Hugo Schmeisser was a German and Soviet developer of infantry weapons in the 20th century. After WW2 altogether with 16 other German engineers was held in captivity for 6 years (1946-1952) where around their inventions was organised Russian (Soviet) weaponry factory in Izhevsk.
Schmeisser was born in Jena, Saxe-Weimar. His father, Louis Schmeisser (1848–1917), was one of the best-known weapons designers in Europe. The life and work of Hugo Schmeisser mostly took place in the weapons manufacturing city of Suhl, Prussian Saxony.
Before and during World War I
The submachine guns of Theodor Bergmann are closely connected with its name recognition and weapons production in the time leading up to the First World War. Schmeisser also received his fundamental training in weapons technology at Bergmann, where 7.63 mm and 9 mm machine gun rounds were being researched. He remained in Suhl during World War I because of the crucial importance of his expertise in machine gun technology.
After two years in World War I, trench warfare had solidified on the Western Front. Using only carbines, raids at up to 100 m from the trenches seemed nearly impossible. Artillery fire and bayonet attacks led to heavy losses on both sides of the front. Between 1917 and 1918, Schmeisser developed an automatic weapon with a practical range of 200 m. These MP 18s soon became the basic armament of combat teams, which broke through the front in March 1918 during Operation Michael. These troops, exclusively equipped with MPs, hand grenades, and pistols, broke through the front and went on a full offensive against their enemies. These offensive infantry tactics became the forerunners to tank warfare during World War II. Thirty-five thousand MP 18s were produced by Bergmann alone.
Before and during World War II
Manufacturing regulations in the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919) forbade Germany from developing automatic weapons. This signaled the end of a 30 year cooperation between the Schmeissers and Bergmann as production was licensed to foreign weapons manufacturers. Schmeisser decided to continue work in weapons development. Together with his brother Hans Schmeisser, he created the "Industriewerk Auhammer Koch und Co" (Industrial Auhammer Koch and Company) in Suhl. Being at the end of World War I, he saw little business, and encumbered by the Treaty of Versailles, the future of the company was unclear. Schmeisser defied the treaty, working to continue development of banned weapons. It was at this time that the company began cooperating with Haenel Co. in Suhl, beginning a 20 year partnership. For the safety of his patents, Schmeisser created a second company under the name of "Brothers Schmeisser" in the summer of 1922. This shrewd tactic was to prevent the loss of his patents if Auhammer went bankrupt. In order to prevent bankruptcy on both sides, Auhammer and Haenel merged, with Haenel taking full responsibility and liability for Auhammer business affairs. Schmeisser's attorneys who settled the deal became active shareholders in the company. Before long, it was obvious that development of automatic weapons was unaffected by the Treaty of Versailles. In 1928 Schmeisser released the MP-28, which was used extensively by the German police. Bayard signed an agreement with Schmeisser to manufacture and sell weapons to South Africa, China, Spain, and Japan. It is notable that these same weapons were used during the Spanish Civil War only 10 years later. Despite Schmeisser's success, the company often came within inches of bankruptcy.
As the Nazis rose to power during 1933, ten weapons development enterprises in Suhl and Zella-Mehlis merged under the name of "United Suhl-Zella Mehlis Armament Makers". This central administration was used to coordinate production with the army's needs. This allowed Schmeisser to make a very important business acquaintance, which later developed to a friendship, with the aviator Ernst Udet, a deputy of Hermann Göring under Germany's Luftwaffe. Schmeisser had a direct role in military production decisions, often influencing the decisions of Adolf Hitler and Göring. After 1935 Haenel experienced an enormous upswing in weapon production. Against the desires of many engineers and technical designers, the Schmeisser brothers continued to enforce patent royalties and manage company funds.
Berthold Geipel of ErMa designed the MP 36 using Vollmer's EMP. The chief designer, Heinrich Vollmer, revised the basic construction of ErMa MP-36 and developed from it the well-known German submachine guns of the Second World War, the MP-38 and the MP-40. 1.2 million pieces were manufactured for these weapons, and were among the first weapons to be manufactured with die cast parts, metal stamping, and a complete machine-assembly. This method revolutionized weapon production, allowing manufacture at an unprecedented speed. They became internationally known as "Schmeisser MP"s, mainly due to the use of the straight magazine he had patented.
