High Standard T3 Prototype: An American Blowback at James D Julia

In 1947, the US Army Air Corps (it had not yet become the Air Force) was assessing its pilot survival equipment, and decided that it wanted a smaller and lighter handgun than the Colt 1911. It put forth a tender for new designs in .30 to .35 caliber, and two companies were chosen to produce prototypes. These were Colt and High Standard, and today’s pistol is one of the High Standard guns.

Designated the T3, High Standard made three batches of four guns each, for a total of 12. The first and last batches used single stack magazines and the second batch used double stack Browning High Power magazines, but they were all aluminum-framed guns chambered for 9x19mm. The Army Air Corps wanted simple blowback actions, noting on the tender that the Beretta 1923, Astra 400, and Walther MP all demonstrating that a blowback 9×19 handgun was feasible. High Standard complied, but also submitted barrels for the guns which used an interesting delaying system which consisted of rings cut in the chambers. Brass cartridge cases would expand into these rings upon firing, thus requiring addition time and energy to force the cases to extract, thus delaying the opening of the slide.

Ultimately in 1953 the project was cancelled, as the pistols all showed significant frame damage – the aluminum alloy was just not compatible with the high slide velocity that was the natural consequence of the unlocked action. However, it is very interesting to note the number of notable firearms designers involved in the project – George Wilson, Robert Hillberg, and Ott-Helmuth von Lossnitzer among them.


  1. Does it surprise you that the frame suffered from firing stress? Lightweight aluminum frames can be made incorrectly when weight is prioritized over durability… or am I wrong?

    • Well the Ruger P-85, P-89 and related pistols are all investment-cast aluminium framed pistols with steel slides, and they are super durable. So i suspect you need to be more specific about what type of aluminium is being used when making a judgement.

    • “Lightweight aluminum frames can be made incorrectly when weight is prioritized over durability… or am I wrong?”
      But this is true also for different materials aswell – if being lightweight requirement overshadows others it often ends badly. Example of this is АП-12,7 by Я.Г.Таубин and М.Н.Бабурин, see photo here:

      • In this article Я.Г.Таубин story is told: http://masterok.livejournal.com/610269.html
        titled За что расстреляли конструктора Таубина which roughly mean For what was constructor Taubin executed by shooting?. I even don’t try to translate whole article, but some facts are:
        – Таубин designed some weapons which proved have tragic reliability level – 23-mm МП-6 aircraft autocannon, put into series production and quickly dropped from production.
        – Before outbreak of Great Patriotic War VVS RKKA were looking for new 12.7-mm aircraft machine gun, designers start working (Березин, Шпитальный, Волков and Ярцев), but then Таубин go to Stalin and promise 12.7-mm machine gun which will be half the weight AND would fire twice that fast [which would give tremendous RateOfFire about 2000 rpm]… Few months later… director of factory which is suppose to make prototype is waiting, then Нудельман, vice of Таубин, appears. He admits that Таубин don’t even bother to make wooden mock-up, just draw blueprints and sent it to factory. 5 prototypes were made and all damaged self during first test. Improvements were badly needed, it can’t go into production in time previously planned. For improvements 1 700 000 rubles were expended, but anyway it was not fit for usage. Finally Березин design was adopted (22 April 1941).
        – Before the war he was also developing 37-mm aircraft autocannon, in this case, prototype was made and… proved be too big to be installed into its intended platform – ЛаГГ-3.
        – all these designs consumed a lot of money, time and work of industry which tried to produce it anyway, so finally in night 15/16 May 1941 Я. Г. Таубин and М. Н. Бабурин were arrested and charged on basis of Article 58 [see query Article 58 (RSFSR Penal Code) in Wikipedia]
        – VYa-23 was adopted instead of Таубин design.
        – Таубин was executed 28 October 1941, М. Н. Бабурин get 5 years of prison
        and as epilogue:
        During one of public lecture by В. П. Грязев (co-designer of ГШ-23 and other weapons) he told story which took place in 1970, he designed belt-link for cannons of MiG-21 aeroplane, but Air Force that it don’t work properly, so Грязев goes to main designer of aeroplane – А.И.Микоян and explain that belt-link is good and Air Force personnel must be cause of failures (which finally proved to be source of problems), А.И.Микоян silently hears and when Грязев ends reply: «Young man, if it would be 1937 years, you would be shot long time ago…»

  2. Don´t you think that this muzzlebrake helps to decelerate the slide, not the opposite? A straight blowback pistol would fancy a device to brake or delay the opening of a fast running slide. It seems to me that to accelerate the slide, gasses must be deflected in the opposite way trough the baffles, or am I wrong?

