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Company profile: Mauser-Werke, Oberndorf
(now Rheinmetall Defence / Rheinmetall AG)
On 31 July 1811, King Friedrich I of Württemberg decided to establish a rifle factory in the Augustinian monastery in Oberndorf am Neckar that had been secularized five years before. The factory was under the supervision of the royal Ministry of War.
In 1834, Wilhelm Mauser was born in Oberndorf, and in 1838 his brother Paul. After completing elementary school, Wilhelm Mauser joined the royal rifle factory as an apprentice, and Paul followed in 1852. After their apprenticeship, the two brothers worked in weapons development, and together designed a new breech-loading rifle, which went into serial production in 1867. After working for a while in the rifle factory in Liège, the brothers returned to Oberndorf, and designed a new rifle, which was adopted in 1871 as the "M/71 German infantry rifle".
The brothers received 8,000 thalers from the Prussian government as initial payment for their weapon development. In 1872 Wilhelm and Paul Mauser bought a plot of land in Oberndorf and began building their own rifle factory. The brothers did good business with a rifle sight developed for the M/71, and thus accumulated capital to purchase machinery for the mass production of the M/71. They founded the firm of "Gebrüder W. & P. Mauser", and obtained an order to supply almost 100,000 rifles for the Württemberg troops. The revenue from this order enabled them to buy the royal rifle factory for 200,000 florins.
Further orders for the M/71 by the Prussian Ministry of War followed. Shortly afterwards, they also received orders from China (26,000 rifles) and Serbia (120,000). The plants in Oberndorf were enlarged. In 1882 Wilhelm Mauser died, and his brother Paul became the sole general partner.
In 1884, a modified Mauser rifle with a tubular magazine for eight cartridges was introduced by the Prussian military as the M/71.84 German Infantry Rifle. The limited partnership Gebrüder Mauser & Cie. was converted into a partnership limited by shares, and from then on did business as Waffenfabrik Mauser. The general partners were Paul Mauser and Alfred Kaulla of the Württem¬bergische Vereinsbank. Paul Mauser held 334 shares, and the Vereinsbank the remaining 1666. Another 19,000 infantry rifles were ordered in Oberndorf by the Royal Rifle Auditing Commission.
But the big breakthrough came in 1887: Mauser received an order from the Ottoman Ministry of War in Constantinople to manufacture 500,000 repeating rifles and 50,000 cavalry carbines for the Turkish Ottoman army. Actively involved in landing this order, against stiff European and US. competition was the Prussian General Colmar Baron von der Goltz, who was a consultant to the Turkish general staff, and taught strategy and tactics at Turkish war colleges. Since the Mauser rifle factory was not able to fulfill this order itself, the Württembergische Vereinsbank sold five-sixths of its shareholding to the arms manufacturer Ludwig Loewe & Co in Berlin for two million reichsmarks. Paul Mauser retained the remaining sixth, and remained in the firm as Technical Director, continuing to work on innovations.
The first result was the M/87 rifle, quickly followed by the model M/93; both models featured improved rapidity and accuracy of fire. The Turkish army leadership sent a commission of acceptance to Oberndorf -- a total of nineteen officers who were supposed to monitor the production process. General von der Goltz also appeared in Oberndorf, and reported continuously to the Sultan on the progress of the work. The last of the 550,000 long rifles and carbines were delivered to the Ottoman Empire before Christmas in 1893.
Another order, for 200,000 rifles of the improved model M/93 followed. At a unit price of 71 marks, the volume of the order came to more than 14 million marks. Paul Mauser was raised to the peerage by the King for his services to the Württemberg economy, allowing him to add the nobiliary particle "von" to his name. "In 1896, 48.5 percent of the rifles stored in the armories of the Turkish Ottoman army came from the Mauser company. By the beginning of the First World War, in which the Turks fought alongside their German comrades-in-arms in many theaters of the Near and Middle East, this share probably reached two-thirds." (1)
Those who suffered for this were not only the hundreds of thousands of war dead on both sides of the front, but also the Armenian people, whose almost total extermination was carried out with Mauser weapons, among others.
