Politicians Ruin Everything: Dutch Luger Trials

The Dutch military started looking for semiauto pistols to replace its aging revolvers around 1899. They tested all the early models; the Roth, Borchardt, Mauser and Mannlicher – and then they obtained a Borchardt-Luger (aka, a Parabellum, or Luger). They first tested a long-barreled model with shoulder stock for artillery crews in 1901. The guns performed very well mechanically, but the officers in charge were dubious about the utility of the gun.

In 1903, another set of trials was run by the Infantry, this time on short-barreled Lugers in both 9mm and 7.65mm. In addition, the Dutch requested a number of special changes to a subset of their guns – this “Dutch Model” was to have Dutch markings and a stronger coil mainspring designed by the Dutch ordnance department. That coil mainspring would be adopted by DWM and became the most significant improvement in the New Model Lugers.

Anyway, the 1903 trials were concluded with much success in 1905, and the Dutch War Minister happily adopted the Luger in 9mm. He wrote out an order to start getting the Army new modern pistols…only to be overridden by the Dutch Parliament. They decided that the new guns were basically too dangerous, and cancelled the adoption. This left the Army in a rather unexpected lurch, and they had to restart production of revolvers in 1906 to make up the shortages in handguns.


  1. Politicians messing with arms purchases? Since when has that not happened?
    We could drag up Lockheed paying bribes to Prince Bernhard to facilitate Holland buying Lockheed-made military airplanes.
    Another horrid example occurred during the early 1960s when both the Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy were evaluating light fighter jets. Both the RCAF and RCN agreed that the McDonnell-Douglas A-4 Skyhawk could fullfill both their needs. OTOH Both the RCAF and RCN rated the Northrup CF-5 “priority last” because it need a far longer runway than HMCS Bonaventure’s flight deck. It also had far too light a payload to fulfill RCAF Arctic patrol or ground attack roles. BUT Defense Minister Paul Hellier had previously worked as an engineer at Northrup and he needed to buy votes in separatist-leaning Quebec, so he told Canadair to build CF-5s under license. Without fighters, the RCN soon scrapped their last aircraft carrier while the RCAF struggled to find a role for this light fighter. Eventually the RCAF used CF-5s as lead-in trainers for supersonic fighters (CF-101 Voodoo interceptor, CF-104 Starfighter and CF-18 Hornet). Oh! Wait a minute! CF-5 was based upon the T-38 Talon supersonic trainer that Northrup built for the USAF. Holy “politicians putting “poor-bloody-infantry” priority-last!

    • I’ve seen that line argument about the CF-5 before. My problem is that the base F-5 was a really good little dogfighter, and a nice low-cost, low-headache machine. Back in 1968, when aerial radar was still bulky and unreliable, the F-5 was arguably a much better choice than some its more sophisticated stablemates. The USAF did some combat evaluation of the F-5A over Vietnam, and basically had no complaints about the type. South Vietnamese examples captured in 1975 actually inspired significant changes to the MiG-23, as the Soviets found that the cheap little fighter could run rings around the bigger MiG.

      To bring the whole story around in a circle – the CF-5 also netted Canadair with a nice export contract to the Dutch, who operated almost as many as we did.

      Not to say that we haven’t had politicians muck things up in all sorts of other ways. The army’s AVGP Cougar from the 70s comes to mind, as does the ridiculous Sea King helicopter replacement saga. And, of course, if you want to reach back, there’s always the Ross Rifle…

      • I am not Canadian, and obviously everyone involved in the Ross Rifle story is a horrible, horrible person, but it seems that there were additional necessary ingredients for the story to unfold as it did.

        First the British refused to set up production of standard rifles in Canada. As far as I understand had they agree there would be no trial for the new rifle, because people were concerned about standardization and interoperability. Second, even with widespread incompetency and corruption most problems still would be found out and most of the fixes applied; I am given to understand that Ross Rifle of 1917 is pretty average in its’ reliability; it’s just no one was willing to risk yet another problem popping up. Yes it shouldn’t take 15 years to work out most problems with an infantry rifle, yet in many countries it did take long time. So if the war broke out in, say, 1916 Ross Rifle mayhave been just “one of the boys”. There are were many rifles with known imperfections that did not had the reputation of a national disaster

        • Dear Gwytherin,
          Ian already explained – in an earlier video – that the Ross rifles’ biggest problem was over-sized ammo made in Britain. When forced to produce millions of rounds of .303 ammo during wartime, Britain relaxed quality control and keep worn out tools in production way past their retirement date. That over-sized ammo tended to jam in precisely made Ross chambers.
          OTOH If Britain had stuck with pre-war quality control, few Ross rifles would have jammed.
          You are really grumbling about British colonial attitudes stiffling military production in the colonies (e.g. Canada). Britain still wanted to import raw materials (wood, coal, ire ore, etc.) and sell finished, high-tech goods at inflated prices. Colonies manufacturing their own high-tech goods ruined that economic model. That explains why Britain repeatedly delayed or stiffled Canadian efforts at developing new weapons: Huot light machinegun, pot sabots, tracked jeep, Ram tank, etc.

