The Advance and Dissolution of Erma Werke

The Advance and Dissolution of Erma Werke

The name Erma Werke is not necessarily one of the most recognizable names in the firearms industry, but this is at least partially due to the fact that they are no longer around, and when they were, they were mostly associated with a very dark time in the world’s history. Although their guns do display some of the qualities that are to be expected in a German-made firearm, they never really managed to achieve any great success beyond their initial military involvement. However, a few memorable firearms were built during their somewhat short existence, and those that collect guns, or work with firearms can appreciate these modest accomplishments.

Erma was first founded in 1922 in Erfurt, Thuringia by a man named Berthold Geipel. If this area of Germany sounds familiar, it may be because we have mentioned it before when discussing Walther Firearms. The region was rich in both ore deposits and lumber, and many German firearm companies got their start there. 

Prior to the formation of Erma Werkes, Geipel was the director of a state owned weapons factory in Erfurt, where he served during WWI. However, after Germany’s defeat, the factory was closed down, which led Geipel along with several of the other displaced engineers to pursue a new endeavor.

Erma Werke would become best known for the manufacture of submachine guns. Their greatest success came from the Machinepistole 40 or MP-40 for short. It was a submachine gun that evolved from Erma’s best known EMP, which was actually originally based on Heinrich Vollmer’s VMP1930.  

Erma pistols

Geipel managed to purchase the design and patents of Vollmer’s gun in the early 1930s. The reworked gun was initially designated as the MP-36, but underwent changes to simplify its function and was relabeled as the MP-38. Further simplification to reduce production cost was made, and the end result was a well-received MP-40 submachine gun. This gun saw widespread use by Nazi Germany as well as by other Axis forces, but before we get too far ahead of ourselves, lets slow down and back up a bit.

The early success of the EMP in the 1930s is what first put Erma on the map. The gun was exported to European and South American countries. It was produced in several calibers to suit the needs of each buyer. During this time, Erma had also begun producing some small caliber pistols and small caliber barrel inserts to be used for military training.

Despite this growth in their product line and some recognition of the Erma name, Berthold Geipel saw no huge financial success. In fact his past associations and his efforts to establish his company left him with considerable debt. However, his willingness to grow an arms company with a complete disregard of the restrictions set forth by the Treaty of Versailles, did not go unnoticed by the growing German regime. 

In 1935 he would receive financial assistance that came directly from the Heereswaffenamt (German Army Weapons Office). This was likely in relation to Hitler’s Vierjahresplan (four year plan), which called for Germany’s factories to convert their tooling in preparation of war production.

As the Nazi party grew in power, Erma became a major producer of German firearms. This earned Geipel the title of Wehrwirtschaftsführer, which was a quasi-military status that bound him to the Wehrmacht (the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany). It is estimated that between 1940 and 1945 Erma Werkes manufactured more than one million MP-40s for the German war effort.

In February of 1945 Erma’s association with the Nazi war effort came to an abrupt end when more than one-hundred tons of bombs were dropped by the Allied Forces. These bombs strategically targeted Germany’s weapons manufacturing district, and all of Erma’s factory buildings were destroyed. Leaving just a single basement untouched in the rubble.

At the close of the war, Allied Forces arrested Geipel and charged him as a war criminal. The Russian Army moved in and occupied the Thuringia Region and ordered that all of the remaining assets of the weapons factories be liquidated. 

A short time later, Geipel would somehow manage to secure his release and underwent denazification. (Yes, that was a real thing!) Upon his completion of this program, he secured employment with Heinrich Vollmer and became his assistant director at the Vollmer Waffenwerken.

After managing to distance himself from any association with the fallen Nazi regime, Geipel re-established Erma Werke in 1949. This time he based the company in Bavaria, and enlisted the help of his son Rudolf who served as his leading engineer. The pair would begin rebranding Erma Werke as a manufacturer of household appliances.

However, this was short lived, and around 1952 Erma would again be drawn back into the firearms industry. They were contracted to repair weapons, such as the American M1 Carbine, which had been provided to the West German police by Allied Forces.  During this time they were also allowed to begin manufacturing gas pistols for the police, as well as a copy of the Smith & Wesson Model 36 revolver, which was branded the Erma Model EGR-66.

