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Did Han shoot first?
Ma klounkee
I'm Harrison Ford and I don't care
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Somebody Awful
Nov 27, 2011

Kill Em All 1917
I am trench man
410,757,864,530 SHELLS FIRED

I got a box. In the box was a thing.

Let's cut the tape and see what's inside. Probably some obscure clunker I got cheap off Gunbroker, because goodness knows I don't have enough of those already.


So yeah, I now own a Mauser C96. I've wanted one of these for a long, long time, but it was only in the past couple of months that I started actively shopping for one instead of the many cheaper things I also wanted. This one seemed sure to go way out of my price range, but it didn't and I managed to snag it with a last minute bid. It's a well used but matching example of what is now called the Prewar Commercial model, chambered in the standard 7.63x25mm Mauser cartridge and probably made in 1915. Before I get into what that name means or how I estimated the date, let us briefly rewind to the early 1890s. The earlier history of the Mauser family and company has been covered by Cyrano in his Mauser 1871 box thread, so you can head over there if you want the gory details.

The years leading up to this point had brought mixed fortunes for Paul Mauser. His company was sold to new owners behind his back and he missed out on providing his native Germany with its first small bore smokeless powder rifle. On the other hand, he did win a prestigious rifle contract with the Ottoman Empire and his own smokeless rifles and cartridges were being adopted by other countries left and right. Now Mauser also joined the ranks of inventors seeking to perfect and market a semiautomatic pistol. The exact origins of the C96 are somewhat shrouded in mystery: the traditional story has it that the first development was carried out against Mauser's wishes by Fidel Feederle, head of Mauser's experimental shop and one of Paul's closest collaborators, and his brothers Friedrich and Josef who worked in the same department. I've long found the traditional story dubious for a number of reasons, and information from original archives (summarized in the very large and very interesting book Paul Mauser: His Life, Company, and Handgun Development, 1838-1914 by Mauro Baudino and Gerben van Vlimmeren) confirms that the true story is rather more complicated. It seems that Mauser (who had experience designing handguns since the late 1870s) was fully involved, collaborating with the Feederle brothers and another of his top men, August Gaiser.

Mauser's later dissociation from the project apparently stems from a dispute with industrialist Theodor Bergmann. During this same period, Bergmann was attempting to market a series of pistols designed for him by Louis Schmeisser (also creator of TFR's favorite milsurp meme gun, the Dreyse 1907) based on an initial patent by one Otto Brauswetter. According to Bergmann, he approached Mauser about having the latter produce his pistols, but Mauser only produced a set of prototypes after considerable delay and told Bergmann he was too busy to help further. Bergmann later learned that Mauser had meanwhile developed his own pistol and taken out patents on ideas to which Bergmann felt he himself had a prior claim. Unfortunately we only have Bergmann's side of the story, recorded in a letter he wrote ten years after the fact to Paul Mauser's estranged nephew Alfons. The dispute was never taken to court and Mauser avoided speaking about it in his later years. For what it's worth, the Mauser pistol is mechanically very different from the Bergmann designs of the day, which Bergmann himself acknowledged. Further details, including the full text of Bergmann's letter, can be found in the book cited above.

But I digress. A working prototype of what became the C96 was completed and photographed in March of 1895. Even at this stage it closely resembled the finished product. The gun was demonstrated to Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was quite impressed, and reached the market by 1897. It was not the first semiauto pistol to see mass production but arguably the first to succeed commercially, albeit not overnight. Mauser managed to get the Ottoman Empire to buy a thousand for Sultan Abdul Hamid II's palace guards in 1897, followed by an order of five thousand and change for the Italian Navy in 1899, but desirable military contracts otherwise remained elusive. Mauser made a flurry of small changes and improvements during early production, and for some years experimented with different technical and aesthetic features to try and find something customers actually wanted. Early C96s could be had with standard or shortened barrels, standard or shortened grips, fixed or adjustable sights, and six, ten or twenty shot magazines. Mauser, like Luger, also attempted to adapt the pistol into a takedown carbine with a longer barrel and wooden handguard. The carbine was short lived, but a detachable wooden holster-stock was a common accessory for the regular pistols. By about 1903 this eclectic lineup was mostly consolidated into a single configuration, with a 5.5 inch barrel, ten shot magazine, and adjustable sights. This was the Prewar Commercial:

The C96 is a single action, hammer fired, short recoil operated pistol with a double stack fixed magazine loaded using stripper clips. This is obviously clumsy in hindsight, but makes some sense if you consider what Mauser's primary business was. Below you can see the first of its many numbered parts. You can also see the rear tangent sight, much like you'd find on some rifles of the era. The sights have a barleycorn picture which is likewise period typical but not great to use. The sight slider retains some of its original fire bluing, as do the extractor, bolt stop and safety. The earliest tangent sights were pinned on, as opposed to the machined lug-and-cutout setup shown here. The early guns also had a longer extractor without the little side tabs.

The sight ranges are definitely optimistic, but the 7.63mm cartridge was rather spicy for its time, driving an 85-grain bullet at about 1,400 feet per second. It was a slight modification of the 7.65mm round from Hugo Borchardt's C93 pistol, the same from which the Luger pistol and its shorter 7.65mm and 9mm Parabellum cartridges evolved. Paul Mauser was on friendly terms with Borchardt, so the use of Borchardt's ammunition as a starting point was presumably done with his approval. The C96 was also produced in, or converted to, a few other calibers over the years. The main alternative before WWI was 9mm Mauser Export, formed by removing the 7.63mm casing's bottleneck. This was never a bestseller, though it did eventually see a limited revival as a submachine gun round.

The bolt locks open on the last shot and is held by the magazine follower until a clip is inserted. Remove the clip after loading and the pistol chambers the first round automatically.

If you ever handled a Mauser rifle, that magazine floorplate should look mighty familiar.

Now let's take this thing apart and see how it works. Press in on the floorplate latch with a tool and push the floorplate forward until it pops off.

The magazine is in essence a pistol caliber version of Mauser's 1893 rifle magazine. The spring is pointing the wrong way here but you get the idea. The floorplate is numbered on the inside and matches the gun.

With the magazine internals removed, we can proceed. The lockwork is mounted in a removable frame retained by a latch at the back. The hammer holds the latch closed when uncocked, ensuring it won't come out while firing. You can't see very well here, but the hammer, lock frame and pistol frame are all matching.

Push up on the latch and everything slides off the back. Now you can really see the fire blue on the safety. There were four major safety variants on the C96: the first one had a longer shaft, but only a small part was visible outside and it had a very short throw. A complaint of early adopters was that it was hard to tell whether the safety was on or not. By 1902 Mauser had replaced that version with the second type safety seen here, where up is safe and down is fire. The first type safety was the opposite. Also, on early guns the barrel and frame rails were shorter at the back.

At this point the barrel assembly, locking block and lock frame are held together by spring tension. While we're here, let's go ahead and take the grips off.

One screw in the whole thing, and this is all it does. The grips, too, are matching. It's common for C96s to have rust or pitting under the grips, especially on ones that came out of China. This one isn't too bad.

The barrel group, locking block and lock frame are easily pulled apart. The locking block has two lugs on top which mate with cutouts on the bottom of the bolt, and drops down to unlock during operation. The prototype and the earliest production guns had a single locking lug.

More matching numbers on the locking block and disconnector. Whether or not the other fire control parts were numbered varied over time. On this gun only the hammer and disconnector have numbers.

Before we get further into the lock frame, let's first disassemble the upper. The firing pin is removed by pushing it in with a (very) narrow flathead screwdriver and making a quarter turn clockwise to disengage its retaining lugs. The early C96 had a separate retainer plate. The pin has a small spring fitted at its front, which you'll see shortly.

With the firing pin out, we can push the bolt stop forward against the recoil spring and wiggle it out from the other side.

More fire bluing and a matching number on the bolt stop. The recoil spring will usually pop out at this point. This one is rather kinky and will be replaced.

The upper is now completely disassembled except for the rear sight, which I'm going to leave alone. It's important to check behind the bolt stop cutout for peening or bowing, as this is a common failure point on guns shot with weak springs or hot ammo. This one looks okay.

