WWI Trench Mauser at James D Julia

As World War One stagnated into trench warfare, snipers and machine guns quickly proliferated, and exposure above the parapet of one’s trench could be extremely hazardous. This leaves one with the question of, how to shoot back without risking a bullet?

One answer that was devised was to mount a rifle to a periscope. That way the rifle could be lifted up to get a clear shot at the enemy trenches while the shooter remained safely out of sight using mirrors to see his sights and a length of wire to pull his trigger. While all the major powers in the war developed devices like this, the one we are looking at today is German. It’s simple, but effective.

In addition to the trench periscope stock, this rifle has also been fitted with a couple other WWI modifications. It has clamp-on luminous sights to allow more accurate shooting at night, and also an extended 25-round fixed magazine to give the shooter much more ammo to fire before needing to reload. The rifle also comes with another neat accessory, which was not fitted for the video.

This particular trench stock is a factory-made item, but does not include a mechanism to cycle the bolt – a shooter would have to bring the rifle back down after each shot. Some more complex versions were made which included articulated levers for cycling the bolt from below. The range of trench stocks also goes the other direction, and includes plenty of examples that were handmade in the trenches by individual soldiers…where necessity was the mother of invention. However, trench stocks of any type are quite rare to find, and they made very clumsy souvenirs for troops coming home.


  1. Loading the 25 round magazine must have been a pain in the neck, but I suspect the intention was that the user would retreat to reload the magazine while another guy took his place. Too bad periscope rifles and similar weapons aren’t used anymore for over-watch purposes (unless you count electronically controlled weapons). The bolt cover, similar to the one used on the Arisaka rifle series and probably meant to keep dirt out of the receiver while the bolt was cycling, would likely be discarded because it was just too fiddly during field-stripping (not because of bolt clatter; WAR IS NOT FOUGHT AS A SNIPER DUEL). I don’t know much about the night scope, but it is likely a low fixed-power scope probably with a narrow field of view… or am I wrong?

    SAY SOMETHING!!!!!!!

  2. 20 round mags were also issued for the SMLE and P14. According to Skennerton (it’s 30 to 35 years since I read it, so be prepared for senior moments on my part) the British ones were intended to minimise the number of reloads, and hence the chances of getting mud into the action and mag from muddy fingers and surroundings.

    According to “British Rifles” (HMSO, can’t remember the author) the example of a 20 round mag on a P14 in the Pattern Room collection, is detachable using the normal floorplate release catch.

    I’m unsure which side came up with the idea of extended mags first.

    I also do not know what happened to the British extended mags after the war. I have a sneaking suspicion that the British military hierarchy, with their well known hatred of magazines as ammunition wasters in the hands of troops (the mag disconnector was present on the Lee Enfield No1 Mk4 troop trials rifles, which became the No4, and was only omitted to speed manufacture in WWii), were only too glad to get rid of them.

    I went to a talk a few weeks back about WWi sniping.

    Apparently, when the combined British expeditionry force and French forces stopped the German advance at the Somme and Marne Rivers, ending the German plans of a quick victory on the Western Front.

    There were no plans or forethought on the British and French side for a prolonged trench war. As far as Hague and his cronies were concerned, “no man’s land” was not a valid concept, it was “our territory, all the way to the German trenches”.

    The Western trenches were therefore small, shallow and not dug with any thought about long use. They were also fronted with precisely laid walls of sandbags, too thin to stop a rifle bullet, and so neat and tidy that even a rat turd would be clearly identifiable on top of them. What is more, they were dug in the clay and silt soil of the river flood plains!

    The Central trenches were, by contrast, sited with some thought, on the dry chalk escarpments, overlooking the valley floor, were wide and deep, dug in more self supporting ground and were strewn with plenty of mess in front, to provide cover for snipers loopholes.

    Furthermore, Pre war photos of German sporting scenes, showed Mauser rifles, many scoped. Where British sporting scenes showed the gentry with shotguns…

    British casualties, invariably with a entry hole in the centre of the forehead, or through the centre of the throat, were officially recorded as due to “stray bullets”. The guys in the trenches knew full well that those were no “strays”.

    Early snipers and scouts on the British side were unpopular with both the Ruperts and the ranks, and even had sneak out during their own time, and miss out on the game shooting that the Ruperts were indulging in during their spare time.

    A Skilled gamekeeper or Ghillie, were far more likely to be employed as his lordship’s batman than employed to use his considerable fieldcraft and skills with a “glass” or a rifle.

    When eventually scoped rifles did start to appear, there was still idiocy like side mounted scopes – try using that through a steel loophole plate!

