It is well known among Imperial German rifle collectors that the last year of the war is the most difficult of the war years to locate in “Imperial” condition. By “Imperial” I mean as the rifle left the factory, no alterations, upgrades, signs of rework or service in another country.
The reasons for this are many, however the most important ones relate to the circumstance of the last year of the war, specifically the last months of the war and how it ended.
Due to the changes in doctrine, the methods the soldiers employed in warfare, the Gewehr98 was becoming less important on the battlefield, further production during 1917 was enormous and far exceeded demand, and therefore the rifles were piling up in ordnance depots.
As a consequence every manufacturer dramatically reduced Gewehr98 production, and a few dropped Gewehr98 production altogether and were redirected to other systems during late 1917 and early 1918. Spandau was the first to be redirected to other products and ended their involvement with rifle production in the middle of 1917. DWM was next, ending rifle production early 1918:
Spandau – ended rifle production 1917, increased production of MG08/15 (1918 dated receivers exist, they are not Spandau made or assembled)
Danzig – reduced Gewehr98 production dramatically, est. 60,000, restarted carbine (98a) production.
Erfurt – made some Gewehr98’s in 1917, but small numbers. Mostly produced Kar.98a, P.08 (Luger) and MG08/15
Amberg – strong numbers, comparatively, about 80,000 Gewehr98’s. Contemplates P.08 and Kar.98a production, never realized.
Mauser – strong numbers, highest production of all firms engaged, in excess of 170,000, much of it dedicated to the Turkish contract.
DWM – ended early in 1918, generally moves Gewehr98 production to its subsidiary, Oberspree, who made roughly 30,000 rifles in 1918.
Suhl Consortium – roughly 50,000 collectively
Simson – roughly 20,000
These are still strong numbers and it stands to reason being the last year of the war they would be far more common than they actually are. This reasoning is further strengthened by what occurred with the end of World War II, where 1944-1945 dated rifles greatly outnumber earlier war years, especially in upper grades. The difference is found in how the First World War ended, specifically Germany largely escaping occupation, only the west bank of the Rhine was occupied, and the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty. Added to this mixture was absolute anarchy in many parts of Germany in the immediate aftermath of the war, Bavaria and eastern Germany essentially at war, militias battling communists and Poles alike.
When the war ended many of these rifles were in ordnance depots, the Armistice and Versailles Treaty demanded the near complete demilitarization of the German military, essentially reducing it to border defense and police functions. According to German records, General von Seeckt, Germany possessed 6 million rifles when the war ended. During the retreat to Germany’s borders after the Armistice, she lost 1,500,000 rifles, some by abandonment, some by surrender (to the Dutch they surrendered 60,000 when a German Army Korps was allowed passage through Dutch territory, thousands were lost in Poland), but most probably due to theft when soldiers walked home with their rifles. A further 1,690,000 were tuned over to the German war deposal board for destruction before Versailles was signed. At the Spa conference it was admitted that 2,000,000 rifles were unaccounted for and through determined efforts the German government was able to turn over nearly 3,000,000 rifles by January 1921, though many of these were not modern military rifles like the Gewehr98 and Kar.98a.
The totals destroyed immediately after the war, when the Entente was pressing for immediate disarmament, even before Versailles, these new rifles located in depots were probably the first destroyed, being readily available and a threat to security. It is known the communists raided ordnance depots for their weapons, probably right wing militias also. The presence of so many small arms in civilian and revolutionary hands undoubtedly concerned the left leaning socialist governments then in power.
Further, those rifles that remained in German hands, both legal rifles (152,000 allowed by Versailles and subsequent agreements) and “black rifles” (illegal rifles hid from the IAMCC and the German government by covert right wing elements and paramilitary groups) would have ended up in government hands eventually and then through the normal upgrade and rework process then in practice 1935-1939. So these are not “generally” in their original manufactured condition, the exception being the Bavarian militia’s that hid large numbers of original rifles and resisted surrendering their arms to the central government or the IAMCC, these rifles do occasionally show up in their original manufactured state.
Whatever the cause for the scarcity of 1918 dated Gewehr98’s the simple fact remains, the rifles are exceeding difficult to find, the only exceptions being Mauser and Amberg examples, which are elusive, but can be found. The remaining rifle makers are exceptional rarities, mere handfuls are known in any condition at all, needless to say finding them in original matching condition.
So, keep an eye out for these very rare rifles, they can often be had for the costs of more common years, as very few people recognize their rarity and fewer still the demand among serious collectors.
Photo courtesy of Mike Foley
MRJ 200 June 2000