The Prussian State Arsenal at Spandau was at the center of small arms development and production throughout the Imperial era. Located to the west of Berlin, Spandau was the center of German ordnance and everything relating to small arms originated from the various offices and facilities located there.
The beginnings of the State Arsenal date from 1722, when the Arsenal was located in Potsdam (17 miles southwest of central Berlin). In 1733 a branch was opened at Spandau and by 1855 the Potsdam Arsenal was closed and relocated toSpandau. Here it would remain, in one form or another until 1945.
While Spandau was involved in almost every rifle variation the Germans manufactured through 1918, for our purposes here, I will concentrate on the rifles that one is likely to encounter. They made the Gewehr88 from 1889 through 1897, every year has been observed, though 1890 and 1891 seem to be the most commonly encountered. Serial studies vary in estimating totals made, as most of these studies are based upon a relative small sample and many of the rifles are of dubious value (condition, postwar service, alterations), one must use caution in placing too much value in them from a “collectors” perspective. It seems some of the later years Spandau made many more than surviving examples suggest, – going from serial ranges. Perhaps the best view to take, from a collector’s perspective, is to collect the very best examples possible (original, matching and good condition) and focus on the later years; 1894-97 seem to have survived in fewer numbers. One must also consider that these rifles were disposed of in large numbers before (exported) and during the war (aid to Turkey), and after the war were destroyed in great number. Huge numbers in fact, the early disarmament measures taken by the Germans typically focused upon lesser quality rifles and many of these rifles were targeted even before Versailles was signed, – the Entente inspectors were just that, they verified destruction of weapons, but the Germans actually did the work, and this work began long before the first IAMCC inspector arrived in Germany.
With the Gewehr98 Spandau played a dominate role. They are the only rifle maker that is known (confirmed) to have made the Gewehr98 every year 1899 through 1917. Like all the makers of the Gewehr98, Spandau made very few rifles in 1899, probably little more than 5,000 rifles. Danzig and Mauser would make nearly three times that many in 1899. Prior to the war, Spandau would be a lead manufacturer of the Gewehr98, though with early production it is difficult to know just how many rifles each maker made. Spandau seemingly is one of the few early makers that rolled over serialing each year, which aids in estimating production totals. Fifteen years of research suggests that they were the primary maker, along with Danzig through 1906-1907. At this stage many of the firms were redirected elsewhere, possibly because enough Gewehr98’s were made to fill initial requirements (arming the regular Army Corps), but also due to new developments. In Spandau’s case, we have the introduction of the Maxim machinegun, known as the MG08, which Spandau and DWM had worked on together developing a lighter weight version for the German Army. While they are rare today, and little production information is available, it seems clear from what little is known of the pre-war production, that Spandau took the lead in numbers made prior to the war.
The most remarkable thing about this introduction of the MG08 into their production line up was the fact it doesn’t seem to have dramatically affected rifle production. While Gewehr98 production is known to have fallen sharply in 1908 and 1909, this is probably more due to the introduction of the Karabiner98 (Kar.98a) during those years. Adding the two rifles known production roughly brings total rifle production back inline with early production totals (though slightly depressed).Spandau would make the Kar.98a from 1908 through 1910, these rifles are very desirable and few have survived.
Up until the beginning of the war (1914), Spandau is clearly the main manufacturer of the Gewehr98, from 1909 through 1913 they are the primary maker a collector is likely to come across, some years, 1910-1911, only Spandau and Mauser are known to have made any Gewehr98’s at all! With the start of the war this would all change. All the makers would ramp up production quickly; most of all Spandau and Danzig, both top producers 1915-1916, but the course of the war would soon remove Spandau from rifle production.
During 1917 Spandau would redirect its efforts almost exclusively to machinegun production. They did make a modest number of rifles in 1917, about 120,000, but the vast majority of 1917 dated rifles collectors will encounter will be made by some other maker. Most would end up at Danzig and Dresden, made up as sterngewehrs, but some would end up at Mauser and Hannover, which is an ordnance shop that assembled the parts into rifles. All of these rifle variations are very distinctive, but too little space to go into them here. While 1918 dated Spandau receivers were made, made by subcontractors, Belgium’s Pieper and the Berlin firm Siemans & Halske, they were not assembled by Spandau. Once again, some show up at Danzig, Dresden and Hannover, but most were never assembled during the war and were later build by ordnance depots in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
For the collector, Spandau offers a great deal of interesting rifle options. Early production in higher condition are elusive and very expensive if factory original. The most desirable rifles known are Spandau made rifles, primarily because they were largely supplied to Colonial (KS) and Garde troops. These rifles are identifiable by unit marking on the stock, and once again they are distinctive, both in how the unit markings are applied and certain features. Although after 1903 the best unit marked rifles seem to drop off, there are still great opportunities, 1904-1913 production is rather stable, the range of known production each year stays about 30,000-40,000, but any “original” rifle that is largely matching would command a good price if attractive. The war year rifles are naturally far more common, even in higher condition, and there are no known “variations” of value. While the 1917 dated rifles, made by Spandau, are rather elusive; about the only 1917 dated Gewehr98 that is, very few people would differentiate between one made by Spandau and the other assemblers. Same applies to 1918 dated rifles; most collectors would have a difficult time distinguishing between the variations.
Next up, Danzig, so stay tuned and feel free to ask questions.