The Karabiner 98 Kurz (often abbreviated Kar98k or K98k) was a bolt-action rifle adopted as the standard infantry rifle in 1935 by the Wehrmacht, and was one of the final developments in the long line of Mauser military rifles.
The Karabiner 98k was a bolt-action rifle with Mauser-type action holding five rounds of 7.92x57mm Mauser on a stripper clip, loaded into an internal magazine. It was derived from earlier rifles, namely the Karabiner 98b, which in turn had been developed from the Mauser Model 1898. The Gewehr 98 or Model 1898 took its principles from the Lebel Model 1886 rifle with the improvement of a metallic magazine of five cartridges. Since the rifle was shorter than the earlier Karabiner 98b from which it was derived (the 98b was a carbine in name only, being identical in length to the Gewehr 98 long rifle), it was given the designation Karabiner 98 Kurz, meaning "Carbine 98 Short". Just like its predecessor, the rifle was noted for its reliability, good accuracy and an effective range of up to 500 meters (547 yards) with iron sights.
The standard Karabiner 98k iron sights could be regulated for ranges from 100 m up to 2000 m in 100 m increments. The 98k rifle was designed to be used with an S84/98 III bayonet and to fire rifle grenades. Most rifles had laminated stocks , the result of trials that had stretched through the 1930s. Plywood laminates resisted warping better than the conventional one-piece patterns, did not require lengthy maturing and were less wasteful. Starting in late 1944, 98k production began transition to the "Kriegsmodell" ("war model") variant. This version was simplified to meet wartime production demands, removing the bayonet lug, cleaning rod, stock disk, and other features deemed to be unnecessary.
The 98k had the same disadvantages as all other turn-of-the-century military rifles in that it was comparatively bulky and heavy, and the rate of fire was limited by how fast the bolt could be operated. Its magazine had only half the capacity of Great Britain's Lee-Enfield series rifles, but being internal, it made the weapon more comfortable to carry. While the Allies (both Soviet and Anglo-American) developed and moved towards standardization of semi-automatic rifles, the Germans maintained these bolt-action rifles due to their tactical doctrine of basing a squad's firepower on the unit's light machine gun and possibly their problems of mass producing semi-automatic rifles.
In close combat, however, submachine guns were often preferred, especially for urban combat where the rifle's range and low rate of fire were not very useful. Towards the end of the war, the Kar98k was being phased out in favour of the StG44 assault rifle, which fired a rifle round that was more powerful than the pistol cartridges of submachine guns, but that could be used like a submachine gun in close-quarters and urban fighting. Production of the StG44 was never sufficient to meet demand, being a late war weapon, and because of this the Mauser Kar98k rifle was still produced and used as the standard infantry rifle by the German forces until the German surrender in May 1945.
German sniper aiming his Kar98k with 4x Zeiss ZF42 telescopic sight.
Several special models of the Karabiner 98k existed.
For snipers, Karabiner 98k rifles selected for being exceptionally accurate during factory tests, were fitted with a telescopic sight as sniper rifles. Karabiner 98k sniper rifles had an effective range up to 800 meters (875 yards) when used by a skilled sniper. The German Zeiss Zielvier 4x (ZF39) telescopic sight had bullet drop compensation in 50 m increments for ranges from 100 m up to 800 m or in some variations from 100 m up to 1000 m. There were also ZF42, Zeiss Zielsechs 6x and other telescopic sights by various manufacturers like the Ajack 4x, Hensoldt Dialytan 4x and Kahles Heliavier 4x with similar features employed on Karabiner 98k sniper rifles. Several different mountings produced by various manufacturers were used. Approximately 132,000 of these sniper rifles were produced by Germany.
For Fallschirmjäger (German paratroopers) special versions of the Karabiner 98k that could be transported in shortened modes were produced. Specimens with folding stocks as with unscrewable barrels are known.
