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Axis Handguns of World War II

Peter Suciu

The German Luger has become an iconic hand gun – and despite the fact that it was largely replaced by other sidearms during the Second World War, movies and TV shows have continued to make it a "go to" weapon in the hands of Nazi officers.

The Luger was, of course, just one of several notable sidearms carried by German, Italian, and Japanese officers, NCOs, and elite troops. Here is a round-up of the handguns of the Axis powers of the Second World War:

Luger P08 (Germany)
The infamous Luger is perhaps the only sidearm more iconic than the American .45. Developed by Georg J. Luger in 1898, the gun was actually an evolution of Hugo Borchardt’s C-93. Production of the Luger began in 1900, and the gun was primarily made by German arms maker Deutsche Waffen- un Manitionsfabriken (DWM). It was originally chambered in 7.65x22mm Parabellum, but later modified to the more common 9x19mm Parabellum (now known as the 9mm Luger) cartridge.

The German military, however, was not the first to adopt the pistol, as the Swiss Army evaluated it and adopted it as the standard military sidearm in 1900, followed by the German Navy in 1904. It was even considered by the American Army briefly before DWM, and the American testers parted ways. It was finally adopted by the German Army in 1904 and remained the official sidearm until 1938, when it was to be replaced by the Walther P38. It was still in widespread use throughout WWII, when it became a prized souvenir to Allied soldiers. It remains one of the most collected military side arms today.

Luger
Image: Luger Pistol (Cutaway design Rock Island Arsenal)

Walther P38 (Germany)
The Walther P38 first entered tests in 1938, when it was accepted as the replacement for Luger, but it didn’t enter widespread production until 1939. It was originally meant to fully replace the older P08 by 1942, but wartime production never reached full capacity. The P38 relied on the standard 9x19mm Parabellum bullet, but other versions were produced in 7.65x22mm and even .22 Long Rifle, while experimental .45 ACP and .38 Super versions were also produced in very limited numbers. Originally the handgun was fitted with walnut grips, but as the war continued, these were replaced with Bakelite grips.

Perhaps because of the reputation of the Luger, the Walther P38 was typically overlooked by American souvenir hunters and even gun collectors for many years. The handgun has, however, become more popular with collectors today. It also remains in service with German police units in modern times, proving that the P38 was a reliable and worthy successor to the Luger.

P38
Image: P38 (Author's Collection)

Walther PP and PPK (Germany)
The name Walther PPK probably sounds familiar, as it is the handgun used by the fictional superspy James Bond. But the gun actually pre-dates the Ian Fleming novels and certainly the movies.

The Walter PP does not mean “Pocket Pistol” as is sometimes claimed, but rather “Polizeipistole,” as in “Police Pistol,” while the PPK was Polizeipistole Kriminalmodell, meaning Police Pistol Detective Model, and issued to plainclothes detectives. It is also worth noting that while the gun was used by Nazi German officials, the PP was first released in 1929, and the PPK in 1931, before the Nazi government came to power.

Both versions are credited with being the world’s first truly successful double action semi-automatic pistols, and hence the action was widely copied – it was used in the later Walther P38. While the handguns were widely used throughout the war – and it was a PPK that was used by Adolf Hitler when the dictator took his own life – both versions remained in use after the war and have seen numerous improvements. The PPK/E is the latest version produced, and it entered production in 2000.

Hitler-s-Pistol
Image: Hitler's Pistol (West Point Museum)

Bodeo Model 1889 (Italy)
The Italian military was not what could be described as well prepared for a major war, and that is why outdated weapons such as the Bodeo Model 1889 revolver remained in use. It had become the Italian Army's service revolver in 1891 and remained in use throughout World War I and the various interwar Italian colonial wars, including Libya and Ethiopia. It was never actually declared obsolete, however, and saw use as a reserve weapon until the end of the Second World War.

Due to the odd shape of the grip, it earned the nickname "coscia d'angello" ("leg of lamb"). The solid-frame, six-shot revolver was produced in two versions – one with a round barrel with trigger guard, and another with an octagonal barrel and folding trigger. Despite the fact that it was outdated, the German Wehrmacht also used the Bodeo Model 1889 revolver in limited capacity, and it was designated as Revolver 680(i).

