Thursday, June 30, 2005
Gun of the Quarter
The Gun of the Quarter is the Mauser C96 also known as the Broomhandle Mauser, one of the most recognizable guns of the 20th Century. Three guys, the Federle brothers, who worked for the Mauser works in Oberndorf am Nekar, Germany, developed it in 1894 (and had to sign it over to the Mauser Brothers to whom they were idea slaves, I guess). It was patented in 1895 and went into production in 1896 (hence the 96 in its name) It is a handsome gun and between 1896 and 1936, when they developed the .357 magnum, it was the most powerful handgun made in the world. It shot the 7.63 x 25 mm round (also known as the 30 Mauser) made especially for the the Borchard gun but used more in the more popular Broomhandle Mauser. It used a necked down casing. Let me explain. With just a straight, hollow cylinder of powder, all the expanding gas goes out the front at a uniform rate. Creating a neck, that is, closing down the front of the shell to a smaller diameter than the rest of the shell casing, has the same effect on the burning powder gases as putting your thumb over the end of the water hose has on the water coming out the hose. Venturi effect causes the gas to really shoot out and of course the bullet seated in the neck goes down the barrel of the gun at a right good clip. I know what you're thinking. What about our beloved .45 automatic? Wasn't it more powerful? Read 'em and weep, boys, everyone's idea of a powerful hand gun round falls short. Here are the numbers
7.63 x 25 mm-- Velocity 1410 ft/sec. Energy 375 ft/lbs.
45 Automatic -- Velocity 900 ft/sec Energy 360 ft/lbs.
What a handsome and powerful gun!
Here's the Achilles heel of the gun--reloading. Rather than have a removable clip, the magazine (the area into which a clip, if you have one, fits) was fixed and you had to use stripper clips to force 10 rounds down into the spring loaded box magazine in front of the trigger. It's hard. Really hard. They don't want to go. This gun is the one used by the minor bad guy played by Don Stroud in the Clint Eastwood movie Joe Kidd . When he loaded it on screen, he cheated a little, putting 5 rounds each on two stripper clip (much more manageable) and did it in two steps. Woosie! Real men can load their Broomhandle Mausers in one deft motion.
Winston Churchill had this gun at the last great cavalry charge of the British at the Battle of Omdurman (1898) against Muslim extremists (Dervishers) in the Sudan (go figure) and he said he used it to good effect. Because the bullet went so fast, the manufacturers got a little cocky and put a adjustable rear sight on the gun that went out to 1000 yards. Yeah, right. Might have been a little hopeful there. Here's a detail of the rear site.
You'd think because the barrel is so long and heavy and the magazine is in front of the trigger rather than in the handle, that the C96 would be front heavy. It just looks like it should be front heavy. But it has a sweet balance-- bring it up to your eyes to aim and it seems to float there level and steady. It's mechanism for self-loading is straight blowback (Scroll way down for an explanation of that).
They made other versions. There is one that shoots the 9mm (Parabellum) round (the same round for the Luger and all modern 9mm guns). To mark the difference between that pistol and the one that shot the 30 Mauser, they cut a big 9 in the wooden handle and painted or stained red inside the incised lines. This became known as the red 9 and it was very popular with the Bolsheviks during the 1917 revolution. They used red 9s to slaughter the Tzar and his family (Anastasia screamed in vain). There was a short barrel version made to conform with the requirements of the Versailles treaty (which took on and conquered for all time the seemingly overwhelming problem of long barreled handguns). This was the Bolo Mauser, made in the early 20s and sold primarily to Russia where it was popular among the Bolsheviks (again) hence the nickname, Bolo. The Russians put the Bolo to some pretty nasty work during the Civil War between the Reds and Whites. It was also copied in China. In a weird movie called The General Died at Dawn a whole troop commit murder suicide with C96s (probably in .45 caliber) pointed at each others heads. That general had certainly learned how to control his troops. The final version solved the reloading problem with a box clip removable from the bottom of the magazine, and it was fully automatic, but it was not a success because the kick of the first two or three rounds made the fourth and fifth invariably go over the head of the target. It was the Mauser 712 or Schnellfeuerpistole (Fast fire pistol).
If you take your Broomhandle Mauser to a gun range today, even the old hands will come out of the back to take a look, and the young shooters will ask you if they can shoot it, and all the women there will ask if they can caress it (OK, I made that last one up). The most famous use in a movie for the Broomhandle, however, is not as a gun at all but as a blaster, whatever that is? Good to see the century old C96 is alive and kicking in a galaxy far, far away.
Harrison Ford on the Ice Planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back with a C96 with dodads on it.
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