The G40k with a barrel length of 490 mm and 3.2 kg weight was a shortened version of the Karabiner 98k. A batch of 82 G40k rifles was produced in 1941. A reverse engineering simulation with QuickLOAD internal ballistic software for the 8x57mm IS cartridge loaded with the German standard sS (schweres Spitzgeschoß/heavy pointed bullet) ball bullet, predicted that this shortening of the barrel results in ≈ 35 - 60 m/s muzzle velocity reduction depending on the propellant used. Due to its significant lighter weight the G40k produced ≈ 20% more recoil compared to the K98k standard rifle.
World War II
The Mauser Kar98k rifle was widely used by all branches of the armed forces of Germany during World War II. It saw action in every theatre of war involving German forces, including occupied Europe, North Africa, the Soviet Union, Finland, and Norway. Although comparable to the weapons fielded by Germany's enemies at the beginning of the War, its disadvantages in rate of fire became more apparent as American and (to a lesser extent) Soviet armies began to field more semi-automatic weapons among their troops. Still, it continued to be the main infantry rifle of the Wehrmacht until the end of the War. Resistance forces in German-occupied Europe made frequent use of captured German 98k rifles. The Soviet Union also made extensive use of captured Kar98k rifles and other German infantry weapons due to the Red Army experiencing a critical shortage of small arms during the early years of World War II. Many German soldiers used the verbal expression "Kars" as the slang name for the rifle.
Post-World War II
During World War II, the Soviet Union captured millions of Mauser Kar98k rifles and re-arsenaled them in various arms factories in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These rifles were originally stored in the event of future hostilities with the Western democracies. These rifles, referred to by collectors as RC ("Russian Capture") Mausers, can be identified by a crude "X" stamp on the left side of the receiver. The Soviet arsenals made no effort to match the rifles' parts by serial number when reassembling them, and some parts (the cleaning rod, sight hood, and locking screws) were deemed unnecessary and melted down for scrap metal.
Most of these rifles were eventually shipped to communist or Marxist revolutionary movements and nations around the world during the early Cold War period. A steady supply of free surplus military firearms was one way that Moscow could support these movements and states without giving them the latest Soviet infantry weapons.
One example of the Soviet Union providing the Mauser Kar98k rifle (as well as other infantry weapons captured from the Germans during and after World War II) to its communist allies during the Cold War period occurred during the Vietnam War with the Soviet Union providing military aid to the armed forces of North Vietnam and to the NLF in South Vietnam.
A considerable number of Soviet-captured Mauser 98k rifles (as well as a number of 98k rifles that were left behind by the French after the First Indochina War) were found in the hands of NLF guerrillas and VPA soldiers by U.S. and Allied forces alongside Soviet-bloc rifles like the Mosin-Nagant, the SKS, and the AK-47.
The emblem of Nazi Germany, eagle with swastika, is still visible on many of the rifles that were used by the Norwegian military
In the years after World War II, a number of European nations that were invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany used the Mauser Kar98k rifle as their standard-issue infantry rifle, due to the large number of German weapons that were left behind by the Germans in the later years of World War II. Nations like France and Norway used the Mauser Kar98k rifle and a number of other German weapons in the years after World War II. Norway's captured Kar98k rifles were usually rebarreled for the American .30-06 Springfield round, with a small cutout on the receiver so that the slightly longer round could still be loaded with stripper clips. Many of these conversions were rechambered again to 7.62 mm NATO.
Many of the liberated European countries continued production of rifles similar to the K98k, for example Fabrique Nationale (FN) in Belgium and Česká Zbrojovka (CZ) in Czechoslovakia produced both their proprietary older models and brand new K98k rifles, many of which were assembled from leftover German parts or using captured machinery. In Czechoslovakia it was known as P-18 or puška vz.98N, the first being the manufacturer's cover designation of the type, the second official army designation - rifle model 98, N for německá - German. In Romania, the Czechoslovak version was known under the informal name of ZB, after Zbrojovka Brno - the Czechoslovak state producer of small weapons and munitions - and it was used to arm Romania's Patriotic Guards, before sufficient numbers of AKM rifles were made available for them. From 1950 to 1965, Yugoslavian Zastava also produced a near-copy of the K98k called the Model 1948, which differed only from the German rifle in that it had the shorter bolt-action of the Czechoslovakian M1924 series of rifles. In addition, until 1953, the Spanish continued manufacturing a slightly modified version, but with a straight bolt handle.