          P.S. We need to thank Ian for cutting through a century of historical, half-assed answers to explain the real problem suffered by Ross rifles: sloppy ammo.

      • CF-5 doing tight turns in dogfights may be nice, but what the RCAF really needed was a long-range, high altitude, nuclear missile carrying, supersonic interceptor like a CF-101 Voodoo, CF-105 Arrow or F-4 Phantom.

      • Dear Al,
        I bent wrenches on Sea King helicopters from 1979 to 1985. I could write a book about the charade that mascqueraded as the “Sea King replacement program.” That relates to Dutch pistol purchases because whenever politicians did not want to spend money, they sent the project back for further study. “Further study” is a Canadian gov’t euphemism for delays, postponements, fillibusters, cancellations, etc.
        In the case of Dutch pistols: Dutch politicians clearly did not want to spend the money, so invented or exaggerrated a bunch of silly excuses.

  2. Politicians need to be blocked from screwing up improvements in warfighter technology and from creating insane regulations for fighting wars-see U S Congress during Vietnam.

    • Yeah, but… I think you could find at least one instance of politicians “fixing” things that were legitimately broken in procurement issues. By the military.

      I’m suspicious of any blanket condemnations or solutions; the usual reality is way more nuanced than just “condemn one party and block them from ever having anything to do with it all, ever again…”. The better way to go forward would be to call out the responsible parties for their stupidities as they crop up, and demand that they fix them.

      I mean, case in point–Look at how we got the Lebel and the 8mm Lebel cartridge. That wasn’t a politician, per se, but a military officer. Absent Boulanger’s desire to take credit for smokeless powder at a premature date, the French might have wound up with a better cartridge and rifle–After all, how much faster were they than Colonel Rubin, whose 7.5mm Swiss cartridge held sway until the 1970s in Switzerland…?

      Call it as it comes, and hold nobody free from accountability is what I say. Sometimes, the politicians get it right, sometimes the military gets it wrong. Do note how much chicanery we had with the M16, here in the US, until the Ichord Committee got involved.

      • Whichever idiots didn’t tell General Dynamics and Congress that the M60 sucked in field conditions just added to the problems. And then I beg to ask (as a civilian taxpayer and as an engineer) why our money isn’t being used wisely with regards to research, development, and keeping our servicemen from dying pointless deaths due to obvious equipment failure.

        • The root of the M60 problem runs so deep and broad that it’s not even funny; it wasn’t just that the procurement folks got it wrong, it was that the guys out in the military who were responsible for setting out what they wanted from the procurement types were completely off-base. They started from false premises, derived their design from flawed understandings of what they were copying, and it went on from there.

          The insular and cliquish nature of the procurement system itself was a problem; Springfield Arsenal during that era was operated by a bunch of people who churned out utter shiite–The M73/219, the M85, the competing design for the weapon that eventually became the GE Minigun (which was another untold shitshow; the eventual Minigun was a side-project, not the main-line design). Virtually nothing that came out of the Arsenal in that time frame worked worth a damn; they promised an affordable, workable update to the M1, made on the same machinery, in the M14. End of the day, they never managed any of that, and it took bringing in TRW to really fix the M14 production problems–At which point, they’d discovered that they were irrelevant because they’d also gotten the basic parameters of what they needed wrong in the first place, and the M14 was supplanted by the most successful and long-lived “interim” small arm in our history–The M16. Which wasn’t designed at Springfield, and which was good enough to be able to survive what amounted to deliberate sabotage during its fielding.

          You want a good small arms program? You have to start by understanding how you’re going to fight with the weapons you procure, and then design appropriately from there. The US suffered from an inherent institutional misunderstanding of the nature of infantry combat during the mid- and late-20th Century; we eventually got enough of it right to survive, but that happened only at great expense and by trying everything else, first. The M16/M60/M203 combination that we settled on in Vietnam wasn’t deliberately designed; it was iteratively blundered into by throwing things at the wall and seeing if they stuck. The stuff they deliberately designed were things like the SPIW program, and all the varied Springfield products that simply did not work worth a damn.

          The situation isn’t any different, today–We have the spectacle of the NGSW program, wherein the military and the defense industry haven’t really set out the supporting theoretical and doctrinal basis for what they’re trying to accomplish. They talk in buzzwords, but if you set down and say “OK, describe for me how our current small arms suite integrates into our tactics and operational intent…”, they can’t even do that. All NGSW really amounts to is some four-star dipshit saying “Me wan’ mo’ bettah guns…”, and wrapping it around with all these fancy-sounding buzzwords like “Lethality” and “Overmatch”. Neither of which you’re going to find real definitions for, or any description of how they integrate into how guys are going to use those things to fight.

