Gewehr 88—1888 Commission Rifle

The following information on the Gewehr 88 comes from Chapter 11 of Mauser Rifles and Pistols by W. H. B. Smith. Mauser Rifles and Pistols is also available to purchase in print.

The Gewehr 88 has been the subject of controversy among gun experts for years. Because the rifle was loaded with a clip resembling that of the Mannlicher and based on his patents, it is often mistakenly referred to as the “Mannlicher” or as the “Mauser-Mannlicher.” Its official designation was “German Infantry Model 1888”; but it is often listed in Germany as “Mauser and Commission.”

This rifle was actually a development of the German Infantry Board or Commission and no receiver of this model ever bears the Mauser factory stamp. These arms were manufactured in huge numbers in a Mauser plant, but in 1888 finances of the Mauser Company had been taken over by the giant German firm of Ludwig Loewe and Company of Berlin and such rifles are usually stamped “Loewe, Berlin 1888, 1890, 1891” or simply “Gew. 88.”

Mauser gewehr 88 Rifle

Gewehr 88 German Infantry Rifle. Right Side View Showing Action Closed: This rifle is not a Mauser. It is included in this book because tremendous quantities were manufactured by Mauser and by Ludwig Loewe and Company who controlled the Mauser finances, at the time of manufacture. This rifle was developed by a German Army Commission, and Paul Mauser was particularly bitter about its adoption. While the bolt is modified from the original Mauser design, the magazine is a modified Mannlicher, as is much of the rest of the arm. This rifle used the 7.9 mm cartridge developed by Germany as an outstanding advance in ballistics in its day. The M. 88 cartridge was used also in Mauser’s improved “Gew. 98.” In 1905 the case was retained but the bullet diameter was increased. U.S. commercial “8 mm (7.9 mm) Mauser” cartridges may be used. Modern cartridges of German 7.9 mm military caliber with pointed bullets will chamber in this rifle but are very dangerous to use. Arms of this type should be loaded only with comparatively low velocity loads expressly manufactured for use in them.

Gewehr 88’s were also manufactured by all the standard government arsenals, and by such well-known makers as Haenel, Schilling, Sauer and Sohn at Suhl; and by Steyr in Austria. In 1889 arrangements were made for manufacture of rifles of this type in Belgium by Auguste Schriever et Cié at Liege. In the official Mauser plant record “Mauser Gewehr und Patente,” published in 1936, is found the statement that Mauser submitted design ideas to the Commission and was very annoyed when they passed over his design recommendations. Indeed, Paul Mauser was extremely bitter about the adoption of this rifle, contending it was inferior to his newer experimental designs. Time, incidentally, proved that Mauser was right.

In the early official catalogues of Ludwig Loewe and Company, manufacturers of genuine Mausers during that period, is found the following statement: “In this rifle (Gewehr 1888) there was retained the approved breech closing mechanism of the Mauser rifle pattern 1871 with slight alterations, and there was combined within the cartridge holder from the Austrian Mannlicher rifle.

“This latter feature, however, was not adopted without an important alteration made by the Small Arms Inspection Committee in Spandau, which alteration made it possible to arrange or pack the cartridges symmetrically, and introduce the packet into the magazine with either side uppermost. The cartridge holder constructed by Mannlicher up to that date had a rhomboid form and could therefore only be introduced into the magazine in one particular way i.e., the holder had an upper and a lower side, and the lower side must always enter the magazine first.”

Among the other “minor modifications,” so called, was the use of front locking lugs on the bolt which provides the most secure breech locking system ever developed.

This system of forward locking lugs had been used in the United States on a breech loading, bolt action, cap-and-ball rifle developed by Colonel J. Durrell Greene of the U.S. Army. This rifle patented November 17, 1857 was unsuccessful because metallic cartridges which would seal the breech against escape of gas had not been perfected at that time.

Mauser gewehr 88 phantom

Gewehr 88 German Infantry Rifle. Left Side Phantom View With Action Open And Magazine Loaded: This rifle, manufactured by Mauser as well as others (but not of Mauser design) functions as follows: Lifting the bolt handle through 90 degrees to the left cams the firing pin point back inside the bolt cylinder and revolves the lugs at the forward end of the cylinder out of their recesses in the receiver. Initial extraction is also started by this movement. The bolt handle is pulled straight to the rear as far as it will go. A Mannlicher type clip of modified design holding 5-round nose Gewehr 88 cartridges is thrust down into the magazine through the top of the action. Since the top and bottom of the clips are open, the bottom cartridge rests on the follower arm and forces it down. As the follower pivots, its forward point forces the magazine spring guide ahead and compresses the spiral magazine spring. When the clip is all the way in, the clip latch is forced forward by its spiral spring to hook into an engagement notch in the back of the clip. The drawing shows the rifle ready for the forward movement of the bolt. Pushing the bolt forward will cause its face to strip the top cartridge from between the folded-over lips of the clip and chamber it. The extractor in the face of the removable bolt head will snap into the extracting groove in the cartridge case. Turning the bolt handle down will induce cam action to complete closing movement. The cartridge will chamber, and the bolt lugs will be revolved into their recesses behind the head of the cartridge case. The cam surface at the rear of the bolt cylinder acting on the corresponding face in the cocking-piece will force that piece back to complete cocking the arm ready for firing.

