A Rifle of Many Travels

I was visiting a friend recently (James, who runs Tombstone Territorial Firearms, which you should definitely visit if you are ever in Tombstone – it’s a remarkably well-stocked shop), and he had pulled out a particular beat-up old rifle that he though I would find interesting. I definitely did – and grabbed some photos to share it with you folks as well.

Mauser K98k with provenance to Germany, Russia, and Vietnam
Pretty beat-up old rifle, isn’t it?

At first glance, it is a K98k Mauser that has really seen better days – it’s pretty well beat up, and is missing some parts (like the rear barrel band and the front band retaining spring). And, it has a paper plaque affixed to the side of the stock…but we will get to that in a minute. First up, let’s check the receiver:

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Made in 1944, by Waffen-Werke Brunn, aka Brno in Czechoslovakia. Late-war production, this almost certainly saw service in the Germany military during the last months of the war. It then went on a trip east:

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See that “X” on the rear of the barrel, over the serial number (sorry for the fuzzy photo)? That signifies that the rifle was captured and eventually refurbished by the Russians, and spent who knows how long in storage awaiting World War III. Now, Russian-capture K98k Mausers are by no means uncommon – what makes this one stand out is where it went next.

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The rifle found its way down to Vietnam, perhaps via China somehow, where it ended up being presented by a Vietnamese officer to an American Sergeant, who proceeded to bring it back home to the US. Quite the journey! Unfortunately, we don’t know the circumstances what led the Vietnamese to gift it to the American and while I can’t read the plaque, it doesn’t appear to include a description of an event.

Being able to see the history of a particular rifle like this is one of the most interesting aspects of gun collecting…

33 Comments

  1. North Vietnam received significant amounts of captured German weaponry from the Russians in the mid-1950s. Pictures show PAVN troops with rifles like the one above, MG-34 machine guns, and even PaK 40 7.5 cm anti-tank guns. A number of these weapons, especially small arms, tricked down south with North Vietnamese units and in aid packages to Viet Cong insurgents.

  2. As snmp states, French colonial forces received a massive amount of ex-German weaponry after 1945. The French Foreign Legion was armed almost exclusively with German-made small arms until the early 1960s. Even then, they received very little American weaponry, unlike “domestic” French forces; their primary semi-automatic rifle was the SAFN in 7.9 x 57, while the French Army was supplementing their MAT 49 and 49/56 7.5mm rifles with American .30 M1 carbines.

    Few of the LE weapons carried French acceptance or property marks, and the Legion was involved in combat in Indochina. If this one lacks French marks, it could have been one the Legion lost in action. Its condition says it’s seen some hard service, very typical of that area at that time.

    cheers

    eon

    • “As snmp states, French colonial forces received a massive amount of ex-German weaponry after 1945. The French Foreign Legion was armed almost exclusively with German-made small arms until the early 1960s. Even then, they received very little American weaponry, unlike “domestic” French forces; their primary semi-automatic rifle was the SAFN in 7.9 x 57, while the French Army was supplementing their MAT 49 and 49/56 7.5mm rifles with American .30 M1 carbines.

      Few of the LE weapons carried French acceptance or property marks, and the Legion was involved in combat in Indochina. If this one lacks French marks, it could have been one the Legion lost in action. Its condition says it’s seen some hard service, very typical of that area at that time.

      cheers

      eon”

      With all due respect, most of this information is incorrect. As stated, this one almost certainly found its way into Vietnam through China.

      Yes, the French used a decent quantity of German arms early in the Indochina War- mainly K98k’s issued to regular infantry and auxiliary units. P-38 pistols were fairly common, and the French- having control of the Mauser plant- even produced their own P-38’s (plus the “MAS” Mle. 45 .22 LR rifle, which was actually produced by Mauser).

      The Foreign Legion was outfitted much the same as the French Metropolitan and Colonial units. There would be no special markings, or lack thereof, to indicate Legion usage of a weapon.

      British weapons were common before 1950, after which US aid kicked in and French arms manufacture got back up to speed. Mle. 36 rifles and 24/29 automatic rifles were present in small quantities in the earlier years, and achieved widespread distribution after 1949. Mle. 36 CR39 rifles became the standard for airborne units. The MAT Mle. 49 appeared in theater in 1950, and the MAS FSA Mle. 49 first arrived in early 1951. The latter were never that common there, but saw extensive use for the first few years of the Algerian War until supplanted by the MAS FSA Mle. 49/56 beginning in early 1958. The Commandos de Marine used the MAS FSA Mle. 44 in Indochina (I’ve seen one picture of a MAS 44 in Algeria, but they had plenty of ’49’s on hand.).

