Previous manufacturerBack to index pageNext vehicle Rheinmetall Defence Technologies  

The German Ministry of War awards the mining and foundry concern Hörder Bergwerks- und Hüttenverein (HBH) a major ammunition contract for a new rifle for the German Army. Lacking the capacity to execute the order itself, HBH turns to the Thuringian entrepreneur
Heinrich Ehrhardt, offering him the contract in return for a commission. Undaunted by his lack of a workforce trained in ammunition production, to say nothing of the required production capacity or financial resources, Ehrhardt takes up the challenge and accepts the order, founding Rheinische Metallwaaren- und Maschinenfabrik Actiengesellschaft on April 13th 1889 with the help of a bank syndicate.

On May 7th 1889, the new company is registered at the Local Court in Düsseldorf. The same year sees the start-up of production in rented space in Düsseldorf's Talstraße. Barely a year later, the young enterprise is already employing 1,400 people, and turning out 800,000 bullets daily; by the end of 1891, a total of 120 million rounds will have been produced.

At the same time as completing the company's first government order, Heinrich Ehrhardt is already erecting his own factory buildings in Düsseldorf-Derendorf, to which production is gradually transferred.

On January 28th, the Imperial Patent Office awards Heinrich Ehrhardt a patent (No. 67921) for a "Process for Punching and the Simultaneous Shaping of Iron and Steel Ingots in a Heated Condition". Numerous attempts by the resourceful engineer – beginning at Zella (in Thuringia) back in 1889 – to find a way of producing seamless tubes are now crowned by success. In addition, he develops a pressing and drawing technique, for which he is awarded Patent No. 73005 on April 21st 1892. The tubes and hollow bodies manufactured using Ehrhardt's pressing and drawing technique find eager customers in industry, the military, railway and shipping companies as well as gas and water utilities.

In the Derendorf plant, a tube mill and iron foundry are set up in order to start artillery tube production. The new production facilities also permit the manufacture of non-military items such as steel wheels or cylinders.

Because the expanded production programme has substantially increased the need for steel, Heinrich Ehrhardt acquires (with Paul Heye, his later son-in-law), a small drop forge in Rath near Düsseldorf, which is transformed into the Metallwerk Ehrhardt & Heye stock corporation.

For the first time, Rheinmetall stock is officially listed on the Berlin stock exchange.

The company Rather Metallwerk is integrated into Rheinische Metallwaaren- und Maschinenfabrik as the "Rath Division". Ehrhardt's company henceforth has the capacity to manufacture its own high-grade steels and semi-finished products, making it largely independent of outside suppliers.
Ehrhardt develops the first fieldworthy recoiling cannon, one of the outstanding engineering achievements of the age. Now nearly 60, he is awarded high honours by the king of Norway, the emperor of Austria, and finally, the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II. For the company, Ehrhardt's invention means major commercial success.

On the Lüneburg Heath in northern Germany, not far from the village of Unterlüß, Rheinische Metallwaaren- und Maschinenfabrik leases a large area of land for testing its weapons and ammunition. The first building to go up in 1905 is a 16-square meter shop for manufacturing shells and cartridge cases. In the years that follow, the firing range is considerably extended with additions to the site. Today, the Rheinmetall testing terrain in Unterlüß comprises a total area of approximately 50 square kilometres, 80 percent of which is used for commercial forestry.

By acquiring Munitions- und Waffenfabrik AG of Sömmerda in Thuringia, previously known as Dreyse'sche Gewehrfabrik, a manufacturer of handguns, cartridges and igniters, Rheinische Metallwaaren- und Maschinenfabrik extends its production programme and secures its hold on the market.

In the years that follow, production is systematically expanded. Rheinmetall's recoiling cannon brings the company its first business successes abroad. The British Army orders 18 batteries including ammunition and cassons. Additional orders are received from Norway, Austria and the United States of America.

After an intense competitive evaluation Rheinmetall receives an order from the US government for 50 rapid-fire guns with long barrel recoil, together with the accompanying ammunition. Even though this order was not very large it was highly significant as the US rarely ordered foreign weaponry.

The first loading, assembly and packing operation for artillery rounds is built at Unterlüß.

With a view to extending the Düsseldorf production facilities, Rheinmetall acquires the neighbouring "Germania" factory, which is integrated into the company as Works II.

The "System Ehrhardt" mountain howitzer is fielded in German Southwest Africa. The Unterlüß range is extended so as to be able to test fire Rheinmetall's new naval guns.

