Throughout its 125-year corporate history, Rheinmetall has remained true to its defence engineering roots, while repeatedly branching out into other forward-looking industries, successfully striving for excellence there too, and positioning itself as a leader in markets around the world. Today, by focusing on security and mobility, the Group helps to meet two of modern humanity’s basic needs.
The name Rheinmetall has long been associated with state-of-the-art defence and automotive technology. KSPG AG, the Group’s automotive arm, is a globally renowned auto parts maker, supplying major international car manufacturers with a wide range of engine-related modules and systems. In the defence sector, Rheinmetall provides the armed forces of Germany, its NATO partners and other friendly nations with army technology as well as naval and air force solutions.
Founded in 1889 Rheinmetall is one of very few companies in Germany – especially joint stock companies – that can look back on such a long history, particularly as a weapon and ammunition producer that had to start over from scratch under difficult circumstances in 1918 and 1945 following the two World Wars.
It all started with a big ammunition order.
Founded in 1889 by the former Horder Bergwerks- und Huttenverein mining and steel concern, Rheinmetall’s sole initial purpose was to complete a major ammunition order awarded to the Horder Verein by the German Reich, to supply ammunition for the “Gewehr 88”, a widely used bolt-action rifle made by a number of German arms makers, including the Royal Prussian Rifle Factory in Spandau.
In the process, the company quickly outgrew its role as a rifle ammunition producer. It was Heinrich Ehrhardt – the inventive and enterprising Thuringian engineer who for many years stood at the company’s helm and guided it to early greatness – who laid the groundwork for Rheinmetall’s rise by helping to develop the recoiling cannon. This proved to be a turning point in the history of artillery technology, enabling the introduction of rapid-fire field guns.
By the end of the First World War, Rheinmetall had emerged as the German Reich’s second-largest producer (after Krupp) of heavy guns and ammunition for the German Army and Navy. After 1918 the company was forced to shift to civilian manufacturing, including locomotives, steam ploughs and office machines; starting in 1921, however, production of armaments recommenced.
The merger with Borsig, a longstanding Berlin locomotive manufacturer, led to the creation of Rheinmetall-Borsig AG and the establishment of a network of production facilities throughout the Reich. Rheinmetall-Borsig assumed a leading role in the German armaments industry, though quickly came under the total domination of the Nazis, who nationalized the Group, integrating it into the huge Reichswerke Hermann Goring conglomerate.
During the final two years of the Second World War, many of its production facilities were destroyed. The occupation of Germany by the victorious Allies, the loss of former German territories in the east and not least the division of the country, led to the confiscation of numerous plants in what would become Poland and the German Democratic Republic, compounding the problems by a temporary ban on production and the freezing of its assets.
Following a less than stellar foray into civilian production in Dusseldorf after the war, and reprivatisation through the sale of state-owned Rheinmetall shares to the Rochling Group as well as separation from Borsig in Berlin, in 1956 Rheinmetall was free to return to its traditional core competency: defence technology.
Among the first stories WWII production programs was of infantry weapons – the MG 42/MG 3 machinegun and G3 assault rifle as well as a 20mm automatic cannon produced for the Bundeswehr’s first infantry fighting vehicle. In 1964 Rheinmetall resumed cannon production, building on its long decades of experience.
A major milestone in Rheinmetall history was the company’s participation in the Bundeswehr’s tank programmes. In particular, its 120mm smoothbore tank gun set a new global standard for technical and tactical excellence – and still does in the Leopard 2A7.
Starting in the 1960s Rheinmetall began diversifying into civil industry, acquiring companies in the mechanical engineering and civil electronic sectors, among others. Since the beginning of the 21st century Rheinmetall has focused entirely on its two mainstays, Defence and Automotive.
Rheinmetall products, such as the Fox wheeled armoured transport vehicle, the Boxer multirole armoured fighting vehicle and Puma infantry fighting vehicle are providing military personnel with excellent protection from a wide range of symmetric and asymmetric threats.
Gladius, the world’s most advanced soldier system, is currently being introduced in Bundeswehr combat units. The Mantis a unique air defence system, is designed to protect military assets and civilian infrastructure alike from aerial threats, including rocket and mortar attacks. In the simulation and training domain, the group offers large scale systems and services, such as the German Army Combat Training Centre, where up to 15,000 troops undergo training every year.
In the automotive markets, the group’s automotive thrust focuses on engine parts and assemblies, greater fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Rheinmetall subsidiary KSPG was been successfully developing and perfecting engine technology for over a century, helping to reduce pollution and CO2 emissions while boosting fuel efficiency, as well as enabling lower weight and increased performance.
Rheinmetall AG’s Defence and Automotive units make it a significant employer, with a global workforce of around 25,000 at 34 locations worldwide, accounting for roughly 10,500 jobs in Germany alone. The Group has production facilities and sales units in numerous countries even outside Europe, stretching from Canada and the United States to Brazil, and from China and Australia to South Africa.
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