Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG (SDP) 1943

Photos courtesy of Rob Wareck

1943

The year 1943 would be the high water mark for Steyr-Daimler-Puch, what had begun the previous year would take its full measure during 1943. A combination of a vigorous modernization and expansion with a loosening of ordnance regulations (lessening standards of fit and finish and the introduction of simplifications) would come together to significantly improve the company armaments output. Truck production more than doubled again, ball bearings nearly so and small arms would all rise markedly, – this is as much a product of a settling of production as lessening of acceptance standards. The prior years often saw changes in production, the moving of shops to accommodate construction projects, the moving of machinery to different factories, to Radom, Letten and Graz, all this took a toll on productivity.

It was also during March 1943 that SDP entered into a special agreement with the SS, the leasing of barracks and labor at KL Gusen for production of rifle components, which would be assembled and tested at the main factory at SDP-Steyr. This relationship was far more involved than it seems at first glance; SDP had been intimately involved with slave/coerced labor since 1941, mostly on construction projects and the operations in occupied Poland where the company involved itself in the exploitation of Jews and Polish civilian labor. This new SS contract was actually quite controversial at the time, the German Army and Armaments Ministry was very much against this program, as it would be beyond their authority and oversight, – and it would be largely funded by money provided by the military. Very little is known about the parameters of the program, although it was certainly outside the scope of military armaments production and the rifles were never intended for military purposes.

Machineguns and Pistols:

Perhaps the most impressive success in the small arms field was SDP production of the MG42, a machine gun that they alone made most of the components for (most makers were mere assemblers). SDP made their own receivers for the MP40, MG42 and MP44, the only company to do so; in 1943 they made 28,663 MG42’s, a feat made all the more impressive when you consider they made many of their own components. The MP40 production would rise modestly to 154,963, the highest production year for SDP. Pistol production would also top out during 1943 with 101,465 pistols made, more than a third of all wartime production at SDP. Had it not been for the bombings early in 1944, and the loss of SDP’s Polish operations, these figures would surely have risen significantly during 1944, – as 1943 was the first year where the company had consolidated its projects and operations into a manageable system.

The Kar.98k:

SS Contract

Once again we find rifle production the most complicated to decipher, company totals for 1943 show that 286,807 rifles were finished and accepted, these totals also reflect the rifles sold to the SS during 1943, probably a relative low number considering the fact the contract was negotiated in March 1943 and the production halls (barracks) were not yet built, nor machinery delivered until summer. Current production trends suggest the vast majority of this “SS contract” was actually made in 1944, with only modest totals for 1943. Still, they do complicate our purposes here, – especially when we consider the remnants of the backlog of rifles SDP was working through from earlier years. As stated during our review of 1942 production, large numbers of previously rejected or failed rifles were being cleared by the company due to the lessening of standards mandated by the December 1941 decrees (to simplify and streamline production standards). The discrepancies were not resolved fully by 1942 and it is probable that early 1943 saw an end to this process, – what remained being scrapped and components recycled. However even accounting for the SS contract probable totals (incalculable by normal methods), there was still a significant shortfall between observed production ranges and company totals.  This suggests that either the SS contracts were far more numerous than collectors appreciate or that the company totals are wrong or they calculate their totals differently. Notice below that every year starting in 1941 the company totals exceed the possible totals calculated by known serial ranges.

SDP-Steyr production observations compared to official company totals (given in 1947):

1939/40 – 2100 N block or 142,000 Kar.98k plus 12,500 G.29/40’s / 28,000 G12/34’s or a total of roughly 182,500 Modell98 rifles. (Company total deliveries 147,253)

1941 – 5900 k block or 116,000 Kar.98k plus 38,000 G.29/40’s or a total of roughly 155,000 Modell98 rifles. (Company total deliveries 232,425)

1942 – 2000 L block or 122,000 Kar.98k plus 4,000 G.29/40’s or a total of roughly 126,000 Modell98 rifles. (Company total deliveries 202,400)

1943 – 7400 U block or 217,000 Kar.98k Modell98 rifles. (Company total deliveries 286,807)

Observations- 680,500 (highest possible by range extension, actual final much lower due to failure rates)

Official Company Totals- 868,885 (rifles actually delivered, this would exclude rejected and failed rifles)

Gap- 188,385

Even with these figures, there is the question of rifles that were never accepted; it is known that SDP had a higher than average rejection rate, rifles that never passed final inspection and testing requirements. All the makers faced this problem, regardless of product, – some rifles simply could not be passed to the satisfaction of the inspectors and we know that the rifles were serialed before final assembly (actually an early step in manufacture) and firms did not backfill rejected rifle serial numbers. The rifles that did not pass were salvaged and the calculations based upon observations do not take this into account, so the “gap” is far larger than the figures show. Some of this discrepancy will be absorbed by the SS contract and it is possible that SDP was calculating components (receivers and barrels) within these totals; – it is known SDP delivered a considerable number of components to the German Navy and the SS ordnance depots.

Regarding actual production, the rifles quickly develop a more standardized construction during 1943, one rifle looking very much like another. The introduction of stamped components begin by the p-block of 1943, but it is not until the r/s blocks of 1943 that stamped trigger guard assemblies become common. The use of stock sub-contractors also continues for SDP during 1943, the company relying upon Walther (Zella-Mehlis, Thuringia) and Dresdner Tischfabrik Hermann Menzel (Dresden) during certain ranges. However, for the most part, the main supplier for the kar.98k remain SDP-Radom for all metal components, with SDP-Steyr continuing to make most of their barrels and stocks.

The year 1943 was the year of consolidation for the corporation, small arms were not its focus, but now that most of the labor-intensive elements (component construction) were spun off to branch firms, small arms production was primarily one of assembly and testing at the main factory. This includes machinegun and pistol production, where components were made by branch firms and delivered to SDP-Steyr for final assembly and testing. Although the company reorganization had reached its goals during 1943, allowing the fullest use of critical space and resources at its main production line (Steyr), trucks, ball bearings and aircraft components, events were unfolding that would in turn bring the war to Steyr’s doorstep. Their very success had brought unwanted attention to the company. Small arms manufacturers were rarely the focus of the air war, – however, SDP-Steyr’s venture into aircraft production, ball bearings and tank assembly made them a primary target.

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