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The Borchardt pistols

Written by Sakhal


Circa 1850 started the production of the first metallic cartridges, either of annular or central percussion. The immediate consequence was the design of the first breech-loading revolvers, but forty years had to pass until the main advantage of this type of cartridges were seriously exploited: the easiness and quickness with which they could enter or leave the breech. All the weapons produced during those forty years had one thing in commom with the weapons produced since the origins of the firearms: they did not take advantage of the recoil, caused by the gases resulting from the explosion of the powder, which was transformed in a simple kickback. The design of a mechanism capable of using the recoil to expulse the recently shot cartridge and replace it with a new one, would originate a new type of firearm: the semiautomatic - or autoloading - one.

The first design

Which must be considered the first model of an autoloading pistol was created by Hugo Borchardt, a designer of firearms born in Connecticut, within a family of German immigrants. When he sought for financing after having designed his autoloding pistol, despite it being revolutionary, he found difficulties due to a conservative thinking in United States, where in that time only revolvers had acceptance. Due to this, he left for chances abroad, arriving, not surprisingly, to Germany. There Borchardt presented his invention to the arms manufacturer Ludwig Loewe; this one accepted to produce the new weapon and hired Borchardt as technician. The pistol invented by Borchardt was fed by magazines that were introduced in the handle of the weapon, in which the cartridges were previously introduced under the pressure of a spring; it was, summarizing, a pistol working exactly like the modern ones. The cartridges fired by this pistol were designed by Borchardt as well; they were bottlenecked, with hardened bullet and of caliber 7.63 millimeters. In 1893, the pistol, produced by Loewe, started to be sold to the public. The Borchardt 1893 is considered as the first pistol of its kind, because despite there existed other designs previously, they were not successful. However, the Borchardt 1893 was far from perfect; it was a large pistol, measuring 35 centimeters in length, whose articulated bolt displaced its center of gravity excessively backwards, resulting therefore rather unbalanced to handle and fire with a single hand.

The Borchardt pistols

In 1900 the DMW (Deutsche Waffen und Munitionenfabrik) started the production of a model of autoloading pistol in caliber 7.65 millimeters Parabellum, which would become one of the most famous modern pistols: the Luger. The pistol took its name from its designer, Georg Luger, a technician hired by Loewe who merely introduced some modifications in the original design by Borchardt; in turn, the DMW was an association of the Berlin-based Loewe factory and the DMP (Deutsche Metal Patronenfabrik), an ammunition factory based in Karlsruhe (the DMW disappeared as such brand in 1918, becoming part of the Mauser, based in Oberndorf). The main difference between the original design by Borchardt and the redesign by Luger was the handle; while in the first design it was practically perpendicular to the barrel, in the second design it had a notable obtuse angle. The new 7.65-millimeter cartridge had been designed by Luger taking as reference as well the original 7.63 millimeters cartridge designed by Borchardt, and the purpose of this redesign was to decrease the power of the cartridge to adequate it to the new, lighter pistol.

It was attempted to get the Luger accepted as reglamentary pistol for the Navy and the Army of the Second Reich, but it was rejected due to its caliber being considered as too small for a military pistol. It happened differently with Switzerland, though, whose Army accepted this weapon as their reglamentary pistol. Thus, Luger reconverted the pistol to fire a new cartridge, the 9 millimeters Parabellum, caliber that satisfied both the Navy and the Army, becoming then the Luger their new reglamentary pistol, receiving the denomination P-08 (Pistole Modell 1908). But let us return to Borchardt. After managing to find a manufacturer for his pistol, he continued working and, seeing the great potential of his 7.63-millimeter cartridge, started the design of a new pistol capable of extracting the maximum potential to this ammunition. In that time, he had stopped working for Loewe and was working for Mauser.

