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The Borchardt-Luger History

by Paul Regnier

Borchardt-Luger number 6, Swiss trial of 23rd November 1898, and 1st May 1899, in Thun.
Picture shows Toggle GL, magazine GL, documents and original Swiss patent.

The Birth and History of the 1898 Parabellum

The Borchardt-Luger pistol is without a doubt one of two survivors of the Swiss tests performed on November 23rd 1898, and on the 1st of May 1899.

A first temporary patent (no.17977) was issued for this pistol in Switzerland, on the 3rd of October 1898, and a second final patent was delivered on January 2nd 1899, before the final tests conducted on the Borchardt-Luger, against the Mannlicher, in May of 1899.

To fully understand the history of the Borchardt-Luger, we need to go back to the beginning of the 1897 tests performed for the Swiss army commission. Presented by Georges Luger himself, the B model was severely criticized because of its excessive weight, its lack of balance (centre of gravity), and especially because of its large size, which made it impractical as a war weapon.

Georges Luger quickly noticed all of this, and as soon as he got back to Berlin, he committed himself to correct the pistol, which would eventually become later the famous Borchardt-Luger, a brand-new weapon.

The Design Ideas of Georg Luger


The genius of Luger was that he rapidly understood that he needed to come up with a new shorter bullet, in order to be able to redesign the pistol and to reduce its overall weight and size, which he did with the help of the DWM. The bullet – heavily influenced by the 7.65 Borchardt – gave rise to the 7.65 Luger.

The principal ideas were…
• To localise the recoil spring in the pistol handle.
• To have the toggle-lock opening behave differently.
• To re-design the shape and handling of the weapon.
From that evolved a new pistol.

This work took a year to complete. The first drawing of the Borchardt-Luger was awarded a patent (no. 17977) on the 3rd of October 1898, in Switzerland. The purpose of that patent was not only to protect the new trigger mechanism, but the new location of the spring in the handle, its link to the toggle-lock, and finally, to protect the automatic security system installed in the handle. That patent was filed on the 3rd of October, only a month and a half before the tests of the 23rd November 1898.

Although it is another story, it was around this time that the rivalry developed between Borchardt and Luger, eventually leading them both to court for their respective rights on patents. The presence of this rivalry led to the drawing of the new model filed for the no. 17977 patent showing the details of the friction rolls at the back of the toggle-lock, but not revealing the full design of the « ear-like” frame ramps that concerned the new toggle-lock opening system. Although this was a significant feature of the new piece, Luger wanted to avoid Borchardt claiming credit for it.

In the early 1970’s, several experts started to study the subject of the m/93 Borchardt-Luger as little was known about its evolution. Due to the aforementioned rivalry provoking the hidden detail in the patent, few cottoned on to the events that had occurred. A major part of the pistol’s evolution was therefore not evident – the best source of this detail was to be found in the federal archives in Bern, Switzerland, containing the reports of the test commission of 1897 and 1898, along with the patent plans delivered in 1898 and 1899.

The 1899 Emergence of Luger’s new design


Archives show that Luger presented two new pistols, which differed only in the length of their cannon – one was 120mm and the other 133mm long. Those same archives also revealed the weight specifications (respectively 77g and 90g). The firing tests were conducted with three guns: pistol 1 with ammunition A, pistol 2 and 3 with ammunition B. In conclusion, Luger came back to the pistols no. 6 and no. 7.

It may be possible to conjecture from the archives that one or two other backup pistols existed, although no data confirms this with absolute certainty. Anyway, it appears that a total of only 9 prototypes were built in 1898.

To this day, only two pieces appear to have survived. One model was traced which bears the number 10, used for ammunition tests in Thoune, Switzerland. This has the final security thumb safety lever, and is thus an 1899 model that was part of the 20-piece consignment ordered and delivered after the tests were performed, in October and November of 1899. The 1899 model Luger was protected by patent no. 21959, May 5th 1900.

1899 Presentation of Luger, Mauser, Borchardt, Bergmann & Mannlicher

As the larger 1878 pistol was no longer being manufactured, a question now had to be answered: should officers now be armed with the smaller calibre 1882 version, or with an automatic model?

For the mounted officer, an automatic pistol certainly had the major advantage that it could be handled with only one hand, the extraction and loading of the bullets being automated. A commission was thus formed to study the weapons available at the time. It was formed in the guise of colonel Von Orelli, chief of the technical administration section for federal war equipment, Colonel Von Mechel, professor Amsler-Laffon, Colonel Rubin director of the federal weapons factory, Mr Schenker chief of the federal control of ammunitions and Captain Korrodi, adjoint of the technical section.

