Not too many people accuse the Germans of making junk. I owned a German-made washer and dryer, which performed flawlessly for over two decades. When the dryer finally broke down and stopped spinning, I confidently removed the 40 or so Torx screws which held on the rear panel. “It’s probably just a worn belt,” I thought to myself. After an hour of struggling and a fair amount of stress, I finally removed the panel from that German monstrosity. The inside of that dryer reminded me of an aircraft jet engine; only more complicated. I knew I might be in over my head. My wife peeked into the washroom and asked how it was going. I said, “Fine honey, I have everything under control.” —Lies. After downloading the German language repair manual off the Internet and wrestling with the project for another couple of hours, I conceded that I am in fact, not a German mechanical engineer and paid the pros to clean up my mess. What did I learn? Two things: Germans often put a lot of technology into something seemingly simple and I’m much better at firearms than I am at appliances.
The Gewehr 98 is no exception when it comes to premium engineering. In service from 1898-1935, the action on this weapon is so good, that military and hunting rifles over a century later still emulate its basic design. Pick up a Springfield 1903 and you may notice some very Gewehr-like details. Glance over the action of a Winchester Model 54 or 70, and you will notice some distinctive German characteristics. You can’t really blame them. When it comes to a bolt-action design, this Mauser is as close to perfect as you can get.
The rifle features a controlled-feed bolt-action system that is robust, safe and well designed. Controlled feed refers to how the bolt cycles cartridges. When the operator actuates the bolt, a cartridge rises up from the magazine. The extractor grips the rim of the cartridge and holds on while the operator pushes forward all the way to the chamber. After firing, it pulls the empty casing until the ejector throws it out of the action. The condition where the components hold the round in place throughout the firing cycle is where we get the term controlled-feed—it never let’s go until ejection. This is different from push-feed bolt-actions, which are cheaper to produce, simpler in design, but can have problems when matched with poor manufacturing.
Designers included two large gas relief holes and a gas shield on the bolt sleeve. They intended this shield to protect the operator’s head in case of a cartridge rupture. The metal components of the rifle went through a bluing process, where a thin layer of magnetite added protection against rust and corrosion when combined with oil.
The rifle featured a three-position safety, which worked extremely well and was easy to manipulate. The designers purposely designed the trigger to have a greater amount of take up before engaging the sear. This was to aid in premature firing during combat.
The engineering behind the rifle wasn’t the only advantage. The caliber the Germans used was an all around workhorse cartridge called the 7.92x57mm, or more popularly known as the 8mm Mauser. It is a rimless bottlenecked rifle cartridge suitable for taking down a vast array of targets. It measures in at slightly shorter than a 30.06, but with a wider projectile. The energy delivered to the target was only marginally more than the 30.06 Springfield and both cartridges are very closely comparable. There are two distinct versions of the 8mm Mauser, both used in different variants of the Gewehr 98. The earlier pattern, known as the Patron 88 or M/88 fired a heavy 225-grain round-nosed projectile. After 1905, designers developed a slightly different chambering and a cartridge with an improved ballistic coefficient. This time they used a sharply pointed 153-grain projectile Spitzgeschoß or spitzer bullet. The improved ballistics combined with a more powerful double-base smokeless powder gave the finished product an impressive level of performance. Several of the European powers adopted the cartridge for military use and ammunition factories still produce the cartridge today.
Shortly after the start of the First World War, manufacturers handpicked 15,000 Gewehr 98s for mounting optics. These modified sniper rifles had some ergonomic issues when compared to today’s sniper and hunting rifles. In order to attach a scope to the rifles, designers had to modify the bolt to bend in a downward position. This required a modification to the stock via a recess notch on the right side behind the chamber. Additionally, gun makers had to mount the scope higher up away from the chamber so soldiers could operate the three-position safety levers. The telescopic sights consisted of 2.5x and 3x models, built by various manufactures like Görtz, Gérard, Oige, Zeiss, Hensoldt and Voigtländer.
As an infantry rifle, the Gewehr 98 worked so well that the Germans decided to carry over the design for the Second World War and came up with the Karabiner 98 Kurz. The 98k was almost identical in design; only the rifle was much shorter and had an upgraded sighting system. Fortunately, for the U.S. Military and its allies, the semi-automatic M-1 Garand greatly outmatched the 98k.
During the rifle’s heyday, the Gewehr 98′s only major drawback was that the bolt was expensive and difficult to mass-produce. This problem was something the German military suffered from regularly, and it ended up costing them in the end. No matter how great the engineering or craftsmanship, they couldn’t keep up with demand. Still, I can’t imagine having a complete rifle collection without one of these old adversaries gracing my safe. Many of them are still great shooters and work well for hunting or just plinking at the range. Rock Island Auctions are auctioning a rare Wehrmanngewehr variant. It is a single shot target version with upgraded sights in overall excellent condition.
|Weight||9.0 lb with empty magazine|
|Barrel length||29.1 in|
|Cartridge||M/88 until 1905, 7.92×57mm Mauser/8×57mm IS after|
|Muzzle velocity||2,881 ft/s with 1905 pattern|
|Effective range||550 yds with iron sights|
|Feed system||5 round clip-in internal magazine|