The Mauser C96 saw combat service through World War 1, World War 2, the Korean War and the Vietnam War among other conflicts.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
Credit: Image from the Public Domain.
One of the most recognizable early-form semi-automatic pistols became the Mauser C96 series. The C96 shape was classic with its front-loading magazine, thin barrel assembly and "broomhandle" pistol grip. C96 pistols proved exceedingly popular over time, pressed in numbers required of two World Wars and many lesser conflicts, becoming the sidearm of guerilla fighters, frontline military personnel and casual civilian shooters. The C96 and all her variants enjoyed a long, healthy production life and an even longer service life while her success drove several foreign sources to copy the design outright. Several of her marks have since become sought-after collector's items.
The Mauserwerke C96 series semi-automatic pistol was the collective product design of three brothers whose last name was known as Federle while under the employ of Mauser during 1894. The design was then patented under the Mauserwerke brand label the following year. The initial model was designed to chamber the 7.65mm Borchardt cartridge firing through a semi-automatic internal action and fed from a 10-round internal magazine. The weapon underwent testing into 1896 to which serial production was then made official. The pistol, therefore, garnered the official designation of "C96" to coincide with the initial year of production.
Early manufacture proved slow, limited to just over 100 examples over a nine-month span. By the end of the year, the design was further finalized around a slightly revised proprietary 7mm cartridge - the 7.63x25mm Mauser. Firing of the original Borchardt cartridge through the new Mauser design found the action too violent, unseating 7.65mm cartridges whilst they still resided in the magazine while bullets were known to come off of their casings altogether. The Mauser cartridge was more or less based on the same Borchardt design though with an increased propellant charge and a more secure casing design to hold the bullet in place. This produced a cartridge of extremely high velocity and therefore increased penetration values and acceptable engagement ranges when compared to contemporaries of its time. With the cartridge design secured, production of C96 pistols ramped up, introducing subtle variants in design that went on to include the original 10-shot version, a 6-shot version and a novel yet interesting 20-shot model of which was later dropped from further consideration.
In 1897, Mauser engineers reworked the internals of their new pistol, adding an extra locking lug to the bolt. Additional changes were made to further strengthen the action. Despite its appearance on the military and general markets, the C96 failed to net the required sales of note - particularly those of the Imperial German Army who had gravitated towards large scale use of the 9mm Parabellum pistol cartridge instead. In the end, the pistol found a few notable homes overseas - primarily with Italy (Navy), Russia (Army) and Turkey (Army). The Italian Navy purchased 5,000 units from Mauser in 1899.
In 1902, Mauser reworked the C96 design with a new patented safety mechanism. The mechanism allowed for single-hand cocking, primarily intended for cavalry, by way of a hammer safety - a lever designed to block the hammer from the striker to produce a "safe" still-loaded position. The initiative begat the "Pistol C96 mit Sicherung C02" designation appearing in 1902. In 1905, Mauser produced a C96 form with a shortened extractor with dimensionally smaller hammer, giving rise to the "Pistol C96 mit kurzer Anszieher C1905". In 1912, Mauser reworked the C96 yet again, this time with a newer safety mechanism thusly producing the "Pistol C96 mit Sicherung neuer Art C1912".
In June of 1914, Europe went to war when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated during a visit to Sarajevo by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Principe. Austria-Hungary declared war on neighboring Serbia, sending the Russians into mobilization which prompted a declaration of war from Germany in response. When Germany invaded Belgium en route to France, Britain declared war on Germany by way of alliance. German forces managed to reach the Marne River before the once-fluid fronts turned into a bloody stalemate as both sides dug in through a vast network of trenches along opposing sides. The Central Powers were well-represented by the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire placed an order for 1,000 Mauser pistols in 1896.
The wartime economy soon ramped up to include production and procurement of all manner of war-making goods. This included quantitative production of the once-shunned C96 pistols to shore up shortages in German Army small arms. As the 9mm Parabellum cartridge was still the prevalent pistol round in the German Army, authorities ordered the C96 in a new 9mm form in 1915. Evaluations were soon underway and the weapon was cleared to fire the Parabellum type munition. Mauser was charged with an initial block of 150,000 pistols in response. While the pistols remained more or less faithful to the original Mauser design, their internals were of course reworked and outer markings were instituted to clearly showcase the change - (a large "9" imprinted along their grip handles). These also produced the "Red Nine" Mausers when the engraved number was filled in with red. While the 9mm cartridge varied considerably in general shape from the original 7.63mm, chargers were still able to feed ten rounds. 9mm-chambered C96 pistols saw considerable use throughout World War 1 as some 137,000 Red Nine Mauser examples were procured.
