Poland’s Premier Pistol
A Browning Influence, Combined With Several Innovative Features,
Made The Radom 9mm One Of The Best Service Autos Of WWII.
With Germany’s rearmament and rumors of war swirling around Europe in the 1930’s, Poland, wedged precisely between Germany and Russia, was in a tight spot. Coming out of WWI, its military was armed with an assortment of foreign and obsolete small arms. Even Poland’s finest, its revered horse cavalry units, were still armed primarily with lances and swords. The official handgun was the Model 1895 Nagant, but having been exposed to the automatic pistols of WWI, the Polish military, especially the cavalry, pressed for the development of a modern, Polish-designed pistol in 9mm Parabellum.
By the late 1920’s, Poland had established a modern State Arms Factory (Fabryka Broni) in the city of Radom. Opened in 1927, the factory’s initial products were Mauser rifles and Nagant revolvers. At the same time, Piotr Wilniewczyc, an armaments engineer there, was assigned the task of designing a contemporary auto for military adoption.
Joining Wilniewczyc in the design phase was Jan Skrzypinski, director of the Rifle Factory in Warsaw. Their collaboration was so close that the final design adopted was named “WIS” for Wilniewczyc and Skrzypinski. The military later dropped the “W” and replaced it with a “V,” forming the word “Vis” which in Latin translates as “power or force.” Notice the right side grip of the Radom carries the word “VIS” while the left side grip carries the letters “FB,” standing for “Fabryka Broni,” in which the Radom was produced.
After extensive testing, including 6,000-round durability tests, the Radom was formerly adopted by the Polish Army in 1935.
Designated the VIS-wz.35.Pat.Nr. 15567, the Radom was certainly inspired in many ways by John Browning’s 1911 and incorporates some parallel design features of the earlier Spanish Ruby, not to mention Browning’s Hi-Power.
Looking much like a Model 1911, the Radom is all steel, simple and rugged. It has a better grip-to-barrel angle than the M1911, making it a natural pointer and giving it a better balance in the hand. When you raise a Radom on target, you are on target. You’re looking right down an almost perfectly aligned sight picture.
Using factory ball ammunition, accuracy
at 25 yards averaged 6 to 7 inches with Holt’s Radom.
Unlike the M1911, the locking lugs of the Radom’s barrel move in and out of battery with the slide by way of a cam machined integral with the barrel, not a M1911-type swinging link. So, too, the barrel bushing of the Radom is permanently fixed, similar in concept to the Hi-Power, and is not removed when disassembling the pistol.
One of the most creative and original parts of the Radom is its captive recoil spring assembly, which, together with the fixed barrel bushing, was granted Polish patent number 15,567. Simple and compact, the captive recoil spring assembly protects the spring from kinking and makes fieldstripping a snap. It’s a design feature that is seen today in a variety of contemporary handguns.
The cavalry was responsible for at least two distinct features of the Radom. The pistol has one safety—a grip safety. Those levers on the left side of the frame and slide are actually a disassembly latch and a de-cocker. The concern of the cavalry was that after firing a shot or two, the mounted horseman would have to holster his pistol with the hammer fully cocked. In the act of holstering his pistol, he would be completely depressing the grip safety and might just shoot himself in the leg or, worst yet, shoot his valuable horse. The de-cocking mechanism was the solution.
The de-cocking lever on the slide was an original design.
Also note the engaged disassembly latch directly below it.
The cavalryman could cock his Radom by brushing the knurled
hammer against his saddle, boot, leg or gloved offhand.
Occupation-produced guns are stamped with these model
lines and two Waffenamt acceptance marks.
The Radom featured a permanently affixed barrel bushing and
a captive recoil spring and recoil spring guide.
The upper lever on the left of the slide is the de-cocker. When rotated down, it moves the firing pin beyond the reach of the hammer then rotates a steel block between the hammer and the firing pin. The sear is then tripped, thus lowering the hammer. The de-cocker is self-setting so the hammer can immediately be cocked again. Strangely enough, this unique design feature never seems to have been patented.
Cocking that hammer was the other design concern the cavalry had. With reins in one hand, the trooper had to be able to cock his pistol with the other hand, so the cavalry insisted upon a deeply knurled, rounded hammer. With the hammer down and a round in the chamber, it was desirable to be able to cock the pistol by brushing the hammer head down along the saddle, pant leg, boot or gloved riding hand. Granted, this was not a particularly safe practice, but then again, neither is mortal combat.