Erma LA22

By 1955 the West Germans had established their independence and were ready to move forward by lessening the foreign influence. One of the ways that they were determined to do this was to decide on their own arsenal, rather than simply using what was given to them. So as a result, Erma was granted permission to begin research and development of a new sub-machine gun. 

Geipel would commit much of the company’s resources to the task, but it would turn out to be a financial disaster for Erma. The West German’s would ultimately choose an Israeli produced Uzi, leaving Erma Werke with nothing to show for their time and effort.

Unable to recover from this financial strain, Erma was about to fail when it was taken over by a company known as Fiberglide in 1961. At this time, both Geipel and his son would leave the company for good. 

Fiberglide, which was a division of Lear-Sigler would reestablish the Erma name for commercial firearm production. Immediately after taking control of Erma they began working on a .22 caliber copy of the Luger Pistol, which debuted as the Model LA 22 in 1964. As well as a look-a-like .22 caliber training rifle based on the American M1 Carbine, which became known as the Erma EM1 22 Carbine. The EM1 would become the longest produced firearm to be built under the name Erma. They manufactured it from 1966 to 1997.

Under Fiberglide, small rimfire guns remained a primary focus for Erma. However, there would be a few exceptions, such as the KGP 68, which was another clone of the original Luger Pistol. This pistol was first offered in .380 and .32 ACP calibers in 1968, and then .22 LR in 1969 as the KGP 69. Both of these pistols were imported to the United States and also sold under the name Beeman MP-08.

KGP 69

They would then produce a .22LR rimfire pistol with an 11-3/4 inch barrel for the West German Navy known as the ET-22.  This pistol was also based on the toggle action Luger pistol and due to its long barrel, it was often referred to as the ET-22 Luger Carbine. It was produced from 1967 to 1969.

ET 22

The 1970s would bring a greater focus on long guns for Erma. They began establishing a pattern of quickly moving on, never committing too much time and energy on any one particular gun, or even style of gun for that matter. The first long gun produced was the EG-72, an outside hammer rifle chambered in.22LR, and then came the EG-73 chambered in the more powerful .22 Winchester Magnum round.

In 1976 they would begin manufacturing the EG-712, this would be their first and only lever-action rifle. It too would be chambered in .22LR and was a very close copy of the Ithaca Model 72. This rifle had a 21 year production run, which made it Erma’s second longest after the EM1.

As the 1980s rolled along, very little was new for Erma until the release of the Model ESP 85A in 1989. This pistol was designed for both sport and match use. It was offered in two chamberings, which were of course the .22LR and a first for Erma, the .32 S&W Long Wadcutter.

Then in the 1990s, revolvers became their focus. They would develop three revolvers and all of them would be debuted in 1990. They were the ER-772 chambered in .22LR, ER-773 in .32 S&W, and the ER-777 in the beefy .357 Mag. All three guns had a limited production run, and within five years they would all be discontinued.

None of their modern guns had ever found any major success and as a result the company known as Erma Werke would file for bankruptcy in 1997. A year later they would be absorbed by Suhler Jagd-und Sportwaffen GmbH, a division of Steyr-Mannlicher

Under this new ownership, one final firearm would be produced using a variation of the Erma name. It was a bolt-action sniper rifle that was produced from 1997 to 1998 and saw very limited import in the United States. The Erma-Suhl GmbH Model SR100 would be chambered in .300 Win Mag, .308 Win, and .338 Lapua Mag.

Over the next few years some merging and reshuffling of ownership took place, Heckler & Koch would eventually take over the company and rename it H&K Jagd und Sportwaffen Gmbh, which would become a sporting division of their parent company Merkel. From that point on the name Erma would cease to exist as a manufacturer of firearms.

It is plain to see from this summary that Erma never really found a way to compete with many of the well-known gun makers. There were no spectacular achievements or groundbreaking inventions, no standout guns that were a must have for sportsmen around the world. Many of their firearms were copied from other designs, therefore limiting the chance for a creative breakthrough. However, they will forever hold a place in the history books because of their affiliation with one of the most volatile regimes the world has ever known. This association compounded with the rarity of many of their firearms should continue to secure their worth among collectors, or perhaps those just seeking to own a piece of history.