The 8mm (7,92X57) Mauser Cartridge

©Paul M. Alvarez 2003

The self-contained metallic cartridge is a relatively recent development in the firearms field. Over the last century and a half of arms and ammunition development there have been many milestones and historic cartridges. Yet, there is one that stands out as having influenced technology and arms development like no other and has even changed the course of history. The 7,9X57mm cartridge is at the same time an extremely widespread and misunderstood cartridge and, yet, it may be the single most important cartridge in the history of firearms.

The cartridge has its origins in the desire of the German Army to adopt a modern firearm to replace the 11mm Gew 71 and keep up with their archenemies the French. Adopted in 1886, the 8mm Lebel shook the world by being the first small-bore, high-velocity rifle/cartridge combination adopted by a major military power and made a great leap in performance over the previous black powder cartridges, literally making them obsolete overnight. This was made possible by the development of two milestone technologies that radically changed ammunition as it was then known.


11mm Mauser


In 1884 French chemist Paul Vieille invented a smokeless gunpowder called Poudre B. This was made from gelatinized guncotton, mixed with ether and alcohol, then rolled into sheets and cut into flakes to control it's burning characteristics. It was a radical improvement over black powder in several important aspects. First, it produced a miniscule amount of smoke in comparison. Previously, soldiers would have their field of view obscured or their position given away by the huge cloud of smoke that hung over the firing line after firing a volley. Second, since it was almost three times as powerful as the previous powder, it could produce a considerably higher muzzle velocity which resulted in flatter trajectories and longer ranges. Third, it required a lesser volume of powder, consequently cartridges could be made lighter and of smaller caliber. Additionally, it produced significantly less fouling. This latter attribute was to become of eminent importance in the development of automatic arms. 

Most of these characteristics of the Poudre B would have had a less significant impact on firearms development without a further development. In 1883 Major Eduard Rubin, Director of Munitions at the Swiss laboratory at Thun, was considered the world's foremost small-arms ammunition theorist and designer. He started developing what was to become the first Full Metal Jacket bullet by inserting lead wire into copper tubing. He also discovered that if he added nickel to the copper jacket material to form a tougher alloy that the bullets did not shred in the bore. These new bullets were not only capable of withstanding the increased velocities that well exceeded those of the lead or paper patched bullets in common use at the time, but also proved to be more accurate and more reliable in feeding mechanisms due to less deformation. Again, this last attribute was destined to gain much more prominence in the future. 


8mm Lebel


The Germans, not wanting to be at a disadvantage, found it necessary to follow suit. The German Gewehr Prfungs Kommission (GPK - Rifle Testing Commission) at Spandau Arsenal – Germany’s equivalent of the American Springfield Arsenal, set to work designing a new cartridge and a new rifle to chamber it. The Lebel's cartridge was state-of-the-art for it's time, however it had some severe disadvantages. It had a huge rim and an ungainly shape that made it ill suited for use in weapons with the box magazines which the new rifles had. The GPK apparently decided to stick with the bore and rifling specifications of the Lebel round but drew heavily on other of Rubin's developments. In 1885 he had developed the 8X53R, a very modern looking cartridge similar in many ways to the final result except that it used a rimmed case and compressed black powder. However, he had also also experimented extensively with and designed various rimless cartridges. The GPK blended these various features for the first time into one cartridge and thus established the precedents for the foreseeable future.

The new cartridge was designated the Patrone 88I (I for Infantry). The letters I and J appeared identical (contrary to popular belief, they are, however, not "interchangeable") in the print fonts in common usage at the time in Germany and the new cartridge was frequently erroneously referred to as the 7,92x57J, which name seems to have stuck. The 7.92mm (.3118") referred to the bore diameter and had a case length of 57mm (2.244"). The pitch and profile of the rifling were copied directly from that of the Lebel with the rifling depth set as .1mm (.00394"). which gave a .3189" groove diameter. It was loaded with a .318” diameter Cupro-Nickel Full Metal Jacket Round Nose bullet of about 227gr driven at a velocity of almost 2100fps by the German equivalent of Poudre B and used Rubin's bottleneck, rimless case design with the primer flush with the base of the case. 


7,92X57 P-88


Here was the first truly modern rifle cartridge. A rimless bottle-neck case using a small-bore, high velocity, Full Metal Jacketed bullet propelled by smokeless powder. Whether through foresight and planning or through shear luck these characteristics would make this cartridge adaptable not only to bolt action rifles, but also to the successful automatic arms designs which were to follow. The Germans were slow to adopt other technologies. An American, Hiram Maxim, had invented the first true machinegun in the late 1880s, however, it wasn't until 1899 that the Germans officially adopted the Maxim Gun combined with the new 7,9X57mm thereby changing the face of the battlefield, tactics, and warfare forever.

