Mauser M1924 (thing)
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The M1924 (Model 1924) is a Yugoslavian variant of the Mauser Karabiner 98 rifle that was in turn based on the older, larger Gewehr 98. It was produced between 1924 and 1941, originally under contract from the Belgian arms manufacturer Fabrique Nationale. Physically, it is similar in most regards to the K98 kurz ("short"), although it was more directly based on the Czechoslovakian vz.24, made in the same year. Like all derivatives of the original G98, it is a bolt action rifle with a magazine capacity of five rounds. Like most Central European versions of the gun, it is chambered for the 7.92x57mm bullet, although a more common name for this caliber is 8mm Mauser.
From an historical standpoint, the K98 is one of the most fascinating and significant guns out there. It would be almost impossible to compile a full list of K98 variants, but the basic design was either licensed, copied, or used by essentially every country in Central and Eastern Europe, many countries in South America, all of Scandinavia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Egypt, China, Japan, and countless groups and individuals in various armed conflicts. It is also the basis for several types of hunting and sporting rifles. Considering that the K98 was widely dispersed throughout Europe by Germany during both world wars, you'll understand why it and variations of it came to be so prominent. The K98 bolt action was not the first of its kind, but it is regarded as one of the smoothest and best designs out there, so even into the modern day, companies such as Winchester and Remington still use it as a template for their designs.
The M1924 in particular is a great example of why the K98 design flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For centuries, the Balkan region in Southeastern Europe has been a hotbed of conflict. In ancient times, the Roman Empire frequently fought wars and suffered Barbarian invasions in the area. The Byzantine Empire had to constantly fend off Slavs encroaching on their territory from the Balkans. By the medieval era, the Balkans served as the primary battlefield between the Christian West and the Muslim East, as the soldiers of Islam sought to expand their caliphate into Europe. By the 18th century, the region was the source of several controversies and diplomatic crises acted out by the Great Powers of the day, such as Russia, the Ottoman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, and other interested parties. By the time the Second World War rolled around, the old players were dead, gone, and partitioned, and the region tasted something it had not known in a long time: independence. Yugoslavia was born out of the fall of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, having its start as the State of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, before becoming the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, and (after a merger with the Kingdom of Serbia) finally the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The latter territory encompassed the modern day states of Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina (as well as modern semi-autonomous entities in those territories such as Kosovo, Vojvodina, and Republika Srpska).
Considering that World War I had started as a result of something that happened in an area controlled by the new Kingdom -- namely the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo -- and given the long history of domination and use by outside powers, it seemed incumbent upon the young country to make provisions for defending itself. For a basic infantry rifle, the government settled on a K98 variant to be produced by the aforementioned Belgian company. It's easy to see why: it was relatively inexpensive to produce, it was extremely accurate, and (because of the ubiquity of the parent designs) there were a ton of spare parts and surplus ammunition floating around to be had for next to no cost.
The first run of the M1924 rifles were made in Belgium and exported to Yugoslavia and can be easily identified by the "FN" stamp indicating that they were produced by Fabrique Nationale. Zastava Arms began manufacturing the M1924 locally in the Serbian town of Kragujevac the same year, and these models will have name of the town in Cyrillic script stamped onto the left side of the receiver. Guns produced before 1928 will also have "Kingdom of SCS" in Serbian stamped on the receiver as well as royal insignias for whichever king ruled at the time of production (generally, this was a small picture of a crown followed by the king's Cyrillic first initial). Models produced after 1928 say "Kingdom of Yugoslavia" and replace the king's personal stamp with a crown above a Cyrillic J, also meaning "Kingdom of Yugoslavia."
Early M1924s generally have straight bolts while those produced in the years immediately before Yugoslavia's unintentional entry into World War II are bent and have additional sling posts to make mobile use significantly easier. The entire line of M1924s is of considerably high quality, especially when compared to the standard issue bolt action rifle of the Soviet Red Army, the Mosin-Nagant 91/30, or even the German K98k produced after 1942. When the Germans overran Yugoslavia in 1941, they captured the Kragujevac arms factory and used the same presses and equipment to manufacture replacement guns and parts for existing K98ks already in the field. They also captured large numbers of M1924s and reissued them to their own soldiers. For obvious reasons, no more M1924s were manufactured under that designation after the seizure of the factory.
After World War II, the communist government of the new Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia decided to recall as many M1924s as possible to refurbish them and to bring them up to some sort of uniform standard to improve the interchangeability of parts; this also included a large number of Czech vz.24s which had been sold to Yugoslavia before production of the M1924 had started as well as captured German K98ks. This process ran from 1947 to 1951, and included the complete dissassembly of the guns, destruction of unsalvageable parts, stamping out old serial numbers and insignias (such as the Royal Crest of Yugoslavia, the German eagle and swastika, Czech manufacturing information, etc.), and then reassembling the leftover parts with new serial numbers and the communist crest of the SFRY. This process was again repeated in 1952. These guns are known as M24/47s and M24/52s, respectively, and the refurbishing process was carried out at the Kragujevac plant, which can be gleaned from the fact that all of these guns were stamped with "Preduzece 44" (occasionally the Cyrillic variant was used) which was the designation for the factory during the communist era.
