Illinois shop owners compile, publish World War II history

November 27th, 2017 6:00 am

GALESBURG, Ill. — Gun collectors may not expect to find the world’s largest dealer in Lugers — the iconic German sidearm of World War I and World War II — in Galesburg. Robert and Brad Simpson of Simpson Ltd. have held that title for some time, but they recently achieved another accomplishment: publishing a book that focuses on a little-known program that helped prepare Germany for World War II.

The father and son, owners of the collector gun shop compiled and published “Training Rifles of Third Reich Germany” in September, and they already sold one-third of their stock of books. Though intended mainly for fellow gun collectors, the book also contains original research about small-caliber German training rifles that had a large impact on world history.

The Simpsons and their collaborators on the book found that after Hitler rose to power in 1933, the Nazis devised a program to train German men in using small arms, and thereby create a nation of marksmen ready to go to war. To achieve this goal, all of Germany’s shooting organizations standardized their regulations and enforced the use of small-caliber rifles. The rifles were then used to train members of the Hitler Youth.

Because the rifles were considered “sporting” arms, and since the program was run by the SA — a source outside of the government that was still under Hitler’s control — the program flew under the radar of foreign countries, which otherwise had been monitoring Germany’s manufacturing of weapons following the Treaty of Versailles.

“It was the pathway to war,” Robert said. “It saved (Hitler) two years in preparation for war, because it was a top-secret program. He wasn’t supposed to be arming or training, and one of these guns could train 100 soldiers.”

Robert Simpson, who has collected about 1,200 small-caliber rifles since the 1970s, wanted to publish the book because the story of the program had not been told in-depth previously.

“Almost every other type of weapon that they made this quantity of has been covered by a book or several books,” Robert said.

Prior to working on the book, Brad thought the Nazis only trained Hitler Youth with the rifles because they made easy teaching tools — not because they were part of a larger plan.

“There are those historians who say, ‘well, Hitler got power-crazy in the end.’ No, if you look at him, he had a pretty clear vision of what he wanted to do from the beginning,” Brad said. “It could have been prevented if people were paying more attention to what he was doing.”

Completing the book required many years and multiple collaborators, each of whom brought unique talents and knowledge to the table. The Simpsons used their own collection of guns for research and completed the book’s design work in-house, with the help of their staff and other locals. April Jackson and Nica Ponce designed the dust jacket, and Tom Foley took photos for the book.

To help with the research, the Simpsons connected with brothers Steve and Jim Whitley, whose passion for collecting the small-caliber rifles also dates back to the 1970s. The brothers made trips to Germany to interview museum experts, some former Hitler Youth members and others. Steve also used his knowledge of the German language to connect with potential interview subjects and translate documents.

Their determination led to historic discoveries they had not expected. In a former prison facility, the brothers found many documents that had not been opened during the years of Communist rule in East Germany. The documents reflected how local arms manufacturers were contracted to make the small-caliber rifles.

Steve Whitley recalled how in 2013, he and his brother found a contract between the SA and the Mauser company for the very first training rifle.

?I think we jumped up and actually did a little dance in the room,” Whitley said.

The result of the collaborators’ labors is a nearly 700-page tome that reflects their mutual passion for collecting firearms and history, complete with high-quality graphics.

“It was a labor of love for everybody,” Robert said.

The book has received positive reviews thus far from gun magazines and websites. It is for sale on Amazon.com and in the Simpsons’ store, and the father and son also take copies to gun shows. Last weekend they took 10 cases of books to a show and completely sold out.

Though the Simpsons do not currently have another book in the works, Brad has not ruled out the possibility of another one in the future. With the historic guns in Simpson Ltd. numbering in the thousands, the opportunities for inspiration seem immeasurable.

“If you watch ‘American Pickers,’ that’s what we do,” Brad said. “We’re out looking for this kind of stuff, and it’s a lot of fun. But there is a separate satisfaction that you get from creating something, like writing a book or writing music, and putting your name on it.”

Whitley, who also has contributed to books on antique clocks in the past, is happy the book has been published after years of research.

There is so much data and information involved in this, and there was constantly new information coming to light that needed to be added to it,” Whitley said. “I’m pleased with it very much.”

Robert Simpson picks up one of the small-caliber German rifles inside Simpson Ltd., a collector gun shop he owns with his son, Brad Simpson, in Galesburg, Ill. After Hitler came to power, the Nazis trained Hitler Youths with small-caliber rifles that resembled military carbines to prepare Germany for war. The Simpsons have compiled and published, ‘Training Rifles of Third Reich Germany.’
http://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/web1_AP17326599317404.jpgRobert Simpson picks up one of the small-caliber German rifles inside Simpson Ltd., a collector gun shop he owns with his son, Brad Simpson, in Galesburg, Ill. After Hitler came to power, the Nazis trained Hitler Youths with small-caliber rifles that resembled military carbines to prepare Germany for war. The Simpsons have compiled and published, ‘Training Rifles of Third Reich Germany.’ Rebecca Susmarski | The Register-Mail via AP
Two telegrams belonging to Army veteran Wayne Landes, 92, who served in the Battle of the Bulge and other battles in Europe during World War II, are displayed recently at a gathering of veterans at Miller’s Merry Manor in Logansport, Ind. Landes told his story for the Veterans History Project.
http://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/web1_History.jpgTwo telegrams belonging to Army veteran Wayne Landes, 92, who served in the Battle of the Bulge and other battles in Europe during World War II, are displayed recently at a gathering of veterans at Miller’s Merry Manor in Logansport, Ind. Landes told his story for the Veterans History Project. Fran Ruchalski | The Pharos-Tribune via AP
Besides being a book for gun collectors, ‘Training Rifles of Third Reich Germany’ contains original research about a program the Nazis started after Hitler came to power to train German men for war.
http://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/web1_AP17326598724120.jpgBesides being a book for gun collectors, ‘Training Rifles of Third Reich Germany’ contains original research about a program the Nazis started after Hitler came to power to train German men for war. Rebecca Susmarski | The Register-Mail via AP


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