Luger P.08 and Makarov pistols
One legendary WWI and WWII German semi-auto
faces off with Russia’s post WWII top gun
By Dennis Adler
Many of you are going, “What, why is he comparing a Luger with a Makarov?” Two reasons; both have their roots tied to military history and both have become iconic firearms. The Luger Parabellum is an evolution of a late 19th century design, the Borchardt, while the Makarov, an early post-WWII pistol, has its basis in the mid 20th century Russian Tokarev semiautomatic pistol, without which the Makarov might never have been designed. Both 1908 Luger and 1951 Makarov were being used in the post WWII era, and both remain to this day among the most significant of all European handguns, albeit the Luger with a much greater heritage than the Makarov. Both have been recreated as high-quality, blowback action .177 caliber semiautomatic air pistols, and by two different manufacturers, Umarex and Gletcher; two guns, two manufacturers, and two different approaches to the same end. Who comes out on top? You be the judge.
The Luger Heritage
When it comes to historic handguns as a raison d’être for building a .177 caliber CO2 blowback action air pistol, very few handguns from the 20th century are more deserving than the Luger Parabellum. In fact, it is just barely even a 20th century handgun, being one of the very first successful (with the emphasis on “successful”) semiautomatic handguns ever. The P.08’s design was evolved from the c. 1893 Borchardt semiautomatic pistol developed by Hugo Borchardt.
Austrian born firearms designer Georg J. Luger was infatuated with the Borchardt’s design, if not its’ ungainly appearance with a foursquare grip almost in the middle of the frame and a massive rear toggling action. Luger envisioned a smaller version, with the toggle link having its mainspring inside the grip frame rather than behind it, so the gun could be more compact and its operation simplified. His first version of this new gun appeared at the end of the 19th century in 1898. In addition to the Broomhandle Mauser (which was a totally different approach to a semiautomatic pistol design) the Luger was one of the most significant semiautomatic handguns ever designed.
The Luger’s knee-joint-style toggle breechblock was still a very complicated design (eclipsed by the John M. Browning designs of the early 20th century for ease of operation and maintenance), and though technologically outdated by WWI, the Luger remained a reliable, precision built German sidearm remaining in use even after it was superseded as the German military’s standard sidearm by the Walther P.38 in 1940. What the two guns had most in common was reliability, accuracy and a 9mm cartridge.
The original Luger pistol was not chambered in 9mm, but for a smaller cartridge, the 7.65x21mm round. In 1901 Luger invented a new cartridge for his pistol, the 9x19mm Parabellum. What is known today as the most common pistol cartridge in use throughout the world was invented by Georg Luger and put into production in 1903.
Prior to the P.08, Germany had used a variety of semiautomatic handguns, making the P.08 the first standardized semiautomatic military sidearm of the German Empire. The guns were originally manufactured in Berlin by Deutche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM). They were later produced by Mauser (which acquired DWM in 1930), by the Royal German Arsenal at Erfurt, and after WWI, under license by Simson & Company and Kreighoff. Switzerland also turned out some 50,000 military and commercial Luger models, and in Great Britain, Vickers, Ltd. manufactured a small run for delivery to the Netherlands in 1920-21. The Luger Parabellum was even once considered by the U.S. government as a potential military sidearm. It lost out to the Colt Model 1911. So the Luger has a very long history and a design, however complicated, that has proven popular enough to become one of the flagship models for the Umarex Legends line of historic semiautomatic pistols.
The Makarov Journey
Russia, or rather the Soviet Union’s role in WWII, is confusing because at the beginning of the war in 1939, the Soviet Union appeared to be on Germany’s side (politically and in terms of Soviet invasions following Germany’s attack on Poland). That had all changed by 1943 when the Soviet Union found itself on the side of the Allied Forces (politically) following Joseph Stalin’s meeting in Tehran (Iran) with Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Stalin’s change of heart had been motivated by Germany’s first invasion of Russia in June 1941 despite a non-aggression treaty, beginning a long and hard fought war in which the Soviet Union had to rely on a variety of mostly outdated firearms for its defense. Among those firearms was the Tokarev TT-33 semiautomatic, the only modern pistol in the entire Soviet arsenal. It had first been issued to the Red Army in 1934.
Of course, the Soviet Union was no stranger to semi-autos; the Red Army was already using the German Broomhandle Mauser and P.08 Luger and officers had even been allowed to purchase their own sidearms (usually a Broomhandle Mauser) since 1914, but the Soviets really wanted their own Russian-made semi-auto pistol. The desired caliber was 7.62x25mm (virtually identical to the 7.63x25mm Mauser Broomhandle round) and in 1930, arms designer Fedor Vasilevich Tokarev gave Mother Russia the handgun it wanted, the Tokarev TT-30, and in 1933, an improved version, the TT-33, which was adopted by the Soviet Union as its new sidearm one year later.
The Tokarev was to become the most famous Russian handgun of the Second World War, and remained in use until the postwar 1950s, by which time the U.S.S.R. wanted an even better Russian-made pistol. Enter the Pistolet Makarova Model 1951 or Makarov for short. Originally issued to Soviet officers during the Cold War Era, the Makarov was chambered in 9x18mm, (a slightly smaller caliber closer in size and power to a .380 ACP).
The Makarov airguns are all based on the original design, and like the Umarex P.08 Legends Series, is an all-metal, blowback action semi-auto with a self contained CO2 and BB magazine. You’ll note I said “airguns” and that is because, like the Umarex Legends models, there are similar blowback action P.08 and Makarov air pistols produced by Gletcher. The P.08 is actually offered in two versions by Gletcher, one identical to the Umarex Parabellum P.08 and a second model listed as the P.08, which uses a stick magazine and a CO2 chamber built into the pistol grip. Gletcher’s Russian Legends series also offers a Makarov model, the PM 1951. So there are two versions of the Makarov and three of the P.08 from which to choose.
Next Monday in Part 2, we start to make a case for the choices, an Umarex or Gletcher Luger Parabellum.