Beginning in 1948, Zastava began to produce the Mauser M48, which featured a shorter action than previous models, a small hood over the front sight to reduce glare, and a virtually nonexistent degree of compatability with parts from older models. Most of the remaining M1924s and their descendants were warehoused or sold off to other countries in favor of the M48s. This is not to say, however, that the M1924 was dead; during the early 1990s, the wars that took place during the breakup of Yugoslavia created a need for cheap and readily available arms. Though unused and shoved away in attics and dusty armories, M1924s were plentiful and came out of retirement for the bloodiest conflicts in Europe in almost half a century. Legendary for their accuracy and effective range of almost a kilometer, many M1924s and M48s were modified and used as sniper rifles by Muslims defending themselves in Bosnia during the Serbian attempts at ethnic cleansing in that country.
In the past ten years or so, Mausers of all types have become increasingly rare on the collectors' market. An unmodified and complete German K98k with the original Nazi markings will routinely sell for thousands of dollars; not out of any sort of love for the Third Reich, but simply because they're becoming so hard to find. At one time, these guns could have been easily and readily acquired for less than $200 online or in most pawn shops. For people who aren't interested in historical necrophilia but who want to shoot a Mauser, the Yugoslavian models have become a very attractive alternative. True M1924s (i.e., those that escaped the refurbishment process in the 1940s and 1950s) aren't the hardest things to find, but they aren't exactly the most common ones, either. In good condition, they usually run about $500. The M24/47s, on the other hand, are quite abundant and can be had for some extremely reasonable prices. I haven't seen one for sale that costs more than $300, although an average price is closer to $200, depending on the condition. Because of the lack of any real historical or collectible value in the M24/47 (at this point, anyway), they are popular for shooters interested in sporterizing or otherwise modifying a Mauser but who would feel bad about chopping up an original German model (especially after spending what was likely an obscene amount of money on it).
There is, however, a downside to the cheap availability of M24/47s. As I said at the beginning, most Mausers are chambered in the 8mm Mauser caliber. Even if you don't know a lot about guns, you've probably at least heard terms like "nine millimeter" or ".38 special" or ".357 magnum." You probably also get the basic idea that these numbers refer to types of bullets. When was the last time you ever heard of an eight millimeter bullet or, to be more accurate, a 7.92 millimeter bullet? This is an exceptionally hard round to find for a good price. If you try to go to a store and buy 8mm Mauser bullets, you'll likely wind up spending between $1 to $2 per bullet, which should outrage you. If you want to use a Mauser for hunting, you'll have to grit your teeth and spend that much anyway, since there are only certain types of bullets you are legally permitted to use for that enterprise and -- surprise! -- they're all expensive. This is one reason why one of the most common civilian modifications made to a Mauser is re-chambering it for a different caliber; in the U.S., the most common is probably 30.06 Springfield because it is almost identical in size to 8mm Mauser, but significantly cheaper. Other common re-chamberings include 7mm Mauser, 7.62 NATO and 7.62 Russian.
If you're more interested in target shooting or attempting to start your own company of mercenaries, you'll want to buy surplus ammunition. I can tell you from experience that if you want to buy surplus 8mm Mauser ammo, it will be like going into a time machine and traveling all around the world at the same time. The most expensive type of surplus Mauser ammo you can buy is, of course, the German type. This strikes me as bizarre because it's not as if the bullets have Totenkopf inscriptions or anything, they just come in small boxes with 15 rounds; these usually go for about 80 cents a bullet, so it would be wise to avoid them since there's absolutely no reason for a surplus round to cost that much. Also, these were made in the 1940s, so who knows if they'll even work? I have found and purchased Yugoslavian, Romanian, and even Iranian surplus ammo for between 28 cents and 40 cents a round, which is significantly more reasonable. The Romanian bullets have probably been the most reliable that I've used; they come set up in stripper clips and I've never had one turn out to be a dud. Yugoslavian ammo is ok -- the stuff I have is from 1953, so it's iffy, but generally fair (about one out of 20 is a dud). I haven't fired any of the Iranian rounds yet, so I'll update this when I choose to do that. All surplus ammunition is corrosive, meaning that every time you fire a round, your gun will smell like a glue factory and the inside will be covered with acid. You'll need to clean the gun very thoroughly after every session using surplus ammo.
I personally own an original M1924 that was made sometime between 1928 and 1935; that's about as specific as I've been able to narrow it down. It was the first gun I purchased and I have neither made nor intend to make any modifications to it. I often wonder about the personal history of the gun. Who was the original owner? Did he use it in the war? Is that dried blood or rust on the metal butt plate? Why didn't he turn it over to the Yugoslavian authorities when they were refurbishing the guns in the '40S? What happened to the bayonet? The gun came to the United States at some point before all international arms were required to be stamped with their country of origin on the receiver, so when did it get here and why? There are a series of unknown and unknowable facts out there about how this gun started out in a village in Serbia and ended up in Florida almost 80 years later, but part of that mystery is what attracted me to it. It's a fascinating piece of a history I can never know and that makes it all the more interesting to me.