When American troops occupied Wetzlar in 1945, a citizen delegation, headed by Dr. Elsie Leitz persuaded the Americans that there would be no resistance. The town surrendered without a shot being fired. Still, many of the skilled former Leitz employees had moved to other areas and would not return to the plant.
It was fortunate that the Leitz factory was located in the American Zone and that its machinery had not been destroyed or dismantled. Zeiss plants in the Russian Zone (Jena) had been severely damaged and the Russians carted off what remained of the production equipment as war reparations.
Zeiss, as a German competitor to Leitz, effectively ceased to exist for several years until reorganized in Stuttgart. This gave Leica an
enormous postwar advantage. The Russians used the Zeiss machinery and tooling to produce the Kiev camera, a somewhat roughly constructed clone of the pre-WW2 Contax.
By mid 1945, only a few months after the occupation, Leitz was working at about 10% of prewar capacity. It received instrument repair contracts from the US Army to keep it afloat. About 150 Leica IIIc cameras a week were being made, mostly assembled from spare parts. The major customer was US Army Post Exchanges. That’s not to suggest that the typical soldier was a Leicaphile. A Leica could be obtained in Germany for the equivalent of $20 in US cigarettes and would sell in New York for $600.
During WW2 almost the entire output of Leitz/Wetzlar was taken by the German military services although a substantial number of civilian garb Leica IIIc cameras were made for foreign exchange purposes.
In 1930 came the Leica I Schraubgewinde with an exchangeable lens system based on a 39mm diameter screw thread, often referred to as ” Leica Thread Mount” or LTM. In addition to the 50mm normal lens, a 35mm wide angle and a 135 mm telephoto lens were initially available. In the mid-1930s, a legendary soft-focus lens, the Thambar 90mm f/2.2 was designed, and made in small numbers between 1935 and 1949, no more than 3000 units. It is a rare collector’s item today.
The Leica II came in 1932, with a built in rangefinder coupled to the lens focusing mechanism. This model had a separate viewfinder (showing a reduced image) and rangefinder. In 1932 the flange to film plane was standardized to 28.8mm, first implemented on Leica model C, and the Leica Standard the following year.
The Leica III added slow shutter speeds down to 1 second, and the model IIIa added the 1/1000 second shutter speed. The IIIa was the last model made before Barnack’s death, and therefore the last model for which he was wholly responsible. Leitz continued to refine the original design through to 1957. The final version, the IIIg, included a large viewfinder with several framelines. These models all had a functional combination of circular dials and square windows.