Rheinmetall in the Great War and After
At the beginning of 1914 the Rheinische Metallwaaren- und Maschinenfabrik factories had nearly 8,000 workers. One year later, following the outbreak of World War I, there were 11,000 employees, and by 1918 the work force had grown to approximately 48,000, including about 9,000 women.
During the Great War, besides the government-owned arsenals, Germany had the large factories of Krupp, Rheinische Metallwaaren (Ehrhardt) and Thyssen. In addition, there is a large number of other factories of lesser importance. During the war, the Krupp plant increased the number of its workmen from 87,000 to 242,000. The Ehrhardt factory has increased from 40,000 to 100,000, and the Thyssen factory from 30,000 to 80,000.
The Ehrhardt gun factory of Dusseldorf built various anti-aircraft guns, mounted on motor trucks, whose calibres varied from 50 to 105 millimetres. The most remarkable of these was the 35-calibre 65-millimetre design which fired a 4.1 kg. projectile to a maximum height of 5,800 metres with an arc of elevation of 75 degrees and a muzzle velocity of 670 metres per second. This gun fired three varieties of projectiles: (1) Ordinary shrapnel containing 150 steel balls of 9 grams each; (2) a smoke shrapnel of 170 steel balls of the same weight; and (3) a "balloon grenade," which is especially adapted for use against airships. This gun was mounted on an armored motor car and weighed complete 6,650 kg.
Rheinmetall, in association with Krupp (which held a large share of its stock), had been a major armaments manufacturer, and the coming of peace presented enormous reconversion problems. After the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles put an abrupt end to arms production in Germany. With the Armistice in November of 1918, military production came to a sudden standstill. The Düsseldorf enterprise, which had virtually quadrupled its staff during the war years, had to dismiss 22,000 employees. With the signing of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, prohibiting Germany from manufacturing large calibre weapons, Rheinische Metallwaaren- und Maschinenfabrik was deprived for a time of a substantial part of its business.
Efforts were made to circumvent the provisions of the Versailles Treaty of 1919, and in 1921 there was a resumption of military production. Small and midsized weapons could still be produced -- and beginning in 1921 it built mid-calibre guns for the navy. Soon Rheinmetall was designing naval guns again on behalf of the German Navy. However, when France and Belgium occupied the Rhineland and Ruhr Valley to enforce Allied claims to war reparations, Rheinmetall too became the object of unwelcome attention. In 1922 the Engineering Department moved to remote Unterluess in northern Germany, laying the groundwork for the town's future role as an important centre of Rheinmetall expertise. Far away from prying eyes, the company made great strides in naval gun design, a process that would continue after the department's return to Düsseldorf.
By 1921 Rhein Metall Fabrik, Dusseldorf had readjusted its operations from a war to a peace basis, and was one of the leading railway rolling-stock industries of Germany. In less than a year they turned out a thousand locomotives, a thousand goods wagons, and their monthly production was 30 locomotives and 300 freight cars. Like Krupp, this concern employed more men in 1921 than it did in 1914, and was executing a large volume of foreign orders.
In the first half of the 1920s agricultural machinery, such as heavy steam-powered ploughs, railroad cars, and locomotive engines, were built in the company's Düsseldorf factories, while precision mechanical apparatus, including typewriters, calculating machines, and principal motor vehicle parts, were assembled at the Sömmerda plant in Thüringen. By 1921 the motor vehicle division had developed into a large and significant business within its industry in Germany. At the beginning of the 1920s the name Rheinmetall began to be used as a trademark. Ehrhardt continued into old age to direct his creativity towards weapons technology development. In 1922 at the age of 81 he finally retired from Rheinmetall's board of directors and returned to his native Thüringen. He died on November 20, 1928, at age 88.
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