Following the end of the "War to End All Wars", Germany was identified as the major culprit of the conflict and assessed much of the blame. The Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires were dismantled and essentially no more, leaving Germany to bear the brunt of war reparations and sole punishment. This also extremely limited her future war-making capabilities into the 1920s, particularly under the strict provisions as set forth by the Treaty of Versailles. Production of C96 pistols continued, however, and, in 1921, the "Bolo Model" Mauser emerged for sale to Bolshevik Russia (know recognized as the Soviet Union). The weapon was procured in large quantities to the new world power with one of the key differences of this offering being its shorter barrel length of 99mm (from 140mm). This proved just one of the limitations set by the Treaty of Versailles.
Mauser then continued production of their long-running pistol line into the 1930s. Additional work produced the "Pistol M711" mark which was more or less based on the pre-war 7.63mm Mauser. Beyond the initial 10-round detachable box magazine, there also existed a 20- and even 40-round form. A full-automatic machine pistol form based on the M711 emerged as the "Pistol M712", also recognized as the "Pistol M30 Schnellfeuer System Nickl". The M712 featured full-automatic fire through a selector lever on left side of frame, ammunition feeding from a conventional detachable box magazine inserted into the awaiting well under the receiver. Largely resembling the original Mauser design, these guns were based on the patents of one Josef Nickl (hence its long form name) and intended to give the operator considerable firepower - though at the expense of control and accuracy. The weapons were nothing more than novel in their general scope when not equipped with the seemingly-requisite shoulder stock for its full-automatic fire mode made them generally uncontrollable and useless as a freehand personal weapon. China procured this Mauser product in 1931 (recognizing the line as the "Box Cannon") while Yugoslavia followed in 1933.
By this time, Mauser pistols were losing market ground to competing self-loading, semi-automatic types originating elsewhere and counterfeit forms emerging primarily from Spain (through the Astra brand - Model 900 series). This led Mauser to introduce the "Pistol M36 Schnellfeuer System Westinger" of 1936 based on the work of in-house engineer Karl Westinger. The weapon type was marketed in both the original 7.63mm Mauser form and the wider-reaching 9mm Parabellum. China, once again, became a primary customer of this pistol and had also begun to produce Mauser guns illegally in quantity - though to a far lesser quality (as the "Type 80" based on the M712 Schnellfeuer). With Adolf Hitler having come to power in Germany and securing his position along the military and political fronts, the Mauser C96 design fell into service with the emerging and rearming German Army. Approximately 8,000 Schnellfeuer Mauser pistols were issued to Luftwaffe elements during what would become World War 2. It is notable that the Spanish Model 900 and 903 Mauser gun forms were also issued and used in the conflict.
The C96 carried one of the most iconic shapes of any early semi-automatic pistol and was of a rare breed in that the magazine was fitted ahead of the action. The pistol featured the identifiable "broomhandle" style pistol grip which provided an adequate single handed hold, the trigger being fitted just ahead in the usual way. The curved trigger unit sat within a rounded ring and was integrated into the body of the pistol. The magazine well was ahead of the trigger and (in earlier models) unconventionally fed through the top of the receiver by way of prefabricated "chargers" - cartridges set upon a connecting platform and inserted into the well as a complete unit, each cartridge individually stripped of the platform during the firing action (therefore also known as "stripper clips"). The barrel was noticeably slender and long, protruding a good distance away from the frame. Iron sights were afforded at the front and rear of the weapon (an adjustable V-notch rear tangent sighted out to 1,000 meters and an inverted V-front) while a loop under the pistol grip allowed for tying the weapon to a belt via lanyard. An optional hollow wooden stock was almost always issued and could be fitted to the backside of the pistol grip for more stable accurate fire. The stock was hollowed to double as the C96's own carrying case or ad hoc holster device. The pistol operated from a short recoil action, sported a muzzle velocity of 1,400 feet per second with an effective range of up to 200 meters. Early versions made use of the charger-loading function while later versions incorporated a true detachable box magazine arrangement.
