Pre–World War II export
Though most Karabiner 98k rifles went to the German armed forces, the weapon was sold abroad in the years prior to World War II. In Portugal, a large quantity of Karabiner 98k rifles made by Mauser Werke were adopted as the Espingarda 7,92 mm m/937 Mauser infantry rifle. Other pre-war exports of Karabiner 98ks were to China (an unknown number of rifles 1935 - 38), and 20,000 in 1937 to (China's then-enemy) Japan. Exports of Karabiner 98ks decreased as war drew closer, as all available production capacity was needed to equip the German Armed Forces.
World War II use
The Mauser Karabiner 98k rifle was widely used by all branches of the armed forces of Germany during World War II. It saw action in every theatre of war involving German forces, including occupied Europe, North Africa, the Soviet Union, Finland, and Norway. Although comparable to the weapons fielded by Germany's enemies at the beginning of the War, its disadvantages in rate of fire became more apparent as American and Soviet armies began to field more semi-automatic weapons among their troops. Still, it continued to be the main infantry rifle of the Wehrmacht until the end of the War. Resistance forces in German-occupied Europe made frequent use of captured German Karabiner 98k rifles. The Soviet Union also made extensive use of captured Karabiner 98k rifles and other German infantry weapons due to the Red Army experiencing a critical shortage of small arms during the early years of World War II. Many German soldiers used the verbal expression "Kars" as the slang name for the rifle.
Sweden ordered 5000 Karabiner 98ks that were provided from the regular production run in 1939 for use as light anti-tank rifles under the designation gevär m/39 (rifle m/39) but it was soon evident that the penetration offered by the 7.92×57mm Mauser was inadequate and thus the gevär m/39 were rechambered to the 8×63mm patron m/32, which was a more powerful 8 mm cartridge specifically designed for long-range machinegun fire. Accordingly, the Karabiner 98ks were rechambered in Sweden for the 8×63mm patron m/32 and the internal box magazine of the M 98 system was adapted to match the dimensionally larger 8×63mm patron m/32 cartridge, reducing the capacity to 4 rounds and accepted into service as pansarvärnsgevär m/40. A muzzle brake was installed to reduce the excessive free recoil, and the resulting weapon was designated gevär m/40 in Swedish service. They were however also found to be unsatisfactory and were soon withdrawn from service, and sold off after WW II.
Post–World War II use
During World War II, the Soviet Union captured millions of Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles and re-furbished them in various arms factories in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These rifles were originally stored in the event of future hostilities with the Western Bloc. These rifles, referred to by collectors as RC ("Russian Capture") Mausers, can be identified by a crude "X" stamp on the left side of the receiver, the dull, thick reblueing and mismatched parts and electro-pencil serial numbers on smaller parts. The Soviet arsenals made no effort to match the rifle's original parts by serial number when reassembling them, and some parts (the cleaning rod, sight hood, and locking screws) were deemed unnecessary and melted down for scrap metal.
Most of these rifles (along with the Mosin–Nagant rifle) were eventually shipped to Communist or at least Marxist revolutionary movements and nations around the world from Central Europe to Southeast Asia during the early Cold War period. A steady supply of free surplus military firearms was one way that Moscow could support these movements and states whilst retaining plausible deniability as well as give Moscow a means to arm these governments and movements without providing them the latest Soviet infantry weapons (they were later supplied with the newer SKS and the AK-47).
One example of the Soviet Union providing the Mauser Karabiner 98k rifle (as well as other infantry weapons captured from the Germans during and after World War II) to its communist allies during the Cold War period occurred during the Vietnam War with the Soviet Union providing military aid to the regular armed forces of North Vietnam and to the National Liberation Front (Vietcong) in South Vietnam.
A considerable number of Soviet-captured Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles (as well as a number of Karabiner 98k rifles that were left behind by the French after the First Indochina War) were found in the hands of Vietcong guerrillas and People's Army of Vietnam (NVA) soldiers by US, South Vietnamese, South Korean, Australian and New Zealand forces alongside Soviet-bloc rifles like the Mosin–Nagant, the SKS, and the AK-47.
In the years after World War II, a number of European nations on both sides of the Iron Curtain that were invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany used the Mauser Karabiner 98k rifle as their standard-issue infantry rifle, due to the large number of German weapons that were left behind by the Germans at the end of World War II.
Nations like France and Norway used the Mauser Karabiner 98k rifle and a number of other German weapons in the years after World War II. France produced a slightly modified version of the Kar 98k in the French occupation zone of Germany in the immediate post-war period. The new manufacture Kar 98ks equipped some French units, including the French Foreign Legion that used them in Indochina for a limited time. These rifles were also used by the West German border guard.
