Pyrkal

Founded in 1874, Pyrkal is one of the oldest Defence Industries (in the modern sense) in Greece and the main producer of ammunition and explosives in the country. Throughout its history it has been one of the largest Greek companies, in fact a reflection of the history of Greek Industry itself. Moreover, since its foundation it has been a crucial supplier during all the military conflicts this nation faced, and historically a well-established exporter to five continents.

Greek Military Industry, The Maltsiniotis Brothers

The company "Elliniko Pyritidopoieio A.E." (Greek Powder, Chemical and Industrial products) was founded in 1874 and "Maltsiniotis Brothers" (Cartridges and metal products) in 1887. The merger of the two companies in 1908 was done to overcome an odd "competition" between the two for ammunition orders by the Greek state. Thus, a new company was formed, named "Etairia (Ellinikou) Pyritidopoieiou kai Kalykopoieiou" with the initials EEPK or EPK (ΕΠΚ) - the acronym Pyrkal used later; internationally it has been known as "Greek Powder and Cartridge Company" (GPCC) in English, and "Poudrerie et Cartoucherie Hellenique" (PCH) in French. In addition to ammunition and explosives, the company has been engaged in a variety of additional activities including arms manufacture (which included own development of the advanced EPK machine gun type immediately before Greece's entrance to WWII), construction of machinery (including Diesel engines), vehicle bodies, tools, factory infrastructure, boilers, aircraft (as it undertook constructions for the AEKKEA-RAAB company) etc.

EPK (Pyrkal) Machine gun (1939)

Since 1934 the company was controlled by Prodromos Bodosakis-Athanassiadis, one of the most important figures in 20th century Greek industrial history. Pyrkal eventually became part of a huge industrial empire created by Bodosakis in Greece, involved in mining operations (several companies, holding dominant position in the country), textiles, chemicals and fertilizers, glass manufacturing, engineering & constructions, as well as services (shipping, insurances etc.).

Pyrkal benefited greatly from sales to the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War, while its production was particularly crucial during Greece's supplies for WWII. The company facilities were used by the German forces during Greece's occupation by the Axis (as a planned last-moment transfer of equipment and/or destruction of the company facilities to prevent such usage was not realized). The end of the War found the company in ruins, with equipment and material looted by retreating German forces. The machine works (once called "the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East") were almost completely destroyed. The rebirth of Pyrkal resembles a miracle. The company started producing metal products and consumer items, but it recovered fast to its pre-War status as it benefited greatly from orders by the Greek Army, NATO and, ironically, West Germany. The next two decades were a period of prosperity and expansion, with new facilities built and new products developed.

The company suffered a serious blow when the Greek state decided to create EBO in 1976, which initially undertook production of the Heckler and Koch G3 rifle adopted by the Greek Army in place of the FN FAL that Pyrkal had already started producing under licence (a number of FN FAL's had originally been bought by the Greek Military from Belgium, and about 30,000 built by Pyrkal were exported to other countries). The development of EBO seriously hurt Pyrkal's performance, as the two companies offered partially overlapping products. Pyrkal was hurt further by the loss of traditional export matkets in the 1970's. Other parts of Bodosakis's "empire" also faced problems, and the state finally intervened in the early 1980's. In 1982 Pyrkal, almost bankrupt and a shadow of its former self (but still employing thousands), was nationalized. Ever since, its financial performance has been shaky at best.

500 lb EPK (Pyrkal) bomb ready to be loaded on a Greek bomber during WWII (Nikos Christofilis archive)

The company has nonetheless invested in diversification and Research & Development, expanding its activities beyond production of a wide range of ammunition types, mines, bombs, fuzes for high explosive large caliber ammunition, electronics, etc. to participation in programs like the Stinger missile European post-production program and, as an equal partner, in the development and production of the IRIS-T missile. Moreover, it introduced its own advanced (although controversial) cluster bomb in the early 1990s and constructed Greek-designed modern wind generators in 2002. In a move reflecting one made almost a hundred years earlier, it merged with EBO in 2004, to eliminate the odd competition between the two companies for state orders, forming EAS.

References

  • L.S. Skartsis and G.A. Avramidis, "Made in Greece", Typorama, Patras, Greece (2003)/University of Patras (2007)
  • Christos Sazanidis, "Ta opla ton Ellinon (Arms of the Greeks)", Maiandros, Thessaloniki (1995)
  • "H Elliniki polemiki viomihania prosferetai stous Nazi (Greek Military Industry ends up in Nazi hands)" article in the Imerisia Newspaper, December 15, 2007.

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