I have seen a lot of folks asking for information on Lugers, so I figured I should recommend a good book or two. There are a lot of books out there on Lugers, cutting across all levels of cost and quality. These two are the ones I keep myself and have found the most useful.
The P08 Luger Pistol (Propaganda Photo Series Volume III)
The Borchardt and Luger Automatic Pistols, by Dr. Geoffrey Sturgess
Gabe Suarez is a firearms trainer and former police SWAT officer whose experience in the field dates back to the mid 1980s. While I was taking a rifle class from him, I figured it would be a good opportunity to get some thoughts on the changes to police armaments over the past few decades…
Did you know that the Peters company made ammunition specifically for riot control for the Thompson submachine gun in the 1920s? And it wasn’t rubber bullets, either – it was paper-wrapped snakeshot. The cartridges were actually longer than a standard magazine would accept, necessitating the production of a special longer magazine to fit them. That magazine would hold 18 rounds, and was specially marked as such. I took a look at a lot of 200 rounds of this ammo and one of the special magazines at James D. Julia, and was curious how it would actually pattern.
Well, the Peters riot ammo is rare and expensive, but we also had some WWII-vintage .45ACP snakeshot on hand and I was able to try shooting some of that. At about 8 feet it made a pattern about 18 inches in diameter (from a rifled Tommy Gun barrel), and did not cycle the action. It was only after filming that I discovered the proper way to use this ammo for crowd control: fire it into the pavement in front of the crowd, allowing it to ricochet up into the crowd at a lower velocity. It would be less lethal that way, but still a great way to lose an eye!
When the Massachusetts Arms Company initially produced the Wesson & Leavitt Dragoon revolver, they quickly incurred the wrath of the colt company. Those initial revolvers violated several Colt patents. The resulting lawsuit forced the end of production of the Dragoons, and the company decided to redesign the guns to avoid the Colt patents. The result was this .31-caliber belt model revolver, as well as a similar .28 caliber pocket model.
To make the guns legal, the hammer was no longer connected to movement of the cylinder. Instead a release button was located inside the trigger guard. After firing, the user would press this to release the cylinder and then manually rotate it to the next chamber. In addition, the metallic cap priming was replaced by a Maynard tape system (used under license, unlike the Colt patents!).
Not more than about a thousand of these revolvers were made, as they were obviously technically inferior to the Colt guns of the time. However, the small sales, combined with other guns, were enough to hold the Massachusetts Arms Company above water financially until 1857, when the Colt patents expired.
Throughout the pre-WWI period, Paul Mauser was working continuously to develop a reliable self-loaiding rifle. Among his many experimental designs was a flapper-locked rifle. The flapper-locking system was first patented by a Swede named Kjellman, but his design (for a light machine gun) did not get beyond prototype form. Mauser made a military rifle using the system, and also scaled it down to handgun size as a potential followup to the C96 “Broomhandle” Mauser.
This handgun was designated the 06/08, and used the same basic layout as the C96, with the magazine located in front of the grip. About a hundred were made, and they all used detachable magazines, with examples being made from 6-round to 20-round capacity.
The action was a short-recoil one, locked by a pair of flaps inside the rear. The flaps would pivot out of contact with the bolt as the action recoiled, and then the bolt would be able to slide back between them (very similar to the Soviet DP/RPD/DShK lone of machine guns, actually). This example is a gorgeously refinished on, with a 20-round magazine.
The 1880s saw a brief explosion of experimental manually-operated repeating handguns, mostly throughout Europe. The most common weapon of this type known in the US is the Volcanic pistol, forerunner to the Winchester lever-action rifles. In Germany and Austria, however, a bunch of different guns of this type were developed.
The one we are looking at today is a Berger, dating from 1880/1881. Unlike most of these guns, it could be described as a double action mechanism – a single rearward trigger pull runs the complete loading/firing/ejecting cycle. In most manually operated handguns, the rearward pull loads and fires, while a forward push of the trigger extracts and ejects the fired case (much like a lever-action rifle).
The Bren Ten is an interesting story of handgun development and business failure. The gun was first developed by Dornaus & Dixon, with the consulting help of the iconic Col. Jeff Cooper. It was intended to be a handgun to improve upon the venerable 1911 in every way.