Back to the lock frame. The safety is removed by turning it about halfway between safe and fire, allowing a lug on the back to fit through a notch in the frame. Here you can see how the leading end is formed into a spring and detent.

To remove the takedown latch, swing it down and slide it out to the left.

Then push up on the upper finger of the V-shaped sear spring and take the disconnector off. This part was kind of tricky, as the disconnector has a small tab to keep it from falling out when you don't want it to.

The hammer is still held by the sear at this point. The trigger linkage sort of wraps around the hammer spring inside the lock frame. Also note the ejector up at the front end of the frame.

Pull the hammer off the sear and swing the sear up and forward. Like the disconnector, it has a small tab to keep it in place.

This next part is a lot of fun. To get the hammer spring out, we have to compress the rocker plunger at its front end and wiggle a small piece called the rocker coupling out of the bottom.

Once the coupling is out, the rocker plunger, hammer spring and rear plunger come out together.

That sear spring is also the hammer pivot pin, because the C96 wasn't enough of a Rube Goldberg nightmare already. Luckily it comes out easily now.

Here's the other side of the hammer, showing the slots which the safety locks into. The top of the hammer underwent a few stylistic changes. The prototype had one with a thumb spur, which for some reason was replaced by one with a shallow stepped cone on either side. This was followed after a couple of years by a large, flat-sided ring and then by the smaller through-hole with annular grooves which you see here. The adoption of the small ring hammer accompanied the introduction of the second type safety circa 1902.

The C96 detail stripped, or mostly so. I left the trigger in place because it and the magazine floorplate catch are held in by a flat spring that requires a specific tool to remove. On early C96s the trigger was pinned into a removable insert.

I mentioned earlier that this example was probably made in 1915. The gun itself is not dated, but it happens to fall close to a change for which we do have an approximate date. The Prewar Commercial underwent few changes after 1903, except for a switch from four groove to six groove rifling. Mauser still hadn't gotten much in the way of military contracts, but the C96 was selling respectably through commercial channels... Until 1914, when war were declared. The German government, which had previously passed over the C96 in favor of the Luger, now began to purchase both the C96 and Mauser's smaller 1910/1914 series in large quantities. C96s issued by the military had an acceptance stamp applied to the right side of the chamber. Mauser also offered pistols for direct sale to officers, in which case they would not get the stamp. As this one lacks an acceptance mark, it might be one of the latter. For better or worse there are no unit marks, rework marks or import marks from which to extrapolate its specific history.

The widespread issue of these guns, particularly to troops who previously had not carried semiautomatic pistols, highlighted a potential issue with the second type safety catch. If the safety was not quite fully engaged and the trigger was pulled, a situation could arise in which the hammer was held only by the safety and the gun would fire as soon as the safety was switched off. Mauser engineers (Paul Mauser had passed away before the war) attempted to solve this problem with what they called the New Safety: the slots on the hammer were adjusted so that it had to be pulled past full cock to put the safety on, ensuring the sear would catch the hammer when the safety was disengaged. The New Safety was identified by an entwined NS monogram on the back of the hammer and removal of the through-hole on the safety knob, though the safety piece was mechanically unchanged. A Mauser manual supplement dated October 1915 states this change was made at serial number 280,000, just over ten thousand units after mine was made. Thus the Prewar Commercial, which actually lasted until the second year of the war, became the Wartime Commercial.

Since the war was still grinding on with no end in sight, the government kept buying Mauser's guns. Pistols were something of a logistical headache, as quartermasters had to supply the standard 9mm Parabellum round plus 7.63mm Mauser, 7.65mm Browning, and even 10.6mm ammunition for 1879 and 1883 Reichsrevolvers that were still kicking around. Eventually someone figured out that the C96, unlike many other pistols in service, could be adapted to standard 9mm with little effort. The traditional story is that a military order for 150,000 C96s in 9mm was placed in 1916, and that perhaps 137,000 were delivered by war's end. As with the C96's genesis, the traditional story gets the details wrong: according to surviving records, Mauser received an order for 200,000 9mm guns in July 1917 but the first deliveries only happened in January 1918. Mauser made less than 100,000 before the November armistice, though production continued until 1922 and totaled about 140,000. Nicknamed the Red 9 after a prominent caliber marking applied to the grips, these guns differed from the Wartime Commercial only in having a 9mm barrel and a rear sight graduated to 500 meters. Like the early Ottoman and Italian contracts, they were numbered in their own serial range.

