colt government model vs dwm luger p08

One of my favorite handguns is a 1939 National Match Colt Government Model. It is the first shootable M1911 pattern gun that I ever came across. I call a gun shootable if it throws bullets where I aim it, with high precision and little fuss. All other M1911 handguns that I fired either made too much fuss for my taste or fell short of my expectations for precision. I consider a handgun fussy if it cannot be counted upon to fire 200 rounds fast without acting up. I do not consider it precise unless it can consistently hit a silver dollar at 75 feet. My Colt can do both in style. Most of its brethren fall short in one way or another.

The M1911 annoys me in other ways. Its design is demonstrably inferior to its descendants. Locating the barrel with a bushing at the muzzle and a swinging link at the breech makes this gun easy to tune for accuracy or reliability but hard to standardize for drop-in spare part replacement and tricky to take apart and put back together. An M1911 built tight for accuracy will not shoot reliably until it has been broken in with thousands of hardball rounds, at which point it loosens up and becomes less accurate. Its exterior bristles with hard edges and delicate notches. Its ergonomics are so poor that only collector editions are made without beavertail tangs, memory groove grip safeties, extended thumb safeties, and cut or arched mainspring housings. Its construction standards are so lax that three generations of gunsmiths have put their kids through college by charging fees for handfitting for accuracy and reliability tuneups. Its lore is akin to that of Harley-Davidson Big Twin, the flagship product of the oldest surviving motorcycle manufacturer in the world, which putters around in grand style as long as the rider abstains from going too fast or turning too abruptly.

Sportbike riders will appreciate me naming the Luger, the Ducati of handguns. Disqualifying the Luger as a functional, battle-worthy sidearm is nothing short of idiotic. With is production numbers adding up to over a million, it belongs among the most successful military issues of all times. Its official international adoption count is over three times that of the M1911. It can be safely assumed that Swiss, German, Dutch, Russian, Bulgarian, Portuguese, Brazilian, Bolivian, Chilean, and Persian procurement agencies knew their business. The Luger was a premium benchmade device competing against assembly-line appliances. Then, as now, cost savings could only be trumped by overwhelming advantages in quality. The fact of its selection over less costly candidates bespeaks the supremacy of the Luger.

Like the Ducati twin, the Luger is notable for its balance. It is the only self-loading pistol that boasts the handling integrity of a big-bore Colt SAA revolver. For my part, any time I have to fire a single shot with speed and accuracy, I would choose no handgun other than one of these two. Their feel in the hand is that of a natural extension, with the barrel indexing intuitively. To be sure, in the Luger this indexing is enabled by the design that wedges the hand in place under the blunt end of the frame, whereas the Colt points like the proverbial plough handle, inspiring the shooter’s hand to align with its barrel axis. By contrast, the ergonomics of the M1911 grip hold are doubly compromised by the workmanlike feel of its slab-sided grip frame and the looseness introduced at a critical juncture therein by the installation of a pivoting grip safety, which many a target shooter felt compelled to pin into place.

The M1911 is easily compromised by sloppy manufacturing tolerances. No such slop is tolerable in the Luger. Accordingly, it is critically important to maintain the original ammunition dimensions, especially as regards the overall length and bullet configuration. This need arises because the Luger magazine feed is designed like most modern .22 rimfire autoloaders, with cartridges located by riding the bullet nose on the forward slope inside the magazine body. In a way, Georg Luger’s finest handgun design has suffered from the unmatched success and unchecked proliferation of his greatest creation, the 9x19mm Parabellum ammunition. The original German Army WWI 9mm Parabellum pistol ammo ballistics, as recapitulated as late as the Thirties Mauser owner’s manual, propelled a 123 grain truncated cone FMJ bullet out of a standard 4″ barrel at approximately 1,076 fps. Around 1917, the bullet configuration changed to a round nose shape of the same weight. The original DWM specification of the overall length of the 9mm Parabellum round measures from 1.14″ to 1.15″ for the truncated cone bullet load and from 1.169″ to 1.173″ for the round nose bullet load.

The toggle action of the Luger is capable of withstanding very high pressures. Thus the loads for the original DWM Parabellum carbine generated around 40,000 copper units of pressure (cup), nearly the 21,000 cup level of the maximum average pressure of the .45 ACP. Nevertheless, it is not advisable to shoot modern high pressure ammunition burning a fast powder in your classic Luger. All autopistols have their Achilles heel in the area of the loading ramp where the case head does not get very good support. Exposing your Luger to a pressure spike will blow out the case head on the bottom, removing the lower front edge of the breech block. The original slow burning powder was much gentler in this regard.