While overall Mauser C96 production numbers have proven generally elusive due to the many illegal copies apparent, the series is believed to have reached over 1 million units from the span of 1896 until 1937. There proved variants chambered in the original 7.63x25mm Mauser round and following wartime 9x19mm Parabellum, however, a version also chambered the American .45 ACP cartridge (Chinese production) and there existed the rarer 9mm Mauser "Export" chambering. Mauser also trialed an 8.15mm Mauser form. The weapon saw combat service in the 2nd Boer War (1899-1902), the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), the Xinhai Revolution (1911-1912), World War 1 (1914-1918), the Anglo-Irish War (1919-1921), the Finnish Civil War (1918), the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), the Russian Civil War (1917-1922), the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the 2nd Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), World War 2 (1939-1945), the Chinese Civil War (1927-1937, 1946-1950), the Korean War (1950-1953) and the Vietnam War (1955-1975). Its reach ultimately found the weapon in the inventories of the Qing Dynasty, the Austro-Hungarian Empire (World War 1), Brazil, Denmark, Finland (Civil War; World War 2), the Korean Empire, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Norway (trials, World War 2), the Ottoman Empire (World War 1), the Philippines (World War 2), Poland, Portugal, Spain, the Soviet Union (Bolo Mauser), Taiwan and the United Kingdom (World War 1, officer private purchase).
Manufacturing Mauserwerke - Imperial Germany / Hanyang Arsenal - China / Astra - Spain
Austria-Hungary; Brazil; Denmark; Finland; German Empire; Indonesia; Kingdom of Italy; Korea; Malaysia; Nazi Germany; Norway; Ottoman Empire (Turkey); Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Qing Dynasty; Russia; South Korea; Spain; Soviet Union; Taiwan; United Kingdom
- Close Quarters Battle (CQB) / Personal Security
312 mm (12.28 in)
140 mm (5.51 in)
2.49 lb (1.13 kg)
Adjustable V-Notch Rear Tangent; Inverted Front V
C96 - Base Series Designation; issued to Italy, Russian Empire and Ottoman Empire.
Mauser-Selbstladepistole Construction 96 (c/96) - Formal Designation of 1896; chambered for 7.63x25mm Mauser cartridge; 6-, 10- and 20-round charger-loading counts.
Pistol c/96 mit Sicherung c/02 - Model of 1902; hammer safety introduced.
Pistol c/96 mit kurzer Ansziher, c/1905 - Model of 1905; shortened extractor and dimensionally smaller hammer.
Pistol c/96 mit Sicherung neuer Art, c/1912 - Model of 1912; fitted with "new type safety".
Pistol M12 - Mauser Export Model; chambered for 9mm Mauser Export cartridge.
Pistol c/96, 9mm Parabellum 1915 - Model of 1915; chambered for 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge; models marked with "9" along grips.
M1921 "Bolo" Model Mauser - Soviet Empire Export Model; 99mm shortened barrel assemblies.
Pistol M711 - Model of 1930 based on original c/96 offering; chambered for 7.63mm cartridge with 10-, 20- or 40-round detachable box magazines.
Pistol M712 / Pistol M30 Schnellfeuer System Nickl (M1930) - Model of 1932; based on Josef Nickl patents; full-automatic machine pistol development; optional stock; lengthened barrel assembly; selector lever on left side of frame.
Pistol M30 (Universal Safety) - Model of 1930; modernized c/96 in 7.63mm chambering; new pattern safety; sold to Norway and China markets.
Pistol M36 Schnellfeuer System Wastinger - Model of 1936; based on Karl Westinger work; offered in 7.63mm Mauser and 9mm Parabellum chamberings; diamond-shaped selector switch.
Astra Model 900 - Unlicensed Spanish copy of C96
Astra Model 903 - Unlicensed Spanish copy
Model S - Yugoslavian market model of the M712.
PASAM - Brazilian market machine pistol
Shanxi Type 17 - Chinese variant chambered for .45 ACP.
Type 80 - Chinese production copy; chambered for 7.62mm cartridge.
Hanyang C.96 - Chinese C96 copy; chambered for 7.62mm Mauser cartridge.
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