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P.08 German Luger Pistol History: Classic Handgun of the 20th Century

P.08 German Luger Pistol History: Classic Handgun of the 20th Century
Borchardt Pistol

In many ways the Luger is to semi-automatic pistols what the Colt Single Action Army is to revolvers. Its classic flowing lines make it one of the most appealing looking auto pistols in terms of appearance. It is the pistol that introduced the 9mm Parabellum cartridge, a cartridge that became one of the most popular handgun rounds ever made. As a military sidearm, it saw service in both world wars and was adopted by the armies of a number of European nations. Not surprisingly, collectors keenly seek Lugers and some models are extremely valuable.


Two men created the Luger. Georg Luger and Hugo Borchardt both worked at the company that was closely associated with the manufacture of the pistol--the Deutsche Waffenund Munitionsfabriken (DWM).

DWM was the result of the business activities of two brothers, Ludwig and Isidor Lowe. Their company, Ludwig Lowe und Companie originally specialized in the manufacture of machine tools and sewing machines. After gaining a government contract in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, the company began to manufacture rifle sight assemblies. Lowe und Companie's skill and precision at this venture soon led to further government contracts, both domestic and foreign. It was not long before sewing machines were traded for weapons as the successful company began making firearms full time.

In 1886, Ludwig died and Isidor began a joint venture with Waffenfabrik Mauser, AG to produce rifles for Turkey. As time passed, the activities of these two companies intertwined together around the successful manufacture of firearms. Lowe acquired controlling interest in Waffenfabrik Mauser as well as Deutsche Metallpatronenfabrik Lorenz, a German ammunition factory. The resulting company purchases and corporate shuffling led to the creation of the Deutsche Waffenund Munitionsfabriken (DWM). Georg Luger and Hugo Borchardt were friends and colleagues at the Lowe firm and both had a serious interest and no small measure of success with self-loading firearm designs and patents as well as ammunition.

Borchardt, a German born, naturalized U.S. citizen, worked at several small companies before working for the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. of New Haven, Connecticut. His first patent was given while with Winchester for a machine to cut lubrication grooves into bullets. He also designed the 1878 Sharps rifle which was named after him. In 1890, after employment at various companies in the U.S. and Europe, Borchardt joined the Lowe firm and later designed a large toggle-action semi-automatic pistol that bears his name.

Georg Luger, an Austrian, became involved with firearms as a result of his involvement with Ferdinand von Mannlicher. Luger experimented with rifle designs for bolt action and self-loaders for twenty years before joining Lowe in 1891.

Luger used Borchardt's pistol as a basis for his now famous pistol. His final design was a pistol that was smaller and lighter than the big cumbersome Borchardt. As a result the new pistol had much more potential as a military sidearm than the Borchardt.


The Luger is a locked breech, magazine fed, semi-automatic pistol that use the same unique toggle action to lock the breech momentarily during firing.

The toggle action is a locking mechanism that moves to the rear for short distance with the barrel and then pivots upwards once chamber pressures have reached a safe level to unlock the action, cock the firing mechanism and eject the spent cartridge case. On its forward movement the lock pivots down to close the action stripping a fresh round from the magazine and feeding it into the chamber. Characteristics of the Luger are its clean flowing lines that include a tapered barrel of various lengths and a grip that houses the magazine that is angled acutely to barrel centerline. The sharply angled grip contributes to the pistol's natural pointing characteristics and its pleasant, mild recoil.


During its long period of service, the pistol underwent relatively few major modifications. That speaks well of the soundness of its basic design.


Although DWM's ultimate goal was to obtain a German military contract for the Luger, this only occurred after a number of foreign nations had adopted the pistol for their armies. In 1900, the armies of Bulgaria and Switzerland were the first to express an interest in the Luger. In both cases, the pistols were chambered for a 7.65mm-bottlenecked cartridge known in the U.S. as the .30 Luger.

Both versions had 4 3/4 inch slim, tapered barrels and were made by DWM, whose logo is roll stamped on the rear most toggle. Swiss military models are marked with the Swiss cross in a sunburst stamp on top of the chamber while the Bulgarian models have the Bulgarian Royal family crest stamped in the same location. A commercial version was also sold in both countries.

Other foreign militaries to adopt the pistol were Brazil, Holland, Portugal, Turkey and Russia.


In 1900 similar .30 Luger pistols were submitted to the U.S. military for trials. It performed well enough for an order of 1,000 pistols to be placed. These continued to be tested until 1908. The main complaint was over the small caliber of the cartridge. Around the same time a number of similar pistol were made for commercial sales in the U.S.

Due to the complaints of the striking power of the 7.65mm, Luger developed a new cartridge for the Luger in 1902 called the 9x19mm which became universally known as the 9mm Parabellum. The name Parabellum came from the Latin phrase Si vis pacem para bellum. (If you want peace, prepare for war.) The Parabellum subsequently became the most widely used pistol and submachine gun cartridge in the world.

