C93 Borchardt: the First Successful Self-Loading Pistol at RIA

Hugo Borchardt was a brilliant and well-traveled firearms designer. He was born in Germany but emigrated to the United States at a fairly young age, where he became engaged in the gun trade. He spent time working with Winchester, Remington (where he patented improvements on James Paris Lee’s box magazine idea), and Sharps (where he designed the M1878 rifle and worked as Superintendent). With this experience under his belt, he returned to Germany and worked with the Loewe/DWM corporation.

Borchardt’s seminal invention in Germany was his C93 automatic pistol, which was the first of its kinds using a reasonably powerful cartridge and a locked-breech action. Unlike the other designs extant at the time, the C93 went into commercial production, and 3000 were ultimately made. The gun was safe and reliable, and it set the standard for locating a detachable box magazine in the grip, which remains the standard today. However, its very bulky mainspring assembly led to it being a rather awkward handgun to use (although it was a quite nice carbine when used with its detachable shoulder stock).

Borchardt’s talents came hand-in-hand with a fair amount of hubris, and he refused to consider the possibility that his pistol could be improved. Several military trials requested a smaller and handier version of the gun, and when Borchardt refused to make those changes, DWM gave the job to a man named Georg Luger. Luger was very good at taking existing designs and improving them, and he transformed the basic action of the C93 into the Luger automatic pistol, which of course became one of the most iconic handguns ever made.

39 Comments

  1. Thanks Ian and RIA for the video. I have a reproduction American Luger and reading on that I’d encountered line drawings of the C93 but that’s the first one I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly larger than I could tell from the drawing.

    • In 1890s people were impressed with new smokeless powder, it make possible to send bullet at high velocity which give better accuracy, designer try to figure out how many can be achieved. Notice 7.65×25 Borchardt is much faster than then used revolver cartridges.

      “The gun was safe and reliable, and it set the standard for locating a detachable box magazine in the grip, which remains the standard today.”
      Yes, notice that earlier repeating pistol with magazine in grip exist – Brun Latrige pistol: http://www.peashooter85.com/post/39799389060/the-brun-latrige-pistol-patented-in-1868-but-not

  2. ” However, its very bulky mainspring assembly led to it being a rather awkward handgun to use (although it was a quite nice carbine when used with its detachable shoulder stock).”
    Where is point of center-of-gravity? Forward from grip, inside grip or backward from grip?
    Also its external appearance reminds me ADLER automatic pistol:
    http://milpas.cc/rifles/ZFiles/Pistols/Semi-auto%20Pistols/Adler%20Semi-Auto/Adler%20Semi-Auto.html
    Mechanically it is different (ADLER is blow-back), but I am curious: that shape similarity is intentional or coincidental?

    • The balance point of the C93 is just over the grip; that mainspring housing is counterbalanced by the long barrel.

      While not a first choice for instinctive fire, in deliberate fire at range, with or without a shoulder stock, the Borchardt is quite accurate.

      Note that at least one or two were made experimentally with selective-fire capability. I don’t know if extended magazines were made.

      But imagine one with something like a Trommelmagazin 08. Talk about the ultimate “steampunk” machine pistol.

      cheers

      eon

      • I heard that the Army tested a select-fire Borchardt during the trials (according to Ezell), but I believe that they used standard magazines. A retired dealer-friend of mine claims to have seen one of the select-fire Borchardts in the possession of the widow of a local war hero, along with a presentation letter from General Dwight Eisenhower. I can’t confirm this, but the guy was a very advanced collector; (think Walker-Hepburn, 1 of 1000 Winchester, and Creedmore Sharps kind) very knowledgeable and not prone to BS. The way he broached the subject was that he asked me if I’d ever heard of one, and what did I think it was worth. I told him about the Ezell book and that it was entirely possible such a pistol could have wound up in Ike’s collection and subsequently presented to this individual, as it is known that they were politically connected. Since it was made before 1898, it would be interesting to know the NFA status of such a pistol, especially considering its rarity. I begged to see it, but he said that the owner was a very private person and not interested in selling, so I let it drop.

