A Look at the Mauser C96 "Broomhandle" Semi-Auto Pistol

A Look at the Mauser C96 "Broomhandle" Semi-Auto Pistol

Back in the 1890s there were countless gun builders doing their best to develop the next great breakthrough. It was the final decade of a century that saw the culmination of the Industrial Revolution, and was rich with technological advancements. Although, the achievements that were reached in the firearms industry were just but a small part of the developments that came to fruition in the manufacturing of everything from textiles to automobiles, guns would play a vital role in the world's economies. This was because regardless of anything else that was happening around the globe, there was seldom a time without a domestic or international conflict somewhere.

This made the firearm industry rather unique, because there were many inventors that were striving to achieve the same result. They were primarily focused on building guns that were faster to load and fire, easier to shoot and carry, hit harder, and had a greater target range. They basically desired to achieve anything that could appeal to military forces around the world and assure their financial success. Even though that last goal was the ultimate accomplishment for many of these gun builders, a military contract wasn't always a necessary component to guarantee their firearm was successful.

Civilian commercial markets had continued to grow more prominent as the 19th century came to a close. The most successful firearms seemed to be those that could appeal to both sportsmen and militaries alike. There were more and more guns that were designed initially for battle, but managed to build a civilian following when the priority of war subsided. These were firearms like the Colt 1911, 1891 Mosin Nagant and its variants, Springfield 1903, and of course the most produced rifle ever the Mauser 98.

Today, it is another interesting Mauser firearm that we would like to discuss. One that although it bears the name Mauser wasn’t invented by Paul Mauser, or any of his kin. In fact, when the Mauser employee Fidel Feederle presented the idea of this new automatic pistol to Paul Mauser, he rejected the design. However, that was not enough to discourage him, and Fidel along with his brothers Friedrich and Josef believed they had something worth pursuing and continued to work on building their 7.63 caliber automatic handgun. By 1895 the trio had put together a successful prototype and with that, Paul Mauser could no longer deny the possibility that such a powerful handgun could find success.

Patents were issued in Germany by the end of that year and in 1897 in the United States. Paul Mauser decided to market the Feederle brothers' gun as the "Mauser Military Pistol", because despite what he may have thought of it, he was a businessman first and foremost, and he saw the potential in its power and functionality.

The Mauser factory never gave an actual model designation to the pistol, it was simply referred to as the Pistole 7.63. It is not clear why that was. There would be no designation given to any variation of the pistol until the Model 1930, which came decades later. In the United States, the Mauser Military Pistol became known as the Mauser Broomhandle, due to its unique looking grip. For many others throughout the world, it was simply known as the C96 (construct 96) or M96, presumably because it was that year that Mauser had completed refining the Feederle brothers' prototype and prepared for regular production.  

Despite not finding immediate success with any military as their primary sidearm, the Mauser pistol did pretty well anyway. Early on Mauser received small orders from the Italian Navy and military units in Persia and Turkey. They would ship guns to the French Police and to Norway, Indonesia, and Thailand. The pistol became very popular with British Officers who would purchase the pistol in private sale. The firm Westley Richards in the UK became a supplier for this purpose.

Giving what the Mauser Broomhandle is, it is curious that it wasn’t chosen right away as a primary service arm. After all, it was the first successfully produced automatic pistol, and the first to successfully use a rimless cartridge. Speaking of which, the 7.63 round was the most powerful cartridge available in a side arm at the time, and remained as such until Elmer Keith developed the .357 Magnum for the Smith & Wesson Model 27 in 1935.

The Mauser Broomhandle pistol also has the unique feature of a wood shoulder stock, which attaches quickly to a dovetail groove on the rear of the grip frame. The stock doubles as a holster that conceals its entirety, with the exception of that odd shaped grip. The pistol includes a 10 round squared internal magazine that is fed by a stripper clip from the top of the gun.

In the early production days, Mauser experimented with many different combinations of features. These were believed to have been done with the hopes of finding the right combination, which would create global military interest. Any samples of these early variation attempts, that took place before regular production began in 1897, will be easily identified by the markings "System Mauser" at the top of the chamber. Actual early production models were marked "Waffenfabrik Mauser Oberndorf A/N". Some of the features that Mauser thought could make the pistol more appealing to military forces, and were therefore tried in those early stages were barrel lengths of 3.9", 4.75", 5.2", and 5.5". They experimented with both fixed and adjustable sights, large and small grips, magazines with 6, 10, and 20 shot capacities, cone-shaped hammers, and large and small rings.

They even tried turning the Broomhandle into a carbine, but didn’t find much interest in that from military units either. However, the company would later create two variations that did quite well. These are possibly some of the best known and easily identified Mauser Broomhandle pistols in existence. They are "Red 9" and the "Bolo."

Although, the Mauser Broomhandle lost out to another German pistol (the Luger P08) when the Imperial German Army was selecting their primary sidearm, it was looked to as a back up during WWI when Luger couldn't keep up with the demands of the war. The only issue for Mauser was that Germany had standardized their military weapons to the 9mm Parabellum caliber, so as Mauser prepared to fulfill an order of 150,000 guns in 9mm, they devised a method of identification to prevent their pistol from being accidentally loaded with the wrong ammunition. The guns that were built for the Imperial Army would have a large "9" burned into the grips, which was then filled with red paint for easy identification, hence the name "Red 9". The other modification required for these standardized pistols was to the rear sight. Mauser replaced the sight to match the trajectory of the 9mm cartridge. The graduations were changed to read from 50 to 500 meters, as opposed to the ambitious 1000 meters of the 7.63 caliber Broomhandle.