This commission led a test phase in June 1897 in Thoune, Switzerland, with four different makes of pistol: the Mauser, the Borchardt, the Bergmann, and the Mannlicher. The first three being German pistols, and the last from Vienna.

A very detailed and interesting report was produced in October by Colonel Von Mechel and Professor Amsler. That paper, which had an important value because of the knowledge of its authors, precisely pointed out the advantages and problems of each of the weapons presented.

Bearing in mind the criticisms aimed at their respective pistols, the inventors started to look for ways to improve their guns. Some stuck with minor corrections, while others built completely new models. Their work lasted almost a full year, and all the participants were invited to show off the improvements in Thoune, Switzerland on November 23rd, 1898.

The federal military department aware of the importance of the choice, decided to add new persons representing different sections to the selection jury. To that end, Colonel Wildbolz, Lieutenant-Colonel Brunner and Major Meuron were selected; respectively representing the cavalry, the infantry and that of the Joint Staff Committee.

Five models being presented, were:

  1. The Mauser, built by the Mauser company in Oberdorf, Switzerland, and presented by Mr Paul Mauser.
  2. The Bergmann, built in Suhl, presented by Mr Gressly.
  3. The Borchardt-Luger, built by a German weapon and ammunition factory in Berlin, Germany, presented by Mr Luger.
  4. A Mannlicher model, built by a Swiss industrial factory in Neuhausen and presented by Mr Frei. A second Mannlicher model, built and presented by its designer, Mr Mannlicher
  5. The Roth, built by the Roth Company in Vienna, Austria, presented Mr Roth’s son.

Pistol Testing Phase: specifications and requirements


The tests were completed in specific steps or phases to examine the qualities of the different pistols, as follows:

  1. Pistol description, disassembly and reassembly of the weapon by the person presenting it.
  2. Speed of shooting – for each pistol, two series of 50 shots were fired.
  3. Precision of shooting– Three series of 30 shots, at a distance of 50 metres.
  4. Endurance – 400 shots with the same pistol, without cleaning it or refreshing it.
  5. Powder and lubrification variations. Test of the pistol with more powder than usual, then less, with parts of the breechblock completely dry (no grease), then greased with rancid hardened oil.
  6. Tests with dust and water – 50 to 100 shots, after the gun having gone through road dust, and also after the weapon had been put through water.
  7. Penetration tests – against 0.8mm thick metal sheets.
  8. Speed – measure of the initial speed, 5 shots per weapon.

The tests lasted three days. After each of the steps were performed with one of the pistols, the commission members would gather and talk about their notes, which were eventually added to a final report.

In order to stay as fair and accurate as possible toward each of the pistols, the commission decided to use a grading system, each particularity being attributed points, ranging from 1 to 4, which were:

  1. Basic design of the pistol
  2. Solidity.
  3. Weight.
  4. Dimensions.
  5. The shape of the pistol, taking into account the ease with which the weapon can be carried, and the facility in handling the weapon.
  6. Resistance to dust and water.
  7. Pistol working design, in regular situations, without grease, greased with rancid oil, with dust and water, with reduced powder-loaded bullets.
  8. Advantages and disadvantages of the ammunition loader, loading the pistol shot by shot, and unloading of the weapon.
  9. Breechblock position (open and closed) while the loader (magazine) was empty.
  10. Automatic loading of the hammer.
  11. Security system.
  12. Shooting speed.
  13. Ease of aim, smoothness of the trigger, shot precision, kick.
  14. Penetration power.
  15. Disassembly and reassembly of the pistol.
  16. Cleaning of the pistol.
  17. Loader design.

Depending on the importance of the point being tested, the grade was multiplied by a coefficient ranging from 1 to 3.

Points-scored for the pistols tested…

From the test phase, the Borchardt-Luger received the most points, well ahead of the other pistols. The final classification was:

  1. Borchardt-Luger,
  2. Roth,
  3. Mannlicher,
  4. Bergmann, Mauser.

The Decisions of the 1899 Pistol Testing Commission


The Commission took the following decisions:

  • The pistol must be fully automatic. The Roth pistol was only semi-automatic, the shooter being responsible of arming the hammer himself after each shot.
  • The weight of the weapon must not exceed 1,000g.
  • The calibre must be between 7.5 and 7.65mm.
  • The length must not exceed 275mm.
  • The bullet weight must be at least 5.5g.
  • The loader must be able to hold between 8 and 10 bullets.
  • The kick must be as limited as possible.

After having been able to test each pistol, the following was decided:

  • Further tests would be performed on the Borchardt-Luger, and with the Mannlicher as well,
  • The other pistols would be discarded – the reasons of the elimination would be communicated to their respective inventors.
  • Professor Amsler and the weapons factory would be in charge of a more detailed study, especially in respect of the manufacturing process of the two remaining pistols.
  • The technical section would lead further precision tests, as well as additional ones for the initial speed and penetration of the selected pistols, and
  • The commission would convene at a later date to examine the results.

