W+F Bern P43: A Swiss Take on the Browning High Power

In 1940, Switzerland began a series of trials to replace their Luger service pistols with something equally high quality, but more economical. They had squeezed as much simplification out of the Luger as they could in 1929, and by this time the guns just needed to be replaced. The first 1940 trial had only two entrants (a Petter prototype form SIG and an Astra 900), but a second trial in 1941 included a large assortment of modern handguns, including a French 1935A, a Polish Vis-35, and prototypes from both SIG and W+F Bern.

One of the most tenacious competitors (aside form the winning SIG/Petter design) was the Bern factory’s series of Browning High Power copies. In this video, we will be looking at three progressive versions of this gun as they were modified through the course of the trials (which would last until 1949). While they are all mechanically very similar to the High Power, they will get progressively less visually similar as the trials progressed. In addition, we will see features like the slide lock, manual safety, and magazine release evolve and change.

41 Comments

  1. “They had squeezed as much simplification out of the Luger as they could in 1929, and by this time the guns just needed to be replaced.”
    One of mind-boggling move in Swiss weapons, at least for me, was introduction of Revolver Modell 1882/29, that as name imply was adopted in 1929, but according to article in Deutsch wikipedia:
    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolver_Modell_1882,_1882/29
    has been delivered to Swiss army from 1933 to 1946.

  2. A note on the transfer-bar ignition. Browning mentioned in his patent that this was a safety device that ensured the trigger would not set the gun off unless the slide was fully home in battery. I am told this resulted in a somewhat creepy trigger pull not susceptible to any kind of tuning. I have also read that Tokarev-type pistols (and their 1911 ancestors?) can be discharged without the slide resting fully home. Interesting if true and also interesting that Browning was willing to step back and improve faults in his own work. One of his character traits seemed to be complete modesty.

    • The Browning pistol designs have a disconnector that rises into a notch in the underside of the slide.

      Without the disconnector rising, the pistol can’t be fired, so out of battery firing is very unlikely.

      Browning designs do tend to have multiple levels of safety features, so adding redundancy in the form of yet more parts that have to be aligned before the gun will fire, is Browning being his normal conscientious self.

      My own take on the Browning/Sevre GP35 (I pretty much began shooting centre fire pistol on one) is that the trigger bar in the slide was a way to avoid adding more width to the grips of an already wide gripped pistol
      And
      It kept the trigger connection out of the way of swelling or damaged grips and so added to functional reliability.

      I actually found the triggers on GP35 pistols ok. No problems at all.

      No offense intended to people posting here, but personal experience is that a large number of the gunzine, and popular text book writers, don’t actually know very much about guns and shooting them. They either simply repeat what has been repeated for decades, without ever questioning whether it is correct,
      Or
      Put their name to pieces that are little more than a sales department press release.

      There are notable exceptions; Ross Seyfried is a name that stands out. His comments on people trying to “buy ability” are well worth reading and thinking about.

      Also, regarding safety by design, take a look at Jack Belk’s book about forensic investigation of gun accidents, he has lots of very sound observations about triggers, that are completely counter to the popular perceptions.

    • Another was practicality. If you look at any Browning design, one thing that stands out is that there is only one way to reassemble it after field-stripping; the correct way. If you try to put something in “backwards”, it won’t fit, and the weapon cannot be re-assembled until you put it in the right way.

      Compare this to designs like the Vz58 rifle or Nambu pistol, which while competently designed and reliable enough, can be reassembled and fired minus their locking blocks; the effects with the Nambu can be alarming, but those with the Vz58 can be catastrophic.

      Or the U.S. M60 machine gun, which can be put back together all sorts of ways, will ‘close’, and then you find out it either fires one round and stops, fires an entire belt even when you’ve released the trigger, or just comes apart in your hands. Not exactly optimal.

      Let’s not even talk about the Ross rifle, OK?

      Another of Mr. Browning’s traits was “giving the customer what he wants”, even if he disagreed. Also the willingness to abandon ideas that were not cost-effective even if he personally had conceived them.

