The 1920 Property MarkAt the end of World War I, after an orderly retreat to the Armistice line, the German Army largely fell apart, many soldiers heading home, often taking their small arms with them. Equipment of all sorts was “lost” on this retreat, artillery and mortars to small arms. The ensuing chaos in Germany, between opposing factions (right and left), often created impossible conditions in Germany that the government was barely able to contain.
Much of this came to a head at the Spa Conference, during July 1920 in Belgium. The German delegation was berated for allowing such chaos to continue, and during the “interrogation” General Seeckt (head of the Reichswehr) matter of factly stated the small arms situation:
The German Army at the time of the Armistice had 6,000,000 rifles, during the retreat she lost 1,500,000 rifles and had delivered over to the Entente 1,690,000. He also stated that the German Army held 250,000 rifles, the Police 117,000, and the Militia 600,000. Lloyd George reportedly flew into a rage over this, but Seeckt ignored his outburst and continued his report. Simply stating the Army’s position was to abide by the terms as soon as they could collect the missing and excess arms (rifles were the least of the worries, missing MG’s and artillery were much more of a concern). He suggested this would take up to a year.
While these figures remained in dispute (Lloyd George suspected more were unaccounted for), Lloyd George essentially agreed to the plans the German government outlined, - this would become the “The Disarming of the People Act”, which goal was simply to entice as many Germans as possible into surrendering the illegal military arms in their possession and curtailing the ongoing violence. Rewards and amnesty were the first offerings, and eventually just amnesty from criminal prosecution.
Before the German government could implement this law and buy back program, they had to identify weapons in government hands, from those illegally held, so as to not encourage further thefts for the offered rewards. They decided to mark all weapons currently in government hands with a “1920” marking starting in August 1920. This was done by the individual units, depots, organizations, and that is why the markings vary as to application and style.
The program started on September 15, 1920, and lasted until November 1, 1920, and was later extended to February 1921. The law required all German civilians to surrender all “military” weapons in their possession.
The rewards offered ranged from a high of $2,350 US dollars (paid in RM) for artillery pieces, to $23.50 for each rifle. The terms of the rewards demanded quick surrender, full rewards only paid through October 10th, half rewards followed until October 20th, and after that the surrender only guaranteed amnesty from prosecution. The results of the law were disappointing, some large seizures were made due to informants selling out others, and some surprising hauls were made, but not surprisingly, most of the illegal arms were held by organizations and groups who had plans for them, and were not enticed to letting them go for mere petty change and amnesty.
The German government did surrender massive amount of arms, as Seeckt promised. By January 13, 1921 alone, almost 30,000 artillery pieces and barrels, 10,000 mortars, 70,000 MG’s and nearly 3 million rifles had been surrendered or destroyed under supervision. By 1922 most of the armament demands (arms in excess of Versailles and subsequent agreements) were met and in general Germany was essentially disarmed of all offensive capability.
The Interallied Military Control Commission (IAMCC) was the oversight body that conducted inspections of facilities, granted clearance permits, which allowed firms to resume business once inspected, supervised destruction of war materials and generally oversaw the enforcement of the terms of the treaty. It was not the force or authority that was responsible for disarmament, or conducted any disarmament measures, rather they ensured compliance and reported to their superiors on German compliance. These reports were very important to the German government, as they were the basis of whether continued occupation of the Rhineland, after the agreed time of withdraw, was to be undertaken, worse a further expansion of the occupied areas could result from non-compliance. (The importance of this cannot be overstated- the 1925 withdraws didn’t happen due to IAMCC reports on German industry and police).
The Germans had IAMCC counterparts, they worked with the IAMCC and were the ones that did the disarmament measures, supervised and certified by the IAMCC. The IAMCC itself was a small force, and never reached its originally planned size, which was in part due to the United States pulling out of the treaty and disarmament efforts (The United States came to terms with Germany separately, never participated in the IAMCC, nor did it ratify the Versailles Treaty). A small force of less than 1200 men (mostly British, French and Belgians, but some Italians and Japanese), usually much smaller, they did not have the ability undertake large scale inspections or record keeping of rifles or soldiers, needless to say look in every basement or wall for hidden rifles. The goal of the IAMCC was to ensure German compliance, most importantly in German industry, military establishments (depots, barracks, fortifications) and to try and monitor the effectives clauses of the Versailles Treaty (numbers of potential soldiers available – mostly hidden amongst the Police and paramilitary formations).
The IAMCC only role in the Disarming of the Peoples Act was in supervising the destruction of the surrendered arms, at approved locations, which began in October 1920.
Further Reading and Resources:
MRJ # 200 June 2010, pages 19-27
German Small Arms Markings, by Joachim Görtz & Don Bryans
Weimar Lugers, by Jan Still
AEF Summary of Information November 22, 1918 (comments on German withdrawal)
German Army Order For Demobilization, Ministry of War December 5, 1918 (AEF Bulletin March 5, 1919)
History of the First World War, Purnell/BPC Publishing
Army Ordnance May/June 1931
German Disarmament After World War I, by Richard J Shuster
The Luger Story, by John Walter
The Navy Luger by Joachim Görtz & John Walter
The Politics of Law and Order: A History of the Bavarian Einwohnerwehr 1918-1921 by David Clay Large
"Handbuch Deutscher Waffenstempel" by Wacker & Görtz
Der Grenz-und Landesschutz in der Weimarer Republik 1918-1933, Nakata, Jun
Craig Brown addendum regarding the 1920 property marking:
Weapons turned in by civilians during the civilian disarmament program, per Deutschen Reichs-und Preußischen Staatsanziger, 12.I.1921
932 artillery pieces, mortars and flamethrowers
2,201,584 rifles and carbines
78,325 pistols and revolvers
85,616 hand grenades
3,553 artillery piece parts
246,657 MG parts
46,241,899 rounds of small arms ammunition
- cited in Wacker & Görtz, op. cit., p. 224
For a good account of measures taken to counter the military and civilian disarmament program specific to Germany's Eastern provinces see: Nakata, Jun: Der Grenz-und Landesschutz in der Weimarer Republik 1918-1933: Die geheime Aufrüstung und die Deutsche Gesellschaft, Freiburg i, Br., Brombach, 2002, ISBN 3-7930-9331-X, 430 pp., bib., index.