Schmeisser's most important work had been underway since 1938. This new automatic weapon, with a short cartridge 7.92 mm, allowed for smart usage of resources and high production. At first named the Mkb 42, it later received the designation of MP-43, and it became one of the first assault rifles. By 1943, 10,000 pieces had already been manufactured for the front. For a short time, Hitler stopped production, as he was mysteriously opposed to the new weapon. In 1944, after troop testing verified the new weapon's legitimacy, Hitler authorized mass production of the MP-43 as well as further research into a new MP-44. In April 1944 the new weapon received the designation of "Sturmgewehr 44" ("Assault Rifle 44", literally "Storm Rifle 44"). The Stg44 was arguably Schmeisser's most important weapon development.
After World War II
On 3 April 1945 American troops began to occupy the city of Suhl. Weapons manufacturing was completely prohibited during this time. Hugo Schmeisser and his brother Hans were interrogated for weeks by weapon expert teams of the American and British secret services. At the end of June 1945, American troops evacuated Suhl and all of Thuringia. One month later, the Red Army assumed control over the area, starting a civilian works project to manufacture weapons for the Soviet Union. By August 1945, the Red Army had created 50 StG44s from existing assembly parts, and had begun inspecting their design. 10,785 sheets of technical designs were confiscated by the Soviets as part of their research. In October 1945, Schmeisser was forced to work for the Red Army and instructed to continue development of new weapons.
Schmeisser's brilliance continued to impress the Red Army, and he, along with other weapons designers and their families, was relocated to the USSR. On 24 October 1946 the German specialists rode a train to Izhevsk in the southern Ural Mountains, where a center of Russian firearms development was located.
Schmeisser was one of 16 Germans for which a special department (no. 58) was created at factory number 74, later known as Izmash. Schmeisser was appointed as one of the five designers of the group, together with Kurt Horn and Werner Gruner (both from Grossfuss) and Oscar Schink (from Gustloff), under the formal leadership of Karl Barnitske (also from Gustloff). There is some evidence that Schmeisser was uncooperative with the Soviets because he received the most negative review by his Soviet handlers in this group of five German designers. In these Soviet reviews, Schmeisser was described as a "practical man", who invoked his lack of formal training whenever he was presented with any design problems. Initially Schmeisser was given a salary of 5,000 rubles per month, but this was cut after two just months to 3,500 rubles, and a month later to 2,500 rubles. These official Soviet reports match the memoirs of Yevgeny Dragunov, who described Schmeisser as afflicted by chronic lung disease and not engaging in much activity, unlike Gruner, whom Dragunov described as brilliant man, who had contributed considerably.
Schmeisser worked in Izhevsk until 1952 when he and other German specialists returned home to Germany. With short notice, his stay in the Soviet Union was extended beyond that of the other weapon specialists by a half year. He finally returned home on 9 June 1952. Schmeisser died on 12 September 1953, and was buried in Suhl.
While the name of Hugo Schmeisser is known internationally, it is unknown to most Germans. The 50th anniversary of his death was honored by a ceremony held in Suhl, as he is recognized as one of the most important technical designers of infantry weapons of the 20th century.
- Bergmann Nr. 7 mod. 1903 Мars pistol; externally resembling the Mauser C96. 16,000 units made together by Bergmann's company and by Anciens Etablissements Pieper (under license), most chambered in 9mm Largo
- Bergmann MG 15nA machine gun; light machine gun (by WWI standards, 12.9 kg) manufactured in 5,000 units towards the end of the war
(These two were co-developed with his father Luis, before the latter left Bergmann's company.)
- Bergmann MP 18; about 17,000 made, not counting various clones and close copies
- Haenel mod. I pocket pistol in 6.35 mm, based on two Schmeisser patents. Some 40,000 were made
- Haenel mod. 1928 air pistol; externally resembling the Parabellum P08. about 25,000 units sold
- MP 28.II
- Haenel mod. 33 Junior; an air rifle resembling the Kar98
- MP 41, about 26,500 made mostly for export to the Nazi Germany allies
- MkB 42(H)
- StG 44 (MP 43/MP 44)
- StG 45(H); simplified version of the StG 44; one captured prototype was tested at Aberdeen Proving Grounds
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