John on many things  
 

GEHA: A Little-Known Prime Example of Germany Maintaining Its Arms Industry Between the World Wars

 

The history of the unique GEHA bolt-action shotgun and who designed it has been somewhat unknown up until now. Using various sources from the internet along with guns I've seen come up for auction and have handled and examined in person, I have managed to find out what firm designed these guns, when, and when manufacture ceased. Read on to find out!

 

The first thing you may be asking yourself is “what on earth is a GEHA?”  Simply put, it’s a converted Mauser Gewehr 98 rifle bored out for a 12, 16, or 20 Gauge shotshell, with 1 shell in the magazine plus 1 in the chamber capacity.  It is half-stocked, and the wood is usually military grade and was never changed from the Gewehr 98 to the GEHA.  It uses a sprung, detachable bolthead that fits over the old Gewehr 98 bolthead, and also utilizes a receiver strengthener/shell deflector that was added because so much metal was removed from the original rifle action.  A new trigger assembly and triggerguard were also fitted so as to be more suitable to a shotgun.  For one, the triggerguard was quite beefy. For another, the trigger itself was single-stage (as opposed to the two-stage military rifle trigger of the Gewehr 98).  These trigger and triggerguard features are shared by the Remo and Hard Hit Heart, the two other Mauser conversion shotguns.  Another feature of these guns is that the bolt handles were bent.

          The first GEHA shotguns were not GEHA's.  Rather, they were made by an optics company (they built components for Zeiss) and guild sporterizer known both as Gebrueder Rempt and alternately as Remo-Gewehrfabrik (Remo Rifle Company).  Located in Suhl, Germany, Remo realized that they would go out of business without military contracts during the Weimar Republic era if they didn't think of something pretty quickly.  An unknown someone at Remo-Gewehrfabrik then suggested buying surplus Gewehr 98's from what was left of the German Army, and converting them into 12 Gauge shotguns.  The earliest Remos were comparable to most Guild Guns, and were heavily engraved in a Mauser sporter-style stock with cheekpiece.  A second gun in 16 Gauge (referred to officially as the Remo II) was soon released.  The first 12 Gauge Remo was made in 1919.

          Early Remo shotguns are beautiful.  They lack the bluing on the receiver of later guns (a feature shared with the military Gewehr 98 rifle), but set some early precedents. Firstly, a notch was cut in the receiver ring to allow proper sighting of the guns.  The safety was also filed down a tad to get a proper sighting plane (though this was omitted from later Remos).  In addition, the magazine was modified to hold one shell on each model.  Another early feature of these guns was that the receiver wall strengthener/shell deflector was not screwed, but rather welded on.  The welding jobs were quite well done, and it is often difficult to see that the shell deflector was not in fact part of the gun’s receiver.  The Remo also had a fully choked barrel. Other features included a cheekpiece and sling swivels. 

          While the Remo would eventually adopt the screw-on strengthener/deflector and blued receiver (although not in that order...I have seen a Remo II with a blued receiver and welded strengthener, along with sling swivels...perhaps this was a "transitional" model?), it would retain the fully-choked barrel and a more elegant stock (albeit sans engraving and cheekpiece) throughout the rest of its manufacture.  Eventually, to compete with the lower-priced GEHA, Remo introduced (possibly in the late 1920's) a lower-grade shotgun with a fancier stock than the GEHA, but that retained the Gewehr 98's military wood.  I call these guns “Remo Economy Models.”  I have only heard of these shotguns appearing in 12 Gauge, but if you can find a 16 Gauge, please email me.  Another measure used to compete with the GEHA was fewer concessions to vanity as the years passed, most notably the level of engraving going down.  Remo stayed in business until 1941, but dropped their shotgun around 1933.

