The Browning High Power story begins with a French 1921 request for a new military pistol. FN engineer Dieudonné Saive developed a double stack, single feed magazine and John Browning adapted a Browning 1903 pistol to use it, and this was sent to France for consideration. This pistol worked well enough, but the French trials board requested changes…and they would continue requesting changes and more trials for the next decade.
By 1931, FN felt that the current iteration of the pistol – while still not meeting all the French requirements – was good enough to stand on its own as a service pistol for the Belgian Army and other clients. They named it the “Grand Rendement” (High Efficiency) and began marketing it. The Belgian Army showed a definite interest, and bought 1,000 pistols for field trials, based on the prototype example we have in today’s video. These would become the Grande Puissance, aka the High Power.
For more details on this and other FN Browning pistols, I highly recommend Anthony Vanderlinden’s “FN Browning Pistols”, soon to be released in its third edition.
The Browning M35 “Hi Power” is unquestionably the greatest pistol ever made
For its era, I would have to agree.
However, it’s been eclipsed by later designs.
Personally, I think that you could say that the Luger was the greatest pistol of the 1890s, the Colt 1911 was the greatest pistol of the 1900s, the Hi Power was the greatest pistol of the 1930s, and I’d have to give the 1970s to the CZ-75. Glock would get my vote for the 1980s, and there’s so much to choose from these days, I’d be hard-pressed to pick one out.
There’s also the whole issue of manufacturing and affordability. The Hi Power is a creature of the mid-20th Century Belgian arms industry, with its “human CNC” machinery, and once those guys retired, the whole thing became unaffordable to make.
Nothing is forever, and if you can’t manufacture something affordably, well…
It’s certainly a quality pistol, and JMB is certainly among the greatest designers, but just think if they’d left the HP at original capacity instead of shaving off a couple of ounces by elimination of two rounds I might need. Furthermore, Dieudonne Saive gave the original fish rifle, the FN-49.
Running the trigger linkage through the frame to evade Browning’s own patents doesn’t strike me as a greatest pistol ever made signifier. It’s a good gun, but the greatest ever? Significant, perhaps the best of its era, likely the best of the 2nd WW, but certainly bested by the CZ-75 and utterly replaced by the onslaught of plastic WonderNines.
Bloke on the Range has posted two recent videos on the headaches caused by his High-Power, namely the magazine safety and that self-same trigger linkage. Don’t know if Vanderlinden’s book says different, but the biography I own by JMB’s son says that JMB came up with the trigger link to double as an out-of-battery safety, and was quite proud of it. (No mention of avoiding one’s own patent.) My associated guess is he resorted to it to avoid using the wide stirrup trigger around the fat magazine. Incidentally if that link operated directly on a striker up in the slide, rather than a sear lever in the frame to trip the hammer, I’ll bet it would have had a nice crisp pull and break. I think I read that JMB disapproved of the double-stack mag and had to have it proven to him that it worked reliably. The bio also says that JMB ditched the swinging link for the diagonal cam in search of simpler manufacture, but I note that one of the Spanish copyists (gun seen here on this channel and website) had managed that feat around 1922.
Note to other commenters: I agree: Greatest pistol of the ’30s through perhaps the 1950s. The S & W 39 and 59 I think are in the running for best of the ’60s, the 59 actually being the first double-stack double action wonder-nine, unless I’ve misremembered something, say from Astra or Star. SIG-Sauer 220/229 needs a vote in there, and I also have a personal bias toward the late lamented P7, complexity issues aside.
Thanks as usual to Mr. M. for both gun and story.
Trigger linkage in the breech was a novel invention of “ Elbert Hamilton Searle” well known as the designer of “Savage 1906” pistol… US Patent. 985837.
In fact… Most of “Searle’s” patent features were repeated in Browning’s 1927 patent.
Ian talks about a man with name “seif”. I found him – he is presenting laws of thermodynamics. Not entirely useless to watch; guns are also subject to thermodynamics. They convert chemical to thermal to mechanical energy MINUS loses, right. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HfQgFK3odM
Now what the guy in FN has to do with it? His name was not “seif” but SAIVE (read s-a-i-v-e-h). Eh, minor transgression, no sweat; the contents is GREAT and that is what counts. Contents trumps the form.
Native Belgian French speaker here, Ian has quite improved on French pronunciation. Even though he trips several times on Saive here.
Okay, this is something we all need to know. Is it “Sive” like “hive”, or “Save”, like “gave”?
I’ve heard “Saai-vey” from supposed native Belgians. I’ve also heard “saave”.
Regional differences in pronunciation, maybe?
Hell, you go and ask someone how they say their own name, a lot of times, and when you go to use that with “native speakers” of their tongue, they’ll correct your pronunciation, telling you snootily “WE do not say it like that…” Then, when you tell them that so-and-so, who is also a native of their land DOES say it like that, they’ll have the balls to tell you that that person isn’t saying their own name right…
All you can do is smile, grit your teeth, and make the attempt. Names are things you should absolutely strive to get right, but you can’t possibly make everyone happy. I swear to God, there are some people who will insist on you being wrong, even changing their own name’s pronunciation, just to have one over on you.
Like Arkansas the river and state, as this non-local has heard a few times.
Or St. Lewis, Missouri. Not St. Louee.