The Borchardt pistols

The Borchardt pistols

The Borchardt pistols

The second design

In 1896 it was patented the new design by Borchardt, which would become world famous as the "Military Mauser" (because it was intended that it were adopted as reglamentary pistol by the German Army, who rejected it adducing its small caliber) and its cartridge would be known as the 7.63 millimeters Mauser. The new pistol had the magazine before the trigger guard and not in the handle, unlike the first design. Besides, the magazine was not such actually, but a mere fixed deposit provided with a spring, fed with ten cartridges stacked in a detachable plate, similar method as the employed in the Mauser manual bolt action rifles. After pulling back and holding the slide, the cartridges were inserted in the deposit, fitting in a staggered column. When the slide was released, it pushed the uppermost cartridge into the breech. The hammer remained then cocked and the pistol was ready to fire by pressing the trigger. When firing, the recoil pushed the slide backwards, which dragged the recently fired cartridge by means of an extractor nail, expulsing it outside the pistol. During its movement, the slide pushed back the hammer, leaving it cocked again. When, due to the action of the return spring, the slide returned to its resting position, it pushed a new cartridge into the breech, being the pistol ready again for a new shot by just pressing the trigger, and this process would continue until depleting the magazine.

The best propaganda that this pistol could have had, came from Winston Churchill, who recognized to owe his life to this pistol. The 2nd September 1898, Lieutenent Winston Spencer Churchill of the 21th Lancers Regiment, intervined in the combats against the Dervishes in Omdurman, Sudan. During the combat he resulted isolated from his group and attacked by four indigenous. In the previous moments of the fight he had fired already six cartridges with his pistol, and the Dervishes would have killed him if he would have carried with him the reglamentary weapon for officers in the British Army, the revolver Webley and Scott, whose cylinder could carry only six cartridges; but instead he carried with him the Mauser model 1896, which he had bought in England. With the four cartridges that remained in the magazine he took down the four attackers and managed to escape, joining his regiment.

However, the Second Reich was not so entushiastic about the new pistol, because of the small caliber. And however, the Mauser was always, in a military scope, better pistol than the Luger would be. This one reached a muzzle speed of 380 meters/second with the 7.65-millimeter cartridges and 360 meters/second with the 9-millimeter cartridges, while the Mauser, with the 7.63 millimeters cartridges, which were slightly more powerful than the ones used by the original Borchardt 1893, reached 490 meters/second. The Mauser 1896 was equipped with a sliding sight, adjustable from 50 to 1000 meters, and was supplied with a wooden sheath that could be attached to the pistol acting as a rifle butt, an idea that was already experimentated in the Borchardt 1893. The Mauser 1896 weighed about 1200 grams, its barrel was 12 centimeters in length and its maximum range was theoretically 1800 meters, being possible, with the help of the butt, to effectuate rather precise shots up to half that distance. Without the butt good shots could be made up to 60 meters. However, this weapon resulted rather voluminous and with its center of gravity displaced forward, which hindered its handling.

The Borchardt pistols

The Borchardt pistols

Transformations and variants

There was a model of the Mauser whose deposit was shortened, having capacity for six cartridges only. It was employed by the German Police and the Russian officers of the Tzar, during the Russo- Japanese War. During the First World War it was produced a number of Mauser pistols reconverted to the caliber 9 millimeters Parabellum. The length of the barrel was increased to 14 centimeters and for distinguishing them from the original model, a number nine painted in red was engraved in the wooden grips. Since the 9 millimeters Parabellum cartridges are much less powerful than the 7.63 millimeters ones, the sliding sight was adjustable from 50 to 500 meters only. Regarding the Luger, it was produced with several barrel lengths, being the most common ones the Navy (15 centimeters) and Artillery (20 centimeters). The standard model had a barrel of only 10 centimeters and weighed little more than 800 grams. After the First World War the restrictions from the Versalles Treaty prohibited pistols with barrels longer than 102 millimeters or with calibers higher than 7.65 millimeters; this originated a model of the Mauser whose barrel had only 10 centimeters in length. During the Second World War were produced Mauser pistols prepared for a new cartridge, the 9 millimeters Mauser, longer and more powerful than the 9 millimeters Parabellum. The SS used a version of the Mauser whose deposit had been replaced by an adapter that allowed conventional magazines, containing 20 rounds each. This pistol could fire bursts or single shots and was denominated "Schnellfeuer Pistole" (Fast-Firing Pistol).


Both the Borchardt 1893 and the Mauser 1896 were cumbersome pistols, built with complex mechanisms and poor ergonomics, weighty and voluminous; for this reason they were often used as autoloading carbines more than proper pistols. The Luger competed with the Mauser to become the new reglamentary pistol for the German Army, and despite having inferior ballistic performance, it won its place in the Army because its size, weight and simplicity of mechanisms made this pistol rather more comfortable to use, easy to handle and well balanced.

Article updated: 2015-05-20

Categories: Small Arms - 20th Century - [General] - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-10-12

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