Gewehr98 production is perhaps one of the most interesting of the 1898-1919 period. The reasons are many, but perhaps most of all due to its relationship with the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine). DWM was the primary supplier of Gewehr98’s to the KM prior to the war; although a handful of Erfurt (1899) and Mauser Oberndorf (1910-1911) rifles are known to have been made.
The vast majority of rifles delivered to the Kaiserliche Marine prior to 1908 were manufactured by DWM, they are known in number every year from 1899-1908, except for the year 1900, and they are amongst the scarcest and most desirable rifles of the period. Due to the fact that the state arsenals were making most of the Gewehr98’s for the Prussian Army, the patent holders (DWM and Mauser were the only commercial makers making the Modell98 due to their ownership of the patent) were left to fend for themselves. DWM having a relationship with the Kaiserliche Marine due to the P.04 (Pistole 1904 Navy Luger) and the MG08 (Maxim), they found a willing buyer working for the German Navy. Mauser Oberndorf found a client with the Württemberg Army, neither client was a large contract and relatively few rifles were made by either firm until the Modell98 carbine was taken up by the state arsenals. Fortunately, the firms were well positioned to make a lot of money on the switch, their parent company, Ludwig Loewe AG made the machines for the arsenals, and the process took sometime to undertake. DWM and Mauser Oberndorf production of the Gewehr98, for the Prussians start to develop in number starting in 1905, though it isn’t until 1906-1907 that production is significant.
Between 1914 and 1945 there were a number of rifle variations that collectors call conversions, these rifle variations take the form of several different types and many are not conversions at all, but rather salvaged receivers built up as “new” kar.98k rifles.
- The Gewehr98 to Radfahrergewehr, or bicycle rifle, used by German soldiers early in the First World War assigned to bicycle units. Most radfahrergewehrs were new made, only made in 1914 by Spandau, but apparently a number of Gewehr98’s were converted to serve their purpose. Essentially, Gewehr98’s were made to use a side mounted sling arrangement and take a bent bolt.
- The Gewehr98 to Kar.98b, which is a rifle that was derived from the Radfahrergewehr and starting in 1924 manufactured new by the Simson Suhl firm in Suhl. While Simson was making new kar.98b, depots were converting old Gewehr98’s and in some cases making “new” rifles around salvaged receivers. These are rather rarely seen, but exist in a number of odd variations.
The characteristics of rifle manufacture at Weimar is well known to collectors, generally it was simply assembly of parts other firms supplied, this would remain the case through most of the war. This would change to a degree when a relationship was arranged for the concentration camp at Weimar, KL Buchenwald, to supply labor to the Gustloff-Werke during 1942. The relationship was primarily one of construction at first, a rail line and buildings, but developed into a more complex relationship involving slave labor in manufacturing. By 1943 they had built a large complex within the KL Buchenwald operation, primarily to manufacture self-loading carbines (G43), this was bombed by the USAAC in August 1944 and closed down, but between 1943 and 1944 a significant number of kar.98k barrels were made and show up on a small number of rifles (all rifles were assembled in the main operation in Weimar, not at Buchenwald). They vary widely in range and almost all are found on rifles assembled in 1944, the quality was such that most barrels were rejects or problem barrels, it is believed that the vast majority made were never used, which is not surprising considering postwar reports on the operations at Buchenwald.
Rifle production was only a minor part of the operations at Gustloff-WerkeWeimar, they made many things, artillery related mostly, large cannon barrels were a major part of their operations. By 1943 Gustloff-Werke was assembling a lot of rifles, basically on par with the operation of JP Sauer, Suhl, but significantly less than operations at Mauser Oberndorf and Brno.
One of the firms that made the Kar.98k during the war was designed to be a model for National Socialist industrialization. The firm was organized as part of the Gustoff-Stiftung (state owned trust), which was primarily made up of Simson Suhl assets and assorted other nationalized concerns (Jewish owned).
Originally the firm was organized around a small operation owned by Simson Werke located in Weimar Germany, a small operation that made wagons and machine tools before the war. After nationalization, the Army provided funding to greatly expand the operations; by 1938 a special arrangement was made with a dozen small firms throughout Thüringen and Saxony to provide component parts to the Weimar operation to assemble Kar.98k rifles. At the time rifles were made at the Simson-BSW operation at Suhl, but the new owners of the Gustoff-Stiftung and Army had plans for the Suhl operations that didn’t include rifle manufacture.