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Erma-Werke EG71 .22 Carbine: Ancestor to the Henry Rimfire Rifles

By Justin Bulling

I had been looking for a classic style lever action .22 for a while but had noticed that the prices of used Winchester 94/22, Marlin 39A and Browning BLA/Miroku rifles has increased markedly in the last few years.

 

Erma-Werke’s little .22 carbines have the look if not the solid steel construction and while I hadn’t fired one, I knew that they were of largely alloy construction and that the design was still being produced by the Henry Firearms Manufacturing Company in the USA.

 

Both the Erma and Henry rifles seem to have some fans in the online firearm forums so when I saw an EG71 carbine for a reasonable price I decided to buy it for a review.

 

The ERMA company’s beginning was in 1922 when Berthold Geipel started the Erfurter Maschinen-und Werkzeugfabrik GmbH (Erfurt Machine and Tool Factory) in the city of Erfurt in central Germany.

 

ERMA (derived from ERfurter MAschinen…) became an unofficial acronym and as the name suggests, the company engaged in general machining, tool making and manufacture.

 

The company’s first experienced in firearms manufacture was a contract in the early 1930’s to produce Mauser Karabiner 98K rifles and it continued to make them up to and throughout WWII.

 

Geipel could see the opportunities that were coming for arms production and once the Mauser production line was working in October 1931, he bought the rights to Machine Pistol production from Heinrich Vollmer.

 

Volmer had been working on a series of sub machine guns in 9mm which were aimed at providing a successor to the Hugo Schmeisser’s MP18 and his final prototype was designated the VMP 1930. Continuation of work on Vollmers design resulted in the ERMA Maschinenpistole or EMP.

 

The ERMA EMP. ERMA’s first successful firearm.

 

This was a successful design which was adopted by the German SS as well as being sold to Spain, Mexico, China, and Yugoslavia.

 

ERMA’s EMP was a wooden stocked select fire submachinegun with the charging handle and ejection port on the right and magazine protruding horizontally on the left and canted slightly forward. The stock incorporated a wooden forward handle.

 

In 1936 a major redesign was called the MP36. This had the charging handle moved to the left side and the magazine angle was moved to an unusual angle about 30° from vertical. A folding metal stock was used which made it the first gun to use this now commonly seen feature.

 

In January 1938, the German Heereswaffenamt (Army Weapons Office) requested a lightweight, compact, and rapid firing weapon for paratroopers and tank crews.

 

“ERMA’s EMP was a wooden stocked select fire submachinegun with the charging handle and ejection port on the right and magazine protruding horizontally on the left and canted slightly forward.”

 

The MP36 platform and the high likelihood of the contract allowed Geipel to direct considerable resources to the project with the resulting gun designated MP38. The barrel shroud was removed, and the magazine was now mounted vertically at the bottom.

 

By the summer of that year there were prototypes available for testing by the Wehrmacht. The gun was accepted and contracted for widespread adoption with Haenel also manufacturing them under license. A total of 40576 were produced.

 

The MP38 was made of all machined parts and ERMA began experimenting with using stamped parts to allow the guns to be made more quickly and cheaply. The resulting gun was released in 1940 as the MP40.

 

One of the most recognisable German guns of WWII if has often been called the “Schmeisser” by English speakers which is a misnomer as, apart from some aspects of the magazine design, Hugo Schmeisser played no part in its development. During the war almost 870,000 guns were produced by ERMA, Haenel and Steyr.

 

The ERMA MP40. Probably the company’s most famous gun design.

 

In 1944 with the tide of the war turning, the German government was looking at various concepts of very crudely made but cheap and quick to produce firearms. ERMA submitted a submachinegun made from welded tube stock of a similar concept to the British Sten and designated the EMP44.

 

It was not ultimately adopted likely due to the concurrent development and adoption of the stamped manufacture STG44 “Sturmgewehr” assault rifle. This was also manufactured by ERMA due to their expertise in stamping technology.

 

In February 1945 British bombers targeted the ERMA factories and they were almost completely destroyed. At the end of the war Erfurt was in the Russian occupied zone and Berthold Geipel was imprisoned due to his work for the Nazi party and underwent “denazification” re-education.

  

The ERMA manufacturing business was closed, and its assets dissolved with all proceeds taken by the communist state. After Geipel’s eventual release he managed to escape to the western part of Germany occupied by the allies where he went to work for Heinrich Vollmer’s manufacturing company as assistant director.

 

A German soldier fires an ERMA MP40.

 

In 1949 Geipel established a new manufacturing company in Bavaria which he named Erma-Werke. Geipel’s son Rudolf was the chief engineer and the company initially concentrated on making household appliances for which there was emerging demand at that time.

