The C-96 Mauser
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The year was 1896 and things were changing rapidly in the
firearms world. The development of smokeless gunpowder had ushered in a world
that could only be called a nirvana for firearms designers. New rifles and
revolvers were quickly making established arms obsolete, and in the political
instability that reigned in
Just three years ago, in 1893, Hugo Borchardt had designed a repeating handgun that did not rely on a rotating cylinder, but rather, used the wasted energy of the gun’s recoil to operate a mechanism to remove the fired case from the pistol’s firing chamber, throw it clear, and reload the chamber from a magazine of cartridges that was kept at the ready. All-in-all this was nothing short of astounding. Herr Borchardt also designed a new cartridge for his self-loading pistol; it used a 7.65 mm. projectile weighing 85 grains (5.5 grams) with a velocity at the muzzle of approximately 1300 feet/sec. (396 metres/sec.). This would have been impossible using blackpowder. The cartridge case was 25 mm. long and was both rimless and bottlenecked. The only drawback of Borchardt’s pistol was that it was truly awkward, both to carry and to use. Several arms designers set about trying to correct that one flaw.
In the Mauser company that job was assigned to the Feederle (or “Federle”) brothers -- Fidel, Friedrich, and Josef. They came up with a design that was much more practical to use and was of even higher power, though the cartridge was based on the 1893 Borchardt design. Paul Mauser patented the design in 1896, and called it the “Mauser Military” pistol, an obvious attempt to interest various governments in it as a military sidearm. Mauser was singularly unsuccessful in getting any country to officially adopt the Broomhandle as an official military sidearm. Perhaps this was just a matter of bad timing, since war was imminent (though no living person could have predicted just how extensive the upcoming conflict was going to be) and no military man wanted to change arms to a new and unproven type when a war was about to begin.
Nonetheless, the C-96 was bought by great numbers of individual officers and even enlisted men and was used to good effect in the Boer War by a young British correspondent by the name of Winston Churchill. Later, in World War I, Colonel T.E. Lawrence was known to have carried one. Due to difficulties producing enough Luger pistols fast enough, the German military authorized the manufacture and issue of C-96 pistols chambered for the German-standard 9mm Parabellum cartridge. In the years between the two World Wars any number of groups bought C-96 pistols from Mauserwerke and they spread around the world.
Back before the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968 these pistols (usually called "Mauser Military" in those days) were sold by mail order for a whopping $39.95.
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But just what was this revolutionary firearm? Well, the C-96
Mauser was and is a locked-breech
semiautomatic handgun that fires a fairly high-powered cartridge (high-powered for a handgun cartridge, that is). The bolt is
locked to the barrel extension by means of a pivoting locking block – a method
still used today in the Beretta M9 U.S. service pistol. Upon firing, the barrel
and bolt (being locked together) move rearward under the force of recoil
against a heavy spring. The time it takes for this to happen allows the bullet
to travel down the barrel and exit the gun. Next, the rearward movement cams
the locking block downward allowing the bolt to move completely to the rear
against the lesser force of its own recoil spring, compressing that recoil
spring, and extracting and ejecting the fired cartridge case; while this is
being done, the rearward motion of the bolt re-cocks the hammer. The recoil
spring then pushes the bolt forward, picking up a new cartridge from the
magazine and chambering it. The gun is now ready for another shot. This all happens faster than you can pull the
All this marvelous mechanical movement is accomplished by parts
that simply fit together “just so” without resorting to any pins or screws
(except for the one screw that serves to hold the grip panels to the gun’s
frame). By the way, Americans thought that the gun's grips resembled the handle
of a broom, and the name "Broomhandle" just stuck.
What does this all look like when you take it all apart? Glad you asked!
But, how well does all this actually work? Even by modern 21st-century standards a Broomhandle in good condition actually performs rather well. It shoots accurately and with considerable power. It is surprisingly reliable -- this reviewer is of the opinion that the design is exceptionally reliable, and that any failures are due to age and lack of proper maintenance, though how mud and sand in the shooting environment would affect it is likely to be left a moot point as no owner of a C-96 in good or better condition is likely to allow such tests to be performed.
It has its drawbacks; the bore axis is quite high relative
to the grip which slows target re-acquisition from one shot to the next, but
not as much as one would expect. This is probably a function of the light
bullet used, as that minimizes the recoil force. Many years ago this reviewer
shot a “Combat Pistol” (as we called it then) match with my old C-96 and a
double-handful of stripper clips of ammo. I wound up somewhere in the middle of
the pack, just where I usually did with my modern guns. The old Broomhandle did
its job and did it well. It is quite large and somewhat awkward – but then it
was never intended as a concealed-carry pistol!
