Mauser C96; The Broomhandle with a Bite


In keeping with human inclination to be averse to change and suspicious of new ideas, the C96 was not as well-received as its makers hoped when it was first introduced. To give the impression that they had sold more units than were actually sold, they skipped large blocks of serial numbers–not an unheard-of marketing strategy.  Later, when production picked up, they appear to have raided their own stock of parts from previous production runs and retroactively stamped firearms with older serial numbers to fill in the gaps.  Along with the confusion caused by various modifications to the original model, there was the inevitable switching out of parts by owners further down the line.  Finally, there were the Chinese-made copies that were almost totally undocumented, along with some made in Spain.  The result is a researcher’s or collector’s nightmare!  But despite the confusion, this much is true: the C96 was the first maschinenpistole/submachine gun ever made, and since it was a major innovation for its time and went on to  enjoy considerable success, it has earned its place in history, despite the clouded provenance.

Originally, the Mauser C96 was produced for a 7.63 X 25mm cartridge. There was also a 9mm Parabellum produced, which proved successful.  The 9mm Mausers were named the “Red 9” and had a large red “9” marked on the grips, to
differentiate them from the 7.63mm version, in order to prevent the confusion of ammunition sizes.   Later, many of the original 7.63 models had the barrels bored out to accept 9mm Parabellum cartridges. This was necessary because the C96 had a single one-piece casting for the barrel and receiver, so replacing a worn-out  barrel was not an
option.  You’d basically have to replace the whole gun.  Unfortunately for collectors and researchers, some of those 7.63mm-cum-9mm conversions were also branded with the big red “9”, adding more
confusion to the equation.  The original model C96 came with a detachable stock that also doubled as a holster–a clever innovation that DWM, the makers of the famed Luger P08 Parabellum–could’nt resist offering as an option to its own successful pistol.  The 7.63mm rounds used by the C96 offered good velocity and penetration, adding
to its success.

In the years before the Great War, (aka World War I) the Mauser C96 and its many variations became very popular, and orders came in from military forces in a number of nations.  This allowed the C96 to find
its way around the globe.  They were popular with British officers, Red Bolshevik revolutionaries and Chinese militants in the
various skirmishes that plagued China throughout the 20th century. The C96 went on to see action in various wars and revolutions worldwide, and even saw limited use by Germans and others in World War II.  As a trivial sidenote, the “blaster” used by Han Solo in Star Wars was based on the Mauser C96.  The American National Firearms Act of 1934 precluded most Mauser C96 firearms from finding their way past US shores.  Even now, there are estimated to be fewer than 200 of them in circulation in the United States, even though Mauser alone produced over a million of them.  By today’s standards, the C96 is an antique and a collectors’ item, and owing to their scarcity in the US, can bring very high prices at auction.

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