 

In 1952 the company was moved to Dachau near Munich. At about this time the company secured a large contract with the German police forces to maintain and rebuild their small arms including the manufacture of replacement parts. The most notable of these were almost 19000 surplus US M1 Carbines which had been given as military aid to the German forces in 1949 and another 34000 in 1955.

 

With the formation of West Germany in 1955 the new army required a sub machine gun. Geipel was obviously very optimistic in obtaining a contract for the right gun based on his history and experience and again poured resources into the development of a suitable weapon.

 

The result was the MP60, but it is outdated stamped steel design, wire stock and lack of select fire were not well received and it lost out to the Israeli’s newly developed and more modern Uzi.

 

“In the late 1950s Erma designed a simple blowback carbine which looked and hefted very similar to the M1 Carbine...”

 

The huge investment with no result came close to bankrupting the company and in 1961 Geipel was forced to sell to an industrial conglomerate named Fiberglide. Geipel and his son had no further association with Erma-Werke.

 

.22 training versions of common military rifles had a long history in Germany and the government was interested in a .22 training version of the M1 Carbine.

 

In the late 1950s Erma designed a simple blowback carbine which looked and hefted very similar to the M1 Carbine and the project was well advanced when Fiberglide took over and production commenced soon after.

 

The receiver, trigger guard and trigger were made from “Zamac” a zinc / magnesium alloy that was starting to be used in low powered firearms at the time. The alloy is lighter and cheaper than steel but with ample strength for its use. The carbine was designated the EM1 and was favourable received and purchased by various government forces.

 

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The success of the EM1 caused the management of Erma to look at other WWII themed firearms they could develop. .22 blowback copies of the Luger, Walther P38 and Walther PPK were designed and produced and designated the LA22, EP882 and EP752.

 

All were physically similar to their “real” counterparts but included nonferrous alloys in their construction and having entirely different functions. All Erma .22s were also very reasonably priced.

 

Other pistol models as well as air pistols were also produced during the 1960s. The United States was a large market for Erma’s firearms, and they were imported by a man named Louis Imperato.

 

American Arms P98 which is a rebadged version of Erma-Werke’s EP882, an alloy framed .22 blowback copy of the Walther P38.

 

Lou was born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York City and in his late teens served in the Korean war. After his discharge he began work in the John Jovino gun shop in Manhattan.

 

Founded in 1911 the shop was the main supplier of firearms as well as accessories like holsters to the NYPD. The shop was owned by Frank Albanese when Lou started work in the early 1950s.

 

In 1955 Lou married Frank’s daughter Rita and soon after took over management of the shop. The shop is still trading today and is said to be the oldest gun shop in the USA.

 

Lou was obviously a great entrepreneur and soon began importing firearms. His company was called LA Distributors and shooting publications were full of advertisements for surplus military firearms as well as sporting guns. At one stage he imported 43000 Australian Lithgow SMLE rifles.

 

Magazine advertisement from the 1960s by LOU Imperato’s L.A. Imports. It shows the EM1 .22 M1 Carbine copy which was called the M22 in the American market.

 

LA Distributors also imported a lot of European sporting firearms for American firearms manufacturers that were often rebranded. Ithaca was one of these which has been making guns since 1883 and although a major arms manufacturer during WWII including manufacture of 1911A1 pistols it was now being overshadowed by the big manufacturers.

 

With the television inspired interest in all things western themed they were keen to add a lever action .22 rifle to their catalogue. Their budget model 49 rifle looked like a traditional lever action repeater but was actually a single shot falling block design.

 

These sold well and were popular but not the repeater that they wanted so they designed a repeater that was designated the Model 49R. This was a disaster which did not work as it should and the many returned for repairs or replacement led the company to recall them all.

 

EG71 markings. Proof marks L-R: definitive proof, Munich proof house mark and year mark showing the rifle was proofed in 1972. Later production EG71 rifles do not have marks on the top cover but on the barrel and serial number on the lower receiver.

 

Lou Imperato had close ties with Ithaca and, although I have not read as such, I suspect that he either encouraged Erma-Werke to design and produce a .22 lever action repeating rifle or at least was there very early to negotiate it’s import to the USA for sale by Ithaca. Erma-Werke began production of the EG71 in 1970 with sales beginning in 1971.

 

In general layout it has a receiver reminiscent of the Winchester Models 1892 and 1894 in a carbine configuration with external hammer, tube magazine and fore-end retained by a band and another near the muzzle retaining the magazine with the front sight integral to this but also having a removable steel hood.

