In 1908, Ole Krag (the same man associated with the Krag-Jorgensen rifle) applied for a US patent on an automatic pistol design. This design, along with many others, would be submitted to the Norwegian military pistol trials taking place around that time, and would fail to in them (the winner was the Norwegian copy of the Browning 1911, which was adopted as the M1914). Krag’s pistols never did go into serial production at the time, although he made quite a variety of prototypes. Here are a few of them:
One feature that immediately jumped out at me when I saw this photo was the use of the front of the trigger guard to rack the slide of the gun. Ever since I found myself a JoLoAr I’ve been interested in guns with that functionality. Well, when I dug up a copy of Krag’s US patent (#954,441) I found two surprises.
First, Krag put more thought and effort into single-handed operation than the other such designs that exist (like the Lignose Einhand). He was specifically incorporating the feature to simplify use of his pistol as a single-loader, which was a popular idea with many military forces at the time. One will notice magazine cutoffs on a great many service rifles from before WWI, and it was not an unknown feature on autoloading handguns as well (the Webley 1913, for example, had a second magazine catch to keep the ammunition from feeding). The Krag design did not have a way to hold a magazine in reserve, but it was intended to be as fast as possible to the shooter to use with single rounds after emptying the magazine. By requiring only one hand to both hold the gun and operate the slide, the other hand could be used to supply single cartridges quickly and easily. To supplement this, Krag incorporated a mechanism into the gun so that when the slide had locked open on an empty magazine, pulling the trigger would depress the magazine follower, thus allowing the slide to close. A second trigger pull would then fire the chambered round, which would cause the slide to lock open again.
All in all, a clever (if overly complex) solution to a problem that really was better addressed by providing more magazines to the shooter. But it was 1910 or so, and we will forgive Krag for not recognizing that (interestingly, the Krag-Jorgensen rifle is also unusually well-suited to loading single rounds). The other surprise I found in the patent is a bit perplexing. Here is the initial diagram included in the patent. Note that there appears to be a very clear hole in the bottom of the barrel, just ahead of the chamber:
Now, Krag’s patent description makes no mention of this gas port whatsoever. He only gives the actual operating mechanism of the gun a single sentence, which basically says that recoil energy pushes the slide back, as is well understood in pistol design (blowback operation). However, when I saw that port alongside the trigger guard racking mechanism, I immediately thought of the Norinco M77B. Released in the early 1990s and only imported into the US in small numbers before Norinco imports were restricted, it has both of these same features. Could it be that someone in Norinco stumbled on Krag’s patent and decided it would be a good gun to put into production?
There are a few obvious differences – the magazine release (heel for the Krag; button for the Norinco), the Krag hammer being changes to a Norinco striker, and the Norinco safety lever for example. But these are relatively superficial, and it seems like a rather unlikely coincidence that both guns would share the relatively unusual gas-delayed blowback operating mechanism and the very unusual trigger-guard-cocking device.
Since I don’t have any photo of the internals of any of Krag’s experimental pistols, the next best thing I can do is provide a bunch of photos of the inside of the M77B. If Norinco did indeed use Krag’s patent as the basis for the M77B, they did make some rational modifications to it. Most notably, the Norinco is devoid of all the extra pieces to allow a trigger pull to depress the follower and close the slide. Instead, the M77B has a very typical modern slide release lever ahead of the safety.
Since it uses a fixed barrel, disassembly of the Norinco is simple. Rotate the safety lever so it is pointing straight down (there is no marking for this position), and then pull the slide all the way back and lift it upwards off the frame. The gas-delay system is then immediately recognizable from the small gas piston fixed to the front of the slide. This piston rests in a cylinder fixed to the frame, which has a gas port leading into the barrel just ahead of the chamber. When the gun fires, high-pressure gas fills that chamber, pushing the piston forward. That forward force acts against the rearward force that would normally operate a blowback pistol, and keeps the slide safely closed until the bullet leaves the barrel and pressure levels drop. The same basic mechanism is used in the H&K P7 series, and a few other less common pistols (it was also the mechanism used in the German VG1-5 rifle). I would be very interested to see inside Krag’s actual prototypes to see if they use this system, or if these features in the patent drawing were abandoned for some other system.