Karabiner 98k Sniper Rifle, 132,000 Were Produced

The Mauser Karabiner 98k, officially known as the Karabiner 98 Kurz (Carbine 98 Short), is a bolt-action rifle that stands as one of the most iconic and widely recognized military weapons in history. It was the standard service rifle of the German military during World War II and has left an indelible mark on the world of firearms.

The Mauser 98k’s roots trace back to the late 19th century with the development of the Mauser Model 1898, designed by Paul Mauser. This rifle was revolutionary, featuring a controlled-feed bolt-action system that set the standard for future military and sporting rifles. The Mauser 98k, introduced in 1935, was a shorter version of the earlier Gewehr 98, designed for improved maneuverability.



In February 1934, the Heereswaffenamt (Army Weapons Agency) initiated the adoption of a new military rifle. The Karabiner 98k was a culmination of developments from the Mauser Standardmodell of 1924 and the Karabiner 98b, both derivatives of the Gewehr 98.

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The Karabiner 98k was shorter than the Karabiner 98b, which, despite being called a carbine, was essentially a version of the longer Gewehr 98 rifle, adapted to comply with the Treaty of Versailles. The 98b also featured a tangent rear sight, as opposed to the “Lange” ramp sight.

Approximately 132,000 Karabiner 98k sniper rifles were produced by Germany

Due to its reduced length, the new rifle was named Karabiner 98 kurz, or “Carbine 98 Short.” Known for its dependability and safety, the rifle was effective up to 500 meters (550 yards) using iron sights and up to 1,000 meters (1,090 yards) with an 8× telescopic sight.

The introduction of the Karabiner 98k, with its 600 mm (23.62 in) barrel, prompted a change in the standard German service rifle cartridge. The earlier 1903 pattern 7.92×57mm Mauser S Patrone generated excessive muzzle flash when fired from shorter-barreled firearms like the Karabiner 98k, as opposed to the longer-barreled Gewehr 98.

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The s.S. Patrone, initially designed for long-range machine gun use, was found to produce less muzzle flash from shorter barrels and offered improved accuracy. Consequently, in 1933, the S Patrone was phased out, and the s.S. Patrone became the standard German service ball cartridge in the 1930s.

Karabiner 98k Bolt-Action

The Karabiner 98k is a controlled-feed bolt-action rifle, developed from the Mauser M98 system. It features an internal magazine capable of holding five 7.92×57mm Mauser cartridges, which can be loaded either with a stripper clip or individually.

North Africa, Tunisia – German paratrooper with rifle, pistol, stick grenade and cartridge belt

When the bolt is closed after loading, the empty clip is automatically ejected. The rifle’s design includes a turned-down bolt handle, an improvement over the straight bolt handle of the Gewehr 98.

This modification facilitates quicker operation of the bolt, reduces the handle’s protrusion from the receiver, and allows for the direct mounting of optics above the receiver. Each rifle comes equipped with a section of cleaning rod stored through the bayonet stud. Combining the rods from three rifles forms one full-length cleaning rod.

The rifle’s metal components were treated with a bluing process, creating a layer of magnetite (Fe3O4) that offers limited protection against rust.

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This thin black oxide layer only minimally guards against corrosion and typically requires an additional coating of water-displacing oil to enhance protection. Starting from 1944, phosphating, also known as Parkerizing, began to be employed as a more effective method for treating the rifle’s metal surfaces.

Karabiner 98k in WWII

The Mauser Karabiner 98k rifle was extensively utilized by all German armed forces branches during World War II. It was deployed in every theater of war involving German troops, including occupied Europe, North Africa, the Soviet Union, Finland, and Norway.

German sniper team with Mauser Karabiner 98k rifle fitted with a Dialytan RH36 4×32 telescopic sight in position among the rubble on the Eastern Front

Initially comparable to the firearms of Germany’s adversaries, its slower rate of fire became more noticeable as American and Soviet forces increasingly adopted semi-automatic weapons. Despite this, it remained the Wehrmacht’s primary infantry rifle until the war’s end, with annual production ranging between 900 thousand and 2 million units.

