The British officer corps was decimated in WW1, and there was a rush to replace the fallen. The Webley .455, while well regarded, took too much training for candidates to become proficient and a lighter, easier to learn alternative was sought. This resulted in the design of a new, smaller-framed revolver chambered in 380/200 Revolver (usually known in America as 38-200.)
This cartridge used the .38 S&W case, but with a long, heavy 200gr. bullet launched at around 625 fps. The long, heavy-for-caliber bullet was somewhat unstable, and in testing on cadavars and animal corpses it tended to tumble post-impact, creating greater wounding effect and allowing the low-velocity bullet to deposit all of it’s energy (173 ft./lbs) in the target. The British army found this acceptable, and the weapons lighter weight and modest recoil made it easier to train with.
Over the years this story got muddied, with some insisting that penetration, rather than a tumbling bullet, was the goal. A friend of mine was curious, and sent me a box of Matt’s Bullets 38/200 ammunition. I ordered a block of Clear Ballistics FBI-spec gel to put this to the test. But there was a problem… my .38 S&W revolvers are too lightly built for this cartridge, and firing these loads from them would be too likely to damage them.
In normal times I’d just call around and find a buddy with a Webley, Enfield or S&W Victory chambered appropriately and have them come by, but these are not normal times so I was stymied. Then it occurred to me to try something. The bullet diameter of 380/200 is only a few thousandths larger than .357. I ran two of the Matt’s bullet loads through a .38 Special resizing die, and the fit perfectly in the cylinder of my .357 Magnum Astra Police revolver. With it’s 3″ barrel the bullet would be a bit slower than from a service-length gun, but not a great deal, and it was better than nothing. I decided to give it a try.
My terminally messy workshop provided a good place for the test. I did not bother with four layers of denim as the bullet is not intended to expand. I fired two shots, yielding an average velocity of 585 fps. and 153 ft./lbs of energy at ten feet from the muzzle, with an extreme spread of 19 fps. The first shot entered the the block and hooked left, exiting the block at about 13″ of penetration. The bullet hit the backstop sideways and skittered off into the nether realms of the shop at very low velocity. The second bullet also hooked left, but was retained in the block at a depth of 13-1/4″. The bullet came to rest backwards. The wound tracks indicated that the bullets did indeed tumble, just as intended.
The wound channels, while not spectacular, were notably larger than bullet diameter and produced more damage than normal solid-non-expanding bullets would have. The low energy rounds did not produce a great deal of damage, but more worrisome is the pronounced curve to the left that each bullet performed, which might conceivably turn a good hit into a bad one.
Still, gel is not flesh and bone and while it gives us a general indicator of the bullet’s performance in tissue it is not a direct analogue. Given a choice between factory .38 S&W ammunition and these rounds I’d pick these in a heartbeat.
I should also note this is a very unscientific test- the bullets are being squeezed by the smaller bore, and service guns have longer barrels and might have a different rifling twist that could affect performance. When things are more settled I hope to replicate this test with a Webley revolver.
So how obsolete is it? If the shooter does their job the ammunition will probably suffice, and for service guns in .38 S&W I think it represents a good choice. Bear in mind that the British did not abandon this load for any perceived lack of effectiveness, but rather because they were concerned that the soft lead bullet would be seen as a violation of the Geneva Convention. That being said modern calibers with modern bullets are a better choice, and much to be preferred if that option is available.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 29 July 2020
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YES! It has arrived! The ‘Bolo’ style stock I purchased from KB Tactical has arrived! This is an un-issued Chinese surplus unit. While KB says it is for the shorter barreled pistols, my full-length 1914 vintage Commercial Model fits just fine, at least with the hammer down and the safety on. Delivery was prompt and on time.
The C96 is not an excellent handgun. It has a fixed magazine loaded from stripper clips located ahead of the trigger, making the gun much longer than it needs to be. The bore axis is very high, and since it shoots a powerful cartridge this means a lot of muzzle-whip, making accurate rapid fire challenging. And the handle? Let us be charitable and say it’s not particularly ergonomic.
