The 9mm Knows No Bounds.
Life can be ironic. Sometimes with age a subject once considered boring becomes interesting, for me that has been 9mm handguns. There was a time in the 1980’s when just hearing the word “9mm” put me on edge. The magazine I worked for then was plain goofy about having 9mm handguns on the cover and nearly every month they wanted a feature article about one or another 9mm pistol. I didn’t own a single 9mm handgun of any sort.
Nowadays that’s not the case. I have lots of 9mm’s. Be sure of one thing: if you throw out the term 9mm every listener’s brain will register 9mm Luger. That cartridge was actually introduced as 9mm Parabellum, the word meaning “for war” in Latin. Although by far the most popular and best known of 9mm cartridges, it is far from the only one. Some long obsolete ones are 9mm Glisenti from Italy or the 9mm Mauser from Germany or the Japanese 9mm Revolver.
There are even 9mm’s that are not called 9mm. The .357 SIG shoots the same bullets as 9mm Luger but its case has no similarities to it. Although originally using 0.356-inch bullets, the .38 Super now shoots the same diameter jacketed bullets as 9mm Luger. The .380 ACP also uses the same diameter bullets as 9mm Luger but requires a different shell holder. In Europe the .380 is called 9mm Kurz (German for “short”). I don’t want to forget the old .38 Colt Automatic. Dimensionally, it is exactly the same as the .38 Super but loaded to much lower pressure levels. You can safely fire .38 Colt Automatic rounds in .38 Super pistols but for heaven’s sake don’t go stuffing .38 Super in some old weak .38 Colt Auto pistol. Because of that possibility the ammo factories today stamp .38 Super case heads with a +P.
Then there is at least one round named 9mm but it really isn’t by the size of its bullets. That is the 9mm Makarov, which originated in the Soviet Union after World War II. Where standard bullet diameter for 9mm Luger and most everything else mentioned in the above paragraph is 0.355-inch, the 9mm Makarov uses 0.363 to 0.365-inch bullets depending on which brand you buy. That makes it more like a 9.2mm. However, it does use the same shell holder for reloading as the 9mm Luger/Parabellum.
Are you confused? Just wait. The 9mm Luger, 9mm Kurz (.380 ACP), .357 SIG and 9mm Makarov cartridge cases are all rimless. They are designed to headspace on the case mouth. The .357 SIG is a bottleneck case design, which is almost unique among modern autoloading handgun cartridges. Older bottlenecked pistol rounds such as .30 Luger and .30 Mauser headspace on the case shoulder just like a .30-06 or .270 Winchester. Therefore their case mouths could be roll-crimped onto bullets. Not the .357 SIG. For some reason its designers decided it should headspace on the case mouth just like traditional straight-cased autoloading pistol cartridges. Therefore, .357 SIG rounds require crimping of the case-to-bullet by the taper-crimp method.
Back in my teen-age years in the 1960’s, the word 9mm not only usually meant 9mm Luger/Parabellum but it also usually meant the “Luger” version of pistol because tons of them had come back in soldiers’ duffle bags after two world wars. Interestingly, there never was a “Luger” factory. They were made in several different factories in Germany, Switzerland and even some in England. It took me decades past the 1960’s but I now have three Lugers. Two are standard 4-inch barreled P08’s. (German designation meaning “Pistole 1908”). However one is the Artillery version with 8-inch barrel and detachable shoulder stock, which was actually used as an “assault carbine” by German Sturmtruppen (storm troops) in World War I.
The five 9mm handguns currently part of Duke’s WWII collection include (from left, top to bottom)
a John Inglis Hi-Power, John Inglis Hi-Power with shoulder stock as ordered by the Nationalist Chinese,
an FN Hi-Power with Nazi markings and (right) a German issue P08 (Luger) and P38. Germany was the
first nation to adopt a full-size 9mm pistol with double action trigger mechanism. It was designed
by the Walther firm and adopted in 1938.
Duke’s most recently acquired P08 “Luger” is the WWI artillery version with
8-inch barrel, high-capacity drum magazine and shoulder stock.
This is Duke’s newest “9mm.” It is a Colt 1911 Gov’t Model finished
in high polish stainless steel and chambered in .38 Super.
m fact is it was possible in WWII for combatants on both sides to be shooting at one another with the same model of handgun, although there was an ocean between their manufacturers. Those pistols were the FN and Inglis Hi-Powers, also called P35’s. The Fabrique Nationale (FN) factory in Belgium was making those upon John M. Browning’s basic patents when WWII erupted. The German Wehrmacht quickly overran Belgium but instructed the FN factory to continue making weapons. Of course they all went to Germany’s military forces.
The John Inglis Company of Canada got some FN Hi-Power pistols and reverse engineered them. According to my sources the first one came off the production lines in early 1944. Naturally Canadian forces operating under British control got some and so did other British special operations units such as paratroopers and commandos. The Nationalist Chinese Government also ordered Inglis Hi-Powers but wanted them to come with wooden holster/shoulder stocks. Those Inglis Hi-Powers can be identified by the CH as part of their serial numbers.
