The German Gewehr 1888 Rifle in 7.92 x 57mm

July 28, 1914. The world is at war. Germany and the Central Powers are fighting the Allies — the British Empire, France, Russia, Belgium, and their colonies in the far flung corners of the world. In 1917, the United States enters the fray . . .

and stayed between the 28th day of July 1914 to the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Millions upon millions of young men climbed their trenches and stormed off into no man’s land. Many fell and never returned home to their families.

On the left is a young recruit of the Prussian 2. Hanseatisches at the start of the war armed with a Gew 1888. On the right is a young man on the Imperial German Infantry late in the war armed with a Gew 1898. Both chambered in 7.92x57mm.

The Gewehr 88 (commonly called the Model 1888 Commission Rifle here in the USA) was a late 19th-century German bolt action rifle, adopted in 1888 by the German Empire. It was Germany’s answer to the French Lebel rifle and their smokeless ammunition.

With the invention of smokeless powder in the 1880s; it immediately made all of the large-bore black powder rifles (such as the Masuer Infanterie-Gewehr 71) obsolete.

The German Reich’s first step in countering their continental rivals: developing and adopting the Patrone 88 or M/88 of 1888. A rimless necked cartridge with a bullet diameter of 8.08mm / .318 in loaded 226 gr round-nose bullet propelled by a single-base smokeless powder.

M/88 Ammunition with the original Gew 88 enbloc clip.

With the cartridge invented, a rifle needed to be made.

The German Rifle Commission, the same one that came up with the cartridge, went over a number of rifle designs across Europe and as all commissions work.

They gathered the best ideas from all the different rifles and mashed them together to come up with the Gewehr 1888.

Contrary to popular belief; Mauser was one of the few major arms manufacturers in Germany that did not produce the Gew. 88.

The Gew. 88 is primarily of a Mannlicher style design with a split bridge receiver. The bolt passes through the receiver and locks in front of the rear bridge.

The bolt itself has a separate rotating bolt head and loading was the characteristic Mannlicher-style “packet loading” or “en-bloc” system in which cartridges are loaded into a steel carrier (ie; a charger clip) which is inserted into the magazine, where it holds the cartridges in alignment over the magazine spring.

Once all the rounds are fired, the empty en-bloc clip is ejected from the rifle via the bottom of the magazine.

The Gew. 88 looks odd; the entire barrel is encased in a sheet metal tube.

The idea behind this: the sheet metal tube would provide protection to the barrel and increase accuracy by preventing the barrel from directly contacting the stock.

In practice it increased the risk of rusting by providing a space for water to be trapped if the rifle was exposed to harsh conditions. Which during the Great War it clearly was.

The rifle was adopted in 1888 and early production models had some issues.

By 1892, there was a nasty rumor going around — spread by the then notorious anti-Semitic agitator Hermann Ahlwardt, member of the German Reichstag — that the Jews were responsible for failures.

Many of the Gew. 88 rifles were made by Loewe & Company, whose chairman was Jewish entrepreneur Isidor Loewe. Loewe also held a controlling interest in the Waffenfabrik Mauser Company. Ahlwardt accused Loewe of being a spy for France and denounced the rifle as a Judenflinte “Jews’ Musket”.

While this was going on, the rifle saw service with German Imperial Forces during their colonial conflicts in South West Africa and their war against the Herero and Namas tribes people in what is now Namibia.

Additionally, the rifle saw service with the Brazilian Army during the 1896-1897 War of Canudos and with German Forces during the Boxer Rebellion in China.

It was during this time that the flaws were discovered and the now famous Masuer Gewehr 1898 was adopted by the German Army.

But with 2.8m rifles built, they weren’t simply thrown away. Instead; they were placed into reserve status and updated.

In 1905 and again in 1914 the Gew. 88 was updated to fire the new M/05 S Patrone (S Ball cartridge). It was loaded with a lighter 153 gr. 8.2 mm / .323 in, pointed spitzer bullet and a more powerful double-base (based on nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin) smokeless powder.

M/88 Cartridge on the left and the M/05 in the right.

