Question about a rifle from a pistol guy


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rblack
October 11, 2004, 06:41 PM
I will tell you all from the git go that I know nothing about rifles. I am a pistol shooter and collector. A friend of mine called and asked about a rifle he just bought at an auction and I said I would ask the people who may know the answers.

He said it is a Hamberg 1891, or GEW 88 rifle chambered in 7.9mm, and he believes it was made between 1882 and 1888. He would like to know about ammo for it and where he could get it.

If anyone knows the answers I would appreciate it very much. Thanks for looking.

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Vern Humphrey
October 11, 2004, 07:03 PM
This is an early Mauser, and is designed for early 7.92X57 ammo. Current production 7.92X57 (8mm Mauser) ammo should NOT be fired in this rifle. The Germans increased the bullet diameter after this rifle was produced, and it's not safe.

If he wants to shoot it, he should first slug the bore (drive a soft lead slug through the lightly lubricated bore and measure it with a micrometer.) He should then select bullets of the appropriate diameter (0.318" as opposed to 0.323") and handload. It may be necessary to polish down the expander ball of the die to get good neck tension on the smaller diameter bullet.

Jim K
October 11, 2004, 08:14 PM
The marking should read "Amberg 1891". Amberg was the site of the Royal Bavarian arsenal where the rifle was made in 1891. "Gew 88" means "Gewehr (rifle) 1888", which is the model. (Prussia at that time set standards for military materiel, but some German kingdoms, like Bavaria, made their own arms.)

The designation commonly used in the U.S. is the Model 1888 Commission Rifle, since it was designed by an Imperial commission using features of both Mauser and Mannlicher origin. The caliber is 8x57j ("j" stands for Infantry - in the old German alphabet, "i" and "j" were identical) or what we commonly call 8mm Mauser. U.S commercial ammo is loaded down so it will not be a danger in those old rifles, but later ammunition designated 8x57js should not be used for the reason mentioned by Vern Humphrey.

Firing the rifle also requires a special clip, which holds 5 rounds and enters the action, somewhat like the clip for the U.S. M1 rifle (Garand) except that the Model 1888 clip drops out the bottom when empty rather than being ejected out the top. Some were later converted to use the Model 1898 Mauser "stripper" clip and the magazines were altered accordingly.

FWIW, the altered rifles were used in WWI by reserves and loaded with standard WWI service ammunition (7.9 or 8x57js); the only barrel change was to ream the chamber throat to allow neck expansion of the new ammunition. Neither the bore nor the groove diameter was changed.

Interested in modern Amberg? They have a neat web site at www.amberg.de that you can take a look at. No mention of the old arsenal, though.

Jim

rblack
October 11, 2004, 08:42 PM
Well I gotta say that you guys are amazing. Vern and Jim, Thank you very much for the information. I will pass it along to my friend.

Cosmoline
October 11, 2004, 08:58 PM
Most collectors I know who shoot these old Commission Mausers use ONLY cast loads at low pressure. Even modern US commercial 8x57 is too hot for safety. Though it's in the 35,000 psi range as opposed to the 50,000 psi range, it's still plenty hot and still uses a .323" bullet. That means you're going to get a spike when the bullet has to scrunch down into the narrow bore. And the '88's have no safety lug and often lack proper gas ejection safeguards

Vern Humphrey
October 11, 2004, 09:07 PM
In Ireland, by the way, this is called a "Howth Rifle."

In the period before WWI, there was a move to grant Ireland home rule. In Ulster, the Ulster Volunteers were formed to fight Britain for the privilidge of remaining British. They imported a hundred thousand rifles.

The Irish volunteers were formed in opposition, but they had few weapons. They managed to get some cast-off German rifles, which were landed at Howth. Some of these weapons are still cached at various places in Ireland.

Jim K
October 11, 2004, 09:11 PM
Hi, Cosmoline,

I agree with all that, but the fact is that the Germans shot standard 7.9 ammo in ALTERED rifles in both World Wars, so they are not that weak. The bore diameter is the same for both 8mm versions, .311. The change in 1905 was to the groove diameter, since the older barrels had only .0035 groove depth (.318-311=007/2=.0035"). Going to a .323 bullet gave .323-.311=.012/2=.006" groove depth which meant more erosion resistance and better bullet stabilization.

The problem in firing the newer ammo in the older unaltered rifles is not bullet vs bore diameter but the fact that the older CHAMBER THROAT will not allow expansion of the case neck. Without that expansion, pressures really shoot up and the result can be disastrous with full loads. The altered rifles did not have their barrels replaced or new grooves cut; they merely were rechambered with a new chambering reamer to expand the chamber throat.

Jim

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