      Thus, he developed the 1911 pistol for Colt and the U.S. War Department in .45 ACP, even though he saw no actual advantage in that cartridge over the 9 x 19mm. (Same muzzle energy, the 9mm had higher velocity, greater effective range, better penetration on a steel helmet, and the rounds were smaller and weighed less.) Incidentally, the .45 ACP milspec round was based on an earlier round for the earlier Colt Military Model automatic in .45, with the only difference being an increase in bullet weight from 200 grains to 230.

      Mr. Browning even developed a “.40 caliber” automatic pistol round, the 9.8mm, for both U.S. and British army trials, because he had learned that neither test board would accept a “.38 caliber” pistol. He discontinued work on it when the U.S. adopted the .45 ACP and the British decided to retain their (low-powered) .455in Webley revolver round (ME in the same range a the .38 S&W aka 0.380in Revolver). The fact that he again saw no real advantage in the 9.8mm over the existing 9mm class rounds is something the Hatcherites, Cooperites, and .40 S&W/.41AE/10mm Auto advocates (if any still exist) should ponder.

      NB; As to “reciting what has been read rather than actual experience”, I have a considerable amount of actual experience (including ballistic testing and “gel block” plus animal shooting) with such pistol rounds as; .45 ACP, .40 S&W, 10mm Auto, .44 and .357 Magnum, .38 Special and .38 S&W, 9 x 19mm, .380, .32 (ACP and S&W revolver), and even such peculiarities as 7.62 x 25mm and 9 x 18mm Makarov. Not to mention more than a few PMs of gunshot victims.

      From all I’ve seen, there’s not much difference in the “terminal effect” of the .45 ACP, .40 S&W, 10mm “medium velocity”, and 9 x 19mm, and the holes made by the .357, 10mm “full power”, and .44 Magnum are pretty much identical too, except that the .44 has a dangerous tendency to go right through anything smaller than a deer and head for the next area code.

      The old .38s, the .380, and the 9 x 18M all deliver similar results to each other, too, unless you use the hotted-up “.38 Special +Ps”, which deliver damage about like a 9 x 19mm, a .357… or a .45.

      Bullet types can cause some variance, but mainly serve to enhance some effects or degrade others. At pistol velocities, hollow-points, assuming they open up correctly, are less effective at creating larger “wound channels” than they are at reducing overpenetration, simply by making the bullet come to a stop more quickly- “putting on the brakes”, as it were. Of course, this does mean the projectile has expended all its kinetic energy on the intended target, rather than on the landscape behind same, which is a good thing in itself in most cases.

      In short, tactically speaking, if a .355-.357in bullet massing from 100 to 160 grains, traveling at anywhere from 900 to 1400 feet per second, won’t get the job done, you probably should not have used a pistol to begin with. Or as Elmer Keith would say, you brought a pistol to a rifle fight.

      And regardless of “theories of stopping power”, I think Mr. Browning understood this very well.

      Just IMHO.

      cheers

      eon

      • Not that “stopping power” means anything, but if a modern M113 APC took a dead-center-in-the-driver’s-face hit (or the usual point-blank-from-thick-underbrush-into-thin-flank-armor angle) from a hypothetical Type 5 Chi-Ri II, would the former be expected to stop dead in it’s tracks quite literally, along with everyone in it? I know that only the prototype of the Chi-Ri was built, but looking at the specs for the Type 5 75mm Tank Gun, only a proper modern tank could withstand the APHE round from THAT at point-blank-enemy-vehicle-disguised-as-bush range. Did I mess up?

        • “(…)modern M113 APC(…)”
          This vehicle, as many other APC, has armor designed to stop rifle-caliber weapons, not specialized AP weapons – if you want to have armor effective against such weapons it would mean that APC would be incredibly heavy.
          Keep in mind that even 9М14 «Малютка» (or in NATO parlance AT-3 Sagger) designed in early 1960s is able to penetrate 400 mm armor (perpendicular hit, any distance) and notice that area of armor of APC must be quite big, as it is supposed to transport troops inside.

