by Gabriel Coutinho de Gusmão
Due to its popularity in recent media, such as its appearance in the popular video games Battlefield 1 and Battlefield 5, the mystery of the Luger rifle has become quite infamous. As a consequence, more myths and misinformation have been shared about this unique rifle than many of its contemporaries. My objective today is to clarify a bit of the rifle’s history and speculate on where it might reside nowadays.
The Origins of the Luger
Hugo Borchardt was an innovative firearms designer, having made one of the first-ever automatic pistols in the world. He was infamous for his arrogance, holding such a high opinion of his pistol design that he felt it was flawless. This has caused his legacy to be overshadowed by his successor, Georg Luger.
Georg Luger was born in March 1849 at Steinach on the Bremmer pass in the Austrian Alps. He would join the army as an officer-cadet in 1867, giving him valuable experience in his later career. By 1882, he was already registered as a “Waffentechniker” ¹ and in 1892, Luger would move to Berlin and be employed by Ludwig Loewe & Cie, later renamed to Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken. Although he was an aspiring firearms designer, he was employed as a travelling salesman for the company’s products.
By 1893, he was given permission to have his own creations patented by DWM. In return, DWM would reserve the rights to profit from Luger’s inventions. Although he is known today for his toggle-locked-action pistol, Luger started out his engineering career with bolt-action rifles. Notably, the United States Navy was interested in adopting such a rifle, though the deal fell short when Luger refused to alter his rifle to meet with the calibre requirements of the trials. When Hugo Borchardt abandoned his semi-automatic pistol project to work on gas-operated appliances, Luger took over the project and refined it, leading to the Parabellum model of 1900; More commonly known today bearing the name of its creator, the Luger.
The Kaiser needs a semi-automatic rifle
In 1896, Paul Mauser would personally demonstrate his C96 pistol to Kaiser Wilhelm II. He found it to be remarkable, asking Mauser if such a design could work for an infantry rifle. “Five years, your majesty,” he reportedly replied. Until Mauser’s death in 1914, he would try to perfect such a design for the Kaiser, but, to no avail.
Luger would join Paul Mauser in his attempt to provide a successful self-loading rifle for the German military. His first patent taken out in 1905 was simply titled “Recoil-loader”. However, Luger’s earliest semi-automatic rifle, the one that is well known today, would be made in around 1911, when trials were held against the Borchardt self-loading rifle and possibly the Schwarzlose rifle, though I was not able to confirm that this rifle was ever made. The Luger rifle operated in a similar way to its pistol counterpart; It had a 5-round internal magazine, fed by either a stripper clip or by releasing the base plate and inserting rounds from beneath, similar to a RSC but without the en-bloc clip and the stock, which was similar in construction to the G98.
After the war, Luger was involved in a lawsuit with DWM about the rights to the guns he made while he worked there. During this trial, he exhibited a letter DWM received in 1914 from the Allgemeines Kriegsdepartment, a part of the German war department, where they reject the Borchardt and praised the Luger design, writing, “The Department most earnestly requests that the Luger self-loading rifle is kept secret until further notice.” Though, due to the war being declared later in the same year, no further testing was ever done with the Luger rifle.
PostbellumLuger passed away in 1923, leaving his son, Georg Luger Jr., in control of his estate. Luger Jr. persevered in attempting to promote his father’s rifles to the post-WWI successor of the GPK, the IWG. Having finally rejected it on the grounds of cost and complexity in 1927, he would sell his example of the rifle to the IWG’s study collection, where it remained in inventory until 1945, when the Russians raided the building during the Battle of Berlin. Most of the collection was taken to the St. Petersburg Artillery Museum, where it remains today. However, it is unclear if the IWG’s Luger rifle survived, as some expeditions into their private areas have failed to locate it. However, a Borchardt Self-Loading Rifle was found to still be under their care, so it is possible that they still have it somewhere on-site.
The only Luger rifle we know of today is serial number 4, which was located at the Mauser factory collection until the French took over and plundered it in the final stages of World War Two. It would stay at the St. Etienne Arsenal until it was sold off to the collector market, specifically the company Interarms, founded by Sam Cummings. In a “Guns Review” article from March of 1994, the author J. W. Sawyers got permission to visit the Interarms facility in Manchester and closely inspect the Luger rifle. After that, it was sold off in a Christie’s auction in 1995 and subsequently resold at an unknown auction-house in 1999.
Where is it today?
Sadly, no one has ever come out with this very rare and elusive rifle, so it is still unknown where it is located. The last time it was sold, from an unknown auction house, only gives a number of “167,500”, almost certainly this is how much it was sold for but there is no specific currency attached to it. The weight of the rifle is given in pounds and ounces, nothing uncommon for either the U.K. or the U.S., and there are no words that would give away if it was written in British English or American English.
So it is probable that the Luger rifle is still in the United Kingdom, although it is also possible someone exported it after it was sold. Possibly to the U.S., Switzerland or maybe even Malta.
Geoffrey Sturgess, a possible candidate for its ownership, sold his firearm collection around 2014 and some of his very rare firearms ended up in Maltese collections, like the unfinished 1921 Furrer Maschinenpistole, serial number 1.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the Luger rifle will be found unless someone comes forward with it, or it ends up in another auction. As always, if anyone has any additional information or leads, you can always send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.