Photos courtesy of Rob Wareck
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.
Photo courtesy of Rob Wareck
After enormous expenditures on modernization and expansion, production rationalization began to show its potential. The process of rationalizing production, where some items were eliminated and resources redirected towards more important items, is best illustrated by production totals during 1942, where truck production more than doubled and ball bearings nearly doubling. In armaments production, the results were less impressive, but most of the shortfalls were a result of external decision making; the changeover from the MG34 to MG42 production and unrealistic demands amidst modernization and rationalization efforts added confusion to an already stressed production line. Within the context of the demands placed upon the firm, the skilled labor shortage and the prioritization among competing projects (small arms were never a top priority) the trends were showing promise for 1943.
During late 1941 a series of events led the German military to introduce a number of measures that would create what collectors today call “dual code” rifles, – rifles that exhibit signs of two manufacturers involvement in a rifles manufacture.
Here we will deal with rifles that were made by Berlin-Lübecker (ordnance code 237 or duv). These rifles draw considerable discussion among collectors, especially on the internet forums dedicated to the study of the Kar.98k. The rifle characteristics not only confuse who the maker is, but also when the rifle was made.
Specifically, these rifles were made with Astrawerke receivers, identified by the lower case “L” on the right side of the receiver and very often marked with Gustloff-Werke, Weimar’s ordnance code “bcd” over “41”, which indicates the rifle was made in 1941. This alone causes considerable confusion with newer collectors, but what has baffled experienced collectors for years was when were these actually assembled?
The vast majority of “dual codes” Mauser-Berlin assembled were based upon Astrawerke made receivers coded “bcd”, which represents Gustloff-Werke’s operation at Weimar. They range in dates from 1941 through 1943, though all seem to have been made in 1942 and 1943. These receivers are far more complicated to date than the ERMA “dual codes”, which all fall in a narrow window of production. Apparently Mauser-Berlin took delivery of the first receivers very early in 1942, you see them showing up in the middle of the first block of 1942 production and increase in number through the early blocks of Mauser-Berlin production. Actually, this type of receiver represents the majority of rifles assembled in some blocks. It is far easier to find a bcd/ar 42 in the “b” through “g” blocks than a straight up ar/42 in those blocks. These seem to end in the 1942 g-block, at least for a time, only to show up again in smaller numbers in 1943. During 1943 the bcd/ar 43 dual codes are much rarer, but show up in almost every block between the a-block and j-block (they show up in the b-block through g-block, at least one is known in each block, plus one i-block is also known). Most interesting are the receivers that are not actually “dual” coded, there are several Mauser-Berlin assembled bcd/43 without the added “ar” in the last blocks, the g-block and i-block, which shows that they dispensed with this added feature near the end. The bcd/ar 42’s and bcd/ar 43’s are trickier to date, obviously, the 1943 dated were assembled in 1943, the barrel codes on enough of them prove this, but as the acceptance and serial patterns are nearly identical between 1942 and 1943 production, you really need to see the barrel code to know when a rifle was probably made.
Recently, a question was raised about Mauser-Berlin’s production of the so called “dual coded” rifles, that began in late 1941 and ended in 1943, – the same year Mauser-Berlin dropped carbine (Kar.98k) production to focus on MG42 production.
I thought this would be a good subject for discussion, so examination of known examples follow. It seems that Mauser-Berlin took delivery of leftover ERMA (ax code) receivers late in 1941, when they dropped rifle assembly to focus on MP40 production (They would continue making 98k receivers, though primarily as a sub-contractor for JP Sauer). The first rifles show up in the “L” block of 1941; however it is the “M” block when most show up, mostly late in the block and very near the end of 1941 production. They linger into the first block of 1942 production (no suffix).
Most ax-ar coded rifles were probably made at the very end of Mauser-Berlin’s 1941 production run; though it is likely many were not finished until early 1942. This is because of the characteristics found on the known rifles. First, Mauser-Berlin production serialed both the receiver and the barrel until very late in 1941, typically this changed in the last block of Mauser-Berlin production, the m-block. In that block you will start to see the rationalization changes, ordered by Hitler and imposed upon the German military, to simplify production. This process is best shown in rifle production with a reduction of markings and finish standards that you will see on late 1941 and throughout 1942 production, – it also accounts for the reason ERMA, and later Mauser-Berlin, would be redirected to other projects, and away from rifle production.
Photo courtesy of Mike Steves
By 1941 SDP was fully adjusted to its role within the war economy and the company was in the process of significant expansion and modernization. Much of the expansions would take time to develop, particularly in the non-armament fields, like ball bearings, trucks and aircraft component production, where production would soar later in the war, but in the field of small arms, in particular rifles and pistol manufacture, production was beginning to take the form it would hold until late in the war. What had begun with rifle production in late 1940 would continue to develop during 1941, in particular the introduction of SDP-Radom as the main supplier of metal components for the Kar.98k rifles (including the G29/40) and VIS pistols.
Photo courtesy of Rob Wareck
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.
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.