The Gewehr 98 was a favorite during WWI and for good reason.

The Gewehr 98 was part of a series of weapons designed by Mauser in the 19th century. Like many of their rifles, the weapon was accurate and capable and widely used in World War I.

The creation of the Gewehr 98 is inspired by the Franco-Prussian war

The French erect a barricade during the Franco-Prussian War (Photo via Getty Images) *Photo is representative of troops at the time but may not include Gewehr 98.*

In 1870, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck wanted to reassert Prussia’s dominance over Europe. Historians believe that the Germans intentionally pushed the French into battle in an effort to add new allies to their cause. The Franco-Prussian War lasted 6 months and was particularly brutal for the French.

The battle between two world powers inspired an arms race and the leaders of the nations encouraged the arms makers to create the best rifle. The best gunsmiths in Germany were the Mauser brothers. The Mausers had continually made rifles and improved them throughout the late 1800s. The improvements they made eventually led to the Model 98 which was officially created in 1898.

Development of the 1898 model

A pair of Gewehr 98 cannons, on display at the Swedish Army Museum
A pair of Gewehr 98 cannons, on display at the Swedish Army Museum (Via Swedish Army Museum/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

The Model 1898 was intended to replace the Gewehr Model 88 and the gun’s designer was Paul Mauser. It was designed as a bolt-action rifle with an internal 5-round magazine. Bolt-action rifles were popular at the time, and the Gewehr model was considered a significant advance. Many countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, and Japan, adopted many of the engineering concepts for the weapon.

There were a number of attachments that came with the Gewehr rifle. A leather strap was supplied with the rifle, but during wartime these were regularly replaced with canvas due to leather shortages. The rifle also had the ability to throw grenades, and a number of different grenade launchers were designed during World War I. Bayonets were also fashionable during the Gewehr 98 era. They could deploy the rifle both as a weapon and also to use it as a cutting weapon when traversing jungle-like terrain.

The use of the Gewehr in combat

German troops march through the rubble of Puchaczow, Poland during World War I
German troops march through the rubble of Puchaczow, Poland during World War I (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) *Photo is representative of troops at the time but may not include the Gewehr 98.*

It didn’t take long for the Gewehr to be pushed into battle. The weapon was first used during the Boxer Rebellion, which was an uprising in China against Christianity. The Gewehr was later used in the Herero wars. The Herero Wars were a conflict that saw German troops clash with the Herero people who had been colonized in South West Africa.

The most significant use of the Mauser rifle was during World War I. Although the Germans liked this weapon very much, there were also some problems. The Gewehr rifle was particularly long, making it relatively ineffective in trench warfare. Still, the weapon was used by German troops for over 20 years.

Later use of the Gewehr 98

General Mustafa Kernal Ataturk oversees troops during the Turkish War of Independence
General Mustafa Kernal Ataturk oversees troops during Turkey’s War of Independence (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images) *Photo is representative of troops at the time but may not include the Gewehr 98.*

Mauser ceased manufacturing the Gewehr around 1918. The gun was phased out of the German Army in 1935. While the rifle was accurate and popular, soldiers preferred a shorter weapon for close trench warfare. Rifles like the Karabiner 98 became the most widely used weapons during World War II.

The Gewehr 98s however found a second life in other countries. The Ottoman Empire used a modified version of the weapon during the Italo-Turkish War, the Balkan Wars, World War I, and the Turkish War of Independence. The guns were also used by the Nationalists and the German Volunteer Legions during the Spanish Civil War.

The Legacy of the Gun

The Karabiner 98A was the eventual replacement for the Gewehr 98
A pair of Karabiner 98 rifles Via Swedish Army Museum/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

While the Gewehr was decommissioned decades ago, it still appeared for years. Israeli soldiers used refurbished models to help establish their state. Rifles also found their way into the hands of hunters looking for an accurate weapon. And even today, the rifle is sought after by collectors.

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