Norway's captured Karabiner 98k rifles were soon superseded as a standard issue weapon by the US M1 Garand, but remained in service as Norwegian Home Guard weapons until at least the 1970s, in which role they were rebarreled for the .30-06 Springfield round used by the M1, with a small cutout in the receiver so that the slightly longer US round could still be loaded with stripper clips. These Norwegian conversions had a section of the receiver flattened on the upper left side, where a new serial number (with a prefix denoting the branch of service) was stamped. Some of these rifles conversions were rechambered again to 7.62×51mm NATO, but this program was canceled with only a few thousand converted when Norway adopted the AG-3 (H&K G3) as a replacement for both the M1 and the K98k. Some actions from Mauser Karabiner 98k left by German armed forces in 1945 were used by Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk (currently Kongsberg Small Arms) for building both military and civilian sniper/target rifles under the Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk Skarpskyttergevær M59 - Mauser M59 and Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk Skarpskyttergevær M67 - Mauser M67 designations. These rifles were used by the Norwegian armed forces up to the 2000s.
In West Germany, the Karabiner 98k were issued to the Bundesgrenzschutz (BGS; English: Federal Border Guard), which was originally organized along paramilitary lines and armed as light infantry; in the 1950s.
Former German Karabiner 98k rifles were widely distributed throughout the Eastern Bloc, some being refurbished two or three times by different factories. They were used by military and para-military forces (such as the East German Combat Groups of the Working Class), and were replaced by Soviet weapons in the 1960s.
East German refurbished Karabiner 98ks featured Russian-style thicker blue finish, a 'sunburst' proof mark and sometimes had the factory designation '1001' applied, which was the factory where the refurbishment was carried out. Numbers were re-stamped to match the receiver and old numbers barred out. Numbers of East German and Czech refurbished Karabiner 98ks were exported to the West in the late 1980s and early 1990s and are now in the hands of collectors. Russian Capture Karabiner 98ks were exported to the West in large numbers in the early- and mid- 2000s.
Yugoslavian postwar refurbishment
Because of the lack of weapons after World War II, the Yugoslavian arms producer Zastava Arms refurbished German Karabiner 98k rifles that were left over or captured during the war. These rifles are readily identifiable as the German factory code markings have been scrubbed from the receiver and replaced with the Yugoslavian communist crest and the marking "Preduzece 44" on the receiver's ring. In addition to this, if the refurbishment took place after 1950, the marking "/48" was added to the "Mod. 98" originally present on the left side of the receiver, becoming "Mod. 98/48". The refurbished rifles were known also as Zastava M 98/48. The refurbished Pr?duzece 44 Karabiner 98k rifles were still being used in the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s.
Post–World War II derivatives
Many of the liberated European countries continued production of rifles similar to the Karabiner 98k, for example Fabrique Nationale (FN) in Belgium and Ceská Zbrojovka (CZ) in Czechoslovakia produced both their proprietary older models and brand new Karabiner 98k rifles, many of which were assembled from leftover German parts or using captured machinery.
As with post-Nazi occupation service post-war production of derivatives was a stop-gap solution until enough numbers of more modern automatic rifles could be developed and produced. The vast majority of the 98k pattern rifles were soon stored as reserve weapons or given for very low prices to various fledgling states or rebel movements throughout the developing world.
Both FN and CZ utilized a modified Kriegsmodell design, with the cleaning rod and stock disk omitted, but the bayonet lug restored. In Czechoslovakia it was known as P-18 or puška vz.98N, the first being the manufacturer's cover designation of the type, the second official army designation - rifle model 98, N for nemecká - German. In Romania, the Czechoslovak version was known under the informal name of ZB, after Zbrojovka Brno - the Czechoslovak state producer of small weapons and munitions - and it was used to arm Romania's Patriotic Guards.
From 1948 to 1965, Yugoslavian Zastava Arms produced a close copy of the Karabiner 98k imported between the wars from Fabrique Nationale called the Model 1948, which differed from the German rifle in that it had the shorter bolt-action of the Yugoslav M1924 series of rifles (not to be confused with the widely distributed Czech Vz 24, which had a standard length action), a thicker barrel profile (Yugoslavia had low chromium iron ore deposits, so they could not produce steel as hardened as the Krupp or Swedish steel used in other variants, and made up for it in adding extra material), and a rear sight enclosed in the wooden hand guard (the German-style hand guard began in front of the rear sight, unlike e.g. exports to South America that had a hand guard and rear sight like the M48).
