Object Title

Mauser Model 1889 rifle

Mauser Model 1889 rifle


German brothers Wilhelm and Peter Paul Mauser produced their first bolt-action rifle in 1871, and were restless in their efforts to improve upon it. Even when their own government failed to recognise the potential of their labours, other nations paid close attention. The Model 1889 was produced after Wilhelm's death, in response to a requirement by the Belgian government for a modern infantry rifle. Like Britain, Belgium had adopted a lever-actuated single-shot rifle just before the bolt-action came into its own. The same year Belgium adopted its M1870 'Comblain' rifle, it found itself with ringside seats to the clash between neighbours Prussia and France. Both sides were equipped with bolt-action rifles. These early weapons lacked a magazine and were actually slower to operate than lever-actuated equivalents. With the introduction of bolt-action magazine rifles like the French Lebel in 1886, single-shot designs like the Comblain were rendered obsolete overnight. Trials were held in 1888 to determine a replacement, and with specified modifications, the Mauser offering was adopted the following year. The rifle was built by the Belgian state arsenal (Manufacture D'Armes de L'Etat), but to increase the rate of production, a private company was formed specifically to manufacture the new rifle. This was Fabrique Nationale Armes de Guerre, who built their new factory in Herstal near Liège. German company Loewe & Co. had a 50% stake in this new company.

Use and effect

The Belgian Mauser was a truly modern design in 1889, though it did include a thin metal reinforcing shroud around the barrel that proved to be unnecessary and invited corrosion from trapped moisture. Otherwise, the Belgian Mauser, with its one-piece bolt design, became the first of a series of designs that made the Mauser a world standard rifle, adopted by over 20 nations. In July 1914 Belgium was invaded by Germany, the country that had supplied its service rifle. The Germans carried the Mauser 1898, itself an improvement upon the Belgian 1889 version. Belgium had not made the changeover to the higher velocity pointed bullet, and its rifle was therefore less powerful and less accurate. If their rifles gave them a slight edge, Germany's army was much better equipped in terms of machine guns and other weapons, and far larger in size.

Though Belgian troops significantly delayed the German advance and were able to hold part of the Western Front until the end of the war, most of the country would remain under German occupation until 1918. Though the Belgian Mauser continued to be produced outside the country by the W.W. Greener company in Britain and by Hopkins & Allen in the United States. Perhaps the most important legacy of the rifle is as the first product to be manufactured by Fabrique Nationale d'Herstal or FN Herstal, who today are Europe's largest exporters of firearms. The M1889 rifle itself continued to be built until 1925, and was finally upgraded to accept modern ammunition in 1936. The old rifles served until replaced from 1949 onwards by another FN rifle, the self-loading FN-49.


Action / Operating system Bolt
Barrel length 78 cm (30.7 in)
Calibre / Bore 7.65x53mm (.30 in)
Capacity (rounds) 5
Country of manufacture Belgium
Date entered service 1889
Effective range 500 m (547 yd)
Feed Internal magazine
Manufacturer Fabrique Nationale (FN)
Manufacturer Mauser
Muzzle velocity 640 m/s (2100 fps)
Other operators Germany (captured)
Other operators Ottoman Empire
Overall length 1.27 m (50 in)
Primary operator Belgium
Rate of fire (rounds per minute) about 15
Weight 3.68 kg (8.1 lb)


Jonathan Ferguson