The second series of tests

On the first of May, the commission gathered once again in Thoune, Switzerland, to perform yet another series of tests with the two remaining pistols. Since the first contest had taken place, two new pistols had been presented to the commission, one from Hauff in Berlin, Germany, and the other from the national Belgium weapon factory in Herstal, Belgium (Browning system). These two offers were however not taken into account – the first needing further study, and the second, for not having the breechblock coupled to the cannon.

The commission proceeded to a second testing phase with the two selected pistols, but with the following alterations to the procedures:

  • Length of test – 500 instead of 400 shots were carried out.
  • The rancid oil was discarded.
  • Shots were fired with cases that had cuts.
  • Penetration tests took place against pine trees and beeches.

The noteworthy results comparing the two pistols were as follows:
Shooting speeds – The Borchardt-Luger (executed by Mr Luger) fired 48 shots in 28 seconds (or 103 shots per minute), without any problem in any mechanism, the extraction of cases being steady. The Mannlicher achieved 48 shots in 49 seconds (or 59 shots per minute), however the case extraction was very unsteady – to the front, side and back – with powder burns all over the weapon.

Precision shots* were then performed by Lieutenant-Colonel Brunner producing the following results at 5O% dispersion:

Borchardt-Luger 1882 Revolver Mannlicher
Height 4.17 6.5 8.0
Height 2.8 3.0 6.3
Height 5.3 8.0 11.7

Duration Test – 500 shots were fired by the commission members – no cleaning took place during this process. The results were as follows:

Borchardt-Luger: After 500 shots, the pistol shooting state was the same as before the test – precision had not lessened. Equally there was little, if any clogging. The breechblock did not have to be pushed forward a second time, and no additional comments were recorded in regard to the function of the ammunition.

Mannlicher: Two stops occurred during the loading, due to two bullets overriding each other. After 175 shots, the pistol was out of working order and had to be stripped down and reassembled; again, two bullets had not popped out of the pistol during the shooting. Irregular extraction of the bullets was noted, as well as significant clogging. Remarks were also made that the pistol did not feel right in the shooter’s hand whilst being fired.

For both pistols, the following quality tests were then carried out:

  • A 15 shot firing test with reduced loading (10%), followed by 47 shots with 20% load reduction: both pistols worked correctly.
  • 32 shots with no grease in the breechblock: both pistols ok.
  • Tests with cut cases and limited in length, side-wise, and obliquely. The Borchardt-Luger worked correctly, while for the Mannlicher, two shots out of six where the breechblock did not open at all, one case split.
  • Tests with sand and water: 16 shots were fired with heavy dust on the weapons, and 16 other shots were fired after the pistols were soaked with water. Both weapons functioned correctly.
  • Penetration tests: shots were fired 10 metres away from a metal sheet (0,8mm to 0,9mm), and then against boards of pine wood and beeches, which were 30mm thick. In all tests, the Borchardt-Luger shots penetrated deeper than the Mannlicher’s.

Following those tests – in which the Borchardt-Luger proved to be more powerful – no doubts remained to which pistol had to be chosen.

After a much more detailed review of all the characteristics of both pistols, the commission unanimously chose to abandon all further tests with the Mannlicher, and push the envelope a little further for the Borchardt-Luger, on a wider scale. 20 pistols were ordered along with ammunition. Some special modifications were requested to the manufacturer of the Borchardt-Luger (not covered in this work).

The 1901 Swiss Military Report


The 20 pistols that had been ordered with their ammunition, were delivered in the months of October and November of 1899, by the German Weapons and Ammunition factory of Berlin. The modifications requested by the commission were correctly executed by the manufacturer, especially the addition of a security mechanism in a simple, practical and well-crafted manner.

Conforming to the commission’s wish, these weapons were used in service from November 1899 to March 1900, both in military training activities and several shooting clubs in Switzerland (listed below). The first two on the list took place in 1899, while all the others in 1900.

Machine-gunners training session II, in Bern (1899).

Artillery 1b training session, in Thoune (1899).

Artillery training session 1a and 1b, in Thoune (1990).

Central school 1a, in Thoune.

Officer shooting school, in Wallenstadt.

Revolver shooting club in Bern.

The Military club in Basel.

Cavalry Officer club in Basel.

Revolver shooting club of Lausanne.

All the reports, which came out of all those tests, were very much in favour of the new pistol, going so far as to suggest that the revolver would be consigned to history.

