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.
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.
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.
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.
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.