By Michael Heidler
The former weapons collection of Mauser in Cologne-Ehrenfeld included some odd “Katapultiergewehre für Handgranaten” (Catapult-rifles for hand grenades). But what is that all about?
The Mauser factory in Cologne-Ehrenfeld is associated with Alfons Mauser, a lesser-known son of the famous Wilhelm Mauser. Alfons was born on May 25, 1872 in Oberndorf as the second eldest son. After the early death of his father, his uncle Paul took over the parenting and education. Alfons passed a one year apprenticeship at the Oberndorf factory after school before he went to England where his brother William was active in Sheffield. From there he traveled to the USA, where at the age of 19 years he found jobs at such well known companies as Pratt & Whitney (tool and gun making) and Brown & Sharpe (mechanical engineering). He also came into contact with Remington, where his uncle Franz was working. In November 1892, Alfons Mauser went back to his homeland, followed by a further training at the Fabrique Nationale d'Armes de Guerre in Herstal/Belgium. After all these practical experiences he added a study at the renowned Technical University of Stuttgart/Germany from August 1893 to March 1896.
After his return to Oberndorf, Alfons Mauser began to work in his father's workshop. But the financial situation of the company and the intricate ownership structure of banks and the Mauser family para-lyzed his working. And when he felt ignored by his uncle because of the non-recognition of his improved firing pin design on the Mauser rifle, he came to a decision to become independent with his own com-pany. He turned away from gun making – and towards the sheet steel industry. In deliberate contrast to the trademarked label "para bellum" (prepare for war) of the Mauser arms factory he registered the label "para pacem" (prepare for peace).
When looking for a location for his own company, Alfons Mau-ser chose the town of Schramberg in the Black Forest. The main reason for his decision was the watch-making industry. Their scrap in the form of perforated metal strips was the source material for Mauser’s new products: iron fences. The material was left over after punching out the clock cases from sheet metal plates. Mauser added these waste strips together to form beautiful fences. In 1896 he received a patent for his fence called “Zaunkönig” (“fence king” – that is the German name for the bird wren). As an aside, the first fence was ordered by his old mentor Fidel Feederle in Oberndorf for his garden property.
In 1897, the company moved to Stuttgart. Only a year later Alfons Mauser acquired land in Cologne-Ehrenfeld, whereto the facto-ry soon moved. In 1901, the Alfons-Mauser-Gitterwerke changed the name to Mauser-Gitter- und Eisenwerke. Initially he produced iron wire baskets for the carboys of the chemical industry, but in 1904 Mauser developed the Mausertrommel (Mauser barrel). This liquid-tight and acid-proof light metal barrel was a thorough success. From then on, the company mainly dealt with industrial packaging of all kinds.
On July 25, 1914 the company "Mauser Waffenfabrik GmbH” (Arms Factory) for the production of mine throwers and shell cases was founded. The company's own firing range (later called the Mauser-yard) was located in Cologne-Brück. Through strategic acquisitions and investments Mauser also entered into the manufacture of zinc-coated items – a line of business that will later help the company to survive the hard times after the loss of World War One. Due to the constraints of the Allies, the weapons factory had to be liquidated al-most immediately and was taken over by the Mauser-Gitter- und Eisenwerke. The shooting range was given to the city of Cologne free of charge to build a children’s home. On August 11, 1927 Alfons Mauser unexpectedly died of a heart attack during a meeting at his firm.
It is unclear whether and what types of weapons were manufac-tured in the Mauser arms company besides the already mentioned mine throwers. In any case, around 1915, several rifles for throwing hand grenades were made. In the trenches of the First World War, the opponents were often dug in with only a short distance between them. In the battles for a few meters of enemy territory or an enemy trench, soldiers often needed a weapon that could be used at greater distances; as a hand grenade can only be thrown as far as one can actually throw it. Innovative soldiers built hand grenade throwers and even industry developed similar devices. These gadgets, however, remained heavy, unhandy and often dangerous.
A simpler method was the firing of ball hand grenades (Kugelhandgranaten) from the Mauser rifle Gewehr 98. For this pur-pose they are clamped into a hand-shaped clamp with firing rod, with the fuze facing downwards. Then the wire eyelet of the friction fuze had to be connected to the rifle (maybe to the trigger guard or to the front sight) by a tear-resistant cord. After loading a standard rifle gre-nade propelling-cartridge, the rifle was ready to fire. When firing the rifle, the clamp with the grenade is launched and the cord pulls out the friction-wire. This activates the fuze and the grenade will explode after the usual time.
The Mauser rifles should be a simple and user friendly alterna-tive. Among the weapons used for the conversion were mostly Gewehr 98s from Oberdorf and a few Gewehr 71s were used. The model 98’s are in a close three-digit serial number range, and probably came from a specially delivered batch. They did not come randomly from military sources. On some weapons the markings on the receiver had been ground off, but no new markings were attached. Also, new serial numbers can not be found. The painted marking such as "A.194" is the register number in the former Mauser weapons collection. "A" means the group of "Armeegewehre” (Army rifles).
The archival data cards contain little information and describe the weapons only as "Army device with self-cocking bolt action, system Mauser, model 98. For firing a center fire propelling cartridge for the catapult. The cartridge corresponds to the cartridge-case 98)." The conversion was expensive, because only the receiver, the trigger as-sembly and the bolt stayed unchanged. Even the wooden stock was newly made. At its front end it was designed thicker for a better mounting and support of the launcher tube. All stocks still have the standard 10 rounds integral box magazine with floorplate of the model 98 installed, but on all known weapons the spring and follower are removed and the slot is plugged with a small wooden block. Fastening possibilities for a sling are missing.
The launcher tube, including the chamber, is made from one piece of metal. Two different calibers of the tube have been detected: 45 mm and 55 mm. Using a coarse thread, the launcher tube can be screwed on the model 98 receiver instead of the original rifle barrel. A massive thickening with overhang at the end of the launcher tube protects the front of the stock against damage. The front edges were rounded to avoid injury from the recoil. A thread of unknown purpose was cut in the outside of the launcher tube's muzzle. It suggests that the weapon was to be installed in a tank or bunker, or possibly in a portable frame (gun carriage). This fact would also explain the lack of a rifle sight or any other aiming device. However, in the case of an installation in walls or tanks the questions is how the weapon would have been re-loaded? The hand grenades could only be inserted from the muzzle – and that's outside the safety of cover.
Also unknown is the purpose of the lateral openings present on some of the launcher tubes. Without a moveable cover for closing the openings, the firing range can not be varied that way. And when in-stalling the rifle in a tank, the openings would be in the interior of the vehicle.
Another mystery is the kind of grenade that was used. There was no introduced hand grenade in the corresponding diameter until the egg grenade model 1917. And to use the common rod-type rifle grenade model 1914 with a diameter of 45 mm would not have made much sense. So a new kind of ammunition would have been necessary.
Thus it is quite conceivable that the development of the rodless rifle grenade model 1917 signified the end for the Mauser Katapultiergewehre. These grenades were launched from a cup-launcher (ø 60 mm), which could be easily attached to each rifle model 98.
(A special thanks to Dr. Geoffrey Sturgess from Switzerland, the National Firearms Centre (Royal Armouries) in Leeds/Great Britain and the Mauser Holding in Brühl/Germany.)
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