What is the fastest way to add a couple hundred bucks to the price of a WWII-era firearm? Add a Waffenamt to it, of course! German markings on a gun always drive up interest and demand, and so it should really come as no surprise that faking those markings is one of the most widespread gun forgeries to be found today. This faking is aided by the fact that the Germans really did stamp a wide variety of guns, and their system of markings was rather on the confusing and bureaucratic side of the spectrum – so lot of potential buyers don’t know what is correct and what isn’t.
Let’s take a look at a particularly egregious example – Nazi-marked Steyr M95 carbines. They make a good case study because there are a whole bunch of them out there, they are both distinctive and undeniably fake, and because I happened to run across one at the SAR show this month.
To start with, let’s look at the most common Nazi mark: the Waffenamt. This is a stylized eagle with spread wings, over the text “WaA xxx” where “xxx” is a 1-3 digit number. The Heereswaffenamt was the German Army Ordnance Office, and was in charge of approving arms production. They set up inspectors’ offices in pretty much every significant production facility, and would approve each item produced. This approval was done in the form of a WaA (waffenamt) stamp on the item in question. The number on the stamp corresponded to the office number of that particular inspector. This depended on not just the company whose work was being inspected, but also the physical location of the factory – so different production lines run by the same company could often have different WaA inspectors and thus different stamps.
The waffenamt stamp is a small thing, only a few millimeters in length and height. There is no swastika visible. Here is a typical example on a pistol – and in very crisp condition, plus being highlighted white for easy viewing:
The layman might expect big prominent swastikas all over a Nazi firearm, but that is not the case.
Now, it is also important to recognize that these acceptance stamps were placed during production – not simple because a weapon was used by the German military! In many cases, when Germany occupied an arms factory in another country, they would continue production of whatever arms were being made and allocate those arms to German units. Not so much with rifles, but the German Army was happy to use a wide variety of pistol designs, and so there are a great number of pistols which were made under occupation and will bear waffenamt marks (including Hi-Powers, vis35 Radoms, FN 1922s, Astras, etc). But these were all marked during manufacture. If the Wehrmacht captured, say, a Steyr M95 carbine and pressed it into service, it would receive no marking at all. The only case where it might be marked would be it if was sent through a repair depot, and that marking would be different from a waffenamt. But many gun forgers don’t know these details either, and make the simple and universal assumption that waffenamt = German.
So let’s take a look at the fake M95 carbines now with this info in mind, and see how many different problems we can spot. Here are a couple photos (found on The High Road forum):
Here’s one clue that something is amiss – what is this marking? It’s not a waffenamt, and it’s actually not anything that should appear on a rifle. It also sports a distinguishable swastika, which violates my rule of thumb: if you see a swastika, it’s not a German rifle.
Now, these are what waffenamts ought to look like. But there shouldn’t be three of them on the receiver. It’s not uncommon to see a bunch of them on a single gun, but they will be distributed one per part, as the parts were often inspected individually prior to assembly.
Holy crap, what is that? This stamp is close to an inch square, has a big ol’ swastika, and was marking in the wood. Every one of those factors should be a big red flag. Waffenamts are sometimes found on wooden parts, but it is rare for them to be recognizable and legible after 70 years. And that brings us to another point…
This marking was administered by the Nazi government, which puts a fairly tight date range on when it could be legitimately encountered. Think about it – was Steyr still making M95 rifles or carbines in 1939, when they started using the WaA623 stamp? Ah, no. Even without knowing the details of that particular WaA number, we know that Germany didn’t control the Austrian Steyr plant until the 1938 anschluss. This particular carbine has the tall rifle sight, indicating that it was made by cutting down a full-length M95 rifle in the early/mid 1930s. The chronology is simply impossible for it to have been produced under German authority.
The lesson? Caveat emptor! Modern reproduction waffenamt stamps are pretty easy to obtain today, and the wise collector will exercise plenty of skepticism before paying a premium for a firearm with rare German markings.