June 2000:

Karabiner 98k
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Type:  Bolt action repeating rifle
System of Operation:  Manual
Caliber:  7.92x57mm
Capacity:  5 round box magazine
Sights, front: Drift adjustable inverted V
Sights, rear:  Elevation adjustable v-notch
Length: OAL 43.7", Barrel 23.62"
Weight: 8.38 lbs
Cruffler Price:  $150.00
The Karabiner 98, kurz (Model 98, short carbine) or K98k, was officially adopted as the standard shoulder weapon of a newly rearmed Germany on June 14, 1935,  The adoption was published in the June 21, 1935 issue of the Allgemeine Heeresmitteilungen, the official gazette of military announcements published by the German War Ministry.   By the time World War Two, and Nazi Germany, had ended in 1945, 14,048,789 K98k's had been produced.  The K98k  had seen service from Normandy to Moscow and from Norway to Egypt.  As the war progressed, standards of fit and finish deteriorated, but the K98k remained a robust, reliable, and eminently serviceable rifle to the end.

There is a strong historical interest in artifacts that have an association with the Axis powers today, and the K98k is no exception to this.   As a result the market for K98k's has historically been very strong, with prices among the highest commanded for surplus military longarms.  Consequently, these rifles, rich in history, have been beyond the reach of many collectors.  This situation changed with the collapse of the Iron Curtain, and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union.   Many of these rifles, which had been in storage since being captured and inventoried by the Red Army, suddenly became available on the US  market.   There are some differences between this new wave of imports and the K98k's previously brought into the country.  Generally the rifles that were imported from the former Warsaw Pact countries do not satisfy the discriminating tastes of the high-end collectors.  They may have been refinished, had some or all of the Nazi markings removed, and may not have matching numbers (i.e. all serial numbered parts share the same serial number).  However, for the Cruffler or the armchair historian, these collector "warts" are "beauty marks" that add new dimensions to the firearm's history, not to mention placing them within reach by bringing down the price!

Among the companies that import K98k's into the US, is Monroe, North Carolina based Inter Ordnance of America.   Inter Ordnance's K98k's are not the usual dip blued Soviet capture pieces, nor are they renumbered and remarked guns that have been rebuild by Yugoslav arsenals.  Instead, they come from Romania.  To understand why this has an impact on the desirability of the rifle, one must be familiar with a somewhat arcane bit of history.

Romania was an ally of Nazi Germany during the Second World War, and was liberally supplied with German equipment during that conflict.   The equipment furnished to the Romanian Army included K98k's.  In mid 1944, the Romanians "switched sides," and fought against the Nazis.  This had less to do with deep soul searching on the part of the Romanian government and more to do with an awareness that Germany was going to lose the war, and that the Soviets were about to roll into Romania.  Even after the Romanians switched sides in mid 1944, K98k's featured prominently in their tables of organization and equipment.  When the Romanian Army was reorganized and re-equipped along Soviet lines with the consolidation of the Warsaw Pact, the K98k's were placed in reserve.

This is significant for a number of reasons:   One, it means that these K98k's did not have the original German proof, acceptance, and serial number markings obliterated as did many of the guns captured by the Soviets or the Yugoslavs.  For another, since these rifles were not captured by the Red Army, they were not refinished, or subjected to the "mix and match" parts philosophy that the Soviet armorers seemed to favor when rebuilding captured rifles.

Thus intrigued by the possibilities of the Romanian K98k's, we contacted Inter Ordnance and placed an order for a K98k in "good to very good condition with matching numbers except for bolt and floor plate," with an advertised price of $149.95.  (Note:  This the price that a Type 03 FFL holder, a Cruffler, would be charged, not the price one would purchase these rifles for at a retail gun shop.)  The BBT bearing the rifle arrived a few days later.

When we opened the box and removed the rifle we were less than thrilled - there was almost no finish remaining on the exposed metal parts, and the rifle lacked a cleaning rod.   We are happy to report that this was very much a case of "don't judge a book by its cover!"  A cursory inspection revealed that this was a rifle which had been used a great deal over a long period of time, but had been well cared for as well.  All the metal parts were in very nice shape, showing no signs of rust, corrosion, or pitting.  The walnut stock is in similar condition, with a variety of dings and dents that attest to long and arduous service, but no gouges, cracks or gashes that would indicate abuse.

