I have been waiting to write this one for awhile because I wanted to do it right. And I'm lazy. And I just got a Xbox 360. Yes, I know they have been out for a long time. It was a gift and I'm psyched.
The Mauser 98 is simply one of the most important firearm designs ever made. In terms of the importance and longevity of the design, it is like the Colt 1911 of rifles. It has only recently stopped being the basis of a huge amount every bolt action in production, and the best bolt action rifles of the 20th Century were almost all based on the Mauser 98 action, including the US Army's M24 sniper rifles and the USMC M40 series sniper rifles, which are still in service. The Remington 700, from which the M24 and M40 were developed, is based on the M98 action. The 700 is still a highly sought after weapon for hunters and marksmen, especially the early models. While the Mauser 98 was first produced in 1898 at Paul Mauser's factory in Obendorf, Germany, I am mostly going to be referring to the ultimate evolution of the design, the Karabiner 98 Kurz or K98k, the most common and smallest of the classic 98 line.
When people talk about the Mauser 98, they are often just speaking about its action. The action refers to the physical mechanism that moves the cartridges and seals the breech in preparation for firing. The term is also used to describe the method in which cartridges are loaded, locked, and extracted. The Mauser system consists of a receiver that serves as the systems shroud and a bolt group. The body of the bolt has three locking lugs, two large main lugs at the bolt head and a third safety lug at the rear of the bolt which serves as a backup in case the primary locking lugs failed. This third lug was added to increase the safety of the rifle. Another important feature of the 98 is its feed mechanism.
c = receiver, d = internal magazine spring, e = ammunition stripper clip, f = bolt group,
g = firing pin, h = pistol grip.
The 98 possesses a large claw type extractor that holds on to the rim of the cartridge all through the process of chambering the round, firing, extraction and ejection. The bolt handle is straight and protrudes out on the Gewehr 98 and on later models it is turned down so that it is less in the way and can be manipulated more easily. The 98 cocks the firing pin when the breech is opened, unlike the SMLE for example which cocks on closing. There is a piece that sticks out both visually and to the touch to signify that the weapon is cocked, which has become standard on many guns today. The Mauser 98 also has a small metal disc set into the stock that functions as a bolt disassembly tool, which, along with an easy process for field stripping, allows the user to perform maintenance and even switch out broken parts in the field. In another design feature to increase the safety of the weapon, Mauser included a gas shield and two large relief holes to the bolt sleeve. these were there to channel the hot, high pressure gas and bits of hot, sharp, jagged metal away from the face in the event of a catastrophic failure. (Should it happen to blow up)
K98k Mausers with rifle grenade and bayonet
7.92x57mm rounds (8mm Mauser) on stripper clip
While the 8mm Mauser cartridge has largely fallen out of favor in recent years, it is a very capable cartridge whether for military or civilian use. It fell out of favor as the arms world coalesced into NATO and Warsaw Pact standard calibers in the 1960s. It is in no way obsolete and the Russians and many others still use the less advanced (rimmed) and older 7.62x54R cartridge to very great effect. The first M98s were chambered in a 8.07mm diameter bullet, and was switched to a larger but lighter 8.2mm bullet with a new pointed shape called the Spitzer bullet. Many different loadings of the 8mm were made from its adoption by the Imperial German Army in 1898 to the Nazi build up of forces in the mid 1930s and throughout WWII. The original load pushed a 226 grain Spitzer bullet at 2,095 feet per second. By 1935, this had been changed to a lighter 197 grain bullet with the velocity increased to 2,493 FPS, giving it a flatter trajectory and a slightly longer effective range.
The end result was a rifle that was light (relatively) very accurate and capable of a very high rate of fire. The Mauser had better accuracy, safety, and quality of workmanship than any other weapon of the era. The Mauser was in many ways the premier rifle of its day and was only really equaled by the SMLE and probably only surpassed by the Springfield 1903A3 (by virtue of its updated and superior sight), which was a Mauser design itself. Weapons designed around variants of the Mauser 98 action continue to see vast civilian and specialist military use more than 100 years after is debut. It has been used by many countries, and you can find surplus 98s all over. There are thousands of Yugoslavian Mausers made on the German machines right after WWII that can be had pretty cheaply, many of them in new, unissued condition. According to Mauser Military Rifles of the World, by Robert W.D. Ball, 54 different countries contracted with Mauser to make more than 1,000 models of the basic rifle from 1871 to 1945. From Argentina to Yemen, Mauser rifles served on the front lines of nearly every conflict of the 20th Century.
The Mauser 98 and its descendants have clearly made their mark on the history of firearms design and warfare. Millions of Mauser 98 type weapons have been made. If you count guns that have an action that is a copy or descendant of the 98, who knows how many there are. That is just how important the M98 is to the history and design of rifles. The only real deficiency to the design is that it is fairly expensive to produce and needed a lot of skilled people to make it right. But that is really just a hallmark of the meticulous and exacting nature of German design. Certainly it has been used by many others than the Germans, though. Today you can still find many examples Persian, Chilean, Argentinian, and Yugoslavian Mausers just to name a few. The Israelis used a number of K98ks in their War of Independence. They have been chambered in several different cartridges, some of which are very hard to find today.