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History of the Luger

By John Chapaman of the Luger Forum

The Luger’s direct ancestor, the Borchardt C/93 self-loading pistol was, one of the very earliest viable semiautomatic pistols available in any quantity. It was designed by Hugo Borchardt while in the employ of Ludwig Loewe & Co, Karlsruhe, Germany. The pistol fired a round with the same dimensions as the 7.63 Mauser cartridge, but a weaker powder charge. It should be noted that the Mauser semiautomatic pistol for which that cartridge is named was actually designed later at Mauser by the Feederle brothers, using ammunition provided by Ludwig Loewe and Co. While the Borchardt is similar to the Luger in the most important way, the use of toggle-action, the Borchardt pistol differs significantly from the Luger. The Borchardt features a straight up-and-down grip, and a bulky protrusion behind and above the grip that houses the mainspring and toggle mechanism. It is also rather larger overall than the Luger. It was never produced in very large quantities.
II. Georg Luger and the Parabellum cartridges

While the Borchardt was a fine target arm, it was cumbersome and somewhat fragile, unsuited for use as a military side arm. Georg Luger, an employee of Loewe & Co., took the Borchardt pistol as a starting point for designing the first pistols resembling what we would call a “Luger.” The changes he made included development of a new cartridge, the 7.65 Parabellum or 7.65×23 cartridge (also called .30 Luger in USA), which is a 2mm shorter version of the Borchardt cartridge with a different powder charge. (The 7.63 Mauser has a 25mm case). In addition to the new cartridge, Luger also redesigned the complex mechanism behind the grip. He retained the toggle-locking action of the Borchardt, but replaced the Borchardt’s bizarre mainspring and the large housing it necessitated with a leaf spring in the grip, improving the balance of the pistol. He also angled the grip for better pointability. A grip safety was added to the rear of the frame by 1904.

III.

After making the changes described above, Loewe vigourously sought military contracts for production of the pistol. The first major success came in Switzerland, which adopted the Luger as its service pistol in 1900, in the 7.65 caliber. Switzerland produced Lugers for army use at an arms factory in Bern. Swiss pistols can be identified by the Swiss federal cross above the chamber. A number of other countries evaluated the Luger (including the USA, for which Loewe & Co. manufactured a number of Lugers in caliber .45ACP. The Luger was defeated in trials by the Luger-Browning that became the model 1911). Lugers were also sold commercially in this period, but the Luger was never a big seller due to its’ high cost.

In an attempt to allay concerns about poor stopping power with such a small-caliber bullet, Georg Luger developed a second cartridge, the 9mm Parabellum. The 9mm Parabellum also goes by the names 9mm Luger and 9x19mm, and is distinct from a number of other cartridges that use the designation “9mm” in their names (such as 9mm short, 9mm Makarov, 9mm largo). The 9mm Parabellum cartridge cartridge case has the same base dimensions as the 7.65×23 Parabellum cartridge, but is not necked down, and is shorter, only 19mm long. A number of design changes to the Luger were made in the early 1900’s, including replacing the leaf mainspring with a coil spring, and deleting the grip safety. Some pistols were produced with a lug to attach a shoulder stock. The so-called “new model” Luger of 1904 in caliber 9mm Parabellum was accepted by the German navy and later the army and designated the P08. Thereafter, German military sales accounted for the vast majority of Lugers ever produced.

In the pre-WWI period Lugers were produced by the German government arms factory in Erfurt as well as by Loewe’s company, which was at that time named Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken (DWM). The DWM monogram or Erfurt Crown logo can be found on the toggle of the pistols they manufactured (Usually. In the world of Luger markings there are always exceptions). The Luger was the standard German side arm throughout World War I. Luger production continued sporadically during the post-war period, in part due to restrictions on German arms manufacture imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. The allies permitted official production to begin in 1925 at Simson and company. Simson, however, was owned by Jews, and the company was liquidated when the Nazis came into power. The Luger manufacturing machinery was purchased by Krieghoff. Mauser purchased DWM’s Luger manufacturing machinery in 1929, and produced Lugers until the later part of World War II. The Luger was officially replaced for German military use in 1940 by the Walther P38 double-action 9mm Parabellum pistol, but certainly Lugers saw service throughout the war.

Switzerland replaced the Luger with more modern designs in the late 1940’s, which ended the era of use of the Luger as a service pistol. Lugers continued to be used as police side arms in the German Democratic Republic, which refurbished a number of existing guns (see below).

A number of revivals have occurred in the post-war years. In the 1960’s, a .22 caliber blowback toggle-action Luger was produced by ERMA, a successor of the Erfurt company. Mauser produced a series of Lugers somewhat similar to the Swiss military model in the early 1970’s. In the USA, Stoeger, which has owned the Luger trademark in the USA since the 1920’s began in 1980 to sell newly manufactured stainless steel Lugers. These are still in production, to the best of my knowledge.

Operation

The most distinctive feature of these pistols is undoubtedly the toggle-lock mechanism, which holds the breech closed by locking in a manner not unlike the human knee, which can sustain a heavy weight when straight, but once bent is quite easy to continue to bend. The toggle joint in its straight position resists the rearward force of the detonating cartridge, then “buckles” after enough time has passed. When a round is fired the entire breech, barrel and toggle move straight rearward (on rails) until the toggle begins to ride up on a pair of cams that “breaks” the toggle (makes it bend at the joint). Once the toggle joint is no longer straight, it bends freely, allowing the bolt to come rearward, and the striker to be cocked. The spent cartridge is extracted by a combination extractor/loaded chamber indicator on the top of the toggle, is ejected as the toggle nears the end of its rearward Free Travel Info, and a new round is stripped from the magazine and chambered as the toggle is driven back to the straight position by a spring.