          • M113A3 is armored against 12.7×108mm AP on the sides and 14.5×114mm on the front, if I remember correctly. But it’s true that earlier models had much less armor, like most 1960s style APCs. Even the M113A3 is hardly a “modern” APC any longer, though. Some more recent ones provide better protection, up to 30mm APDS frontally. That would probably be enough to resist some WW2 AP rounds, but I don’t know about the Japanese gun in question.

            The primary function of a traditional “battlefield taxi” APC like the M113 is to provide good mobility for the infantry, while still protecting the soldiers against likely threats encountered when not in direct contact with the enemy main forces. That is, indirect artillery fire, air strikes and ambushes by enemy light infantry, special or guerrilla type forces operating behind your “lines” (with quotation marks, since modern mobile warfare often does not have WW1 style clearly defined front lines). In most cases the soldiers would dismount before engaging the enemy and the APCs would be left behind.

      • “Thus, he developed the 1911 pistol for Colt and the U.S. War Department in .45 ACP, even though he saw no actual advantage in that cartridge over the 9 x 19mm. (Same muzzle energy, the 9mm had higher velocity, greater effective range, better penetration on a steel helmet, and the rounds were smaller and weighed less.)”
        Does Browning known about 9 x 19 mm during development of Colt Model 1911?
        Surely, he designed .38 ACP:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.38_ACP
        which originally fired 130 gr @ 1260 fps, but it was straight-walled like other Browning’s cartridges unlike tapered 9 x 19 Parabellum.

        • The 9 x 19mm was developed around 1903-04, and in use as a service cartridge by 1908-10, so I don’t doubt that Mr. Browning knew about it.

          Interestingly, and contrary to “what everybody knows”, the 9 x 19mm was developed not at the behest of the Reichswehr, but due to the request of the German state police. They’d been using the 7.65 x 21 Parabellum since it was first available in the 1900 model (Old Model) pistol, and didn’t like its occasional feeding problems.

          DWM determined that turning the bottlenecked and already slightly-tapered 7.65 into a 9mm with essentially a “straight-wall” case with a slight taper should solve the feeding problems. That’s how we ended up with the 9 x 19mm as we know it today.

          “Stopping power” had nothing to do with it. The police were perfectly satisfied with what happened when a 7.65mm bullet massing 6.3 g and traveling at 370 m/s hit the target. They just wanted it to feed more reliably in the Model 1900 Parabellum pistol.

          Incidentally, in the much-discussed U.S. Army “Kill the Bullock” trials of 1909, the only “one-shot stop” recorded was when a single bullet cut a bull’s aorta. Said bull collapsed in ten seconds and was dead in forty. Said bullet came from a model 1900 Parabellum pistol in 7.65 x 21mm. The Army insisted on a .45, anyway.

          As for the .38 ACP, it was essentially an up-powered and slightly lengthened (9 x 23SR) version of the 9 x 20SR Browning had already designed for FN’s Model 1903 blowback automatic. The 1903 fired what was then considered about the most powerful round that could safely be accommodated in a non-locked-breech action. And that, in turn, was an enlargement of the 7.65 x 17SR and 6.35 x 16SR, aka .32 ACP and .25 ACP. The .380 ACP (9 x 17SR) came between the 9 x 20SR and .38 ACP, apparently.

          While Browning’s “thing” for semi-rimmed autopistol cartridges might seem strange, we do have to admit that most of them are still around in common use a century and more after he conceived them. Mainly because they work.

          cheers

          eon

          • “As for the .38 ACP, it was essentially an up-powered and slightly lengthened (9 x 23SR) version of the 9 x 20SR Browning had already designed for FN’s Model 1903 blowback automatic.”
            .38 Auto predates 9x20SR Browning Long (1900 vs 1903)

            “While Browning’s “thing” for semi-rimmed autopistol cartridges might seem strange”
            It should be noted that he started in era of revolvers, so using rim for head-spacing might be simply “thinking inertia”, also it allows bigger tolerances on case length than head-space on mouth.

