Gewehr 1888

Gewehr 1888
Model 1888 Commission Rifle / Gewehr 88
German GEW 88.jpg
Type Service rifle
Place of origin  German Empire
Service history
In service 1888 - 1915 (Germany)
Used by See users
Wars Second Boer War, Boxer Rebellion, World War I
Production history
Designer German Rifle Commission
Manufacturer Ludwig Loewe, Haenel, Steyr-Mannlicher, Imperial Arsenals of Amberg, Danzig, Erfurt, and Spandau, Hanyang Arsenal
Variants Gewehr 88/05, Gewehr 88/14, Karabiner 88, Hanyang 88 (unlicensed copy)
Specifications
Weight 3.8 kg (8.4 lb)
Length 1,245 mm (49.0 in)
Barrel length 740 mm (29.1 in)

Cartridge 8x57 mm I
Action bolt-action
Feed system 5 round clip in a permanent external magazine

The Gewehr 88 (commonly called the Model 1888 Commission Rifle) was a late 19th century German bolt-action rifle, adopted in 1888.

The invention of smokeless powder in the late 19th century immediately rendered all of the large-bore black powder rifles then in use obsolete. To keep pace with the French (who had adopted smokeless powder "small bore" ammunition for their Lebel Model 1886 rifle) the Germans adopted the Gewehr 88 using its own new 7.92x57mm I cartridge, which was also designed by the German Rifle Commission. The rifle was one of many weapons in the arms race between the Germanic states and France, and with Europe in general. There was also a carbine version, the Karabiner 88. Later models were updated (Gewehr 88/05 and Gewehr 88/14) and would go on to serve in World War I to a limited degree. Unlike many of the rifles before and after, it was not developed by Mauser but the Arms Commission, and Mauser was one of the few major arms manufacturers in Germany that did not produce Gewehr 88s.[1]

Contents

Design

In 1886, fifteen years after their defeat by German forces in the Franco-Prussian War, the French Army introduced the new Lebel magazine rifle firing an (8 mm) high-velocity projectile. This made Germany’s rifle, the Mauser Model 1871, obsolete due to its large and slow 11 mm round. The practical result was that the French rifle had greater accuracy and range, giving French troops a tactical advantage over the German Army. In response the German Army’s Rifle Testing Commission developed the Gewehr 88 which was adopted for service in 1888. For this reason the Gewehr 88 is also known as the "Commission rifle," or "Reichsgewehr".

German Empire, 1871–1918; Adoption of the rifle included parts of modern day Poland but not Bavaria

Cartridge

The first step was to design a new cartridge; M/88 8x57mm I. This began by adapting a Swiss design, resulting in a new 8 mm rimless "necked" cartridge (bullet diameter 8.08mm / .318 in) which featured smokeless powder. The basic design of the cartridge would be adopted for higher technology powders and shift to pointed 'Spitzer' bullets (diameter 8.20 mm / .323 in). The new round was not compatible with older rifles, and they had to be converted by deepening the rifling by 0.15mm which would give a groove diameter of .323. This was similar to the United States change from 30-03 to 30-06 Springfield.

The later light pointed bullet (Spitzgeschoß) 8x57mm IS round was introduced only in 1904/05, so the early Gewehr 98 was still designed for the older round-nose bullet, and had different sights. The newer 8x57mm IS round is still popular today with hunters (commonly known as the 8 mm Mauser or 8x57mm JS Mauser .323 diameter in the USA). It remained in military service until West Germany adopted the standardized NATO ammunition after World War II and was used by other countries (eg. Egypt and Yugoslavia) afterwards.

Shematic. Images #5 and #6

Receiver and magazine

The Gewehr 88 is in essence a Mannlicher design, though it is sometimes (incorrectly) called a "Model 88 Mauser." It has a receiver with a "split bridge" (i.e., the bolt passes through the receiver and locks in front of the rear bridge); a rotating bolt head; and the characteristic Mannlicher-style "packet loading" or "en-bloc" system in which cartridges are loaded into a steel carrier (a charger clip) which is inserted into the magazine, where it holds the cartridges in alignment over a spring. As shots are fired the clip remains in place until the last round is chambered, at which point it drops through a hole in the bottom of the rifle. This system was used in almost all Mannlicher designs and derivatives, and while it allows for speedy reloading, it also creates an entry point for dirt. To settle a patent infringement claim by Steyr-Mannlicher, Germany contracted the Austro-Hungarian company to be one of the manufacturers of Gewehr 88.

Bolt and barrel

A Karabiner 88 carbine. Note the exposed barrel and spoon-shaped bent bolt handle.