Additionally, the en-bloc clip system was ditched in favor of the standard Gew. 98 Masuer stripper charger clip system.

The receiver itself was altered. The chamber bridge had a notch cut into it to allow the new pointed spitzer bullet to feed properly, a set of charger guides were brazed onto the receiver and a small cutout was made on the left hand side to allow the shooters thumb to press the cartridges down into the magazine well.

Also the bottom of the magazine was covered. Engineers bored out the chamber and barrel to fit the newer .323 diameter projectile.

Masuer Stripper Clip feeding into the Gew. 88

Cartridge interrupter keeping the round ready to be stripped from the magazine and into the chamber.

Notice the cutout just above the wording that says G. Mod 88 for the shooter to press the rounds down into the magazine.

1914 dated magazine cover.

Cutout for the spitzer cartridge along with the “S” marking for the new bore for the M/05 cartridge. This rifle was made by the Amberg Arsenal in Bavaria in 1889.

During the war, Germany kept the Gew. 88 on the front lines to satisfy the constant need for rifles for their ever expanding army.

With the call up of the Landsturm (Reserves), the Gew. 88 went to the front to face the French and the Russians.

As Mauser Gew. 98 rifle production caught up Germany supplied a number of Gew. 88 rifles to the Ottoman Empire (Turkey); which was critically short on rifles and facing the ANZAC Forces in Gallipoli, fighting the Arabs and T.E. Lawrence.

My Rifle as shown saw service with the Ottoman Empire. After the Great War, the Turks keep them in service. My bolt for this rifle was actually a replacement made by Czechoslovakia in the 1930s.

I can say this, the sights are on par for the period. Hard to see.

The Gew. 88 saw service all across the German Empire during the war in Continental Europe, Africa, and their possessions in the Pacific.

Along with Turkish service and post war service with nations like Poland and Lithuania, the Gew. 88 marched on until the end of WWII in Germany. It continued to see service in the Chinese Civil War as an unlicensed copy in China as the Hanyang 88.

For Germany’s first smokeless rifle; it lasted longer than many thought.

Good condition Gew. 88s are getting harder to find everyday.Especially with complete bolts. (The rotating bolt head has a habit of being lost.) But if you find one, snag it! The rifle tells a story of conflict and struggle. But also of history and how the world we live in today was shaped.

comments

  1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    ‘Once all the rou nds are fired, the empty en-bloc cli p is ejected from the ri fle via the bottom of the mag azine.’

    A sentence no g un control advocate could ever comprehend.

    Cool rif le.

    1. avatar BLoving says:

      “Blah blah all the inner city youth have been slaughtered blah blah parts that make it deadlier blah blah make America great again blah.”
      There. I translated for them.
      🤠

  2. avatar ATFAgentBob says:

    awesome! We need more stories like this, something to compare to “This Old Gun” from those Rifleman magazines. Maybe branch out and do affordable (under $400) collectibles and try (notice I said try) not to make it a massive jerk fest for all things comm bloc.

    1. avatar Sam I Am says:

      Yyyyyuuuuuuppppp!

      More articles like this. Great stuff.

  3. avatar former water walker says:

    Nice. The Germans didn’t lose because of their guns.It was the USA. I had 2 uncles who were “over there”. They both nearly died of influenza. Is that a young Hitler seated?😄

  4. avatar ironicatbest says:

    So that explains the argument I had with a friend, he has one, ” I’ve got a Mauser” ,. I looked it over-” that ain’t a Mauser, it’s German but ain’t no Mauser” — is too, is not, is to0, is nnnot–“STFU,. What’s wrong with this car?”

  5. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Love me some history in the morning.

    1. avatar Old Fart says:

      I love the smell of history in the morning!

  6. avatar John Thayer says:

    “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”, British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey remarked to a friend on the eve of the United Kingdom’s entry into the First World War.

    And still we wait . . . . !

