Book Review: The 100 Greatest Combat Pistols

The 100 Greatest Combat PistolsToday we’re taking a look at the third of Tim Mullin’s hands-on firearms evaluation and testing books: The 100 Greatest Combat Pistols (the other two being on the subjects of rifles and SMGs/shotguns/machine pistols). Normally this wouldn’t be the sort of book that would grab my attention, but Mullin did an excellent job in finding many historically significant but generally unknown pistols to include in his testing.

What Mullin does is take pistols from the past 120 or so years and assess them from the point of view of military combat arms – which most of them were intended to be (though he does include some guns I would consider to be more pocket pistols or status symbols, like the CZ45 and Baby Nambu). Each gun is tested on a formal target range and what Mullin calls a “cinema range” – a training system used by police departments in which a movie of a scenario is projected onto an indoor firing range, and the shooter is required to respond to the situation as appropriate. In other words, realistic moving targets rather than static bullseyes. The two shooting scenarios are important because it is not uncommon for a gun to excel in one type of shooting, but prove sorely lacking in the other – and both type of shooting are relevant and important. In addition to this shooting evaluation, Mullin discusses the handling characteristics of each gun – elements like magazine changes (or cylinder reloading in revolvers), safety manipulation, sights, grip, and any other quirks of the gun that may become apparent.

What I like about the volume is (like I alluded to above) that Mullin has no qualms about comparing modern pieces like the Beretta 92, Glock, and Sig 226 to some pretty early designs, like the Steyr-Mannlicher 1905, C96 Mauser, various Webley revolvers, Type 14 Nambu, and others. It comes as no surprise that the modern guns are generally much better overall than the vintage ones, but it is interesting to see where some of the early pistols unexpectedly shined. One particular surprise for Mullin was the startlingly modern construction and performance of the Roth-Steyr 1907, which is mechanically pretty much a clip-fed Glock in an obsolete caliber.

Other old pistols that put forth impressive performances were the French 1873 revolver and the Webley Mk IV. Both are double-action large-bore designs, and while the 1873 is handicapped by its slow loading (it was truly excellent in its day), the Webley can still stand up today as a remarkably competitive combat handgun.

My biggest complaint with the book is that the photos are virtually all much too dark, and much of their detail is lost as a result. This actually doesn’t have a lot of practical impact on the information in the book, as the elements Mullin is concerned with are large and visible (grip profiles, safety catches, etc), but it would be a more enjoyable book to peruse is the photos were of better quality.

Overall, it is a very worthwhile volume for the person interested in shooting vintage (and modern) military handguns, and for the person looking for more insight into what soldiers of past years had to work with. It is definitely not a book written for the collector primarily interested in markings or variances. Being of reasonably recent publication, it can still be found new on Amazon without any trouble:


  1. Did this book consider Remington Model 51 pistol?
    I have heard that Model 51 have good shaped grips (when compared to WW1-era pocket pistols), but it is good or poor when compared to modern pistols?

    • Yep, he does cover the Remington 51. He (and I, and a lot of other people) really like the grip shape and angle of the 51, although its sights leave a lot to be desired by modern standards.

      • Any chance of doing an article on the with Remington 53? (A model 51 upsized to 45ACP.) If not for bad timing, it could have been adopted by the Navy and possibly the War Dept as well.

        • “it could have been adopted”
          J.D.Pedersen didn’t have luck with military weapons.
          Remington Model 53 never enter mass-production, because Colt Government just enter mass-production.
          Pedersen Device entered production, but WW1 ended before devices can be delivered
          Pedersen rifle was never adopted, because .276 Pedersen round was rejected

        • I would like to, but I want to find some new info on the design first. A really good set of photos, or a manual, or something along those lines, so I can do a bit more than just recap what is already available out there on the net.

      • “its sights leave a lot to be desired by modern standards”
        On the other hand remember that Model 51 is pocket pistol – thousands of hours in pocket and few minutes in action.
        BTW: How hard/easy is field-stripping of Model 51? I know that for example grips aren’t mounted by screw, due to Browning’s patent restriction.
        Did Mullin book consider ease of field-stripping?

      • The Remington 51 is an extrordinary little pistol, but taking it down for cleaning is a nightmare. This is why you find so many nice looking examples with rotted out bores. Not many people cleaned their Remington 51 barrels in the corrosive ammunition era for fear of never getting the pistol back together again.