            “Mainly because they work.”
            It seems that they can be used in staggered magazine design like CZ 83 (15-round magazine for .32 Auto)

          • “And that, in turn, was an enlargement of the 7.65 x 17SR and 6.35 x 16SR, aka .32 ACP and .25 ACP. The .380 ACP (9 x 17SR) came between the 9 x 20SR and .38 ACP, apparently.”
            .380 Auto, also known as 9×17 Kurz, is NOT semi-rimmed, but rimless, see dimension here: http://www.municion.org/9corto/9corto.htm
            In case of .32 Auto and .380 Auto, it is worth noting that both have practically same overall length (according to municion – 24,93 mm and 24,88 mm), which mean it is quite easy to design automatic pistol in two variants – one for .32 Auto and .380 Auto, or even automatic pistol which might be easily switched from .32 to .380 and inversely like for example Ortgies automatic pistol, which is done by replacing barrel – it even don’t need change of magazine, as there are common for .32 and .380 (which is also advantage for automatic pistol not designed for easy caliber change, as it simplify production and delivery).

          • “The .380 ACP (9 x 17SR) came between the 9 x 20SR and .38 ACP, apparently.”
            http://unblinkingeye.com/Guns/1910FN/1910fn.html states that
            (…)John Moses Browning had asked “UMC” Thomas of the Union Metallic Cartridge Company to design the .380 ACP in 1907 because Colt wanted a larger, heavier bullet for the 1903 Colt Pocket “Hammerless”. Browning specified that the case length for the new cartridge must be identical to that of the .32 ACP. The idea was that the only modification necessary for the gun to use the new cartridge would be a new barrel and magazine. The .380 barrel for what became the 1908 Colt Pocket “Hammerless” had the same external diameter as the .32 barrel for the 1903 Colt, but a slightly larger bore. When Browning set out to design the Model 1910 FN Browning, he designed it so that only the barrel need be changed to convert from one caliber to the other. The 1910 magazines for the two calibers were identical(…)
            Thus it might explain why .380 Auto is rimless, when others are not – to make rim diameter as close to .32 Auto as possible.

      • “The old .38s, the .380, and the 9 x 18M all deliver similar results to each other, too, unless you use the hotted-up “.38 Special +Ps”, which deliver damage about like a 9 x 19mm, a .357… or a .45.”
        Russian military switched from 9×18 to own 9×19, mainly due to growing popularity of personal armor, against which 9×18 was ineffective – there was “hot-loaded” version of 9×18 developed alongside PMM automatic pistol:
        http://gunrf.ru/rg_pistol_PMM_eng.html
        but idea of “hot-loaded” 9×18 was abandoned as it make risk of putting “new” cartridge in “old” Makarov automatic pistol. Anyway, there was also sub-machine gun developed for this ammunition: Klin.
        Does not .357 Magnum success in 1930s derive from fact it can penetrated car chassis – which was problem for older cartridges like .38 S&W?

        • That was the main reason for its development- the idea that “gangsters” used cars a lot for getaways, so police needed a pistol round that would penetrate auto body metal. It’s no coincidence that the very first S&W .357 revolver, registered series No. 0001, was presented to J.Edgar Hoover, director of the then-new Federal Bureau of Investigation.

          Incidentally, ignore all those movies and etc. with FBI agents shooting it out with “gangsters”. Prior to FDR being elected President in 1932 and him appointing Hoover, the old “Bureau of Investigation” under William Burns was purely a data-collecting agency, as Interpol would later be. Bureau agents weren’t even authorized to carry arms; that didn’t happen until an Act of Congress in 1934. By the time FBI agents were being issued .38 revolvers and Tommy guns, the “gangster era” had been over for nearly three years.

          In fact, the original 160-grain .357 bullet at 1400 feet-per-second (actual, not the 1600-plus advertised) did generally penetrate auto bodywork at any angle of incidence over about 40 degrees. However, it would not punch through the frame or wreck the engine as claimed. That still required a rifle like a .30-06, and for that matter still does today.