Because the Hi-Power design was based on a 13-round magazine, it was much appreciated among WWII troops. Some authors even rate it as the best of all WWII handguns. However, another 9mm pistol rivaled it for that title. That was Germany’s P38, as designed by the Walther Company. It still only held the 8 rounds as did the Luger but its primary selling point was a double-action trigger mechanism. No safety had to be disengaged prior to getting off the first shot as did Lugers or Hi-Powers (or most other 9mm pistols of that era if they were to be carried with a round chambered).
I have two Inglis Hi-Powers, an FN with Nazi markings and also a German P38 to go along with my three Lugers. All will deliver suitable accuracy. The Lugers are very sensitive to ammunition, feeding reliably only with FMJ type bullets and sometimes not with all of them. The P38 also occasionally has a failure to function, usually with the fired cartridge not completely clearing the pistol. None of my Hi-Powers ever seem to fail me. Those things are just plain reliable, which is probably why they are still being carried by some nations’ soldiers.
With all the gun magazine press modern concealed carry pistols get, usually chambered in .380 ACP or 9mm Luger, it is worth noting the genre is not new. Colt sold their “hammerless pocket pistols” in excess of a million between 1903 and 1945. Most of them were .25 or .32 ACP but in 3rd place was .380 ACP. I have a 1935 Colt catalog with such priced at $20.50 and 75¢ for extra magazines. They weigh a 1-1/2 pounds, are 6-3/4 inches long with 3-3/4-inch barrel and came either blued or fully nickel-plated. They had two safeties: one a knurled lever on the left side and the other a grip safety such as was always installed on Colt 1911’s. That latter one was a good idea for a pistol meant for pocket carry.
Duke has found that the P08 “Luger” (right) is very finicky about functioning with anything
but FMJ roundnose bullets while the FN P35 “Hi-Power” (left) feeds well with all types of loads.
The Japanese adopted a 9mm revolver late in the 19th century but
continued to issue it during WWII. It was named the Type 26.
For reloading the 9mm Luger (Parabellum) Duke uses both lead alloy bullets and jacketed bullets.
From left (above) 9mm NATO factory load, handload with Lyman 356242 (120 grains), handload with
Oregon Trail 124-grain roundnose, and handload with Zero Bullet Company 115-grain FMJ. The
“9mm’s” Duke has been shooting and reloading for include (below, left to right) the 9mm Kurz
(.380 Auto), 9mm Makarov, 9mm Luger (Parabellum) 9mm Japanese Revolver and .38 Super.
A reader recently took me to task for calling my Colt .380 Pocket Model a “Model 1908.” In the strict sense he was correct. Colt never called them such. But neither did they ever call their .36 Navy revolvers “Model 1851.” Both Model 1908 and Model 1851 are terms devised by modern collectors. My Colt got that date because it was the year .380 ACP was added as a caliber option. Here’s another fine idea for a pistol termed “Pocket Model.” There is nary a sharp edge anywhere on it. It is lacking a bit in the sight department, but it was meant for only one thing—close range personal protection.
The same thing goes for my Hungarian-made PA63 9mm Makarov. Its purpose is to ensure my and my wife’s safety. How did a gun’riter so focused on Old West and other historical firearms come to appreciate a knockoff of the Walter PP? Because it was priced at only a C-note, is why! With its aluminum frame, the little thing has more recoil than one would ever expect from a load firing a 95-grain bullet. For a while back in the 1990’s its military surplus ammunition was plentiful. Not so much today, but good American-made factory loads are around.
My oddest 9mm handgun is one of the Japanese Type 26 9mm revolvers. This was their standard handgun for cavalrymen in the early 20th century but then in WWII it was mostly given to non-commissioned officers. It is double-action only, with a top-break mechanism for loading and unloading. Its military ammunition was rated as having a 149-grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of 750 fps. (Source: Military Small Arms Of The 20th Century 7th Edition). Commercial factory ammunition is and always has been nonexistent but handloads can be put together by altering .38 Special cases. They need be shortened to 0.86-inch and rim thickness narrowed to 0.050-inch. Then 147-grain 9mm lead alloy bullets work perfectly.
My newest “9mm” is a .38 Super. Lately I got it into my head that I needed a shiny .38 Super and bought the first one encountered. It is actually highly polished stainless steel Colt 1911, which according to the Internet was from an overrun actually intended for export “south of the border.” At this writing I’ve barely shot it, but plan an extensive reloading project for it after this Montana winter.
The above are five 9mm rounds, which I’ve been shooting and for which I’ve been reloading. And I have not even scratched the 9mm surface yet, there are many others such as 9mm Steyr, 9mm Browning and 9mm Largo and they may need my attention someday.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino