Evolution of the Karabiner 98k, From Prewar to Kriegsmodell

These rifles sold at Rock Island on December 1 and 2, 2018: prewar S/42G ($3,450), 1944 bcd ($1,955), and 1945 byf (sold with a G43 for $4,025).

The Mauser Karabiner 98k began production as an excellent quality rifle, with every nuance of fine fit and finish one would have expected form the Mauser company. World War Two had barely begun by the time a few compromises began to be made to maintain production, however – and by the end of the war the K98k was a mere shadow or its former self. As with the similar deterioration in quality with Japanese Arisaka rifles, the critical mechanical elements of the K98k were just as safe and functional at the very end as the were at the beginning – but the ancillary aspects came crashing down. One might argue that these changes should have been made from the beginning; that issuing an infantry rifle made to the same finish as a fine commercial sporting arm is a silly waste of resources…


  1. Half way thru this video I went and grabbed my K-98. It was made in 1941. I could never figure out the rear sight, I couldn’t figure out why there was range stamping on the bottom of the sight and no aperature for sighting. Finally I know. Thanks for the great video.

  2. Dear Mr. K.:
    I think we still don’t “know.” However I would posit the guess that with the bottoms marked the soldier could adjust his sights while keeping the rifle shouldered, say when in a foxhole or lying prone in a fixed position with the barrel resting on some nice convenient sandbag or log. Has somebody (perhaps a British resident of Switzerland?) read a manual that addresses that question?

    Othias over at C&Rsenal quotes Col. Nambu saying that the standard infantry rifle must not only be durable and easy to maintain, but “handsome,” so that the soldier would be proud to maintain his weapon! No wonder the Germans and Japanese got along!

    Too bad we’re not linked to those Volksturm rifles; some of the simplifications on those were positively comic, such as the pivoting trigger-block safety catch made of one stamping and a screw, that did nothing more than physically block the trigger from moving backwards. Wouldn’t be a bad aftermarket modification on a MAS 36 ….

    • Handsome is fine, but the fact is that those stamped parts on the Kriegsmodell could easily be made prettier by a slightly more careful finishing and they would still be cheaper to make than milled parts and serve their function just as well.

    • The sights on mine have both sides marked but I have noticed that they are not the same. Top side goes up to 20 and the underside goes to 18 If I’m remembering correctly, but I do know that what ever you set it at on one side it doesn’t match the other side.

  3. LDC
    Great point about adjusting the rear sight while prone. I have been a life long competetive shooter but have never been compelled to set my sight while bullets were buzzing inches over my head. I just assumed that if the numbers were visable when the sight was vertical there had to be some way to shoot with it in that position. Thanks for your input.

  4. It’s neat to see the rifles side by side.
    I was under the impression that the sight graduations under the sight leaf were so that a soldier wouldnt have to move his head or position to adjust his sight when prone.
    Also, the Japanese made cast receivers at the end, out of “pearlitic malleable cast iron, badly decarboninzed” so says Ackley in The Strength of Military Rifle Actions. I wouldn’t want to shoot a cast iron receiver, even if it was malleable as opposed to grey iron

    • I’ve been skeptical of the claim that those were actually issued for live firing

      We’ve seen elsewhere that captured drill training rifles etc have been used for propaganda purposes.

      I suspect that that might be the case with the actions where the bolt is locking into an actually weak cast receiver, rather than into a high strength casting or a heat treaten barrel extension.

      • You might be onto something, Keith. Drill/parade rifles would be issued blank rounds if they could even shoot at all. From what I read, American servicemen of the 1940’s HATED non-firing drill weapons and viewed them as silly toys. “Give me a REAL rifle, you dingus!”

    • Darn you, Goering! You are the worst Air Marshal! Even sillier for Goering, his insistence that all airfields be defended by Luftwaffe personnel (even if the attackers were tanks) resulted in the Luftwaffe ground divisions, which didn’t stand a chance in actual battle against enemy ground forces. We’ll just say that the Luftwaffe security grunts (riflemen) probably formed up as platoons lined up in two ranks like the musketeers of old, just to get mowed down by tanks and machine guns.

      • All police states have different bases of power and the master piston likes it that way. makes it more difficult to coordinate and mount a coup. This was the reason the Luftwaffe had ground troops. Its why the SS evolved from a police and intelligence outfit into an armed branch. Its also why the Luftwaffe controlled flak assets (divisions of them) and parachute divisions.

        Germany was not alone in this. Its typical in dictatorships.

        • Divide et impera

          Is the basis of all rule.

          The further that the impera/o wants to push things, the more he/she needs to divide

          Both internally and externally

          A war is a great way to get a population behind a dictator

          And to paint anyone who disagrees with the dictator as serving the chosen enemy du jour.

          It’s an interesting question of who the “division of powers” in the constitution of the united state, was meant to serve?

          I’d suggest that it only took a few years for actions to tell the truth.

          In the whisky rebellion and the aliens and sedition act.

          The NSDAP years provide an interesting key to interpret regimes that are much closer to home

          In the rush and excitement of trying to paint the NSDAP as the worst / most evil regime of all time. Historians and commentators gave vent to a lot of very pertinent insights.