Attempting to use a similar approach with the design of the rifle as they had done with the cartridge by borrowing technologies, the bolt of the 11mm Mauser Gew 71 rifle was extensively modified by Louis Schlegelmilch, a Spandau Arsenal technician, and incorporated a separate bolt head. So, the new rifle had a Schlegelmilch/Mauser action, to which they added a five shot clip loaded improved Mannlicher style magazine replacing the previous tubular magazine, and added a full length metal barrel jacket designed by Armand Mieg. The rifle which they adopted, the Gewehr 1888 (Gew 88), while incorporating many features of Mauser design was obviously not a true Mauser. In fact, Mauser himself was not even consulted for it’s design and Mauser Werke did not manufacture any Gew 88s as they were busy fulfilling the Turkish contract. It is said that Mauser was quite put-out that he had not been asked to work on the design and vowed to build a better rifle than the Commission (which he subsequently did in 1891). Ironically, in time the cartridge was also to bear the Mauser name and was, in fact, to be the basis for most of his later cartridge developments though Mauser had no apparent input into it's design either. In any case, on March 23, 1888, General von Xylander, the Bavarian military observer in Berlin, reported that the development was virtually complete. Field trials for the new rifle were completed in November, 1888, and the GPK recommended that it be adopted immediately. The adoption orders were signed by Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 12, of that year.


Gew 88/14 Conversions Top-Rifle, Bottom-Carbine
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It is apparent that Mauser himself recognized the importance of the cartridge design as he took the basic case and in 1889 began necking it up and down to produce a wide range of military and sporting cartridges that bear his name. Such numbers as the 7.65mm Belgian and 7X57mm were adopted by various world powers and the 6.5X57mm and 9X57mm were extensively embraced by sportsmen and began killing game all over the world. He also designed a further improved rifle around the cartridge and when the German army decided on a new rifle they adopted Mauser’s Model 1898 in the existing 7,9X57mm caliber. This was much stronger and superior to any of the previous actions and they kept it in service for the next half century, using it to fight two World Wars.

In 1898 Teddy Roosevelt and his "Rough Riders" charged up San Juan hill during the Spanish-American War. They faced the M95 Mauser rifles wielded by the Spanish forces at the top of the hill. Though declared an American victory, the US forces suffered over 1,400 casualties at the hands of only 700 Spaniards. The U.S. Army, seeing these innovations in arms and ammunition deemed our .30-40 Krag to be inadequate in comparison and began developing a new rifle and cartridge. Springfield Arsenal essentially took the 7,92X57 case, stretched it out about ¼” and necked it down to accept the Krag’s .30 caliber 220gr FMJ Round Nose bullet driven at 2300fps (not a whole lot faster than the .30-40s itself) and called it the .30-03. At the same time they also adopted a new battle rifle which they called the Model 1903 Springfield. The Springfield had so many similarities to the Mauser that the American government was to pay royalties to Mauser Werke. However, I have not been able to ascertain whether this actually occurred. Some sources say that they did pay up until the U.S. entry into the war with a final settlement made after the war was over and other sources say that they did not pay any monies at all because of the war.

As world shaking as the 7,92X57 cartridge was, cartridge development did not stand still. Battlefield results, particularly when using the Maxim, demonstrated that the 7,92X57mm had some shortcomings. First was that it had too short of an extreme range. They were just not able to "reach out and touch someone" as well as they would have liked. Second, they were wearing out the bores on their rifles and especially on the Maxims too quickly. Early trials found that the excessive friction of the long cylindrical bullet and bullet/bore dimensions led to an increased risk of split barrels and excessive metal fouling. So, there began a series of stop-gap measures and improvements to the existing rifles to rectify these conditions.

Much controversy exists as to the bore specifications of subsequent changes and the attendant markings. Apparently, the new smokeless powder eroded the bores on the earlier guns rather rapidly so they deepened the rifling leaving the bore diameter at 7.92mm (.3118") and marked converted guns with a "Z" ("Zuge" or "modified rifling") on the receiver. Some sources say that this new depth was 0.15mm which would give a groove diameter of .323". However, other sources state that this groove diameter was actually .321" and this is borne out by my "Z" bored 1890 Danzig Gew-88 which has the .321" groove diameter.

