple action. After loading, the empty clip was then ejected when the bolt is closed. The magazine could be unloaded by operating the bolt, this action resulting in a single round being ejected at a time.
The safety catch was designed to not allow the weapon to fire. This was a large lever marked with an "S" to indicate the direction of the safety position. The two-stage trigger would not operate with the safety on. Mauser used the two-stage method for two reasons: first was to reduce premature firing under combat conditions and second to allow a slow pull when firing on distant one-shot targets.
As events wore on, upgrades were made to the Gewehr, in time producing the equally excellent Karabiner 98a (not to be confused with the World War 2-era "Karabiner 98k"). The Karabiner 98a (K98a) was a shorter version of the Gew 98 made specifically for cavalry units and assault troops since it was a lighter and shorter form of the base Gewehr 98 rifle - proving a better fit for trench fighting.
Throughout World War 1, the Gew 98 saw few major alterations to the basic design, remaining decidedly unchanged for the length of the conflict. The rear sight was eventually simplified for improved short-ranged work and different wooden stocks substituted the original walnut, the latter intended to keep up with war demand and counter supply shortages. Some experimental forms inevitably appeared including a detachable magazine variant known as the "Mauser 18" though this model did not see the light of day.
The Karabiner 98b was another full-length rifle development of the Gewehr 98 but designated as a carbine simply to comply with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. By the treaty, Germany was limited in her war-making capacity and was thusly only allowed to produce carbine rifle forms. The 98b model was introduced in 1923 as a result. Though technically a rifle by any other name, the Karabiner 98b was categorized as a carbine and led to the development of the Karabiner 98k by the time of World War 2. German forces, however, were still using the Gew 98 rifle in World War 2 for they were readily available in quantity.
Gew 98 was first used by German troops in the 1898 Boxer Rebellion. In 1937, German leader Adolf Hitler chose to outfit his SS bodyguards with Gewehr 98 rifles. The Ottoman Empire purchased many of these rifles during World War 1 and for some time as the Turkish Republic afterwards. The rifle also was used along to forces loyal to Franco's Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War of 1936. After World War 2, the newly-created state of Israel acquired the Gewehr 98 rifle in some number; an interesting notion for each rifle was still marked with the Imperial German emblem. These were ultimately chambered to fire the 7.62mm NATO cartridge from 1958 onwards.
Sniper conversion models of the Gewehr 98 appeared with optics during World War 1. The use of optics forced a new turned-down bolt to be installed as well as a revised stock with a noticeable recess. Scopes came in 2.5x and 3x magnification but soon proved somewhat problematic in bolt functions so many had their optics mounted ever higher along the receiver. Some 18,421 Gewehr 98 series rifles were converted to sniper forms and issued to specially-trained German Army snipers throughout World War 1.
Some Gewehr 98s saw combat actions in World War 2, though in upgraded forms. With the arrival of World War 2 (1939-1945), the sheer number of available Gew 98 rifles and their kin ensured it use in the grand conflict. Many long forms were still in circulation up to 1939 and this across many foreign powers as well. Even in this modern conflict, the old rifle held up well, proving as reliable and accurate as ever and claiming its fair share of officers, infantry and civilians alike. The protruding horizontal bolt of certain models continued to be a limitation in the heat-of-battle but few could find true fault in the stellar Mauser design. This led to something of a resurgence for the old rifle from 1944 to 1945 in which the German Volkssturm ("Storm of the People") was issued the type. This group was essentially formed of German civilians armed by authorities intended to fight and defend Germany to the last during the closing months of the war.
Production was through Mauser proper, Deustche Waffen and Munitionsfabriken, Haenel, Sauer & Sohn, Waffenwerke Oberspree, V. Chr. Schilling Company, Simson and the arsenals at Amberg, Danzig, Erfurt, Leipzig and Spandau. Notable conflicts involving the Gew 98 and related types became the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), the Xinhai Revolution (1911-1912), World War 1 (1914-1918), the Finnish Civil War (1918), the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1922), the Chinese Civil War (1927-1937), the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the 2nd Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), World War 2 (1939-1945) and the Korean War (1950-1953).
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Having fired a Gew 98 myself from a friend's collection to a target at 1000 meters, I found the weapon to be easy to sight and could make a tight grouping with minimal practice.