After Germany's defeat in the war, gun production was temporarily halted in the country. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 gave way to the new German Weimar Republic, and with that came restrictive measures on the German Military and their weapons.  Manufacturing weapons in their standard military caliber of 9mm was now forbidden, which meant that their existing weapons needed to be reworked before production of new guns could resume. Mauser had many Broomhandle pistols that were available for use by the Military and German Police, so they were brought into compliance by cutting down the barrel to under four-inches, removing and sweating back on the front sight, and then replacing the adjustable rear sight with a fixed one. Many of these reworked guns received a "1920" stamp to show their compliance.

By late 1921 Mauser was able to return to commercial production of the Broomhandle. They rekindled the smaller grip frame style that was attempted in the early years and equipped it with a 3.9 inch barrel to assure compliance under the treaty. The pistols featured the small ring hammer and  a full size shoulder stock.

Though they still had not been officially chosen as a primary weapon, these pistols were sold in quantity to several countries including Poland, Lithuania, and the former Soviet Union. The pistol became popular among the ruling Russian party known as the Bolshevik (Communist Party of the Soviet Union). This is believed to inspire the nickname "Bolo", which was actually a derogatory term for the Russian group that was coined by the British soldiers. Somehow the name stuck, and is still used to reference these shorter barrel and smaller grip frame guns today.

China would become a major purchaser of the Mauser Broomhandle during the 1920’s. They lacked the level of Western sophistication in gun technology at the time, but greatly desired semi-automatic weaponry. However, they did prove very capable of mimicking manufacturing and began creating their own copies of the German pistol. Their affection towards the Broomhandle became common knowledge as China was the only country to select the Broomhandle as their primary sidearm.

Large numbers of pistols are still found with Chinese markings on them, although, many of which are found to indicate that they were made in Germany. Some collectors believe this means very little in determining the pistols origin, because the Chinese were also known to copy and forge markings. With that said, no documentation has ever been recovered that shows that Mauser had any specific major military contracts with China, or any other country. Though it is worth noting here that the Mauser factory in Oberndorf, along with all of its records was destroyed by the French Army at the close of WWII, so if any evidence of larger contracts existed, they are long gone.

Even with a treaty in place, Germany was still secretly devising plans for future actions. The enforcement of the treaty’s restrictions began to lag as many nations were enjoying periods of peace and most were not actively pursuing arms or paying much attention. The Bolo version of the Mauser Broomhandle was still being produced in high numbers in the mid to late 1920s. Many of those guns were being shipped to China. However, Germany would soon begin ignoring the terms of the treaty, which would open the door for the return of the full size Broomhandle pistol.  Mauser soon introduced the development of the Model 1930.

Early versions of the 1930 model can be found with some variations of components, because to avoid waste, Mauser would use up spare parts they had in the factory. The true Model 1930 has the larger grips and a 5.2" barrel. The factory would incorporate a third line marking of "D.R.U.P. u A.P.", which indicates that the design was protected by German and other patents. However, this step would do very little to sway China or Spain which had also began manufacturing copies.

Mauser Werke had managed to stay afloat during the 1920s because of the tremendous sales of their Broomhandle to China. However, the Spanish companies that were manufacturing the design would manage to get a leg up on them by the close of the decade. The Spanish had not only begun copying the Broomhandle and selling them to China, they had also developed several variations capable of full automatic fire. These pistols are the Royal, Astra 900, and the Super Azul. Spain had created a more desirable pistol with a detachable magazine and superior firepower.

They began exporting these weapons to China in astounding numbers and directly cutting into Mauser’s profits from its biggest customer.

Mauser answered this encroachment by rushing their own version of the full automatic pistol into production. The gun became known as the Schnellfeuer, or the Model 712. The first Schnellfeuer was developed by Austrian born designer named Josef Nickl who worked in Mauser's experimental department. Mauser shipped 1,000 of these pistols to China immediately after production, but the select fire function of Nickl’s design had issues and Mauser discontinued its production. However, another designer in Mauser's experimental department had also created a design based on the Model 1930. Karl Westlinger applied for his patent on the improved design on April 13, 1932. The Schnellfeuer pistols that Westlinger created are the ones that are best known by collectors today, as the pistols were a success, with an estimated production of around 100,000. Westlingers pistol looked a lot like the Model 1930, but featured a detachable 10 or 20 round magazine and a large selector switch with a serrated button at its center.

Mauser made the Schnellfeuer commercially available and evidence shows these guns were shipped to the Middle East, Africa, South America, and the United States by way of the Stoeger Arms Company. There is also evidence that the Yugoslavian Police received these pistols in both 7.65mm and 9mm Parabellum in the mid-1930’s.

Many of the Schnellfeuers also made their way into China before the Japanese began blocking shipments when the two countries became embroiled in conflict in mid to late 1930s. The remaining pistols would stay in Europe and end up in the hands of German forces during World War II.

If you have read this far, you likely have a genuine interest in the Mauser C96 Broomhandle Pistol, so we would certainly encourage you to do further research. Because despite the length of this article, it is a mere compilation of some highlights and cannot possibly provide all the intricate and interesting details of this classic pistol's existence. There are more copies, early variations, rarities, specific markings and patents worth discussing, which cannot possibly fit in such a brief summary. To study the production era of the Mauser C96 Broomhandle will be to take a look at some of the most turbulent and volatile, although interesting, times of our World. So if you choose to enter such an endeavor, be prepared for more than just a study of a gun, because it will certainly take you on a historical journey as well.