To satisfy the adherents to the theory of large-caliber handgun cartridges, the gun was designed around a new 10mm cartridge designed by Norma. This cartridge would propel a 200 grain bullet at 1200 fps from a 5 inch barrel, making it the most powerful service handgun cartridge in production. It would use a 10-round magazine, and also be convertible to .45ACP.
The gun itself was based on the excellent Czech CZ-75 (made at Brno, which is where the “Bren” portion of the pistol’s name came from). It had full length slide rails, a DA/SA trigger that could be carried cocked and locked, and nice big sights. The standard model had a matte frame and a stainless slide with 5″ barrel, but a few specialty models were also made, like this “Special Forces” version with a shorter 4″ barrel and all-matte finish.
Unfortunately, a combination of production quality problems, inadequate magazine design, preorders, and other issues led to the company quickly falling into tough financial straights. The guns were only manufactured for about 2 years before bankruptcy ended production. Some had been shipped without magazines, and Bren Ten magazines remain a sought-after commodity today.
Ferdinand von Mannlicher was a brilliant and prolific European gun designer with more than a few widely-adopted military arms to his name. One of his very last guns was this carbine, which was also one of the first intermediate cartridge carbines developed. It was a mostly experimental gun, and never saw large-scale production.
Mechanically, the gun is an evolution of his 1896/1901 automatic pistol and the 1901 carbine made from that pistol. It locks using a short recoil action and a tipping bolt, and was initially made in 7.63mm Mannlicher (dimensionally identical to 7.63mm Mauser but slightly less powerful). One of the shortcomings of the 1901 carbine was that the handguard was fixed to the recoiling barrel, so that a firm grip on the handguard would cause the gun to malfunction. The 1901/04 variant of the carbine fixed that issue by connecting the front handguard to the trigger frame, which did not move during cycling.
The most significant change of the 1901/04 design, however, was its size being scaled up to use a larger 7.63x32mm cartridge (sometimes misidentified as 7.63x45mm, as it’s overall length is 45mm). Ballistics for this cartidige appear to be lost, but the .30 Carbine (7.62×33) would appear to be very similar in size (although the Mannlicher case is slightly bottlenecked rather than straight). It retained the same 6-round magazine capacity as the earlier Mannlicher carbines, but a larger magazine could easily have been made. Development was ended because, alas, Mannlicher perished in 1904.
When the US entered WWII, submachine guns were in short supply and high demand. Much of the production of Thompson guns was being purchased by the UK, and what guns were available to the US military went first to the Army. In accordance with long tradition, the Marine Corps were secondary to the Army in receiving new weapons. However, the formation of a Marine paratroop unit in particular necessitated the Corps finding some sort of suitable submachine gun.
What was available at the time were Eugene Reising’s M50 and M55 guns, being manufactured by Harrington & Richardson. The guns were chambered for the standard .45ACP cartridge and used a delayed blowback action which allowed them to be significantly lighter than the Thompson. The M50 had a full-length traditional stock, while the M55 used a pistol grip and wire folding stock. Mechanically, the two variants were identical. The M55, which is what we have today, would up being specifically issued to tank crews and paratroops, where its compactness was a significant advantage.
The Reising developed a quite bad reputation in the Pacific for a couple reasons. Its parts were not always interchangeable between guns (a deliberate choice to speed up manufacture, which troops were not necessarily aware of), its mechanism was more susceptible to fouling than other military small arms, and its disassembly procedure was far too complex for military service. However, these issues did not prevent it from being quite successful and well-liked as a law enforcement weapon in civilian police use after the war. Thanks to that negative wartime reputation, Reisings are some of the least expensive military machine guns available on the market today in the US.
Paul Mauser was very persistent – if ultimately unsuccessful – in his long-tim goal to create a practical semiautomatic rifle using a full-power cartridge. In total he tried some 17 different designs, including one in 1901 which suffered a burst casing during test firing and cost him an eye.
This particular rifle came just shortly thereafter, and uses a quite strong and safe long recoil action coupled with a 2-lug rotating bolt. Long recoil designs are fairly unusual in firearms, and this one has an interesting feature of a bolt handle which disconnects the barrel recoil spring when used (rather like Mauser’s Gewehr 41(M) rifle, in fact).
The design reportedly had persistent problems with extraction and ejecting, unfortunately, and Mauser would drop it for other designs. At some point after its testing was finished, this rifle was sporterized with a cut-down stock and express-style sights (it was originally made in full military configuration). While unfortunate, that does not change the fact that it is an extremely rare example of a Mauser experimental rifle.