The Luger — The Most Famous German Pistol Ever Made By: Kat Ainsworth


A number of guns have made their mark on firearms history for one reason or another, but perhaps none quite like the Luger. With its unique aesthetic and historic military use, it’s an interesting gun. Whether you want to learn more about the Luger or already consider yourself a seasoned history pro, you’ve come to the right place to find information about the most famous German pistol ever made.

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World War I era Luger pistol.
World War I era Luger pistol. (Photo credit: BBC News)

Who invented the Luger?

The answer to the question of who invented the Luger pistol is somewhat obvious if you think about it. Georg Luger, an Austrian inventor, designed both the Luger pistol and the 9x19mm Luger (also known as 9x19mm Parabellum).

The famed designer was born in 1849 and opted to join the military by joining the Reserve Officer Cadet with the 78th Infantry Regiment. According to historians, Georg caught the attention of superior officers by being a skilled marksman, and they decided to send him to the Austro-Hungarian Military Firearms School. During that time, Georg became an instructor and started learning more about auto-loading firearms and how they worked. Even so, it would be years before he’d be in the position to provide the inventions that would shape the firearms world.

Georg Luger
Georg Luger was the inventor of both the Luger pistol and the 9x19mm Luger cartridge. (Photo credit: Orujze Online)

The moment in history that might have been the impetus behind Georg becoming a serious firearms designer took place in 1875. It was then he worked with Ferdinand von Mannlicher to come up with new rifle magazines, and it seems that project got him interested in doing more.

In 1891 he was employed by the Ludwig Loewe & Company which ended up founding an arms branch, Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken Aktiengesellschaft (translated: German weapons and munitions public limited company). The latter arms company also went by the acronym DWM.

One of Georg Luger's patents for his Luger pistol.
One of Georg Luger’s patents for the pistol. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This progression of events lead to Georg being sent to demonstrate a DWM design—a Hugo-Borchardt weapon—to the United States Army. That particular pistol was turned down, but Georg listened to the issues mentioned by the US Army and decided to create a better gun. In 1898, he patented the Luger, which became an immediate success.

German soldiers training with Luger pistols
The German military used the Luger extensively for years. (Photo credit:

What is the Luger?

The handgun commonly referred to as the Luger has a few names, including:

  • Luger P08
  • Luger
  • Pistole 1904
  • Selbstlade-Pistole Modell 1904
  • Pistole Parabellum
  • Parabellum-Pistole
  • Modell 1900 Parabellum
  • Parabellum Automatic Pistol, Borchardt-Luger System
The artillery version of the Luger, as displayed by the Smithsonian Institute
The artillery version, as displayed by the Smithsonian Institute. (Photo credit: National Museum of American History)

You might be wondering why it’s had so many different titles, and you wouldn’t be alone. When the pistol first went into production through DWM it was called the Parabellum Automatic Pistol, Borchardt-Luger System. As slight adjustments were made to the pistol’s design, the title occasionally changed. For example, the Pistole Modell 1908 was the gun that included the progression to using Georg’s 9mm cartridge.

A Luger pistol customized with engravings and gold features.
A Luger pistol customized with engravings and gold features. (Photo credit: Rock Island Auction)

The original Luger was chambered in 7.62x21mm Parabellum, a pistol cartridge also known by the names .30 Luger and 7.65mm Luger. That particular cartridge was designed by Georg Luger and Hugo Borchardt, who created it based on the 7.65x25mm Borchardt. Although it’s an often overlooked cartridge, the 7.62x21mm Parabellum remained in use from 1898 to 1949. Eventually, it was replaced by Georg’s other well-known invention, 9x19mm Parabellum.

A 1915 World War I era DWM Luger pistol chambered in 9mm.
A 1915 World War I era DWM Luger pistol chambered in 9mm. (Photo credit: Ancestry Guns)

Once the pistol was chambered in 9x19mm Parabellum, it saw wide military use. In 1904, the Imperial German Navy adopted it for use, calling it the Selbstlade-Pistole Modell 1904, a name they later shortened to the Pistole 1904. It would be 1908 before the Imperial German Army chose to designate the Luger as their service pistol. They’d been hoping to come up with their own improved pistol, but even when that gun was ready, it couldn’t outperform the Luger. Overall, you could say the gun was a resounding success.

1917 DWM Luger pistol called Death's Head
A rare 1917 DWM Luger pistol called the “Death’s Head.” It was a late World War I production model chambered in 9x19mm Parabellum. (Photo credit: Bryant Ridge Company via GunBroker)


It is a semi-automatic pistol with a toggle lock action, which operates differently than the slide actions seen on handguns like the 1911. Wikipedia describes the action as follows:

After a round is fired, the barrel and toggle assembly travel roughly 13 mm (0.5 in) rearward due to recoil, both locked together at this point. The toggle strikes a cam built into the frame, causing the knee joint to hinge and the toggle and breech assembly to unlock. The barrel strikes the frame and stops its rearward movement, but the toggle assembly continues moving, bending the knee joint, extracting the spent casing from the chamber, and ejecting it. The toggle and breech assembly then travel forward under spring tension and the next round is loaded from the magazine into the chamber. The entire sequence occurs in a fraction of a second and contributes to the above average mud resistance of the pistol.

As for dimensions, the gun went through a few stages of production. It has an approximate weight of 1 pound, 15 ounces—which can vary a bit by production model—and an 8-round capacity when using the standard single-stack magazine. The pistol was made in different barrel lengths including 4.7 inches (Pistole 00), 3.9 inches (Pistole 08), and 7.9 inches (Lange Pistole 1908). Variations were made to function with a stock so it could be fired from the shoulder.

Luger use in combat WWI
The Luger being used for combat. (Photo Credit: Warfare History Network)

What wars was the Luger used in?

Although its service really only spanned approximately half a century, the gun was used in a lot of different wars and rebellions. Those uses included:

  • Boxer Rebellion
  • World War I
  • German Revolution
  • Irish War of Independence
  • Finnish Civil War
  • Irish Civil War
  • Constitutionalist Revolution
  • Chaco War
  • Spanish Civil War
  • World War II
  • Second Sino-Japanese War
  • 1947-48 Palestine War
  • Indonesian National Revolution
  • Indochina War
  • Algerian War
  • 1958 Lebanon Crisis
  • Vietnam War
  • Laotian Civil War
  • Lebanese Civil War
  • Portuguese Colonial War
  • Rhodesian Bush War
  • The Troubles

The Luger is understandably most often associated with its use in World War II, but as you can see, it saw a great deal of use elsewhere.

Although the Luger never saw use by the United States military—not for lack of trying, because they did try it out, but ended up choosing the M1911—it remains a major piece of military history. Today it is a collector’s item, and most of these guns come with long backstories of combat use. If only guns could talk.

What’s your favorite historical firearm? Tell us in the comments section.