    • The early trenches may have been rudimentary as neither side started off with the intention of having static war. However, later British trenches were generally deep with reinforced walls, firing steps, bunkers, etc.

      Keep in mind that there were many types of trenches, with multiple lines, communications trenches, etc. Some types were more elaborate than others. For example a trench that was an advance observation point may be less well constructed than the main defensive line.

      Also keep in mind that geography and geology would pose its own limitations as well. Much of the British Army was located in Flanders, where the water logged soil of the reclaimed marshes which made up the area posed engineering limits for both sides which were not faced elsewhere on the western front. As a result much of what has been published in the English language about WWI is coloured by that experience even though is it not necessarily representative of the western front as a whole.

      As to where trenches were dug, the trenches went where the advance stalled out. You generally didn’t get a choice unless you were willing to retreat.

      The Germans did in some cases retreat to better positions, but then they were on the defensive by that point in the war. Their invasion had failed when the French proved much tougher than expected, but they were sitting on French and Belgian territory (and the Austrians on Italian territory), so they could afford to give up some ground to get a better defensive position.

      By the way, the British had something like 100,000 Chinese labourers, 100,000 Egyptions, and 300,000 from the colonies doing things like digging trenches and other sorts of manual labour to support the war.

  3. Weapon of choice scenario:

    Given a choice, which would you take if you were on sentry duty in the trenches? It’s getting cold and dark, so I hope you’ve bundled up. [ACHOO]

    1. Improvised periscope rifle (easier to deal with)
    2. Gewehr 98 with trench magazine, bolt cover, and periscope stock (or just get the night vision scope)
    3. Lebel with overpowered search lamp
    4. Winchester M1897
    5. Bergmann MP-18
    6. Lewis gun
    7. Elephant Gun or Tank-gewehr
    8. “Flaming onion” Gatling flare launcher
    9. Or per the usual, screw the budget and add your favorite toys to this list

    This activity is completely voluntary. You aren’t required to participate if you don’t want to do so. Please keep any and all criticism of this post humane and free of foul language.

    Thank you,


    • For trench sentry work, the ’97 Winchester 12-gauge is hard to beat. It can blanket a section of trench or approach with buckshot with a couple of trigger pulls, is faster on repeat shots than just about anything short of a belt-fed HMG, and makes a very effective “alarm” because unlike the common drum-roll of rifle/MG/arty fire, the 12-gauge has a very distinctive sound signature and when everyone else hears it, they’re going to know that Something Is Up.

      As a bonus, it’s a good bayonet mount, too. Not to mention that even with eighteen inches of pigsticker up front, it’s shorter and easier to maneuver in a trench than any rifle of the time.

      No, it doesn’t have even as much range as a pistol, but in a trench fight that is pretty irrelevant.

      As for reloading, it’s about as fast to reload as a revolver, and few people ever complained about that back then. Not to mention that one shot put the equivalent of two cylinders-full of .32 pistol slugs downrange.

      Considering the number of shotguns the AEF apparently had, it’s little wonder they weren’t too impressed by the Bergmann Muskete.

      Speaking of odd and interesting trench-fighting arms, I was reading an old article about the Gras rifle which noted that during WW1, a number of Gras rifles were converted to 8mm Lebel by shortening the barrel 6″ and boring it out to take a rifled liner chambered for the 8mm round. It also stated that they only saw limited use, but did see duty in the trenches.

      I immediately thought of the Vivien-Bessiere (VB) discharger cup rifle grenade system. Since it was customary to fire RGs with a single round, and also customary to use a dedicated rifle for the job because of the strain lofting such a weight imposed on the rifle, I was wondering- could those converted Gras rifles have been intended, or used, specifically with the VB cup discharger? It would seem a reasonable use and reduce the number of actual Lebels that were worn out “before their time” by grenade launching.

      Also, the Gras, being originally an 11mm blackpowder, was a pretty heavily-built piece of equipment, and also being a single shot would have less to get out of order as a result of being pounded by grenade recoil. So it might have stood up to grenade-launching duty better than the more advanced repeaters.

      The only way to check, I suppose, would be if a Gras ever showed up with the characteristic wire-binding reinforcement on the forearm and stock wrist typical of rifles like the EY SMLE. If one or more were found so, and could be confirmed as authentic, it could be an indicator that such a procedure was followed in the trenches.



      • Nice point about the Gras being better for grenade launching. I wonder if the French grenade catapult was doing a better job than standard rifle grenades at getting explosive content across no-man’s land…

        • The only “catapult” I ever heard of was the West Spring Gun, and it was British;


          It threw the Grenade No. 5 (the original Mills Bomb), plus its own “dedicated” grenade, the 21R.

