With the start of the war, things began to move quickly for SDP, capital for expansion was arranged and progress moved quickly to expand both the range of production (items made) and mass production. To illustrate the size of the operation, at the beginning of 1940, 13,000 people were employed by SDP corporation wide. Small arms would be a very small part of the corporations operations, though an important one. 1940 was an important year for SDP, it was the year they took over the management (“Komissarische Verwaltung”) of the Polish state arsenals, both being state owned (Poland was a state little different than National Socialist Germany, aggressive and predatory, most important industries were state owned or controlled), the National Socialist could dispense with any pretense of respecting property rights, which they typically did when seizing newly acquired property in occupied states. The German Army was officially the owners of the new facilities, but naturally they were incapable of operating them, or any of the other industrial sites seized during the Polish campaign (they found custodians for them all, private concerns), later the “private” corporation, operated by the German Army, Montanindustrie, took over ownership and worked directly with SDP, and others, dealing with the former Polish properties.
The management and exploitation of the Polish arsenals began on December 12, 1939, and subsequent orders during May 1940 expanded upon the operations guidelines. The short of it is that SDP created two new operations to manufacture the mechanical (metal) components of the Kar.98k and VIS-Radom pistols, (SDP-Warsaw would make components for small arms, plus machine gun parts, it was a smaller operation with half as many employed); both would make tools, gages, and some machinery. SDP-Radom also made bicycles. Although the range of products took some time to get up and running, eventually both operations would play an important role in SDP-Steyr’s small arms production, – by 1942 they would be making almost all the metal components for the Kar.98k and VIS, the only exception being the barrels (the VIS barrels were “roughed” at SDP-Radom, but finished at SDP-Steyr), and this would continue until mid-1944 when the two sites were abandoned-evacuated due to the advance of the Red Army.
Back to Steyr, although the most important even of 1940 was the introduction of SDP-Radom and SDP-Warsaw, these events would be two years in the making, during 1940 almost all SDP small arms production would be made at Steyr, at their main facility on the east bank of the Enns river, though SDP-Letten would make most rifle barrels. Rifles were still a sideline for the concern, most of the companies efforts were directed at expanding the production that was more important to the war effort, vehicles and aircraft fuselages were an important part to be sure, but ball bearings were also of prime importance and would be a key product of the company until it was bombed in 1944, – by 1943 they were making enormous numbers. The list of items made is lengthy, and it changed year to year, it seems the company was constantly trying to rationalize production and moved elements to other sites to accommodate priorities at SDP-Steyr.
In regards to small arms, 1940 saw a fourfold increase in Modell98 production, mostly Kar.98k, but 12,000 G29/40’s were also made in 1940. Both machine guns and machine pistols were made in 1940, machine pistols dramatically increased, nearly fourfold, but machineguns only a little over 100, probably switching to the MG34 caused this disappointing showing, the company records are unclear on this, though one German source says the MG34 began in 1940 at SDP-Steyr.
As for the rifles characteristics, much was as it was in 1939, the quality was still quite high, though the introduction of the G29/40 (Kar.98k’s made of Polish components) would introduce the trend of lower standards that would become “typical” for all SDP kar.98k production as the war evolved. Observed production numbers for 1940, by known serial ranges, was about 160,000 rifles (up to the n-block, plus G29/40 totals), which is about 30,000-40,000 higher than official company totals for 1940. This is the trend that I noted earlier, and confirmed by Wolfgang’s investigation of German archives, that SDP-Steyr was having considerable problems getting rifles accepted by the German Army inspectors. This problem would get worse every year, until the course of the war demanded the German Army lessen its standards (See MRJ/209, Spring 2014). Odds are good that this discrepancy was worse than these numbers suggest, it is likely the company totals include quite a few 1939 dated rifles, and that many 660/1940’s were carried over to 1941 totals.
Some changes in the rifles themselves deserve mention, the first SDP-Radom components would begin to show up near the end of 1940, the first components were barrels, leftover barrels from Radom, probably unfinished barrel blanks finished at SDP-Steyr. These are identified by the “RD” code on the barrels, but because they were made-finished by SDP-Steyr they were accepted by Steyr’s inspector (WaA e/623), they first show up in the “i” block of 1940 and become common by the “L” block. Also of note are a few small components from SDP-Radom (WaA e/77) also starting to show up in small numbers by the m-block, the next to last block for 1940.
Starting with 1941 the rifles would begin to change; the next installment will cover these changes and the G29/40. Stay tuned and subscribe to the blog on this website!