War History Online presents this Guest Article by Tom Whiteman, long-time Luger and Walther collector and owner of Legacy Collectibles.
Effective Military Weapons
The Luger and Walther P.38 handguns were proven effective military weapons in their time. While production of the Luger started in the 1870’s, updated versions and military advances eventually led to its demise in the late 1930’s to early 40’s. The P.38 superseded the Luger once production halted in 1942, and it became the German military’s go-to choice for weaponry.
Beginning of Luger
The Luger has a rich history and diverse background. Georg Luger, who is the namesake for the commonly called “Luger pistol,” worked with Ludwig Loewe of Berlin during these early years of design and production. While traveling to the United States to illustrate a rifle, Georg Luger met Hugo Borchardt. Around 1894, approximately three years after meeting Luger, Borchardt accepted a position in partnership with Luger and Loewe. This trio led to the creation of Deutsche Waffen and Munitionsfabriken (DWM) company of Berlin-Karlsruhe. Guns were manufactured in Berlin, while ammunition was produced in the Karlsruhe facility.
While the Borchardt pistol was made of high-quality metals and exceptional craftsmanship, it was bulky and awkward to operate. Georg Luger took on the task of redesigning the weapon to meet the specifications requested by potential customers. Some of these changes included altering the trigger, inclining the grip, shortening the barrel, and repositioning the breechblock. The adjustments made to the gun proved satisfactory when used in a pistol trial in Bern, Switzerland, where it outperformed every gun it went up against. This early version of the Luger is referred to as the Model 1900. It is considered a transitional piece as it was only made for a year or two.
The transition piece known as Model 1900 was an instant success. Thousands of orders were placed from the Swiss, Americans, and other International retailers. Continual improvements to the 1900 were made, and by 1902 the 9mm Luger cartridge was developed. This is still the most used and most popular cartridge in the world.
During this period there were even US Military Test Lugers sent to the United States to be used in trials for acceptance by the US Army. While a very popular variation, it is fortunate that the US Army instead went with the 1911 Colt. They were about to go to war with Germany and would have certainly regretted a decision to accept the German Luger as the standard sidearm of the US Army.
Adoption of the Luger to the German Army
By 1908 the German Army adopted the Luger as its official sidearm. This was a total game changer for the Luger Pistol and the fortunes of the DWM factory. With the start of World War I in 1914, the German military ordered the model 1908/14 Luger by the hundreds of thousands.
Another big development for the influence of the Luger upon history came after World War I following the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty declared that German manufacturers could not make calibers larger than 8mm and barrels could not exceed 100mm. Fortunately for the Luger developers, they designed the pistol so that the barrel could be easily changed; thus saving a lot of time and money getting their products back on the International markets.
Between the 1920’s and the 1930’s, the DWM factory transformed their offerings by creating multiple sizes and models. The entire world was experiencing the Great Depression and few countries suffered more than Germany. DWM was able to stay solvent by selling creative models on the worldwide market. One rendition included a Baby Luger model, similar to the Japanese Baby Nambu. Only about a dozen of the Baby Lugers are known to exist and they continue to be highly sought after by Luger collectors.