The Mauser C96(“Construktion” 96) pistol Revolutionary for its time

The Mauser C96(“Construktion” 96) pistol Revolutionary for its time

By Jan van den Bos, Curator, Military Collection, DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History

The Mauser C96 pistol, also known as the Mauser broom handle became a customary weapon among officers during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). General J.C. Smuts and Commandant Jacobus van Deventer are among the many Boer officers who were issued with either a Mauser rifle and or a C96 pistol. Armed forces of the South African Constabulary (SAC), a British unit founded in 1900, whose duties involved field operations and the guarding of blockhouses and blockhouse lines were issued with the Mauser pistol. Archival sources reveal a number of SAC soldiers who applied for a government permit to import the pistol from Germany. Captain H.L. Randall and Trooper R. Pincent to name a few, received government permission to import the pistol. Trooper D.H. Marks in particular also received permission to import 200, 7.63 mm rounds of ammunition for the C96.

The C96 semi-automatic handgun was considered revolutionary. The recoil action and locking breech block design are still used today in weapons such as the American Beretta M9 pistol.

The design of the Mauser C96, its long barrel and wooden shoulder stock make it one of the most stable and reliable pistols for long range shooting at the time.

Mechanical action

The loading mechanism of the Mauser pistol consists of a recoil action. The barrel and the bolt which are locked together (See sketch in illustration 1 of the barrel pin below) move rearward under the force of a spring; the bullet slides forward and exits the gun. Simultaneously the locking block moves down, (See trigger sketch, illustration 1 below) the bolt moves to the rear, the fired cartridge case ejects and re-cocks the hammer. The bolt moves forward and picking up a new cartridge from the magazine, the next round is shifted into the chamber. The rectangular magazine in front of the trigger, takes 10 or 20 rounds. Cartridges are placed in a stripper clip, speed loader and pushed into the magazine. (See illustration 2 of the stripper clip below)

The long 99 millimetre barrel length and the wooden shoulder stock give the pistol more stability. The detachable shoulder stock has a dual function. The shoulder stock slides onto the back of the pistol grip, and enables the shooter to aim from the shoulder. The stock also serves as a holster or a carrying case. (See illustrations 2 and 3).

Illustration 1: The Mauser C96 without the wooden shoulder stock.

Illustration 2: The Mauser C96 with a detachable shoulder stock and 10 round stripper clip. 

Illustration 3: The wooden shoulder stock also serves as a carrying case.


The first prototype of the Mauser pistol, known as the Feederle or P-7.63 pistol was developed in 1893 by the Feederle brothers, Fidel, Friedrich and Joseph. They were employees of the experimental workshop at the Mauser Waffenfabrik in Oberndorf, Germany. Peter Paul von Mauser (1838-1914), gunsmith, weapon designer and owner of Mauser patented the prototype in 1895. The patented pistol became known as the Mauser C96.

Illustration 4: Peter Paul von Mauser who patented the Mauser C96 in 1895.

The first Mauser C96 pistols came into production in 1897 and manufacturing continued until 1937. More than a million pistols were produced in Germany, mainly for personal sales and the commercial market. Kaiser Willem II, the emperor of Germany never adopted this pistol for his army.

Mauser C96 pistols in the Museum collection

The DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History is in possession of two Mauser pistols. The complete pistol with a detachable stock and stripper clip is in a very good condition (Accession number HG 5492). The other pistol (Accession number HG 4087) is rusted with no visible identification numbers or proof marks.

The visible identification marks (Accession number HG 5492) include a number “1020”, which appears on the barrel as well as a four-digit serial number which starts with a “2”. The cone hammer type visible on this pistol came into production between 1896 and 1899.

This Mauser pistol belonged to C.G.S Sandberg, Military Secretary of General Louis Botha. The inscription on the stock reads: CGS Sandberg Mil Secrs WD Comdt Gen L Botha; Tweede Vryheidsoorlog 11 Oct 1899-1900.

Illustration 5: HG 5492: Mauser pistol and wood stock that belonged to C.G.S. Sandberg, Military Secretary of General Louis Botha.

The rusted pistol (Accession number HG 4087) features a large ring hammer, dating the weapon between 1899 and 1905. According to the acquisition register the pistol was found at the Bronkhorstspruit River, 50 kilometres east of Pretoria.

Illustration 6: HG 4087: Mauser pistol founded at the Bronkhorstspruit River.


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