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Captured Karabiner 98k rifles were frequently used by resistance groups in German-occupied Europe. Additionally, the Soviet Union heavily employed captured Karabiner 98k rifles and other German infantry weapons, particularly during the early years of World War II when the Red Army faced a severe shortage of small arms. German soldiers often referred to the rifle colloquially as “Kars.”

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In 1939, Sweden ordered 5,000 Karabiner 98ks from the regular production run, initially designated as gevär m/39 for use as light anti-tank rifles. However, it soon became clear that the 7.92×57mm Mauser cartridge lacked sufficient penetration.

Thus, the gevär m/39 was rechambered for the more powerful 8×63mm patron m/32 cartridge, designed for long-range machine gun fire. Consequently, these rifles were modified to accommodate the larger 8×63mm patron m/32 cartridge, reducing their magazine capacity to four rounds, and were adopted as pansarvärnsgevär m/40 in Swedish service

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. A muzzle brake was added to manage the increased recoil, leading to the weapon’s re-designation as gevär m/40. However, they were found to be unsatisfactory and were withdrawn from service, eventually being sold off after World War II.

Soviet Union Captured Millions

During World War II, the Soviet Union seized millions of Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles, which were later refurbished in various arms factories during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Known among collectors as RC (“Russian Capture”) Mausers, these rifles can be identified by an “X” stamp on the left side of the receiver.

When reassembling these rifles, Soviet arsenals did not prioritize matching original parts by serial number, and certain components like the cleaning rod, sight hood, and locking screws were often not reattached, being instead melted down for recycling or discarded if deemed unsuitable for reuse.

These refurbished rifles, along with Mosin–Nagant rifles, were actively used in post-World War II conflicts. For instance, during the Korean War, Soviet-captured Mauser Kar98k rifles were supplied by the USSR to Chinese Communist forces, complementing their arsenal of Type Zhongzheng rifles.

Both the Soviet-captured Kar98k and the Type Zhongzheng rifles were extensively used by the People’s Volunteer Army throughout the Korean War.

Vietnam War

The Korean War was not the sole instance where Soviet-captured Kar98k rifles were provided to Soviet allies. The Vietnam War also saw the use of these rifles, with the USSR supplying Soviet-captured Mauser Karabiner 98k rifles to North Vietnam as military aid.

In Vietnam, various forces including the US, South Vietnamese, South Korean, Australian, and New Zealand troops encountered Soviet-captured Karabiner 98k rifles in the hands of Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers.

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These were found alongside other WWII German firearms, Karabiner 98k rifles left by the French after the First Indochina War, Type Zhongzheng rifles from China, and Soviet-bloc weapons like the Mosin–Nagant, the SKS, and the AK-47.


The Mauser Gewehr 1898’s complex Langevisier or “rollercoaster” rear sight was replaced in the Karabiner 98k with a more practical, conventional tangent leaf sight. This rear tangent sight on the Karabiner 98k was flatter and less obstructive to peripheral vision during aiming than the Langevisier.

German sniper aiming his Karabiner 98k with Zeiss ZF39 4×36 telescopic sight during the Battle of Voronezh in 1942
German sniper aiming his Karabiner 98k with Zeiss ZF39 4×36 telescopic sight during the Battle of Voronezh in 1942

Initially, the Karabiner 98k was equipped with an open-pointed-post-type (barlycorn) front sight and a tangent-type rear sight with a V-shaped notch. From 1939, a hood was added to the front sight to minimize glare in unfavorable lighting and protect the post.

The standard sighting arrangement of the Karabiner 98k, with its somewhat coarse aiming elements, was designed for durability in field conditions, suitability for targeting at a distance or in low light, but was less ideal for precise shooting at distant or small targets.

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The sights were calibrated for 7.92×57mm Mauser s.S. Patrone cartridges with 12.8 g (197 gr) heavy pointed bullet (schweres Spitzgeschoß) ball bullets, adjustable from 100 to 2,000 meters (109 to 2,187 yards) in 100-meter (109-yard) increments.

Karabiner 98k Features

Early production rifles included a duplicated ranging scale on the bottom of the tangent aiming element for easier adjustment while lying down.

The Karabiner 98k features a 500 mm (19.7 in) sight radius, and the sights were factory zeroed as part of the acceptance process before issuance. Windage adjustment was set by the factory through horizontal shifting of the front sight and was not intended for field adjustment.