          With the success of the Remo shotgun, Gustav Genschow, Adamy Gebrueder, and several others began manufacturing two lower-priced alternatives to the Remo and gave the base model the acronymized name of the distributor...GEHA.  The GEHA was simple.  It retained the basic features of the Remo (including the filed safety of the early Remo), but the barrel was simpler.  It was cylinder-bored, as opposed to the full-choke bores of the Remo (Although a few GEHA’s have been noted with fully-choked bores, they seem to be in a small minority.  Frank de Haas notes one of the guns appearing in his book Bolt-Action Rifles co-authored by Dr. Wayne van Zwoll.  More on de Haas’s blurb about the guns can be seen further in the article.).  It also retained the military Gewehr 98 stock, and was a no-frills gun without any provisions for a front sling swivel (although it retained the rear swivel mount from the Gewehr 98).  The hole for the Gewehr 98’s bolt takedown donut was filled with a medallion reading "GEHA" in script.  It was put on the market around 1920 or 1921.

          The GEHA came in three barrel lengths, 26.5", 27" (which either replaced or was displaced by the 26.5" model), and 32".  Taking advantage of the cylinder bore, a few of the guns were made with rifled bores as slug guns.  I have seen very few of these even mentioned.  Many GEHA's were produced, and they are the most common Mauser conversion shotguns.  They also introduced a 20 Gauge model to stay competitive with Remo (Remo never produced a 20 gauge shotgun, to my knowledge, although if you see one, don't hesitate to contact me).  Like Remo, these larger companies bought surplus Gewehr 98's from the arsenals for conversion. 

 

Spandau Arsenal seems to really have been selling its rifles, as some late-War, 1918-dated Spandau receivers turn up with either Pieper of Liege or Siemens & Halske subcontractor marks under the receiver. A lot of these turn up on the receivers underneath the wood on the GEHA’s, and because Pieper also made low-end Belgian shotguns in the 1890's-1910's under the name Bayard, some people mistakenly assume that the GEHA was made by Bayard (including Frank de Haas, although he probably had no way of knowing of the recently-discovered Spandau receiver contract). The last GEHA's were produced a little before the Remo was phased out, possibly around 1932 or 1933.  To make an educated guess, this is because the manufacturers of the GEHA were far more important, militarily, to the German government than Remo-Gewehrfabrik. 

          The higher-end model of the GEHA was the Hard Hit Heart, although I'm unsure where the name has its origins.  It differs from the GEHA by usually having a finished stock, a heart instead of "GEHA" on the insert in the stock (which was made not of sheet metal, but rather of well-carved wood), a stock cartouche saying "Hard Hit Heart" in a circle over a smiley face heart (did these guys have a bizarre sense of humor or what?), and, finally, a fully-choked barrel as an option.  The Hard Hit Heart is not as common as the GEHA, but certainly not as uncommon as the Remo.  It was made by the same companies the GEHA was made by, but period of manufacture is uncertain.  It was probably introduced a little after the GEHA, and may have died off around the same time as the GEHA did.  But these now-scorned shotguns kept Germany's arms industry alive.  Surviving on Guild Sporters, high-end shotguns, and a few rifles for the Reichswehr alone would have been nearly impossibly for all but a few (Merkel and Sauer, namely).  Even the much renowned Heym is said to have made GEHA shotguns.

          Enter the Nazis.  With the military buildup of the 1930's, the GEHA and Remo shotguns were eliminated from the repertoires of the larger companies and Remo-Gewehrfabrik alike.  They went back to making military rifles, submachine guns, machine guns, and optics.  The Germans did not go to war with the shotgun, and thus, there was no time to produce it.  But it had kept the gunmakers "in practice" for the Kar98k and others.  The humble GEHA probably saved much of Germany's arms industry from collapsing during the Weimar Republic.

          A relatively comprehensive but by no means complete list of "remanufacturers" for the GEHA and Remo is now available for both the Remo and GEHA brands (I still can't find out much about Hard Hit Heart).