At the outbreak of the First World War in August, Rheinmetall is one of Germany's largest manufacturers of military equipment. In January 1914, the Rheinmetall factories employ a workforce of almost 8,000. A year later, Rheinmetall has a total of 14,000, and by 1918 the workforce has mushroomed to almost 48,000 blue- and white-collar employees, including some 9,000 women.

With the cease-fire in November, arms production in Germany comes to an abrupt halt, and the company, whose production space in Düsseldorf has increased nearly fourfold during the war years, is forced to lay off much of its staff.

Signed in June, the Treaty of Versailles prohibits the German Reich from manufacturing large calibre weapons, initially depriving Rheinmetall of a substantial share of its livelihood. With the majority of its share capital in state hands by 1925, Rheinmetall responds to the new situation by moving increasingly into non-military production. In the years that follow, steelmaking at the Rath mill is substantially augmented with a view to assuring the production of civil-sector products.

During the first half of the 1920s,
farming equipment and heavy steam ploughs, railway carriages and locomotives are being built in the Rhineland, while light-engineering products (typewriters and calculating machines), grinding machines and automotive components are manufactured at Sömmerda in Thuringia. By 1929, the latter plant has developed into the biggest manufacturer of cardan shafts in Germany.

The Allies permit Rheinmetall to recommence production of medium calibre weapon systems on a small scale.

Belgian and French troops occupy the Rheinland, including Rheinmetall's Derendorf plant. With orders short, civil-sector production in Düsseldorf is soon making a loss and — apart from the company's profitable line of steam ploughs — is gradually phased out.

The German Reich acquires a controlling stake in Rheinmetall through Vereinigte Industrieanlagen AG.

Well into old age,
Heinrich Ehrhardt continues to apply his creativity energy to the development of military technology. Not until 1921, at the age of 81, does he step down from the Supervisory Board to go into retirement in his Thuringian homeland, where, on November 20th 1928, he dies at the age of 88.

In April, Rheinmetall acquires August Borsig GmbH, a company facing liquidation but still one of the most important manufacturers of locomotives in the German Reich at the time. Rheinmetall thus gains possession of a large plant in the Tegel district of Berlin.

Rheinmetall and Borsig merge to form Rheinmetall-Borsig AG.

Since the mid 1930s, Rheinmetall-Borsig AG — as was true of many other industrial enterprises at the time — has been developing and manufacturing weapons and ammunition on behalf of the Reich War Ministry. These range from machineguns, automatic cannon and antitank guns to "Minenwerfer" mortars, field howitzers, antiaircraft artillery and railway guns.

The subsidiary Alkett is founded in Berlin for the production of tanks and other weapons.

Rheinmetall-Borsig AG moves its headquarters from Düsseldorf to Berlin.

Outbreak of the Second World War. In the very first year of the war, all German arms factories are brought under the direct control of Wehrmacht agencies.

Rheinmetall-Borsig AG is absorbed by the state-owned conglomerate Reichswerke AG Hermann Göring. Since the outbreak of war, Rheinmetall-Borsig's Executive and Supervisory Boards have been appointed by the directors of what has since become Germany's largest industrial concern, leading to the complete control of Rheinmetall-Borsig by the German state. The previous Executive Board, which still managed the company as a private-sector enterprise, is replaced.

As the war progresses, the Nazi regime demands ever greater efforts on the part of industry to step up arms production. The requirements of the German Army, Navy and Luftwaffe for technical innovations force the development departments of Rheinmetall-Borsig to push ahead at full speed, too. By July 1944, the company has developed some twenty weapon systems that have been fielded by the Wehrmacht.

Rheinmetall factories are hit hard by Allied air raids and production is severely disrupted. As a consequence of a heavy air attack, numerous production departments of the Düsseldorf factories are relocated to territories in central Germany and to the eastern provinces of the Reich, e.g. Guben, Apolda und Breslau. The Berlin and Sömmerda factories likewise absorb relocated production facilities. In November 1944, British air attacks inflict severe damage on the Derendorf and Rath factories.

Following the end of the Second World War, most of the Rheinmetall-Borsig factories are destroyed. The sites in western Germany — Düsseldorf, Berlin and Unterlüß — come under the control of the western Allies and trusteeship. Some of the factories are totally dismantled by the victorious powers; assets in the areas occupied by the Red Army are lost. Up until 1950, there is a complete ban on production.

In order to make it easier to obtain production permits for its plants in West Germany, two independent companies are formed: Rheinmetall AG in Düsseldorf and Borsig AG in Berlin. Rheinmetall-Borsig AG becomes a pure holding company.

