In this post I will begin a year by year examination of Modell98 production at Steyr-Daimler-Puch (SDP). The first year after the union with Germany (Anschluss in 1938) SDP was faced with a number of problems, not the least of which were where the firm would fit in with the new order (National Socialist regime). Anschluss was not a new concept in 1938, it certainly was not a creation of Hitler and his henchmen, Germany and Austria had explored union after the end of World War One and again in 1930-1931, both times bringing considerable resistance from the former Entente, – especially France and Italy (and the Czechs). However in 1938 the union was anything but a mutually beneficial arrangement, previously Austria had sought union with Germany for economic and security concerns, a union would have solved many economic problems in 1930-1931, which by 1931 were tearing Austria apart, – indeed, it had been the 1931 economic crisis in Austria which led to the reorganization and mergers that formed the SDP corporation.
However, by 1938 the Anschluss (union) turned the country upside down, nowhere was this more true than in the economic and industrial spheres. SDP in particular was a target of National Socialist ambitions; SDP was one of the most valuable industrial concerns in Austria, a manufacturer of automobiles, trucks, ball bearings, bicycles, and small arms. What it offered was not so much in what it made in 1938, but what it held in potential, and the National Socialists had great expectations for its future usefulness. Herman Göring, head of the Four Year Plan (the German economy) and the Reichswerke (an industrial conglomerate set up by the state to put a commercial face to expropriated property, – greatly expanded by “state capitalism”) were quick to move on SDP, coercing the banks (Creditanstalt Bankverein, owned by the Austrian government since 1931), who owned most of SDP stock to sell their stock to the Reichswerke, followed by coercing the banks to “lend” capital to SDP for massive expansions and acquisitions. Herman Göring, after an appropriate pause allowing for a shake up of the management, and expulsion of all Jews and most communists, promised great things for the future of SDP. Military contracts were given, restructuring of manufacturing priorities, the firm was directed away from legitimate, long-term profitable commercial production towards military pursuits, massive expansions were funded, and several expensive projects were undertaken that would eventually lead the firm into tank and aircraft production.
By March 1938, small arms production was an incredibly minor operation at SDP-Steyr, it primarily consisted of about 1,000 sporting rifles a year and the manufacture of a few thousand machinepistols and machineguns a year. They also repaired and modified Mannlichers for the Austrian Army. It was not long after the Anschluss that this would change. At first sporting arms sales would double, soon to end altogether as military production took priority. In 1939 SDP-Steyr would manufacture about 29,000 Modell98 military rifles, 12,000 machinepistols and 170 machineguns. But most of all 1939 would set up the foundation for massive increases in small arms production, which will be covered in the next installments (1940-1945).
Rifle production in 1939 is a difficult thing to quantify; we know from company figures that 29,000 rifles were made in 1939, yet if you spend anytime at all examining known rifles; it becomes clear that rifles “dated” 1939 approach 50,000 rifles by serial extension. A review of G12/34 production (also known as the G29ö) show that approximately 28,000 were made in 1939. Added to this is the approximately 21,000 Kar.98k made, or rather dated 1939. This discrepancy is complicated further by the fact so few “original-matching” examples exist of the Kar.98k 660-1939’s, many were undoubtedly destroyed during the war.
What can be said is that while only 29,000 Modell98 were made (both the G12/34 and the Kar.98k are military rifles based upon the Model 98 action), many more were in the process of assembly and acceptance and probably fall into SDP 1940 production figures given by the company after the war. This will become clearer as we continue examination of SDP company figures (of rifles manufactured and sold) verses actual observations.
What can you expect from rifles manufactured in 1939?
The rifles manufactured in 1939 by SDP will all be marked across the top of the receiver “660” over the date “1939”, the G12/34 has a general appearance of a Czech Vz24 (or more accurately base upon the Steyr M1912 and M1934 commercial rifles sold to Columbia), they were an early contract rifle sold after the Anschluss to the Luftwaffe, probably as an early attempt to keep the company solvent while the Reichswerke worked over Creditanstalt Bankverein. The intention for the company to convert their G12/34 production to Kar.98k production is obvious, this was apparently accomplished quickly, as during 1939 the first Kar.98k were manufactured, though probably in small numbers. Both rifle variations were of the highest quality, typical of Österreichische Waffenfabrik-Gesellschaft and Steyr-Werke’s earlier work, all stocks were made of walnut and metal work and finish exemplary. The markings, in addition to those on the top already described, will include a full serial number (with suffix if applicable) on both the barrel and receiver, the lower buttstock, buttplate and internally inside. The bolt handle will also have the full serial. All other parts will have either the full serial minus suffix or the last two digits. The acceptance pattern will consist “four” acceptance stamps on the right side of the receiver, in all cases waffenamt eagle/623 (the G12/34 will have three acceptance stamps, typically e/623 x3, though e/211 is also seen on a few of the last rifles made in the b-block). The acceptance stamps (waffenamts) will be on almost all components, they represent acceptance of the component, and along with the right receiver acceptance stamps (which represent steps in the manufacturing process, the first for hardening the receiver, the others mating the barrel and receiver) the most important are found on the right side of the butt stock, typically a branch of service acceptance, for the G12/34 all are Luftwaffe acceptance, for the Kar.98k, all so far are Army marked (very few have survived fully original).
Rifles from 1939 are very desirable, the G12/34 not for their rarity, as they are quite common considering how many were made, most have survived in excellent condition, probably because they were issued to the Luftwaffe and rarely used. The Kar.98k on the other hand are rare in any “original” condition, most that have survived are so-called “Russian captures”, rifles that were obtained by the USSR during the war and thoroughly refinished and reworked, – in other words valueless as a collectible military rifle. The few 660/1939 Kar.98k that are known in original condition are usually thoroughly reworked or show signs of passing through a repair depot. Truly factory original rifles are rare and command high prices when they show up for sale. It is easily one of the rarest and most valuable Kar.98k made, in original-matching condition, and less than a handful are known.
Next week, 660/1940!