Isidor Loewe, who held a majority of the Mauser shares, with the Deutsche Waffen- und Munitions¬fabriken (DWM) created a giant group containing all the rifle and ammunition factories owned or controlled by him. "The profits from the arms and ammunition business were enormous, and could be increased still further by concentration and joint administration. The dividend rose from 4% (1879) to 10% (1882), and then in the year of the Turkish deal from 12% to the unusual height of 24% in the year of the transformation of the company (1896)." (2)
But DWM was also successful in other parts of the world. South America offered a favorable market, since a build-up of the armies there, and especially the introduction of general conscription meant that long rifles, carbines, and pistols were needed. Argentina in particular, which had a dispute with neighboring Chile over an unresolved border question, wanted to demonstrate military power by acquiring modern long rifles, carbines, and pistols. So 120,000 Mauser rifles were ordered from Loewe, to be delivered in several lots.
Since the Argentinian army comprised only about 6,500 men in 1892, the Chileans suspected that it would soon be enlarged drastically, in order to get the upper hand in an impending war with Chile. After lengthy negotiations with the Chilean general staff and pressure from the German Instructor of the Army, General Bernhard Emil Körner, who had a similarly strong position in Chile to that of General von der Goltz in Turkey, the Chileans ordered 50,000 long rifles and 10,000 carbines, with 300 rounds of ammunition each. "In the following years -- from 1895 to 1902 -- the German arms industrialists made successful efforts to play up the tensions between Argentina and Chile, and convert them into hard cash..." (3)
All these deals were eclipsed by the demand for arms and ammunition in the First World War. Paul von Mauser and Isidor Loewe did not live to experience this boom in orders. Loewe died in 1910, Mauser four years later. In 1928, the former Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken were taken over by the major industrialist Günther Quandt, who directed them into re-armament for the Second World War. 1945 was the year of total collapse in Oberndorf, as well. Only with the establishment of the Bundeswehr from 1949 on did arms production resume in the town on the Neckar.
The factory owned by the Quandt family changed owners again in 1979. Purchased by the Diehl arms-manufacturing group of Nuremberg, production at Mauser shifted to manufacturing aircraft and naval canons. Finally, in 2004, the firm was taken over by Rheinmetall--Weapons and Ammunition.
Since then, medium-caliber (diameter of the shells around 30 mm) canons and matching ammunition are made in Oberndorf. "Since the 1990s, it is the light naval gun MLG 27 with the corresponding 27-mm FAPDS ammunition that has attracted attention. Also, in 1997 the Bundeswehr, in cooperation with Britain, Italy and Spain, decided to introduce the Eurofighter 2000, that was to be equipped with an increased-performance BK 27 cannon with unbelted ammunition feed from Mauser. In 2004, the consistent splitting up of Rheinmetall's Defence division activities into product divisions, and the associated concentration on the name Rheinmetall led to the name Mauser as the company name disappearing after 132 years. But the word "Mauser" will remain in the factory's name."(4)
The Mauser heritage of rifle production was assumed in the 1950s by the firm Heckler & Koch, which was founded by three former engineers. Its G3 assault rifle has been sold throughout the world in similarly large numbers as the Mauser rifles before the First World War.
(1) Andreas Kussmann-Hochhalter, Halbmond über Oberndorf - Der Fabrikant vom Neckar, der Sultan vom Bosporus und ihre Geschichte, Museum im Schwedenbau, Oberndorf 2015
(2) Jürgen Schäfer, Deutsche Militärhilfe an Südamerika, Bertelsmann Universitätsverlag Düsseldorf, 1974
(3) idem, op. cit.
(4) Rheinmetall Defence, Zwei Jahrhunderte industrielle Waffenfertigung
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