We were very happily surprised when we detail stripped the rifle.  There was no trace of corrosion, rust, or pitting below the woodline, only the deep, dark and perfect German pre-war bluing.  We received another happy surprise when we inspected the numbering, markings, and stampings.  From the markings on the receiver ring, (S/27 over 1938), we knew that this particular K98k was one of 168,339 produced in 1938 by the Erfurter Maschinenfabrik (ERMA).   All the parts, except the bolt, matched!   Down to the guard screws, the handguard and the stock.  And all parts were marked with the correct inspector's stampings (Waffenamt markings).  A careful check of the markings against several different references proved them all to be of the correct type (milled as opposed to stamped) and correctly marked for a pre-war K98k.

The bolt, on the other hand was a perfect melange of parts!  If more than two individual parts on the bolt had the same serial number, that was a lot!  Careful inspection indicated that this was more by design than carelessness.  The bolt operated smoothly and the safety went on and off flawlessly.  Additionally, the gun headspaced perfectly, the bolt refusing to close on a SAAMI 8mm Mauser NO-GO gauge.  Evidently, while the gun was in Romanian service, bolts were rebuilt and swapped by military armorers to ensure proper function and headspace.

The bore was another happy surprise.  Upon initial inspection it seemed to have a surface that resembled nothing so much as a cratered no-man's land.  A little bit of cleaning revealed that to be dust, dirt, and dried cosmoline.  A little more elbow grease revealed a shiny bore with sharp, high rifling.  While not new, the bore certainly has a large amount of life left!

Shooting the K98k
Other than function, we had no real expectations from the K98k with respect to its shooting performance.  After all, it was a sixty-two year old rifle that had likely fought throughout World War Two, and then been dragged about by untold numbers of Romanian conscripts.  We'd gotten the rifle mainly for its historical connotations.  Nevertheless, we packed up the K98k and headed out to the NRA range.

We brought along some representative ammunition with which to test the rifle, to include some Yugoslavian military 198 grain Full Metal Jacket (FMJ), Turkish military 154 grain FMJ, and some German World War Two era 198 grain FMJ.

We used a standard NRA B-2 target with a 3" black center.  Shots were fired at a uniform range of 50 yards.  Over iron sights (and more importantly, as this is the longest distance possible at the NRA range)  we felt that this distance would enable us to get an idea of how the rifle was shooting.  Firing five shot groups, the results were suprisingly consistent.  The rifle was well adjusted for windage, with all groups striking at or near the target's centerline.  All groups struck high, but that is to be expected given that the lowest sight setting on a K98k is 100 meters.  Most surprising was the group sizes.  We were able to keep most groups under 2", with the largest coming in at about 3.75" and the smallest about 1.25".  As far as we're concerned, given the combination of a well used sixty-two year old rifle and our testers' shooting abilities, this excellent, and much better than we'd hoped for!

The K98k kicks.  Recoil is in the same class as the .30-06 or .303 British.  That is to say, healthy but not unpleasant.  The gun's wide smooth buttplate does a good deal to ameliorate the recoil sensation.   Recoil sensitive shooters may want to invest in some sort of recoil pad before shooting bolt action rifles chambered for any full power battle rifle cartridge.

We fired about 150 rounds in the course of the range session and experienced no failures in any respect, despite the rifle warming up considerably.  All fired cased were inspected and showed no  signs of excessive headspace, excessive pressure or any other irregularities.

If you want a piece of history that you have, hold, and not be afraid to shoot, the Romanian K98k's are a tough deal to beat.  These aren't "collector's items."  They have mismatched bolts and the finish has seen better days.  But they are good, solid rifles that retain the markings and stampings that let you place them in historical context.  And history is the essence of Cruffling!  On top of this, the K98k is both fun and pleasant to shoot.  If you are an armchair historian, a shooter, or just someone with even a parenthetical interest in the Second World War, we strongly recommend that you purchase one of these K98k's.  Given adequate care, they will continue to provide a  bridge to the past for shooters, non-shooters, old and young.  Such a bridge is crucial in a world that often seems devoid of historical perspective.  For, as philosopher George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

 If you have any questions about where and how to go about acquiring a Romanian K98k, please contact Inter Ordnance of America at (704) 225-8843, or CRUFFLER.COM.

And now, our Buy-O-Meter rating for this product:


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