The M1896 Mauser

Sweden’s 6.5 Sleeper is “world-class accurate”

International 6.5 array (top to bottom): Sweden’s M1896 Mauser, Japan’s Type 38 and Italy’s Model 38 Carcano.

When planning my book, Shooting World War II Small Arms, I almost didn’t include the Swedish Model 1896 Mauser chambered for 6.5x55. The reason was simple: Sweden stayed neutral. Then, a friend who is as much an expert on 20th Century military conflicts as anyone I know, asked me, “Did you know that Sweden ‘loaned’ 50,000 of their 6.5s to Finland for use against the Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939/1940?”

I did not, but the bit of information was all it took for me to buy one and include it in my project. Over a period of years I fired over 20,000 rounds of factory loads and handloads through several dozen World War II infantry rifles, sniper rifles, carbines, handguns and submachine guns. Besides being great fun, it was educational in the extreme.

A premier military bolt action: Sweden’s M1896 Mauser 6.5x55.

Vintage Tackdriver

One lesson I took away from all this shooting was the Swedes made wonderfully accurate rifles. Prior to the experience, I knew the American-made Model 1903 Springfield .30-06 ruled in terms of military bolt-action accuracy. Although ’03s are obviously capable of very precise shooting, I now think the overall winner in a military bolt-action accuracy contest would be the Swedish Mauser.

Here’s an example: One day I was shooting my Swedish Model 41b (nothing more than the Model 1896 fitted with a 4X scope for sniper use) with a receiver ring dated 1919. A reader had recently sent me 100 rounds of 1976 vintage Swedish military surplus 6.5x55 loads. Afterwards I discovered the rounds had been made by Norma.

A friend was spotting for me while I shot a five-round string. He never uttered a word until I was finished. Without giving me any indication of how I did, he said, “It must be a fluke. Shoot another group.” After I fired three rounds he said, “Stop! Don’t waste any more of that ammo.” The first group had five shots in 5/8" and the last three cut a nice cloverleaf.

Remember, this was with a rifle nearly 95 years old at the time, mounted with a likewise old 4X scope with a single pointed-post reticle. Since then — using my own handloads in the Model 41b — I competed in a 200-, 300- and 600-yard paper target, vintage sniper rifle event and a vintage sniper rifle metallic silhouette match. The latter consisted of chickens, pigs, turkeys and rams at 200, 300, 385 and 500 meters. The rifle and I won both of those contests.

Duke discovered this surplus ammunition was made by Norma in 1976 after it gave superlative accuracy in his rifle. The 6.5x55 (left) is shown with .30-06 for comparison.

Not too shabby! Duke shot this 100-yard group with his Swedish Model 41b using the Norma military load.

Rifle And Cartridge

It appears Swedish Model ’96s were made in two factories. Domestically the Carl Gustafs Stads Gevarsfactori was the primary manufacturer, while about 40,000 were also made by Mauser Waffenfabrik Oberndorf. Standard specs for ’96s was a 29.1" barrel, straight grip stock, open rear sight graduated to 2,000 meters and blade front set in a dovetailed stud atop the barrel. Weight was 9 lbs.

Most Swedish Model 1896s encountered will have a brass plate set into the right side of the buttstock. The plate gives conversion factors when military ammo transitioned from a 156-gr. RN bullet at 2,300 fps to a 139-gr. spitzer at 2,600 fps. Also stamped into the plate is a number — 1, 2, or 3. This number is a rating of the barrel’s wear, with 1 being the best and 3 the worst.

As to the 6.5x55mm cartridge itself, at first I thought its rimless case would be the same as those other rimless cases such as the .30-06, 7x57 Mauser and 8x57 Mauser. It is not. Specs call for those to be .470 at the case head while the 6.5x55 is meant to be .480 at the case head. American manufacturers use the first dimension for their 6.5x55 factory loads but European factories use the second dimension.

Something else to consider when reloading this cartridge is some manuals list two types of recipes. One is for the weaker Model 1896s and the other is for American-produced modern hunting rifles on stronger actions. I’ve seen one Swedish Mauser “let go” for reasons unknown — it wasn’t pretty but the lucky shooter didn’t get a scratch.

If I would have discovered the 6.5x55 while still young enough and healthy enough to hunt, I’d likely have bought one of those modern hunting rifles. The Swedes consider the cartridge perfectly adequate for moose and such an endorsement makes it good enough for most American game in my book!

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