The new operating companies receive permission to manufacture civil sector products. In Berlin, Borsig AG becomes one of Germany's largest manufacturers of steam boilers and refrigeration systems. In Düsseldorf, typewriters, shock absorbers, elevators, tannery machines as well as transport and loading equipment (e.g. cranes) are built.

On June 23rd, Röchling'sche Eisen- und Stahlwerke GmbH takes over a majority interest in Rheinmetall-Borsig AG from the Federal Republic of Germany, the legal successor of the German Reich. At the beginning of August, its subsidiary Borsig AG is sold to the Salzgitter group.

In November of the same year, the General Meeting in Berlin votes to rename the company Rheinmetall Berlin AG. Its Rhineland-based subsidiary, Rheinmetall AG, is transformed into Rheinmetall GmbH in 1957. In parallel with the creation of the Bundeswehr, Rheinmetall reverts to the production of military equipment, manufacturing machineguns, automatic cannon and ammunition for the country's new armed forces.

Apart from light weapons, Rheinmetall GmbH now begins manufacturing heavier ordnance as well, i.e. gun tubes and gun carriages. Rheinmetall begins producing the main armament for tanks and artillery systems. A tank-killer gun, a standard tank turret and a self-propelled howitzer are all developed in Düsseldorf.

Rheinmetall acquires a majority stake in
NICO Pyrotechnik Hanns-Jürgen Diederichs KG of Trittau.

In Unterlüß, Rheinmetall GmbH erects a state-of-the-art temperature testing facility for climatic testing of weapons and military equipment; it is extensively used for testing civil sector products as well.

Main production of the FH 70 field howitzer commences.

The first Leopard 2 main battle tank is delivered to the Bundeswehr. It is fitted with a 120 mm smoothbore gun developed by Rheinmetall GmbH, widely hailed as a major technical breakthrough in Nato tank armament.

Diehl Munitionssysteme GmbH & Co. KG and Rheinmetall jointly found Gesellschaft für Intelligente Wirksysteme mbH (GIWS). The company specialises in intelligent ammunition and other lethal mechanisms for a wide variety of operational scenarios.

Rheinmetall celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Rheinmetall GmbH acquires a 60-percent-share of MaK System GmbH of Kiel, a unit of Fried. Krupp GmbH. MaK System GmbH not only makes high-quality tactical systems, but also special vehicles for use in environmental protection. In 1992 Rheinmetall GmbH takes over the remaining 40 percent of the company, absorbing it as a wholly own subsidiary. The same year, MaK supplies the Bundeswehr with the first Wiesel armoured weapons platforms.

After more than a century, Rheinmetall GmbH abandons its longstanding site in Düsseldorf-Derendorf, concentrating its defence technology production capacities at Unterlüß, its "Competence Centre" in northern Germany. Its R&D, sales and headquarters units move into new quarters in Ratingen, just north of Düsseldorf.

By taking up a stake in WNC-Nitrochemie GmbH of Aschau am Inn, a producer of powder, propellants and combustible cartridge components, Rheinmetall underscores its commitment to munitions production.

Rheinmetall GmbH changes its name to Rheinmetall Industrie GmbH.

Rheinmetall Industrie GmbH acquires a 60-percent-stake in
Mauser-Werke Oberndorf Waffensysteme GmbH from the Nuremberg-based Diehl group, augmenting Rheinmetall's expertise in medium calibre automatic cannon systems.

Transformation of Rheinmetall Industrie GmbH into a stock corporation.

In December, acting in cooperation with Badenwerk AG (as a dormant partner), Rheinmetall acquires a 51-percent-stake in STN Atlas Elektronik GmbH from the bankrupt Bremer Vulkan concern, the remaining 49 percent being taken over by the third partner of the consortium, British Aerospace. Industrial management of STN Atlas Elektronik is assigned to Rheinmetall. A company with global stature in the domain of defence electronics and civil maritime electronics, STN Atlas Elektronik reinforces Rheinmetall's competence in weapons and ammunition as well as in systems and equipment.

Rheinmetall acquires a 33-percent-interest in the Dutch company Eurometaal N.V. of Zaandam.

Rheinmetall Industrie AG prepares for future changes in the defence technology sector by reorganising is corporate structure. To improve its ability to cooperate on the national and international level, it spins off its operational units, converting them into legally autonomous corporations. The Weapons & Ammunition division of Rheinmetall Industrie AG is transferred to the newly founded corporation Rheinmetall W&M GmbH, jointly based in Unterlüß and Ratingen.

MaK System GmbH delivers the first serially produced Keiler armoured mine clearing vehicle to the Bundeswehr. A prototype of the armoured vehicle is already operating successfully in Bosnia.

