Luger Pistol aka Pistole Parabellum – Gun Review & Brief History

By David Tong
Luger Pistol, history and gun review.

Krieghoff Luftwaffe Contract Luger Pisto
Krieghoff Luftwaffe Contract Luger Pisto
AmmoLand Gun News
AmmoLand Gun News

USA –  -( 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

Mauser S/42 Luger Pistol
Mauser S/42 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.

Luger Pistol Action
Luger Pistol Action

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.

Luger Combination Tool :
Luger Combination Tool :

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.

Krieghoff Luftwaffe Contract Luger Pistol
Krieghoff Luftwaffe Contract Luger Pistol

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.

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Charles T DeMay

It’s interesting to read these comments.I shot my first Lugar when I was 12 years old, It belonged to my older brother (16 years old) back in 1964. He did have some problems with it but I would chalk that up to bad surplus 9 mm ammo, old springs, bad magazines and not maintained (brother was jerk when it came to mechanical things. I have personally owned 5 of them up to now. First 3: 1915 DWM bring back, 1940 S/42 Russian capture and a 1960’s Original Mauser on Swiss tooling. They all functioned quite well with good ammo and… Read more »

Bob Lovell

I’ve been reading this stuff and would like to comment for those who have only heard about the Luger pistol. Let’s look at the Myths! I have owned three. The Luger, first of all, is a very reliable firearm. Most people get one with 80-90 year old springs and wonder why there are problems. Many also have been tinkered with by some jerk 40 years ago that had not a clue as to what he was doing. The dirt myth. Lugers will take as much dirt as the 1911 and I have both that I shoot. The German army did… Read more »

loing time shooter

I am talking MILITARY issue guns, NOT others. My Luger has NEVER hung up, very accurate, while most of the WW2 ISSUE 45 auto simply are not that great, The “unreliability of the Luger” is way overstated. The accuracy and reliability of the ISSUE WW2 45 was not that great. Most Luger’s of WW1 are still shooting well with no repairs of mods, biggest issue with Luger is most folks simply do not understand the hows and whats of the gun and it’s ammo. Sorry but if you think WW1-2 45 was reliable and as accurate as Luger’s, which come… Read more »

Bill Hindin

As I remember the last time I had my Luger apart the extractor was serial numbered to the gun. The extractor has to be
out of the breechblock to see the number. I have looked at 1000’s of Lugers in the last 50yrs & never saw one with a
broken breechblock. I have seen several broken togle locks on M1900’s. I have seen a broken breechblock (lower
corner) on a C-96 broomhandle.Bill


My father collected a Luger and a Barretta and used them as a 10 year old boy for a little while till his Grandfather caught up with him. Left-overs at the end of the second world war in central Europe included any and everything. BTW George Luger was Austrian.

long time shooter

I have Luger my Dad brought back from WW!, number match. It has never jammed, have two mags fro it, one orig and one I bought few years back. Nice gun, very accurate and great grips. Superb handgun. Generally used off the shelf ammo for years..Hand load for all guns but the L, not a big fan of the 9, but Luger will shoot as good or better then most, and for 98+ years old, not bad. Someday might buy one in 22lr. Wonder how today’s gun will stack up in 100 years, so let’s not beat up the L… Read more »


I have had a few over the years,if you have one with a good trigger pull there somewhat good shooter. i always like the luger for the history and workmanship,there not good combat sidearms for reliability.

Dave Hardy

Bought a well used example with a good barrel. Over the following years purchased better & better parts to replace the ugly ones. When all together had a blueing done (actually matt black). Took my time, watched my money & eventually had what I wanted…a shooter, not an expensive ‘display only, handle with gloves’ decoration.

Mike McAllister

Nice look back at history. I would love to have one, but the cost are way out of my league.

long time shooter

I would say from experience that a Military issue Luger is much more accurate and reliable then a military issue 1911. We are talking un-tuned issue guns… Note, interesting that you can tell when loaded with one in chamber buy looking at tiny bump when ejector over a round… But military issues, Luger was much more accurate and just as reliable.. Do like the long site distance on the 3 inch or so barrel as rear sites way back on toggle….Very accurate, but not fair to compare to today’s handguns, more so when most seem to find need for 15… Read more »

cisco kid

The Luger more reliable than a 1911? Anyone who has owned and shot both knows what unreliable guns Lugers are and the 1911 WWII Military gun was perhaps the most reliable automatic pistol ever made in its WWII military configuration.


I agree with what Cisco Kid said about Lugers ! Never owned one but have tried to shoot a few through the years. Very overrated,very unreliable !

cisco kid

And that is the truth about the so called mythical Lugers.

cisco kid

Perhaps the most unreliable military pistol ever made. I have owned and shot quite a few Lugers over the past 50 plus years and not a one would I trust my life to period. The breach block is the Achilles Heel of the Luger as it will eventually shatter. Its a poorly designed part and very delicate. That’s why the Moronic advice of many Gun Writers should not be taken as gospel in regards to shooting hot loads out of any Luger. Try finding a used Luger breach block if you think I am kidding you, they do not exist… Read more »


I have owned over a 1000 lugers from the 1900 to the last 1000 produced and this is the biggest bunch of Bull I have heard. Also I have never shot a Handload / reload in any Military firearm. Also I have never found a shortage of parts for project Guns, they are just mis-matched and are a lessor value but if that is all you can afford they work just as well. If you use after market magazines then expect trouble as would be the same with reloads. Use the pistol as it was designed and you will not… Read more »

cicso kid

I refer you to the 1981 American Rifleman article “Make that Luger Shoot”. It gave a truthful and professional evaluation on the reliability and the durability of the gun. Buy the way if you owned over 1,000 Lugers like you claim, it would have cost you over 2 million dollars plus!

cicso kid

If you have owned over 1,000 Lugers it would have cost you over 2 million dollars and would have taken again that much money to have shot them all if you had the time to shoot them day and night for decades.

cisco kid

I forgot to mention the 1918 Article in the American Rifleman Magazine “Make that Luger Shoot” in 1981. It details all the reliability problems and parts breakage problems. It also tells how to construct a buffer for the breach block to make it last longer before the inevitable breakage occurs. The Article gives detailed hand-loading information so as to make the gun slightly more reliable and preserve wear and tear on its delicate operating mechanism which includes other parts besides the breach block, as for example the toggle, which also breaks. This informative article is a must for all Luger… Read more »