  3. Writers are too quick to attribute the ‘bulky’ rear housing to the coil mainspring. It does house that, but it also contains a circular cam race that the two rollers on the rear of the Borchardt rear toggle link bear against, thus opening the toggle lock. Luger’s re-design did away with the roller toggle and used the frame ramps and toggle knobs to open the action. Luger also shortened the 7.65mm Borchardt cartridge to make his re-designed grip and magazine shorter so that shooters with short fingers wouldn’t have to grasp it with both hands.

    Borchardt was an inventor; Luger was a streamliner. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • “Borchardt was an inventor; Luger was a streamliner.”
      Inventing skill is one, simplifying/improving skill is another.
      For analog case to Borchardt-Luger see DShK which was DK machine gun designed by Degtyarev and improved by Shpagin and DT – again Degtyarev/Shpagin work.

    • The semicircular plate with the screw holding it above the trigger guard on the left side helps secure the front end of the sear bar, I believe.

      Note also the “three-quarter circle” trigger. I’ve always suspected that he main purpose of this on the Borchardt and Parabellum was to keep the shooter’s finger from being pinched between the top of the trigger and the inside of the guard. As someone who’s been “bitten” this way by revolver triggers a few times, I can understand the motivation.

      cheers

      eon

        • Borchardt trigger has no axis pin. The semicircular plate seeming over the trigger guard is the plate covering the archial trigger mmotion guide in which the counterfitting trigger upper half moon acts. There is a cammed tip at rear of that half moon and it presses the lateraly moving sear tip inwards to release the striker when the trigger exerted backwards. The semicircular plate under screw mount, closes the trigger upper half moon and also closes the upper receiver front way out. Disassembly process begins with unscrewing the retaining screw of this plate and taking it out of the handle receiver.

  4. Borchardt seems to have fallen to the same pride issue that befell many. In his mind, the gun he made was at the top of its game because he couldn’t bear to modify it any further. His methods were tried and true, but he forgot to stay objective to the idea of exploration of other possibilities before ruling those possibilities out. Inventor’s pride can be quite nasty…

    The United States Army Ordinance Board asserted that the Browning M2 could not be scaled up to create a good auto-cannon. The members had seen the development of the original M2 through and concluded that it was best not to test the limitations of their materials at hand. However, the engineers working for the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service had no knowledge of the “impossibility” and after making the Ho-103 (a copy of the Browning M1921), eventually created the 20mm Ho-5 and then scaled it up to the 30mm Ho-155. Sadly, I think most of the blueprints got destroyed… Or am I wrong?

      • Just before World War Two, I think. We discussed this matter in the commentary section of a Vintage Photo article with French machine gunners. In any case, the ultra-conservative nature of the Ordinance Board was a double edged sword. Hare-brained ideas like the rod-bayonet for the initial batch of M1903 Springfield rifles seldom made it to the front lines but great ideas like Browning’s initial offer of his recoil-operated machine guns to the army sometimes got thrown out the window just because America was isolationist between the Spanish-American War’s end and Pearl Harbor. Did I flub anything?

        • “Did I flub anything?”
          http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/CAL90.html states that:
          “An official source refers to the gun action having been based on the Browning 37mm AA gun, which confirms that it was a long-recoil type (Colt did suggest in October 1938 scaling-up the Browning short-recoil action of the .50 cal MG instead [for .90 T1 (23x146SR) cartridge], but this was not accepted)”

          So Colt engineers also consider scaling up of this design as feasible

          • Yeah, but that was for anti tank purposes. Colt should have built a prototype of the M2 in 20mm and perfected it before offering to the army… That would make it harder to say that “it can’t be done.” Or am I wrong?

