I would never trust my life to one

Saturday, March 30th, 2019

Dunlap’s opinion of the Germany “Luger” pistol doesn’t surprise me, but his thoughts on our own .45-caliber 1911 do not match modern opinions about modern 1911s:

I have two M’08 pistols and like them very well, but I have no respect for them. A lot of people — who usually prove not to know much about pistols as a rule — think the “Looger” the only handgun in the world. They are greatly impressed by the “different” outline, its “pointability,” the balance in the hand and the knobs and ramps on the rear end. It is different! And it must be good or those smart Germans would not have used it so long! True, the gun does lie in the hand very well, the grip is excellent, it does not feel heavy and it is an easy gun to shoot. Despite the powerful cartridge, recoil is scarcely felt. In the last two points are the great military virtues of the Luger — the average soldier, or officer, who in the vast majority of cases never gets enough practice with his hand and shoulder weapons to become even semi-skilled with them can pick up this pistol and come much closer to hitting his mark with it than with any other major military autoloading pistol.

A thousand times in the war I was asked “Which is better, a Luger or a Colt .45?” and I always answered that in my opinion it was a toss-up — with a Luger the average man is more likely to connect, but if he does not hit a vital spot he may not put the enemy down, and with a .45 he will put him down with a hit almost anywhere in the body or leg, but will probably miss completely if said enemy is over 10 feet away. I added that the Colt is more to be relied upon.

There is absolutely no question whatever about the Luger being easier to handle — I proved that to my own satisfaction, deliberately picking men who knew only the basic fundamentals of pistol shooting and having them fire both guns at different ranges. They got much better results with the German gun. The cartridge of course has some bearing on shooting beyond point-blank range, for the flatter trajectory of the 9mm allows a just average pistol shot like myself to become dangerous up to 200 yards, since it is not necessary to aim at the moon to get sufficient elevation, as with a .45 (I shot a match one in prewar years and become officially A Marksman, according to National Rifle Association rating; there is no lower rating).

However, there are a couple of things wrong with the Luger: first, and not very important from a military point of view, it is difficult to put a good trigger-pull on it; and second, very important, they are all very fussy about ammunition, as manufactured for military consumption. Having weak extraction, the cartridge case must be pretty high-grade for the gun to function properly. The brass must be good, not hard and not soft. Lugers positively will not handle steel-cased ammunition reliably and it was for this reason Germany made great efforts to produce substitute pistols, adopting the 1938 Walther, which will handle steel cases perfectly. I have tried the steel-cased ammunition, made expressly for the Luger pistol, in at least a half-dozen guns and it was rare that a gun would fire a complete magazine of eight cartridges without jamming, while brass cases gave no trouble unless dirty or out of shape.


The Luger can be classed as a “good” semi-automatic pistol, but there are several better ones. I would never trust my life to one, no matter how well it performs in practice, though the temptation is great, for the weapon is one of the most accurate types ever made.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    I find it interesting that until 20 to 30 years ago, everyone called the Luger and the Colt and all their ilk, “automatic” pistols. There was none of this “semiauto” nonsense, and there was no such thing as a “semiautomatic pistol.”

    There were revolvers (double and single action), automatic pistols (like the Colt 1911, almost all single action), machine pistols/submachine guns (like the Thompson). There was even an automatic revolver, the Webley-Fosbery, in .455.

    But someone thought that pistol nomenclature had to be the same as rifle nomenclature. And now even the NRA and so-called gun experts talk about semi-automatic pistols.

    Getting old.

  2. Kirk says:

    I feel your pain, Bob… But, trying to apply any sort of logic or consistency to firearms nomenclature, especially here in the US, is essentially a path to madness. They keep making up crap in the gun rags, and those illogical and idiotic constructions often penetrate deeper into the public psyche and last longer than the actual true technical terms. Look at the idiocy between “magazine” and “clip”: At some point, usage is going to overwhelm technicality, and we’re actually going to be faced with the terms being interchangeable.

    English is a wonderfully flexible language, but living with it is maddening for the detail-oriented. As a tool for thought, I sometimes think that it has a negative effect, in that its imprecision and ability to morph all out of shape in any regard influences much of our fuzzy thinking, but then I also wonder if it has made native English speakers more flexible in their thinking. Six of one, half-a-dozen of the other…

  3. Lu An Li says:

    Killing an enemy on the battlefield with a handgun is an extremely rare event. Close quarters combat with a handgun extreme accuracy and range not really a consideration. Stopping power more important. Again, gunfights at close range on the battlefield rarely occur anyhow.

  4. Kirk says:

    The problems presented by what the guys in the forces call “sudden jihadi syndrome” militate for the provision of handguns for all hands, to be quite honest. Were it just straight-up combat between peers, I think you’d be right, but so long as you have to worry about your putative allies turning on you at the most inopportune moments, well… Gimme a Glock 19.

  5. TRW says:

    John Browning’s original design, and Colt’s productionized version, were in “.38 Colt”, originally loaded *much* hotter than the 9mm Parabellum. The parallel-link Colts had problems with the powerful cartridge, so Colt backed off the loading substantially, to more or less tha same as the 9mm Parabellum. In the 1920s Colt re-introduced the original loading as the “.38 Super.”

    Modern commercial .38 Super varies from “a bit hotter than 9mm” to “well into .357 Magnum” territory. The 1928 Supers were that hot.

    The .45 ACP wasn’t Browning’s doing; the Army designed that, and Colt insisted on a .45 version to bid on the new Army pistol contract. Supposedly Browning was involved with adapting the gun to take the .45, but Colt’s finished product has always been finicky about feed geometry and magazines. Which the .38 guns are emphatically *not*; they strip rounds from the magazine right into the chamber instead of doing the hoochie-koochie up and over the ramp. Still, it works well enough, when everything is in spec.

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