Finland’s Browning High Power Rig

Finland used a variety of FN pistols prior to WW2, and had already evaluated the High Power when Russian invaded and the Winter War began. With an urgent need for more arms, Finland ordered a batch of High Power pistols, which FN was happy to include with the other arms orders already being delivered to Finland. In total, the Finns bought 2,400 of them, with 900 delivered in February 1940 and 1,500 in March 1940. All of them were bought as rigs with leather holsters riveted to flat board shoulder stocks (note that a Finnish pistol with a Finnish-contract original stock is exempted form the NFA in the US, and need not be registered as a short-barreled rifle).

This delivery schedule meant that only a few were available in time to be used in the Winter War, and they saw much greater use in the Continuation War. They were particularly appreciated by the Finnish Air Force as pistol survival weapons. This is often misinterpreted to mean that they were exclusively used by the Air Force; in fact the quantity of Finnish aircraft was small enough that only a small fraction of the pistols were issued to pilots.

Finnish contract pistols have serial numbers falling between 11,000 and 15,000 (and not all guns in that range are Finnish). The stocks were marked in large numbers with the serial number of the gun, although matching rigs are quite scarce today. Some, but not all, were later marked “SA” by the Finnish Army. During the continuation War some of the holsters were separated form the stocks, and some of the pistols had new square front sights put on (a common Finnish preference, done to Lugers as well).

About 40% of the High Powers were lost or rendered unserviceable by the end of the Continuation War. The remainder were kept in service until the 1980s, when they were replaced by the Browning Double Action and slowly sold as surplus.


  1. Just a week ago a friend of mine took hold of a Finnish HP in similar condition, with a matching holster and stock (the stock actually should have TWO serial numbers, one with big digits in wood and another, in smaller digits on top of the stock attachment), and the pistol has got no [SA] markings – while both holster and stock do sport them. The story with it is of course an Air Force gun, albeit with a twist: the pistol was bought by the Continuation War-era owner from the govt, and thus only the accoutrments were still govt-owned and so marked. Si non e vero – bene trovato, as they reportedly say in Italy (=if not true – then at least sounds good).

  2. Pistols are dangerous items. Very easy to have an accident with one. Military pistols are designed to kill with one shot. So they can and do!

    I was delighted to be offered an AR15 which I could clip to my driver’s seat under my legs.

    • Actually, military pistols are mainly designed to be easily learned by personnel who have had little or no prior knowledge of weapons. They are normally issued to personnel other than infantry who only rarely require a weapon.

      The “kill with one shot” idea was typical of militaries in the Imperial age of the last half of the 19th Century, when British officers had to be able to protect themselves from irritated Dervishes and angry Zulus, and American cavalrymen needed something that could drop a horse- including their own if the alternative was being dragged half a mile or so.

      The main reason the Beretta M9 9mm replaced the M1911A1 .45 in U.S. service in the mid-1980s was not that it was a better “killer”. In fact, .45 ACP and 9mm NATO get about the same results. The real reason was that (1) the M1911s in inventory dated to WW2 and were nearly worn out, and (2) the double-action Beretta could be learned faster than the single-action 1911 could be. Unfortunately, the M9 turned out to be a poor choice from a durability standpoint.

      The fact that the FN HP has always had a magazine safety tells us that it was designed less on the basis of being a “better killer” than on that of being less likely to cause injuries when being unloaded after a range session by typical conscript personnel.

      The same holds true of Smith & Wesson automatics from the original Model 39 (designed for an Army competition in 1953) down to the Fourth Generation, all of which had magazine safeties except for the FBI-specific Model 1016.

      Pistols in military use were supposed to be replaced by Personal Defense Weapons (PDWs). There is still an ongoing debate as to whether or not weapons firing the centerfire ballistic analogues of the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (5.7 x 28 FN, 4.6 x 30 HK) are any real improvement over pistols. (IMPO, they aren’t, and a KelTec PMR-30 pistol actually chambering .22 WMRF is a better and cheaper alternative.)

      It says a great deal that after testing such PDWs, the U.S. Army replaced the unsatisfactory Beretta M9 with the SiG 320 aka M17 and M18. Which is basically a polymer-framed rendition of the Browning High Power 9mm, minus the magazine safety.

