The Marine Modell 1904

Georg Luger’s Beautiful Ship-to-Ship Handgun
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The Navy Luger was issued throughout the Kaiserliche Marine or Imperial German Navy.

When fitted with a detachable buttstock, the Navy
Luger becomes a passable close quarters carbine.

Korvettenkapitän Franz Becker leaned insouciantly against the front coaming of the conning tower of the U-14 and studied the British trawler through his binoculars. Though his crew thought him fearless, the charade was just that. Underneath, he was terrified just like the rest of them.

In 1915, the science of firing torpedoes from one moving ship into another was in its infancy. There yet remained a great deal of guesswork involved. As a result, whenever possible, Kapitan Becker tried to engage his prey on the surface. His forward deck gun was one of two 150mm monsters, and his gun crews knew how to run them. Able Seaman Biles crouched motionless behind a Spandau MG-08 clamped to the railing alongside his Captain. Becker glanced at the boy and hazarded a nervous smile.

The trawler was dead in the water. A lifeboat was already loose from the ship with a few men aboard. However, a vessel this size had a much larger complement. This might be as easy as it appeared, or it could be something else entirely. Kapitan Becker ordered all ahead slow. The muzzle of his big bow gun tracked the trawler as she bore. Becker retrieved his long-barreled Luger pistol, mounted up the wooden shoulder stock and charged the action.

Once nearly abreast, the stationary English vessel at a slant range of about 100 meters, panels on the starboard side of the trawler suddenly fell away. A pair of Maxim-Nordenfelt quick-firing 1-pounder pom-poms immediately opened up. The light automatic cannons raked the U-boat’s deck with 37mm high-explosive shells. The forward German deck gun roared in response, but the heavy round skipped off the water and passed less than a meter above the English vessel. The rear gun could not yet bear. Before his crew could get the gun reloaded, a symphony of British Vickers and Lewis guns slathered the gun mounts in machinegun fire.

Biles opened up with his Maxim as Becker snapped off five quick shots from his Luger in the general direction of the enemy bridge. That just attracted the attention of the British gunners. The next cloud of pain rained down on the conning tower. In desperation, Becker threw Biles down the open hatch. He hazarded a quick glance toward the deck and was crushed to see the shredded bodies of his gun crews, still and inert.

Becker tossed his Luger through the gaping hole and then leapt through the hatch himself, rapping his elbow viciously on the way down. With his good arm he pulled the hatch closed while Seaman Biles dogged it in place. He felt the 37mm HE rounds through the floor as they exploded against his boat and screamed for a crash dive. Whether Becker and the remaining members of his crew lived or died would be determined by how quickly they could get under water. If they weren’t sent to the bottom, he would circle back with torpedoes. However, they had to survive the next two minutes first …

The U-boat war during WWI represented a
bold new direction in naval combat.

Hard-Core History

The U-boat war in World War I reflected a more general demise of civility. Early on, U-boats would generally confront their prey on the surface and give them an opportunity to abandon ship before being sunk. The arrival of the camouflaged Q-boats like the trawler described above changed all that. The resulting unrestricted U-boat warfare claimed military and civilian vessels alike.

On 20 May 1915, a U-20 torpedoed and sank the British-flagged ocean liner Lusitania, killing 1,197 people, most of them civilians. Among the dead were 128 Americans. Though the Germans subsequently announced they would guard the safety of civilian passengers on merchant ships, the sinking of the Lusitania sparked a fire that eventually led American Doughboys to the Western Front. American involvement signaled the beginning of the end for Imperial Germany.

In addition to countless revolutionary technologies employed by the German U-boats, submariners were issued with a most peculiar version of the standard German service pistol. Featuring a long barrel, adjustable rear sight and detachable board stock, the Luger Marine Modell 1904 was intended to repel boarders or snipe at enemy Captains. In reality, it was seldom used for its intended purpose.

DWM (Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken) made the Navy Lugers.

The flat stock for the Navy Luger is a simple board-like affair.

Technical Details

The Swiss were first in 1900, but their Luger pistol was chambered for 7.65x21mm. The Kaiserliche Marine or Imperial Navy was the first German service to accept the Luger in 1904. The Imperial German Army got theirs four years later in 1908. Roughly three million copies were ultimately produced.

The Navy version featured a 5.9″ barrel and two-position adjustable rear sight. By contrast, the standard Army P08 sported a fixed rear sight and 4″ tube. Otherwise, the actions were identical. On this side of the pond we just called this curious gun the Navy Luger.

The Navy Luger came in three broad variations. The 1904 model had a grip safety and a flat mainspring. The 1906 variation retained the grip safety but had a coiled mainspring. The 1908 variant dispensed with the grip safety. There were also some esoteric differences to the toggle checkering and barrel contours. For whatever reason, DWM (Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken) reversed the positions on the safety in the middle of the 1906 production run. If my math is correct, DWM produced around 159,000 Navy Lugers in total. All the Navy models fired 9x19mm ammunition.

The front sight on the Navy Luger was fixed. The rear side included a sliding adjustable notch that was selectable for 100 and 200 meters. The rear sight was serrated to cut down on glare. Like everything the Germans made back then, the gun was lyrically over-designed.

The standard Luger magazine held eight rounds. The unit of issue was the gun, the stock-cum-holster and two spare 8-round magazines. The magazine release was under the left thumb, where it should be. However, mags were always a bit sticky to remove. Dimpled baseplates of either wood or aluminum offered a little extra purchase.

Navy Lugers were all cut to accept a simple detachable board buttstock. The BATF has exempted both Artillery and Navy Lugers from the restrictive dicta of the National Firearms Act due to their collectability. German battleships of this era carried around 100 Navy Lugers. U-boats got about a quarter of that. The Navy Luger was intended for close quarters combat between ships. Given the technology of the day, little would have been more efficient.

The arched frame of the Luger pistol is actually a cam that breaks the toggle action upward during recoil. Inspired by the human knee, it is an undeniably elegant design.

The two-position sliding rear notch sight offers fairly
precise fire out to reasonable carbine ranges.

Ruminations

Running the Navy Luger is kind of like helping your grandmother pick out underwear. It’s an intuitive enough chore, but the exercise remains nonetheless awkward. When kitted out with the shoulder stock, the Navy Luger does indeed maneuver better than the handgun otherwise unadorned. However, the system is still limited by its 9mm chambering. You’d have to be pretty lucky to connect with a man-sized target out past a football field.

This particular example was a serendipitous GunBroker find years ago. Original first-run pristine P04 Navy Lugers can pull in $60,000 or more through online auction houses. My shooter-grade gun was massively cheaper than that but still spendy. However, it’s not like they’re making any more. I was fortunate to have landed it.

One of the reasons these guns are so hard to find is the Treaty of Versailles. The agreement that ended WWI stipulated that all German service pistols have their barrels shortened to 100mm or just less than 4″. Many otherwise eligible Navy Lugers were thusly violated. Born amidst the pitiless submarine warfare of World War I, the Navy Luger is a beautiful example of the gun maker’s art.

Special thanks to www.worldwarsupply.com for the cool replica gear used in our pictures.

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