The Pistole Parabellum 1908—or Parabellum-Pistole (Pistol Parabellum)—is a toggle-locked recoil-operated semi-automatic pistol. The design was patented by Georg J. Luger in 1898 and produced by German arms manufacturer Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken (DWM) starting in 1900 with other manufacturers such as W+F Bern, Krieghoff, Simson, Mauser and Vickers; it was an evolution of the 1893 Hugo Borchardt–designed C-93. The first Parabellum pistol was adopted by the Swiss army in May 1900. In German Army service, it was succeeded and partly replaced by the Walther P38 in caliber 9mm Parabellum.
The Luger is well known from its use by Germans during World War I and World War II, along with the interwar Weimar Republic and the postwar East German Volkspolizei. Although the P.08 was introduced in 7.65mm Parabellum, it is notable for being the pistol for which the 9×19mm Parabellum (also known as the 9 mm Luger) cartridge was developed. Because of its association with Nazi Germany, the pistol has been used in fictional works by many villainous characters over the past several decades.
One of the first semi-automatic pistols, the Luger was designed to use a toggle-lock action, which uses a jointed arm to lock, as opposed to the slide actions of almost every other semi-automatic pistol. After a round is fired, the barrel and toggle assembly (both locked together at this point) travel rearward due to recoil. After moving roughly 13 mm (0.5 in) rearward, the toggle strikes a cam built into the frame, causing the knee joint to hinge and the toggle and breech assembly to unlock. At this point the barrel impacts the frame and stops its rearward movement, but the toggle assembly continues moving (bending the knee joint) due to momentum, extracting the spent casing from the chamber and ejecting it. The toggle and breech assembly subsequently travel forward under spring tension and the next round from the magazine is loaded into the chamber. The entire sequence occurs in a fraction of a second. This mechanism works well for higher-pressure cartridges, but cartridges loaded to a lower pressure can cause the pistol to malfunction because they do not generate enough recoil to work the action fully. This results in either the breech block not clearing the top cartridge of the magazine, or becoming jammed open on the cartridge's base.
In World War I, as submachine guns were found to be effective in trench warfare, experiments with converting various types of pistols to machine pistols (Reihenfeuerpistolen, literally "row-fire pistols" or "consecutive fire pistols") were conducted. Among those the Luger pistol (German Army designation Pistole 08) was examined; however, unlike the Mauser C96, which was later manufactured in a selective-fire version (Schnellfeuer) or Reihenfeuerpistolen, the Luger proved to have an excessive rate of fire in full-automatic mode.
The Luger pistol was manufactured to exacting standards and had a long service life. William B. "Bill" Ruger praised the Luger's 145° (55° for Americans) grip angle and duplicated it in his .22 LR pistol.
The Swiss Army evaluated the Luger pistol in 7.65×21 mm Parabellum and adopted it in 1900 as its standard side arm, designated Ordonnanzpistole 00 or OP00, in 1900. This model uses a 120 mm barrel.
The Luger pistol was accepted by the Imperial German Navy in 1904. The Navy model had a 150 mm barrel and a two-position (100/200 metre) rear sight. This version is known as Pistole 04.
In 1908 the German Army adopted the Luger to replace the Reichsrevolver in front-line service. The Pistole 08 (or P.08) had a 100 mm barrel and was chambered in 9×19 mm Parabellum. The P.08 was the usual side arm for German Army personnel in both world wars, though it was being replaced by the Walther P38 starting in 1938. In 1930, Mauser took over manufacture of the P.08 (until 1943).
The Bolivian Army adopted the DWM Luger in 9 mm Parabellum as the main officer's side arm in 1908; a few hundred were bought, starting with a batch of about 250 that were included in an order of 4,000 Mauser DWM 1907 rifles and 1,000 Mauser DWM 1907 short rifles, both in caliber 7.65×53 mm, and continued with smaller batches every year until 1913. Only the first batch wore crests and the Legend "Ejercito Boliviano" stamped in the receiver.