The above production was a brief stop-gap solution until enough numbers of modern select-fire weapons could be developed and produced. The vast majority of these rifles were soon stored as reserves or given for very low prices to various fledging states or rebel movements throughout the developing world.
Israeli Mauser Kar98k rifle
Close-up of the K98k Bolt action
A number of non-European nations used the Mauser Kar98k rifle as well as a few guerrilla organisations to help establish new nation-states. One example was Israel who used the Mauser Kar98k rifle from the late 1940s until the 1970s.
The use of the Kar98k to establish the nation-state of Israel often raises a lot of interest among people and rifle collectors today. Many Jewish organizations in Palestine acquired them from post-World War II Europe to protect various Jewish settlements from Arab attack as well as to carry out guerrilla operations against British Army forces in Palestine.
The Haganah, which later evolved into the modern-day Israeli Defense Forces, was one of the Jewish armed groups in Palestine that brought large numbers of Mauser Kar98k rifles and other surplus arms (namely the British Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifle, which was used on a large scale by these organisations alongside the Kar98k rifle) from Europe during the post-World War 2 period. The Israeli-used German surplus Mauser Kar98k rifles have had all of the Nazi Waffenamt markings and emblems defaced with over stamped Israeli Defence Force and Hebrew markings as part of an effort to ideologically "purify" the rifles from their former use as an infantry weapon of Nazi Germany.
As the Arab-Israeli conflict was approaching, the Jewish in Palestine tried to get hold of as many weapons as they could. One of most important purchases was a January 14th 1948, $12,280,000 worth contract with Czechoslovak Government including 4,500 P-18 rifles, as well as 50,400,000 rounds of ammunition. Later, the newly established Israeli Defence Force ordered more numbers of Mauser Kar98k rifles, produced this time by Fabrique Nationale. These have Israeli and Belgian markings on the rifle as well as the emblem of the IDF on the top of the rifle's receiver. The FN-made Kar98k rifles with the IDF markings and emblem on the rifle were produced and sold "legally" to Israel after it established itself as an independent nation in 1948.
During the late 1950s, the IDF converted the calibre of their Mauser Kar98k rifles from the original German 7.92 mm round to 7.62 mm NATO following the adoption of the FN FAL rifle as their primary rifle in 1958. The Israeli Mauser Kar98k rifles that were converted have "7.62" engraved on the rifle receiver. Rifles with original German stocks have "7.62" burned into the heel of the rifle stock for identification and to separate the re-chambered Kar98ks from the original 7.92 mm versions of the weapon still in service or held in reserve, though some 98k rifles were fitted with new, unnumbered beech stocks of recent manufacture. All of these converted rifles were proof-fired for service.
The Kar98k rifle was used by the reserve branches of the IDF well into the 1960s and 1970s and saw action in the hands of various Israeli Army support and line-of-communications troops during the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. After the rifle was retired from reserve military service, the Israeli Mauser Kar98k was given to a number of Third World nations as military aid by the Israelis during the 1970s and 1980's (there is evidence that a number of Israeli Mausers were sent to Latin American nations like Chile and Guatemala during this period of time) as well as being sold to civilian gun owners across the world.
The Kar98k rifles that were used by Germany during World War II are highly sought after collector's items in many circles.