In 1905 the German military adopted the “S” or Spitzgeschoss bullet for improved effect. This was a sharply pointed bullet of .323” diameter, 154gr weight and 2880 fps velocity and which only had about 35% of the bearing surface of the older bullet. These barrels retained the .311" (8.1mm) bore but the rifling depth was, in fact, increased to 0.15mm for a total of .323". They re-chambered most of their older Gew-88s to the new specifications so that they could use the new ammunition but left the bore dimensions, such as they were, intact. To accommodate the new cartridge and pressures, the chamber neck diameter was increased as was the freebore. These were typically marked on the receivers with an “S”. So, you then had the possibility of rifles with the original specification .318" groove/.318" chambers (J bore but not marked as such), .321" grooves/.318" chambers (Z marked), .318" groove/.323" chambers (S marked), 321" groove/.323" chambers (Z&S marks), and, of course, the new standard .323" groove/.323" chambers (S mark or no mark). In all of this confusion I suspect that not all rifles were marked appropriately and, consequently, the bore and chamber dimensions should be checked before firing any 7,92X57mm rifle. Hence, the confusion with this cartridge/rifle combination.

In actual point of fact, there have only been two cartridge specifications, the original .318" diameter 7,92X57J and the 7,92X57S. These are viewed as distinctly different cartridges by the Europeans and loaded to different power levels. It is the efforts to modify the various rifles to accommodate these cartridges that has made the matter worse. However, it is fairly simple. Military rifles manufactured after 1905, and these are the vast majority of rifles, have the .323" "S" bore and should be safe with surplus ammunition. Military rifles made before 1905 and all pre-WWII commercial rifles should have the bore dimensions checked to determine the appropriate ammunition but should safely handle the low pressure American loads.


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Seeing the advantages of the new configuration, the U.S. Army again played follow-the-leader and adopted a 150gr pointed flat-base bullet as well. These bullets being a bit on the short side, they abbreviated the neck of the ’03 case to accommodate it and called it the .30-06. 

These developments did not escape the notice of the rest of the world. In the course of time the Mauser '98 and its cartridge were used in one form or another by most of the countries of the world. It is estimated that as many as 100 million Mauser '98s have been built to date and countless automatic and semi-automatic weapons with voracious appetites for ammunition  including the Maxim, Madsen, Mg08, Mg34, Mg42, Gew-43, FN-49, Hakim, etc. have resulted in the production of tens of billions of rounds of  7,92 ammunition


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L-R; .30-40 Krag, .30-03, .30-06, 7.92X57J, 7.92X57JS, 8X57JR

Over the course of the next two World Wars the Germans developed a wide variety of ammunition types for their rifles. These include the Schweres Spitzgeschoss or “heavy pointed bullet” of which some 8-9 Billion rounds were produced. This “sS” cartridge used a 197gr bullet at 2500fps and was designed for long-range use with a much better aerodynamic profile incorporating a modern boat-tail. This loading was copied by many other nations using this cartridge as well. The Germans also produced the  “SmK”  or Spitzgeschoss mit Kern which used a pointed bullet with a hardened steel core and the “SmK(H)” which used a tungsten core for armor piercing. There were also aluminum bullets, tracers, incendiary, grenade launching, explosive, aerial spotting, signal, multiple bullet, and other loadings as well.


"S" and "sS" Bullets
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One of the other confusing aspects of this cartridge is the variety of names that are used or it. Among them: 8mm Mauser, 7.8X57, 7.9X57, 7.92X57, 8X57 all with or without the “J” and/or “S” as well as “Ss”, depending on the particular loading. There is also a rimmed version to add to the confusion that uses similar designations but with the letter "R" appended to the name. Below are some of the designations in common use. This is by no means a comprehensive or complete list.

7.8X57JR

Commercial rimmed .318" bullet

7.9X57mm

Other Militaries-Turkey, South America

7.91, 7.92X57

German Military

7.92X57J

German Military .318" bullet

7.92X57JS

German Military .323" Spitzer bullet

7.92X57JsS

German Military .323" Heavy Spitzer bullet

8X57 Mauser

Commercial rimless .323" bullet

8X57R Mauser

Commercial rimmed J/JS .318/.323" bullet

8mm Mauser

Commercial rimless J/JS .318/.323" bullet

8mm Special

Early Commercial Remington

Though adopted by dozens of countries across the globe, the most common cartridges that we encounter today are the 154gr FMJ Flat Base, the 197gr FMJ Boat Tail and, of course, the various commercial soft-point loads. Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre in Belgium is one of the most prolific manufacturers of Mauser rifles and ammunition and, to this day, still produce commercial versions. They provide the following information for their versions of those two military loads fired from the full length rifle. These tables are most illuminating as they give ballistics out to a full 2,000 meters, the maximum range on the rifle's sights. I did not convert the distance measurements as they coincide with the metric markings on the rifle's sights.

