Two World Wars: A Weimar Police C96 Mauser

In the aftermath of World War One, German police forces were responsible for maintaining social order is a very chaotic Germany. They were reequipped with small arms, and in particular needed pistols. The ideal sidearm would have been the P08 Luger, but the Treaty of Versailles caused Luger production at DWM and Erfurt to be shut down, and the Lugers allowed to remain in government possession were allocated to the Army. The police looked about for a suitable alternative, and found the Prussian “Red 9” C96 Mauser pistols.

The C96 was really more of a martial handgun than a police handgun, and the police proceeded to make a couple changes to bring the guns more in line with the police role. The barrels were cut down from 5.5 inches to 4 inches, and the 500m adjustable sights replaced with fixed notch sights. It is unclear exactly who made these alterations, but it was probably the Erfurt arsenal. The guns then saw active police use (generally without their shoulder stocks) into the 1930s, when German rearmament included expanded Luger production. At that point, some were recycled into Wehrmacht use, to see use in World War Two.

This particular example has two police markings. On is. “St. 140.”, which is of unknown meaning. The other is “S. G. V. 39.” which indicates the 39th item of the 5th command of the Gumbinnen Schutzpolizei. It was taken as a souvenir by an American soldier in April 1945, who mentioned it in a letter to his family at that time. Gumbinnen was in East Prussia at the time, and is now part of Poland.


    • Few social democrats in Gumbinnen and barely any communists, quite the opposite. During the Emprire, royalist parties got about 70% of the votes. And after the first war the nationalist, anti-semitic and anti-republican parties (there were more than one) received an unsurprising 74% combined (1933 election). The social democrats (very very reformist at this point) never got more than 20% even during the height of the republic. This was stereotypical, homogenous, protestant, agricultural “Junker” country.
      Why so many cops then?
      I am just speculating here, but the „Schutzpolizei“ (protection police) was a federal counter-insurgency organization founded post-first-war, an ersatz-army. So maybe they were afraid of the polish population as the polish state was (re-)founded? Or this quiet, very safe place was used as a recruiting and training base for troops of police to be deployed to the industrial areas such as the Ruhr or the Saale-Kreis (Halle-Merseburg-Schkopau, Bitterfeld too) during the early 1920s. Farmers make good soldiers.

  1. What a turkey. These things are fun to shoot, but suck as a duty pistol. This is why a department -issued sidearm isn’t always a perk.

  2. I once spent a lot of time researching all the ins and outs of interwar Germany, trying to wrap my head around how the Nazis came to power. End of the day, the conclusion I reached was that there were so many things going on that someone who wasn’t a part of that milieu could never really grasp much more than a broad outline of it all. The details were intentionally obscured, even to the participants themselves who didn’t want to admit that they’d taken part in an enterprise (WWI) of such surpassing idiocy that there was no way in hell they could have won it. I think that an awful lot of the antisemitism of the time and place can be laid at the door of the fact that they had to come up with someone, some thing entirely external, to blame for it all going wrong. And, of course, the Jews were the traditional scapegoats, so… Yeah. Raw facts were that they could not acknowledge or admit that they’d f*cked up, with regards to getting into WWI and how they’d prosecuted it. Germany before the war was tremendously proud and arrogant; having their defeat rubbed in their noses meant having to come up with someone to blame for it, and since the defeat had come (seemingly…) at the hands of the negotiators, the necessary admission and self-examination never happened. You could deny the defeat, blame the “stab in the back”, and still claim a semblance of sanity. After WWII, when every inch of Germany was occupied, most of it was blown to shit, and everything else? It was pretty hard to do the make-believe; you had to admit to yourself that you’d gotten your ass beaten in.

    What was going on after Versailles in Germany was so chaotic and dislocated that trying to make out even who the hell the players were from the here and now is virtually impossible, let alone trying to figure out what the hell motivated them to do the things they did. They were (or, thought they were…) rational actors behaving in ways we find entirely irrational, from our perspective. This is something that we find difficult to understand, and even modern Germans have issues with coming to grips with it all. After years of research and reading, the best answer I can come up with is “collective insanity coupled with collective delusion”.

      • I appreciate you took the time to look deeper into it at all. Just the time between the armistice and the Treaty o Versailles is interesting enough.
        It was not just a military defeat; the armistice turned society inside out. It first removed the nobility as a political entity entirely, the war had just burned the capital-stock of the bourgeoisie like no event before or since (see Pickety`s Capital in the 21st Century) and then threatened their existence by putting socialists into government.
        And interestingly right after WW2 Alfred Döblin, a very famous novelist, went back to the immediate events following the armistice in November 9th 1918 (like: the day after!): He wrote a four part novel that tries to disentangle the events of about three months. It’s inconsistent but has a lot of detail on how scary of a moment this was: there was a revolutionary social democrat-led government in Berlin, which mostly very much disliked the idea of a revolution (!) and there was a multi-million man imperial army ‘coming home undefeated’ with its aristocratic officers still in charge. It seems Döblin thought that the answers to 1945 could be found in 1918 but post-WW2 Germany still didn’t want to discuss 1918. The book didn’t sell (November 1918: Eine deutsche Revolution).

