Ruby Pistol — .32 ACP WWI Semiautomatic

The 105-year-old Ruby pistol was heavily used in World War I, and its combat ability is comparable to the Colt, Browning and Savage pistols of its time.

Ruby Pistol — .32 ACP WWI Semiautomatic
Check out the Ruby pistol, a World War I semiautomatic.

"Ruby” is a generic term for nearly a million .32 caliber pistols delivered to the French military during World War I. By most accounts, the French fielded nearly 10 million men during the war, and the standard service pistol of the French army at the time was the rather ineffective 8mm Lebel revolver.

While the .32 ACP is no powerhouse, when compared to the 8mm Lebel the .32 is a stronger cartridge with greater penetration. Most .32 ACP loads make 900 to 1,000 fps, and while modern Fiocchi 8mm Lebel ammunition reaches 730 fps, original loads are as slow as 650 fps.

The French also bought 40,000 Savage 1907 .32 ACP pistols, but that number pales in comparison to the nearly 1 million Ruby guns it purchased. The French awarded Gabilondo y Urresti-Eibar a contract for 10,000 pistols per month, but Gabilondo was basically just a small machine shop, so it subcontracted slides, frames, barrels and internal parts to other firms.

There were half a dozen other manufacturers of complete Ruby pistols, and between those and all the subcontractors supplying components, parts interchangeability on Ruby pistols is nonexistent. For instance, different lots from the same maker do not always have interchangeable magazines.


The Ruby was a nine-shot pistol (for the most part), and while some examples were cheap and unreliable, at their best they were comparable to anything made by Colt or Browning. My Astra specimen is well made.


Ruby-Pistol-32-ACP
The Ruby was manufactured by several firms, including Astra, and parts made by many subcontractors.

The Ruby pistol isn’t innovative or interesting in mechanical terms. It is based on proven Browning principles—similar to the Colt and Browning 1903 models. The Ruby is a simple blowback action with a hidden hammer. Barrel lockup is similar to the later and much more complicated Astra 400 9mm.

The safety locks only the trigger. It is a simple system, but it’s not as safe as the Colt’s “flipping sear” and grip safety. The safety seems tight enough and works well, but I would never carry a Ruby with a round in the chamber. A very few Ruby pistols were delivered with a grip safety.

My Astra pistol weighs 29 ounces. The grip is basically straight, and the grips on most Ruby guns were nicely checkered when new. The cocking serrations were often cut at a single pass across a line of slides held in a fixture. The hammer is hidden by a nicely rounded slide.

The trigger compresses straight to the rear, and the pull on mine is 6.5 pounds. While the mag I have looks rough, it functions just fine. The magazine catch is a heel type, typical of European designs.


Ruby-Pistol-32-ACP
As a result, many parts—including magazines—are not likely to be interchangeable.

I fired a number of rounds at man-size targets at seven yards and found the pistol to be fast on target. The sights are no better and no worse than other guns of its era, and with its light recoil follow-up hits came easily. Function was fine, and when I tested the gun for accuracy at 15 yards, I was able to get three-inch five-shot groups.

The Ruby pistols were heavily used during the war, and many show extreme wear—as mine does. I have examined many Ruby pistols, and while some of the guns were well made, many were not. Some of the safeties are no longer operable and other guns had soft extractors that did not stand up in the long term.

Still, I was pleasantly surprised by this 105-year-old handgun’s performance. The Ruby wasn’t as well finished as the Browning, Colt and Savage pistols of its day, but in combat ability, the Ruby is at least comparable.


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