    • You are correct, I spotted it too.
      My understanding why it was placed on slide instead on barrel is because slide represents larger amount of mass, especially with aluminum alloy frame. They wanted to do something to overcome disadvantage imposed on them by Air Force.

  3. Speaking of obscure military High Standard blowbacks…. I’ve read tantalizing references to silenced High Standards from WW2, apparently used by both the OSS in Europe and the Marines in the Pacific, but as I recall there was some confusion as to whether they were more or less off-the-shelf .22s or a special run of .380s (not 9×19) that had a notable resemblance to the civilian .22s. Anyone from our panel of experts have any more info?

    • “.380s”
      There was High Standard G model for this cartridge, which development started during WW2:
      it differs from earlier High Standard not only by size, but also it was possible to easily swap barrels and in effect used cartridge – a useful feature for covert operations. It was produced starting in 1947 for civilian market, but failed to be success (which was rather effect of poor adverts, mechanically this design was sound). In fact manufacturer finally decided to sold produced examples to own workers for price few times lower that market.

  4. Very interesting pistol !

    I think the designers were clever using Browning HP magazines, which were easily available, reliable and offered a great ammunition capacity. The trigger guard and the disassembly latch are also well thought.

    Too bad it couldn’t work reliably, it would have been a great pistol !

  5. If the AAF had been more open to a locked breach pistol the aluminum frame would likely not have been so likely to fail. No excuses for broken hammers or other parts though!

    • I believe Ian said that the Air Force specified locked breach OR simple blowback, but didn’t want delayed blowback for whatever reason.

  6. The brake seems to be attempt to slow the slide down, i suspect it actually pulls the slide forward when the gases act on it.

  7. “Brass cartridge cases would expand into these rings upon firing, thus requiring addition time and energy to force the cases to extract, thus delaying the opening of the slide.”
    Such solution was also used in Mann .25 automatic pistol:
    produced shortly after WW1 in Germany, marks might be clearly seen on fired cases. This solution was also used few times after that, for example in Kimball Arms automatic pistol for .30 Carbine cartridge, Russian ПММ automatic pistol.

    • ПММ or Пистолет Макарова модернизированный, English description here:
      also wasn’t put into widespread usage, most common explanation for that is that having “normal” PM cartridge and heavy-powder-charge PMM cartridge which will go into older weapons is bad idea.
      Chamber machined to “hold” cartridge during firing might seems as tempting solution (no moving parts) but it must be remembered that cartridge cases differs in materials and manufacturer’s tolerances aim is NOT to make cases properly working with this kind of solutions, not to mention that if some cartridge is produced by various plants it might vary in material, not to mention if cartridge is produced in multiple countries. Finally, besides brass case other might be found, like steel or aluminum, which might give unforeseen effect if weapons rely on this solution.

      • Cartridge variability is a major concern for civilian firearms, but usually much less of an issue for military firearms, which are typically designed to fire a cartridge that follows a certain, usually fairly strict military specification.

        Of course such a cartridge-specific design can later become an issue if the specified cartridge is no longer available. A well-documented case is the Lahti L-35 pistol, which was designed to fire a subsonic 9×19 mm load similar to the 9 mm Glisenti, but ended up firing much hotter SMG loads both in Finland and Sweden. The hot SMG loads would often cause cracking in the bolt after only couple of hundred shots. However, such shortage of proper ammunition is more likely to be a problem for smaller militaries.

