DWM Luger P-08 9mm Pistol

By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff


DWM Luger P-08 Pistol
The DWM Luger that is the subject of this review. Photo by Chuck Hawks.

The Luger (Pistole Parabellum or P-08) is perhaps the most aesthetically and ergonomically pleasing of all autoloading centerfire pistols. It is also one of the strongest, most accurate and most recognizable service pistols ever made. (Bill Ruger frankly admitted styling his .22 Auto, the best selling .22 caliber pistol in the world, after the Luger.)

The standard Luger calibers are 7.65mm and 9mm for both civilian and military models. The 9mm Luger cartridge, developed by Georg Luger, is the most popular and widely distributed pistol cartridge in the world today.

Georg Luger developed his famous pistol in 1898-1899 (starting with the Borchardt/Luger transitional pistol). The Luger is, essentially, a much improved Borchardt type pistol, which was itself based on the toggle action concept used by Sir Hiram Maxim in the world's first practical machine gun. The Maxim shot its way to bloody fame in World War One, which also became the combat proving ground for the Luger Pistol.

The 1893 Borchardt pistol was the first commercially successful autoloading pistol. It was produced by Ludwig Lowe of Berlin, Germany, where Georg Luger was employed. Hugo Borchardt and Georg Luger were co-workers for a time and their families' lives within a few blocks of each other. It was Luger who, in 1894, exhibited a Borchardt pistol to the U.S. Naval Ordinance Board. Two years later, the Ludwig Lowe firm acquired the DMK ammunition company and from this merger a new entity emerged: Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM). DWM became the producer of the Borchardt pistol and, in 1900, its famous successor the Luger pistol.

The Luger was officially adopted by the Swiss military in 1901, the Imperial German Navy in 1906 and the German Army in 1908, which resulted in its common "P-08" designation. The standard German Army Luger used in WW I had a 4" barrel, the Navy Luger a 6" barrel and the Artillery Model an 8" barrel. The Luger was also the standard service pistol of Switzerland, Portugal, Holland, Chile, Brazil and Bulgaria. It was used, officially or semi-officially, in Austria, Luxemburg, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Spain, Persia (Iran), Russia, Bolivia, China, Japan (captured from the Dutch in the East Indies during WW II and remarked with Japanese characters), France (post WW II occupation forces in Germany), the U.S. (post WW II occupation forces in Germany), East Germany (GDR state police) and probably other countries. It was tested by the U.S. military on three occasions and almost adopted as our standard service pistol. Many police forces around the world adopted the Luger.

In 1922, DWM was absorbed by the holding company B.K.I.W. and in 1930 DWM was acquired by Mauser. During 1930-1931, all Luger production machinery (and many technicians) were moved from the DWM factory in Berlin to the Mauser factory in Oberndorf, Germany, where Lugers were produced until 1942, when the Luger was finally replaced as the standard German service pistol by the Walther P-38. Mauser made Lugers bear the Mauser logo on top of their first toggle link, where the DWM logo had previously been stamped. Mauser produced most of the WW II era and post WW II Lugers. Mauser sold commercial Lugers in the 1970's and finally ceased manufacture in 1997.

Incredibly, the Luger's design changed very little during its long production life. The principle change being the substitution of a coil mainspring for the flat mainspring used in the early 1900's.

The majority of German Luger pistols were produced by DWM. However, Lugers were also produced in large numbers under license by the Royal German Arsenal at Erfurt between 1910-1914 and 1916-1918. (About 2,000,000 Lugers were produced during WW I by DWM and ERFURT combined.) After WW I, Simson & Company and Kreighoff produced Lugers under license, as did Mauser after their acquisition of DWM.

In Switzerland, Waffenfabrik produced complete pistols and SIG made parts. The Swiss turned out some 50,000 military and commercial Lugers. Vickers, Ltd. of England produced a batch for the government of the Netherlands around 1921. Small runs of stainless steel Lugers were made in Texas, USA in the 1990's for Stoeger and Mitchell Arms, but the high cost of producing this exquisitely fitted pistol and disputes over rights to the design ultimately scuttled these American efforts.

In the early post-WW I years, DWM assembled commercial Lugers from parts left over after the war. The pistol that is the subject of this review is apparently one of those. It is chambered for the 9mm Luger (9x19mm) cartridge and was supplied to us by Harry Johnson of Wasichu Warrior Stoneworks in Florence, Oregon, USA.