Bodeo-Model-1889
Image: Bodeo Model 1889 (National World War I Museum)

Gilsenti Model 1910 (Italy)
The shortcomings of the Bodeo Model 1889 were apparent as early as 1910, when the Glisenti Model 1910 went into production, however, it suffered from a flawed design that included a complex yet weak firing system. This meant that the pistol utilized a weaker cartridge than its contemporary rival hand guns. The 9mm Glisenti round was similar to the German 9x19mm Parabellum round, but had a reduced velocity.

Despite its flaws, the short recoil handgun, which featured a seven-round detachable box magazine, remained in use throughout both World Wars.

Gilsenti-Model-1910
Image: Gilsenti Model 1910 (National World War I Museum)

Beretta Model 1934/Model 1935 (Italy)
Fabbrica d'Armi Pietro Beretta – or more commonly, simply, Beretta – is the oldest active manufacturer of firearms and components in the world. Founded in 1526, it has made weapons for every major European conflict since 1650. During World War II, the firm supplied the Italian military with the Model 1934, a semi-automatic pistol that was chambered in the 9mm Coro round – more commonly known as the .380 ACP.

Beretta had only produced its first pistol during World War I, but by the 1930s had become the world's largest pistol maker, and the M1934 was the company's most popular product made during the Second World War. It was designed and purpose-built for the Italian military, and it is easy to see the influence from the German Walther PP pistols in this design. The model was followed by the M1935, which was similar in design but fired the .32 ACP round. The M1935 remained in production until 1967, while the M1934 remained in service and production until 1991.

Beretta-Model-1935
Image: Beretta Model 1935 (Private Collection)

Type 26 (Japan)
First introduced in 1893, the Japanese produced Type 26 “hammerless” revolver was actually the first modern pistol adopted by the Imperial Japanese Army. It saw service in the Russo-Japanese War, World War I, and World War II.

The model number refers to the twenty-sixth year of the reign of the Meiji emperor, which was 1893. The Type 26 was dated by the outbreak of World War II, but remained in service as an auxiliary weapon due to a shortage of small arms.

Type-26
Image: Type 26 (IMFDB)

Type A/Type 14 (Japan)
The first Japanese pistol, the Type A, was design by General Kijiro Nambu in 1902. The later version, the Type 14, also designed by Nambu entered production in 1926 (or the 14th year of the Emperor Yoshihito). Both versions are often simply known as the “Nambu.” While the handguns resemble the German Luger, neither the Type A nor the later Type 14 were based on the P08 design. The Nambu instead employs a recoil spring action to the toggle-locked, short recoil action of the Luger.

It is worth noting, too, that the Nambu was never officially adopted by the Japanese military. Japanese officers were expected to purchase their own pistols, and instead the Nambu was made available for officers to purchase. The Nambu was mainly produced by the Tokyo Arsenal, while some models were also made by the Tokyo Gas and Electric Company. Some 200,000 models in total – of both the Type A and the Type 14 – were produced by the end of World War II.

The gun fired the 8mm cartridge, which was considered under-powered compared to the other handguns of the era. Other shortcomings included crude sights and weak magazine springs that resulted in misfires; however, the gun did catch the eye of the William B. Ruger, a US Marine, who went on to create the Ruger Standard after duplicating two Baby Nambus in his garage after the war.

Type-AType-14
Image: Type AType 14 (Imperial War Museum Duxford)

Type 94 (Japan)
The Type 14 was not the only Japanese pistol designed by Nambu, who also was responsible for the 1934 designed Type 94 (based on the Japanese year 2094, which was believed to be the date from the creation of the world). It was designed to be smaller and simpler to produce than the Type 14, but still used the same 8mm rounds. The gun is known for a design flaw that allows for the gun to be accidentally discharged by pressing the exposed trigger bar on the left-hand side of the receiver. Countering this claim is the opinion that the safety should be on until the gun is ready to be fired, but it seems to be a real flaw nonetheless.

Some 72,000 Type 94 pistols were made by the end of the war, and quality diminished greatly during the later stages of the war. Many of these cruder versions were brought home in large numbers by returning American GIs, adding to the mythos of the poor quality of the Japanese Type 94 pistol.

Type-94
Image: Type 94 (Pacific War Museum)

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer based in Michigan. Contact him at petersuciu@gmail.com.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.