        • “However, such shortage of proper ammunition is more likely to be a problem for smaller militaries.”
          Notice that during WW2 Great Britain bought 9×19 cartridges from various sources:
          – U.S. made (WESTERN)
          – U.S. made (WINCHESTER)
          – Canadian made
          – from Bolivian government
          – Austrian made (HIRTENBERGER)
          If your weapon function depend on material case and tolerances, it is small chance that it would work as intended.

          • Well, you could say that they had to do so because 9x19mm was adopted during the war and there was little production capacity available in the UK. Of course the Sten was also simple enough that it wasn’t very picky about the ammunition.

          • The original adoption of the 9 x 19mm for the Sten and etc. was due to the fortunes of war. When Garibaldi’s Italian legion surrendered to the British in North Africa in 1941, among the “spoils of war” were several million rounds of 9 x 19mm, intended for the Beretta Model 1938 SMG. This was a notably “hot” load, as the M38 did not function reliably with 9mm Glisenti-level subsonic loads.

            The Sten was under development at the time, and originally the designers were ordered to work with the 0.380in revolver cartridge (.38 S&W with 140-grain FMJ). There really isn’t any good way to make a straight-blowback, API SMG work with that cartridge.

            Then the designers suggested that the gun be built to handle 9 x 19mm. After all, there was that bounty of captured Italian ammunition, and other than the RN’s Lanchester SMG (a copy of the German MP28), no other small arm in the inventory could use it. Plus of course the Resistance that SOE was ginning up might find a light automatic weapon that could use ammunition “acquired” from the Germans more useful than one which would require every single round be delivered from England.

            Just to show that bureaucratic inertia and “I’m in charge, therefore I’m right so shut up” wasn’t restricted to the Sten project, when John Inglis in Canada set up production of the FN M1935 HP pistol with the help of FN engineers who had escaped Belgium before the Germans took it, initially they were ordered to redesign the petite’ High Power to use 0.455in Webley revolver cartridges. This had to be the most complete triple whammy of irrationality on record; physically larger cartridge, rimmed revolver round at that, and with only about half the muzzle-energy of the round the gun was designed around to begin with. Even if such a redesign were dimensionally possible (my BOTE calculations say “no way”), it’s doubtful that the Webley rounds could have reliably operated the mechanism.

            Cooler heads prevailed, and the Inglis HP went into production as a proper 9 x 19mm. The big-bore project did continue, however, and the result postwar was the North American Arms Company (NAACO) Brigadier, an enlarged HP with a DA trigger, chambering a powerful .45 cartridge specifically designed for it, the .45 NAACO. It is largely indistinguishable from the older .45 Remington-Thompson “semi-wildcat” for the M1928 SMG, or the modern .45 Winchester Magnum. There was also an SMG designed around this powerful cartridge, the Borealis.

            Unlike the 0.455in, it was well-suited to an enlarged HP platform. What finally did it in was that it was heavy, it kicked like a mule, the Canadian armed forces were perfectly happy with their 9mm HPs and SMGs, and back then (1950s) there wasn’t really much of a civilian market for a “monster” automatic firing a Magnum-level cartridge. Unlike today.

            Sort of a shame, really. To judge from available photos, the Brigadier’s HP-shaped butt, while enlarged, would probably still have been easier for someone with average-sized hands to manipulate than a Desert Eagle or Grizzly.



  8. Wasn’t it also at about this same time that Colt developed the aluminum framed Commander pistol? If memory serves, the U.S. military as a whole was looking for a lighter weight, smaller pistol to replace the 1911 at about this same time. I think it took some time for a proper aluminum alloy to be developed for pistol frames. I once had an “lite weight” Colt Commander in .45ACP that developed a crack in the frame. If I remember correctly, this was a fairly common problem. Today’s aluminum alloy frames rarely if ever suffer this ailment.

    • There seems to have been some groundless optimism after WW2 when it came to aluminium alloys as structural components of guns. Thanks to burgeoning aircraft industry there had been great advancements in aluminium alloys after WW1, but clearly the material technology to make good enough Al alloys for pistol frames was not quite yet there in the 1940s and 1950s.

