Tangling With The Toggle
Georg Luger’s Bent-Kneed Wonder.
I always wanted a Luger but until the 21st century I had fired only one — about five rounds through a 9mm around 1967. It seemed like I never had enough money for everything else needed, plus a Luger. Then after the turn of the century came the Internet! Or more specifically, Internet firearms auction sites. For some reason they made Lugers seem more accessible.
First I bought a Model 1920, which was a commercial version sold by DWM in Germany when the company was desperate for funds. These were export Lugers in 7.65mm Parabellum (.30 Luger) and immediately identifiable by a short 3.75″ barrel. I bought reloading dies, a batch of Starline brass and with a suitable 84-gr. 0.310″ RCBS bullet mould became a .30 Luger handloader. It shot well once I got handloads hot enough to cycle its action.
But something was lacking. The Luger was of beautiful quality, every number on it matched, but still something was lacking. Finally it dawned on me. That version of Luger actually had no true history behind it. Lugers were also called “Parabellums” in Europe. That is Latin “for war.” Most versions of Lugers were indeed Parabellums — they were military pistols used in both World War I and World War II by Germany, and in other more minor conflicts by a host of nations. I wanted a historical Luger.
So I disposed of my .30 Luger and in December 2007 purchased another. That move could possibly have been spurred on by the fact in the same month I sent in the required Federal paperwork for a full-auto German MP40 submachine gun. Got a World War II German 9mm submachine gun? It only felt logical to get a 9mm Luger to go with it.
This one is the classic World War II German Wehrmacht P08 or Pistole 1908. That was the year it was adopted by Germany’s Army. Actually there was a German P06 too. It had been adopted by the German Navy two years earlier. The basic difference between P06’s and P08’s is the former’s barrel length is 6″ and the latter’s 4″. Caliber for both is 9mm Parabellum (in Europe) or 9mm Luger (mostly known as so in the United States), but both are the same caliber, just different names.
During the Nazi era, German arms manufacturers did not stamp their name on firearms, but were given codes by the German government. My new Luger had the year 1938 stamped above the chamber and an S42 on the toggle link. That means it was made by Mauser Werke of Oberndorf specifically for the German “Heer” (army). According to the book Standard Catalog of Luger by Aarron Davis, its “rarity rating” is “uncommon.” Yeah for Duke! Once I drifted the dovetailed front sight just a touch it hit exactly where I aimed it at 25 yards.
It may surprise some readers to hear there was never a Luger factory. The pistols were made by five manufacturers in Germany, plus some were made in Switzerland (Waffenfabrick, Bern) and believe it or not some Lugers were made in England by Vickers, LTD. Actually the rough parts were supplied by DWM from Germany, with assembly and finishing done in England.
Duke firing a Luger P08 9mm. Note how the
toggles stay up when the last round is fired.
The Luger’s mode of function is greatly different than most other kinds of autoloading pistols. Where most have a reciprocating slide (1911, etc.) and some have a bolt sliding inside a tube (Ruger Mark I) Lugers have a toggle link action. The bolt moves rearward bending at the toggle-link’s “elbow” enough to eject the spent case. On its forward trip it picks up a new round from the magazine and chambers it. Interestingly, this basic style was perfected by Hugo Borchardt, who in the 1870’s was factory boss at the Sharps Rifle Company. Quite a jump from single shot, black powder cartridge rifles in the US to semi-auto pistols in Germany! A Borchardt pistol was actually marketed briefly by Mauser as the C93. It was a huge, ungainly creature compared to what came later.
Georg Luger was an employee at Deutche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM) and an associate of Borchardt. Luger took over where the other man stopped and fully developed the pistol bearing his name. This fact might also surprise readers. By 1900 Luger had his pistol in operation and actually for sale. That was about the same time Smith & Wesson was getting side-swing revolver cylinders perfected.
Those first Lugers were chambered for the 7.65mm Parabellum (.30 Luger) round mentioned before. It was a bottlenecked case using a 93-gr. bullet at about 1,200 fps. It was actually adopted by several nations but the United States military termed it “too light”. Even the German army didn’t want it. That spurred Mr. Luger to come up with the 9mm Parabellum in 1902. It was nothing more than the 7.65mm version’s case blown out to full diameter. But actually it has a slight taper. Anyway, at that it took a .355″ bullet of 115 grs. moving at about 1,300 fps. After the 9mm’s advent was when the German military got interested.
Duke’s first Luger was the Model 1920 7.65mm Parabellum (.30 Luger).
They were built for export. Above: This is the Artillery Luger P08
Duke bought off the Internet. It’s not in pristine condition but is
a great shooter. Note the figure “9” in the grip.
With time on my hands in the winter of 2013/2014 due to unusually harsh Montana weather, I returned to the Internet sites once again in search for a Luger. And the goal wasn’t just any Luger. Back in 2012 a friend loaned me his family heirloom for some shooting. It was the Artillery version of the P08. His grandfather brought it home at the end of World War I. An Artillery Luger has an 8″ barrel with a tangent rear sight with gradations all the way to 500 meters. Mostly, if not always, they were issued with leather holsters backed by a wooden, quick detachable shoulder stock. Most military Lugers have studs at the grip’s rear for attaching the shoulder stock. The idea with Artillery Lugers was to turn a pistol into a fast-firing carbine. Originally they were meant for protecting artillery positions in case of enemy break through.
Later in World War I German army doctrine decreed 10 Artillery Lugers were to be issued per company of specialized “sturmtruppen” (storm troops) whose job it was to attack enemy entrenchments. Originally Artillery Lugers were issued with standard eight round magazines but toward the end of World War I “sturmtrupps” carrying them were given 32-round drum magazines. One need not wonder at length about what a German soldier preferred to have in his hands when jumping into an enemy trench — a Mauser rifle with five rounds in the magazine plus a bayonet on the end or a shoulder stocked, long barreled, Luger with 32 round magazine.
Pristine condition Artillery Lugers sell for upwards of $3,000 sans shoulder stocks, drum magazines, holsters, etc. That was more than I was willing to pay. Besides I wanted one that spoke of history and I found one. It’s marked DWM and dated 1917. Not only does it show some wear, but it has some minor pitting from being in wet leather. My rationalization is its condition adds character.
In my Luger reading I discovered the information a very few Artillery Lugers had the figure “9” carved into their grips. I was lucky enough to get a “9” on the left grip panel, but alas not on both. Strangely enough, my new treasure wears British proof marks beneath its barrel. Knowing all firearms brought into England must be proofed, I theorize it was a British officer’s keepsake. Is that history or what? Yeah for Duke again!
The cost of original accouterments i.e. shoulder stock, holster, drum magazine would once more add thousands of dollars. I settled for reproductions so far — except for a drum magazine. One will have to come later, and Numrich Arms catalogs them. My Artillery Luger is a great shooter and especially easy to hit with once the shoulder stock is attached.
Duke’s first 9mm Luger was this P08 built in 1938 by Mauser.
The German Army held onto their P08’s as official sidearm until 1938, when Walther’s P38 was adopted. However, Lugers were not pulled from the field, and served with German soldiers till the very end in 1945. For the most part they are beautifully crafted handguns of a quality this world likely will never see again in handguns. Their prices have risen tremendously in recent decades so I’m happy to have mine. Do you have yours?
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Ventrino
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