The Legendary Mauser Karabiner 98k and Its Use Throughout History

Photo Credit: Ebert / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

During the Second World War, Germany hoped to take over, and the Mauser Karabiner 98k was the weapon they were going to use to accomplish this. First produced in the 1930s, the rifle saw use during WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and in Israel. To this day, many third world countries still have it in their military arsenals.

Design, production and variations of the Mauser Karabiner 98k

Following his becoming Chancellor of Germany, Hitler pulled the country out of the League of Nations and the World Disarmament Conference. He then announced he was expanding the Wehrmacht to 600,000 personnel.

With such an investment in the armed forces, it was no surprise the Heereswaffenamt, the German Army’s weapons agency, was tasked with creating a new rifle. The result of their work was the Karabiner 98k, featuring the latest developments of the Mauser M 98 system. By June 1945, the bolt-action weapon was adopted as the standard service rifle for the entire Army.

German troops marching with weapons over their shoulders
German troops marching, 1935. (Photo Credit: dpa / picture alliance / Getty Images)

The Karabiner 98k could be modified for specific purposes. A telescopic sight could be added for use by designated marksmen, while a removable, muzzle-mounted HUB-23 suppressor could be attached for snipers and members of the German Special Forces. In 1942, a grenade launcher with a range of up to 300 yards could also be connected.

Use by the Germans in World War II

Every German soldier trained before or during the Second World War was taught to use a Mauser Karabiner 98k. The rifle was used in every theater of the war to feature German forces, and during the conflict’s early days was perfectly fine.

A German soldier, armed with a Mauser Karabiner 98k, lying in the grass
German soldier armed with a Karabiner 98k during WWII. (Photo Credit: Bundersarchiv, Bild / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 de)

As the war went on and the Americans entered the fray, the 98k had trouble keeping up with the semi-automatic weapons used by the Allies. Despite its disadvantages when it came to the rate of fire, the German Army continued to use the rifle until the conflict ended.

The Soviets and stolen Mauser Karabiner 98ks

The Red Army had a massive amount of soldiers fighting in WWII, whom they had trouble providing arms. Over the course of the conflict, the Russians captured millions of weapons from the Germans, which didn’t go to waste after the fighting ceased.

Two Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles that are on display at the Swedish Army Museum
Karabiner 98k rifles on display at the Swedish Army Museum. (Photo Credit: The Swedish Army Museum / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Guns confiscated from the Germans were sent to Russian factories during the late 1940s and early 1950s. They were refurbished and provided to those considered to be Soviet allies, including Chinese communists during the Korean War. 98ks were also found among the Viet Cong and soldiers from the Vietnamese People’s Army (VPA) during the Vietnam War.

The Mauser Karabiner 98k and the establishment of the Israeli state

Operation Balak, a smuggling operation that occurred in 1948, supplied stockpiles of arms to the newly-formed Israeli state, and many of them were Mauser Karabiner 98ks. Over the next three decades, the country continued to purchase the rifles. They were regularly given to Jewish settlers in Palestine who lived in fear of an attack, and were used in guerrilla operations against the British Army in Palestine.

Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Sadeh and Yigal Allon standing together
Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Sadeh and Yigal Allon, founding leaders of the Israel Defence Forces, during the War of Independence. (Photo Credit: Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

Many of the 98ks purchased by Israel still had German markings on them. When one was uncovered, it was stamped over with Hebrew arsenal and Israeli Defense Forces markings. The Israelis eventually upgraded from Karabiner 98ks, and the weapon is now viewed as a collector’s item in the country.

The Mauser Karabiner 98k is still used today

Mauser Karabiner 98ks were used throughout the remainder of the 20th century. Both sides used it during the Yugoslav Wars, and US and Allied forces noted its use by Iraqi insurgents in the early 2000s. 98ks are sometimes seen today in lesser-developed countries.

German Wachbataillon soldiers marching with Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles
German Wachbataillon soldiers march with Karabiner 98k rifles. (Photo Credit: jollyroger / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.5)

The rifle is currently used in demonstrations by the Bundeswehr‘s honor guard, the Watchbataillon. Any markings relating to the Second World War have long since been removed.