Rheinmetall takes over the 25-percent-share in STN Atlas group held by Energie Baden-Württemberg (formerly Badenwerk AG), giving the company a controlling interest in STN Atlas GmbH. Effective January 1st, STN Atlas Elektronik spins off its civil electronics activities, transferring them to the newly founded STN Atlas Marine Electronics GmbH of Hamburg.

Also in January, WNC Nitrochemie of Aschau am Inn (a subsidiary of Rheinmetall Industrie AG) and the Wimmis, Switzerland-based powder & propellant unit of SM Schweizerische Munitionsunternehmung of Thun, Switzerland, merge their operations in a joint venture,
Nitrochemie Wimmis AG.

Jointly developed by Rheinmetall and MaK, the first unit of a new tube artillery system, the PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzer, is transferred to the Bundeswehr. MaK's Rhino mine clearing system goes into operation in Croatia.

Rheinmetall Industrie AG takes over the defence technology component of BUCK System GmbH of Neuenburg, which is subsequently incorporated as
BUCK Neue Technologien GmbH.

Preparing itself for the alliances and consolidations which would characterise the forthcoming restructuring of the European defence industry, Rheinmetall moves to unite its defence technology capabilities under the banner of the newly founded Rheinmetall DeTec AG.

In September, Rheinmetall DeTec AG acquires a majority stake in
Oerlikon Contraves AG of Zurich, a world-renowned supplier of combined gun and guided missile systems for air defence.

In order to bolster its position in the medium calibre sector and establish an even wider presence in the European market, Rheinmetall DeTec AG increases its stake in the Dutch corporation Eurometaal Holding N.V. to 66 percent.

At the end of 1999, Rheinmetall DeTec acquires the defence technology assets of IWKA Aktiengesellschaft of Karlsruhe. These include KUKA Wehrtechnik GmbH of Augsburg and Henschel Wehrtechnik GmbH of Kassel, both leading suppliers of wheeled armoured vehicles.

The hitherto independently operating companies Henschel Wehrtechnik, KUKA Wehrtechnik and MaK System Gesellschaft mbH are merged to form Rheinmetall Landsysteme GmbH.

To create synergies in the field of active and passive countermeasures systems for ground, air and naval applications, Nico Pyrotechnik Hanns-Jürgen Diederichs GmbH & Co. KG and RUAG Schweiz AG acquire 31 percent of BUCK Neue Technologien GmbH; in 2002, Rheinmetall DeTec becomes sole owner of BUCK Neue Technologien.

Narrowing its focus to core defence activities, Rheinmetall sells the Eurometaal Holding N.V. subsidiary Intergas B.V., a furnace and boiler manufacturer. Eurometaal N.V. (Netherlands) is closed.

Rheinmetall's subsidiaries and affiliates are organised according to their competency into four strategic business units, each being responsible for its own markets and results:

  • Land Systems
  • Air Defence Systems
  • Weapon and Ammunition
  • Defence Electronics

In a parallel move, the company's operations in the large and medium calibre domain are merged in the Weapon and Ammunition division. As a result, the jointly managed companies Mauser-Werke Oberndorf Waffensysteme GmbH and Oerlikon Contraves Pyrotec AG are transferred to this division.

The German parliament approves a project to develop a new infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) for the Bundeswehr, viewed as a project critical for sustaining the future viability of the German defence industry. The ensuing development contract is worth some €200 million. In order to execute it, Rheinmetall Landsysteme and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann found the joint venture PSM GmbH, in which each company holds a 50-percent-stake.

Rheinmetall acquires the remaining shares of Oerlikon Contraves AG, becoming sole owner of the air defence specialist.

In line with the Group's policy of focusing on ground forces technology, STN Atlas Elektronik is divided into two parts. Its Land, Air Systems and Simulation departments remain part of Rheinmetall DeTec, operating as
Rheinmetall Defence Electronics GmbH. The Naval Systems unit and the production departments are transferred to BAE Systems, former co-owner of the Bremen-based company.

Rheinmetall Landsysteme delivers the first of its new mine-resistant Marder 1 A5 infantry fighting vehicles to the KFOR troops in Kosovo.

By selling the civil sector-oriented Heidel group (a manufacturer of machines and machine tools), Rheinmetall DeTec successfully completes its strategy of shedding non-core businesses.

Operating worldwide and employing a global workforce of 7,400, the subsidiaries and affiliates of Rheinmetall DeTec AG generate annual sales of approximately €1.6 billion, making it one of the largest and most important defence technology companies in Europe.

Copyright © 1997 - 2024 Danish Army Vehicles Homepage