The Nazi Hi-Power: How the Germans Stole the Finest Combat Pistol of World War 2

John Moses Browning was a Mormon gun designer born five years before the American Civil War. Browning ultimately died of heart failure sitting at his work-bench in Liege, Belgium. At the time of his death the man held 128 patents. There has never been another gun designer that even came close to his genius.

The path that took Browning from Utah to Belgium is fascinating. Browning’s earliest ventures were with Winchester. His familiar lever action rifles and slide action shotguns made Winchester a great deal of money. However, in his Auto-5 Browning knew he had something special.

The hump-backed Auto-5 was Browning’s favorite design and ultimately became the world’s first successful autoloading shotgun. When he presented the gun to Winchester, however, they balked at his terms. In frustration Browning took the gun to Remington only to have the CEO of Remington suffer a sudden heart attack before negotiations were complete. In frustration Browning took his design to Fabrique Nationale in Belgium.

Nazi Hi-Power

The Pistole 640(b) was the German designation for Belgian Hi-Power pistols pressed into Nazi service. Sporting a high-capacity magazine, crisp single action trigger, and splendid ergonomics, the Hi-Power was the finest combat pistol of the war.

Handgun Excellence

Most of us red-blooded American gunmen would view the classic 1911 as John Browning’s masterwork. Designed specifically to kill the radical Muslim terrorists of the day, the 1911 fired a bullet that weighed fully twice what the European-standard 115-grain 9mm did. For all of its justifiable merits, however, the 1911 has a few shortcomings.

The single-stack 7-round magazine was designed to improve upon the contemporary 6-shot revolver. Additionally, the swinging-link barrel locking mechanism could be simpler. FN needed a pistol to answer a French call for a new service sidearm. As Colt held the patents on his 1911, Browning had to design this new gun from scratch. The result was the most capable combat handgun in the world.

Browning died before he could complete the P35 Grande Puissance or Hi-Power. A Belgian colleague at FN named Dieudonne Saive finished the project. The Hi-Power action went on to drive most of the world’s combat handguns. Interestingly, the French ultimately rejected the Browning design.

The Hi-Power sports a pivoting single action trigger utterly unlike that of the 1911 though offering a comparably crisp character. The magazine holds 13 rounds was designed by Saive and paved the way for today’s high-capacity autoloading handguns. In place of the swinging link on the 1911 the Hi-Power employs a remarkably effective cam-locking system. If you have never seen one just crack open your favorite Glock, Smith and Wesson, HK, or Ruger pistol. They all run on Browning’s Hi-Power action.

German WWII Pistol

The Hi-Power handily bested the Walther P38 and P08 Parabellum, the two most common German service handguns of the day.

An Unfortunate Turn of Events

FN launched the Hi-Power in 1935. In 1939 the Germans debuted Blitzkrieg to an unsuspecting planet and overran mainland Europe in fairly short order. By 1940 they occupied Belgium. The Germans needed weapons in massive quantities with which to prosecute their ongoing military expeditions. Domestic German pro-duction was woefully inadequate to feed the monster that was total war so the Nazis turned to their occupied territories for additional armaments.

The Hi-Power’s inimitable single action trigger handily bests that of the Walther P38 and the P08 Parabellum. The P08 sports a single action trigger as well and should have given the Hi-Power a run for its money. However, the trigger on Georg Luger’s masterpiece is inexplicably spongy. Combine the Hi-Power trigger with its rugged reliable action and a greater magazine capacity than any other handgun then in service and you get a desirable sidearm for elite Nazi formations. These guns were subsequently designated the Pistole 640(b) and went preferentially to the Fallschirmjägers as well as the Waffen SS.

The Fallschirmjägers were the German paratroop arm and they answered to the Luftwaffe or German Air Force. The Schutzstaffel or SS spawned from Hitler’s personal bodyguard and represented some of the most committed warriors fielded by any combatant of the war. That the SS also became synonymous with atrocities and death camps has forever tainted their reputation and justifiably overshadowed their conventional battlefield prowess.

Browning Hi-Power in World War 2

German Waffenamts designate wartime Hi-Powers as accepted for German military service.

Range Time

The Hi-Power holds its own on the range against pistol designs 80 years younger. Recoil is a joy, the trigger is indeed divine, and the 13-round box keeps the gun running long after lesser pistols would have packed it in. Additionally, the magazine release is easily accessed while the magazines drop away cleanly, making for rapid magazine changes. The sights are too small but everybody’s sights were too small.

The FN Hi-Power was a coveted sidearm on both sides of the lines. The Canadians fielded the gun as well, and there were never enough to satisfy the Germans’ voracious wartime appetite. Amidst their many well-documented examples of self-worshipping malevolence, the Nazis did indeed steal from Belgium the finest combat pistol of World War 2.

Special thanks to www.worldwarsupply.com for the cool replica gear used in the production of this article.