The Luger is a fairly complicated pistol, requiring quite a bit of precision hand-fitting to manufacture, and tight tolerances between parts. These things contribute to its’ accuracy, but detract from reliability. Even for its’ time, the Luger was considered complex, expensive, large, and powerful. These factors limited civilian sales especially, given the ubiquity of small, cheap Browning-style pistols. Ultimately, even for military applications, more reliable and cheaper pistols replaced it. Even a little dirt on the exposed parts of the firing mechanism on the left side can cause failure to function. Remember also that the Luger was designed to feed only round-nosed bullets, and hollow-points will almost certainly cause problems. I recommend against doing any polishing or reshaping in an attempt to get hollowpoints to feed. Instead, find another pistol for personal defense, and enjoy the Luger for what it is. I have had best luck with a Remington 115 gr hollow-point whose bullet is contoured much like a standard metal-jacketed “ball” 9mm round, but reliability is still less than with FMJ.

Firing, Field-stripping and maintenance

To load and fire the pistol:

1.Remove magazine by pressing the magazine release button on the left side of the grip behind the trigger. Pull the magazine out of the grip by the base if necessary.
2.Load the magazine by pushing down the follower with the knob on the side of the magazine, and inserting cartridges on top of the follower, one by one. The magazine holds 8 rounds.
3.Insert the magazine until a click is heard and base is flush with the bottom of the grip. 4.Pull the toggle up and back by the knurled grips, as far as possible, and release it. It should return to the flat position, and the extractor/loaded chamber indicator (marked “Geladen” on German military pistols) should stick up slightly to indicate that a round is chambered.
5.The safety is off (on all but the oldest Lugers) when it is in the up position. When the safety is placed on, the word “Gesichert” or “safe” is exposed when the safety lever is moved.
6.Aim and fire. The spent cartridge will be ejected nearly straight up and back. It may land on you, so be careful. If there is no failure to extract, eject, or feed, the toggle will return to the flat position, and the striker will be re-cocked. At least on a Luger you know instantly when you have a jam — you won’t be able to see the front sight because the toggle will be in the way.
7.Continue to fire until all cartridges in the magazine have been expended. All but the oldest Lugers (after 1906 or so) will lock open when the last round is fired, if the magazine is properly made. A number of cheaper magazines seem to fail to cause the pistol to lock open after the last round.
To field strip the pistol:

1.Remove the magazine and remove any round from the chamber. Visually and by feel, verify that the chamber is empty. Close the toggle (pull back slightly and release) if it is locked open. You must remove the empty magazine to close a locked open toggle.
2.Push the barrel down against a hard surface until it moves rearward about 1cm. Then flip the takedown lever (on the left side, in front of the side plate) downward and toward the front of the barrel. Then remove the side plate.
3.Now the entire upper part of the pistol (barrel, receiver, toggle) may be slid forward and off the frame.
4.Once that assembly is removed, the pin holding the rear of the toggle in the receiver may be removed by sliding it out of the left side of the receiver.
5.Once the pin is removed, the toggle and bolt may be removed from the rear of the receiver by sliding them rearward.
6.Admire the precision workmanship. Then clean very thoroughly!
Further disassembly is not recommended nor required for routine cleaning.

On reassembly,

1.Reinsert the bolt and toggle into the appropriate receiver rails, with the toggle in the flat position.
2.Slide the upper assembly back onto the frame from the front. Make sure that the S-shaped coupling link hanging down from near the rear of the toggle falls into the notch in front of the hooks that extend up from the mainspring in the rear part of the grip (this is hard to explain without a picture).
3.Push the muzzle down on the hard surface again, and re-install the side plate. The rear of the side plate should be inserted into its notch first.
4.Flip the takedown lever back to the up position.
Notes:

There is a “takedown” tool for Lugers that aids in removal of the grip screws, ejector, and firing pin spring guide. I have not used one. I would appreciate any source of gunsmithing or detailed disassembly procedures for the Luger. Obtaining a Luger — early 1996 (This is directed primarily toward purchasers in the USA). To my knowledge, a Luger has the distinction of being the most expensive gun ever offered for sale in rec.guns (at $14,000). Of course, this posting garnered lots of flames (e.g. “I’ve got a brand new Chinese SKS I’ll let go for $900 firm”), but the ironic thing is that the poster’s asking price may not have been out of line! (I don’t recall the details of his Luger). Given this, a novice purchaser must be _very_ careful when buying any but an absolute rock-bottom price Luger, which can still cost more than many new pistols. If you can’t verify a seller’s claims by your own knowledge of Lugers, or through reference books, my advice would be to refuse to pay extra for those claims. Over all, it is my opinion that a novice should not buy a Luger with collector value, due to the large dollar amounts involved. Gain some experience with the cheaper ones first! An example of what I am talking about occurred at a recent gun collectors’ show, at which maybe 70 Lugers ranging in price from $500 to $3500 were displayed. A seller claimed that his pistol (which appeared to be a run-of-the-mill German military pattern 1916 DWM-manufactured 9mm Luger, albeit with matching serial numbers and two matching magazines) was captured and re-issued by the British during WWI. Now, a WWI-era Luger has proof marks, inspectors marks, unit marks, etc, all over it, and unless you know the meanings of a Fraktur G with a crown over it, a Prussian Eagle carrying an orb, and many others, it would be difficult to evaluate his claims of “British proof marks” and whether they were worth an extra $300 on the price. “The Luger Story” and “The Luger Book” both have information on proof and other marks, but neither work appears exhaustive.