          I’ll be the first person to say that I feel like the current cartridge solutions aren’t ideal. But, I can’t actually quantify that, in any way other than sheer emotion. I don’t have the numbers; neither does anyone else. The current suite works, so long as you remember it was evolved in concert with a whole bunch of other supporting weapons, and is basically there not for conducting long-range small-arms exclusive fights, but as local security tools for other supporting weapons and observation teams. Which, I’ll submit, is a lot more in keeping with our overall design approach for our military than some overweight, overly heavy and powerful NGSW that’s going to “overmatch” the enemy to death.

          I have a sneaking suspicion that all we’re doing is recapping the flawed process by which we arrived at the 7.62mm NATO, creating a cartridge that is too heavy and powerful for effective individual weapons use, and not quite heavy enough to fill the supporting fire role. There are no “one stop shops” for cartridges; the characteristics and missions are too different to accomplish what you need to with one round alone. Which, again, represents an illustration for my argument that nobody really understands how the hell we fight, or how the weapons should be laid out to support said fight.

          This whole thing is just another indicator that our military is filled with bone-idle ignorami who spend most of their time worrying about how to punch their tickets along the paths of their career tracks. And, that includes a bunch of the civilian sorts who inhabit the procurement and R&D shops, as well–You don’t have people who give a fsck or who’ve got the mental horsepower to really understand a lot of these issues, or who ask themselves the questions they should be, like “Just what the hell is a machine gun for, anyway… And, what is the best way to use one?”.

          This is why the M240B is sitting on top of a high-tech titanium version of the same bloody tripod we put under the M1919A4, and which is only suited for use in the same sorts of static defensive fighting positions we were digging back in the 1940s. And, they’re all happy with it, because the whole freakin’ system is so insular and self-referential that they’ve never, ever looked outside of it for cues on how other people have done it, down the years. Nobody questions the half-assery because that’s the way we’ve always done it, and that’s the right way to do it, because that’s the only way we’ve ever done it. Circular reasoning, circular thinking, and it has turned into the proverbial circular firing squad.

          Know how I know the NGSW is going to fail in the field, big-time? Look at the fact that they’re designing the new machinegun component in a vacuum; you don’t see a new, more adaptable tripod that’s light enough to carry when foot mobile; you don’t see periscopic sights that keep the gunner’s heads below the parapet; you don’t see integrated rangefinding and fire-control tools for the gun crew leaders; you don’t see anything that would actually make the weapons more effective. And, why? Because the idiots behind this program don’t really understand where the real problems are. Hell, I would just about guarantee you that most of the bright lights behind this BS don’t even know how to use the reticles in their binoculars to adjust fire with, in conjunction with the T&E mechanisms on the tripods, something that really ought to be second nature. But, it’s a forgotten technique, ‘cos we’ve not had to use it for decades.

          I’ve got no idea how to go about fixing it, other than burning the whole sorry edifice to the ground, and starting over. It’s maddening to even contemplate. You can’t even get the idiots to pay attention when you point these things out–They just fall back on “Well, the manual says…”, and ignore the fact that the manual was fundamentally flawed in the first damn place. Because the earlier generations didn’t know what the fsck they were doing, either…

    • When I was a soldier in a technical field I used to rail against some of the moronic procurement decisions I witnessed. A friend called me myopic and then explained reality to me this way. He said that for every question there is a technical answer and a political answer, and the FINAL answer will be a combination of the two. The politician may well be aware of the best technical answer, but also know that it doesn’t have enough political support to get funded (maybe made in a disfavored politician or party’s districts, for example). It may well be that the choices really are Option B or nothing at all, as we’ve seen time and again. I think its distasteful of course but often reality.

      • Clausewitz is the single most misquoted military writer since Sun Tzu.
        The “Politics is only by other means” quote comes from a part of his book where he’s having a dialectical argument with himself, presenting one extreme position with an equally extreme counter-position–“War is nothing but a duel, a wrestling match”–to arrive at a truth between the two.
        So: Yes, but actually no.

  3. …. and for using the words “nation building” and postponing the purchase of a better helmet, because it looked to much like the German helmet from WW2.

  4. Very interesting. Thank you Ian for sharing your time. As for the weapon being refused for concerns of over penetration, I think it understandable. There were many men living then who’s memory of war were musket volleys followed by bayonet and sword. And its usually the old guys who spend the money.

  5. “…need to be blocked from…”(C)

    You are looking at the consequences.
    And to eliminate the harmful effect of something, the cause should be eliminated.
    And the real reason, even if you voice it, you refuse to accept. Simply for reasons of political correctness, or any other garbage in your head.
    And with this attitude, you have “no chance to hope”(C).

  6. Thank some deity or other

    For state sector incompetence and corruption

    If only the incompetence could be greater and more visible in more areas, tax collecting and money printing for example.

    I can definitely recommend Bas Martens and Guus de Vries’ book on the Dutch Lugers.

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