34 Comments On This Article

  1. I acquired a Canadian Inglis Hi-power several years ago and it’s in great condition. According to the serial number It was made around March 1944 so It probably didn’t see much action. It is indeed a smooth operating pistol. J.M. Browning was a genius.

  2. Will Dabbs is fast becoming my favorite gun columnist. Who’d have thought that “where ever there are three physicians, two are atheists, the third one was Dr. Dabbs?

  3. There are a few differences between the Inglis and the standard Hi-Power, just as there are with the Israeli adaptation of the design. All parts are not interchangeable among the three.

  4. The Hi-Power is the second gun I bought, made in 1973, with adjustable rear sight, and manufactured and assembled in Belgium. I bought this gun 45 years ago, have kept it up, and perhaps sadly, only fired a few hundred rounds through it. But now I have what is practically a new firearm that has the original grips and blueing and is unblemished and undamaged. Truly one of the finest weapons I own. Did not know the history of the weapon until now. There are at least a few similarities to the 1911, and I can see Browning’s mark on it. Thanks…I think I’ll do a little more research.

  5. Sorry folks but the best military handgun fielded during WWII was the Colt 1911 .45. No 9mm with FMJ ammo will ever be an adequate defensive cartridge no matter how sophisticated the firearm it’s chambered in. Get a life folks; the only reason anyone considers the 9mm as marginally adequate for defensive purposes these days is because of the modern ammo development that has benefited such light calibers. But as long as you have to use hard ball in a military pistol the 9mm will always fall well below the .45 ACP. The high power is a great handgun but it will always be hampered by it’s lightweight chambering. If you’re going to carry a full size pistol get a .45!

  6. The Beretta M9 with 15 rd mag is in my opinion an improvement over the 1911. It is double action and can be safely carried in condition one which is one in the tube, safety off, hammer down. Mag change gives 15 more rounds. First shot is quick, only a long pull of trigger.

    One mag change gives 30 rounds total compared with 1911 having less than half of 30 with one mag change.

    The average military member can hit more accurately with the M9. Yes 9mm is less power. But first of all you have to hit your target. “2 to the chest then 1 to the head”

    CT, LtCol Ret., USAF

  7. The trigger on the NAZI HiPower is crisp due to the NAZI’s leaving out the magazine interlock. With the mag interlock installed, the HiPower trigger is typically marginal at best. Most HiPower fans suggest removing the Magazine interlock. This improves the trigger and allows MT magazine to more effectively fall from the pistol when the magazine release is pressed. Fortunately removal of the interlock on an HP or HP clone is easy. Any experienced gunsmith can do it.

  8. The Hi-Power is a great pistol and while it does not have the knockdown power of the 1911, it’s alot better than the 380 or the 32ACP. I understand the SAS used the Hi-Power (maybe they still do) and these guys ain’t exactly amateurs. I would stake my life on it. I’m 81 and my son wants it so I will be proud to give it to him, knowing full well it can protect him and his family.

  9. I was a juror on case involving 3 victims shot with a 9mm SMG. One of them had died, but the other two, after several surgeries, were in court, walking and talking. One of them had been shot several times in the front, had tried to run away and was shot a few more times in the back as well. This convinced me that as good and reliable as the Hi Power was, it was a good idea to sell it and get a .45

  10. I have a Nazi Hi – Power. My Father carried it for many years. On his passing it came to me. It has unique grips, On the one right side is a stagg head and at its neck is a wreath and a banner and below it is a flur de le. The banner reads “Houffalize”. I’ve been told that is was carried by a Nazi Unit involved in the horrific massacre in France in the battle of the bulge. I always wondered if this was true. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

  11. I love the 1911 and own 3- a Colt 1911 made in 1918 rebuilt several times, save the slide and frame. She is a jewel! Also a Colt Commander. Recently I bought a RIA 1911 in 9mm. I shoot weekly, and have shot both the old 1911 .45 and new 1911 9mm at 100 yards. The 9mm has a much more flat trajectory. Just havin’ some fun.
    I wish I had a FN HighPower!

  12. When I worked as a Texas Patrolman I was issued a Model 27 S&W in 357 Magnum. Then I was promoted to Detective and having been in some “situations” decided on the Hi Power. Fact is if you ever get in a Them against Us more rounds downrange will prevail. Now that I’m working the border I happily carry an STI Hi Cap .45.

  13. The Germans developed the 9mm cartridge with its nearly pointed bullet specifically to penetrate the heavy wool clothing and great coats worn by soldiers of that part of the world at that period of time.

  14. The Germans excelled at putting the arms industries and their products from their conquered nations into their own TO&E.The Hi-Power is indeed an iconic pistol, but I would stop short of saying it was the “finest combat pistol of World War 2.” They used captured tanks and rifles and everything else they could get their hands on.