We believe it was made between 1920 and 1922 and probably exported to North America. This is because "Made in Germany" is stamped at the front of the left frame rail in English. Otherwise, it bears the usual "crown over N" (for nitro) commercial German proof mark, "Geschert" (safe) by the safety lever, "Geladen" (loaded) on the extractor and "DWM" on the front toggle link. The serial number is stamped on the front of the frame and the last two digits of the serial number are stamped on most of the gun's major parts. The serial number on the frame is accompanied by the DWM suffix "h" indicating manufacture in 1918. (WW I ended on 11 November 1918.) Except for the "Made in Germany" frame stamp, these are all typical DWM/German markings.

Unlike military Lugers, there is no production year stamped into the top of the front receiver ring. DWM commercial model Lugers usually lacked this date and Lugers assembled for commercial sale in the early 1920's from surplus military parts usually had the date (if any) ground off the frame before final polishing and finishing. Our test pistol has a wide trigger, lanyard ring and stock lug, but no grip safety, characteristics typical of commercial Lugers of the period.

It came to us with one original early type magazine with a wooden floorplate and two aftermarket magazines with plastic (probably bakelite) floorplates. (DWM Lugers were normally supplied with two numbered magazines, but these rarely accompany used Lugers today.) The grips are the original, fully checkered walnut panels.

The typical DMW Luger pistol barrel lengths are 3-7/8" (after WW I only), 4", 4-3/4", 6"and 8". DMW Luger carbines normally came with 11-3/4" barrels. Our sample Luger is unusual in that it has a 5" barrel. As far as we know, DWM did not supply 5" barrels on 9mm pistols and the pistol's serial number is not stamped on the bottom of the barrel, which was common practice. Nor is there a witness mark on the bottom of the barrel, although there is an index mark on the frame. We therefore believe that this Luger was rebarreled at some point in its career. (In the 1920's and 1930's, serviceable Lugers were common in the U.S. and aftermarket replacement barrels were available in many lengths.) Despite the barrel's odd length and questionable provenance, it has the typical "thick" Luger contour (early Luger barrels were thinner than later barrels) and wears a Luger dovetail mounted front sight.

We also believe that our test pistol was reblued at some point, as evidenced by the slight rounding of sharp corners and the shallowness of the proof and part of the "Made in Germany" markings on the receiver. (This is caused by the buffing and polishing required before a gun can be reblued.) The bluing is worn on the front and back grip straps and the barrel and frame show some holster wear at the edges, but most of our gun's bluing remains.

Specifications (as tested)

  • Manufacturer: DWM
  • Model: Commercial P-08 Luger
  • Vintage: 1920-1922 (estimated)
  • Type: Autoloading service pistol
  • Operation: Recoil operated (toggle action), striker fired
  • Action: Single action
  • Caliber: 9mm Luger (9x19mm)
  • Magazine capacity: 7
  • Barrel length: 5"
  • Trigger pull: 2-1/4 lbs.
  • Sights: Fixed; V-notch rear, dovetail mounted bead front
  • Sight radius: 8-11/16" (22.2cm)
  • Finish: blued steel
  • Grips: 2-piece; checkered walnut
  • Overall length: 9-1/2" (24cm)
  • Height: 6-1/2" (14cm)
  • Width: 1-1/2" (3.7cm)
  • Weight: 2 lbs. (with empty magazine)
  • Country of origin: Germany
  • 2013 used price: $1200 (approx.)

Today, over 110 years after its initial adoption by the Swiss in 1901, the Luger is still in high demand. As a result, good used Lugers in shootable condition are priced beyond the means of many shooters. Luger collectors drive Luger prices to ever higher levels and a large number of Lugers today reside in private collections.

What has made the Luger so desirable for so long? Here are some of the distinguishing characteristics mentioned by the Ordinance Board from the U.S. Army tests of 1907 (in comparison to all contenders, but in particular compared to the Colt .45 Auto):

  • The shape of the grip conforms to the anatomical features of the hand.
  • The center of gravity is well to the rear. There are two points of support as the pistol lies naturally in the hand.
  • There is an automatic indication that the chamber is loaded, visible to the eye and sensible to the touch.
  • The empty magazine may be expelled by the pistol hand.
  • The parts are easily accessible.
  • Superior accuracy (10 shots at 25 yards = 1.3" Luger and 2.4" Colt Auto)

Perhaps the nicest thing about a Luger pistol, aside from its superior pointability, is its obviously high quality and tight fit. There is no looseness or slop anywhere. It is assembled like a fine watch. There are no screws holding the Luger lockwork together. The only screws (one per side) hold the grips to the frame. You know you are holding a top quality, beautifully made and fitted firearm. No Browning type, tilt-barrel action pistol comes close to the precision feel of a Luger.

