Here we see German gerbisjager mountain troops from the Prinz Eugen Division help each other in climbing a mountain rock in the Dinaric Alps, Croatia in 1943. If the submachine gun looks odd, that’s because it is the rather rare Bergmann MP35.
Theodor Bergmann, born in Bavaria in 1850, started a company to make bicycles and later early automobiles that bore his name in the factory town of Suhl. Later, in 1893, his Bergmann Industriewerke started making semi-automatic handguns as a side business (Waffenbrink) that saw limited success. However, they sold better than his cars did and he sold that branch of his factory to a young man named Carl Benz (yes, of Mercedes-Benz).
In World War I, Bergmann himself designed a light machine gun, the MG 15nA, which saw limited service during the conflict and some later overseas sales:
However, his company was best known for the 9mm Bergmann Maschinenpistole 18/1 (MP18) designed by the later-legendary Hugo Schmeisser towards the tail end of the conflict. In April 1918, the Imperial German Army placed an order for 50,000 of the new firearm. Envisioned to equip six Stosstruppen (Stormtroopers) per infantry company fewer than 12,500 were produced before the end of the war of which only an estimated 70 percent of those ever made it to the Western front. It was the first practical production submachine gun to achieve widespread service with any country. While the German police kept a handful of these, most were turned over to the victorious Allies in 1919.
Unable to keep making these guns in Germany on account of the Versailles Treaty, Bergmann licensed production in Switzerland to SIG who produced an estimated 30,000 of the weapons in both 9x19mm, 7.63x 25 mm and 7.65x 21mm between the two world wars for Japan, Spain, Finland, China and a number of Latin American countries. Nationalist China, hungry for weapons to feed its Civil War, made unlicensed copies in its Jinan Arsenal in the 1920s.
When Hitler came to power in 1932, Germany started a quiet and then later very public rearmament and the Bergmann works in Suhl went back to work– although with a different design.
The Danish military had an on-again/off-again relationship for decades with Bergmann’s weapons. They adopted a number of handgun designs and the MG 15nA in small numbers for both military and police use. Their Danish partner company, Schultz & Larsen (who still exist today making, ironically, very fine target and hunting variants of the K98 Mauser rifle), put one of their designs, the Bergmann-Maschinen-Pistole, which was designed by Emil Bergmann, ol’ Theodor’s son, into limited production. This sub gun, the MP32, was produced in the 9x23mm Bergmann matching their Bergmann M1910/21 handguns and favored the earlier MP18 although had a very interesting non-reciprocating cocking handle placed at the rear of the receiver reminiscent of a bolt-action rifle. Select-fire, it had a two-stage trigger that was semi-auto when pulling the trigger back slightly, full-auto when held back all the way– so it wasn’t a gun you wanted to have a bad case of the trigger-slap with!
This gun was later revamped slightly by Bergmann for production for both export and domestic production in 9mm Bergmann as the BMP34, which were actually built under contract by Walther as Bergmann’s factory had largely demobilized to accommodate small contracts with Siam (now Thailand) and Bolivia (who was engaged at the time in a harsh war with her neighbors). In all its estimated that Walther made fewer than 2,000 of the Bergmann burp guns before the Emil designed the final version of his gun, the MP-35.
The gun was a simple blowback sub gun in 9×19 mm (Luger) that used an open-bolt. Short and long versions, with 7.9-inch and 12.6-inch barrels respectively, were made which gave the carbine an overall length of 33 and 38 inches accordingly. Weight, due to its heavy one-piece wood stock, varied between 9-10 pounds depending on the model, which allowed the gun to be very controllable in recoil, hanging on target when fired rather than rising. Further, the gun could accept the standard Mauser-style bayonet. The MP35 had a low cyclic rate, just 500 or so rounds per minute that allowed the 20 round double-stack stick mag inserted horizontally on the right-hand side of the gun to last a few seconds at least. Later mags had a larger capacity and some wartime production used Schmeisser MP28 mags.
With Walther continuing production of the MP35/I, some 5,000 were made, winning export contracts overseas with Halle Selassie’s Ethiopia, Republican Spain purchased by Communist agents and the Royal Swedish Army (who bought 1,800 guns and adopted it as the kpist M/39).
By 1940, with Germany entering in large arms contracts in the second year of World War II, Walther was neck-deep in trying to make their own P-38 pistols and other guns and kicked Bergmann’s small-scale sub gun project off the line. Emil shopped around and was able to move the manufacture to Junker and Ruh AG of Karlsruhe, a company (still around) that made sewing machines, stoves, and small appliances.
Subsequently, over 40,000 J&R-built MP35/I’s were made through the war years for the Germany military– and were mostly used by Waffen SS units on the Eastern front and those accepted as such will often be marked “SS ZZA1” (SS-Zentralzeugamt 1).
Post War use
With the end of the war, many of the Bergmann guns were captured by the Soviets who later repurposed them as military aid to Communist groups in Africa and countries friendly to Moscow in the Middle East, which resulted in these guns continuing to pop up in Third World hot spots through the Cold War. Undoubtedly, some still survive in the hands of isolated warlords in places where travel advisories persist.
The Swedes kept their early Walther model guns in service through the 1950s and liquidated them on the surplus market, replaced by the excellent m/45 Swedish K-gun. Later Junker made guns began popping up as surplus at the same time. This allowed a few to trickle into the U.S. in their original select-fire versions, though the ones that are here are C&R eligible.
Perhaps the last government to use the Bergmann 32/34/35 series was Thailand, who inherited the guns from the old pre-war Siam contract. Curiously, the ministry of justice used one of these guns in a remote-control set up for delivering the death penalty. Once triggered by the executioner, an MP34 would stitch up to 15 rounds across the back of a condemned prisoner and proved effective enough to remain in service through 1984– when a suppressed HK MP5 replaced it.
Finally, these guns enjoyed have popped up from time to time on the big screen including a number of 1960s French gangster movie and, most notably, in the hands of tough guy Lee Marvin in the second installment of the Dirty Dozen franchise.
Getting your own
With fewer than 50,000 of Emil Bergman’s MPs ever produced when you combine the S&L, Walther and Junker’s lines from 1932-45, these guns are fairly rare. Complete and original versions in the U.S. can go for over $5K even in dewatted condition as proved by a 2008 example from the Stern collection. Functional examples are several times that amount if transferable.
A dug relic
Parts kits are floating around for less and, when coupled with gently modded UZI mags (as you can’t find functional Bergmann OEs) can make a functional semi-auto provided you can construct a receiver.
For more information on these interesting guns, which have largely been lost to history, please consult Maxim Popenker’s excellent World Guns site and Ian McCollum’s Forgotten Weapons.
Further, there is one in the collection at Springfield Armory.