At the end of the World War, Germany was awash in chaos; rioting, looting and Marxist revolutionary violence was widespread; together with hordes of young men returning to their homes, with no meaningful employment available, things quickly deteriorated. While the government had many worries, perhaps the most pressing one was this problem of unemployment, – it fed the unrest. This problem of absorbing returning men and maintaining stability always exists after costly and protracted wars, it was magnified in Germany’s case because losing the war meant there were fewer remedies to deal with it. Demobilization was a requirement of the armistice, the revolutionary atmosphere also made it difficult to deal with an orderly demobilization. Many men simply headed home, often with their small arms…
One thing that the government could agree on was the need to keep employment stable, this meant that it resisted all efforts to close down factories, and this included the state owned Arsenals at Spandau, Erfurt, Danzig and Amberg. Before Versailles, the “diktat”, the government had some flexibility, but this six month window was inadequate when faced with revolution in the streets and hostility from the Entente (the victorious powers, principally led by England and France), who did everything possible to add to the instability.
While little is known about the arsenals activities in this period, we do know the events that the arsenals had to cope with. Specifically, in December 1919 a state owned conglomerate titled Deutsche Werke AG was formed to absorb the former arsenals and military facilities (shipyards and depots). This corporation almost immediately came under fire from the Entente, who were obsessed with the dismantling Germany’s war industries, in particular the state owned operations. Versailles required Germany to dismantle the arsenals and discharge all employees within three months of the signing, however the Entente was nearly as concerned over the unrest and unemployment situation as the German government was. During February 1920 the stipulation that the arsenals be dismantled and employees cast out was modified, specifically, if the arsenals could be proven to have dispensed with all military related production, and the IAMCC confirmed peaceful production was the only intention, the former arsenals would be allowed to operate under this Deutsche Werke umbrella. Naturally this condition was not a simple process, it is known all the former arsenals were engaged in manufacturing implements of peace, tools, farm equipment, and knives, and all envisioned moving into sewing machines, typewriters and calculators, however such a process was not an overnight process. The transformation to commercial manufacture was slow and the Entente was dissatisfied with the progress, especially when they learned in 1921 that sporting rifles were still being made. This led to demands that Deutsche Werke close down more operations, especially in Bavaria. From this general outline we can assume that most sporting arms production came to an end sometime in late 1921.
Thanks to Dr. Storz (Rifle and Carbine 98), the arsenal at Amberg is the best known of the four arsenals. In his book he acknowledges that Erfurt, Danzig and Amberg competed in this postwar commercial arms market. He states that Amberg’s product was more expensive and therefore suffered as a consequence, but he does not suggest when it ended. The closest he comes to a possibility is where he states that the refurbishment of battle damaged Gewehr98’s continued until December 1919, which is six months after Versailles was signed. It is probable that Amberg continued making Gewehr98 based sporting rifles until it closed in October 1920.
Of the rifles observed, Amberg’s seem the scarcest; they range in serial numbers up to number 739, although far too few have been recorded to estimate how many were made. The are typically Gewehr98 receivers with Bavarian fireproofs, usually the full AMBERG/1918 is across the top, though often it is defaced by scope bases which are common on these. Not all have bases installed, but most do. All have “GWF” over “AMBERG” on the right side of the receiver and “Gwf./A” in a triangle on the right side of the stock. An early rifle, serial 65, is even marked to the EWB, a Bavarian militia that fought against Marxist revolutionaries.
The arsenal at Spandau had ended rifle production early in 1917; there is no evidence that they made any rifles, including commercial sporting rifles after 1917. Although many receivers are known dated 1917 and even 1918, none of these were made by Spandau. They were sub-contracted from other firms and these typically were delivered to other rifle makers to assemble, – or were stored. Most 1917 and 1918 dated receivers were made into rifles 1924-1942. It is doubtful Spandau would have any involvement in such a venture, being the premier arsenal, near Berlin, where the IAMCC was located, it would have been under intense scrutiny.
It is probable that what occurred at Amberg probably occurred at Erfurt, it is known both were incorporated into the new Deutsche Werke AG and conducted the transformation to civilian production. It is probable that it was the last of the former arsenals in Germany to make these sporting rifles. The arsenal would continue to exist through World War II, though it would take the name of ERMA in 1922 under the leadership of Berthold Geipel.
The rifles observed are all based upon Kar.98a receivers and are difficult to gauge, they do not exhibit a serial number above the stock, rather they are serialed under the receiver and barrel. For this reason it is impossible to estimate how many were made, because so few disassemble them to record a serial number. They do seem to progress in other ways, the use of maker markings evolves, the manufacturer is marked on the siderail, the early rifles seem to use “Gwf.E.” and later rifles seem to use “Rw.E”, the highest rifle I have been able to identify is 7683, however it is very likely more were made. They are more common than Amberg made, but without serial numbers shown above the stock it is impossible to know how many were made.
Perhaps the most prolific of the three arsenals to have made commercial sporting rifles was Danzig. This was primarily because the arsenals ownership was passed over to the city of Danzig and was beyond the scope of the IAMCC and demilitarization efforts. The situation was largely the same however, the new owners had to find a means to keep the factory open and keep as many people gainfully employed as possible. Fortunately for them, they had Poland who was more than eager to develop a relationship and utilize their facility. While the details are not known as to what Danzig made for Poland, it was certainly military related, probably refurbishing rifles and supplying components, but of course they had no interest in sporting arms. It is known that Danzig supplied Mexico with rifle barrels and attempted a number of arms contracts with South American countries, which eventually led to their undoing. Danzig was a League mandate, under the protection of the League of Nations and the international community (The United States never joined the League, nor ratified Versailles, – back then republicans were conservative and isolationist, they would have no part in either and signed a separate peace with Germany) would have nothing to do with a League mandate being involved in the arms trade. The city of Danzig was ordered to demilitarize the arsenal at Danzig on July 30, 1921 and turn over all arms making machinery to Poland. The former arsenal was to engage in peaceful production thereafter, primarily the manufacture of bicycles, although it is probable the factory was abandoned or broken up to other commercial ventures instead.
The rifles made by Danzig are by far the most common, it is clear they made many more rifles and they survived in larger numbers, probably because more were exported. They made two main types, the first based upon the Kar.98a receiver, these rifles are most often encountered with bases installed on top of the receiver, although many have been observed without bases, these are all scrubbed of their original markings. All have typical Danzig (Prussian) fireproofs and are serialed on the left receiver (above the stock) and bottom of barrel (under the stock). All also have “Gewehrfabrik Danzig” on the siderail. The highest observed is serial 8083, although it is probable many more were made, they are not rare.
The second variation Danzig made were a new design, a .22 caliber boys sporting rifle, handy little rifles that were probably introduced much later. They come in a number of variations, most are not adapted for scopes, but at least a few were. They too have “Gewehrfabrik Danzig” on the siderail and are serialed on both barrel and receiver above the stock. They have a crest on the top of the receiver over a “Mod.2.”, these are far more scarce than the Kar.98a variation, the highest observed is serial 1586.
If you have one of these rifles, especially an Amberg or Erfurt made rifle, please do report its serial number and characteristics.