        The Savage autopistols, on the other hand, were easy to open up for barrel cleaning. This is why you find so many Savage pistols with nice bores, even if their exteriors suggests they lived hard lives.

        There is a moral to this: Firearms functionality extends beyond just usage to repair and maintenance.

        • “Firearms functionality extends beyond just usage to repair and maintenance.”
          It can change rating on some pistols. For example TT-33 has rather poor grip ergonomic but is easy to field-stripping due to trigger-hammer module. Price of production should also be considered.

          As far as I know all Pedersen firearms have awkward field stripping. J.D.Pedersen can be described as Rube Goldberg of firearms industry.

  2. I love the way my model 51 handles! It fits my hand not only better than the pocket pistols of that era, but of modern pistols also.

    The safety lever is too small for my taste. Not that I recommend it today, but I bet a lot were carried cocked and unlocked, depending on the grip safety and heavy trigger pull to prevent ADs.

    I would prefer it with a larger, more conveniently placed safety, and a lighter trigger pull. And of course, these 57 year old eyes require larger sights.

  3. I was struck by the Roth-Steyr ’07’s searage resemblance to the Glock a long time ago. What really surprised me, though, was reading (in F.C. Myatt’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of 19th Century Firearms) that the ’07 was issued to the British Royal Flying Corps during World War One.

    The convolutions by which a pistol, made by one of the Central Powers for their own army, and firing a non-(British) standard cartridge to boot, ended up in the RFC inventory must have been interesting to say the least.



    • Roth Steyr 07 – Glock resemblance
      Roth Steyr 07 has 31 parts, Glock 17 has 34 parts.
      It don’t mean that Roth Steyr 07 is easier (cheaper) in production than Glock. Note that “how many parts” is poor indicator of price of production, “hours necessary to produce” is better indicator.

  4. Roth Steyr and Steyr M1912 even more are wonders of simple and effective design – very few parts, really simple field stripping (for 1912). While clip fed design is obsolete now, don’t forget that users of period pistols did not have a luxury of having a dozen mags, so for any more shooting then two mags clips were actually better option – slightly longer reload, but much faster reload once you run out of mags. Ofc, fact that you could not loose mags also helped a lot, in WW1 conditions you could not count on spares to arrive in time.
    Realistically M1912 was better then Luger (that is quite dirt sensitive and can go off due the semi-exposed trigger link), of WW1 service pistols only M1911 was better. Mauser C-96 and Bergmann 1910 were good, but were too large and had bad balance.

    • “clip fed”
      This is a safety. Steyr 1912 enter service in heydays of revolvers so people think that when a magazine is removed from pistol it is absolutely safe (as revolver with emptied cylinder), but they were leaving round in barrel so pistols were ready to shot. It did cause many wounds. Steyr have not magazine so it’s impossible.
      Moreover the clip is lighter than magazine so you can bring more clips that magazine.
      Additionally it is clear that clip is full or empty.

      • Daweo,

        I don’t know how old you are, but if young, as I guess,
        on very good track for that level( I’m at 69). Please
        go on your way.

        Most of early pistols follow the sliding breechbolt
        rifle construction in a shrinked form, and clip feed is
        a continuation of said form, but your pointing out about
        safety is a very good point.

        All American pistols after blowback Colt .32″ ACP which
        is a Browning design, had to be arranged in a separate
        breechbolt construction since unitary form slide with
        an integrated breechbolt was included in a Browning
        patent. Savage 1905, SW 35, and Remington 51 were all
        designed in that style and, excepting the good grip
        angle and shape, Remington 51 can be described as,”Much
        ado about nothing”, since the intriqued “Hesitate”
        action is nearly useless for a round safely usable in
        simple blowback action. Its inital blowback at first
        stage with a breechbolth separeted from barrel, also
        increases the felt recoil as compared with true locked
        breech pistols.

        Regarding to Roth Steyr 1907, though including fewer
        pieces, its parts and lay out is so odd shaped and hard
        to build. Partial cock members were a cocktail of hammer
        and striker construction, its disconnecting was finger
        kicking kind.

        As for Steyr 1912, though having really simple and
        sturdy construction and wisely designed field strip
        taking the pistol on much steps forward of Colt 1905
        having the same type start, it still had weak points
        especially on impact members as no half cock notch on
        hammer against to slippage on manual cocking, and
        hammer blocking manual safety which was sensible on
        material wear.

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