Duitse Mauser Selbstlader M1916

German Mauser Selbstlader M1916, a.k.a. Fliegerkarabiner

Mauser Selbstlader Model 1916

Technical data

Type Carbine
Model Mauser Selbstlader Model 1916 
Made by Mauser A.G., Oberndorf am Neckar
Used by German Air Force during the First World War 
Date  1916 
Dimensions 115cm (L) 
Weight 4.820 kg
Where to be seen within the War Heritage Institute Royal Military Museum, storage


Unique operation

This rifle is a semi-automatic carbine feeding from a 25-round magazine. It features a wooden stock extending to about halfway up the barrel. A distinctive foregrip is situated in front of the magazine well. The folding rear sight with slider can be adjusted for shooting distances between 200 and 2,000 metres. The front sight is adjustable by means of a screw, to suit air resistance and wind conditions. Another distinctive feature is the grooved and winged knob on top of the bolt.

In the early years of the 20th century the self-loading firearm is still in its infancy. The most common principle is the recoil operation, in which the energy of each shot is used to move both barrel and bolt backwards. The bolt block and barrel are disconnected from one another, allowing the empty casing to be ejected and a new cartridge to enter the chamber.

However, this German rifle’s operation is completely different and unique. This weapon is inertially operated: it also uses the recoil energy after each shot to cycle the next cartridge, but in an entirely different way. The fundamental component is a special spring-loaded mobile plate in the breech that moves independently of the rest of the rifle, but is nevertheless connected to it. With each shot, the whole rifle moves backwards due to the recoil, except for this mobile plate, which remains immobile in relation to the rifle.

The weapon’s automatic loading occurs through the interaction of these two parts. During the shot the bolt piece closes the chamber with two internal flappers on either side of the breech. The flappers are fitted with a rolling element slotting into specially made cam tracks. This rolling element allows for unlocking, whereby the plate’s axial movement is converted into the flappers’ radial movement. These flappers are thus pushed laterally. This allows the bolt to detach from the barrel and to move backwards under the influence of the recoil, a force sufficient to allow a new cartridge to emerge from the magazine and reload.

Mauser Selbstlader Model 1916

Did you know that…

Paul Mauser tragically lost an eye during the tests conducted for one of his previous prototypes?
two copies have been recently identified in the area surrounding the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan/Pakistan?
two copies have been recently identified in the area surrounding the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan/Pakistan?
an “infantry version” was also developed, with a slightly longer barrel and without the protrusion in front of the magazine?

What makes this Mauser Selbstlader a top piece?

In the early 20th century the production of semi-automatic shoulder rifles was uncharted terrain, which explains the development of some quite strange and unpractical mechanisms, such as the one to be found on this Mauser Selbstlader 1916. Some designs in firearm technology are therefore – and quite rightly – only to be found in specialised history books. It is of course easy to denigrate such trials in hindsight, but in context they certainly were deserving attempts.

This is a very rare and historically interesting – but quite unknown – firearm. Because of its all too complex operation and expensive production as little as 600 copies were made, and today a mere dozen remain worldwide.

The German Army never seriously considered the weapon, although its firing capacity was much higher than the existing standard bolt-action systems. The mechanism was so delicate and the metallurgy required such precision that it only worked in perfect conditions. Each cartridge also had to be greased separately. This of course proved disastrous in combination with mud and dirt (always present during the First World War), elements the grease attracted like a magnet. However, airmen and the German Imperial Army’s zeppelin and balloon troops would officially put it through its paces. The cleaner and more controlled environment of a plane or zeppelin indeed made for far fewer problems.

-Arthur Van Rossem, collection manager Portable Firearms, War Heritage Institute