Of course, the Luger action's great strength is reassuring. The toggle action is considerably stronger than normal tilt-barrel, recoil operated actions. Lugers handle maximum loads with aplomb. It is underpowered loads that can cause problems, by failing to fully operate the action.

This is how the Luger functions, as concisely explained in the "History" section of the online Luger Forum (www.lugerforum.com):

"The most distinctive feature of the Luger is undoubtedly the toggle-lock mechanism, which holds the breech closed by locking in a manner not unlike the human knee, which can sustain a heavy weight when straight, but once bent, is quite easy to continue to bend. . . . When a round is fired the entire breech, barrel and toggle move straight rearward (on rails) until the toggle begins to ride up on a pair of cams that 'breaks' the toggle (makes it bend at the joint). Once the toggle joint is no longer straight, it bends freely, allowing the bolt to come rearward and the striker to be cocked. The spent cartridge is extracted by a combination extractor/loaded chamber indicator on the top of the toggle and is ejected as the toggle nears the end of its rearward travel; a new round is stripped from the magazine and chambered as the toggle is driven back to the straight position by a spring."

Our test Luger's single action only trigger has a long take-up and some creep (typical of Lugers), but releases at a light 2.5 pounds. After over 90 years of service, the parts are undoubtedly well worn-in!

The safety lever takes a fair amount of pressure to slide up or down. It is positive and unlikely to be moved accidentally. Lever down is SAFE ("Geschert" is visible) and lever up ("Geschert" covered) is FIRE.

Racking the action is different than with slide operated autoloading pistols. We found the easiest way is to grip the pistol normally in the shooting hand with the trigger finger alongside the frame (not touching the trigger). Point the pistol directly away from the shooter and upward at about a 45-degree angle. Use the thumb and index finger of the weak hand to firmly grasp the toggle joint knobs and yank back and upward at about a 45-degree angle (in relation to the line of bore). This should retract the breech block. To hold the action open, do this with an empty magazine in place, as it takes an empty magazine to activate the hold open catch. Once the action is locked open, the empty magazine can be removed. To reset the trigger after dry firing, the action only needs to be opened about 5/16".

There is no external hold-open lever. To release a locked-open breech block, insert a loaded magazine (or no magazine at all) and pull the toggle joint about 1/8" rearward, then release.

Before venturing to a gun range to fire the Luger, we field stripped and cleaned it. Field stripping is accomplished without any tools. The procedure is first to remove the magazine and cycle the action to ensure that the gun is unloaded. Then, pull back the toggle and turn the locking bolt (take-down lever) 90-degrees downward. The trigger plate on the left side of the frame, just behind the take-down lever, may now be removed. (Sometimes moving the slide a bit forward helps dislodge the trigger plate) The barrel, receiver, breech block, toggle joints and their components can now be slid, as a unit, forward off the frame. The large connecting pin between the rear link and the receiver may now be pushed free and lifted out to the left (a spitzer bullet point or the tip of a ball point pen works fine), thereby detaching the toggle joints from the barrel and receiver. Take care that the smaller pin between the breech bolt and front toggle link does not fall out and get lost. This is as far as the pistol needs to be disassembled for normal cleaning. Reassemble in reverse order.

We thoroughly sprayed the innards of our Luger with Prolix to flush out dirt and crud and then pulled a Bore Snake through the barrel twice. After drying the gun, we applied a small amount of SIG's white lubricant to the frame rails and breech block rails.

Our test shooting with the Luger was conducted at the Izaak Walton gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. This outdoor facility has covered shooting positions with bench rests and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. We did our test shooting at a distance of 25 yards, our usual range for testing handguns. The weather was sunny, with a high temperature of about 75-degrees F. and 5-10 MPH winds.

We requested test ammunition from our friends at Hornady, Remington and Winchester, without whose help these reviews would not be possible. The ammunition we used included Remington/UMC 115 grain MC (MV 1145 fps), Remington/UMC 124 grain MC (MV 1100 fps), Winchester 124 grain FMJ (MV 1140 fps), Hornady Critical Defense 115 grain FTX (MV 1140 fps), Hornady Custom 124 grain XTP-JHP (MV 1110 fps), Hornady +P Critical Duty 135 grain FlexLock (MV 1115 fps) and Hornady Custom 147 grain XTP-JHP MV 975 fps) factory loads.