The Lange Pistole 08 (German: "Long Pistol 08") or Artillery Luger was a pistol carbine for use by German Army artillerymen as a sort of early Personal Defense Weapon. It had a 200 mm barrel, an 8-position tangent rear sight (calibrated to 800 metres) and a shoulder stock with holster. It was sometimes used with a 32-round drum magazine (Trommelmagazin 08). It was also available in various commercial carbine versions with yet longer barrels.
The firm Armeria Belga of Santiago Chile, manufactured the Benke Thiemann retractable stock that could fold out from the grip section.
The United States evaluated several semi-automatic pistols in the late 19th century, including the Colt M1900, Steyr Mannlicher M1894, and an entry from Mauser. In 1900 the US purchased 1000 7.65 mm Lugers for field trials. Later, a small number were sampled in the then-new, more powerful 9 mm round. Field experience with .38 caliber revolvers in the Philippines and ballistic tests would result in a requirement for still-larger rounds.
At least two pistols were manufactured later for possible commercial or military sales, and one is exhibited at the Norton Gallery, in Shreveport, Louisiana. The other was sold in 2010 and remains in a private collection. After initial trials, DWM, Savage, and Colt were asked to provide further samples for evaluation. DWM withdrew for reasons that are still debated, though the Army did place an order for 200 more samples. A single .45 Luger carbine is also known to exist.
In 1936 Mauser phased out "straw finishing" the small parts and levers on their pistols, choosing to blue them with the rest of the weapon. When in combination with black bakelite grip panels, used on some examples starting in 1941, these pistols were named the "Black Widow" model by a postwar US arms dealer as a marketing ploy.
Captured Lugers were much prized by Allied soldiers during both of the world wars as war trophies. However, during World War II, German soldiers were aware of this and would use Lugers as "bait", rigging them to detonate land mines or hidden booby traps when disturbed. This tactic was common enough to make experienced Allied soldiers deeply suspicious of an apparently discarded Luger that they discovered.
Although outdated, the Luger is still sought after by collectors both for its sleek design and accuracy, and for its connection to Imperial and Nazi Germany. Limited production of the P.08 by its original manufacturer resumed when Mauser refurbished a quantity of them in 1999 for the pistol's centennial. More recently, Krieghoff announced the continuation of its Parabellum Model 08 line with 200 examples at $17,545.00 apiece.
In 1923, Stoeger, Inc. obtained the American copyright for the "Luger" name for the import of German-built parabellum pistols into the United States. The 1923 commercial models, in .30 Luger and 9mm, and with barrel lengths from 75 mm to 600 mm were the first pistols to bear the name "Luger", roll stamped on the right side of the receiver. Stoeger has retained the rights to the "Luger" name. Over the past seven decades, Stoeger imported a number of different handguns under the "Luger" mark, including an Erma-built .380 version and an American-manufacture .22 which only remotely resembled the original design.
In 1991, the Houston, Texas firm of Aimco, Inc. began making an all new remake of the original Georg Luger design. At that time Mitchell Arms, Inc., under the "Mitchell" name marketed Aimco’s "new" parabellum. Stoeger, Inc. bought the rights to market the Texas-built pistols in 1994, and since that time the "Luger" name is once again on these toggle-action autoloaders.
Stoeger’s current offering is named the "American Eagle" model. This refers to the U.S. eagle roll-stamped above the chamber, closely resembling the eagle used to mark the original pistols designated for U.S. import. The "American Eagle" is available in 4-inch and 6-inch barrel lengths in 9mm Luger only.
Thousands were taken home by returning Allied soldiers during both wars, and are still in circulation today. Colonel David Hackworth mentions in his autobiography that it was still a sought-after sidearm in the Vietnam War. Recently the first serious study on the Post World War II Luger has been published (The Parabellum is Back! 1945–2000); it covers the Luger production from 1945 until 2000. In fact, in 1945 Mauser set up again the Luger production under the control of the French forces. In 1969, Mauser Werke in Oberndorf restarted the production until 1986 when the last commemorative model was produced.