According to Wikipedia, the Austrian Social Democrats and their allies had

  • over 2,500 rifles,
  • 250 revolvers,
  • 1,500 hand grenades, and
  • 10,000 rounds of ammunition

in February 1934.

How did they (and other paramilitary organisations of that time like Heimwehr and the Fatherland front) get access to those weapons?

I suppose that soldiers returning from World War I may have kept their weapons. But I assume there was some sort of oversight (a soldier coming from the front couldn't just say "I'll keep the rifle for me").

Corruption is another possibility: I can imagine some arsenal guard selling rifles and ammunition to support his family during the famine of 1918. Also, these paramilitary organisations were parts of parties at the power. It's thinkable that some politician would order that arsenal employee to give weapons and ammo to whomever the politician wants.

  • 1
    Booty weapons, corrupt quartermasters, black marketeers, criminals. Hitler used the same sources.
    – Jos
    Aug 13 '18 at 1:16
  • Deserted soldiers may also have taken their rifles home with them.
    – Dohn Joe
    Aug 13 '18 at 8:41

A few hundred or a few thousand rifles and handguns are nothing compared to the small arms issued to men by the thousands and millions during World War I and World War II. Most of the WWII weapons were not yet manufactured in 1934 but there were millions of WWI era and older weapons around in 1934.

If, for example, there were 10,000,000 each of rifles and pistols issued during WWI, and post war programs to collect those small arms were ninety percent successful, that would result in 1,000,000 each of pistols and rifles remaining in private hands after the end of WWI which was many times the numbers in the question.

And I believe that ordering pistols, rifles, and ammunition by mail order was legal and respectable in the USA and some other countries at that time, so if any Austrians got in contact with gun companies in the USA they could have ordered guns from them, though they might face problems importing those guns and might have to arrange to smuggle them into the country.

It is also a fact that there have been many wars, civil wars, revolutions, uprisings, and other conflicts in Europe in the 1920s, when various groups wanted or needed to get lots of weapons, many times the numbers mentioned in the question, and they managed to get those weapons.

Therefore, the Austrian Social Democrats were probably rather small scale customers in the European white, gray, and black arms markets of the times.

  • It isn't clear how the first two paragraphs answer the question. What does the number of munitions issued in WWII have to do with Austrian activity in the interwar period? Is it possible that you are implying that the weapons collected by the Austrians in the interwar period were the same weapons issued in WWI?
    – MCW
    Aug 13 '18 at 10:59
  • @MarkC.Wallace The more weapons are in circulation, the easier it is to acquire them (e. g. by stealing) and the more weapons are likely to get "lost".
    – user23839
    Aug 13 '18 at 11:17
  • That might be true but: 1) that isn't stated, and even if stated, doesn't address the question - given that supply influences prices how did the paramilitaries amass* the cheaper weapons, and 2) the number of weapons created in WWII has no effect on the availability of weapons in the interwar period.
    – MCW
    Aug 13 '18 at 11:53
  • and post war programs to collect those small arms !? It does not work like that. Soldiers are not send home with their personal weapons so that later someone comes by to recover them. They return their weapon (that were paid by the army and always were the property of the army, btw) and after that they go home. No need to "collect" them. It is true that some may get unaccounted, but unless you get a collapse like in Russia (mass desertions, lack of command, etc.) few would escape control.
    – SJuan76
    Aug 13 '18 at 18:34

Central and Eastern Europe was in turmoil in the 1920s.

  • World War I ended with a defeat of Germany and Austria-Hungary and the breakup of Austria-Hungary.
  • The central powers had been effective in the East, forcing Russia to sign the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. With the German defeat in the West it was forced to reverse the treaty, Poland was recreated and fought a bitter war with Russia. Then there was the Russian Civil War, with countless refugees moving across borders.
  • German Freikorps fought in the Baltics.

Civilian gun ownership remained legal.

Civilians in central Europe might require a license to own a gun, and possibly provide a credible explanation when they applied for the license (and/or pass a background check), but there remained countless hunters and other gun owners. These people were required to account for the weapons they held, but if there is a market, there is a black market.

So there was a black market to supplement war-era hideaways.

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