German soldier in northern France, 1944. His Karabiner 98k is equipped with a Gewehrgranatgerät cup-type grenade launcher attachment.
German soldier in northern France, 1944. His Karabiner 98k is equipped with a Gewehrgranatgerät cup-type grenade launcher attachment.

During World War II, the standard s.S. Patrone ball ammunition was progressively replaced by S.m.E. (Spitzgeschoß mit Eisenkern, “spitzer with iron core”) and later S.m.E. lg (Spitzgeschoß mit Eisenkern lang, “spitzer with iron core long”) ammunition, utilizing mild steel cores to conserve lead and other metals scarce in wartime Germany.

Within the effective range of the Karabiner 98k, these rounds exhibited ballistic properties similar to the s.S. ammunition, allowing the original sight line range graduations to remain valid and effective.

Karabiner 98k Stock

Early models of the Karabiner 98k rifle featured solid, one-piece stocks. However, starting from 1937, after extensive trials throughout the 1930s, the design shifted to laminated stocks. These laminated stocks, made from layers of plywood, offered superior strength and resistance to warping compared to the traditional solid wood stocks.

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They also had the advantage of not requiring an extensive maturing process and were more cost-effective to produce. However, due to their dense composite structure, these laminated stocks were somewhat heavier than the one-piece versions.

In terms of materials, besides the common use of walnut and beech, elm was also employed in a limited quantity for these laminated stocks.

The design of the stocks’ butt also varied. Up until early 1940, the stocks typically featured a flat buttplate. Post-1940, some of the rifles incorporated a cupped buttplate, which helped prevent separation of the butt stock. Regardless of the design, all stocks were equipped with a steel buttplate.

ZF41 Long Eye Relief Optical Sight

Conceived in the late 1930s, the ZF41 was a response to the German military’s need for an improved aiming device for infantry rifles. The idea was to enhance the standard Karabiner 98k rifle with a sighting system that could extend its effective range without significantly altering the weapon’s design or handling characteristics.

Design Philosophy

The ZF41 was unique due to its long eye relief design, which allowed it to be mounted further from the shooter’s eye compared to traditional telescopic sights.

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This design enabled the shooter to maintain a full field of view and situational awareness, which was crucial in the dynamic and often close-quarters combat of WWII. The sight magnified targets by 1.5x, offering a clear advantage over iron sights but without the bulk or complexity of larger, high-powered scopes.

Initial Deployment

The ZF41 was first issued in small numbers in the early years of World War II. It was designed as a sharpshooter’s sight rather than a true sniper scope, intended to be used by designated marksmen within infantry units to engage targets at slightly longer ranges.

Technical Specifications

The ZF41 featured a relatively simple construction, with a 25mm objective lens and a 17.5-degree field of view. It was lightweight and compact, making it less cumbersome than conventional sniper scopes. The sight was typically mounted on the rear sight base of the Karabiner 98k using a specially designed mount that allowed for quick attachment and detachment.

Operational Limitations

While innovative, the ZF41 faced criticism and operational limitations. Its low magnification and the relatively small field of view made it less effective for true sniping purposes. The sight was also reported to be less rugged and prone to misalignment, a significant drawback in the harsh conditions of the front lines.

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Despite its limitations, thousands of ZF41 scopes were produced, and they saw widespread use throughout the war. The ZF41’s concept of a compact, long eye relief optic influenced later designs and remains a niche interest among military historians and collectors.

Sniper Variants

Despite lessons from World War I, the German military initially underestimated the need for sniper rifles with telescopic sights before World War II, attributing this to advances in military technology and new tactics.

As a result, the Karabiner 98k wasn’t originally designed for precision optics, and the German military did not standardize any particular scope or mounting system, leading to a variety of sniper rifle configurations.

k98k rifle with a rare zf 41 scope
k98k rifle with a rare zf 41 scope

However, early in World War II, during the campaigns in Poland and especially Russia, the need for specialist snipers became evident due to significant losses inflicted by enemy sharpshooters. In response, the German military selected Karabiner 98k rifles that demonstrated exceptional accuracy during factory testing and equipped them with telescopic sights for sniper use.