We shot five-shot groups for record using a Pistol Perch rest. Guns and Shooting Online staff members Jim Fleck, Rocky Hays and Chuck Hawks did the test shooting. Here are the shooting results:

  • Hornady 115 grain FTX - smallest group 7/8", largest group 3", mean average group size = 2.4"
  • Hornady 124 grain XTP - smallest group 1-3/4", largest group 2-3/4", mean average group size = 2.2"
  • Hornady +P 135 grain FL - smallest group 1-3/8", largest group 2-1/4", mean average group size = 1.7"
  • Remington/UMC 115 grain MC - smallest group 3-3/4", largest group 5-1/4", mean average group size = 4.6"
  • Remington/UMC 124 grain MC - smallest group 1-1/8", largest group 2-3/4", mean average group size = 2.0"
  • Winchester 124 grain FMJ - smallest group 1-7/8", largest group 3-1/4", mean average group size = 2.4"

AVERAGE GROUP SIZE FOR 124 gr. LOADS TESTED = 2.55"

We know that Lugers of this vintage were designed for full power loads (today that would be NATO spec ammo) using 124 grain RN/FMJ bullets. Most functioning problems are caused by reduced power ammunition or bullets with flat tips or aggressive hollow points, which didn't exist when the Luger pistol's feeding geometry was designed.

In our testing, we had one failure to feed with the Remington/UMC 115 grain MC load and two failures to feed with the Hornady 124 grain XTP hollow points. The Hornady 115 grain Critical Defense and 135 grain Critical Duty loads caused the most malfunctions among the loads for which we recorded groups, essentially making the Luger a single shot pistol. The Hornady Custom 147 grain XTP-JHP cartridges have long bullets with a large hollow point; these would not even feed from the magazine by hand and testing was discontinued with this load. The Winchester and Remington 124 grain ball ammo caused no malfunctions. These results are about what we expected.

We tried one original Luger magazine and two vintage aftermarket magazines of unknown manufacture. The aftermarket magazines simply did not feed cartridges correctly, jamming the gun with almost every shot. The original Luger magazine worked perfectly. After testing the magazines, all subsequent shooting was done with the Luger magazine.

This time out, Rocky shot the smallest groups. The Luger is a full size, all steel gun with a long, extremely comfortable grip that minimizes recoil and aids accurate shooting. We have previously mentioned the pistol's toggle action with straight line barrel recoil and light SA trigger. These characteristics combined to make our range session with the Luger pleasurable. As you can see from the results above, its accuracy was good for a 90+ year old service pistol.

The fine sights, and especially the small rear V-notch, are difficult to see with our aging eyes. They are certainly inferior to modern Patridge (square notch/square blade) sights, especially for fast acquisition and target shooting. Despite this, we managed to shoot some decent 25 yard groups from a bench rest with the Luger, although we probably could have done better with modern sights. For most of us, the Luger shot to the correct elevation at 25 yards, a good thing since the only possible sight adjustment is for windage and then only by sliding the front sight laterally in its mounting dovetail.

If a windage adjustment is necessary with a Luger, move the front sight in the opposite direction from the way you want the point of impact to move. For example, if you want to move the bullet's impact right, you must slide the front sight to the left.

In summation, we found the Luger fun to shoot, accurate (with all loads except the Rem./UMC 115 grain fodder), very comfortable and exquisitely made. It points better than any other service pistol we have reviewed. It is probably the highest quality and best fitted of all successful autoloading service pistols. Those individuals who own a Luger pistol are indeed fortunate.

Note: Most of the historical information in this article was gleaned from the book The Luger Pistol (Pistole Parabellum) by Fred A. Datig. Also helpful in our research was the 33rd Edition of Fjestad's Blue Book of Gun Values and the Luger Forum (www.lugerforum.com) online. There have been myriad Luger variations and we do not pretend to be experts on the subject. Our historical research, almost inevitably given the long production span and multiple manufacturers of Luger pistols in various countries, revealed discrepancies even between knowledgeable sources. This article can only attempt to skim the surface of the Luger pistol's long history and any errors or omissions are ours and ours alone.




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