Black Powder is dirty, dirty stuff- so dirty in fact that practical self-loading weapons simply weren’t viable, as powder fouling would quickly render them inoperative. But with the advent of clean-burning smokeless powders not only were semi-autos viable, but they also allowed the production of small-bore high-velocity bullets. This turned out to be precisely what was needed to allow an explosion of creativity in the field of handguns, and within a very few years semi-automatic pistols were being sold commercially.
The Mauser C96 was not the first of these, but it was the first to achieve widespread acceptance and commercial success, with over a million of them produced by Mauser, and millions of ‘knock-offs’ being created in Spain, China and other places.
The C96 was introduced to the market in 1896, and it was a whole new ballgame. Chambered in the powerful 7.63x25mm Mauser cartridge, it’s fixed box magazine held 10 rounds. The .30 caliber cartridge launched an 86gr. copper-jacketed round-nose bullet at 1450fps., producing a respectable 402 ft./lbs. of energy at the muzzle.
Endless variants and knock-offs of this gun were made over the next 4 decades; a ‘compact’ version with a shorter barrel and a six-shot magazine, guns with fixed or removable ten or twenty-round magazines, even a full-auto version. Guns were often equipped with a wooden stock/holster combination that led to the Chinese nicknaming the gun ‘the box cannon.’ In the west it was known almost universally as the ‘Broomhandle,’ owing to the shape of its grip.
The gun was extensively exported to China as it circumvented restrictions on arms sales to that nation, and soon indigenous copies were being made in calibers ranging from .32 ACP to .45 ACP- the famous ‘Shanzu’ .45s. Mauser itself made the gun in 7.63 Mauser, 9mm Parabellum and even some in 9x25mm, which in it’s original loading spat a 128gr. bullet at 1340fps. for a muzzle energy of 510ft./lbs. of energy, making it one of the most powerful commercially available handgun cartridge until the introduction of the .357 Magnum.
There were military contracts for these guns, but Germany only used them as a ‘second-standard’ and special use weapons. They saw fighting in the Boer War, WW1, the Spanish Revolution and WW2 as well as many smaller, regional conflicts. By the mid 20th Century the Broomhandle Mauser was an iconic firearm, world-wide.
It’s not my intent to list a complete history of this gun and it’s variants; that’s the subject for a book. A book like this one, in fact-https://www.amazon.com/Mauser-Self-Loading-Pistol-Jack-Dunlap/dp/0875051081/ref=sr_1_4?crid=3PNJHMBL4XB7P&keywords=mauser+broomhandle&qid=1551635163&s=books&sprefix=Muaser%2Caps%2C200&sr=1-4-catcorr
No, this blog is because after wanting one of these guns for my entire adult life I have finally gotten one! Less than 24 hours after resolving to moderate my firearms purchases this year I encountered this gun at- where else? Pinto’s, and at a ridiculously low price; a previous owner had the gun nickel-plated, thus ‘ruining’ it for collectors. Well, their loss is my gain!
The gun is a ‘pre-war’ commercial production New Safety model made in 1915-1916. Yes, I know that is actually during WW1, but because series production began prior to the war these guns are still classified as ‘pre-war.’ The gun is overall in very good condition, and it was provided with two stripper clips for loading the ten round magazine. These only hold eight rounds, because these are not Mauser clips; I think they are actually for a Steyr. They work well enough for the moment, but I will be seeking the proper clips.
First thing to understand is that by modern standards this is a fairly terrible gun. It’s quite large for it’s barrel-length, cartridge and capacity, it’s a bit awkward, the high bore-line exaggerates muzzle-flip and the lack of a removable magazine is a serious deficit. Yeah, I don’t care. This represents the very first time someone got it right, so it’s unreasonable to expect them to have gotten it perfect.
The grip is actually more comfortable than it looks, and the thumb safety is easy to access and operate. The gun points well, and has decent sights. Highly optimistic sights, mind you; they are calibrated out to 1000 meters. I imagine that, using them, an unusually proficient shooter might manage to hit a decent-sized house at that range, especially if using the stock/holster.
To load the weapon you pull the bolt to the rear, and it will lock open on the empty magazine. You insert a clip loaded with up to ten rounds into the guides at the rear of the magazine, then using your thumb you push down on the cartridges so that they are forced into the magazine. When all the rounds are in the magazine you pull the clip out and the bolt will close and chamber a round. With this gun the process irs rendered a little fussy from having the wrong clips, but it works. Apply the safety by pushing it upward and you are ready to go.
The safety deserves some mention here; originally the safety on these guns was on in the down position, but they reversed this relatively quickly. The New Safety on this gun may be applied with the hammer down or in the cocked position, allowing the gun to be carried ‘cocked-and-locked. According to sources this safety requires the hammer to be pulled back beyond the cocked position to apply it, which is fussy and kind of stupid, as it means you need to use both hands to apply the safety. Contrary to this mine can be applied with the hammer in the cocked position, making it much easier to use. It does cam the hammer back slightly. I’m researching this now. There is no doubt that this is a proper ‘New safety’ gun; it is marked as such, has the correct hammer and it’s production-date is right. The way mine operates could be a result of wear or deliberate modification. I’ll look at this when I remove the fire-control group.
So how does it shoot? Very well indeed.
As usual, the gun is more accurate than I am. The sights aren’t actually terrible, but being covered in nickel makes them a bit hard for me to resolve. I’ll be painting the rear sight black, and probably red for the front sight. That, and more importantly more practice, ought to improve my results.
I have to say that the gun has lived up to my expectations, and I am delighted to finally own one!
Michael Tinker Pearce, 4 March 2019