Speaking of carrying, I am fortunate enough to live in a
state that allows both concealed and open carry, and one day there was a “carry-in” activity to
express our thanks for a major coffee house chain that allows any carry that is
in accordance with the state laws wherever its shops may be located. I strapped
on my C-96, complete with Sam Browne belt and went out for a quick cup of java.
The only comment I got was from another shooter: “That’s an old one!” I felt
quite well-enough protected even though a modern rig might be a bit faster to
use… and far more discreet.
Just how does shooting a Broomhandle feel? Not as odd as one thinks at first. It looks a lot more awkward than it really is. The recoil is in line with modern 9mm Parabellum pistols. The sights are small, but quite visible and easy to use – and usually right on the mark... though the calibration out to 1,000 yards gives new meaning to the word 'optimistic'. Reloading via stripper clip takes a little practice, but can be learned and once learned is quite rapid. Yep, there is a fair amount of muzzle flip. That’s something else that you have to learn to deal with. The trigger on most examples feels light and crisp. The trigger on my 1914 vintage Broomhandle breaks right at 5 pounds with no perceptible creep at all. Most of all, it’s just a heck of a lot of fun! How does that loading by stripper clip look in action? Look below.
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Crunching the Numbers
Perhaps this is as good a place as any to run down the specs of the most common C-96 variant. As mentioned, this is a locked-breech semiautomatic pistol utilizing the "short-recoil" operating method. The numbers follow:
--------------- 5.5 inches w/ cleaning rod
Overall length ------------- 12.3 inches
Weight ---------------------- 40 ounces
Magazine capacity ------ 10 rounds (6 round and 20 round variations exist)
Loading method --------- via stripper clips
Calibers -------------------- 7.63x25 Mauser (aka .30 Mauser)
9x25 Mauser Export (rare)
8.15 Mauser (experimental)
Common Accessory --- Wooden holster/shoulder stock
w/ cleaning rod
The holster/stock is a usable, but not convenient, holster
and it doubles as a fairly functional shoulder stock.
As the figures show, the old Mauser may be somewhat more awkward to carry and use than John Browning's model of 1911, but it only weighs about an ounce more, just to use a well-known example.
Ammunition for a 7.63x25 Mauser (aka .30 Mauser) is
available at the current time (Spring of 2015) – or at least it is no more scarce than other
ammo is right now – from Fiocci just to name one that I have used. The Fiocci
ammo is also Boxer-primed for those of you who want to reload it. More on that
in a bit.
The 7.63x25 Mauser was the highest-velocity cartridge in the
world up until the advent of the .357 Magnum in 1935. Any gun that can propel
an 86 grain bullet to a muzzle velocity of 1450 ft/sec is pretty respectable,
even by modern standards.
7.63x25 Mauser and 7.62x25 Tokarev are dimensionally
interchangeable, but they are NOT the same. The Tokarev ammo is loaded to
higher pressure than the Mauser ammo. Think about that for a while and then
consider that your Broomhandle is probably about 100 years old.
Reloading the 7.63x25 Mauser
So you have been shooting the old warhorse and you have amassed a stash of brass for it and you just bought a set of dies for your favorite reloading press – great! Most of the reloading manuals have recipes using modern powders and projectiles. Use one. I won't give specific recipes here. One thing to be aware of when loading this cartridge is that most of the modern bullets that are suitable for it (.308” dia. weighing from 85 to 100 grains) lack a crimping groove. Bullet setback can be a real concern. If you are lucky enough to have some slugs that do have crimp grooves, by all means use them! If you can’t find any with the grooves, here’s a trick that I picked up from an article on loading another bottleneck round. Select your powder so that a proper load (from that manual you are using) just fills the case to the base of the bullet. With a full case the bullet can’t set back no matter how much it tries.
I have used both the 100 gr. Speer Plinker© and the 90 gr. Hornady XTP bullets with good results.
The C-96 (“Broomhandle”) Mauser is a very historic pistol and a ton of fun to shoot. It’s not every day that a person can pick up a true piece of history and actually use it! Like John Browning’s great 1911 pistol, it is still functional after 100+ years.
In case anyone wants to see my "carry rig" for this old veteran, it's a replica of a holster that was used by the Chinese. It looks like this:
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