    • George Chinn wrote an analysis about the “impossibilty” of scaling the M2 up to 20mm. This is discussed on page 229 of Volume III. He basically writes that the oil buffer spring would have to be so strong that charging the gun manually would be nearly impossible, and a mechanical charger would be extremely bulky. I’m not sure how the Japanese solved this issue, or if they solved it.

      • Apart from the lack of a back-plate latch, the Ho-5 disassembles in the same manner as the Browning M2, so somehow somebody got the system to work at that particular scale. Perhaps softened powder charging and a less massive projectile than one would expect contributed to the Browning action becoming capable of handling such a stressful role.

          • Hmm… It appears that the muzzle velocity is 2304 feet per second for armor piercing rounds. It can punch through 7/8″ of steel plate at 20 degrees of deflection at 200 yards. No shell weight was found in the Lone Sentry article, much to my disappointment. Cyclic rate is 950 rounds per minute, so I don’t think anyone should try air jousting against the Nakajima Ki-84…

    • Cherndog:

      Unless there is actual evidence of his thoughts, I don’t think anyone should presume that Borchardt was too proud or made some sort of “mistake” in not developing the Borchardt into what was primarily a handgun. That to some extent is a type of historical revisionism, presuming there was a reason when there is no proof it was. Or is there proof? He was 53 years old at the time and may have been burnt out with the concept or bored with it. It is possible that he was just not that interested in this line of development anymore and preferred someone else, maybe a bit younger, Luger was 5 years younger, to carry on with it. The Swiss wanted a pure handgun and did not want a stocked weapon, yet DWM then tried to develope a carbine version that was as “clumsy” as the C93. The “Luger” required a very significant amount of design work to perfect.

  5. Many years ago, a friend told me that he had a C93 with serial number “2”. He bought it off of some little old lady who had it in her attic. It’s “in the white”. He keeps it in a safe deposit box, and will sell it for his kid’s education. I don’t know if he still has it.

  6. Thanks Ian. I ran across a gun show table holder acquaintance back in the 70’s in Houston that had one. He had paid $1,800.00 for it and that was in the seventies! About that time a stocked and cased Borchardt was going for around 3,500.00. He let me handle it and the workmanship was superb and as you indicate, it was a practical working semi-auto, but alas without a market for the design. It has been the only time I have ever been able to examine one.
    I am guessing that Borchardt was probably just tired of fooling with it an wanting to move on. Once you have put your heart and soul into something and made it come to fruition it’s hard to take criticism of one’s “baby”. To Borchardt the pistol probably was what it was. Better to leave it as is and move on to something else more interesting and let someone else start work “fresh”.

    • Agreed. This is why multiple developers collaborate on such projects. There are more paths to try and rejects are discovered sooner rather than much later.

  7. It might be fun to cobble together some Luger parts with made up parts to make a “model” “mock up” Borchardt. Most of us are never going to be lucky enough to own one butit would look great on the wall.
    While I am having great fun with real antique guns of course, a lot of the pleasure just comes from seeing the the more exotic, rare types on the wall and occasionally taking them down, not to mention a good conversation getter. Sets a great ambiance in a room at a very low cost. I have had built an MP 18, 1895 Colt, and a Chauchat that way and enjoy them immensely
    Right now a friend of mine is making me up a Lewis Ground Gun and a single barrel Nordenfelt with a “working” action. I think I will use a .45 caliber springfield barrel.
    The Borchardt would be a worthy project.

  8. Clumsy the most common description I’ve heard about the Borchardt pistol’s handling. The comment beginning at the top of this thread about the center of gravity being above the grip tells it all. The ones I handled struck me as being neutrally balanced, that is I couldn’t keep the sights on target, they keep wandering off. Kind of surprising as Mr. Borchardt also designed the 1878 Sharps-Borchardt rifle, a highly accurate gun. He must of knew something of what we now call the human-engineering, that needs to go into a weapon that is accurate to hand fire.
    The Borchardt, like the follow-on Luger was always precision built. Of the examples I’ve handled, all the parts move with an oily smoothness, but have no discernible side-to-side movement. Usually when fired from a machine rest they shoot very tight groups.
    Some years ago, an engineering friend of mine decided the 3D-CAD model both the Borchardt pistol and the P08 Luger Pistol.
    He had to hand measure a borrowed Borchardt, but had copies of vintage Luger drawings to work from. His conclusion was that many of the major parts would nearly interchange, in that various rails, grooves, and threads were identical. This makes sense in that when DWM finished producing the Borchard and transitioned into the M1900 Luger, they must have used as much of the Borchardt’s fixtures, cutters, and machine tools as possible. That may have been one of the conditions management gave to Luger.