The tapered case of the 9x19mm round makes it inherently more robust and reliable in feeding than the straight-walled .45 ACP. (A typical problem in the latter cartridge is bullet setback in the case ensuing from several instances of chambering from the magazine, and resulting in a dangerous spike in chamber pressure as powder ignites in a space smaller than its original allocation.) But Lugers are both more accurate and more reliable when chambered for the bottleneck 7.65x21mm Parabellum cartridge, a.k.a the .30 Luger. One of the best Luger variants for shooting is the Swiss Model 1906/29, a simplified and strengthened successor to the more traditional Model 1900/06, first made by DWM and then by W+F. A well-worn Swiss .30 Luger pistol is likely to put 8 bullets well within 5 centimeters at 50 meters, from a machine rest. This is comparable to the results obtainable with the best bullseye 1911 pistols.

The longer barrel and the grip safety of the Swiss guns make them a bit more user-friendly than the P08. Generally speaking, in the Luger design longer and heavier barrels contribute to greater reliability by balancing out the snappier recoil impulse of modern ammunition. Unlike the massive M1911 design, the elegant 1900 and 1906 pattern grip safety of the Luger works the same mechanism as the safety lever, which functions as a sliding lock that secures its spring-loaded operation. With its point shooting characteristics second only to the Colt SAA revolver, a defensively minded pistolero might be tempted to leave the 1906 safety lever off, relying on the grip safety alone to bring the gun into action with a quick draw out of an open top belt holster. That is not a practice that I would recommend. But safety is always a matter of compromise in sidearms. With the notable exception of the occasional commercial Government Model Colt equipped with a Swartz firing pin lock operated by the grip safety, prior to 1943 no handgun manufacturer took the trouble to anticipate XXIst century handgun drop safety standards.

Some people balk at the Nazi connection of the Luger. But its original maker, Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (German Weapons and Munitions Works), known as DWM, was a successor in interest to Ludwig Loewe & Company, an arms maker founded in 1872. In addition to the Luger, Loewe owned the production rights to some of the finest contemporary firearms such as Mauser turnbolt rifles and Smith & Wesson break-open revolvers. This provenance makes the Luger a Jewish gun par excellence. My 1918 DWM P08 and 1917 DWM LP08 put me in touch with my inner Ernst Kantorowicz, who, but for an accident of Semitic birth, might have made an excellent Nazi. Needless to say, no sane man could have political or cultural qualms about a 1939 Colt.

There is no way to say which of these guns is a superior weapon under all defensive scenarios. Inside my house I usually carry the prewar National Match Government Model, loaded with 230 grain FMJ Winchester White Box ammunition, and modified only by installation of Crimson Trace laser grips. For outdoors use, I greatly prefer a 1917 DWM LP08 Artillery Luger, loaded with the 115 or 124 grain ammunition of the same brand, label, and configuration. It is by far the most accurate and comfortable centerfire semiauto that I ever fired. But for dual-purpose use, I prefer the SIG P210.

20 thoughts on “colt government model vs dwm luger p08”

  1. From the wiki…

    The United States evaluated several semi-automatic pistols in the late 1800s, 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.

    In 1906, the US Army held trials for a large-caliber semi-automatic. 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.

    I am, or was, without much training quite a good shot. I qualified for state in air rifle as a boy and shot a 29 of 30, which tied for the high mark, at a rifle range the U.S. Army brought to the local rodeo. I think the first shot was the 9 and I worked out the comp on the next one. I say without much training, but I grew up on the farm and air rifles were a favorite “toy”.

    As to the above, what I remember from history is that there was always a contingent push in the U.S. military for “stopping power” and so while the Parabellum was seen favorably, the .45 won out. The same push still existed when the Stoner’s Armalite AR-15 was brought forth. And there is a bit of a battle for accuracy with a larger bullet as well as other design factors. This is to say that you might as easily be talking the difference between the M-16 and AK-47.

    But I cannot speak from much experience. As much as I have an interest in guns and have a talent for hitting the mark, I do not care to own them. Again, from what I know I think most would agree that the Parabellum was a more refined piece in general, but that most enemies would rather take a 7.62mm or 9mm before the .45.