    • Yes. In fact, the aluminum framed Commander was originally made in prototype in 9 x 19mm as the “M1954” specifically to compete with the T3 in the USAF trials.

      At the same time, S&W developed what became the Model 39 in 9 x 19mm, along with a little-known variant, the Model 40, which was simply a Model 39 with a single-action only lockwork. It was also sometimes called the Model 41, leading to confusion with the later S&W Model 41 .22 rimfire target automatic.

      All the 9mm prototypes had roughly the same characteristics; aluminum frames, weight under 30 oz., at least eight-shot magazine capacities, no more than 8.5 inches overall length.

      Colt and S&W of course put theirs on the civilian market, as the Commander and double-action M39. I still maintain that the best of all the 1911s is the aluminum-framed Commander in .38 Super Auto. Compact, lightweight, reliable, and with a serious punch.

      Add a barrel that headspaces on the case mouth instead of the semi-rim and it’s even acceptably accurate, too.




  9. Funny, I was thinking of the same thing as the annular rings in the chamber of this pistol a few months ago, instead of rings i imagined smooth but wavey chamber walls, or a etched surface, maybe spark eroded ?

    • Colt Gold Cup 1911s in .38 special, simply threaded the chamber.

      In practice, it was found that two large rings gave the best resistance to filling up with the firing residues Which you will always get with blowback.

  10. I think that the muzzle break actually slows the blow back of the slide with the bullet pushing the air in front of it in the barrel, onto the wings of the muzzle break and so acting against the pressure behind the bullet.
    I’ve seen an analogous function in a hydraulic application with two different liquids.

    • You can also see the same effect with the WW 2 German PaK 40 7.5cm anti-tank gun, and their KwK 40 7.5cm tank gun (the latter on the Pkfw IVG and H). Their four-port muzzle brakes turn the muzzle blast “around” to the rear and sides at roughly a 60-degree angle off-boresight, to reduce the recoil force that has to be absorbed by the recoil system and mount.

      This was especially necessary for the PaK 40, which was basically a slightly-enlarged 5cm PaK 38 mount. Even with the help of the muzzle brake, the 40 was noted for being a bit “lively” when touched off in direct fire.

      For real “bouncy-bouncy”, though, look up video of a U.S. 3 inch M5 AT gun firing. No muzzle brake and a round with 20% greater energy than the PaK 40’s. Even the ex-105mm howitzer mounting wasn’t quite enough to fully tame its recoil, which could charitably be described as exuberant.



  11. Tanfoglio went the annular chamber ring route when they introduced the TZ-40. My guess as to the reason would be marginal locking duration with the .40S&W versus the 9x19mm.

    A friend had TWO, an initial purchase and a replacement when that one didn’t work. They were dogs. Between the rough chamber and the Sherman tank suspension class recoil spring, I don’t think he got more than three consecutive rounds without a failure to chamber.

    Like the Air Force, he punted, buying a Glock 22 which he’s had ever since.

  12. I find it funny that from the three examples of simple blowback pistols chambered in 9×19mm the Air Force requirement mentioned, only one (the Astra 600) actually worked as advertised¹ with standard full power 9×19mm Parabellum loads. And it wasn’t a small or light pistol…

    ¹ My impression is that the Walther MP never worked really well, although at least it was designed for full power loads unlike the Beretta M1923.

    • Astra worked but only “kinda”, it was noted among Yugoslav partisans as one of the most fickle and jam prone pistols (othe was ViS 35, due the low quality of the work on those made under occupation).