        There is a very good and humane portrait of everyday 1920’s Germany in Alfred Döblin’s novel “Berlin Alexanderplatz” ( written in 1928. There is an English translation and even a couple of movies based on it. Its highly recommended.

        • I’d be wary of Piketty’s work. His US data is full of opportunistic switching between data sources without explanation, even when they overlap in time. If you apply a bit more rigor to his data sources, a lot of his conclusions evaporate. How much he does this to other countries, I do not know.

    • Sounds all too familiar.

      Having spent more than a few years living in Berlin I concur with your assessment.

    • Kirk, I think that you could be spot on with a collective denial and the externalisation of blame.

      I’m trying to think where I heard / saw a story about a town where someone had run through the town shouting that the dam upstream of the town was bursting

      The whole population had ended up running away

      Eventually some people began to think and to question;
      We’re they now in a safe place?
      Why hadn’t they seen or heard anything?
      Was there really any danger?

      Gradually the mass formation process dissolved and people went to look at the dam and returned to their homes.

      Years later, the subject is absolutely taboo in the town.

      I think that it was probably Mattias DeSmet, who’s a psychology Prof at Ghent, who studies mass formation

      He doesn’t approve of using the word “mass psychosis”,

      He does point out that the approximately 30% of people who get swept up into a mass formation, do tend to react with incredible anger at the 30% who see through it and refuse to take part

      The 40% in the middle who in varying degrees don’t fully swallow the narrative, tend to keep their heads down, especially as the 30% who are true believers, can react with such violence.

      Oh, and absolutely with the externalising of blame

      We can see that so clearly with the people who were mask and quaxxine karens during the ‘rona scamdemic, have BLM stickers everywhere and now sport Ukraine flags.

      Ask them a question about any of it and more often than not they’ll explode with anger.

      There’s a good meme video doing the rounds atm; “sit the feck down, you did this to yourself”

      But that introspection and wondering how they may have played an active part in their own misfortune – is the last thing that they’ll want to do.

      Far more likely, they’ll maintain the angry silence of the town that ran away

      But give them the chance and they’ll happily do the equivalent of burning copies of Remarque’s “all quiet on the western front”

      • The entire phenomenon of civilization could be ascribed to “mass psychosis”, if you look at with a certain jaundiced eye…

        Most of us exist inside a web of relationships and beliefs that delineate and effectively control our world and the way in which we relate to it. If enough of the factors going into that get stripped away, something else will take their place. It is a corollary to my contention that every human being has to have something essentially irrational in their life/belief system, or they can’t function. That space is usually filled by religion, in traditional societies, but when those religions lose their legitimacy, then you get things like New Age Crystal Healing, veganism, and CrossFit filling that void. If you’ve ever tried to discuss things with someone who’s the type to immediately tell you that they’re a vegan or crossfitter, you’d recognize the similarities in fervor and proselytization going on. I swear to God, the other day…? I ran into a vegan CrossFit Mormon missionary, and I was looking around for the camera, I was so certain it was a joke. It wasn’t.

        Post-WWI Germany was a phenomenon because of the breakdown of belief systems that all happened more-or-less simultaneously. The social structure’s class system broke down, the government broke down, the military had been defeated, and every single touchstone that the average German had was disintegrating at the same time. We’re probably fortunate that it didn’t get a lot worse than it did…

        Of course, the inevitable counter-reaction against the libertine Weimar era probably had a lot to do with the rise of Nazism, as well. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction in society, as well as in basic physics. Difference is, when you add in people? You also stand a chance of it spinning exponentially out of control, because people are basically irrational as hell.

        • Haha. Kirk and Keith are hilarious. Very funny. Vegans. Vaccines. Masks. New age crystals. This is your modern day equivalent to the glassy eyed Germans who would stick up their arm and yell heil every chance they had? But no mention of the former President and his adoring fans attending rallies by the thousands as they did in good ol Germany? No mention of the cult like millions swearing fealty to one man? No mention of the anger and the violence of the January 6 mob? No mention of the Q inspired conspiracies that blame everything that’s wrong on their version of “ the other “? No mention of the irrational and baseless true believers in the mass psychosis of the election lies? The
          MAGA dear leader worship and the various violent and armed groups who support it? Doesn’t ring a bell? The scapegoating and vilification of certain groups? The laws being passed that ban the books of those same groups? Yeah. It’s the vegans and the Dr Faucis who are modern Nazis…

    • Exactly. And also take into account that the normal people were not very well educated, and got their political opinions from paroles and bars, and sometimes from newspapers which often were absolute propaganda.