    • Jim:
      I think Borchardt may have seen the value of the C 93 as a pistol carbine, not as a replacement for the conventional handgun. To redesign it as a primary pistol alone may have seemed counter intuitive to Borchardt…he may have been somewhat ahead of the curve regarding that. Note that it was the awkward Artillery P08 that supplemented the 4″ P-08 and proved to be a much superior combat weapon until replaced by the submachine gun. I don’t think anyone considers the P-08 Artillery an ideal pistol either but it run rings around the 4″Luger as a practical fighting weapon.
      The photograph of Dr. Carl Peters carrying his C 93 is I think illustrative. The Rifle was the primary weapon, however the pistol carbine gave the wearer significant firepower if needed against multiple opponents whose attack was anticipated. However in a pinch it could be used as a handgun.
      No handgun is a war winner. By the time the semi auto pistol was perfected, any real need for it had passed and it primarily became a very secondary weapon at least until the advent of modern high tech semi auto pistols. Perhaps the British sticking to cheap rugged revolvers made the most sense. Notice that American police depts stayed with the revolver well into the 70’s. Even with the decision to make the C 93 a pistol first and a carbine far, far second, the German Army would not adopt the Luger for fifteen years.
      There is no question the C 96 was better than the Borchardt, but it is interesting that the C 96 was more carbine than pistol also with virtually the same cartridge and the cartridge itself would be one of the top military cartridges for 60 years.
      In 1898 The Treasury Department, after constituting a board and listening to eight witnesses, including an expert from Winchester, determined the Borchardt to be a Carbine, hence a rifle, as it was primary designed to be fired with the shoulder stock, not a pistol and as a result incurred customs duty as a rifle.
      Treasury Decisions Under Customs and Other Laws, Volume 2; Volume 34 at pages 41-42 June 30, 1898. The narrative is short but very, very interesting as it deals with the weapons primary purpose. It’s in google books.

  9. The last time I was in Damascus I went to the small Army Museum. There’s a well worn Borchardt in the World War I case, along with a few other handguns of the period.

    They were displayed in a bucket, like a bunch of umbrellas in a hall stand.

    I wonder where they are now?

    • Staghound:

      What a story that Borchardt might tell. Presuming a Turkish connection or a German officer associated with the Turks. Hmm, makes me wonder if it might not be for sale considering what is going in Damascus. No military markings so it would be an easy import, right?
      Of course if the Rebels take over it might appear in the market again, ISIS would probably sell it…there is always opportunity in chaos.

      • Time for Ian to take a trip to Syria and do some videos at an ISIS stockpile.

        “We’re here today at the ISIS Auction House looking at a couple historical pistols. If you’d like to check out their stuff just come on down to Syria and give it a peak. Tell them Ian sent you and you’ll get a 15% discount on all looted firearms and artifacts. I’m being told by the angry looking man to the left of me to let you guys know that you should praise Allah or be destroyed with the rest of the western pigs. Now here we have a well worn C93 Borchardt pistol…”

  10. The C93 is indeed a nice carbine. I own one, rather beat and reblued which I have fired. As a handgun it is awkward . It is necessary to reduce the load of the 7.63 x25 round to safely use this pistol. While my experience with this weapon is limited to a few hundred rounds, I think I can say it always worked well but its inferior to the Mauser C96 or the Artillery P08.

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