Mauser was initially able to evade close scrutiny by Allied authorities, but eventually it had to make its products comply with size and caliber restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. For the C96 this meant bringing back a discontinued prewar model with a 3.9 inch 7.63mm barrel and shortened grip. This 'compact' version was otherwise the same as the Wartime Commercial and sold quite well during the 1920s. The Soviets bought quite a few during their period of clandestine cooperation with Weimar Germany and it eventually became known to collectors as the Postwar Bolo, supposedly derived from Bolshevik. China, balkanized following the overthrow of the Qing imperial dynasty in 1911, was another strong market for the pistol. There were nationalists fighting communists fighting warlords fighting Japanese incursions and everybody wanted weapons. By the late 1920s, the Chinese market for the C96 in particular was attracting competition from two Spanish concerns, the Beistegui brothers of Eibar and Unceta & Co of Guernica. Both companies more or less copied the barrel, bolt and magazine of the Mauser and combined them with original lockwork. Beistegui's guns were marketed under a variety of names, while Unceta grouped its offerings into the Astra 900 series. Despite these derivative origins, the Spanish makers then took the lead in innovating the platform, gradually introducing select fire capability, detachable magazines, and cyclic rate reducers. The C96 was also copied with varying degrees of fidelity by arsenals and artisans in China itself.

Mauser wasn't blind to what its imitators were doing, and by the end of the 1920s it was bringing back full size grips and barrels. The C96 got a facelift in the form of the Model 1930, which introduced a fourth and final safety design. The new Universal Safety allowed the hammer to be safely dropped on a loaded chamber. Apart from that, changes were mainly aimed at economizing production. Parts were simplified, the finish was less polished, and only a few components were numbered. The M30 can be identified by a hammer with no concentric rings around the hole on the top and a visible step in the barrel profile ahead of the chamber. Next Mauser caught up with the Spanish competition, whom it continued to dwarf in terms of sheer volume, by introducing the Schnellfeuer-pistole, an M30 with a giggle switch and detachable box magazines. The M30 and Schnellfeuer remained in production until about 1937, when the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War cut off Mauser's last major market for this obsolete and costly design. The Beistegui brothers had already left the arms business by then, and Unceta was busy dealing with the Spanish Civil War. Some sporadic and limited production of the Astra 900 line took place as late as the 1950s, probably making use of old leftover parts.

The Mauser factory's C96 production run spanned forty years and surpassed a million units of all types. While Paul Mauser's hopes of adoption by a major military were never quite realized, the pistol saw action in conflicts all over the world and left an indelible mark in history and popular culture.

Now that I've bored you to tears with the history and technical details of the gun, I'll wrap up with a few thoughts on this one in particular. It's a heavy piece and I guarantee none of the people who worked on it ever heard of the term 'low bore axis'. The sights are usable and the trigger pull is heavy but short. The bore condition is... not great. There's fine pitting and a slight ring from the gun being fired with some kind of barrel obstruction. There are a couple of outfits which will bore out and reline barrels to make them like new, though I suspect that's not going to help the value on an all-matching gun like this. I've ordered a set of replacement springs, which probably won't get here for a few weeks, and I'm going to keep an eye out for a donor barrel I can have converted to 9mm for easier ammo selection. At some point I'll also want to pick up a holster-stock. Luckily ATF has ruled that faithful reproduction stocks are permitted for the C96, unlike some other vintage pistols.

If you made it this far, congratulations and thank you for reading. And remember: Han shot first.

Somebody Awful fucked around with this message at 06:20 on Feb 25, 2021


Shima Honnou
Dec 1, 2010

The Once And Future King Of Dicetroit

College Slice


Rodenthar Drothman
May 14, 2013

I think I will continue
watching this twilight world
as long as time flows.

Hot drat that’s really cool

Aug 1, 2014

Am I a... bad person?
AM I??