 

Total length is 910mm with a 470mm (20.5”) barrel and weighing in at 2.4kg (5.3lb). Despite the external similarity to the Winchester centrefires and their .22 derivatives the EG71 is designed and functions very differently.

 

The main receiver is alloy with the barrel and magazine tube pressed in and retained by cross pins. All the moving parts are contained within this receiver except for the breechblock.

 

The alloy integral front band and foresight with steel hood.

  

What looks like a solid receiver is actually an alloy cover which is retained by 4 lateral screws plus the tang screw which also retains the buttstock. The inside top of this cover has a machined race in which the breech block reciprocates.

 

The cartridges exit the magazine into a lifter block which works in a similar way to the original Henry and Winchester 1860, 1866 and 1873 rifles. The magazine holds 14 rounds, and the carbine will feed .22LR only. Just forward of the trigger is a threaded hole with a grub screw which adjusts lifter height and protects the alloy receiver from impact by the back of the lever. 

 

Locking is achieved by a wedge-shaped block which pivots on a pin and is raised into a recess in the base of the breech block and retained by its spring as the lever is closed the last few millimetres.

 

The carbine sold well in Europe as well as other countries including Australia and New Zealand. In 1972 Lou Imperato imported the EG71 to the USA for Ithaca who named it the Model 72 and it was marked as such from the factory.

 

In 1972 Erma-Werke introduced the EG72 which was a pump action carbine with similar mechanical operation as the EG71, but it never gained the popularity of the lever gun.

 

A cartridge on the lifter ready to be chambered. Note that is securely cradled and parallel to the chamber. This design leads to the smoothness and reliability in feeding but is limited to .22LR only.

 

In 1973 Erma-Werke introduced a .22 magnum version of the carbine designated the EG73. While all the operating parts were the same as the .22LR version except those that had to be modified to function with the longer cartridge, the lifter design had a major modification.

 

The vertically moving lifter block was replaced with a non-moving block which had a slot in which a lifter arm raised the cartridge from the magazine to the line it up with the chamber. The adjustment screw was no longer required, and the removable (and easily lost) ejector replaced with one integral to the cartridge guide.

  

Iver Johnson was another old American firearms manufacturer who had been operating since 1871 and traditionally specialised in economical handguns and single shot .22 rifles although at times they had also made bicycles and even motorcycles.

 

Like Ithaca by the 1950’s they were being overshadowed by the big firearms manufacturers and in 1973 the company was purchased by Lou Imperato in partnership with another investor.

 

“In 1973 Erma-Werke introduced a .22 magnum version of the carbine designated the EG73. While all the operating parts were the same as the .22LR version except those that had to be modified to function with the longer cartridge...”

 

The Erma-Werke EG71 was now imported into the USA as a rebadged carbine called the Iver Johnson “Wagonmaster”. The model name was stamped on the barrel and at this point Erma started selling the EG71 outside the USA with Wagonmaster stamped on the barrel most likely to simplify production. The EG73 was also sold as a .22 magnum chambered version of the Wagonmaster.

 

After some years of production there were some small changes made to the EG71. The 4 lateral takedown screws were increased in size and anti-loosening washers installed behind the head of the screw.

 

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The early production rifles had no out of battery safely so the hammer and locking block were modified somewhat so that when the locking block lowered to allow the bolt to move the hammer could no longer reach the firing pin as it was now blocked by the locking block.

 

In the late 70’s Erma-Werke replaced the EG71 with the EG 712 which was basically the same as its predecessor except for the new design of lifter previously seen in the EG73 magnum carbine. The EG712 was now marked as being able to feed short, long, and long rifle like its’ major competitors on the US market, the Marlin 39A and Winchester 94/22.

 

In my opinion the new design lacks the slick feel of the early Erma-Werke guns which makes sense as 1873 Winchester clones with the same vertical lifter design have long been popular for western action shooting for that reason. The pump action EG72 was also modified in the same way to become the EG722.

 

Erma-Werke continued production of the EG series of rifles into the 90s but suffered financial problems and ceased trading as a company in 1997.

 

EG71 with top cover and breech block removed. Note the wedge shaped locking surface in the lower breech block and the locking block protruding from the lower receiver.

 

Firearm history buffs will be familiar with the Henry Rifle which was named for Benjamin Tyler Henry the inventor on the first effective lever action rifle whose design was integral to the formation of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

 

In the late 1980s Lou Imperato purchased the “Henry” brand name from The Olin Corporation who at that time were the owners of the Winchester brand and still owned the “Henry” name. In 1993 the Iver Johnson company ceased operation and its brand name was sold to a non-related company.