    1. At various times, U.S. Army tested Lugers in 7.65mm and 9mm Parabellum, as well as .45 ACP. The last chambering is by far the rarest. I just won this fairly scarce ’06 American Eagle in 9mm at the RIA auction for $2,250.00 + 15% buyer’s premium:

      Its .45 counterpart would be worth at least 200 times as much. The closest I got to one of them was in trading a C96 Mauser to its then owner>Michael Zomber for a third of the value of a Shinto jo-saku samurai sword. Back in 1984 I had a pristine C96 that keyholed with standard 7.63×25 ammunition. The bore was mirror bright, but measured out to 0.311″, way out of tolerance. I brought the gun to Zomber and asked for his advice. He advised me that there was an ass for every seat and did me a huge personal favor by taking it off my hands for the $500 that I had in it. It took me over 20 years to figire out that I briefly owned the ultra rare 8.15mm Mauser Export variation, distinguishable only by its inside barrel dimensions. By that time, my instructor had confirmed the converse of his proposition with personal example. Having concocted evidence suggesting another bid to buy at an inflated price the Colt Walkers that he was selling to a nouveau riche collector, Zomber earned a federal conviction for mail and wire fraud. I am happy to know nothing of the state of his ass since then.

      The Constitutional right to keep and bear arms is one of the main reasons for my being in the U.S. I do not care to be without a gun anywhere outside of courthouses and airports. The way I look at it, packing heat is a way of buttressing my capacity to say “No” to anyone, come what may. As the latest representative of three generations of convicts on political charges, I value this capacity above all other civil rights.

      1. Thanks for the reply. As I say this stuff fascinates me. Whenever the gun theme hits on the History channel I find myself glued.

        Every once in a while I have friends that show up on the farm to shoot their guns. Recent firings included a Czech AK-47 and a Desert Eagle .50.

        Other than that the only other notable gun around is the Model 12 Winchester shotgun my dad owns in the somewhat rarer 20 gauge.

  2. sweet! no handgun can beat a rifle though. i find rifles much more comfortable and accurate, among other advantages. too bad they’re not as easy to carry on your person in the united states of that there america.

          1. well, besides ancient liberties they also tend to be fond of strict rules, among other things. as far as i know, one needs to be in the military (a more or less life-long affair) to have the right and obligation to wander around with a rifle, especially in the city. i could be mis- or underinformed though. besides, we’re planning on eventually moving back to california, so buying, then selling guns seems like too much of a hassle.

            1. Guns are the easiest goods I ever sold. I try not to think how this ease would extrapolate to services.

              Switzerland sounds like a lovely place to camp out for a few years. I must look into the local rights as to guns and libraries.

  3. A series of posts appearing on the Opinion bboard at CMU in 1987.

    By Olin Shivers.

    We have similar problems here at Berkeley, though it has been difficult
    to wean our students away from more the more mundane assortment of
    Browning Hi-Power’s, Beretta 92SBF’s and Sig-Sauer P226’s. The 9mm clique
    is pretty strong here, and the young grad students fairly parsimonious.
    They tend to balk at the idea of spending enough money on ammo to make
    full auto firefights practical. Lately, they’ve taken to sniping at each other from the Campanile tower and engaging in loose hit-and-run guerrilla tactics during finals. This is obviously not the American Way and needs to be changed. While I’ve been able to slowly wean them into more progressive arms (such as the Beretta 93R and an occasional mini-uzi), I still can’t seem to get past the supply problem. My questions are:

    “Do you buy your ammo in bulk, or do appointed individuals do shifts on a progressive reloader?”

    “Does the school pay for this?”

    1. Re: A series of posts appearing on the Opinion bboard at CMU in 1987.

      No, the school doesn’t pay for this. It doesn’t get paid for this, either. I had to move off Harvard campus in order to keep my guns.

  4. Colt 1911 vs Luger Comment

    I like both guns for different reasons. I believe your partial negativity of the 1911 is unfounded. It’s legacy speaks for itself … and it still going strong. Today, U.S. special ops forces have gone back to it. I don’t know of anyone still using the Luger and the Germans set it aside in WWII for the more modern and reliable Walther P-38.

    I’ve never seen anyone shoot a Luger in match. As for engineering tolorances, I reference the AK-47 – NOT (and look at it’s reputationand world wide use), but I have a 1911 Colt Ace (1930s production) that I will match agianst any Luger for tight engineering tolorances and quality. Point, the 1911 can be made to exacting engineering tolorances too and it’s simplicity of design was brilliant. Again, the fact that it is still in service says it all. The Luger is a fun gun to have and shoot, but I’ll take John Browning’s’ 1911 any day of the week and twice on Sunday when my life depends on it!!!

