I am partnering with C&Rsenal’s Othais to bring you companion articles to his Primer series of videos looking at some of the most important firearms in history. First, Othais tackles the iconic Mauser C96 pistol, used by diverse characters from Chinese resistance fighters in WWII, to fictional rogue smugglers from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Keep a look out for further articles in this set as they come out!
In the late 19th Century, genius gunmaker Paul Mauser, creator of one of the most enduring families of bolt-action rifles of all time, kept a research division, in which worked 3 brothers, Josef, Friedrich, and Fidel Feederle. It was these three brothers that would design one of the most iconic pistols in history.
The Mauser C96 handgun was initially chambered for 7.63x25mm Mauser, which was derived from but somewhat more powerful than the 7.65x25mm Borchardt, and which led to the yet hotter Russian 7.62x25mm Tokarev round. Later Mausers would be chambered for 9x25mm Mauser Export, essentially a necked out 7.63×25, and 9x19mm Parabellum, a round also derived – in a roundabout way – from the 7.65 Borchardt, which was in use by the German Army with the competing P.08 Luger handgun. The Mauser’s design was finished by 1895, but it got a slow start on the international market, only achieving a handful of early orders. However, by World War I, the sales of the C96 had picked up, and from then on it would become one of the most common and distinctive automatic handguns until the end of World War II.
Mechanically, the C96 is a short-recoil barrel-operated, locking piece locked, hammer-fired semiautomatic firearm, that feeds from a nondetachable box magazine (though a handful of variants would be equipped with detachable magazines) that feeds from a two-column, two-position feed magazine, and usually fed from stripper clips. A video of the gun’s operation is embedded below, and a text description follows:
As the trigger is pulled, a connector raises a sear, which releases the hammer, which strikes the firing pin. Before ignition, the bolt and one-piece barrel/receiver are locked together with a floating locking piece. Once the assembly travels to the rear slightly under recoil, the locking block is cammed down by surfaces in the frame. As the locking block cams down it in turn forces the sear down, and the bolt, now free to travel rearward under blowback pressure, cams the hammer back, resetting the firing mechanism. The hammer spring also acts as the return spring for the barrel-receiver assembly, where it acts the locking block via a rocking piece, and the bolt has its own dedicated return spring. As the bolt, and then the barrel-receiver return to battery, the locking block is cammed back into position, locking the action for firing. When the trigger is released, the connector, which doubles as a disconnector, is cammed back into place, and the gun is ready to fire the next shot.
The C96, though originally developed as a pistol only, was quickly adapted to mate with a wooden shoulder stock, which also doubled as a holster for the gun. While as a pistol the C96 is a somewhat awkward and clunky gun to shoot, when stocked as a carbine, the C96 is a virtually unique weapon for the era. Other handguns of the period did come equipped with shoulder stocks, but they either were revolvers that due to escaping gases between the barrel and cylinder made for somewhat awkward use as carbines, or they were another early kind of semiautomatic handgun that did not pair as well with a shoulder stock. Further, the Mauser, with its very high velocity ammunition (with a muzzle velocity nearing 1,500 ft/s), had a cartridge that was flat-shooting enough to make it truly useful in the carbine role in a way that virtually no other pistols from the period were. The gun in fact worked so well as a carbine, that when a dedicated 7.63mm C96 carbine and C96 pistols were demonstrated toKaiser Wilhelm in 1897, he tasked Paul Mauser with adapting the design into a full-power autoloading rifle.
While the German Army did not initially buy the C96, instead opting for the Luger, at the outbreak of war in 1914, they did place an order for the 7.63mm 1912 Military Model, and subsequently for the 9mm Luger “Red 9” Mausers, so named for the red “9” engraved deeply in their grip panels to identify them and prevent confusion with the 7.63mm guns.
A notable variant of the C96 family is the Model 712, more commonly called the “Schnellfeuer” (“rapid fire”), which was equipped with a selector switch on the side to allow for fully automatic fire. The addition of rapid fully automatic fire capability to the unstocked, and fairly flippy Mauser pistol is of pretty limited utility (though it looks very impressive to see in person), but in carbine configuration with the stock attached, the 712 becomes a very lightweight and handy select-fire, closed-bolt submachine gun, in an era when submachine guns were expensive, heavy, bulky, open-bolt machines conceived more as portable, micro-sized counterparts to fixed water-cooled medium machine guns than the cheap, near-disposable weapons of industrial war they became in WWII, or the ultra-compact CQB/personal defense weapons they would evolve into after. In contrast to this, the select-fire Mauser was much less expensive than almost any other fully automatic weapon of the time, while being much lighter and more compact. As a result, it was a commercial success, with almost 100,000 pistols shipped by Mauser, most of them for export, between 1934 and 1936, a truly phenomenal number for a select-fire arm built during only two years, and at the height of the Great Depression.
The C96 pistol designed by the Feederle brothers was a massive success for Mauser, and it has become one of the few handgun designs, along with the Colt Single Action Army, Luger, Colt 1911 Government Model, Smith and Wesson Model 10, and Glock, to achieve true “icon” status, being instantly recognizable by gun nut and layman alike. However, perhaps nowhere was it as great a success as in Asia, where “C96” became virtually synonymous with “handgun”. On that continent, it was used by Communist revolutionaries, Imperialists, bandits, Nationalists, and everyone in-between, and it was so influential that new firearms with the same configuration and features were being designed well into the late 1970s.