By David Tong
Luger Pistol, history and gun review.
USA – -(Ammoland.com)- While everyone colloquially calls the Pistole Parabellum, the “Luger” after German designer Georg Luger’s surname, it is famous as the first semi-automatic service pistol officially adopted by any military, by the Swiss in 1900.
While the earliest models of the Luger Pistol mostly had spring-steel mainsprings, 4 ¾” barrels chambered in 7.65 Parabellum caliber, and grip safeties, the preponderance of the models used by the German military were equipped with coil mainsprings, 4” barrels, chambered in 9X19 Parabellum, and dispensed with the grip safety.
Otherwise, they are functionally identical.
The Luger Pistol
The Luger Pistol is a short-recoil operated, fixed-barrel pistol that uses a unique “bent knee” toggle-locking mechanism. This was derived from both the Maxim machine gun, as well as Hugo Borchardt’s Model 1893 pistol that Luger re-designed for Deutsche-Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM).
Unlike the orthodoxy of both then and now, it is striker fired. Due to the nature of the action type, it has a rather convoluted trigger mechanism, and its operation is equally unusual when compared to the predominant Browning form of operating slide and tilting barrel.
When the Luger Pistol trigger is pressed, a horizontal groove on its left side engages an “L” shaped piece within the removable sideplate. The long arm of the L then depresses a coil-sprung plunger on the sear, on the left side of the upper receiver. The sear then rotates outward and releases the striker from full-cock, detonating the primer and sending the bullet on its way. A leaf spring behind the sear returns it to its resting state, and serves to position it to re-cock the striker as the bolt closes into battery.
Upon firing, the barrel and upper receiver/bolt recoil approximately 1/3”. The knurled knobs that are the toggle abutments impact bilateral ramps on the lower receiver/grip frame.
This allows the knee joint connected to the rear of the bolt to buckle, and fold upward. The bolt travels all the way to the end of its travel, and then strips the next round from the magazine and returns to battery.
As one can glean, this is a rather convoluted way to make an auto pistol operate. It has one redeeming feature, in that the precision of the machining and hand-fitting necessary to ensure the thing works means that the pistol is quite accurate, operating more as a fixed barrel than a Browning pattern tilt-lock.
All the parts on a Luger are serial numbered except for the springs and extractor, because they must be in order to be fitted correctly.
The very slanted grip angle is something some people like greatly, though of course this too goes against majority orthodoxy then and now. It also means that the magazine spring must be extremely strong in order to properly feed the fast-cycling action, and a special Luger Combination Tool issued with the pistol serves to pull a knurled button down to lower the follower so that the magazine can be loaded with relative ease.
Lose that tool, and one might find that topping the magazine off is “a problem.”
The pistol tends to be somewhat more magazine sensitive than most designs, and also due to the age of the design, is not really as reliable as even its major competitor during WWI and WWII, our homegrown Model 1911 in .45ACP. Best magazines for the Luger were the WWII-produced “Haenel-Schmeisser” versions with their fully extruded and machined steel bodies, and pinned aluminum floorpiece, as their strengthened feed lips ensure correct nose-high positioning relative to the chamber.
In addition to magazine sensitivity, the Luger Pistol is also ammunition sensitive as well. Most current American SAAMI-spec 9X19 ammo is loaded fairly light, roughly 1,150fps with a 115gr bullet. Original German spec ammo used 124gr truncated conical slugs moving at 1,225fps, a fair bit hotter and what we would consider “+P” nowadays.
The Luger Pistol’s Sights are an inverted-V in front adjustable in a limited range for windage, and a V machined into the rearmost portion of the toggle assembly in the rear. They are small, low-contrast, and tough to acquire in a hurry, but that is nothing unusual for the era when they were built. Generally though, they shoot to point of aim with decent ammo.
Some respondents over the years also suggested that the open nature of the pistol’s action and trigger mechanisms make it sensitive to dirt and mud, especially during trench warfare in WWI. This is partially true of the trigger mechanism, though the close tolerances of the bolt/toggle and the two receivers when assembled mean that not much is actually going to enter anything but the barrel’s muzzle, and no auto pistol is going to do very well if dropped in the mud with its action open. Maybe this is an old wives’ tale, but Luger Pistols are collector’s items now, and all of them are worth too much money in original condition with matching numbers to test this theory.
Luger Pistol Pricing
Starting prices for a mis-matching numbered Luger from WWI is roughly $700 in fair condition, and they accelerate rapidly from there. Many examples sell in the mid-four-figures or more in 2016 dollars. Luger Pistol s have rapidly become the cherished heirloom to be looked at every once in a while when extracted from a safe, and put back in there again, not to be fired.
This is a shame, because an all original, unmolested one of any vintage is a good shooting machine, so long as you have good magazines and hot enough ammo to make it cycle properly. Known in infamy by many old war movies showing the villainous Nazis wielding them, today the Luger Pistol is one of the most recognizable shapes in all pistoldom.