OK, don’t get me wrong; the C96 Mauser was ground-breaking in 1896, but in a mere 3-4 years much more advanced, efficient and ergonomic designs like the Luger and FN 1900 hit the market. Despite this the Mauser remained popular for decades, and I believe this was largely due to it’s stock/holster. China was under an arms embargo early in the 20th Century, but pistols were not prohibited and the ‘Broomhandle’ Mauser quickly became popular- especially with the stock mounted to turn it into a short carbine.
When I ordered this stock, I wasn’t expecting it to be in such good condition. While obviously not new, it obviously wasn’t very old either. My first, rather uncharitable assumption was that it was a knock-off, but I think there is every chance it might actually be ‘as advertised.’ I’ll explain.
The cartridge case of 7.62 x 25mm Russian, used in the T33 Tokarev, is nearly identical to 7.63 mauser, and they will feed in a C96 just fine. BUT… they are loaded much hotter than 7.63 Mauser and will quickly break the older gun if used in them. When the Soviet Union gave them Tokarevs the Chinese had vast numbers of C96s in addition to Spanish and indigenous clones of them. Because of this when they made ammo for their Tokarevs they loaded it to the power level of the Mauser cartridge so it could be used interchangeably in Tokarevs and Mausers. So I have heard, anyway; this is something I read many years ago and it makes sense, but I have no idea if it’s accurate. If any of you have specific information to confirm or refute this I’m interested.
Shansei company in China produced the Type 17 chambered in .45 ACP and C96 clones in 7.63. In the 1980s there were a number of receivers for these guns sitting around, and they made them up into finished guns. The Type 17s were exported, as were some of the C96s, but I am told many of them were issued to provincial law enforcement for use with the by then ubiquitous down-loaded Tokarev ammo.
I believe that my stock, if it is indeed ‘surplus,’ dates to this period. The 1980s dating seems much more consistent with its condition and quality. I should note that ATF considers these ‘run-out’ production guns to be modern firearms, and if you attach any stock to them it is an SBR.
Let’s talk about this stock’s quality for a minute. The metal furniture is not highly finished, and I had to de-burr the connector before it could be mounted on my pistol. Not a big deal, just a few minutes with a machinists file. The stock release, if not used carefully, tends to come out. It’s not hard to put back in, but I’l likely to take it apart and see if I can’t fix that. The wood-work is alright, I suppose, but the lacquer used to finish it appears to have been applied with a garden rake. Having seen some Chinese military products of the era I can’t say this is inconsistent.
So… how is it?
The first thing you notice is the stock makes it much easier to load. Tuck the stock under your arm and use your right hand to assist. Way, way easier. The stock does give you a pretty long pull, but it’s manageable. One thing is, if your hand is at all large don’t put your right thumb over the stock. The hammer will tap your thumb, and it’s annoying if not particularly painful.
At first I had some difficulty with seeing the rear sight properly, which resulted in my shots hitting low and left. Not to far off, but not the sort of accuracy I hoped for. I quickly discovered that by moving my cheek back towards the butt solved this issue. Well, gun’s accuracy issues were anyway…
As a carbine the gun is quite pleasant to shoot; there is little recoil and the muzzle flip encountered when firing it as a handgun is absent. The sights are not awesome by modern standards, but they’re not bad. One thing I had not noticed was how nice the trigger is; recovery between shots with this gun is slow enough that you cannot take full advantage of the trigger. As a carbine though, it really comes into it’s own. It’s crisp with little creep, and the reset makes lightning-fast double-taps at seven to ten yards a doddle.
With the stock mounted it really is a whole different gun. All the flaws in handling vanish, recoil is light and it’s just an absolute pleasure. Despite it’s age with the right ammo I could see this being a genuinely viable home defense option, though there are certainly better choices. At four pounds I could also see this being useful as a backpacking/survival gun, and with careful ammo selection and aim in an emergency it would certainly be adequate for medium-sized game. Again, there are better options… but I could see it.
Speaking of Ammunition…
If you want to shoot your own Mauser there are a number of companies producing ammunition, but your options are pretty much limited to 85gr round-nose full-metal case ammunition. I have had good luck with PPU ammunition in this caliber. It’s not particularly expensive, and has been reliable and accurate. Do not be tempted under any circumstances to fire factory 7.62×25 Tokarev ammo through your Mauser; it’s likely to break it.