Fun Shoe

That's nice, man. Really nice. Getting a replacement barrel in a more convenient caliber is probably the way to go. Maybe whatever the equivalent of an upper is for this thing. Swap it in to go shooting with, swap it out to put on display.

Sep 25, 2006

Hot drat. I knew what you'd got based on some hints you dropped elsewhere but goddamn. Great writeup too.

If anyone here is really, REALLY into crazy, incestuous engineer drama you all need to start reading about pre-WW1 German handgun designers.

I Demand Food
Nov 17, 2002

Wow. What a neat gun and post!

Captain Log
Oct 2, 2006

Captain Log posted:

"I AINT DYING! Choo choo motherfucker!"

Gotta shoot that thing wearing black spandex with a yellow stripe.

That and a Luger are White Whales for me.

Feb 13, 2012

It's just like him too, y'know?

Nice! I’ve always wanted to shoot one with a stock. In all the tests I’ve seen I think people seem to miss “one handed, stock shouldered” as an option.

Jan 4, 2013

Hell yes. 5’d.

Mar 5, 2013

Bloody beautiful work there, mate.

Dr. Gojo Shioji
Apr 22, 2004

I'm probably never going to own one of these, but I'm saving all this info because it's the type that really comes in handy if I ever happen into one and inevitably want/need to take it apart to experience its clockwork magnificence. Thanks for thorough effort-post!

Also, your poll needs an option for "Han was the only one who shot"

Vindolanda posted:

In all the tests I’ve seen I think people seem to miss “one handed, stock shouldered” as an option.

That seems especially appropriate to test for the Mauser (and artillery Luger) given that Wilhelm II liked shoulder-stocked pistols on account of not having use of his gimpy left arm.

Sep 25, 2006

By the way, all that patent and lawsuit poo poo that he's talking about in the OP is just so loving distilled late 19th century German gun industry it hurts. You had patent disputes, you had litigation about infringing elements, and then you had governments waving their dicks around and doing poo poo in the mix. At one point an Austrian court issued an injunction to stop the production of Gew 88 rifles for Germany by Steyr because of a lawsuit over, iirc, the barrel shroud.

And that's before you get into engineers egos and feeling like someone else copied their idea or didn't give them enough credit on a joint project etc.

edit: I've said it before, but if any of you are familiar with the Mark LaRue / Bill Geissele drama it's basically that but with far more amazing 19th C. German facial hair.

Somebody Awful
Nov 27, 2011

Kill Em All 1917
I am trench man
410,757,864,530 SHELLS FIRED

tarlibone posted:

Getting a replacement barrel in a more convenient caliber is probably the way to go. Maybe whatever the equivalent of an upper is for this thing. Swap it in to go shooting with, swap it out to put on display.

Pretty much. Mauser's decision to make the entire barrel and extension as a single piece is one of those things I just don't understand. This actually became an issue after WWI, when a bunch of guns on hand had to be reworked for treaty compliance or export sales to make the Weimar Republic slightly less broke. For the Luger this just meant screwing in a new barrel. For the C96 it led to a mix of guns with the barrel cut down and the front sight remounted (sometimes with the tangent sight cut off and a fixed rear installed as well), guns with the barrel cut off and a new one soldered onto the extension, and even guns with the barrel cut off, the extension threaded, and a Luger barrel screwed in.

Over in Spain, Beistegui and Unceta used screw-in barrels and theirs worked just fine. Go figure.

Cyrano4747 posted:

At one point an Austrian court issued an injunction to stop the production of Gew 88 rifles for Germany by Steyr because of a lawsuit over, iirc, the barrel shroud.

Apparently (I'm mostly going off C&Rsenal's Gewehr 88 video here) there were actually two legal disputes involving OEWG Steyr's production of the G88. As you say, the first involved the barrel shroud and its inventor, Armand Mieg. Mieg had done some groundwork for the G88 but received not a pfennig from the rifle commission/GPK for it, and was even denied a German patent on his work. Topp Sechret, can't let Frankreich find out what we're doing, etc. He did however manage to get an Austrian patent, and thus interfere with the rifle's production in Austria. Mieg reportedly became a batshit paranoiac later in life and ended up being sequestered by his own family.