Ballistics of the F.N. Rifle, Cal. 7,9mm

Light Pointed Bullet (154 gr.)

Distance

(Meters)

Angle of Elevation

Angle of Descent

Time of Flight (sec)

Height of Trajectory (in)

Remaining Velocity (ft/s)

Remaining Energy (ft/lb)

0

-

-

-

 

2805

2690

200

5' 25"

6' 18"

0.26

3.54

2223

1689

400

12' 57"

17' 54"

0.60

17.32

1721

1013

600

23' 47"

39' 7"

1.03

51.97

1332

607

800

39' 35"

1° 1' 34"

1.59

125.60

1076

396

1000

1° 1' 34"

1° 29' 58"

2.24

259.46

938

301

1200

1° 29' 58"

2° 6' 4"

2.98

472.46

848

246

1400

2° 9' 15"

3° 9' 40"

3.87

812.64

756

195

1600

2° 52' 28"

6° 17' 10"

4.78

1252.42

688

162

1800

3° 52' 11"

8° 44' 20"

5.91

1912.69

612

128

2000

4° 58' 20"

13° 40' 00"

7.11

2795.41

528

95

Pressure=

42,670 psi

Max Range=

4,046 yds

 

 

Ballistics of the F.N. Rifle, Cal. 7,9 m/m

Streamlined Pointed Bullet with Tapered Base (197.5 gr.)

Distance

(Meters)

Angle of Elevation

Angle of Descent

Time of Flight (sec)

Height of Trajectory (in)

Remaining Velocity (ft/s)

Remaining Energy (ft/lb)

0

-

-

-

-

2494

2734

200

6' 10"

6' 20"

0.28

3.94

2165

1603

400

13'

14' 20"

0.61

15.75

1883

1213

600

21' 50"

26' 40"

0.98

43.31

1624

902

800

33' 40"

46' 50"

1.43

90.56

1398

668

1000

49"

1° 17' 10"

1.96

177.17

1204

496

1200

1° 9'

1° 59' 50"

2.56

314.98

1056

382

1400

1° 33' 30"

2° 52' 50"

3.23

531.52

961

316

1600

2° 1' 30"

3° 52'

3.94

787.44

899

276

1800

2° 33'

4° 56" 20"

4.70

1141.79

850

247

2000

3° 7' 30"

6° 6' 30"

5.51

1614.25

804

221

Pressure=

45,500 psi

Max Range=

5,140 yds

 

 

Ballistic Coefficient tends to vary as the velocity, in particular at trans-sonic velocities. Based on the above data, the ballistic coefficients of the two bullets were calculated and are shown below for comparison:

 
Ballistic Coefficient
Bullet Mach II Mach I Sub-sonic
154gr Flat Base FMJ 0.321 0.337 0.329
198gr Boat Tail FMJ 0.547 0.584 0.539

This cartridge has been loaded in the U.S. since before the war by most, if not all, of the major ammunition manufacturers as well as in Europe. A wide variety of commercially loaded ammunition is available from vintage to late production. Representative examples and common published ballistics are presented below and this is by no means a comprehensive listing.


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Bullet Weight

Muzzle Velocity

100 Yds

300 Yds

500 Yds

Muzzle Energy

100 Yds

300 Yds

500 Yds

Drop At 300 Yds

RWS

198 TIG

2620

2550

1960

 

3015

2425

1690

 

16.4

RWS

187 HP

2690

2420

1930

 

3005

2430

1545

 

15.2

Norma

165 PPC

2854

2524

   

2984

2334

     

Winchester, Remington, Federal

170 SP

2360

1969

1333

997

2102

1463

671

375

29.68

DWM

123 RNSP

2968

1991

1565

 

2415

1497

477

   

As you can see, the American commercial ammunition is vastly under-loaded. SAAMI specifications limit the pressure to 35,000psi as compared to the 42,670psi and 45,500psi of the military loadings. This is in deference to the GEW 88 rifles with the .318" bores still out there in which modern .323" diameter ammo should not be used under any circumstances. The Europeans, on the other hand, with fewer lawyers per capita, do not consider this to be a problem and load their ammo up all the way, fully expecting the shooter to be familiar with his weapon and the proper ammunition for it. As this is a widely used and highly developed cartridge on the "Continent", about equal in popularity as the '06 is in the U.S., there is a much wider variety of European ammunition with better ballistics available in a plethora of bullet styles in both .318" and 323" diameters.  


