By Stephen A. Petroni
The Navy Luger
The Luger pistol is synonymous with the German military. Yet it was the Kaiserliche Marine, the Imperial German Navy, which first adopted the Luger pistol. This is hardly surprising as the Navy was the first Imperial force to be established after the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and until 1919 each German state controlled its own army. The Kaiserliche Marine experienced a concerted and rapid growth that was fuelled by the young German state’s colonial aspirations.
The Kaiserliche Marine was still equipped with the “Reichsrevolver” at the turn of the century. These antiquated 10.6mm revolvers contrasted with the modern ships that were being commissioned and the Navy soon turned its attention to the replacement of its old revolvers with modern self-loading pistols. On August 1, 1904 the Reichs-Marine-Amt ordered the issue of five 9mm Luger pistols made by Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabrik (DWM), for use in trials. The reaction was a positive one and the War Ministry placed an urgent order for 2,000 pistols. This interim period Luger pistol reflected the transition period from the early 1900 Luger pistol. It is popularly known as the “1904 Navy” among collectors. It is unlikely that the full amount was produced; possibly around 1,200 were delivered by the time that the War Ministry placed an order with DWM for 8,000 “9mm Selbstladepistole Modell 1904”on 12 December 1904. The first batch of these contract pistols were delivered in March 1906.
The “1904 Navy” was a six-inch barrel Luger pistol with the older long frame, grip safety and the characteristic naval rear sight. On the backstrap bottom it had a lug to which the shoulder stock could be attached. There was no date on the chamber but the DWM logo was to be found on the front toggle link. Collectors refer to this variant as the “1906 Navy, first issue.”
As from 1910 the wooden shoulder stocks were manufactured with a marking disk. Existing shoulder stocks were recalled to be fitted with these discs. However, not all were altered. Pistol stocks issued to units posted to distant locations presumably escaped this alteration.
The pistol’s upper safety position was found to be potentially dangerous. There was a tendency for the lever to be pushed into the “fire” position as the pistol was extracted from the holster. An improved variant with the safety position in the lower position, similar to the Luger model adopted by the Army in 1908 and known as the “Pistole 08” (P08), was delivered to the Marine in 1912. This is known as the “1906 Navy, second issue” by collectors. Immediately thereafter most of the first issue pistols were recalled and the safety was altered to the lower position. The “Gesichert” (safety) marking was ground off and a new one stamped in the corresponding location above the lever.
A further modification to the pistol occurred in 1908 when the grip-safety was eliminated. This is known as the “1908 Navy.” However, the most significant change came right in the middle of WWI when in 1916 the pistol’s frame was shortened to the same length as the Army’s P08. This variant, erroneously known as the “1914 Navy,” was the only Navy Luger marked with the date of manufacture on the chamber. Three chamber dates have been encountered; 1916, 1917 and (quite rarely) 1918. The date was also stamped on the front-sight base and on the front left side of the frame.
The total number of Navy Lugers produced by the end of WWI has not yet been established with certainty. Current thought varies between 32,000 and 53,000 pieces in all different variants. In any case, these pistols are rarely found since many were lost in WWI and more were destroyed after the war. All the “Gouv. Kiau.” Lugers were captured by the Japanese and either held by them or presented to Royal Navy officers.
The Imperial German colony in China was known as Kiautschou (Kiao Chow). Its administrative centre was Tsingtao, which was the seat of the military government known as Gouvernment Kiautschou. Under its control came the following units in which served over three thousand Kaiserliche Marine officers and soldiers:
- Matrosenartillerieabteilung Kiautschou – Tsingtau
- III. Seebataillon (Inf. Komp. 1, 2, 3 and 7; Mounted comp. 5) – Tsingtau
- Ostasiatisches Marinedetachement (part of 4./S.B.III) – Peking, Tsingtau
- Hafenamt, Werft, Depots, Fortifikationen, Observatorium usw. – Tsingtau
Luger pistols assigned to the Navy garrison at Tsingtao were marked on the backstrap with the words GOUV. KIAU. followed by the property number. It is estimated that less than three hundred pistols bore these markings, which were likely applied on the pistols before they were issued and shipped to the colony. The work would have been carried out by the Kommando des III Stam- Seebataillions (III. ST.S.B.) that was located in Cuxhaven and which served as the training/depot unit for the III. Seebattaillon.
Shortly after the beginning of WWI, on 7 November 1914, the Japanese attacked and captured the Kiatschou colony. The entire garrsion was taken prisoner and its members taken to Japan to be housed in a number of P.O.W. camps.
Navy Luger Pistol No. 3386
The pistol under study is a Modell 1904 (1906 Navy, 1st type altered) serial number 3386 that was delivered to the Kaiserliche Marine sometime after March 1906 (December 1904 contract) and well before 1910 (since its matching shoulder stock does not have the marking disk). The DWM logo is found on the rear toggle link. The other markings besides the serial number (last two digits on small parts) are the Navy crown over N acceptance marks and the GOUV. KIAU. 4. stamping on the backstrap. The pistol has a bright bore and the surfaces retain practically all the original finish. The small parts retain most of the original straw finish.
The pistol is complete with its matching numbered magazine with the correct concentric circles wood base. A pouch containing two extra magazines is attached to the shoulder strap. Housed in the regulation black leather holster are the original take-down tool and cleaning rod.
The shoulder stock bears the same serial number as the pistol and is stamped with the Navy acceptance mark. One of the most interesting aspects of this exceptional set is the name painted in white lettering on the stock: Lt. Schleissner.
Fritz Schleißner (also spelled Schleissner or even Schleisner in the POW records) was born on September 13, 1876 in the Prussian town of Neubrück, Westpreußen. At age 18 he enlisted in the Navy on 2 October 1894, serving as an ordnance man in various ranks. He was commissioned Feuerwehr Leutnant on July 23, 1912 and assigned to the Artillery Depot in Tsingtao, China in August 1914.
He was taken prisoner by the Japanese in November 1914 following the Garrison’s capture. Leutnant Schleißner was assigned POW number 2390 and detained at Himeji POW camp in Japan on 20 November 1914. The camp housed a total of 323 German prisoners who were all taken at Tsingtao. On 20 September 1915 all the inmates were transferred to Aonogahara Camp. Shortly thereafter, on 30 October, Schleißner was promoted to the rank of Feuerwehr Oberleutnant.
Following his release from captivity in December 1919, he was released from the Navy on 8 March 1920 and granted the retirement rank of Feuerwerks- Kapitänleutnant, Marine-Oberingenieur in the Reichsmarine on April 12, 1920.
GOUV. KIAU. Lugers In Existence Today
Just a handful of GOUV. KIAU. Lugers have been reported in collections. According to the latest information, the number of verified pieces is presently nine while another two await verification. Pistol No. 3386 bears the lowest inventory number; “4”. It appears to be the only named piece.
It is evident from the sequence that the property marks were added at random on pistols picked from stocks held at Cuxhaven.
The author would like to thank Dr. Ichiro Tamura, Tom Armstrong, Hans-Joachim Schmidt, Heinz W. Ahlers, Leo Lavallee, Derek Seltzer, Joe Wotka and Alfred Mifsud.
Stephen A Petroni is a collector of arms and militaria. He specializes in firearms used by German forces up to 1945, particularly the Luger pistol. Stephen serves as the President of the Maltese Arms Collectors & Shooters (AMACS) which he founded in 1985. AMACS was the driving force behind the newly introduced Maltese Arms Act. He was recently appointed Chairman of the Foundation for European Societies of Arms Collectors (FESAC).
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V10N7 (April 2007)|