These sniper rifles, often fitted with Zeiss Zielvier 4× (ZF39) telescopic sights, were expected to deliver precise head or chest shots up to 400 meters (437 yards) and hit a standing target at 600 meters (656 yards) in the hands of a skilled sniper. Effective engagement ranges could extend up to 1,000 meters (1,094 yards).

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The Zeiss Zielvier 4× (ZF39) scope featured bullet drop compensation for ranges between 100 to 800 meters (109 to 875 yards), and some variants adjusted up to 1,000 meters (1,094 yards). However, these scopes were not adjustable for windage.

Other scopes like the Zeiss Zielsechs 6×, Zielacht 8×, and models from manufacturers like Ajack, Hensoldt, Kahles, and Opticotechna with similar capabilities were also used on Karabiner 98k sniper rifles. Various mountings from different manufacturers were employed.

Mounting a telescopic sight on a Karabiner 98k required expert armorer skills. The high positioning of the scope above the receiver was necessary to ensure unobstructed operation of the bolt handle and the safety catch lever.

Solutions included modifying or replacing the safety lever or using an offset mount to position the scope’s axis to the left of the receiver’s center axis. A frequent modification was the addition of a waffled anti-slip “sniper” buttplate to the stock.

Approximately 132,000 Karabiner 98k sniper rifles were produced by Germany, a testament to the adaptation and evolution of this rifle in response to the changing demands of warfare.

Paratrooper Variants

As World War II progressed, the importance of airborne forces grew significantly. Paratroopers required compact and reliable weapons that could be easily handled during the dynamic and often chaotic nature of airborne operations. In response, the German military initiated the development of paratrooper-specific variants of the Karabiner 98k.

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The primary design challenge was to maintain the functionality and reliability of the standard Karabiner 98k while making it more suitable for paratroopers. This required modifications to make the rifle more compact, lightweight, and easier to maneuver during air drops and in tight combat situations encountered by airborne troops.

Shortened Barrel

One of the most notable modifications in the paratrooper variant was a shortened barrel. This reduction in length made the rifle more manageable during jumps and in confined spaces without significantly compromising its accuracy and effective range.

Detachable Stocks

Some paratrooper models featured detachable stocks. This feature allowed the rifle to be broken down into smaller components, facilitating easier transport and concealment during airborne operations. The detachable stocks were designed to be quickly and easily reassembled upon landing.

Folding Stocks

In addition to detachable stocks, folding stock versions were also developed. These stocks could be folded alongside the rifle, significantly reducing its overall profile. This design was particularly advantageous during parachute jumps, as it minimized the risk of entanglement and made the rifle more compact.

Operational Use

Paratrooper variants of the Karabiner 98k were issued to German airborne units, known as Fallschirmjäger. These elite troops were involved in several key operations throughout the war, where the adapted rifles proved beneficial in achieving surprise and mobility, key elements of airborne strategy.

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While these modifications enhanced the rifle’s suitability for airborne operations, they also brought challenges. The shortened barrel could affect the ballistic performance, and the detachable or folding stocks sometimes compromised the structural integrity and durability of the weapon. Balancing compactness with performance was a constant challenge in the design of these variants.

Grenade Launcher

In 1942, the German military introduced the Gewehrgranatengerät, also known as the Schiessbecher (“shooting cup”), an attachable rifle grenade launcher. This launcher was an evolution of models developed during World War I.

Nice close-up of the Gewehrgranatgerät being loaded by a german soldier
Nice close-up of the Gewehrgranatgerät being loaded by a german soldier

The 30 mm Schiessbecher, a cup-type grenade launcher, was compatible with any Karabiner 98k and was designed to supersede all previous models of rifle grenade launchers. It was capable of engaging infantry, fortifications, and light armored vehicles at distances up to 280 meters (306 yards).

To accommodate various combat roles, a range of specialized grenades and corresponding propelling cartridges were developed for the 1,450,113 Schiessbecher units produced.

These cartridges fired a wooden bullet through the rifle’s barrel, which, upon striking the rifle grenade, would automatically arm it. The versatility of the Schiessbecher allowed it to be mounted not only on the Karabiner 98k but also on other rifles like the Karabiner 98a, G98/40, StG 44, and FG 42.