“Si vis pacem, para bellum”

“Si vis pacem, para bellum”

By the beginning of the 19th century, the dream of weapons designers about creating compact multi-shot weapon became a reality. In 1836, the first revolver designed by young American Samuel Colt appeared on sale. It was the first commercial repeating, multi-shot hand gun.


Set of the 1836 model Colt’s .36 caliber revolver, powder flask, cleaning rod, loading lever, spare cylinder, primer box and round bullet casting mold. Such a beautiful historical gun!

Age of revolvers

Until the 1870s, so-called “cap and ball” revolvers were used. They were charged with lead bullets (most often lead round balls), black powder and a primer. The whole process took no less than a minute and required calm.

There were some mechanical (repeating) pistol designs as well. It is worth noting a gun called Volcanic, created by engineer Henry back to 1854. The gun was unreliable and underpowered. A patent for this weapon was purchased by Winchester and few years later the legendary Winchester repeating rifle was born.

Volcanic pistol

Source of image: rockislandauction.com and wikimedia.org

By the end of the 1870s, revolvers began to achieve their perfection. With the spread of the metallic cartridges revolver could be loaded much faster. Double-action revolvers allowed to shoot faster without cocking the hammer first.


Break action revolvers allowed in one motion to extract all empty cases. Such a system was a biggest step forward to increase practical rate of fire.
Source of image: gundigest.com

First auto loaders

With the advent of smokeless gunpowder in the late 1880s, there was a real opportunity to develop a reliable self-loading (automatic) pistol. But they just did not know how to design such a gun! A lot of overcomplicated and strange looking (at least for our modern standards) pistols been born in the very end of 19th century. The earliest patented semi-automatic pistol is the Salvator Dormus, by Archduke Salvator of Austrian Empire in 1891.

Salvator Dormus pistol

We do not know many information about Salvator Dormus pistol. Did it work reliably? What cartridge did it use? Only few prototypes was ever created. Source of image: quora.com

Today we perfectly understand what a pistol looks like. For example, almost all modern pistols have a magazine with cartridges in the grip. But even this idea was not obvious to many designers of those years.

Read: Swiss rifles

German gun designer Hugo Borchardt first patented his revolutionary C-93 pistol in 1893. Borchardt also developed powerful high-velocity bottlenecked 7.65×25mm cartridge to his gun. Based upon the Maxim machinegun toggle-bolt design it was rather complicated and very expensive gun to produce. But it worked! About 3000 of thess pistols were made and sold between 1893 and 1897 which makes this gun first commercially available semi-auto pistol. It was the first pistol using modern type of removable 8 rounds magazine in the grip. However, not a single army in the world wanted to put this gun into service.

Borchart pistol c-93

The price of this gun was about 3 months the salary of a regular worker in a German factory back to 1893.
Source of image: rockislandauction.com

A few years later in 1896 Mauser brothers released a pistol that will immortalize the name of their German company. C-96 7.63 mm “broom handle” Mauser. A strange looking, large pistol had a big capacity (10 rounds) magazine loaded with stripper clips (just like typical bolt-action rifle) By the standards of the time it was probably most reliable and powerful handgun. The pistol could be used with the shoulder butt stock attached as a small carbine. Pistols of this design had been produced until the 1930s and been sold on commercial market in more than 30 countries.

C96 mauser

With a stock attached to the gun, C-96 Mauser turned into a convenient small carbine. The weapon sight was marked up to 1000 meters, which, of course, was complete idiocy. (the actual firing distance did not exceed 150-200 meters) however, it was rather a marketing move to emphasize the possibility of a new weapon.
Source of image: www.legacy-collectibles.com


Another example of early german pistol gesign. Cal. 8 mm Bergmann model of 1894. With unique style 5 rounds magazine and steam-punky looking overcomplicated design this gun did not became very popular. Source of Photo: https://www.hermann-historica.de/

John Browning  is probably the most influential gun designer ever. He is “the grandfather” of a modern machine gun and pistol. In 1896, he creates his first pistol. It was the first production handgun to use a slide. This compact pistol was ahead of its time, but the military did not take it into service due to a weak cartridge. More than a million of these pistols were sold on the civilian market in United Stated and Europe during early 1900s.

