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Karabiner 98k: The Wehrmacht's Rifle

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Karabiner 98k: The Wehrmacht's Rifle

Karabiner 98k

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Development:

The Karabiner 98k was the last in a long line of rifles designed for the German military by Mauser. Tracing its roots to the Lebel Model 1886, the Karabiner 98k was most directly descended from the Gewehr 98 (Model 1898) which first introduced an internal, metallic five-cartridge magazine. In 1923, the Karabiner 98b was introduced as the primary rifle for the post-World War I German military. As the Treaty of Versailles prohibited the Germans from producing rifles, the Karabiner 98b was labeled a carbine despite the fact that it was essentially an improved Gewehr 98.

In 1935, Mauser moved to upgrade the Karabiner 98b by altering several of its components and shortening its overall length. The result was the Karabiner 98 Kurz (Short Carbine Model 1898), better known as the Karabiner 98k (Kar98k). Like its predecessors, the Kar98k was a bolt-action rifle, which limited its rate of fire, and was relatively unwieldy. One change was the shift to using laminated stocks rather than single pieces of wood, as testing had shown that plywood laminates were better at resisting warping. Entering service in 1935, over 14 million Kar98ks were produced by the end of World War II.

Specifications:

  • Cartridge: 7.92 x 57 mm (8 mm Mauser)
  • Capacity: 5-round stripper clip inserted into internal magazine
  • Muzzle Velocity: 760 m/sec
  • Effective Range: 547 yards, 875 yards with optics
  • Weight: 8-9 lbs.
  • Length: 43.7 in.
  • Barrel Length: 23.6 in.
  • Attachments: Knife Bayonet S84/98, rifle grenades

German and World War II Usage:

The Karabiner 98k saw service in all theaters of World War II that involved the German military, such as Europe, Africa, and Scandinavia. Though the Allies moved towards using semi-automatic rifles, such as the M1 Garand, the Wehrmacht retained the bolt-action Kar98k with its small five-round magazine. This was largely due to their tactical doctrine which emphasized the light machine gun as the basis of a squad's firepower. In addition, the Germans frequently preferred to use submachine guns, like the MP40, in close combat or urban warfare.

In the final year and a half of the war, the Wehrmacht began phasing out the Kar98k in favor of the new Sturmgewehr 44 (StG44) assault rifle. While the new weapon was effective, it was never produced in sufficient numbers and the Kar98k remained the primary German infantry rifle until the end of hostilities. In addition, the design also saw service with the Red Army which purchased licenses to manufacture them prior to the war. While few were produced in the Soviet Union, captured Kar98ks were used widely by the Red Army during its early war arms shortage.

Postwar Use:

Following World War II, millions of Kar98ks were captured by the Allies. In the West, many were given to rebuilding nations to rearm their militaries. France and Norway adopted the weapon and factories in Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia began producing their own versions of the rifle. Those German weapons taken by the Soviet Union were kept in case of a future war with NATO. Over time, many of these were given to nascent communist movements around the world. Many of these ended up in Vietnam and were used by the North Vietnamese against the United States during the Vietnam War.

Elsewhere, the Kar98k ironically served with the Jewish Haganah and later, the Israeli Defense Forces in the late 1940s and 1950s. Those weapons that were obtained from captured German stockpiles had all Nazi iconography removed and replaced with IDF and Hebrew markings. The IDF also purchased large stocks of Czech and Belgian-produced versions of the rifle. In the 1990s, the weapons were again deployed during the conflicts in former Yugoslavia. While no longer used by militaries today, the Kar98k is popular with shooters and collectors.

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