Remo and Remo II
-Remo-Gewehrfabrik, aka Gebrueder Rempt

GEHA
-Gustav Genschow (Aka Geco; they were an early manufacturer of these guns…this company also made single-shot .22 S-L-LR rifles in the 1920’s.  Due to Jewish ownership, however, the Third Reich redistributed Genschow’s assets to Nazi-friendly companies such as Gustloff-Werke. Note that Frank de Haas mistakes the Geco-manufactured guns for variants in unto themselves of the GEHA.)
-Adamy Gebrueder (This company made an early over/under shotgun that was top-notch, along with other expensive double-barreled shotguns.  But it couldn’t survive on the profits of those guns alone and made GEHA’s as well.)
-Heym Gebrueder (Almost certainly...I found that when the company started out in 1922 they were "producing inexpensive bolt-action shotguns" and the only inexpensive German bolt shotgun at the time was the GEHA)
-Waffenfabrik Simson (Because of Jewish ownership, Simson was disbanded under the Third Reich and had its employees redistributed to firms such as Gustloff-Werke, much like Gustav Genschow.)

-Krupp Werke (Although this one isn’t definite, Krupp did make GEHA barrels and boltheads.  With such a limited market in the 1920’s, it is quite possible they started making entire guns to survive.)

-Gustloff-Werke (While this company did NOT make GEHA, Remo, or Hard Hit Heart shotguns, they did absorb the assets of Genschow and Simson, including employees and machinery.)

          I've found three exceptions to my historical rule in my survey results, though. They are...

-Remo 12 Gauge Shotgun without the "Remo" marking. My guess is that this was probably a very late production model, as even the dealers I've found who've had quite a few of these guns in don't recognize it.

-GEHA 12 Gauge shotgun with a checkered forend and pistol grip-style stock. My guess? Either the work of a Gun Guild or a very highly skilled sporterizer.

-GEHA 16 Gauge Shotgun with intact military sling swivel at the rear. My guess? Someone probably added one, and this was not original to production.

 

-Also note that many sporterizers added recoil pads to these guns (they were fitted with steel buttplates) and/or created “GEHA Carbines” with barrels of anywhere from 20” to 24” to make the gun look more like a sporterized military rifle.  Avoid both unless you’re just looking for a cheap shooter-grade gun.

 

One unfortunate thing about the GEHA and its technological cousins would be that it has been deemed “unsafe” by armchair “experts” because it lacks frontal locking lugs and the only lockup is the third, “safety lug” at the rear.  They claim that the pressures of a 12 Gauge, 16 Gauge, or 20 Gauge shotshell is too much for these guns and that they slowly self-destruct over the years or are equated to ticking bombs, waiting for the bolt to fly out into the user’s face.  They could not be more wrong.  There is actually nothing fundamentally wrong with the GEHA’s design, and as it underwent re-heat treatment after it was converted to a shotgun, this should quash notions that the removal of metal destroyed the heat treating process.  As for the pressures of a shotgun shell, they are much lower than that of a rifle cartridge.  The safety lug is more than adequate to keep the bolt in the gun during firing.  Another criticism of the GEHA that can be rather easily dismissed is that it had headspacing issues.  This is due to the fact that some GEHA’s were chambered for 2 9/16” shotgun shells, not the standard 2 ¾” American types.  It is advisable to get these guns bored to 2 ¾” by a qualified gunsmith or simply shoot 2 ½” shells, available from various sources, though the guns.  By using the 2 ¾” shells in a 2 9/16” chamber, it will wreak havoc on the action, as the changes in pressure are quite different.  Even a tough, proven, and universally respected shotgun such as the Browning Auto-5 16 Gauge can have its ejector clip blown out by using modern shells in an old, 2 9/16” chambered gun.  When in doubt, have the gun checked out by a qualified gunsmith.  With the old chamber length, also be sure to check the locking lug to make sure it’s not cracked.  That WILL lead to a failure, serious injury or even death.