The Mauser Kar98k rifle is very popular among many rifle shooters and military rifle collectors due to the rifle's historical background, as well as the availability of both new and surplus 7.92 mm ammunition. The military version of the Mauser does not fire the 7.62 NATO or .308 caliber ammunition. Some of the sporter variants are available in other chamberings, but most are large-bore hunting calibers. The exception to this is the Israeli version of this rifle, which was re-chambered in the 7.62 NATO round. Since the Israeli Mauser Kar98k rifle is chambered in 7.62 mm NATO, the rifle has been very popular with many rifle shooters the world over due to the low cost nature and wide-spread use of the 7.62 mm NATO/.308 Winchester round among rifle shooters. Also, the unique history behind the Israeli Mauser Kar98k rifle is another factor for the rifle's ongoing popularity with rifle shooters, especially military rifle collectors.
As of 2005, the Mauser Kar98k rifles that were captured by the Soviets during World War II and refurbished during the late 1940s and early 1950s have appeared in large numbers on the military surplus rifle market. These have proven popular with buyers in the United States and Canada, ranging from ex-military rifle collectors to target shooters, due to the unique history behind the Soviet capture of Mauser Kar98k rifles.
Wachbataillon soldiers marching with Karabiner 98k rifles in 2007.
The Bundeswehr still uses the Karabiner 98k in the Wachbataillon for military parades and show acts.
During the 1990s, the Yugoslavian Kar98k rifles and the Yugoslavian M48 and M48A rifles were used alongside modern automatic and semi-automatic rifles by all the warring factions of the Yugoslav wars. There are a number of photographs taken during the war in Bosnia, showing combatants and snipers using Yugoslavian-made Mauser rifles from high-rise buildings in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo.
Since 2003, the Mauser Kar98k rifle (along with the Mosin-Nagant, the Lee-Enfield and the Yugo M48) has also been encountered in Iraq by US and Allied forces with Iraqi insurgents making use of the Kar98k and other bolt-action rifles alongside more modern infantry weapons like the AK series rifles and the SKS carbine. The extra range afforded by the 7.92 cartridge still makes it a viable low-cost sniper rifle for the insurgents.
Many Third World nations still have Kar98k rifles in their arsenals and it will most likely be encountered in regional conflicts for many years to come.
Mauser Karabiner 98k based hunting rifle
FN Mauser Karabiner 98k based sporting rifle chambered for .30-06 Springfield.
The widespread availability of surplus Mauser 98k rifles and the fact that these rifles could, with relative ease, be adapted for hunting and other sport purposes made the Mauser 98k popular amongst civilian riflemen. When German hunters after World War II were allowed again to own and hunt with full bore rifles they generally started to "rearm" themselves with then abundant available and cheap former Wehrmacht service rifles. Civilian users changed these service rifles often quite extensively by mounting telescopic sights, aftermarket hunting stocks, aftermarket triggers and other accessories and changing the original military chambering. Gunsmiths rebarreled or rechambered Mauser 98K rifles for European and American sporting chamberings such as the 6.5 x 55 Swedish Mauser, 7 x 57, 7 x 64, .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, 8 x 60 S, 8 x 64 S, etc. The magnum hunting cartridges 6.5 x 68, 8 x 68 S and 9.3 x 64 Brenneke were even specially developed by German gunsmiths for the standard military Mauser 98 action. Some surplus Mauser 98K actions were used by Schultz & Larsen in Denmark as the basis for target rifles. Some of these are still in competitive use today although with the benefit of new barrels.
Modern civilian offspring of the Mauser 98K
Throughout the design's history, standard sized and enlarged versions of the Mauser M 98 system have been produced for the civil market. The M 98 Magnum bolt action was designed to function with the large sized cartridges normally used to hunt Big Five game and other dangerous game species. For this specialized type of hunting, where absolute reliability of the rifle under adverse conditions is very important, the M 98 system remains the standard by which other action designs are judged. The trouble for a hunter or guide is that used M 98 Magnum rifles are hard to come by. Most owners consider these rifles to represent the peak in dangerous game rifles development, and seldom sell them. Since 1999 the production of Mauser M 98 and M 98 Magnum rifles has been resumed in Germany by Mauser Jagdwaffen GmbH (Mauser Huntingweapons Ltd.) according to original drawings of 1936 and the respective Mauser patents.