GUN OF THE WEEK
By Bob Walsh
The Gun of the Week this time around is the classic Mauser C-96 Broomhandle pistol.
This pistol was the first commercially viable semi-automatic pistol. A combination of design and chemistry brought it about. There had been serious attempts at semi-automatic or fully automatic weapons during the black powder era but they proved ultimately to be unworkable. A functional characteristic of black powder is that, even in an absolutely perfect mixture ignited under perfect conditions, you get about 40% residue. That residue is “gummy” and corrosive. This caused problems for even much more basic weapons during the black powder era. The Model 1873 Springfield carbine used by U. S. forces used a black powder cartridge. The military found that, after moderately prolonged firing the mechanism tended to gum up so bad it would not eject the spent shell. It was common for soldiers and cavalrymen to carry a small pocket knife with them to dig the fired case out of the gun when the extractor failed.
In any event about 1885 modern smokeless powder became available. This gave much more energy per volume than did black powder, making for a more compact weapon. It also did not leave the considerable amount of gummy residue after firing. These conditions were necessary for the successful development of the semi-automatic pistol as a practical weapon.
This weapon was manufactured by Mauser until 1937 and guns were still assembled and sold as late as 1940 from available parts. It required an exceptional amount of machine work and skill to put it together which made it expensive. About 1 million were made by Mauser and a large number of unauthorized copies were made in both Spain and China. Some of the Chinese versions were manufactured in .45 ACP, those are sought after collectors items now. The principle cartridges were .30 Mauser and 9mm though they were made in very small numbers in other calibers. It should be noted that the .30 Mauser is dimensionally identical to the .30 Tokarev Cartridge, though the Tokarev is loaded to a significantly higher pressure. Use of that cartridge in your Mauser could easily badly damage the weapon.
Most of these had a 10 round fixed internal magazine though a much smaller number were made with removable 10 or 20 round magazines. Most of these were actually machine pistols, capable of fully automatic fire. A very small number were made with six round magazines.
A large number of these weapons were purchased with a wooden holster-shoulder stock combination. One of these weapons was featured in the Clint Eastwood western Joe Kidd.
A modest number were made as permanent carbines, with a fixed shoulder stock and a much longer than standard barrel.
There are a couple of dozen of known variation of this pistol, making it excellent fodder for the serious collector with deep pockets.
The pistol pictured is a 7.63 Mauser (despite the 9mm grips) with mismatched serial numbers. A large number of these were imported from China years back and I snagged one for a decent price. I had to have the barrel sleeved as it was shot out from use of corrosive ammo and poor maintenance and storage. Despite its dubious heritage it shoots and functions well.
Editors Note: I recently ran across a Broom Handle Mauser with shoulder stock at a gun show. The asking price just verified how rare these pistols are now.