Monday, October 13, 2008

German 8 MM Commission Rifle

Full length 8 X 57 Commission Rifle

The Commission Rifle
In 1886 France came out with possibly the most important development in small arms which was the first successful smokeless cartridge the 8mm Lebel. It made everything up to that time obsolete immediately. It shot a fairly small projectile at velocities that were not obtainable with black powder. They were shooting bullets at 2000 feet per second as opposed to 1400 or so with the black powder rifles of the day. That was revolutionary at that time. Another advantage is the ammo was lighter so a soldier could carry more. As much as they would of like to they couldn’t keep the secret of smokeless powder to themselves for long. In those days France, England and Germany were in competition and any development in weapon technology was eagerly sought by them. They had vast empires in those days and needed the best weapons to maintain the status quo. Another advantage to smokeless powder is it didn’t give away the shooter as black powder does. There were no longer vast clouds of smoke coming from the rifle. It is also easier to clean up after and doesn’t foul the bore like black powder does. Of course all of these advantages weren’t lost on the various militaries. So in a matter of a generation we went from muzzle loaders to smokeless repeaters.

Reciever of Commission Rifle

One of the earlier countries to bring out a smokeless round was Germany. They came out with their own 8mm rifle in 1888 known as the Commission Rifle. It was designed by a commission hence its name and was one of the earlier smokeless powder rifles. They took features from other guns plus a couple of their own. I imagine it was an interesting experience to be on that commission. Their case was a rimless design as opposed to the rimmed Lebel. A rimless design would be more desirable for feeding and use in machine guns and many bolt actions so it was a step forward. It came out with the J bullet which is 318 in diameter weighing 227 grain round nose also at around 2000 feet per second while the later S bullet has a 323 diameter. There are some Commission rifles that were re-rifled to the 323 diameter bore so it might be a good idea to slug the bore. You can shoot 318 diameter bullets in a 323 bore but they won’t be very accurate but the reverse isn’t true. The Commission rifle used a magazine with Mannlicher features while the bolt resembled the Mauser design with the two front locking lugs. The magazine needs a special clip in order to be a repeater. The clip is the same on both ends so it can’t be put in the wrong way which would be a desirable feature in combat. Since the clips are scarce now that they are long out of production I consider that and most other detachable clips a liability. For target shooting using it as a single shot is no big deal except in a few cases. The 7.35 Carcano, one example, is a real pain to load without a clip. It also has a hand guard around the barrel which in theory gave it more accuracy but was difficult to produce and install. It also collected water inducing rust on the barrel. It was a well made product for its time but isn’t as strong as the 98 Mauser which replaced it. We must remember that in 1888 smokeless powder was in its infancy and the gun makers didn’t fully understand the requirements for heat treating and other requirements for the higher pressure powder. The workmanship appears to be typical German meaning that it was good with few or no tool marks. The extractor and ejector look puny as compared to the Mausers of that period but I didn’t have any problems with my specimen which I shot 2 or 300 times during my tests. There is a release on the side of the receiver to remove the bolt which works well. The safety is a wing type located on the rear of the bolt and it works ok. The bolt handle doesn’t touch the receiver when closed which could have gave it some extra strength by providing extra lockup. You should not shoot the later military ammo in it as it’s loaded too hot for this weapon and it may be corrosive not to mention the .323 diameter bullet which was adopted in 1903. If you have shot American commercial 8mm ammo you will note that its loaded relatively weak. Probably one of the reasons is that if its shot in the Commission Rifle it won’t wreck it although I don’t recommend that practice since the factory ammo has a .323 diameter bullet. If nothing else accuracy may suffer. If you stumble across some original military ammo I wouldn’t shoot it as it would be too old and may have some collector value as well. As a note if you attempt to shoot old ammo and it doesn’t go off keep the bolt closed for at least 30 seconds. Failure to do that can cause a serious accident as if the bolt is partially opened and it goes off there is no support for the round and hot gasses among other things can become missiles. I have run across old ammo that didn’t go off for several seconds after firing so it is not a theory. I have also spoken with other people who have experienced the same action with old ammo. If you encounter such ammo dispose of it in a safe manner as its way too dangerous to shoot. In many cases the powder may be deteriorated and the ammo is very unstable. I usually pull the bullets for future use and dump the powder.