 

The early 90s also spelled financial difficulty for Erma-Werke and Lou Imperato was able to purchase the manufacturing rights and probably also the manufacturing tooling to produce the EG carbine designs.

 

In 1996 Lou along with his son Anthony established the Henry Repeating Arms Company. Their first rifle was designated the H001 and was nothing more than the Erma-Werke EG712 design manufactured in the USA and still being made to this day.

 

The ejector in position. This will fall out on disassembly and is easily lost. It is interesting that Henry lower receivers still have this recess cast into them despite not having this ejector.

 

There were some subtle changes such as the front and rear magazine bands being plastic rather than alloy although this was a sore point with many buyers and more recent manufactured rifles have alloy bands.

 

Another change is that the sight dovetail which was a wide proprietary size in the Erma made guns was changed to standard 3/8” dovetails in the Henry allowing a wide range of sights to be substituted.

 

The sales of these rifles have been huge with the Henry company expanding to manufacture a large range of rifles in both rimfire and centrefire, mostly lever actions. Their sole pump action is a recreation of the Erma-Werke EG722. Henry is now one of the largest firearms manufacturers in the USA.

 

Most of the Erma-Werke EG71 rifles I see advertised are rather rough. The alloy receiver cover had a spray on painted coating which is prone to scratching and chipping. Mine is no exception.

 

When I received it, I immediately removed the 4 lateral screws as well as the tang screw to remove the buttstock then the receiver cover and checked the internals. I noted the removable bent steel ejector which falls out and would be easy to lose. Despite being a bit dry and dirty everything seemed as it should.

 

“The sales of these rifles have been huge with the Henry company expanding to manufacture a large range of rifles in both rimfire and centrefire, mostly lever actions.”

 

To dis-assemble the action of the lower receiver the hammer is cocked, and the lever pin is pushed out and the lever can be removed. Next the locking block pin is pushed out and the locking block and its’ spring removed.

 

Carefully releasing the hammer forward will allow the mainspring and its guide rod to come out leaving the hammer loose. Its pin is pushed out and the hammer removed then the trigger pin is pushed out and the trigger removed making sure not to lose the small spring in a hole on the front of the trigger.

 

The preceding instructions are common to all the Erma-Werke and Henry .22 Lever Actions. You will note that the loading system is still intact.

 

In EG71 rifles there is a vertical lifter block. Note that this has a small ball detent on its right side and just lifting the block will launch the ball across the room which is then very difficult to find. Don’t ask me how I know!

 

It is worth wrapping the receiver in a plastic bag as you do this to capture the ball. The small spring will likely be left in its hole in the lifter. The 2 screws in the left side can then be removed allowing the cartridge / lifter guide to be removed. The adjustment screw can also be removed from the receiver.

 

In EG73, EG712 and Henry rifles the 2 screws on the left side can be removed to allow removal of the whole cartridge guide block as well as the lifter arm. Underneath the guide a spring and plunger will come out.

 

An early EG71 without an out of battery safety (top) and a later one below. Note the difference in hammer and locking block shape.

 

After dis-assembly the empty receiver was cleaned with spray degreaser, a toothbrush and water and all the parts washed and degreased. Assembly is the reverse of disassembly with the mainspring installation being the only trick. The hammer and trigger are re-installed and the hammer allowed to fall forward to where the locking block normally sits.

 

The mainspring and guide are introduced with the spring compressed slightly so the end of the guide rod starts in its hole on the receiver and at the same time the other end is pushed into its position in the back of the hammer. The hammer is now cocked which pushes everything into place and is retained by the sear.

  

The locking block can now be installed. The main spring cannot be installed if the locking block is already installed. The ejector must be replaced in its slot before the action cover is replaced. The carrier adjustment screw is set such that the cartridge lines up with the chamber. After cleaning and reassembly, the action was smooth and very slick.

 

“These little carbines (and their Henry made descendants) are well made, reliable and great fun to shoot. Their firepower combined with light weight and small size would especially benefit situations where long and arduous walks may be rewarded with multiple targets.”

 

The magazine holds 14 rounds, and the lever throw is quite short and very smooth so that rapid repeat shots can be fired while aiming. Despite its very light weight the carbine is well balanced and comfortable to shoot offhand.

 

10 carefully aimed shots from the bench with open sights at 50 metres resulted in a group of around 3” (75mm) which is about average for this type of rifle. Mounting of a scope would reduce this group somewhat.

 

These little carbines (and their Henry made descendants) are well made, reliable and great fun to shoot. Their firepower combined with light weight and small size would especially benefit situations where long and arduous walks may be rewarded with multiple targets.

 

I am enjoying mine so much I have decided to embark on a full restoration which I will describe in a future article.

 

Justin

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