      ~35,000 M1 Carbines went to French Forces in Indochina. A later shipment delivered ~220,000 M1 Carbines and a roughly equal amount of M1 rifles as a result of the US Military Assistance Program. French forces in Europe were almost exclusively armed with M1 Garands for rifles until 1965. Part of that had to do with NATO compatibility. The Carbines and French rifles went to units then fighting in Algeria, although some lower tier units did issue the M1 Rifle early in the war. The French were very fond of the M1 Carbine.

      The French never issued the SAFN-49 in any caliber.

  3. French usage wouldn’t explain the Soviet X mark. This was a Soviet capture that was supplied to the North Vietnamese as wartime aid. There are a number of Vietnam capture K98’s out there, and I’ve never seen one that had any indication of French use.

    • Me neither! To my knowledge, the standard rifle used by the French Foreign Legion during the general unpleasantness in Indochina was the MAS 49, supplemented by the MAS 36 (the same is valid for the slightly later Algerian War).

      • The Mle. 36 was the standard rifle, with the 49 primarily serving in a designated marksman- with an APX L308 scope- role. With its lack of a gas cutoff, it was quickly found to be less than ideal for grenade launching. The 49/56 was issued in field trials in early 1957 and general issue started in mid-1958, and replaced the 49 and 36 as the standard rifle for the next twenty years.

  4. There was Vietnamese K-50M SMG captured from KLA in Kosovo back in 1998-99. It started as 1943. made PPSh. Then was reworked in Vietnam to K-50M configuration, then probably captured by China from Vietnam during their border clashes then sold/given to Albania during their friendship.

    There were Arisaka Rifles in 6.5mm and 7.7mm in Yugoslavian small arms inventory in 1946. OK, 1st one can be somewhat explained, as those were actually used by Albania (sold by Finland in 1920), plus some ex-Russian from WW1 could be around, but 7.7mm? My guess is that those were Soviet captures on Khalkin Ghol that were sent as aid to Yugo partisans. Other option is that those were captured by British and sent as aid, but that would be even more far fetched then Soviet connection (as Brits being practical mostly sent captured Italian weapons).

    Then there is “Mexican” – Arisaka in 7x57mm made for Mexico, carried in Spanish civil war by friend’s grandfather (international volunteer) , then in WW2 in partisans. He kept it, it had some ugly stock repairs, rear sight was not original (has improvised flip-up with 100 and 300m), bore is shot out, finish is non-existing with a lot of pitting but it “speaks” history when you look at it.

    Then, another gun with strange past is 3rd model, double action Merwin Hulbert in .44 Russian owned by a friend that has Russian import stamp from 1880s, and Montenegrin acceptance stamp. Probably only one in the world with that combination of stamp. I shot it (whole 12 rounds 🙂 ), it was probably one of finest made revolvers ever.

    Then I have seen three cartridge-conversion (.50 caliber) Sharps (two carbines and one rifle) around here. And no army nearby actually used those…

    • “Then there is “Mexican” – Arisaka in 7x57mm made for Mexico, carried in Spanish civil war by friend’s grandfather (international volunteer) , then in WW2 in partisans.”
      The “Mexican” Arisaka was also supplied to Russia Empire during First World War. You probably know V.G.Fyodorov as a designer of Fyodorov (or Fedorov) Avtomat, but he was also firearm historian. He described situation in Russia in 1914 as a “Firearms Hunger” – the Russian Empire buy whatever was available at any price. He was responsible for acquiring foreign firearms for Russia and described his experiences in book titled “В поисках оружия” (1964).

  5. I acquired a WaffenAmt marked French M1935A pistol… little jewel of a pistol with a brain-damaged safety and an utterly horrible finish, paint over park like an FN. The story with it was that it was a Vietnam bringback, but it came with no papers. I acquired it with an SKS (well, an early Chinese Type 56 Carbine) that also lacked papers but was certainly a VN bringback, because those were the only SKSes in the US at the time.

    I’ve frequently wondered what I could learn if these damned guns would just answer my questions.