      • How is that different from today? Instead from newspapers people get their news from TV or from their smartphone. Instead of bars there is social media. And the blatant propaganda is everywhere.

  3. Interesting bit about the American GI. I didn’t think the US made any farther east than Berlin and certainly not as far as the East Prussian region like Danzig and Konigsberg.

    • My school headmaster at secondary school (he was English) had been in East Prussia with the red Cross immediately after the war

      He witnessed anyone identified as having German ethnicity, loaded into cattle cars.

      I’m guessing that there were similar ways for Americans to be there.

      • Not to mention that the weapon could have come West with refugees, or any number of other parties. I handled a WWI P.08 that had apparently been made before the war, captured on the Eastern front, used by the Russian officer who’d captured it initially up until he was killed fighting in the White Army, then taken by the Reds, recaptured from them by someone in the Czech legion who wound up taking it home to be confiscated yet again when the Nazis came through and took over Czechoslovakia, and taken into Nazi service where it passed through several hands to eventually be captured by an American soldier during the final advances across Germany… That thing had more damn stamps on it and its holster than you could shake a stick at, and supposedly most of them were verified. That pistol went all over Central Europe, and was supposedly in service inside the Soviet Union during the war, to be brought home by a wounded soldier who had it taken from him by the American who confiscated it.

        It was the centerpiece of a collection when I saw and handled it, and it was something else. Amazingly, it was kinda-sorta complete–All correct serial numbers on everything except one magazine. No idea what the thing would have been worth, but it was an impressive example of a P.08 and the research. Owner had a little shadow-box with the pictures of the men whose names were recorded inside the holster flap that he could find, and even had one with the White Army officer wearing the thing. I’m sure that someone who could tell you all the details about its experiences at war would have the basis for a pretty solid novel.

        You can run into some real gems, just talking to people sometimes.

  4. Police did not mark equipment as systematically as the military did. With this caveat, the “St.” could mean Stettin, now Szczecin in Poland.

  5. Neat “little” pistol. A “Bolo” that would be cheap to feed. Too bad that it now belongs to a collector, and will never see a range again.

  6. Stephen, why did you leave out the fascists who took to the streets to violently protest the 2016 election? Dressed in black, shouting slogans, attacking shops. Hell all your friends needed was the Horst Wessel. Jan 6? How about the attempted coup against a duly elected President using a lie created by the Clinton campaign (as testified to by Clinton staffers in the Susskind trial) that resulted in an investigation that Mueller knew at it’s start was phony. FBI committing perjury apparently no big deal to you either. All supported by a mdia even Goeggels would be ashamed of.

      • +1

        The red-blue tribalism in the USA really blinds some people’s minds and makes them react like Pavlov’s dogs. 🙁

        • It’s all good fun until someone gets triggered*

          Which indicates that there’s painfull cognitive dissonance going on as their adherence to a mass formation comes into conflict with logic within their heads.

          Love it

          *After that, its absolutely hilarious

          Atfter that, the rational advice to “sit the feck down, you did that to yourself” soars majestically, high above their heads

  7. Ian, I’m not sure you’re aware, but there was a procedure in Afghanistan for US troops to mail home “certified” antique firearms, ie, pre-1899 manufacture, and apparently there was a small cottage industry vigorously stamping bolt action guns in circulation 1898.

  8. Some contributors to this forum seem to take it for granted that a U.S. soldier who “liberated” a WW1 9 mm Mauser pistol with a police marking from Gumbinnen district must automatically have been in East Prussia. This totally ignores the turmoil in Germany after WW1 and also during late WW2.

    • Ian himself relays the story as such and talks about eastern most deployed US Army. Well the US Army did not get that far east. Gumbinnen is today in the Kaliningrad Oblast (formerly Eastern Prussia) and AFAIK the US Army did not get this far. I suspect the pistols history goes more like as being issued in the twenties there, then in in the thirties being arsenaled as reserve and then issued again towards the end of the war to some auxilliary unit like the Landwacht or Volkssturm even. Or the pistol stayed in an arsenal during the war in Erfurt (which the US Army did reach) for example and captured there. The condiditon of the pistol is pretty good and the wear looks like acquired from being carried in the holster and not been used in battle. Something along these lines is the story I think.

  9. …does the story of an American serviceman (‘picked this up form one of the towns where it has been used by the police’) really hold water?

    The Regierungsbezirk Gumbinnen now straddles Poland and the Kaliningrad enclave of the Russian Federation.  It is really far to the right on the map.  In 1945 some Americans did venture into (what is now) Poland – which is an almost forgotten episode of history, but really not that far…  This was in the Sudeten mountains.  

    This makes the provenance of this very pistol even more interesting!

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