      When it comes to having a “one-shot kill” capability, the militaries of the world tend to issue…rifles.

      clear ether


      • “(…)FN HP has always had a magazine safety(…)”
        Said fire-arm design was provoked by French 1920s requirements for new service pistol
        – the arm must be compact
        – the magazine have a capacity of at least 10 rounds
        – the gun have a magazine disconnect device, an external hammer, and a positive safety
        – the gun be robust and simple to disassemble and reassemble
        – the gun be capable of killing a man at 50 metres
        – a caliber of 9 mm or larger
        – a bullet mass of around 8 grams (123.5 grains)
        – a muzzle velocity of 350 m/s (1148 ft/s)
        – a weight not exceeding 1 kg (2.2 lb)
        For more data see
        Browning’s initial design was rejected as it failed to be hammer-fired, series of alterations were applied, which lead to High Power as known today. French military elected to not adopt it, ending with another 1935 namely which also do have magazine disconnect with accordance to requirements.
        As side note that French military 1930s seems to be prejudiced against foreign-designed weapons.

        • Every army on earth tends to suffer from the “NIH” (Not Invented Here) syndrome. And not just “foreign” designs; anything outside of their own in-house Ordnance corps was generally anathema, even if it was “domestic”.

          The British Army went so far as to develop the horrifically bad and resoundingly unsuccessful 1880 MK I Enfield .476 revolver simply to avoid paying royalties to either Webley & Sons or Smith & Wesson for a more sensibly designed top-break, simultaneous automatic-ejecting revolver. Owen Jones, the American patentee, was rather well known for impractical firearms designs over here.

          Here, eighty years later, the Army Ordnance corps resorted to outright and deliberate sabotage to prevent the AR15 from being adopted instead of their “in-house” M14. Every “problem” with the M16 and M16A1 can be directly traced to Ordnance deliberately trying to destroy the usefulness of the rifle and the troops’ confidence in it.

          Several Ordnance officers should have gotten the George Talcott treatment for that debacle’; at least a few should have been hanged (literally).

          clear ether


          • Eon said:

            “Here, eighty years later, the Army Ordnance corps resorted to outright and deliberate sabotage to prevent the AR15 from being adopted instead of their “in-house” M14. Every “problem” with the M16 and M16A1 can be directly traced to Ordnance deliberately trying to destroy the usefulness of the rifle and the troops’ confidence in it.

            Several Ordnance officers should have gotten the George Talcott treatment for that debacle’; at least a few should have been hanged (literally).”

            Eon, if this narrative were all that we had, a thousand years from now, to winkle out the various ins and outs of American small arms procurement fiascoes of the late 20th Centuries…? I’d have some issues with it.

            For one thing, the M14 and the 7.62 NATO cartridge were already settled on when the AR-15 came on the scene. The two weapons were never competitors for procurement together; the AR-10 was a very late entrant to that competition, and while it arguably was the superior weapon to both the FAL and the T44, it was never seriously considered due to the misadventures with the composite barrel.

            When SCHV and the AR-15 came on the scene, that was a reaction to the by-then obviously failed M14/7.62 NATO issue. The M14 turned out to be a bit of a bitch to actually produce on old M1 machinery without John C. Garand around to keep it working, and the 7.62 NATO individual weapon concept proved unworkable when set against the Soviet intermediate cartridge in jungle combat. Where the sabotage of the M16 really came in was with regards to Ordnance being outraged that an end-run had been done around their bureaucracy, and their desire to keep the OICW program viable for future procurement. You can ascribe a lot of what happened with the AR-15 as being due to “NIH”, it being an interim weapon, solely for Vietnam (seen then as a backwater conflict of no true import…), and the OICW as being the “superior in every way solution” for Ordnance.

            In other words, what you’re saying here is conflating several different things that happened over the space of decades, arguably starting in the immediate aftermath of WWII, and ending with the destruction of Springfield Arsenal by MacNamara.

            Kinda. I can still see a continuing, ongoing problem with regards to small arms procurement going on to this day, with NGSW. It’s not a small arms program so much as it’s a continuing rolling chaotic response to crisis after crisis, without any sign of an overall “program” anywhere in the course of events.

        • 1076 was the “civilian” equivalent, the original FBI issue was 1016 to distinguish it from the regular 1006.

          If you’re confused, welcome to the club.



          • Smith & Wesson model variation and numbering schemes are works of Satan, in my estimation. As are many of their automatic pistol designs…

            As the owner of one of the first Model 559 pistols to leave the factory, I’ve got to say that that hunk of metal was a moderately mediocre handgun, in all respects. I purchased a Browning Hi-Power as my second handgun, and that S&W never left the arms room again, which is why I later traded it off for something else. The later Smith & Wesson automatics that I’ve handled were similarly “meh”, for me.

