World War II was the largest and deadliest conflict in human history. A staggering seventy million people lost their lives during the war. There were countless new firearms and weapons technologies developed and it was the only time in history that nuclear bombs were dropped during a war.
Here’s a list of some of the best sidearms used in World War II:
The Colt M1911, also know as the Colt Government model, is one of the most iconic handguns on the planet. The 1911 was designed by John Browning and first produced by Colt Manufacturing in Hartford, Connecticut. The United States Government was searching for an upgrade to the .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolvers it was issuing to soldiers at the time. The 1911 was a big improvement, giving shooters 7+1 rounds of .45 caliber bullets in a semi-automatic handgun. The rest is history. The 1911 went on to serve as the standard issue sidearm for the United States Armed Forces from 1911-1985. The seventy four year service history makes the 1911 the longest running US Military sidearm, with the United States Government purchasing more than 2.7 million pistols. The 1911 was carried through World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The Browning High Power was designed by American firearms inventor John Browning in 1914. The High Power got its name due to the pistol’s capacity of thirteen rounds. At the time, this was approximately double the capacity of a standard 1911 pistol. John Browning passed away in 1926, several years before the final version of the Browning High Power was brought to market. However, his legacy lives on with one of the most widely used pistols on the planet. The Browning High power has been in production ever since and it’s been issued for military service in over fifty countries. The High Power was also used in World War II by both Allied and Axis forces. In 1940, the Germans took over the FN factory in Belgium which was producing the High Power pistols. From then on, the High Power was one of the few firearms found on both sides of the war.
The Walther P38 is a 9mm semi-automatic pistol that was developed in Germany at the start of World War II. It was intended to be an upgrade to the costly and aging Luger P08. The P38 used a double action / single action trigger and a locked breech, similar to the Beretta M9. This was the first of its kind, giving the shooter the ability to chamber a round then drop the hammer without firing by using the safety / decocking lever. Produced by both Walther and Mauser starting in 1938, the P38 is still in service today with military and law enforcement throughout the world.
One of the most infamous pistol designs is the German Luger, formally known as the Pistole Parabellum. The Luger was used extensively in various armed forces throughout Europe in the 1900s, but it’s best known for being the Nazi’s sidearm of choice in World War II. It’s also well known for firing the 9mm cartridge, one of the worlds most popular pistol calibers to this day. The Luger pistols saw plenty of combat and quickly gained a reputation for reliability and longevity. The Germans officially replaced the Luger with the Walther P38 during World War II, but a shortage of production caused the Germans to order an additional 15,000 Luger pistols for the war effort.
The Walther PP series, also know as the Polizei Pistole or Police Pistol, is another iconic design. If you’ve ever seen a James Bond film, then surely you’ve seen the PPK in action. The Walther PP series was one of the most successful pistol designs of the 20th century, with multiple variants still in production today.
The TT-30, also known as the Tula Tokarev was a Soviet semi-automatic pistol designed by Fedor Tokarev in the 1930s. This pistol was specifically designed as an upgrade to replace the slow and aging Nagant revolvers of the 19th century. The Soviet Union carried the TT-30 into battle during World War II and continued using it until 1952 when it was replaced by the Makarov pistol.
During World War I, the M1917 revolver was created to supplement the 1911 pistol in service. Despite several firearms companies manufacturing the 1911, the US Military was still facing firearms shortages. In response to the shortage, Smith and Wesson quickly produced the M1917 revolver which used the same .45 caliber bullet as the 1911. The .45 is a rimless cartridge designed for use in a magazine fed semi-automatic pistol. Therefore, the M1917 used six round moon clips to load the rounds into the cylinder. This also allowed for easy extraction and faster reloads under stress. The revolver stuck around and served in every war up to and including Vietnam.
The Webley was a British service revolver in service from 1887-1963. It featured a break top design which allowed the shooter to quickly disassemble the revolver for reloads. It fired the large .455 caliber Webley cartridges, making it one of the most powerful break top revolvers ever made. The official sidearm for the British Military during World War II was the updated Enfield No. 2 Mk I, but due to production shortages the older Webley .455 was also widely used in battle.
The Nagant 1895 was a unique revolver used by the USSR during World War II. It featured a gas seal system which moved the cylinder forward when the hammer was cocked. Closing the gap between the barrel and cylinder sealed off the gasses from escaping, raising the muzzle velocity and allowing the revolver to be suppressed. The downside to the Nagant was its extremely slow reloads. Each round must be unloaded and reloaded one by one. This type of revolver would soon be replaced by newer designs which were much faster to reload, including the American style of revolvers with swing out cylinders and break top models which eject all shells casings at once.