Regarding regional differences in pronunciation, do not forget that mother tongue of native Belgians could be french, flemish (dutch dialects) or german, or a mix of any of those
english speakers should go for “Save”, like “gave”
As there is no accent on the final “e”, it is silent. I think the correct pronunciation would be similar to “sev”.
Mind you, that’s French, the Belgians might have their own take.
Some “saif” here or “saif” there is not a big deal. What really pulls my ears is Breeda – Bereeda instead of Breda – Beretta. Sorry, but hat is a capital ignorance. I’d expect better than that from otherwise educated Ian.
Same with mispronunciation on some techno-historical channels such as “mesher-smith” instead of Messerschmitt. In such case I stop listening and go away. It shows boorishness of the speaker.
As side note, during Great War Dieudonné Saive was working in Great Britain
now I wonder if he had some problems to make his coworker speak his name right.
In Russian language (where foreign name are written-as-heard) his name is written as Сэв
A side question on the new Hi power.
You have shot a great number of guns, old hi powers included.
I would be highly interested in your opinion of the new HP.
The hand detachable lock, a French requirement.
That is interesting
Wonder whether there are any of the later French trials guns still stashed away in French state collections?
Along with Petter’s trials guns.
It’s interesting to go back and look at how the French consistently used their trials to get other people to do their R&D for them, promising vast contracts that never really materialized. They did it with rifles, LMGs, HMGs, and just about everything. The really surprising thing about the FAMAS is just how much of that design was purely French, but by the point they were doing that procurement, everyone was on to their tricks.
If the French had run true to form, they’d have had HK show them the 416, and then there would have been this “mysterious masked contender” from one of their arsenals… That looked just like the 416, but with French embellishments.
They seem to have gotten that out of their systems, but in so doing, lost the ability to produce their own small arms. Which probably isn’t a good thing, because Ian’s next book is going to be all about the “French variants” of things like the 416 and the MAG58. The unique flavor and heritage of French small arms will vanish, beyond the merest dash of Gallic spice thrown over whatever foreign weapon they adopt.
Given the lack of significance of small arms improvements of the last 70 years on the battlefield, and the ease of copying other countries’ small arms w/ modern manufacturing techniques, France is probably wise to invest her efforts into the more technological aspects of modern warfare, which she is quite adept at.
I have a GP 35 with a serial # 7174 all Belgian with tangent rear sight and slotted for shoulder holster. Can you tell me the year of production for the serial numbered pistol. Thankd
Without further details on markings it’s hard to date an HP from serial #. Different contracts would often have their own serial # ranges as requested by the customer. “All Belgian” meaning the gun is made in Belgium? Or that is’s Belgian military contract? Personally don’t know about Belgian military serials. AFAIK best way to date an older high power without the “FN Browning Pistols” book is to search for information about the proof marks and slide serrations. Asking on highpowercollectors would be good too.
What was the ground out area on the right side of the slide for? I assume it lines up with the pin for easier disassembly.
Well guessed, that’s exactly its purpose
I have only owned one high power and it was new in 2006 and didn’t have one. From the location that was the only thing I could think of. Probably one of the things the French wanted during their testing.
Early example of “value engineering”, that.
I had a pre-WWII civilian-sale version of the Hi Power in my hands, once. That was a very finely-made and fitted pistol, far different than the wartime models, the Inglis ones, or anything after the war that I’ve ever seen.
Not precisely the same as one of the presentation-grade pre-war Lugers, but very, very nice.
I own a Polish P 35 that my Father in law brought back after WW2. It is the pistol the Polish made after their test and they realized that they had the wrong idea and “copied” the high power after FN showed it to them twice. It is a single stack with a trigger more like the 1911. It is a real shooter. Back when I was young (35-40) I used to shoot it at 100 yards at a B-27 target. I would aim at the neck and consistently hit it in the X ring area. That was weaver stance…
The High Power I owned back in 2006 had a tangent sight and I used to be an IHMSA shooter and planned to test it at 2-300 yards. Unfortunately before I was able to I suffered a stroke. It took over two years before I shot another match. I still shoot Glock matches and PPC, but my good days are gone. I’ll never stop shooting, if there comes a day that they check me in to a nursing home I’ll ask where the indoor range is. I will turn 81 on September 4th.
You forgot to mention that he died before updating the pistol. I loved watching the history channel documentaries about him.
Side question: the world’s firearm designers when noticed (the advantages of) the linkless tilting barrel system? “Hey, there is a novel and better solution than the M1911-styled swinging link, why we not use it?”
Timeline of the major desings:
Browning Hi-Power → linkless
TT30 & TT33 → swinging link
Radom Vis 1935 → linkless
Model 1935A & 1935S → swinging link
SIG P210 → linkless
MAC Mle 1950 → swinging link
Regarding linkess, this https://www.forgottenweapons.com/early-ruby-45-acp-pistol/ might be interesting for your timeline.
Wow! Thanks! 🙂
So the linkless tilting barrel system is not an invention of J.M. Browning or Dieudonné Saive? Or the idea was existed and known in 1924?
In Small Arms of the World 9th edition, there is a photo of a French trials HP in 7.65 Long. It has what is clearly a Walther P.38-type double-action searage with the drawbar on the right side of the frame.
Is it safe to assume that this came near the end of the “independent” French development line sometime around 1933-35?