  7. avatar johnny go lightly says:

    In the year 2525…TTAG

    “And this is a model 43 built by the outlaw gang known as Glock. It was produced for a genetically modified tribe whose hand size was altered to abnormally small size”

  8. avatar David says:

    You left a part out. The antisemite’s slander of was found to be criminally false and he imprisoned for 4 months. Herr Loewe was also elected to the Reichstag.

  9. avatar sound awake says:

    im just really super surprised that nobodys bought a bunch of those already and chopped em down to 16.5″ and chambered em in 9mm or .45 acp to sell them as pistol caliber carbines

    because then it would have less recoil and less noise and just be generally overall easier to shoot and train with and better for kids and you can shoot it in the house and everything

    1. avatar Joleolsen says:

      Would it take Glock magazines?

    2. avatar El Duderino says:

      Mine has a 10″ barrel with a KAK Shockwave stock. I coated the whole thing in tan bedliner I bought at Wal-Mart. Rebarreled in .380ACP becuz recoil, it takes Hi-Point mags. Whenever I run the bolt at the pistol range en route to my usual 8″ group I pretend I’m a burly Imperial German soldier holding the line.

  10. avatar Eddy Jolley says:

    Good article – Great write up with lots of pitchers! Thanks!

    1. avatar Scoutino says:

      I must have missed the pitchers. Mmm…beer. 😁

  11. avatar strych9 says:

    “… their war against the Herero and Namas tribes people in what is now Namibia.”

    To call this a war is an unbelievable understatement. It’s also a perfect example of how “gun control” really works.

    I’m not going to go dig out a 100 year old history book on the topic since I don’t gloss or highlight my old collectible books so finding the exact passages would take forever but this all starts in the 1880’s and it’s fucking brutal. These aren’t wars but campaigns of extermination.

    The real thrust of the whole thing is how messed up eugenics was (scientific racism based on a twisted reading of Darwin’s work in On the Origin of Species (1859), the same theory Margaret Sanger used when starting Planned Parenthood btw) and that you can never trust a government that asks you to lay down your arms.

    The Nama were a peaceful people who were easily put into concentration camps and later used for slave labor by the Germans (it isn’t until 1946 that “forced labor” is really completely made illegal in Germany). The Herero on the other hand were pretty good horseman and formidable fighters who DID fight back right up until Germany offered them peace in exchange for the Herero surrendering their arms. The Herero were to keep their lands and yadda yadda. A treaty was signed and all that. Of course the Germans had no intention of honoring that treaty…

    Of course as soon as they laid down their arms the Herero were slaughtered and those who survived were either sent to concentration camps to die or forced into slavery or sent to Shark Island to build docks as slaves. Most of them died as a result of the conditions they were subjected to. Their lands obviously were taken by the Germans.

  12. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    Some of the issues with early Gew. 88’s:

    – bursting barrels, due to improper metallurgy, poor heat treatment, no modern understanding of proof testing

    – They’re finicky about the early en-bloc magazines. Drop them, damage them even slightly, and you could have feeding issues, or the bolt starts to slow down as it tries to slide over the feed lips on the en-bloc clip.

    – Because the extractor doesn’t go over the rim of the cartridge head until the bolt is pushing the cartridge fully home into the chamber, it is possible to double-feed these rifles. This isn’t a big deal, as it is possible to do the same thing on just about any push-feed (vs. a controlled round feed) rifle.

    As to Ahlwardt’s antisemitic conspiracy theories about the rifle: These took hold because there were actual issues with the rifle (regardless of who was making it), and the German government, while not engaged in a full-blown hush-up, didn’t put out the information they did have, and they didn’t announce any intention to fix the rifles. This left a vacuum of information, into which Ahlwardt was able to peddle his antisemitic ranting. The irony of Ahlwardt’s twaddle was this: Loewe & Company took their name out of the arms market, and consolidated their holdings as “DWM” – which became an even larger arms/munitions company after the 1890’s, producing quality firearms and ammo through WWI and after until the Nazis came to the fore. If Ahlwardt hoped to get Jews out of the arms business in Germany, he not only failed, he failed spectacularly.

    This rifle is an opportunity for people to jump off into studying the politics of Europe and what led to WWI. The nation we now know as Germany was only recently formed from smaller states and city-states, and this happened after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, wherein the French thought they were going to prevent the consolidation of German states into one nation, under the leadership of Prussia (one of the German states). The result was that France got her ass kicked – and hard.

    The French, already the masters of black powder (and people would be well served to study the development of black powder – because the French mastery of same will have a tie-in to the US production of black powder as far back as the American Revolution, and the formation of E.I. duPont as a US military rifle powder company) , subsequently started a big push to modernize their small arms, and this resulted in the introduction of nitrocellulose powders, which were then used in the cartridge for the Lebel. The Germans had to respond to the Lebel, because everyone who didn’t have their head in the sand knew that there was going to be a re-match of the Franco-Prussian war.

    Again, if you study the history of the era, you learn much about arms design, you learn why Hiram Maxim (an American polymath & playboy) was able to find such a lucrative market for his new belt-fed machine gun design in Europe, you find out why there was such a sudden burst of innovation in small arms design, from pistols to infantry rifles to machine guns. The market was ripe for peddling tons and tons of small arms, machine guns, artillery, bombs, you name it – into this market. It was ripe, because everyone who had eyes and ears knew that soon, there would be a epic deathmatch between the French and the Germans.

    With the introduction of smokeless powder, the small arms makers of the new German nation had to play catch-up. Smokeless powder is a difficult beast to understand when one lacks today’s modern instrumentation to discover how pressure curves change under different situations. The Gew. 88 suffered reputation issues, in part, because ammo & weapon makers didn’t fully understand all the ramifications of smokeless powder.

    The Gew. 88 was Germany’s first “modern” rifle, and in a bit of history that becomes prelude, we see how much more important it is to get the cartridge for a rifle correct first, and then worry about designing a gun around it. The 8×57 was around in different loadings for a long time after its initial development, just as we saw the .30-06 hang on for a long time in the US inventories. Those who would suggest that we’re going to change our primary service cartridge away from the 5.56 should study this era of history, and see how much more a cartridge in military service lasts over the firearms that use it.

    The Gew. 88 is a fascinating piece of history, and like the Lebel, it is a pivotal gun design. The lessons learned from the Gew. 88 would be incorporated into the Mauser 98 design.

  13. avatar Chris Morton says:

    Contrary to popular belief, the BORES were NOT converted to .323 or replaced.

    Instead, a degree of free bore was introduced so that a .323 bullet wasn’t instantly jammed into a .318 bore.

    I bought my first Commission 88 around 1977 when tons of them came in from Turkey, China and elsewhere.

    Their accuracy was immediately remarked upon, some citing them as more accurate than Kar98ks. This was largely due to the VERY tight bores, coupled with the free floating barrels.

    I’m on my third one, having owned another, as well as a GEW 91 artillery short rifle, which is nearly identical to the KAR88, except for a Kar98AZ style stacking hook.

    They are indeed very nice rifles, and some excellent sporters were built on the actions, particularly by Haenel.

    I highly recommend the C&RSenal video on the Commission 88.

  14. avatar Starfreak74 says:

    Loved this article

  15. avatar James69 says:

    Looks like an M91 Kinda?

  16. avatar DerryM says:

    I have a Turkish Gewehr 1888 marked “ANKARA 1939”. It has a pristine barrel and is a great shooter. I did find that due to the extractor design contemporary 7.92 X 57mm cartridges tend to expand the empty case too much and require being forced out of the chamber with the ramrod. I loaded some slightly lighter cartridges with a 150 grain bullet and that resolved the issue. When I take it out people often ask about it. It does not have a barrel shroud and the box magazine has a removable floor plate, so it is one of the later variants that can use stripper clips to load from the top.

  17. avatar springfield art says:

    Great article. I got my M88 in the ’70’s for about $25 mail order! Asked for Spandau mfgr., which they sent me, noticed later the Turkish Crescent on the bolt. Nice clean, solid gun. Later bought an M88 Carbine, S bore. Good work, enjoyed the information.

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