The Packet-Loading (or Charger-Clip Loading) System

The Mannlicher system of packet loading was introduced to speed up loading, as one motion charged the magazine.

In this Mannlicher system of packet or multiple loading, 5 (or more) cartridges are held together fairly parallel to each other by a clip of sheet metal which covers the rear sides of the cartridges for approximately half their length, and fully encloses and guides the cartridge case heads. The fully loaded clip is placed in the receiver when the bolt has been turned and withdrawn and the clip and cartridges as a unit are pressed into the magazine where they are held down by a latch which engages in a projection on the back of the clip.

In operation, the bolt functioned in approximately the same manner as all the earlier Mauser rifles. When the handle was turned up and drawn back the packet could be inserted. Pushing the bolt forward stripped the top cartridge from between the lips of the clip (or “packet”) and chambered it. The extractor snapped into the cannelure of the new cartridge, which was rimless.

After firing, the bolt was raised to unlock, then pulled back to extract and eject the empty case. A spring-controlled follower in the form of a lever was forced up by a spring against the bottom cartridge in the clip. The top and bottom of the clip, while cut away and folded over with lips to retain the cartridges, is open enough to permit the magazine follower to ride up between the clip sides.

This lever acted on by the spring forced each cartridge up successively into line as the bolt was drawn back. When the last cartridge had been driven into the chamber, the clip was free to fall out through a hole cut in the bottom of the magazine well. As long as there were any cartridges in the clip, it was necessary to release the catch by pressing on the thumb piece at the front end of the trigger guard to unload. This released the clip and its contents to be pushed up out of the action by the follower. The hole in the bottom of the magazine was not long enough to permit a loaded cartridge or the clip with cartridges in it to drop out. Only the empty clip could pass through it.

This rifle design has several defects. It can normally be used as a single loader only when the magazine is empty. Furthermore the magazine cannot be reloaded by introducing individual cartridges; it must be clip loaded, since the clip itself is an actual part of the magazine.

A partially filled Mannlicher clip in the action makes it impossible to load the chamber or magazine with a spare cartridge. In the Mauser system, the chamber can be loaded by pushing the cartridges down in the magazine, easing the bolt forward over their heads, then inserting a cartridge in the chamber and closing the bolt. A partially empty Mauser magazine can be filled with single cartridges anytime the action is open. The essential difference is that in the Mannlicher the clip goes in with the cartridges; while in the Mauser the cartridges are stripped in off the clip.

A thin steel jacket (or “barrel casing”) around the barrel was intended to protect the rather thin-walled barrel from injuries and to protect the hands of the soldier from being burned by the heat generated during rapid fire.

Mauser gewehr 88 phantom closed

Gewehr 88 German Infantry Rifle. Left Side Phantom View Showing Action Closed And Cartridge In Firing Chamber Discharged: The drawing shows the arm after the trigger has been pulled causing it to pivot and release the sear from engagement with the striker. The striker spring driving the striker forward forces the firing pin point through the hole in the breechblock face to fire the cartridge. As the cartridge is chambered, the compressed magazine spring acting through its guide forcing against the nose of the magazine follower tilts that member and causes its arm to force the remaining 4-cartridges in the magazine up in line to bring the top one directly below the bolt for the next feeding stroke. Note that while the locking lugs in this design are at the forward end of the bolt cylinder and are securely locked in their recesses in the receiver, the head of the bolt is a removable piece and hence the lugs are further back from the head of the cartridge than in later genuine Mauser construction. It is not correct to speak of this arm as a Mauser even when it was made by that company. The arm is never so designated in any Mauser records. Popularly it is known as the “Commission and Mauser” because some of the construction details were adapted by the Commission from the Mauser design. Its official German designation was “Deutschland Infanteriegewehr M. 88” (German Infantry Gewehr 1888).


The Gewehr 88 rifle introduced an entirely new and outstanding cartridge known as the 7.9 mm. (It is also listed as 7.91 and 7.92 mm). That design is the basis of the cartridge used by Germany from then on until the close of World War II. Except for ballistic changes in the shape of the bullet and the type of charge it is the same cartridge—one of the most efficient known.

While the nominal caliber is 7.9 mm, both manufacturers and War Ministry publications list a maximum diameter for the bullet of 8.1 mm for the Gewehr 1888. The bore diameter is listed as 7.9 mm.

This cartridge (popularly known as “8 mm” Mauser in the U.S.) is the German 8x57mm rimless. It was originally issued with round nosed bullet. Bullet weights and styles, as well as loads, have varied with time and place of manufacture. Bullet diameter is about .318 inch.

The rifle measured 48.8 inches over all and weighed 8.4 pounds. The barrel was 29.1 inches long and had a barrel groove diameter of about .320 inch, 4-groove rifling to the right, one turn in 9.45 inches.

Sights were graduated from 500 to 4000 meters.

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Gewehr 88 - 1888 Commission Rifle

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