The Suhl Consortium was a group of three private firms in Suhl that worked together on military contracts. This Consortium consisted of J.P. Sauer, C.G. Haenel and V.Chr. Schilling, and collectively they manufactured for the German military approximately 500,000 Gewehr98 rifles between 1915 and 1918.
Very little is known about the contract or how this Consortium worked in actual practice, though Dr. Dieter Storz’s “M98 Rifle & Carbine” does give a general outline of the arrangement. Specifically, that C.G. Haenel was the lead firm that dealt with the Prussian Arsenal at Erfurt, who handled the military contract for the government, that the original contract was for 400,000 rifles, and that the three firms collaborated on the actual manufacture.1 Later Dr. Storz suggests that subsequent sales probably amounted to an additional 50,000 to 100,000 rifles, bringing the total “probable” deliveries to 450,000 to 500,000. This will be the working figure for the following study.
What is most interesting to me regarding this arrangement is not the manner in which the Consortium was contracted to fill the order, for this was a pattern well established with earlier military rifle contracts by the Consortium. We knew from earlier contracts that the firms collectively made the rifles, though very little was known as to who did what and to what extent. While Dr. Storz does not give us the answers in his self-described “speculation”, he does hit on the key elements that do lead to an answer. He states that the Consortium worked based upon the principle of a division of labor, meaning each firm had specific responsibilities; each would specialize on specific components. He even identified C.G. Haenel as a firm that had specialized in making the receivers for the Modell88 carbine contract. This ties in well with comments Jon Speed once made regarding J.P. Sauer making the rifle barrels in Mauser Oberndorf contracts.
What’s more, Dr. Storz’s comments hit on a key element that is the focus of this article, – that not only did each firm specialize in specific components, but they also must have shared serial numbers. He states that no records exist regarding “how the quantity of rifles produced was distributed between the three firms”, but they must have shared serial numbers in some manner because he identified rifles that would suggest far more were made than was possible by surviving documents.
This is the key question because he is absolutely correct in this observation. By known production totals, based upon surviving rifles, the totals would nearly triple what was contracted for if they serialed separately:
. 1915 1916 1917 1918
CGH: 50,000+ 210,000+ 180,000+ 60,000+
JPS: 60,000+ 210,000+ 170,000+ 50,000+
CGH: 50,000+ 210,000+ 180,000+ 60,000+
This totals to nearly a million and a half rifles if they serialed separately and filled every block known.
So, the question remains, how did they divide the production between the three firms? We can eliminate the possibility that they assembled the rifles at a central location, a detailed study of acceptance patterns and methods of markings (serial numbers and suffix fonts) confirms that each maker have distinct characteristics unique to a specific maker. The serial numbering, and even style of the letter suffix, varies between makers within the same range. Further, each maker has a unique acceptance pattern, meaning the acceptance related to assembly on the right receiver, barrel and stock are unique to each maker. If they were assembled centrally, they would have similarities.
What the acceptance pattern shows is that CG Haenel made the receivers and JP Sauer made the barrels in almost every case, regardless of what the maker across the top of the receiver states. We know this because the acceptance related to making the component matches the assembly acceptance found for these two firms.
The question still remains though, how did the three firms divide the serial ranges, they closely intermingle at points, especially JP Sauer and CG Haenel, who seem to have made the majority of rifles 1916-1917. It is doubtful if they were assigned large blocks, because of this intermingling. The simple answer is I do not know, very little is said about this in the literature. I had assumed because of the close intermingling of serial numbers, some only a dozen digits apart, that only one maker was responsible for final assembly. But the acceptance patterns rule this out; they are quite unique to each maker.
Most probably the exact nature of how the serial ranges were divided amongst the three firms will not be solved. I would ask of anyone in possession of a “Consortium” rifle to contact me or provide a datasheet with details as to markings on the barreled receiver and stock. Perhaps in time, this question can be answered with enough data.