          The major problems with the WSG were twofold. First, the springs fell off in tension rapidly, resulting in the need for frequent replacement. Otherwise, after about fifty shots or so, you’d pull the release, the arm would only go about halfway up, and the grenade would either go up, forward a bit, and land on the parapet, or else go almost straight up, and land right at your feet. Not good.

          Secondly, to ensure the grenade clearing the parapet, the WSG had to be high enough up (usually on a sniper step-like “pile”) that the throwing arm could be seen above the trench lip when “up”.

          The result was that after a few “casts”, the WSG was spotted and accordingly got the undivided attention of everybody in the opposite trench. Unless of course they just called back to Brigade and had a battery of 77mm field guns attend to it, which was the usual procedure. This was even worse than being “hoist by your own petard”.

          The WSG only lasted into 1916, being rather rapidly superseded by first the Vickers “Toffee-Apple” mortar (itself a copy of the earlier Krupp Trench Howitzer), and finally the Stokes Mortar on its various sizes (3-inch, 6-inch, and 9.45 inch). The 3 and 6 were less trouble to move than the WSG, the 9.45 packed a much greater wallop at the receiving end, all three had greater range, and you could site them where they couldn’t be seen.

          Definitely an improvement all around. It’s no coincidence that most mortars yet today are descendants of the Stokes in one way or another.



        • Nope, it’s a Lebel M1888/93. If you zoom in, the two-piece stock and metal “box” receiver are very obvious. But that is the VB discharger cup on its business end.



  4. You say in the video that the half-life of the luminescent sights has long since expired. But my guess would be that if you held a Geiger counter up to those sights you’d find that they were still radioactive and that it’s the phosphor which died from radiation damage. Back in the WW1 era (and even mostly in WW2), the main radioactive substance that they had available was radium, which has a half-life of 1600 years. And they weren’t as aware of radiation safety issues as we are; some of those radium-containing artifacts put out enough radiation to be mildly dangerous.

    • I recall an early 70’s newspaper article concerning a photographer who rented studio space in a Toronto commercial building. His film kept getting ruined. Positive there were no light leaks he finally brought in a Geiger counter – BINGO ! Taking up the linoleum they discovered a large dried paint spill on the floor. Checking rental records for the space uncovered the fact that that a company assembling aircraft flight instruments had occupied that space in the 1940s. Someone had spilled a drum of radium based paint used to mark gauges. The article stated that the authorities were trying to trace all the people who had rented that space since the end of WWII.

      • It is one of the known risks on former military sites, especially air fields.

        damaged instruments were usually destroyed by throwing them into the furnace of a heating boiler and the ashes were subsequently spread around on pathways. or buried.

        fortunately radium behaves chemically like barium. it tends to flux alumino silicate melts, forming either a glass or crystalizing as whatever the radium version of the barium feldspar, celsian, might be called.

  5. The U.S. Army Springfield Armory designed and I think manufactured a similar Box magazine, which is similar to the German one shown in this article.

    BTW, you did NOT HAVE TO DISASSEMBLE THE RIFLE” to install it.

    Both the US and German extended Box magazine were attached by removing the MAGAZINE FLOOR PLATE, and replacing the FLOOR PLATE from the rifle, then attaching the Extended Magazine. This is accomplished by using a loaded cartridge and pushing on the Magazine floor plate as the floor plate was originally designed to be removed for cleaning. In the case of Thee U. S. Springfield 1903 it was removable until the made the 1903A3 which used a stamped trigger group.

    I have the 1917 version of this Extended Magazine in my collection, and can send you pictures of it. If I knew how to attach a picture I would.

  6. An iconic photo exists in Australian archives of “diggers” (Aussie infantrymen) using periscope rifles in the trenches at Gallipoli.

    The periscopes and rifle frames appear to have been made out of scrap timber packing crates, they were constructed in the trenches and factories were set up on the beaches behind the lines.

    Also there were factories constructing ‘grenades’ out of ration cans, scrap metal, explosive and employing fuses much like fireworks.

    Anyone interested should log into the Australian War Memorial website for a bottomless wealth of images and stories.

  7. The E Leitz name would appear to be Ernst Leitz, the famous German optical equipment maker. Their brands included Leica cameras. Well known rifle sight maker ELCAN’s name stands for Ernst Leitz Canada, although Leitz has by now sold that business to someone else.

    I’m surprised that Leitz was involved in making something this simple, as I imagine they would have been pretty busy doing other more complex work.

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