          PS- Tests run in the 1970s by the Indiana state police showed that the 9 x 19mm outpenetrated almost all other pistol rounds on auto bodies. It was only beaten out by the .357, .41, and .44 Magnum revolver rounds. It was in a dead heat with the .38 Super Auto, and definitely better than the .45 ACP.

          cheers

          eon

      • “(…)Another of Mr. Browning’s traits was “giving the customer what he wants”(…)”
        In case of cartridges, probably best example is “blow-back trinity” that is .25 Auto (6,35 mm Browning), .32 Auto (7,65 mm Browning), .380 Auto (9×17 Kurz). These are probably one of most popular cartridges of first half of 20th century in Europe, counting automatic pistols and revolvers* produced, as beyond “proper” Brownings there were various knock-offs and other designs using these cartridges.
        * – Browning’s automatic pistols designs in early 20th century Europa were so popular that some manufacturers start producing “Browning-style” revolvers for Browning’s cartridges, for customers not sure about that new fancy automatic pistols, see for example:
        http://historypistols.ru/blog/revolvery-pod-unitarnyj-patron/belgijskij-revolver-velodog-fason-brauning-kalibra-635-mm/

      • You are right about that locking piece in vz.58; this is rarely mentioned but I thought of it time by time. It is definitely potential weakness of this design. I guess one way they tried to prevent loss of this piece was to chrome plate it, so it is clearly visible. If you turn rifle upside down you clearly see presence/ absence of the lock in closed condition.

        • Btw, same would apply for vz.59 UMG since its design is derived from vz.58 rifle. In practice I never heard of such occurrence however. And on top of it of course all operators were “draftees” (not recruits).

      • .38 spcl operates at max pressures of between 18 and 22 k PSI,.
        The 22 k is “+p”

        Proper loadings of 9×19 for a luger, not American stuff that’s downloaded incase someone tries to fire it in a nice old glisenti or Lahti, operates at up to about 39k psi.

        The .357 mags go on up to about 60k psi, and have a larger case volume as well (so a flatter post peak distance-pressure curve, and more area under that curve = more energy imparted to the bullet).

        I need to check out Bas Martens’ texts. I think that the Dutch East Indies might have been early adopters of the 9×19.

        • .38 Special (9×29.5mm in metric) has a much larger case volume than 9mm Parabellum as well, which goes a long way for compensating for the lower max. pressure. .38 Special was originally designed as a black powder cartridge, so it needed a large case volume.

          • “.38 Special (9×29.5mm in metric) has a much larger case volume than 9mm Parabellum as well, which goes a long way for compensating for the lower max. pressure.”
            .38 Special is longer than 9×19, so in fact 9×19 revolvers based on .38 special framed revolver are longer than needed. Recently Korth created revolver specifically for 9×19 named Sky Marshal:
            http://www.luckygunner.com/lounge/first-look-korth-sky-marshal-9mm-revolver/
            which is shorter and work without need of usage of moon-clips.

      • “The fact that he again saw no real advantage in the 9.8mm over the existing 9mm class rounds is something the Hatcherites, Cooperites, and .40 S&W/.41AE/10mm Auto advocates (if any still exist) should ponder.”
        I don’t know what “Hatcherites” or “Cooperites” mean, but for “.40S&W/.41AE/10mm Auto advocates” I think proper question is:
        How many countries adopted 10 mm or bigger automatic pistols?
        Obviously there are some which used .45 Auto, but it was rather of consequence of high-regard for Colt 1911 design, rather than we need THAT caliber approach – does any country adopted .45 Auto without adopting Colt 1911 or derivative?

        • The 10mm and .40 S&W were born out of perceived law enforcement needs. I do not think any real military force has considered adopting either one, with the possible exception of the US Army, which at least in theory was willing to look at other calibers than 9mm Parabellum and .45 ACP at one point.

          Even .40 S&W is a bit too hot cartridge for general military use. It was adopted by some non-US law enforcement organizations and also by some special forces. I don’t think full-power 10mm Auto is used by any organizations any longer. US special forces prefer .45 ACP for “offensive” handguns, because it can be more effectively suppressed.

      • “If you look at any Browning design, one thing that stands out is that there is only one way to reassemble it after field-stripping; the correct way. If you try to put something in “backwards”, it won’t fit, and the weapon cannot be re-assembled until you put it in the right way.”
        In the Hi Power, the recoils spring guide can be installed upside down. I haven’t tried it, but apparently this causes the guide to break on the first round

  3. There seems to have been an editing error. There are two explanations of the #40 hold-open mechanism. The second one starts at 15:00 in the video.

