Lost somewhere in the labyrinth of the generation gap is the familiarity we all once had with the classic Luger pistol. In my youth, any self respecting Legionnaire had at least one hanging alongside the spiked Prussian officer's helmets and French postcards that proclaimed him ex-AEF. As hard times came, Lugers were hocked in pawnshops or traded for gas at lonely filling stations as frequently as was Granddad's railroad watch.
For the twenty-odd years following the 1918 Armistice, the German toggle-lock was the most common of handguns, and anyone who need a cheap pistol was likely to swap for a souvenir Luger. Although it doesn't fit their image, cowhands liked the Luger. Besides being cheap, it fit nicely in the pockets of their chaps, and intrigued the ballistics-minded few because it "shot hard". One old character confided in me that he toted the modern looking auto because it was the only "sixshooter" (sic) he ever had that would shoot through an oak wagon tongue. Why this capability was helpful in his activities he never said.
Hunting in the Mogollon Rim country of New Mexico, my Uncle Joe once ran into an old mountain man who carried a shoulderstocked artillery Luger as his sole armament. He admitted to feeling a bit overgunned. Lugers may have been a sort of standard in the piney mountains of the '20's and '30's because I can recall one hanging from my Uncle Can's saddle as he rode through the hills around Las Vegas, N.M., when I was just out of three cornered britches.
In his depression-inspired novel, "Of Mice and Men", John Steinbeck armed the itinerant farmhand, George, with a Luger to put his pal, Lennie, out of the hands of an irate posse. As the second war neared, Hollywood invariably equipped sinister, cinematic Fifth Columnists with Lugers, seeking to brand them as evil and foreign with their brandishing of the modernistic hardware.
But by that time Lugers were a permanent part of the American shooting scene - partly because they were the spoils of a patriotic war, mostly because they were fine pistols. Their acceptance in the U.S. was duly noted by Stoeger Arms, which was the sole importer of commercial Lugers from 1920 until their exportation was halted by the Nazis.
Production of the Luger, known as the Parabellum and Pistole 08 in Europe, was discontinued in Germany late in 1942, when it was replaced by the Walther P-38 as standard for the German forces. The Swiss continued their manufacture of the 06/29 model pistol, an excellent copy of the Luger manufactured by the government arsenal at Bern, until about 1948.
VE Day brought another downpour of Lugers into the United States, along with a generous sampling of P-38's and other trophy pistols liberated from the Hun. As Germany was buttoned up immediately after the war, she was stripped of weapons and weapons-making machinery. My friend, Dink Godwin, an infantry officer in the Texas Division, dispatched seven Lugers for home in a barracks bag of old clothes. An Arizona deputy sheriff I knew made it back with an assembled Luger, still "in the white" as he found it in the Mauser factory. This unblued gun was complete to its black plastic grips, but bore no factory markings, and undoubtedly was one of the last genuine Lugers made.
Like almost all guns, Lugers were comparatively high-priced in the sere years immediately after WWII. A good specimen ran about $50-$60 in 1946, while the inferior but intriguingly new P-38, virtually unknown in this country, was worth $65-$75.
As new domestic handguns became readily available, the Heinie nines lost some of their charm, and both diminished in price until the late '50's, when good shooting specimens of either were bounced about in trading circles for $40 or less.
As the postwar reconstruction of Germany progressed, Fritz Walther returned to the production of P-38's for the West German army. This lead him into the manufacture of a commercial version of this double action pistol, which has been imported into the United States since 1959 by Interarms, Incorporated.
When the wartime P-38 revived, with no resurrection indicated for the ancient Pistole 08, collectors came awake. Blind ads offering a minimum of $35 for any complete Luger in operating condition cropped up in the classified sections of gun magazines. In 1963 I penned a prediction that Lugers would double in value within three years. They did better than that. The collection of Lugers has taken on a prestige rivalling that of the garnering of percussion Colts. And, as in the case of the 19th Century front loaders, an excellent specimen should be preserved, and never, never shot.
A mess of rebuilt Lugers hit our shores a couple of years ago, and were offered up by various gun dealers at prices paralleling that of a spanking new Smith & Wesson. The ones I examined had new barrels, mismatched serial numbers, and indifferent blue jobs over frames that been buffed and polished so strenuously as to leave their original, finely machined lines a figment of the memory. I can't say how they shot because I didn't buy one.
There are reasons why a shooter would want to work his Luger, instead of bathing it in oil and hanging it gingerly among his favorite keepsakes. For one thing, it is a most accurate handgun. Since the barrel and receiver are firmly fixed, and don't separate during recoil, the only variation in the relationship between the front and rear sight is that which is permitted by the play between the two toggle links and the receiver. The toggle moves in a finely fitted guideway in the receiver, machined to close tolerances, and the resulting uniformity of positioning contributes toward excellent accuracy.
The angle of the grip of the Luger is hailed by its devotees as the most natural ever adapted to an automatic pistol, and I agree. Look at a target, close your eyes and raise your Luger - you'll be pointing near dead center. For me, most Lugers are light in the muzzle, with a bit too much of the weight over the shooting hand. Many shooters like this quality, and those who don't may correct it with a longer, heavier barrel, such as that of the 8" Artillery or 6" Navy models.
Military Lugers often shoot high at normal target ranges, being sighted for 50 meters. The plinker or hunter may easily correct this by fitting a higher front sight in the barrel's dovetail, wherein he also has a bit of windage adjustment. Red and ivory bead front sights have been made for the Luger, and it is a simple matter to make up a Patridge-shaped blade, should you prefer it to the German inverted V.
As a rule, trigger pulls on the P-08 are lousy. A Rube Goldberg system of levers levering levers, this trigger assembly is almost invariable long, spongy, and creepy. Fortunately, most of these pulls are comparatively light, and a bit of practice allows good shooting to be done with them.
The big bugaboo, malfunctioning, has always been the skeleton in the Luger closet. In most cases poor functioning of this pistol can be traced to damaged magazines or the use of low powered ammunition. Most American made 9mm Parabellum ammunition is loaded lighter than the European military cartridges for which the Luger was designed, and the use of military ammunition or brisk handloads will frequently correct a malfunction problem.
There is good news for Luger shooters. Interarms, Inc. 200 S. Union St., Alexandria, Virginia, has unveiled samples of the new Luger soon to be imported by them. Made by Mauser in West Germany, the specimens I was shown promise to be a shooter's delight. Apparently a replica of the last of the Luger line, the Swiss 06/29, the Interarms pistols were in 7.65 cal., with slender 4 ¾ " barrels and grip safeties. Like the Swiss version, toggles, safety buttons, and magazine catches were unknurled, and the front of the receiver and the front strap of the grip frame have barely discernible differences from the German production. Basically, however, this is the real Luger, and it is an all steel, well made piece that should satisfy those who demand quality.
A spokesman for Interarms, reports that the initial offering of 7.65mm pistols will be followed by Lugers chambered for the 9mm Parabellum and an entirely new cartridge, a 22 centerfire based on the 7.65 case. Luger luggers, you're back in business.
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