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.
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.
One of the most interesting events surrounding German resistance to the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty was the creation of a firm in Switzerland to develop German patents on machine guns and small arms.
Starting in 1929 Rheinische Metallwaaren- und Maschinenfabrik AG (Rheinmetall) entered into a relationship with two Austrian firms, Patronenfabrik Hirtenberger (cartridge factory owned by Fritz Mandl, who “coincidentally” owned most of “Patronenfabrik Solothurn AG” stock after it collapsed) and Steyr-Werke AG, where they acquired controlling interest in a failing Swiss cartridge maker. This Swiss based firm, Waffenfabrik Solothurn AG, would work closely with the famous Steyr-Werke (formerly ÖWG) to develop weapons based upon patents that were owned by Rheinmetall, which due to the Versailles Treaty and German law, could not develop them or sell them for export.
Rheinmetall had hidden machinery in the Netherlands after World War One and this would become the foundation for the heavy machine guns and cannons the new firm would produce. For the small arms manufacture, the facilities at Steyr would be leased. Starting in November 1930 this new company, “Steyr-Solothurn Waffen AG”, would develop some of the most innovating and important heavy machineguns and small arms of the interwar period, many of which would see further development during World War II.
With the war many companies would benefit from the early conquests, while some of these were private companies, the ones that benefited most were the state owned conglomerates like the Reichswerke. The fall of Poland is probably the most extreme example of the early exploitation, both in its ruthlessness and with the lethargic pace that it developed. The initial stages of conquest occurred quickly and completely, as in 1939 Poland was a regime not far removed from that of national Socialist Germany. Both were extremely aggressive with its neighbors and had near complete control over their industry, – most of Poland’s most important assets were state owned. In a pattern that Germany would repeat over an over again during its conquest in Europe, all assets of the conquered state would be seized and outright confiscated as Reich property. These conquered assets would then be placed under trustee firms (Komissarische Verwaltung), sometimes private ones, but in most cases, especially if important assets, they were assigned to German companies that were owned by the Reich (the state). Without a doubt the largest conglomerate chosen in the most important cases were companies owned or controlled by the Reichswerke Hermann Göring.
In December 1939, the new owners of the former Polish Armaments Works at Radom and Warsaw, theOberkommando des Heeres (German Army), placed Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG (SDP) as trustee of the firms. This in no way implied ownership, firms such as SDP were chosen because the German Army did not have the expertise to operate the confiscated property and selected German firms that specialized in similar industrial endeavors to run them. They were operated under SDP’s operational oversight but were subject to the Armaments Inspectorate controls.
Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG rifle production during the war is more complex than simple numbers, they were burdened by a series of problems after its union with Germany, they had great difficulty making rifles that were acceptable to by the German authorities. Many rifles made prior to 1943 were rejected and subsequently passed later, this is the reason why the rifles they made often have variation to their acceptance and marking pattern. Below is the official totals made (accepted) from the official report on the company. 1945 is not included, but was probably about 35,000 rifles by known serial ranges.
1939 – 28,801
1940 – 118,452
1941 – 232,425
1942 – 202,400
1943 – 286,807
1944 – 279,562