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Meaning of the 1920-mark on German Military Weapons

By Michael Heidler

The First World War had caused a major progress in military technology. Never before had such great evolutionary advances had been achieved in so short a time. Still shocked by the merciless trench warfare with innumerable casualties, it's no surprise that the victorious powers had a desire to weaken the German armed forces for the future. The development of automatic weapons was still in its infancy, but the results achieved at the front showed that these kinds of weapons will be indispensable in a modern war.

After the lost war the combined German Reichswehr (Army) and Kriegsmarine (Navy) were reduced to a total of 115,000 men and conscription was abolished. The victors claimed high reparations payments and dismantled German machinery. Famous German armament companies like Mauser had to convert their production to consumer articles, whilst the allies approved the relatively inexperienced Simson & Co. company of Suhl as the sole producer of pistols, rifles and machine guns. The permitted armament for the Reichswehr was precisely defined in Article 180 of the Peace Treaty as, for instance among small arms, 84,000 rifles (Mauser 98 system), 18,000 carbines (Mauser 98 system) and 1,863 machine guns. Surplus weapons had to be handed over to the victors (although they often disappeared) and new developments were forbidden. The disarming of the people was also planned to reduce the danger of armed revolts provoked from different political groups.

In midyear of 1920 the general disarming of the German and Austrian people was announced by the victorious powers. At a meeting of the German general staff on July 11, 1920 General von Seeckt told the other participants that about 2,700,000 rifles will have to be collected. About 600,000 of them are in the hands of the Einwohnerwehren (citizens’ militia). He also suggested they offer rewards for weapons that are handed over, or for information about hidden weapons.

No date was fixed yet, but the German War Office reacted promptly. On August 4, 1920 the instruction number 959 (with date August 1) “Marking of hand weapons and machine guns of the Reichswehr...

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