The other lever on the left side of the frame that looks like a M1911 thumb safety is actually a disassembly latch. To fieldstrip the Radom, pull back the slide just enough to engage that latch in a corresponding notch in the slide. This positions the slide stop perfectly so it can be pushed out from the right side, allowing you to remove the complete slide assembly with the barrel and recoil spring attached from the frame. The latch is important because the Radom slide stop is under pressure from the recoil spring. To relieve that pressure, you use your left hand to pull the exposed recoil spring guide forward while pushing the slide stop out. During reassembly, you have to again pull the recoil spring guide forward to reinsert the slide stop.
Poland’s military changed the “WIS” to “VIS,” denoting “power” in Latin for the right-hand grip (above). The left-hand grip (below) carries “FB” standing for “Fabryka Broni,” the arms factory in Radom, Poland.
Collectable Radoms can be grossly categorized into two production periods—those made by a free Poland up until the start of WWII and those made under Nazi occupation. Approximately 49,000 Polish Army Radoms were produced before the occupation and approximately 300,000 were made after under the managerial control of Austria’s Steyr-Daimler-Puch firm for distribution to German forces. As can be expected, production quality declined over time and features like the slotted grip for shoulder stocks, the disassembly latch and hard rubber grips were gradually phased out.
The Radom featured here is typical of the mid-point of the Nazi production period extending from 1939 to 1944. The Polish eagle has been omitted from the slide and the model is now stamped P35(p). The capital P stands for “Pistole” while the small (p) identifies the source of production as Polnisch (Polish). The slide and the frame carry very visible Waffenamt acceptance stamps, “WaA77” which later were shortened to just “77.” If the pistol is in original condition, the serial numbers on the frame, inside the slide and on the barrel will match.
German production serial numbers typically are grouped in alphabetical blocks starting with A0001, then B, then C, etc. Because compulsory and slave labor was used at Radom and there was concern the workers might sabotage components or steal them for the Polish underground, Steyr made many of the later frames, slides, magazines and all of the barrels. The labor at Radom largely produced pre-fitted pistol kits delivered to Steyr for final assembly and proofing.
The Browning influence is apparent in the Radom’s overall appearance.
With the help of the disassembly latch, field-stripping
the Radom is a straightforward affair.
The final ending of the VIS story? Fearing the Red Army’s westward advance, the Germans dismantled and moved the Radom inventory and machinery to Austria where, for a short time in 1945, Steyr continued production using the stamped code of either “WaA623”, “E/623” or “biz.” This wasn’t the total end of the Radom story though. Once in Soviet hands, the factory was restarted to produce the Soviet lines of military arms.
I enjoy shooting the Radoms. They point well, and because of their weight, recoil is minimal. Accuracy? The sights of the Radom aren’t the best; the front blade is just a nub while the rear is a wide “V.” With factory ball, my typical 8-shot groups at 25 yards on B-27-type targets will run between 6 and 7 inches.
Radoms produced during the occupation period are not uncommon in mil-surp circles. A lot came home as war trophies and are currently selling for $600 to $1,000. Free Poland-produced Radoms are rare and command premium prices. Recently, I followed a cream puff on an auction site. The bidding began at $349 and ended several days later with a sale price of $3,525.
The Polish Radom is one of the classic sidearms of WWII. It’s an interesting design, well made and fun to shoot. It’s a neat addition to any mil-surp collection.
Readers wishing more information may be interested in obtaining a copy of VIS RADOM: A Study and Photographic Album of Poland’s Finest Pistol by William J. York. Hardcover, 254 pages © 2011, $59.95, from: A&J Arms Book Sellers, 4731 E. Cooper St., Tucson, AZ 85711, (520) 512-1065, www.ajarmsbooksellers.com
By Holt Bodinson
Maker: Polish State Arms Factory, Radom, Poland and
the Steyr Works of Austria
Action: Single action, semi-automatic
Caliber: 9mm Parabellum
Barrel Length: 4.7 inches
Overall Length: 7.8 inches
Weight: 2.25 pounds
Sights: “V” notch windage adjustable rear, blade front
Grips: Hard rubber, plastic or wood
Value: $600 to $1,000