Israel is a nation born from and a people forged by conflict, bloodshed, and hardship. Originally a backwater of the Ottoman Empire and later a crucial part of the British Empire the region we know today as the nation of Israel was born on May 14, 1948. But how did that happen? Let’s go back a couple of years before that.
At the end of World War II, the British empire was crumbling. They were economically ruined from the war and didn’t have the political or economic strength to keep their colonies in check. The Yishuv (Jewish residents of the area prior to the creation of Israel), in an attempt to strengthen home rule, actively recruited and smuggled European Jews fleeing the horrors after the Holocaust. Many tried to reach Palestine but many were turned away or rounded up and placed in detention camps in Atlit and Cyprus by the British Government since the empire wanted to keep the peace in the region.
Jewish immigration to the region was a contentious for the British both before and after the war since the local Arab populations weren’t terribly welcoming. That, despite the fact that though Jews assisted the British in conquering the area from the Ottomans even helping suppress an Arab revolt against British rule in the 1920s. By the immediate post war period, the Crown simply wanted peace in the region. The Jews in Europe and in the Holy Land wanted home rule and a place to call their own.
Two groups, the Haganah and the Irgun (the forerunners to the Israeli Defense Forces) launched an attack on the British administrative headquarters in the King David Hotel on July 22, 1946. A total of 91 people were killed, 46 injured. The location was also he site of the Secretariat of the Government of Palestine and the Headquarters of the British Armed Forces in Palestine and Transjordan.
At the time, it was considered one of the “most lethal terrorist incidents of the twentieth century.” The end result was that in 1947, the British announced they would withdraw from Palestine, stating it was unable to arrive at a solution acceptable to both Arabs and Jews. The newly-formed United Nations stepped in and attempted to split the region between Jewish and Arab residents. On May 15, 1948, the armies of four Arab countries (Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq) entered what had been British Mandatory Palestine, launching the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.
A hard and brutal conflict was fought, but the end result was Israeli victory.
The newly-formed Israeli government was short on funds and worse, short on arms. Prior to the establishment of the IDF, the Haganah and the Irgun used whatever they could get their hands on. British Enfields, American M1 Carbines, Italian Carcanos, etc. They’d buy them from friendly supporters, smuggle them in, and outright steal them if they had to. The war taught them an important lesson. They needed to standardize.
Being that the new nation was also poor at the time, they couldn’t go out and buy the latest and greatest designs. But this was the late 1940s. Europe was awash in arms including German 98k Mausers. The Germans, during their expansionist era, set up a number of arms plants in occupied territories across Europe.
One of the largest was in Czechoslovakia, a nation with a long history of arms production, where they cranked out Mausers for the Third Reich. After the war, the Czechs and Slovaks were hurting for work and had an ample supply of parts, machinery, and the skilled labor to turn out rifles. Thus, a business deal was struck and the rest is history.
Israel bought rifles from Czechoslovakia and other European nations through surplus sales and contracted with FN Herstal of Belgium to make brand new Mausers. By 1954-1955, Israeli was looking to update their front-line units with FN’s new darling, the FN FAL.
Israel then had an issue. What to do with the thousands of Mausers and 7.92x57mm ammo they had? They could keep them original and have two separate supply lines of arms and munitions to equip front-line troops and reservists or they could convert the Mausers to 7.62x51mm NATO and make ammunition logistics far easier.
They went with the logical option and converted the Mausers. That process started in 1956 and didn’t end until the cessation of hostilities of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Israeli converted Mausers were reworked from top to bottom. The rifles were stripped down to their basic components and anything not serviceable was thrown away. Keeping rifles original by serial number wasn’t a concern for the IDF. Everything was literally simply thrown into large parts bins and when rifles were being rebuilt, parts were pulled and rifles were assembled. In fact, every collector guide states that if you run across a serial-matching Israeli Mauser, it’s a fake. The bolt and receiver might match, but everything else surely won’t.
The Israelis made brand new barrels, new internal magazines, and new front sights due to the different ballistics of the 7.62x51mm NATO. If the original stock wasn’t serviceable, a newly manufactured beechwood stock was used. The Israelis also scrapped the cleaning rod. The new stocks didn’t even have a provision for them since the IDF issued a pull through cleaning kit for the FN FAL.
The Israelis even went so far as to make new parts and even complete leather slings for the Mausers if the original ones were ratted out.
A common myth associated with the Israeli Mausers is that the IDF purposely struck any Waffenamt markings, thus purifying the rifle of any Nazi connection. That wasn’t the case. A number of WaA markings are found intact on my rifle and others I’ve seen and handled. But one “fact” that is true…all converted Mausers had 7.62 marked on the receiver to clearly alert the shooter that the gun was no longer chambered in 7.92x57mm.
The Israeli Mauser saw service in the Israeli War of Independence of 1948, the 1951–1956 Retribution Operations, the Suez Campaign of 1956, the Six Day War of 1967, and finally the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
In the Six Day War, the FN FAL was the front-line standard for the IDF, but the numerous reservists called to active duty were issued the Mausers. This was the last large scale use of the Mauser. It served with distinction alongside the FN FAL and Uzi SMG.
By 1973 and the Yom Kippur War, the Mauser was only assigned to rear communication specialists as a defensive weapon. After the war, they were pulled from service and mostly given to Guatemala as military aid. Israel and Guatemala have always had a close relationship due to the small Central American county being the tie-breaking vote to admit Israel to the United Nations. The Guatemalans rode the Mausers hard and put them away wet. You can tell an Israeli surplussed gun versus a Guatemalan one due to the condition.
My rifle is a Czech-built gun. With a 1944-dated receiver and a near mint re-arsenal overhaul. I got mine around the 1999/2000 time frame. In fact it was the first gun I purchased with my own money.
I got mine at the Fort Lauderdale Gun Show, the very one the gun-grabbers recently shut down. I worked hard and saved up my pennies for a military grade rifle in .30-06 Springfield or .308 Winchester. I was hankering a M1903 and ran across one at a table. The vendor had it priced at $300 and poor teenage me couldn’t afford it.
I saw plenty of Mausers, but didn’t want one since they were in 7.92x57mm and I didn’t want to buy and stockpile another chambering. But luck shined upon me. The vendor who had the M1903 also had an Israeli Mauser for $225 and was willing throw in 500 rounds of surplus 7.62 NATO. I had a budget of $250 and was set. There was a loud BANG! when my wallet broke the sound barrier. I took the rifle home and have enjoyed it ever since.
Whether it was reenacting WWII Partisan activity or taking part in local rifle matches, my Mauser trucked right along. As I grew older, the Mauser migrated from the front of my safe to the back, but it was never forgotten.
A real treat with my Mauser happened thanks to an elderly neighbor I had in Miami. He was a veteran of the 1948 Israeli War and retired from the IDF just before the Six Day War and moved to sunny South Florida.
He always saw me loading up and going to the range and asked one day what I had. When he saw the Mauser, he suddenly opened up and went back to being a young IDF soldier fighting for Israel’s freedom. He told me about how he was tired, scared, and hungry, but full of hope and pride with the belief that his sacrifice would be for the betterment of his people.
I could tell by the glint in his eye that he remembered carrying a Mauser just like mine. Sure enough, he had fond memories of shooting one at the range.
In the end, these rifles are a gem to have. They tell a story of hardship, struggle, and rebirth. A rifle originally made by a government set to eradicate a specific people were later used by those same people to gain independence and secure their freedom.
It’s an amazing story and the Israeli Mausers proudly belong in anyone’s armory of liberty. Mine is a beaut and a hell of a shooter. If you run across an Israeli Mauser in good condition, give her a good home and some range time. You’ll be glad you did. Trust me.
To all of our Jewish readers in America, Israel, and across the world. חנוכה שמח – Happy Hanukkah!