  6. I have quite a few that I wish could talk. That K98 has quite a few stories to tell. Although the Russian capture mark makes it a likely VC or NVA issue rifle, I’ve heard that a number of Waffen SS and Wermacht troops went into the French Foreign Legion, as opposed to getting sent to prison right after WW2. Regardless, the French had tons of captured German equipment, They even deployed around 50 PzKW 5 Panther tanks in their armored units until the early 1950s. The K98s reissued to the French had a sling bar added to the stock so that they could use the MAS 36 sling. I’ve seen a couple of these, but the rifle pictured looks to be a RC that found its way south. Considering what it has been through (Eastern Front, Indochina, even Korea perhaps?) it is in pretty good shape. If it were mine, I wouldn’t sell it either.

    • Well I have heard the Battle of Dien Bien Phu called the ‘Last stand of Waffen SS’, so there may be a bit of truth to that. Also raises the interesting possibility of a German rifle left over from WWII being given by the Russians to the North Vietnamese to fight German troops ‘left over’ (please excuse black humor) from WWII. World history has so many interesting little finds hidden in it’s corners.

      • The ‘Last stand of the Waffen SS’ is a bit of a myth. Legionnaires enlisted for five years, so most of those who joined at the end of WW2 would have gone after serving their contracts. Although about 50% of the legionairres in Indochina were German they were mostly aged between 20 and 23 and Legion commanders complained about their lack of military experience and sometimes even physical fitness. Considering conditions in immediate post-war Germany, I can easily believe they had fitness problems. There was, though, quite a large proportion of Senior NCOs who were Wermacht veterans

        • Yeah, I turned up the same stuff after I actually bothered to do a bit more research after my comment. Even if the proportion of Germans is overstated, the bit about NCOs is interesting. And also the short term impacts of WWII like all the surplus weaponry floating around.

        • Considering that the minimum age for Volkssturm was 13, and Hitler-Jugend also gave some military training, it is quite possible and even likely that some of those German males aged between 20 and 23 in 1954 had military experience of some sort. If they had combat experience is another matter, and of course the Hitler-Jugend training did not equal real infantry training, since it was intended to be only preliminary.

    • The all-French AMX-13 light tank used the same 75mm high-velocity gun and ammunition as the Panther. My assumption was always that the French “inherited” some production lines (the Germans everywhere having exploited the arms industries of occupied nations), and the gun remained viable for years after the war. Those 75mms fought on both sides of the 1956 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars.

      • It did not, it is often repeated myth. Ammunition is different (everything about it – rim diameter, case length etc), gun is totally different, being much more compact and shorter and having totally different recoil mechanism.

  7. My father was in a guest house in Germany in 1974. A German came up to him and asked it he had been to Vietnam and he had.Four tours. The German said with a smile. “I was in Vietnam”. Turns out he was waffen ss and had been captured by the French. It was either join the foreign legion of get shot. He opted to fight for the french.

    • If that story is actually true, he was only one of a handful of SS soldiers that were admitted into the Legion. French military security closely researched each new recruit, so if there was even a hint that a volunteer was involved in some shady stuff (think war crimes or hardcore, die-hard Nazis), they would not be let in, even if they tried to enlist under a false identity.

      During Indochina and Algeria, about a third of the Foreign Legion was comprised of Germans, most of whom were too young to see service in WW2.

      • Either that.. or they just looked to see if the recruits had the blood group tats.

        If they had researched actual war crimes that the SS-men might have been involved in, they obviously would have let in more.

        • Paul- The SS didn’t used the blood tattoo later in the war, or at least not nearly as much as earlier, so checking for it is not a sure-fire give-away someone was, or wasn’t, a member of the SS.

  8. I posted this image on reddit.com/r/translate and someone replied with just this description: “An unnamed captain of a battalion gifted this to an American named Jerome Ambrose Walter. I believe the man lived in Cà Mau (southernmost city in Vietnam).”

  9. There was a large MACV Advisory Team in Ca’Mau, perhaps the largest in the Delta. The Viet Captain is not unnamed, the three words following Dai-‘Uy are his name.
    Respectfully,
    Bob

  10. Ian,
    I have one of those myself. My dad brought it back fom VN. Bore is decent for where it saw action. Has a moderate amount of surface rust and the stock had seen some riugh usage with a bullet gouge in it right where the shooters face wiuld have been. Only thing missing on it was the front sight. It also was made in 1944. Still shoots pretty good.

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