            Someone says “Automatic”? I don’t think Smith & Wesson. Revolvers? Yes, absolutely… Autos? Oh, hell to the no. The M&P might have changed my mind, if it had come on the market back during the 1990s. Today, it’s an “also-ran”.

    • Military pistols are not “designed to kill with one shot”. If that was the design parameter for the mission it has, we’d be issuing something in 12 gauge, or strapping a Claymore mine with a suicide switch onto high-value personnel.

      The reality is that a pistol is the part of the small arms suite that is dedicated to easy carry and close range; there’s a reason the British Army found itself forced to buy so many Glocks and then issue them in job lots to everyone in Afghanistan: It’s because of the ranges involved and the need for your close-in defense weapon to always be with you and easily used on those close-in targets. It’s horses for courses; if you’re taking a handgun along as a vehicle driver expecting an occasional ambush, you’re clearly not preparing yourself for survival. Likewise, if you’re expectant of a situation where your co-driver might turn on you, then if you take a rifle, you’re equally delusional… Just in a different direction.

      One of the things I’ve often encountered with Commonwealth soldiers before the 2000s was their disdain for the pistol. Which is entirely irrational, as they learned to their cost. My acquaintance in Iraq who found himself being attacked for his rifle inside a latrine on a FOB by an infiltrator definitely would have benefited from having a handgun along with his rifle; as it was, he was reduced to battering his attacker with the door to the toilet stall with his pants down around his feet, and weapon sling entangled in the rest of his gear and the door’s coathook. It wasn’t a pretty sight, at all, when it was all over. The MP that had to respond to the whole thing after the fact was rather disturbed by it all, due to the amount of blood and other things left after the infiltrator was taken away. It was rather obvious that someone had been beaten to death in that bathroom…

      Honestly don’t know what the f**k that idiot was thinking; the infiltrator weighed in at around 140lbs, I think. The guy he picked as his target was easily well over six feet tall and 200lbs. If I remember right, the primary thing he used as a weapon was his unloaded M4 and the stall door, although there may have been some use of the edge of a sink involved…

      On the whole, for encounters like that? I rather agree with the Brits: You’re better off mass-issuing the handguns, and doing some extensive training while simultaneously recognizing that there’s going to be a certain amount of wastage of your own personnel as the inept and stupid weed themselves out of the gene pool.

      The role of a handgun is not “one shot-one kill”; it’s a tool designed to enable your troops to survive and dominate a hand-to-hand fight, period. As such, the most it’s designed to do is be small enough in caliber to manage, and big enough to dissuade someone from continuing the fight once you’ve hit them with a few rounds.

      Other military forces may use them differently; some see the handgun as a badge of rank and a disciplinary tool for shooting their own recalcitrant troops. This is why the Iraqis could have cared less to be lased by someone with a .50 caliber MG, or have a rifle pointed at them, yet would crap their pants if someone pulled out a pistol. The deal there was that the pistol was a badge of rank and the person carrying it having the privilege of being able to kill whoever they wanted, whenever they wanted. The rank-and-file guys with the rifles were considered relatively harmless because of that, while the pistol-carrying part of the force represented the guys who could kill you with total impunity. Kind of like the Japanese Samurai were reputed to be, with regards to the lower classes in Japanese society.

      • Kirk:

        It’s possible that a century of gun control has led to this British attitude towards the pistol. In the past it was hard to own or use them as a civilian, now it is impossible. No soldier will have experience of a pistol before joining up, and then he will have to rely on the doctrine and prejudices of the army.

        It says something that the Enfield revolver was supposed to be the weapon used by officers in combat in WWII, until the Sten came along. Anyone who thought it could be a primary combat weapon must have been an early adopter of crack.

        As to the Glock, the idea was that it was to be issued to all personnel in Afghan as a person defence weapon, especially in the case of a green on blue incident, which did happen. They were meant to be carried with a round in the chamber at all times, ready for immediate use. However, an RAF squaddie managed to kill on of his comrades whilst dicking around with the pistol (as I said, he would never have had one growing up), so the military knee-jerked and decided they would in future be carried without a round up the spout. They would thus need to be cocked before firing, assuming that the Afghan soldier who had just decided to go Tonto had the sheer common decency to allow you to charge your weapon before he used his rifle on you.

        To be fair, if that is all that had gone wrong with the Afghan campaign,I would have settled for it.