On Sunday the 11th of February in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Shooting Society committee organized a shooting session, to which it invited several weapon clubs and officers of the army. After a brief introduction, four of the best shooters of Lausanne, Mr F. Perrin, Mr A. Mercier, Mr C. Secretan, and Mr C. Troyon, each performed a series of three shoots at a range of 50 metres. The first series on a paperboard target « a mouche », the second on a dotted target, and the third series on the same second target, but time-restricted (speed shooting).

The results were excellent in respect of the functioning and accuracy of the pistol. The four who shot with the Borchardt-Luger, performed the same tests afterwards with their own pistols which they knew extremely well, and were unable to beat the results obtained with the Borchardt-Luger, let alone getting close to matching its performance!

This was all extremely impressive and encouraging, especially as it had been with a weapon they had never encountered before. The shooting was thus followed-up by an interesting group discussion, everyone giving his personal views on the matter. The general conclusion was that the Borchardt-Luger was a very good pistol for hitting targets and for the demands of military activities.

The committee reconvened

On the 2nd and 3rd of April, 1900, the selection committee gathered once again in Bern to attend to the last details concerning the manufacturing and to address its final requests to the manufacturer.

The following principal decisions were taken: Following the tests, it was decided that an extra loader with ammunition could not be carried by the person equipped with that weapon, all the tools being part of the regular equipment being already enough. The two extra loaders would then be carried in pockets or in the accompanying bags. The pistol must be set to shoot at a target 50 metres away. At that distance, the hit point must be 20 centimetres higher than the targeted point, in such a way to allow shots on a black target bull’s eye having a 40 centimetres diameter. From that setting, the front sight must be set 0.4mm higher. The shape of the trigger would be improved, following the specifications of the Federal weapon factory. On top of this, special tests were performed.

As remarked below, in the inner working of the pistol, as long as the weapon stayed loaded, the firing pin stayed loaded as well. With guns having been in service for about 15 days, it was noticed that continuing compression on the percussion spring showed no problem, and that swelling the cartridge occurred on a regular basis. The designers claimed the same would happen with any other pistol armed for a full year.

  • Following a prior wish expressed by the commission, in its last gathering, the Federal weapon factory hung a Borchardt-Luger pistol and an 82-revolver model out in the open, to see how it would stand natural weather conditions. Every other day, shots were fired with both guns without either cleaning them or greasing them. The revolver kept working correctly, even though it was heavily rotting. The loading gate seized up quite a lot. On the other hand, the pistol was much less subject to rust problems. Only the inside of the cannon showed some erosion, originating from the particular fulminate composition used.
  • A 20-bullet shooting showed that the pistol worked remarkably well, even though the hits were a little spread out, which was considered as normal. To complete those tests, the two weapons are left in an stable and used every eight days to shoot until a visible decrease in precision was noticed.

Since the Commission had been last convened, complete tests had been conducted in Thoune, Switzerland, with special bullets fully built in the Swiss federal factory. The director and chief of the ammunition factory who lead the tests, produced a report showing it was possible to completely build the needed bullets in Switzerland only, filling all the requested characteristics.

Before settling on the final requirements, the Commission made sure that all of its members agreed on all the design details.

The Advantages of the Luger over the Revolver

The advances and advantages of the automatic Borchardt-Luger in respect of the revolver were summed up as follows:

Faster shooting speed.

Automatic extraction of the cases.

The loading is quicker and easier – an important factor.

Possibility to use powder that produces very little smoke.

Gas loss nonexistent.

Superior precision.

Greater initial speed, more constant shooting path, and greater penetration of its target.

The kick, which is actually stronger, but less noticeable because of the pistol shock absorption, because of its larger area resting in the shooter’s hand, and finally because in the direction in which the kick occurs (on the horizontal plane).

The pistol gets dirty less easily, resulting in less work to clean the weapon after shooting.

Well-designed shape results in easier handling, and in good balance.

Foresight and aiming notch are similar to those of the revolver. The aiming line is better due to its larger length.

Good trigger, with safety handle.

Safety mechanism which is well understood, and which works on a constant basis.

The pistol can be correctly used with little training.

Disassembly and reassembly is just as easy as with that of the revolver.

Better protection against dust and water.

The only disadvantage of the weapon was in the fact that it was not possible to see if it was armed or not. However, out of the shooting stands, it was always considered armed. As for practice shooting, a mechanical safety mechanism was added to the automatic set-up already in place for added security. This small disadvantage was very minor in comparison with all the numerous and major advantages this pistol possessed.

The overall conclusion of the Commission was:
« The presented model having so many qualities, Switzerland can once again lead the way in armament progress! ».

Paul L. Regnier, Lausanne, Switzerland
(C) Copyright La Tabatière, 1998


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