    • 9×19 blow-back automatic pistols appeared from time to time, starting even before First World War (Dreyse 9mm automatic pistol), especially in time when 9×19 automatic pistols were needed badly (Walther Model 6 during WW1, Volkspistole from WW2 by same manufacturer) but neither got very popular

      From more modern example there exist OTs-27 automatic pistol multicaliber,
      which can fire 9×19 or 9×18, with notion that early in development it was 9×19 or 9×18 or 7.62×25 (there was still this ammunition in storage depots in Russia, hence this requirement) which can be easily stripped and assembled with different elements specific to cartridge

        • Hmm… now I see there is not ОЦ-39 description in English so:
          ОЦ-39 is blow-back operated hammer-fired selective-fire sub-machine gun fed from box magazine for either 20, 30 or 40 rounds, equipped with folding stock which might be used as front grip when collapsed;
          main production method used is metal stamping, main material is steel;
          muzzle device acts as compensator, brake and flash-hidder, sights are designed for distance of 200 m, additionally laser might be attached, bolt handle is collapsible, has hold-open device; RateOfFire is 540 rpm

      • And if OTs-27 was mentioned, then there exist also multi-caliber МР-444 Багира automatic pistol, which might be configured for 9×19 or 9×18 (both PM and PMM) or 9×17 (Browning) cartridge, in first case it acts as short-recoil in all other as delayed blow-back. Magazine capacity is 10 for 9×17 and 15 for all others.

  13. Soooooo…apart from the blowback action, you have a Beretta 92 Compact with a muzzle break. Kinda sexy.

    Did I miss something, or did Ian not discuss the safety?

  14. I am surprised that AF did not learn from problematic 9mm Para blowback guns made before the war by Walther. Maybe, there was not enough awareness of it.

    • Just occurred to, me if the US military had opportunity to examine development predecessor to Czech vz.52 pistol (it was originally intended for 9mm Para) they may have been more lucky at the end. However, I realize time frame was just about one year to come to any such contact since new government (and drastically different way of life) happened after February of 1948.

      I believe that vz.52 pistol would have been lot more dynamically balanced with former round (and it was proved as such and it worked well).

  15. Think today’s 9mm pocket pistols with plastic frames and steel slides nestling the locked barrel therein. What an improvement. Get back some fifty years ago and find HK70 with plastic frame and blowback working system, apart from its trigger. it is another improvement over conventional blowback issues. It seems that, rather than the preference of Air Force, the way that High Standart chose was wrong with that pistol. Annular chamber grooves might work to delay the opening of breech back at instant when the highest pressure in the barrel exists but not prevent to start the rapid backward travel of rather light slide and in turn, that mass would beat both the frame and the holding hand with the user. The gas brake mounted in front of the slide might be a measure but it would need certain protection of eyes and even hands and by standers from the splitting gas and unburned powder particules thrown from there.

    From beginning to end and with awkward trigger guard transition, this pistol seems deserved what happened to it.

  16. Interesting.

    So how did this 1947 pistol program intersect with the USAF purchase of the aluminum .38 special revolvers? The revolvers which used aluminum cylinders and special low pressure ammunition?

    Funny thing is, the forty year old Savage 1907 .32 ACP pistol would have fit within the original USAAF 1947 program requirements of maximum weight, maximum size and desired ammunition capacity despite being of all steel construction.

    The Hi-Standard 9mm pistol looks like they were trying to incorporate gas-delayed blowback operation, as that appears to be the purpose of the slide mounted muzzle brake.

    • “old Savage 1907 .32 ACP pistol would have fit within the original USAAF 1947 program requirements of maximum weight, maximum size and desired ammunition capacity”
      Also designing new automatic pistol for .32 Auto should be easier – as it would allow easily use blow-back principle and small dimensions, simply because .32 Auto cartridge is smaller. Other possibility is to use .380 Auto, which don’t give such advantage in size, but still is better suited for simple blow-back operation.

  17. And rather than use the M1911A1 .45 acp pistol, the Air Force did acquire lots of .38 special revolvers. Smith and Wesson all-alloy M13 Air Crewman, 2″ M56 (aka. M15 with short barrel), and M15 “combat masterpiece” with 4″ barrel. Don’t know if those met the weight requirements, but certainly those were very common in the USAF throughout the Cold War-era.

  18. Weight of the slide ?

    Ian, PLEASE get a small pocket scale with you when examing these blowback guns. We can deduct are they too light, so why they failed.

    Russian Pernach pistol also uses these slide mounted muzzle brake contraptions

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