The Karabiner 98 Kurz: The German Rifle of Choice

Kar98k Photo Album

A photo of a real German Karabiner 98 Kurz (Kar98k) bolt-action rifle.

A real German Kar98k bolt-action rifle.

In most areas of the world, bolt-action rifles have been replaced by automatic and semi-automatic rifles as the standard-issue firearm for typical infantry soldiers. But, during World War II, bolt-action rifles made up the majority of the weapons issued to ground troops serving both the Allied and Axis powers.

For the Germans, that rifle was the Karabiner 98 Kurz (Kar98k or Kar98) – one of the final developments in the line of Mauser military rifles that dates back to 1874. The Kar98’s name translates to “short carbine,” though at 43.7 inches (1,110mm), it was about the same length as other non-carbine rifles at the time. This is because as time progressed, rifles got shorter. So, while the Kar98 was about as long as the M1 Garand, and longer than the American M1 Carbine, when compared to its precursors, it was shorter – a carbine.

The Kar98k was a reliable and accurate weapon, of which more than 14.6 million were built between 1935 and 1945. It weighed between eight and nine pounds, held five 8x57mm cartridges and had an effective range of 500 meters (though this increased to more than 800 with the addition of a telescopic scope).

The German Karabiner 98 Kurz (Kar98k) bolt-action rifle as it appears in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (MOHAA).

A Kar98k leans against the wall in the building in which Maj. Jack Grillo is being held captive by German soldiers in Algeria.

The rifles could fire tracer rounds, though in an interview for a 1967 edition of TRUPPENDIENST, the magazine of the Austrian armed forces, three top German WWII snipers said tracers shouldn’t be used in sniper combat because they revealed sniper positions and were mainly used for ranging distances.

There were also accusations on all sides of snipers using explosive bullets, but I couldn’t find any confirmed instances in which these were used against personnel.

The three snipers interviewed in TRUPPENDIENST said they had used the rounds (called observation ammunition) to see where their bullets were hitting and to set fire to wooden houses, forcing the enemy out.

These bullets detonated on impact with a small flame and puff of smoke, but they were only used at distances under 600 meters as they were less accurate than regular cartridges, the snipers reported.

Due to an improvement in the design of the bolt (it was turned down rather than straight out), the Kar98 could be fired faster, and more easily, than its predecessors. The reliability of the Kar98, coupled with the Wehrmacht’s infantry tactics, meant that these slow-firing weapons were a mainstay on the battlefield until the end of the war. Because the Germans centered their infantry squads around the light machine gun, riflemen were mostly tasked with providing covering fire, a job well-suited for the Kar98.

Rifles that were found to be exceptionally accurate during factory testing were fitted with a telescopic sight and put into service as sniper rifles. Because the Kar98 was not designed to accommodate a scope, this required the work of a skilled armorer. Additionally, a low-mounted scope would impair the movement of the bolt, so the scope was either mounted high above the rifle or offset slightly to the left of center.

Lt. Mike Powell carries a Kar98k sniper rifle during his mission behind enemy lines.

Lt. Mike Powell carries a Kar98k sniper rifle during his mission behind enemy lines.

As it was during the war, the Kar98k is the most common weapon used by the Germans in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Most soldiers carry one, and they are usually very accurate with their shots. The sniper version, first encountered after saving Pvt. Jury from captivity in the second mission of “Lighting the Torch,” has its scope set slightly to the left, as a real Kar98k sniper rifle would.

Lt. Mike Powell can pick up (from one of the dead German soldiers) and use a non-scoped Kar98k on Omaha beach if he ignores the Springfield in the crater. The sniper version can be found leaning against some sandbags at the exit from the tank depot during the “Behind Enemy Lines” mission.

Powell encounters German snipers throughout the game, though they’re most prominently featured in the aptly-named “Sniper’s Last Stand” mission. In the hands of the best German marksmen, one hit from this rifle will take away nearly half of Powell’s health (when playing on the hardest difficulty), and the shooters are typically fast, and accurate, enough, to prevent Powell from firing an accurate shot in return.

The Kar98k sniper rifle as it appears in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.

The Kar98k sniper rifle as it appears in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.

According to TRUPPENDIENST, Matthäus Hetzenauer, the most successful German sniper during WWII, preferred the Kar98k because “of all weapons available at that time, it had the highest accuracy for permanent use” and did not jam easily.

Hetzenauer said he used a Kar98k with a 6x magnification scope, which was useful up to about 1,000 meters. The other two snipers interviewed, Josef Allerberger and Helmut Wirnsberger, said they had also used Kar98k rifles.

Allerberger said he used a 6x scope, and Wirnsberger said he’d used a 1.5x and a 4x scope, but that the 1.5x version was not sufficient for sniping purposes. Both Allerberger and Hetzenauer said they had seen no need for a scope with more than 6x magnification.

When asked if he’d prefer a Kar98k or a semi-automatic sniper of equal abilities that didn’t jam, Hetzenauer said “snipers do not need a semi-automatic weapon if they are used correctly as snipers.”


~ by John on August 26, 2011.

One Response to “The Karabiner 98 Kurz: The German Rifle of Choice”

  1. My childhood gun.

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