A hunting variant of M48 is still produced by Zastava Arms.
The Spanish M43, produced in La Coruña until 1957, was a variant of the 98k with a straight bolt handle, a front sight guard and a handle groove in the front stock much like the earlier Reichspostgewehr. It was chambered in 7.92×57mm Mauser calibre. When Spain began switching to the CETME automatic rifle, many M43 were converted to FR8 rifles for military training purposes and Guardia Civil service.
A number of non-European nations used the Mauser Karabiner 98k rifle as well as a few guerrilla organizations to help establish new nation-states. One example was Israel who used the Mauser Karabiner 98k rifle from the late 1940s until the 1970s.
The use of the Karabiner 98k to establish the nation-state of Israel often raises a lot of interest among people and rifle collectors today. Many Jewish organizations in Palestine acquired them from post–World War II Europe to protect various Jewish settlements from Arab attack as well as to carry out guerrilla operations against British Army forces in Palestine.
The Haganah, which later evolved into the modern-day Israel Defense Forces, was one of the Jewish armed groups in Palestine that brought large numbers of Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles and other surplus arms (namely the British Lee–Enfield bolt-action rifle, which was used on a large scale by these groups and the Mosin–Nagant) from Europe during the post–World War II period. Many, though not all, Israeli-used German surplus Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles have had their Nazi Waffenamt markings and emblems stamped over with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Hebrew arsenal markings.
As the Arab-Israeli conflict approached, the Haganah and other Jewish forces in Palestine tried to get hold of as many weapons as they could in the face of an arms embargo by British colonial authorities. One of most important purchases was a secret January 14, 1948, $12,280,000 worth contract with Czechoslovak Government including 4,500 P-18 rifles, as well as 50,400,000 rounds of ammunition. Later, the newly established Israel Defense Forces ordered more numbers of Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles, produced this time by Fabrique Nationale. These have Israeli and Belgian markings on the rifle as well as the emblem of the IDF on the top of the rifle's receiver. The FN-made Karabiner 98k rifles with the IDF markings and emblem on the rifle were produced and sold to Israel after it established itself as an independent nation in 1948. At some point, Israel converted all other Mauser 98-based rifles in their inventory (most commonly Czechoslovak vz. 24 rifles, but small numbers of contract Mausers from sources ranging from Ethiopia to Mexico were also known to have come into Israeli hands) to the now standardized Karabiner 98k configuration. The original receiver markings of these conversions were not altered, making it easy for collectors to identify their origin. The Israeli Karabiner 98k utilized the same bayonet design as in German service, with a barrel ring added. The Israeli bayonets were a mix of converted German production and domestically produced examples.
During the late 1950s, the IDF converted the calibre of their Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles from the original German 7.92×57mm Mauser round to 7.62×51mm NATO following the adoption of the FN FAL rifle as their primary rifle in 1958. The Israeli Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles that were converted have "7.62" engraved on the rifle receiver. Rifles with original German stocks have "7.62" burned into the heel of the rifle stock for identification and to separate the 7.62 NATO rifles from the original 7.92 mm versions of the weapon still in service or held in reserve. Some Karabiner 98k rifles were fitted with new, unnumbered beech stocks of recent manufacture, while others retained their original furniture. All of these converted rifles were proof-fired for service.
The Karabiner 98k rifle was used by the reserve branches of the IDF well into the 1960s and 1970s and saw action in the hands of various support and line-of-communications troops during the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. After the rifle was retired from reserve military service, the Israeli Mauser Karabiner 98k was given to a number of Third World nations as military aid by Israel during the 1970s and 1980s, and sold as ex-military surplus on the open market, with many Israeli Mausers being exported to Australia (the Israeli Mauser is the most predominant variant of the Mauser Kar98k rifle on the Australian surplus firearms market today) and the United States during the 1970s and 1980s. The Israeli Mausers provided to Third World armies began to themselves be imported for civilian sale in the United States, and tend to be in significantly worse condition than those sold directly out of Israeli storage.
The Bundeswehr still uses the Karabiner 98k in the Wachbataillon for military parades and show acts. In 1995 remaining swastikas and other Nazi-era markings were removed from these rifles, after criticism regarding the presence of such symbols on Wachbataillon kit by the Social Democratic Party.
During the 1990s, the Yugoslavian Karabiner 98k rifles and the Yugoslavian M48 Mauser and M48A rifles were used alongside modern automatic and semi-automatic rifles by all the warring factions of the Yugoslav Wars. There are a number of photographs taken during the war in Bosnia, showing combatants and snipers using Yugoslavian-made Mauser rifles from high-rise buildings in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo.