The new 9mm Luger was not well received in the U.S., however, where DWM had hoped to have a strong market. The Cavalry Board and the Field Artillery Board, while admiring the accuracy the Luger delivered, was disappointed with the continual jamming the Luger displayed during testing. The jamming and the need to constantly use two hands when firing or clearing jams in the firearm rendered it "practically useless" according to the Cavalry Board report. The Colt revolver would remain the mainstay of the U.S. military until the arrival of the Colt 1911.

In 1907, a few Lugers were made for the .45 ACP cartridge for competition in the U.S. military trial then taking place, but the pistol lost out to the Colt Government model. All American Lugers made by DWM carry the American eagle crest over the chamber.

While the Luger failed to interest the U.S. military, it did quite well as a civilian arm. Among the main U.S. importers and distributors were Abercrombie & Fitch and Stoeger. The latter company even copyrighted the name Luger.


The Luger's lackluster reception in the U.S. would not be duplicated on its home turf though. An entirely different story awaited the Luger in Europe.

DWM had tried, unsuccessfully, to market the Luger with the German military. The army had tested variations of the Luger for several years and found it wanting. The Navy, as usual, thought differently than its sister branch. In December 1904, the Reichsmarineamt (German naval office) made the 9x19mm Pistole, Marine-Model 1904, System Borchardt Luger its official sidearm. The Marine-Model was equipped with a six-inch barrel, a unique two-position rear sight (graduated for 100 and 200 meters) and a combined extractor and loaded chamber indicator. The early Marine-Model featured the flat-faced knurled toggles with the older anti-bounce lock mechanism.

In 1906, the navy was introduced to an improved version--neuer art (new pattern) of the Marine-Model that had a coil spring instead of the flat mainspring and missing the anti-bounce lock. The 1906 model remained the mainstay until the arrival of the world famous Pistole 08.

Not much had changed from the 1906 model when the P.08 made its appearance. The most apparent alteration was the elimination of the grip safety. As a result, the P.08 safety catch had to be pulled downward to make the pistol safe. Otherwise, the P.08 differed little from its predecessors in appearance.

The P.08 models were made with a four-inch barrel chambered for the 9x19mm. Originally, the P.08 had no device to keep the action open for cleaning or inspection as the old type of toggle link lock had been abandoned. This was later fixed by fitting a spring-loaded lever that, when pushed upward by the magazine platform button, engaged a slot cut into the bottom of the bolt.

The German navy had its version of the P.08, the navy Parabellum that lacked the grip safety, but kept the two position rear sight and the six-inch barrel. The German military version came with a special holster that had space for a spare magazine and a small pocket underneath the flap for a combination tool.

In 1914, the Navy Parabellum was produced with an eight-inch barrel and was known as the Model 08/14 or Model 14. The Model 14 was identical to the 08 except for the longer barrel and a special elevating rear sight mounted on the rear of the barrel. A special holster was issued with the Model 14 that doubled as a shoulder stock and came with a 32-round drum magazine. The drum magazine was later abandoned due to its bulky weight and tendency to jam.

After World War I the P.08 remained in service with German military forces right up to the early years of the World War II. Production ceased in 1942 with adoption of the P38 pistol.

As late as the 1960s, Mauser/Interarms manufactured pistols that were identical in design to the original Luger. Most collectors view these more as replicas rather than as genuine Lugers.


While DWM was the main manufacturer of Luger pistols eventually other companies were brought in to cope with the wartime demand. These included the following company names that are usually stamped on the top of the rear toggle:

  • DWM (Deutsche Waffen & Munitionsfabriken)-- Karlsrube, Germany
  • Erfert, Royal Arsenal-- Erfert, Germany
  • Spandau--Spandau, Germany
  • Simpson & Company-- Suhl, Germany
  • Mauser--Obendorf, Germany
  • Krieghoff, H. Krieghoff Waffenfabrick-- Suhl, Germany
  • Vickers Ltd-- Vickers-Armstrong Ltd, England
  • Waffenfabrick Bern-- Bern, Switzerland.


The most common Luger calibers are 9x19mm and 7.65mm (.30 Luger). Other chamberings include the .32 ACP, .380 ACP and .45 ACP, all of which are very rare. Also scarce are .22LR, 4mm and 6mm conversion units.


Lugers were made in a variety of barrel lengths. The most common lengths of 3 3/4, 4 and 4 3/4 inches are found on the military and commercial models. Naval and presentation models include six-inch barrels while artillery models and some commercial models had eight-inch barrels.

Luger carbines had 11 3/4-inch barrels, a detachable wooden stock and forend. The 1920 commercial model carbines had barrel lengths of between 12 and 20 inches.)

The shortest Luger barrel is 3 1/4 inches. Only one was made. This was the personal pistol of Georg Luger himself and it is stamped with his personal monogram.


Luger pistol with standard barrels of six inches or less had fixed sights. The Artillery, long barrel and carbine models had adjustable tangent sights on the barrel just in front of the chamber.

Most, but not all Lugers have the bottom rear of the grip frame machined to accept a detachable stock.

All Lugers exhibit a high degree of fit and finish. Metal parts are either rust or salt blued while a few presentation guns are engraved. Grip panels are generally a finely checked wood although some late production World War II models have checkered plastic grips.

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