Bolt for Commission Rifle

The Commission rifle replaced the hard hitting 11 mm Mauser 71/84 rifle that was in service since 1871. For some reason a Mauser rifle wasn’t adopted by Germany again until the 98 Mauser, which is the most successful design of all time for bolt action rifles. I imagine Paul Mauser wasn’t happy about that but he went about his business making various Mauser rifles for many countries. Anyway the 88 saw service for some years and China among others purchased some and used them. Like many obsolete military weapons they were used for years after production ceased by secondary units. My rifle has an 1896 date on the receiver which is near the end of the production run. There was a carbine and rifle version of these with barrel lengths of 17.6 and 29.1” respectively. The Karabiner has a spoon type of bolt while the rifle carries the straight bolt handle. They were sporterized to some extent and rebarreled to various cartridges not exceeding the 8mm in length. Also pressures had to be confined to about 45,000 psi to be considered safe. Another 8 X 57 to be careful of is the model 93’s that were rebarreled to the 8. The 93 has 2 locking lugs as opposed to the 3 that the 98 has. I know that a lot of them have been shot with hot ammo with no consequences but I don’t recommend it. Actually I consider the 93 action superior to the Commission Rifle in strength and function but it’s no 98. Keep in mind that these rifles are over a century old and not getting any younger. Another attractive feature of the Commission rifle is its price. You can get a good specimen for a couple of C notes or less. They can be found at gunshows or online auctions such as or

Good bullets for reloading

Shooting the model 88 rifle is no big problem. The standard 8mm cases should be used and 318 diameter bullets are fairly common. They can be swaged down from 323 bullets without much effort. The swaging die that I use to reduce the diameter of the bullets comes from CH Die and it works with a standard press. The 318 loading dies are available from several makers and medium powders work the best. Common sense loads should be used as not only the action isn’t as strong as the 98 also it doesn’t have the ability to vent gas as well either. That’s a good reason to wear safety glasses and ear protection when shooting these old guns. Cases seldom rupture but you never know. If your gun has excess headspace or an enlarged chamber those conditions will enhance the possibility of a case rupture. That would be especially true if you are using heavy loads as they tend to aggravate an already bad situation. If in doubt about your rifles condition it’s never a bad idea to have it checked out by someone who is qualified to do so. The headspace and chamber dimensions can be checked out by a knowledgeable person with the right tools. It might be the best investment you made. As with all old guns there is a possibility that some basement gunsmith altered it in a manner that will render it unsafe to shoot. It’s better to find that out sooner rather then later. They have been rebarreled to similar length cartridges such as the 257 Roberts but you still have that pressure ceiling to work with and in my view there are better actions to work with. Your better off using it as an original and enjoying it as such. Unless you do the work yourself it isn’t economically feasible to convert a military rifle to a full sporter. The labor cost not to mention the materials will cost more then a commercial rifle. The commercial rifle would be stronger and safer especially if you use an action such as the model 88.

Good powder for reloading

Accuracy is good for a military rifle with the original sights. They are a flip up ladder type which is fairly good for the period. With good eyes and a bench rest groups at 50 yards can be smaller then 2” with five shots. The 100 yard groups can be 3 to 4” with good ammo and a good shooter. The trigger is a typical military which I am use to since I shoot so many of them. Of course a scope will shrink that somewhat though it might be somewhat costly to install one. I did work up some loads for this gun and I found that like most military rifles weren’t fussy about what it took. The rifling in my specimen is deep and sharp. Here are some loads that I used I would approach the top loads from a couple of grains below and work up carefully. Since myself and the publisher has no control over how this data is used we can not be held liable for its use. Some of the velocities I recorded were higher then expected however the 29” barrel would have something to do with that. Also I may have a fast rifle and yours may or may not record the same velocities. All bullets were sized to 318 in keeping with proper loading practices. The medium to medium slow powders work best with bullets weighing 150 grains or heavier. Cast bullets also work well in this rifle with a pinch of Unique or a similar powder. Standard large rifle primers are used in all of the loading data. Round nose bullets may be required for feeding if you have one of the clips and want to use it as a repeater. Velocities were recorded 10’ from the first screen using 7 shots. I did other loads but these are the most accurate. As with any loading data approach it with caution from below. The full loads should be reduced by 2-3 grains and carefully worked up. Since I have no control of methods employed by someone else I am not liable for its use.

Swaging die is good way to get 318 diameter bullets

10 X Herco 125 grain Hornady 1402 ok
47 X H 4895 150 grain Sierra 2722 consistent
50 X IMR 4350 150 grain Hornady 2418 mild
10 X Unique 165 grain cast 1414 accurate
45 X H 4895 170 grain Hornady 2671 deer load
10 X Unique 170 grain Hornady 1166 quiet
45 X H 4895 175 grain Sierra 2641 accurate
44 X H 4895 185 grain Remington 2532 good load
50 X AA 4350 185 grain Remington 2466 mild

Closeup of bolt head model 88 Commission rifle

All these loads are accurate with the 175 grain Sierra having a very slight edge at least in my rifle. It would be a competent if unusual rifle to take hunting though I would prefer the carbine for convenience sake. You would lose a little velocity but at the ranges to be used it wouldn’t matter much. Shooting these old guns is much more interesting then the new ones to me at least as you are shooting a part of history. Who knows where these guns were a hundred years ago or so. Were they in a trench fighting a war? Did they actually shoot anyone? What part did they play in history? Did my great grandfather use one? I don’t know but it’s nice to wonder.
Bob Shell


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Fred Gill said...

Thanks for such an interesting article here. I was searching for something like that for quite a long time and at last I have found it here.

Reloading Equipment