The Norwegian Army currently (2008) use the Våpensmia NM149 and NM149-F1 sniper rifles, which are based on Karabiner 98k bolt actions. Besides Mauser M 98 system actions, captured by Norway at the end of World War II in 1945, contemporary components originating from several manufacturers are used by Våpensmia A/S to build the NM149 and NM149-F1.
The Karabiner 98k is still used by San Marino's Guardia di Rocca.
Since 2003, the Mauser Karabiner 98k rifle (along with the Mosin–Nagant, the Lee–Enfield and the Yugoslavian M48) has been encountered in Iraq by US and Allied forces with Iraqi insurgents making use of the Karabiner 98k and other bolt-action rifles alongside more modern infantry weapons like the AK series rifles and the SKS carbine. The extra range afforded by the 7.92×57mm IS cartridge still makes it a viable low-cost marksman rifle for the insurgents.
Many Third World nations still have Karabiner 98k rifles in their arsenals and it will most likely be encountered in regional conflicts for many years to come.
The Karabiner 98k rifles that were used by Germany during World War II are highly sought after collector's items in many circles. The Mauser Karabiner 98k rifle remains popular among many rifle shooters and military rifle collectors due to the rifle's historical background, as well as the availability of both new and surplus 7.92×57mm IS ammunition. As of 2010, the Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles that were captured by the Soviets during World War II and refurbished during the late 1940s and early 1950s have appeared in large numbers on the military surplus rifle market. These have proven popular with buyers in the United States and Canada, ranging from ex-military rifle collectors to target shooters and survivalists, due to the unique history behind the Soviet capture of Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles.
The widespread availability of surplus Mauser 98k rifles and the fact that these rifles could, with relative ease, be adapted for hunting and other sport purposes made the Mauser 98k popular amongst civilian riflemen. When German hunters after World War II were allowed again to own and hunt with full bore rifles they generally started to "rearm" themselves with the then abundant and cheap former Wehrmacht service rifles. Civilian users changed these service rifles often quite extensively by mounting telescopic sights, aftermarket hunting stocks, aftermarket triggers and other accessories and changing the original military chambering. Gunsmiths rebarreled or rechambered Mauser 98K rifles for European and American sporting chamberings such as the 6.5×55mm Swedish Mauser, 7×57mm Mauser, 7×64mm, .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, 8×60mm S, 8×64mm S, etc. The magnum hunting cartridges 6.5×68mm, 8×68mm S and 9.3×64mm Brenneke were even specially developed by German gunsmiths for the standard military Mauser 98 action.
Surplus Mauser 98K actions were used by Schultz & Larsen in Denmark as the basis for target rifles. The actions had the German markings removed, were refinished in gray phosphate, and new serial numbers and proof marks applied. The Schultz & Larsen M52 and M58 Target Rifles used shortened and refurbished Karabiner 98k stocks. Later versions had new target stocks fitted and were available in .30-06, 6.5×55mm and 7.62mm NATO. Some of these rifles are still in competitive use today although with the benefit of new barrels. Besides conversions of original Karabiner 98k rifles other sporter variants made by a number of manufacturers such as FN Herstal, Zastava, Santa Barbara (Spain) and many others have been available at various times in a wide variety of chamberings, but most are large-bore hunting calibres.
Modern civilian offspring
The Mauser-type action is widely held to be the pinnacle of bolt-action rifle design, and the vast majority of modern weapons of this type, both military and civilian, are still based on it to this day. The safety offered by its three-lug bolt and the added reliability of controlled feed (especially favored by dangerous game hunters) are considerable refinements not found in other designs.
Throughout the design's history, standard sized and enlarged versions of the Mauser M 98 system have been produced for the civil market.
John Rigby & Co. commissioned Mauser to develop the M 98 magnum action in the early 1900s. It was designed to function with the large sized cartridges normally used to hunt Big Five game and other dangerous game species. For this specialized type of hunting, where absolute reliability of the rifle under adverse conditions is very important, the controlled-feed M 98 system remains the standard by which other action designs are judged. In 1911 John Rigby & Co. introduced the .416 Rigby cartridge that due to its dimensions could only be used in the M 98 magnum action.
Zastava Arms currently (2010) manufactures the M48/63 sporting rifle, which is a short barreled variant of the Model 1948 military rifle and the Zastava M07 sniper rifle.
Since 1999 the production of Mauser M 98 and M 98 Magnum rifles has been resumed in Germany by Mauser Jagdwaffen GmbH (Mauser Huntingweapons Ltd.) according to original drawings of 1936 and the respective Mauser patents.