        • Giving heavy AA guns to Luftwaffe control was actually quite rational as it was an attempt to co-ordinate air defenses better. Heavy AA guns frequently had to co-ordinate their fire with fighter aircraft.

      • It would seem that the “luftwaffe/luftstreitkräfte” of the United States has always had ground troops… intended for airfield security and rescuing downed fliers. And it was Curtis LeMay, recall, who was the initial institutional booster of the space-age, high-tech AR (green stock furniture!) that later became the M16… adopted first by the USAF, no?

        As for paratroopers being in the air force… Well, insofar as they routinely jump out of perfectly serviceable aircraft, I suppose that this makes sense. The Cuban MINFAR similarly has the “DAFAAR” that includes aircraft and the means to knock them down.

        In the U.S., every armed force has an air arm: Army (fixed and rotary wing), Navy (aircraft carriers and land-based), Air Force (it’s in the very name, after all!), and even the Marines and the Coast Guard! So perhaps it behooves organization to have anything crawling in the army, anything soaring in an air force, and anything floating, swimming, or sinking and surfacing, whether at sea in a river or along a littoral a “navy?”

        • The British plan when the first tanks were being developed was to crew them with the navy.

          Job demarcation lines gone wild!

          The insight about divide and rule has given me a new perspective on the meanings when an army officer comes out with “Never trust the Navy!”

        • Dave, the Luftwaffe Field Divisions were theoretically supposed to be proper infantry (with some artillery, engineers, and signalmen mixed in), but were composed mainly of airmen recruits (or surplus ground crew) who didn’t really get the idea of how to fight on the ground (mainly because their training mostly emphasized piloting of planes or using flak guns against planes). Thus, even with their training completed, you could expect them to get slaughtered relatively quickly. That they didn’t wear proper camouflage made matters worse…

          • I am pretty sure the LW field divisions received no training in flying or air combat. Their main problem was that there simply was not enough NCOs and officers with proper infantry training to train the men. Apart from the early divisions they were also poorly equipped, because they received only what the Waffen SS and Heer (Army) did not want or need. Basically most of them had hardly better equipment than the Volkssturm, but they also lacked the WW1 combat experience many of the older Volkssturm men had.

          • I see. Of course the vanities of glory-hound Göring had him insist on a Luftwaffe panzer division, the “Herman Göring” so the point is understood.

  5. Those receivers have a lot of shapes going on. It would be interesting to see a raw forging, I wonder how much of that was done in the forge rather than milled and turned?

    Also, it’s interesting that every big country in the war went through this exact same cost cutting* process with its rifles and other equipment only 20 years before and learned nothing. I think the M1 probably started rougher than the rifles of other places, but there was still plenty of cheapening to do.

    *More rifles and also more other stuff we can build instead of pretty rifles.

  6. It would be neat to complete the set with a postwar vz. 98N from CZ. These were made during the late 40s using wartime tooling and one of the major orders was for Israel.

  7. Consider the Kriegsmodell and the US 1903A3. Not exactly the same but a lot in common in terms of sheet metal bits and other cost/time saving changes.

    • Good point. Lots of stampings and production short-cuts–even two-groove barrels–on 1903A3s. The point where the USSR was almost destroyed as a state came in 194101942, and so unsurprisingly the “last ditch” 1891/30 rifle typically bears a 1942 date. This is an entirely obsolete 19th century relic, arguably inferior to the Berthier of WWI, but the machinery and tooling exist for it, and the processes can be modified so it can be churned out in record time and replace the truly prodigious quantities of losses and wastage. For the rival totalitarians, the bitter end came in 1944 and 1945.

      There is at least one anecdote from a Scottish home guardsman during WWII who was actually relieved to be issued a Sten. His observation was that the crude simplification belied a change in an otherwise hidebound leadership and set of notions that had only presided over a set of catastrophes early in the war. So while most troops thought such a crude piece of plumbing turned into a gun signified true desperation, at least some made the realization that a bullet is just as deadly from a cheap, easily manufactured weapon as from a high-quality rarified example of the gunmaker’s art!

  8. @Dave
    Excellent insight

    Thankyou 🙂

    It was an insight that was totally lost on the little Austrian guy with only one…

  9. The high quality of all early wwii arms, reflects the problem of economic calculation in a socialist commonwealth that were elaborated by Mises in 1921.

    Basically, a socialist commonwealth is incapable of rational economic calculation

    Benito’s autoroutes and Adolf’s autobahns didn’t reach their traffic capacities until the 19 70s

    Resources were squandered on projects that could never return investment until decades later, when their NPV was negative

    At least Adolf blessed several generations of Bubbas and genuine high end rifle smiths with a source of excellent quality actions

    At the expense of the much maligned and frequently screwed over German tax victims.

  10. Hey Ian, love your forgotten weapons series. My father brought back a K98 from WWII which I now have in my possession. On the receiver its stamped “ar” and underneath “42”. I assume the year of manufacture is 1942, but would you know the factory? I have tried to research the origin of the rifle but no luck. Its a beautiful rifle the barrel is clean the rifling appears almost brand new. My brother and I took alot of dear with it when we were kids. There’s quite a story as to how my father came by it but that’s a story for another time.

    Keep up the good work.

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