  4. Does the change to the magazine safety allow the magazine to fall freely, rather than having to be pulled out? My Hi Power came with the magazine safety removed, so the magazine falls out freely when released, for speed changes. Also means the pistol can be fired or cleared without the mag in place.

    • The mag safety is there to prevent firing with the magazine removed. It has no effect on the magazine dropping or not dropping.

      Again it is a safety feature, it is intended to lessen the chance of idiots having negligent discharges, when they’ve assumed that taking the magazine out has unloaded the pistol.

      Browning tried to do the hard thinking, pre emptying Bertrand Russell:

      “Most people would sooner die than think; and most of them do”.

      • “Again it is a safety feature, it is intended to lessen the chance of idiots having negligent discharges, when they’ve assumed that taking the magazine out has unloaded the pistol.”
        This was great worry for early 20th century automatic pistols designers, which solved this issue in various ways. Browning’s might be described as “if there is not magazine it will not fire”, which today is most popular.
        Le Français barrel automatically open after removing magazine and can not be closed without magazine.
        Schmeisser-Pistole (Haenel-Schmeisser) will only allow magazine removal if safety is engaged and it can’t be disengaged if magazine is missing
        Specific form of “magazine safety” is lack of detachable magazine, for example Steyr-Hahn.

        • My HiPower came from IPSC competition, I use it for NZ Service Pistol Classic Match. Load 6 rounds, fire 6 rounds, dump mag, show clear, lower hammer. As I sadly only own the one modified HiPower, I can’t really comment, but pretty sure it’s not possible to lower the hammer and show safe on a HiPower with the mag removed. Have I got that wrong?

    • FN GP35 magazine safety is all time in touch with magazine front wall and negatively effects its free drop feature. However, some overbowed sear springs also would provide some aid to the magazine safety at this ressistance. FN Herstal magazines made from 1994 onward have mouse trap springs mounted at the magazine bottom plate to overcome this feature. This is the patent of said assist device.
      https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/US5353537.pdf

  5. When Elbert Searle preapared his pistol patent which to be happened Savage 1906, obviously he tried not to infringe any Browning registered right for salvage of his pistol’s future. The trigger upright lever providing connecton with impact element when the slide at fully home was a feature of Searle’s pistol staying away of Browning’s disconnector which working with a lug on trigger bar and a counterfitting notch under the slide. And when Browning began to work for French’s News pistol demand, he had not to infringe any of Colt’s patent rights and seemingly, he preferred to use of nearly lasting Searle’s patent features. If carefully rewieved, most of Searle’s construction features can be seen in Browning’s initial HP pistol patent. Trigger disconnection is one of those. In fact, that upright trigger lever getting contact with sear release lever after the slide reaching full battery, provides more precice and secure engagement with impact element since using on cam surface to reach to full contact.

    On the other hand, one of the most critised feature of HP 35 is the magazine out safety mounted in the trigger working through rather wide surface creeping over the magazine front wall and the last sample with trigger lever swinging in the magazine well when that part out, seems reasonable. IMHO

    • It is worth nothing than Browning designed this automatic pistol in way to avoid patent infringement against… own patent, which was sold to Colt. IIRC due to this predecessor of HP – GP (Grande Puissance) has different stripping procedure and was heavier. In 1928, after patent expiration, Dieudonné Saive introduced changes.

      • Correction to my post:
        is: “(…)GP (Grande Puissance)(…)”
        should be: “(…)GR (Grande Rendement)(…)”
        And to be fair mature High-Power (Inglis High-Power) should be rather called Saive HP, than Browning HP – it was called that by FN, due to marketing reasons.

  6. RE Grant Ellis’ post. before the pistol confiscation in the UK, although a revolver man(I owned five revolvers to one semi auto) I regularly shot a browning. I took off the mag safety and flattened the spring spacer at the back of the mag well so the mags would drop free. I still have the mag safety some where.

    GHJ

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