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In contrast, the American bullet manufacturers produce a somewhat plebeian, if competent, group of projectiles. They are certainly adequate for any purpose that you might rationally want use this cartridge. The advent of the 8mm Remington Magnum has invigorated them to produce a somewhat wider variety of bullet weights and styles ranging from 125gr through 150gr, 170gr, 200gr, to 220gr. Sierra also produces their excellent 200gr HPBT Matchking bullet in this caliber for target work. It would be an excellent bullet to use as a duplicate of the "sS"  bullet for long range work having a Ballistic Coefficient of .520.


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For inexpensive shooting it is still hard to beat the surplus military ammunition.  The ubiquitous Turkish ammo sells for approximately $6-$7 for a 70 round bandoleer (less in bulk) and is of the 154gr type featuring a mild steel jacket. You are hard pressed to buy commercial bullets alone for that price! The Turkish 1951 ammo uses a gilding metal jacketed bullet with a concave base and weighs slightly more than the previous versions. Much of the South American ammo, such as that from Ecuador, is of the 196gr. type also with mild steel jackets. The Yugoslavian ammo that is now on the surplus market is of the sS type as well but uses a gilding metal jacket. And, of course, all of it is corrosive so make sure that you clean your rifle immediately after use.  


L-R; Turk Bandoleer, Turk Ammo Breakdown, Yugoslavian and Ecuadorian Ammo
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Actual chronograph results of various ammunition is listed in the following tables. Velocities are 5 round strings instrumental at 15'. Elevation was 800' ASL, Temperature was 48° F, 8mm Mauser velocity varies proportionately, approximately 1fps per degree Fahrenheit of temperature. Humidity was 100%, and Barometric Pressure was 30.14" and steady. All strings were shot within the space of one hour. I was only able to fire two rounds of the Turk 1941 ammo through the Yugo as I did not have sufficient ammo for a full five round test, consequently the SD and ES data is not listed. The Remington "Kleanbore" is 1930-50s vintage and Peter's "Rustless" ammunition is similar vintage commercial stock as well. 

 

 

Turkish Mauser 29" Barrel

Czechoslovakian VZ-24 24" Barrel

Cartridge Bullet Weight Average Velocity Standard Deviation Extreme Spread Energy Average Velocity Standard Deviation Extreme Spread Energy
Turkish 1941 154 FMJ 2882 14 44 2840 2699 * * 2491
Turkish 1942 154 FMJ 2914 24 63 2903 2772 16 50 2627
Turkish 1951 156 FMJ 2906 9 30 2925 2746 16 42 2612
Equadorian 1954 196 FMJ 2476 37 89 2668 2367 31 89 2438
Yugoslavian 1954 198 FMJ 2368 24 70 2465 2261 38 120 2247
Winchester Super Speed 170 RNSP 2386 39 98 2149 2244 30 91 1900
Remington Kleanbore 170 PSP 2362 64 179 2106 2210 83 225 1843
Peters Rustless 170 RNSP 2554 61 154 2462 2371 32 90 2122

 

The Turkish ammo has a reputation of being "hot". This is demonstrated by its enhanced ballistics over the FN loads and substantial energy advantage over the other military loads. The Equadorian ammo came very close to the FN specifications while the Yugoslavian was milder. It was surprising to me how consistent the Turkish ammunition was especially considering its age.

The current U.S. commercial ammo is pathetic at best. As you can see, the modern Winchester "Super Speed"  and the Remington "Hi-Speed"  labels are misnomers as they produce the lowest velocities of the cartridges tested. The advertised ballistics are only achievable in the 29" barrel. Out of the carbine length barrel you can expect performance comparable to the .30-30. It does make for a less shoulder punishing round and it is, of course, reloadable.

The Lebel and its cartridge are long gone as is the Gew. 88, lost in the dustbin of history.  Yet, the basic design of the 7,9X57 cartridge is as state of the art today as it was 120 years ago, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.  From small bore varmint rifles and our current issue combat rifle to huge aircraft machineguns and artillery pieces they all share the same basic characteristics that make this a true milestone in cartridge design.

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