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The GEW 88 At War

The GEW 88 At War

On The Russian Front With The Austro-Hungarian Infantry.

The muffled blasts and accompanied screams were followed by a geyser of smoke and dust barreling out of the entrance of the Russian dugout. Austrian, Captain Ehringer, took a quick head count of the number of combat effectives at his disposal following the successful assault on the Russian strongpoint.

The Captain looked up and down the section or trench they occupied, not knowing how much of the Assault Battalion had reached the objective alive. While some of the companies had undoubtedly become scattered during the confusion following any offensive, he was also keenly aware of the horrendous casualties they had suffered crossing no-man’s land.

The sergeant reported. Based on a quick count they were still well below 50-percent strength. Perhaps more men, separated during the advance, would drift in after the artillery fire stopped.
The sergeant handed Cpt. Ehringer an M13 Rifle along with a leather belt stripped of everything except the heavily laden ammunition pouches. The rifle would be better than his pistol. Cpt. Ehringer opened the bolt and checked the magazine, noting the full 5-round Mannlicher clip in the magazine. Someone shouted, “Here they come!” The Captain chambered the top round, shouldered the rifle and called out, “Steady men! On my command!”

The M13 Rifle was the Austro-Hungarian designation for the German Gew 88 in K.u.K. service. An estimated 82,600 rifles and an unknown number of carbines were provided by Germany to Austria-Hungary during the course of the war. The majority were original Gew 88s still configured for 5-round Mannlicher clips. Faced with a perpetual shortage of their own standard issue rifle of clip-loading Mannlicher design, the Gew 88 rifles were welcomed by the Austrians.

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Here we have an Austro-Hungarian Infantryman circa late 1917-18. In place of the standard M1909 “pike gray” or M1916 “field gray” jacket and trousers, he wears a variant of the M1917 field jacket produced with “nettle cloth”— a late war material made with a higher percentage of recycled wool and fiber from the wild nettle plant in place of cotton, which was in short supply due to the Allied blockade. Nettle cloth was dyed in various shades of gray, green and brown, brown being the normal color of the Austro-Hungarian artillery field jacket. The puttees are a pair of captured and reissued Italian M1909 grigio-verde leg wraps. A wide variety of captured enemy material were pressed into service during the course of the war to help fill perpetual shortages.

The M1916 Stalhelm featured in the display is classified as a M1917 Hungarian helmet by collectors to differentiate the alternate pattern liner featured in these helmets from the more common liner in the original M1916.

Our K.u.K. soldier is well equipped for the field, with the M1906 calfskin pack with the leather, tanned hair side out on all of the exterior panels of the pack. Three equipment straps are used to secure the shelter-half, woolen blanket roll or greatcoat to the pack. The issue entrenching tool with leather carrier is, in this instance, strapped to the back of the pack. To help support and distribute the weight of the pack, extensions link the shoulder straps with the metal loops on the back of the M1895 double pocket ammunition pouches worn on the front of the M1888 leather belt with brass buckle embossed with the Hapsburg double-headed eagle. Carried on the belt on the left hip is the bayonet scabbard for the German S1871 Hirshfanger mounted on his M13 rifle. This bayonet was one of the primary patterns supplied by Germany along with the shipments of Gew 88s. Slightly to the rear of his right hip, our infantryman carries a M1917 trench knife with a “trench art” handle and crossguard fashioned from aluminum, scavenged from a downed aircraft’s engine.

Slung over his right shoulder are the issue, linen haversack and a M1907 enameled iron water bottle with linen shoulder strap. Secured in place by twine is an enameled iron drinking cup that engulfs the bottom half of the water bottle.

In front of the haversack in easy reach, is the M1917 Lederschutzmaske gas mask carried in its canister via a shoulder strap. This gas mask of German design was produced on contract for Austria-Hungary during the war. The metal base of the mask where the filter screws in place was embossed with “K.u.K,” the abbreviation for the Austro-Hungarian Army, i.e. “Kaiserlich und Königlich,” which translates as imperial and royal.

The rifle featured in the display is one of the original Austro-Hungarian issue Gew 88s designated as the “M13” in K.u.K. service. The rifle remained unchanged and still required en bloc clips to packet load the magazine. The only alteration made to the rifle in Austro-Hungarian service was the addition of a large sling swivel under the buttstock in place of the original German detachable swivel. This was necessary to allow the retaining buckle of the Austro-Hungarian issue sling to pass through the lower swivel prior to being secured via tongue and buckle to the upper swivel.

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Pictured here with the action open, the Gew 88/14. Though functional, the quality of
workmanship of these wartime conversions were poor by comparison to the pre-war Gew 88/05.
The charger guides, produced with built up weld bead, are clearly visible as is the spring
loaded cartridge retaining lip set into the left sidewall of the receiver at the top of the
magazine. A handful of known examples exist today in museums and private collections.

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To indicate that a Gew 88 had been converted to the “S” configuration with the alterations
made to the rear sight, a “Crown/”S” cartouche was sta
mped into the right side of the
buttstock above the original inspection and acceptance cartouches.