You can, of course, reload your own; I do. Load data and new brass are available for a variety of modern bullets and powder. The nominal bore diameter is .308, and while I have tried bullets sized for .32 caliber pistols (.311-.312 diameter) and it worked fine, I have misgivings about doing this. If you are having trouble finding suitable bullets there is a relatively cheap and easy solution, however; run them through a .308 sizing/lubing die. This solves the problem and has not, so far, had any adverse effect on the bullet’s stability. These dies are available from Lee and other sources, and are usually under $20.
I have used 7.62×25 Tokarev brass in some reloads, and it has worked just fine but beware- If the bullet-seating die is set for use with this brass it will crush 7.63 brass. The section from the shoulder to the neck is just a skosh longer on the Mauser brass I have, and it’s just enough to cause problems. If you use both sort them out and use the proper settings for each cartridge.
Wait a minute… Is This Legal?!
To the best information I have been able to obtain, yes. Probably. Some older pistols made to mount a stock are specifically exempted from the National Firearms Act. Some are circumstantially exempted. For example Luger stocks were model-specific, so you have to have the correct stock for your specific model. Stock-equipped Hi Powers must have the adjustable sight calibrated to 500 yards and be below a certain serial number. It is apparent from this that different guns are treated differently.
Addressing the issue of reproduction stocks on C96s ther are several letters:
A 1981 letter applying specifically to C96s that states that an original or close reproduction of an original stock is OK.
A 1999 letter applying to Ingis High-Power pistols stating the reproductions are not OK, which some interpret as applying to C96s also.
A 2002 letter applying specifically to C96 Pistols that says a close reproduction is OK. ” – A C96 (aka 1896) Broomhandle Mauser with pre-1940 manufacture receiver AND with either an original buttstock or a close replica of an original buttstock, is a Title 1 (1968 Gun Control Act) Pistol …(also a Curio and Relic firearm); it is NOT a Title II Short Barrel Rifle. BATF regards this as a collector’s item not likely to be owned as a weapon. However, a C96 Broomhandle either
– – with a receiver made after 1940… OR
– – with a stock that is NOT an original OR CLOSE REPLICA of an original issue,is considered by BATF to be weaponized and NOT a collector’s item.“
This letter is the most recent I have seen regarding stocks on the Mauser, and there has been enough internet discussion that I am pretty sure any contradictory ruling would have been mentioned. Based on my own research I’m satisfied that this is legal, but the bottom line is I’m just some guy on the internet. It would be prudent for you to do your own research, or even check directly with the ATF before mounting one of these stocks on your pistol. Also, you need to check state and local laws; while this appears to be legal under Federal law it may not be legal in your state.
One thing I believe you should NOT do is mess about with a non-reproduction stock or any attempt to ‘modernize’ the gun. The addition of a modern sight or any other significant change to improve the functionality of one of these guns would be very likely to be interpreted as ‘weaponizing’ the gun and would negate it’s status as a ‘Curio or Relic.’ If you want to go that route for some reason register it as an SBR first; it could save you a lot of trouble!
In summary the C96 with a stock is a ball to shoot, and despite the age of this design it is a useful gun even to this day. That being said, this is a collector’s item for a reason; while it does the job it is genuinely obsolete. There are modern guns free of legal ambiguity that do anything this gun can do better, and the price of these guns is far out of proportion to their utility.
If you want to geek out on some cool history and have some fun, you could do worse than a stocked C96. If you want an SBR for practical uses it’s better (and cheaper) to go through the process to register and obtain an SBR… and you’ll have no concerns about whether or not what you are doing is legal.
OK, been a long time between posts here, and largely because Microsoft locked my hotmail email address because *gasp* I tried to log in from a different browser. We’ve been fighting them for over a week now, and no matter how many security questions we answer, or how many times, they will not unlock the damn account. There help system online won’t address the problem, and every time I call customer service if I eventually manage to fight my way through their Byzantine system to be connected to a human it promptly hangs up on me.
I know they’re busy; anyone with such problematic products would be; but there are some of you I can only contact via that account. If you need to contact me my alternate email is firstname.lastname@example.org