1900 browning

1899 model browning.
It was the first pistol in the world to use a 7.65x17mm cartridge. (also known in US as .32 acp)
After 120 years, this is still one of the most popular cartridges for compact size pistols. Source of image: www.legacy-collectibles.com



The birth of a legend. Luger or Parabellum

Despite the success of some self-loading pistols, the military was in no hurry to adopt a “new toy” The smokeless powder of those years was far from perfect. For reliable operation of the new born auto pistols cartridges of very high quality were required.The main priority of the military was not a hand guns, but a machine guns and rifles for arming soldiers. It was believed that the officers were quite enough of the good old revolvers.

I already mentioned the Borchardt’s pistol. But it was not destined to become popular. However, there was a man who worked with Hugo Borchardt at the DWM factory (Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken) and who turned the ugly duckling into a real gun design masterpiece.

To any criticism towards his pistol, Hugo Borchardt said the following: “This is the best you can do.” He considered his creation ideal. But it was not so. Already not young and rather experienced engineer working with him George Luger decided, why not to improve the old C-93 Borchadt’s pistol? He abandoned the idea of shouldering stock and most importantly got rid of the protruding back of the weapon where the fragile and bulky coil spring was hidden.


On the Internet you will find many animated videos showing how this unique gun works.

The anatomical pistol grip got a comfortable tilt of 120 degrees. When take this gun in your hand, you understand why a lot of people loved it so much. A patent for a new pistol was granted in 1899. in 1900 the Swiss army buys the first 3000 pistols of 7.65 mm caliber.


German Luger 1900 model.
Switzerland became a first nation to adopt the semi-auto pistol back to 1900.
Source of image. www.legacy-collectibles.comLater

Read: Restoring Luger P08 Pistol

In 1902, Luger decided to create a new, more powerful 9mm cartridge (9×19 Para or Luger) for his pistol. This cartridge will become so popular for its compactness and at the same time high bullet energy, that today about 2/3 of all  pistols in army service use this cartridge.There was a memorable name for selling a pistol on the civilian market. “Si vis pacem, para bellum” is a Latin adage translated as “If you want peace, prepare for war” Parabellum became a new name to a family of new 7.65 and more often 9mm guns.

p-08 luger

Source of photo: ww2db.com

In 1908, the army of the German Empire took a 9mm caliber pistol into service. The army name of the P-08 pistol translates simply as “1908 model pistol.” It is this model that becomes the most popular and the most common. P-08 will be produced until 1942. More than 2.5 million will be made. These weapons will be used by the Germans in the first and second World Wars.

Luger p-o8

1914 production P-08 Luger from author’s historical guns collection. 106 years gun is still fully functional. This is an incredibly accurate and well made weapon.

Due to its complex design this pistol was very expensive to manufacture. Almost all of the gun parts were numbered. Indeed, often the parts of one gun did not fit another! P-08 manufacturing required a large number of expensive metalworking operations. Each gun was handfitted during the final assembly. In the late 1930s, due to the improvement of machine tools, its cost dropped to 35 Reichsmarks per gun with two magazines and a leather holster. The price of the new Walther P-38 pistol adopted by Germany in 1938 at the beginning of its production was 32 Reichsmarks, and by 1942 it was only 20 Reichsmarks. Dear old P-08 has retired. However, these pistols were used until the end of the War and became a welcome trophy among the Alies troops.

If you like firearms, then you simply must try to shoot from this gun. A soft, almost sporting style trigger, a comfortable grip and a strange (more suitable for a steam locomotive) toggle lock system give this old weapon an unique charm and rather quick and sharp recoil impulse as well.

Greg Part 2020 



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