        • I’ve always seen the general Commonwealth attitude towards weapons and self-defense as being inherently at odds with a lot of the things that they say they all believe in. It’s similar to the whole “freedom of speech” issue; the various numpties and governing bodies all mouth the platitudes, but in the event? They plump down for banning guns and investigating people expressing their opinions, when they’re at odds with the party line of the day.

          As an outsider mostly descended from UK sub-nationalities and ethnicities, I find it sad and disturbing. It’s also maddening, because I see a lot of the same BS becoming common over here in the US, when it manifestly does not work.

          “Gun Control” is a null concept, when it comes to addressing violence between people. The construct is, rid ourselves of the guns, and away goes all this nasty interpersonal violence. Reality? You’ve not addressed the proper side of the equation, which is not the inert object, but the will of the person holding it. If someone wants to kill, the lack of a weapon is only a momentary impediment; they’ll find a way. Even if it means asphyxiating their target with all the protective foam padding we apparently want to cover sharp-edged thing out in the world with.

          The real place you have to “work against violence” in is the human mind. That’s damned hard, and to do so, you have to admit and acknowledge the propensity towards violence inherent to every living human being, no matter how well-spoken or “non-violent”. It never ceases to amaze me how many of the “proper-thinking” types mouth “gun control” out of one side of their mouths, and then out of the other, they’re spouting off about how their political opponents belong in jail, or shouldn’t have the right to live at all.

          They then wonder why the sane amongst us refuse to disarm ourselves. The primary reason I won’t ever willingly do so is because I’ve read the works of the Bill Ayers types, and I know how they think. I also don’t trust the construct that “people are naturally good”; as far as I’ve been able to determine, people are only naturally good at gunpoint: The rest of the time, they’re thieving, violent scum who’ll gladly stab you in the back for pocket change. Especially the ones carrying signs saying what nice people they are…

          • Kirk:

            The First World War has a lot to answer for. British gun control, which spread to the Empire, started in 1920 for two (unstated in public) reasons: to disarm the British working class, who were felt to be ripe for Red revolution, and to prevent the export of arms to the colonies, where they might fall into the hands of anti-imperial agitators.

            One hundred years on, the risk of Red revolution is small, and the empire is gone, only the gun control remains. Now lead ammunition is in their sights, all for environmental reasons of course.

            One of the funniest British laws is “The Prevention of Crime Act” of 1953. This purported to ban anyone carrying a defensive weapon by classifying them as “offensive weapons”. It did not exactly prevent crime, it only prevented law abiding people from being able to protect themselves.

            As you say, Britain is not a good example to follow, nor any of our Commonwealth cousins. Justin, this means you.

            Stay strong.

          • At the risk of getting political, the construct is rid ourselves of the guns and all this nasty interpersonal violence produces fewer corpses.

            I’m not saying it’s a wise basis for policy, but there is some truth to it and we ought to deal with it in our arguments.

    • Military pistols are no deadlier than their civilian counterparts. No common pistol round is more than 70 effective at a one shot stop. In the past century pistols were see as personal defense arms for officers. Get a grip

  3. Like I was trying to explain… The pistol role is not necessarily “personal defense weapon”, it’s more along the lines of a substitute for hand-to-hand at close quarters. A PDW is further out in the range band, out past the 25m which is the realistic limit for most military pistol use. It isn’t meant to take part in the firefight, and if you use it as such, you’re nuts. The pistol exists not so much as a “personal defense weapon”, but more an “intimate defense weapon”. It’s not a substitute for a rifle, it’s a supplement for a fist or a knife.

  4. “The First World War has a lot to answer for. British gun control, which spread to the Empire, started in 1920 for two (unstated in public) reasons: to disarm the British working class, who were felt to be ripe for Red revolution, and to prevent the export of arms to the colonies, where they might fall into the hands of anti-imperial agitators.”

    So wrong. British gun control started no later than 1834, with a Constabulary regulation in parts of Ireland. Then the Arms Bill (Ireland) 1843 both regulated arms possession throughout Ireland, and required marking each gun with a county letters and registration number. Then in 1878, in India, in belated response to the events of 1857. The 1878 Arms Act was the subject of the famous Gandhi quote-

    “Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest. If we want the Arms Act to be repealed, if we want to learn the use of arms, here is a golden opportunity. If the middle classes render voluntary help to Government in the hour of its trial, distrust will disappear, and the ban on possessing arms will be withdrawn.”

  5. I’m no expert, I know there were importation of arms prohibitions before 1834, just not aware whether they also limited possession.

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