The Commission Rifle's bolt action design was a modified Mannlicher action with a few Mauser features, but it is incorrect to call it a "Mauser." The barrel design and rifling were virtually copied from the French Lebel. The rifle has an odd appearance as the entire barrel is encased in a sheet metal tube for protection, but with the tube removed the rifle looks rather modern. This tube was intended to increase accuracy by preventing the barrel from directly contacting the stock, but in practice it increased the risk of rust by providing a space for water to be trapped if the rifle was exposed to harsh conditions. The Karabiner 88 utilized a different bolt handle, which resembled those found on commercial sporting rifles.

Service history

Some early models had flaws due to rushed ammunition production; anti-Semitic factions within the German press exploited the flaws alleging a conspiracy between one of the rifle’s manufacturers, the Ludwig Loewe Company, and other Jewish owned manufactures, including the firm manufacturing the smokeless powder. Thus the rifle became known derisively as the Judenflinte ("Jews' Musket"), despite the fact that the roughly three-quarters of the rifles were produced by other, non-Jewish factories.[2]

The Commission Rifle saw field service with Germany's colonial expansion, including in China during the Boxer Rebellion (with the unlicensed Hanyang 88 copy also being used by the opposing Chinese troops), and served as a front line weapon for German troops during World War I until 1915 when the supply of Gewehr 98s increased; however, it was used extensively by the Turkish Army even through World War II. Many Gewehr 88 rifles stayed in active service in second-line units, reserves, and in armies allied with the Germans through and well past World War I. Most of the Gewehr 88s seen in the USA are the ones given to the Turkish forces in World War I and have been modified from the original design. The Turks issued these and updated versions at least as late as the 1930s. Gewehr 88/05 rifles were also used by Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, mostly ones that were captured from German forces in World War II. A few are encountered with Finnish markings. The Republic of China also used this rifle extensively in the Republican era, in the guise of the Hanyang 88. It saw service during the War of Resistance against Japan and more than held its own against the Japanese Arisaka Type 38 rifle, though the latter was technologically superior by 30 years.

The rifle was adopted during a period of rapid development in firearms technology and marked Germany's shift to a smokeless powder. This explains why its period as the primary German service rifle was just over a dozen years, but it remained in limited service for much longer. In 1898 a true Mauser design would be adopted, the Gewehr 98, which was the culmination of a series of Mauser models in the 1890s. It was a superior replacement using the same ammunition with a stronger powder charge. However, this rifle soon had to be converted to fire the new pointed round that Germany adapted after the turn of the century. With these modifications the newer design remained in use until the end of World War II.

The Gewehr 88 was also sometimes made into very elegant sporting rifles by custom gunmakers in Germany. Examples of these usually show first-class workmanship and special features such as folding sights, altered bolt handles and so on. Some Karabiner 88 carbines are known to have been produced in 7x57mm Mauser instead of the usual 7.92x57mm.[3] These were likely intended for sale in South America, where use of the 7x57mm cartridge was widespread, but no military adopted it in this caliber. All known 7x57mm Karabiner 88s were produced by Haenel.

Modification

At the time of adoption, the "Patrone 7.9mm" was loaded with a bullet that measured 0.3188" in diameter. In 1897, the German Army changed the specifications of the cartridge to use a bullet 0.321" in diameter and Gewehr 88 rifles made from that date on had .323" diameter bores. After 1897 most, but not all, rifles were regrooved to a .323" diameter barrel. However, this is a misleading statement, as the tolerance on the barrels ranged from .318" to .325" (8.07mm to 8.25mm). The more important change was a wider chamber throat to take the thicker brass of the new cartridge. Rifles with this change have the receiver marked with a large "S". Gewehr 88/05 rifles were converted to use the Gewehr 98 type stripper clip by adding stripper clip guides to the top rear of the receiver and altering the magazine. The powder load used for the Gewehr 88 is also less than that of any other 8 mm Mauser rifle, as the makers of the Gewehr 88 did not understand the great power of smokeless powder compared to black powder. Shooters planning to use modern 8 mm Mauser ammunition should slug their bore as there are four different bore and groove combinations found on the Gewehr 88 rifle. Ammunition designated for machine guns should never be fired in a Commission Rifle.

Defects

Although the packet loading system proved to be a design defect, it is not uncommon to encounter a Gewehr 88 today which still retains it. Some of them were modified to use the stripper clips used with the Gewehr 98 by milling a slot into the left side of the action and adding stripper clip guides on the top of the receiver. Through this slot projects a bar which retains the cartridges in place against the magazine spring's pressure. The hole in the bottom of the rifle is often covered with a small piece of sheet metal.

Unlike many rifles designed later, the bolt head of this rifle is able to be removed from the bolt body. This piece could be removed during disassembly, and was frequently lost. Additionally, both the ejector and the extractor that are attached to the bolt head are prone to falling out if care is not taken during disassembly and reassembly.

Users

See also

  • Hanyang 88
  • List of infantry weapons of World War I

References

External links


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