 

One genuine problem does, however, exist with the GEHA and its design cousins…that being the bolthead.  The sprung, detachable bolthead will sometimes pop out of the gun on quick follow-up shots, and firing the gun with no bolthead is extremely dangerous.  One person taking the technical/safety survey (see below) had his grandfather lose an eye in just such a mishap.  When in doubt, look at the bolthead.  If you’re in no rush or don’t mind using a single-shot shotgun, this shouldn’t be much of a problem.  Another arguable defect is the gun’s hellacious recoil.  Due to the extremely light stock, the gun sometimes kicks so hard that if the wood has not been taken care of, it will crack the stock.  And while the gun is perfectly safe to use with lighter loads, pushing the limit with baby magnums and hot handloads will damage the gun (as it would with many 1920’s and before-era shotguns).  Hence, it should be somewhat restricted to trap and upland game (or, if you handload lightly enough and the gun has a cylinder bore, slugs).  All in all, though, the GEHA is a technological curiosity, a functional shotgun, and a piece of history.  If you paid anywhere from $100-$250 (more if a Remo), you got your money’s worth!  Now, I am taking a survey of these shotguns, too, and would like to know the following…

 

Safety and General Issues...

-How many rounds have you fired from your shotgun?
-What sort of shells do you use in it?
-Has the gun given you any problems? If so, what kind?
-How long have you had the gun?
-Have you had to take it to a gunsmith to be repaired?
-Have you witnessed, in person, or heard about from an absolutely rock-solid reliable source, one of these guns catastrophically failing and killing or seriously injuring its owner?

Technical Details...

-Is your gun a GEHA, Remo, or "Hard Hit Heart"?
-What gauge is your gun?
-How long is the barrel on your gun?
-Is your barrel rifled or smoothbore?
-While all bolt handles are bent, does yours have a flat-sided or fully round bolt handle? The former would prove the existence of the guns being converted from Kar98AZ's.
-Do your serial numbers match (while a converted Gewehr 98 or possibly Kar98AZ would in theory match completely, I'm trying to see how the guns were made up; i.e., if they were assembled from random parts or directly modified from the rifles...I've seen a mixture of both, but would like to know which is more prevalent)?

-Is your shell deflector/receiver strengthener screwed on or welded on (Remo only)?

-Take the barreled action out of the gun.  Under the receiver ring, are there any marks?  A mounted horseman would indicate receiver manufacture by Pieper (thus originally proving the gun a 1918 Spandau) and a stylized “SH” marking would indicate receiver manufacture by Siemens & Halske (also proving the gun originally a 1918 Spandau).

            Thanks in advance for your help, and I hope you liked my little article on this somehow irresistibly appealing shotgun.

 

            But before I end this article, I have recently purchased the book Bolt-Action Rifles by Frank de Haas and Dr. Wayne van Zwoll (the expanded fourth edition).  The article written on pages 334-337 covers the “Mauser Two-Shot Shotgun,” de Haas’s collective term for the GEHA, Remo, and Hard Hit Heart.  While it is an unbiased article neither condemning the design of the shotgun nor praising it, it is also, unfortunately, fraught with error.  The most serious of these errors is the line “All of these guns were chambered for 2 ¾” shells.”  They were not and it is extremely dangerous to assume so.  In the author of this article’s mind, the assumption and flat-out statement that the guns are chambered for these modern shells is extremely dangerous.  This is how accidents happen, and this is too serious of an error to go uncorrected.  Other incorrect assumptions by Mr. de Haas include the Hard Hit Heart being a GEHA (which it is not), Gustav Genschow having its own specific variant of the gun (most likely based on the fact that Gustav Genschow/Geco actually manufactured GEHA’s), Bayard making the shotguns (this is explained elsewhere in the author’s article), that Remo manufactured a 20-gauge shotgun (while unconfirmed, de Haas admits he was speculating), and that the Remo shell deflector/receiver strengthener is actually part of the receiver (I have not observed a Remo in such a state; the deflectors, as mentioned above, are welded on, although an extremely good job is done of doing this).  That being said, he does do an excellent job of explaining the construction and modifications done to the guns.  I would recommend the article as a “must-read” for those seriously interested in the guns.

 

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