The other case involved Ferdinand Mannlicher, whose en bloc clip system the G88 used. The traditional story is that the GPK infringed on Mannlicher's patents and Steyr got to produce the G88 as part of the settlement. According to Othais, the traditional story is off the mark (again) because the GPK paid Mannlicher up front for the use of his clip. However it seems the original agreement did not cover G88 production outside Germany, so Mannlicher had a claim to more royalties when Steyr began making it.

Jan 12, 2005

border patrol qt

Plaster Town Cop

Detail-stripping a German pistol. You are a brave goon.


Sep 25, 2006

Somebody Awful posted:

The other case involved Ferdinand Mannlicher, whose en bloc clip system the G88 used. The traditional story is that the GPK infringed on Mannlicher's patents and Steyr got to produce the G88 as part of the settlement. According to Othais, the traditional story is off the mark (again) because the GPK paid Mannlicher up front for the use of his clip. However it seems the original agreement did not cover G88 production outside Germany, so Mannlicher had a claim to more royalties when Steyr began making it.

Yeah, the Mannlicher issue is weird and I don't think anyone has the full details any more. Lots of destroyed records, etc.

I tend towards the view that the issue with the patents and any disputes regarding them were separate from the production at Steyr. The Gew88 was loving state secret number one as far as the Germans were concerned, to the point where they curtailed the normal field trials process for fear of France getting wind. Initially guns were to be produced only at the state arsenals for that very reason, and they went to some pretty nuts lengths to make it look like they were making another run of 71/84s. I forget the details right now, but IIRC it involved poo poo like obfuscating what kind of machinery they were ordering. It was ordered from Ludwig Loewe and they did something to make it look like they were expanding the 71/84 lines.

They only turned to commercial providers (including both LL&Co and Steyr) after production at the state arsenals proved too slow. They asked Mauser first, Mauser was busy with the Turkish contract so they declined, then they went to LL&Co and, eventually, Steyr. They were also paying a premium for these guns - LL & Co. was being given 49 Marks per gun, while the costs for production at the state arsenals were calculated at about 35.

To me it smacks of them picking second best choices all the way down. The state arsenals, which they control completely and can exercise much better security in, are proving too slow so they go to Mauser (not sure why they went there first, but that's besides the point - edit: thinking it through probably because they didn't want to slow down the machinery orders, see below). Mauser turns them down so they go with LL&Co. That helps but it's still too slow, and it overburdens them to the degree that it actually impacts the timely delivery of Gew88 machinery to the Amberg arsenal. After that they go to Steyr, and in doing so basically went with the premier non-state gun company in one of the countries least likely to be at war with them. Austria and Prussia/Germany didn't always have cheery relations (gently caress, they fought a war like 20 years before this as part of German unification) but poo poo wasn't nearly as fraught as it was with France. If you're the Germans and you're casting about for a foreign country to speed the production of your new rifle Austro-Hungary is pretty much the only half-way reasonable choice, between the diplomatic situation and having a land border.

I'm fairly confident that if the state arsenals had been able to ramp up production fast enough that we never would have had LL&Co. Gew88s, much less Steyrs.

One final note before we go back to talking about a far cooler gun made by a better company rather than the 19th century prototype for concurrent development hell*: In that C&Rsenal video on the Gew88, he makes the claim that LL&Co ditched its name in favor of the DWM moniker when it merged everything in part to shed the ugly press surrounding the Judenflinten scandal. You don't happen to know a is that the commission that designed that rifle apparently gave a grand total of zero fucks about things like intellectual property, patents, etc. See; Miegs. They basically solicited a bunch of designs and then cherry picked what thought were the best features. Paul Mauser even walked away feeling poorly done by since he basically sent a further update of the 71/84 with a box mag when if he'd known what they were really after he could have sent the early work on what became the m89. I just can't believe that that committee in particular gave enough of a poo poo about the IP of a foreign weapons designer to arrange a compensatory contract.

*no, seriously, the Gew88 can stand toe to toe with the F35 on this one. They developed the cartridge and rifle simultaneously, by committee, and were making changes right up to and past when it entered production. They didn't even fully settle on the caliber until the loving tooling was already being made.

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