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While the en bloc clip was fast to load, shown here with a clip in the magazine ready to go,
the Mannlicher design could not function as a repeater without the clips. In addition, with en
bloc clips, the magazine could not be topped up with loose rounds. The clip had to be ejected
and either replaced with a fresh 5-round clip or the partial clip that was removed had to be
refilled outside of the magazine, then reinserted in the rifle.

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The sawback version of the standard S1871 brass gripped bayonet is shown here mounted in place
on the right side of the Gew 88 barrel jacket. On the left side of the top barrel band can be
seen the pre-WWI unit mark that dates to the original issue of the rifle. Many surviving examples
of the Gew 88, Gew 91 and Kar 88 bear more than one unit mark, most often on the barrel bands,
however on rare occasion, unit markings may appear on the receiver or siderail.

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This motley looking group of Landsturm have been issued a variety of different headgear,
including a mixture of Pickelhauben, with and without cloth covers and oil cloth caps.
Their ammunition pouches vary as well with some soldiers sporting the M1909 three-pocket
pouches, while other wear obsolete patterns such as the M74 and the M87. In keeping with
their lack of uniformity, the two soldiers on the left are armed with Gew 88s, one of
which has a S88/98 ersatz bayonet mounted and the other the standard issue S1871 brass
gripped bayonet. The remainder of the unit is armed with captured French Mle 1874 Gras
rifles with Mle 1866 Chassepot bayonets!

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This interesting photo of two well-equipped members of the 100th Landwehr Regiment in
full field gear, have been issued Gew 88 rifles. Of interest is the presence of a
sheet metal cover for the clip ejection port of the rifle held by the soldier on
the right and an absence of a cover on the other soldier’s rifle. Without a clear
view of the rifle’s actions, it’s impossible to tell which variation of the Gew 88
they have been issued.

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A bearded member of the 4th Landwehr emerges from a dugout armed with a Gew 88 and
bundled up for the harsh winter conditions in the trenches. The presence of the
regimental number on the Pickelhaube cover places this photo sometime during the
winter of 1914-15. Due to concerns regarding the ease of units being identified
by Allied intelligence, the regimental numbers were ordered removed from the
covers in early 1915.

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This very interesting and unusual photo shows a group of German soldiers manning
a trench line during a break in the action. Possibly taken after mail call, some
of the soldiers are reading books or newspapers, while one soldier writes a letter
to his family. Of particular interest however, is the third rifle from the right
on top of the parapet, a Gew 88 which is flanked on both sides by Gew 98s. Based
on the necessities of issuing the same ammunition to each member of a single unit,
this rifle is most likely is a Gew 88/05, which like the Gew 98, could be charger
loaded with 8x57mmS.

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German soldiers provide care for a wounded comrade in this photo. The muzzle of a
Gew 88 can be seen resting across the legs of the wounded man who is being treated.
The Gew 88 barrel jacket is a dead giveaway as are the S1871 brass gripped bayonets
visible in the scabbards of two of the kneeling soldiers in the foreground and on the right.

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The original 8x57mmJ cartridge developed for the Gew 88 is seen here on the right
in a Mannlicher en bloc clip. Packet loading, while an improvement over the tubular
magazines of earlier repeating rifles, eventually gave way to Mauser’s patented charger
system, as seen here on the left, loaded with 8x57mmS cartridges that featured a
lighter spitzer bullet and greatly improved ballistics. The 8x57mmS cartridge was
adopted in 1903.

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An en bloc clip of original 8x57mmJ ammunition is shown in position in the open action
of an original, unaltered Gew 88, ready to be pushed down into the magazine. While a d
ecided improvement over earlier repeating rifle magazines, the Mannlicher clip system
fell victim to the simple, yet ingenious charger system developed by Mauser.

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In 1905, the decision was made to convert a large number of Gew 88s to accept the Mauser
charger in lieu of the original en bloc clips. These rifles were given the new model
designation of Gew 88/05, seeing heavy use by the German Army in the first two years
of the war. By 1917 they were withdrawn from service and shipped as aid to Turkey.
This example is one of a very small percentage of the Gew 88/05s that remained
in Germany throughout the war.

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During the war, Oskar Will, the owner of the Venus Waffenwerk, converted more Gew 88s to
accept the Mauser charger. His proposal was to alter the rifles via a streamlined, lower
cost version of the Gew 88/05. Pictured here with a charger of 8x57mmS cartridges positioned,
the charger guides have been formed with built up weld bead, then filed to shape with the
charger slots cut into the welded guides. Today they are without question, the rarest of
all of the “Commission” rifle variants.

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Teething problems with the development of the new smokeless powder ammunition included the
failure of cartridge cases which resulted in hot gases under high pressure blowing back
into the action and potentially the soldier’s face. To help safely alleviate this potent
ial problem, a square flange was added to the rear of the left side of the cocking piece
as seen here, to help deflect gas away from the soldier’s face.

By John Sheehan

Read More About The German GEW

>> A “Commission” Got It Right?

>> The Long Road Of War Part 2

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