    1. Re: Colt 1911 vs Luger Comment

      Heinrich Keller of Frauenfeld, Switzerland, aged 40, represented his country with a specially constructed 170mm-barreled 1906/29 7.65mm Luger in his first international event, the 1949 ISSF competition in Buenos Aires. The original target of Keller’s fourth pass in the ISSF championship showed a perfect score of 100. It caused a sensation during that event, for no other shooter had managed such a result thus far. His overall performance in competition resulted in 10-shot targets that scored 96, 88, 95, 100, 88, and 92 points, adding up to the same 559 points that he had scored in preliminary training, achieving in each instance the best result of any shooter. Keller’s skill earned his 1949 ISSF title of World Champion in the 25m center-fire pistol event. His gun was derived from the standard Swiss service pistol of its time, with minimal mechanical modification.

      In the same year, the Swiss Army adopted a Browning pattern pistol, the SIG P49. Whereas the German changeover to the Walther P38 a decade earlier had sacrificed shooting precision in deference to economic concerns, the Swiss successor to the Luger was designed to rival the accuracy of its predecessor. With much tighter barrel lockup and longer slide rails than the M1911, it achieved this design brief. In preliminary testing on 19 May 1942, SIG evaluated five contemporaneous service handguns for accuracy in preparation for the development of their candidate for the next Swiss service sidearm. This is what they got in 8 shots fired at 50 meters:

      • Walther P38:
        12.0cm from rest/14.5 cm offhand        
      • Radom ViS35:
        18.5cm from rest/17.0 cm offhand        
      • Colt M1911:
        30.0cm from rest/42.0 cm offhand        
      • 9mm Luger 06/29:
        5.5cm from rest/11.5 cm offhand        
      • 7.65 Luger 06/29:
        5.8cm from rest/9.0 cm offhand        

      The test Colt was a 1919 commercial Government Model, SN C113936. The results speak for themselves.

      Like the Walther P38 and its derivative, the Beretta M9, the current U.S. standard military issue pistol, the Colt M1911 is a fine service sidearm. But as the foregoing test results demonstrate, when your life depends on hitting your target at a longer range, you are much better off with a SIG P210, if not a more exotic Luger. The reasons Lugers are not seen in competition outside of Switzerland and Germany have to do predominantly with their cost. While a benchmade M1911 or SIG P210 might cost under $3,000, a newly manufactured Luger costs six times as much. A similar ratio applies to the cost of tuning, with regulation of the trigger pull in a Luger requiring a costly special tool, whereas the M1911 and the P210 make do with jigs and oilstones. And in defensive applications, as explained above, the main handicap of the Luger is the shrunken standard for the 9x19mm Parabellum ammunition. With properly loaded cartridges, the Luger will invariably enjoy an advantage over the M1911 in making tighter groups at longer ranges.

  5. Большое спасибо Вам!

    Надеюсь что в вашей стране, не только мастера спорта и чемпионы по стрельбе носят оружие без проблем.

    1. Re: Большое спасибо Вам!

      I have a p-38 that was built in 1942, a Singer Sewing Machine Co 1911 built in 1941 and a P-08 that originates from 1914. They are all well made, tightly engineered weapons, but I can outshoot them all earing back the hammer of a dirty, worn out old Colt Trooper Mk 3 357 revolver.

      No semiauto is that great for target shooting, as they all blow back, twist and screw up your aim. I think that with a semi automatic style of pistol you must consider the first shot as the only shot that you are going to get.

      The only use of a pistol is as a defensive weapon, something you can use in case of surprise attack. If you miss the first shot it will probably be your last shot. If the guy won’t go down with the first shot, ditto. Since we are talking about a ten foot distance, it would seem to me that the .45 is the better choice.

      But you know, the Trooper draws much faster, fits my hand better and a .357 will remove problems really quickly. So to heck with semiautomatic pistols.

      1. Re: Большое спасибо Вам!

        Funny, I find autopistols much more consistent than revolvers in follow-up shots. I like .357 Magnum revolvers a lot, but short of fitting them with ergonomic wraparound stocks ill-suited for defensive use, there is no way to index the web of the shooting hand. By contrast, the tang of the Colt M1911 or the SIG P210 stabilizes the hand grip interface nearly as well as do the toggle ears of the Luger.

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