    As for the Browning Hi-Power, I was actually issued one on two different contracts in Iraq, and I hated them. I was very happy to be able to trade them out for Kimber 1911s in one case, and Glock 17s in the other. Iconic yes, the finest pistol of WWII . . . not so much.

    • Aw yes… the Kimber 1911 and definitely the Glock 17 were much better pistols in WWII. I just can’t remember which military units used them. I thinking maybe the Swiss?

  15. Hi Doc:
    Tell ya what. No matter what silly technical details you don’t like about the 1911, it worked beautifully for me in Vietnam.
    You can feel free to argue against success, Be my guest.

  16. PJ (US Army / Fed. Agent)

    I owned a Hi-power years ago however I am not much for 9mm, but that gun ran like a Swiss watch….perfectly. I carry a .40 for a service issued weapon but would take my 1911(.45) any day of the week over both those cartridges. The Browning also won’t fire with a round in the chamber and no magazine inserted…….? You never know what may happen and you can’t train for every contingency, s**t happens and then you (may) die.
    Great pistol but not the GOAT. (Greatest Of All Time)
    Good article but dressing up in a Waffen SS uniform was a bit much, the atrocities they committed against our troops let alone the people of Europe in my opinion makes them cowards not soldiers.

  17. I bought a Hi-Power at an auction that was either chrome or nickel plated, the main reason I purchased it was the low 5 digit serial number. The acceptance stamps were clearly marked also.

  18. i am the lucky owner of one of these beauties still has the gorgeous factory bluing and still shoots like new only wish i could find an affordable barrel so i could keep the original as is

  19. I love my 1911’s, got a bunch of them, and I mean a bunch but I also have a few High Powers. They are all Belgian made originals and one FEG clone. I really have to say that for EDC there isn’t a thinner, lighter and more comfortable gun to carry. For civilian carry the 14 rounds it sports more make up for the mass of the .45. If I can’t get the job done on an attacker in a bank or grocery store with the HP and frangibles I had better turn in my credentials as a protector of innocents.

  20. Brag. On the 1911 and its 45 round but the 9mm killed far more than did the 45 even when used in combat full auto’s.
    The Browning just as was the Lugars, and later P istols wrre both inherintly more accurate and fat easier for the bearers to become profecient with.
    Mostgrunts and even officers hardly could register Expert with the 45.
    On the range during my military years,, I was told never fail an officer during qualification
    Never woild grade the flukys as expery but the range mastrrs did erase my marksman grade.
    Gotta protect ones ass

    It was not until 70’s on did marksmen additions bring that 1911 clunker into what it is today.
    Does not mean my historical 1911 or Browning will not be sold, , because there are far better newer weapons with improved ammo.

  21. In the Army, qualification with the 1911 on the timed rapid fire portion, 41 out of 42 in the 10 ring was the best I could do. 25 meters and 6 magazines with 7 rounds each. I had never held that stock number pistol before. With better sights and some accurizing, it would have been good. The M9 Beretta just couldn’t keep rounds within any better than the 8 ring. That pistol is of no interest, but only accurate firearms are interesting. The CZ75 is my favorite upgrade of the P35 Browning Hi-Power. It is accurate.

  22. I own several examples of both and love them all. Both have rich histories and excellent records, and plenty of people who owe their lives to them. Don’t be rock throwers. It’s great to have an opinion, but wield it with humility – after all, it’s just an opinion.

  23. Mine obviously was made during the occupation. The eagle and Swastika are stamped on most parts. Exceptionally well made. Shoots like a dream, at least for me.
    When I inherited it, it had no magazine and the original grips were toast. Browning supplied me with both.
    It’s a gun that fits me to a T. I reload, so it’s affordable to shoot. Will be passing it on to my son who loves it.

  24. This is an addendum to my prior post on this subject…considering some of the somewhat goofy responses generated by it. First, let me say to the first goofball that answered me, I wouldn’t want to get shot with anything, even a pellet gun but what in the world does that have to do with anything. Secondly, it should be obvious that if you read my comments you’d see I wasn’t finding fault with the Hi-Power pistol itself, it was the author’s comment that the Hi-Power (which originated in 9mm caliber) was the most effective military handgun fielded during WWII. That, in itself, is a dumb statement primarily because of the inadequacy of the 9mm versus .45 ACP when used with FMJ ammo as the army is required to do.
    I’ve owned a dozen or so Hi-Powers over the years and have two at present in 9mm and .40 (a more recent chambering NOT AVAIL DURING WWII). I love these pistols, the design, and workmanship. I’ve shot thousands of rounds through them all just as I carried the Colt 1911 .45 for a number of years as an Army Officer in Vietnam. Anyone who’d choose a 9mm pistol, in this case the Hi-power or Beretta, over the Colt .45 when FMJ ammo is what’s absolutely required, is mentally challenged. Pure and simple.

ADD A COMMENT