This self-loading pistol will forever be known as the 'Luger' after its designer Georg J Luger. However, it was originally named the 'Parabellum'. This derived from the Latin phrase Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum ('if you want peace, prepare for war'), company motto of manufacturer Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM). Luger was tasked with redesigning an existing pistol that had been invented by Hugo Borchardt in 1893. Luger retained the successful mechanical aspects of the design, but made it much more compact and user-friendly. The design was finalised and patented in 1898, and was first adopted in 7.65x21mm calibre (derived from the Borchardt round) by the Swiss in 1900. The German Navy followed suit four years later with the Pistole 1904. The definitive version for the German Army entered service in 1908 along with the equally famous 9x19mm cartridge designed for and named after this pistol. Later, a long-barrelled variant with a shoulder stock was produced for artillery crews.
Use and effect
The natural 55 degree grip angle and superior sights of the Luger made for relative accuracy. Unfortunately, the excellent fit of the toggle lock and other moving parts meant that even a small amount of dirt or wear could cause a jam. This could be a problem in trench conditions. The design was also expensive to produce. The way forward for self-loading pistols was therefore instead represented by the American Colt M1911 and John Browning's slide-based recoil system. Nonetheless, the Luger was first successful military self-loading pistol, and was manufactured in large numbers through two world wars. Its iconic appearance and association with the enemy made it a sought-after souvenir for Allied soldiers. Additionally, although the pistol itself was a technological dead end, the 9x19mm 'Parabellum' cartridge afforded an excellent blend of power, size, weight, and recoil. For this reason, it has far outlived the Luger pistol and over a century after its introduction, is now the most widespread military and law enforcement cartridge in existence.
The Luger was produced by two main manufacturers before and during the First World War. DWM produced the original 7.65x21mm version from 1900, before commencing manufacture of the 9x19mm Pistole 1908. The example illustrated here is extremely rare, being the first ever P08 to be produced at the Erfurt state arms factory in 1911. Every component is marked with its serial number '1'. However, it actually saw service, and features two regimental marks on the front strap. The first '12.T.S.1.8' denotes the 12th Train Battalion, Sanitaets company 2, weapon # 18. Sanitaets companies were Ambulance and Medic companies. The 12th was a train battalion from Saxony and part of the 19th army corps. The 2nd company was garrisoned in Leipzig. Later, presumably after war had broken out, a the second mark on the weapon ('177R'), shows that this same pistol was re-issued to a front-line infantry unit. This was Infanterie-Regiment Nr.177 (Königlich Sächsisches 12), or the 177th (12th Royal Saxon) Infantry. They had been created on 1 April 1897 in Dresden, and formed part of the XII Army Corps. It is not known how this pistol came to be captured by British troops. However, British soldier Harry Drinkwater, author of the memoir 'Harry's War', encountered this unit in a separate action for which he won the Military Cross. Taking part in a raid against a trench held by the 177th, Harry was wounded by a bullet. Nonetheless, he stopped to tear an epaulette from the greatcoat of a fallen German soldier as evidence of which enemy regiment occupied this trench.