Articles, Blog

Small Arms of WWI Primer 013: Belgian FN Model 1900 Pistol


One day in Hartford, Connecticut two
visitors, one traveling from Utah and the other from Belgium would meet and become fast friends. The first was an inventor, the other was
a businessman in desperate search of a product. From this chance encounter, the
world would soon be introduced to the modern self-loading pistol. [music] Hi, I’m Othais, and this is the FN Model
1900 pistol. Let’s take a look at the light box. This little guy is only 6 & 3/4 inches long, has a weight of 1.4 pounds
and a magazine capacity of seven rounds. We’re going to get to those in just a second. Now there’s two big names behind this
pistol. We’ll get to the inventor in just a moment – I’m sure most of you know him
anyway – and we’ll talk a little bit about that businessman. Now Hart Berg had
actually been born in Connecticut and he had gone to work in Belgium for FN as
the director of external affairs later on in life. Well, as the director of external affairs,
he had a unique problem. We’re going to cover more about FN’s history when we
get to the Mauser Model 1889 but I should probably cover just a bit right
now, which is that FN was formed by a sort of consortium of Liege gunmakers,
very famous names, all trying to sort of pool resources in the case of large
military contracts. So, let’s say the government wants 50,000
of something, you know, rifle, pistol, whatever, these guys needed to have a
facility that they could sort of pool in on and get that sort of work done and
share in the profits because each individual company was just too small to
keep expanding and contracting every time there is any of these offers on the
table. So, this ended up with the adoption of
the Mauser 1889, forming into what was known as Fabrique Nationale. Got me so far? Good. Alright, so Fabrique Nationale is
now a large consortium. It has the involvement of many smaller
names that – well they’re not small, they’re quite big names – but now they’re starting
to be dwarfed by Fabrique Nationale itself. The Mauser 89 is doing well.
They’re getting a strong reputation around the world for quality and there’s
a little pride loss. So names like Francotte and Nagant sort of leave their stakes in
the company to go back to their own work. At the same time back in Germany, Mauser
and its parent company Ludwig Loewe are little irritated. You see, they’ve
designed this 89 Mauser and they’ve licensed it to the Belgians, but FN is
getting all the credit for how great it really is. They’re not a big fan of this. So, when FN starts to kind of hit the
skids and the original shareholders are getting upset and a little bit of money
is being lost here and there, Ludwig Loewe starts to chase them around
and in the end through some financial maneuvering we’ll talk about later, Ludwig Loewe ends up with controlling
interest of FN. With that, they sort of tame the company. They leave it just to
produce for the Belgian government, which is a shame because it was a very, very,
very modern facility, possibly one of the best in the world at
that time and yet the machines are really being wasted on smaller
contracts that are sort of rounding out these Belgian orders and otherwise
they’re sort of expecting it to falter. They don’t want it there. It’s competition for them. Well, there’s still people working at FN
that do want to keep working at FN, and Hart Berg’s one of them. So they start
to kind of expand into other products and one of those is bicycles. So Hart Berg
goes over to America to look into some of the new innovations in bicycle
manufacturing and that’s when he runs into our friend, John Moses Browning. Now
anybody who’s watching who doesn’t recognize this man’s photo or name, welcome to the religion. I can’t even
begin to start a biography of Johnny B. on the show, because it will go for 4
hours and that’s really pressing it to get everything done. This man is a massive firearms inventor
and a big, big name in the industry. But, let’s focus in on what he was doing at
that moment. He had been in Connecticut in order to sort of see what was going
on with his machine gun production over at Colt. That’s another story that we will cover.
He brought along some pistol designs and just for your background information he
had been working on pistols. As a matter of fact called already had the patent
for a .38 caliber locked breech sort of military cartridge pistol of his. But they passed on sort of a new design
has been working with since about 1896-1897. This was a pocket model with a
smaller .32 caliber cartridge. They didn’t think that it had much
military applications so they walked. Well he had the designs and he had an example prototype in his hand when he was in Connecticut. It just so happens, through whatever
means, he was introduced to Hart Berg who was supposed to be looking at bicycles. Instead when he saw what essentially was
this handgun he was impressed and we’ll get into why in just a moment. So he takes the gun… well he asks for the gun; he didn’t just steal it. But, you know, he requests the gun, and takes it back to Belgium, along with
the plans. They marvel at the fact that it’s able to shoot 500 rounds
uninterrupted with no problem, and so they begin production, almost right away, of
this model 1899. They barely change anything from his original plans. Along
with the 1899 came a new .32 caliber cartridge. We know browning developed the .32 ACP
cartridge for his pocket pistol and it appears as early as 1897, but where it came from
is a bit of debate. The most likely explanation, backed by the dimensions of the cartridge, is that it was derived from .32 Smith & Wesson long. The cartridges were released publicly with the Belgian Model 1899 as 7.65mm Browning. Later that same year, UMC would produce
it as .32 Browning, even though there were no pistols in
this chamber in the U.S. They were mostly sold to South and Central America
until the pocket pistols made it back home where they had been invented. It
would prove to be a very popular cartridge, considered a self-defense
standard into the 1960s. Eventually, .380 and 9mm would
prove to be more reliable man stoppers, and so, .32 faded from the common market
of chamberings. The 1899 was offered for sale commercially, but also FN rushed to get it into military trials. The two big ones would be the Belgian pistol trials
and the British pistol trials . In order to woo a war military contract, FM would
introduce both the regular 1899 that we’ll see in a moment, and a large Model
1899 with an extended barrel slide and magazine. This would be rather short lived as no
one took any real interest in it because it’s still chambered .32 ACP. Now the
British weren’t all that interested. They really didn’t like the chambering, but
the Belgians, perhaps out of national pride, took a little bit more seriously. They saw the utility in a small compact
pistol that was really, really reliable. It certainly beat their Nagant revolvers
of the time. So they reviewed it pretty well and ended up adopting it, which is
great for FN because now they can actually build these things. They did
however want a couple of changes. The biggest one was the inclusion of a
lanyard loop and spot facing on the safety markings and slight changes to
sort of grip and grip panel. So this becomes the Model 1900 as we
see today. For a brief period both models were produced side by side, with the 1899
being sold the civilians and the 1900 being sold in the military, but
by 1902 that was over with. It was kind of silly to have two nearly identical
models in production. There are a few transitional 1899s that
may have 1900 parts though. It’s a whole other science. So with the retirement of the Model 1899,
we are left with what the world would know as le Pistolet Browning. We have the history, but what exactly has
been invented here? Let’s take a closer look. First off, right
off the bat, I got to say, #1 thing: this is a slide operated pistol. That’s a
very, very new concept at that time. As a matter of fact this is the
granddaddy of all modern handguns. Because, if you look, we have a slide and
breech block. That’s not a common feature. That is invented by John Moses Browning
and it would be refined over a century. We’re still using the concept today.
Alright other than that, we’re looking at a single action striker fired pistol. The
recoil spring is set above the barrel, which means that this position down here,
the lower position, is the barrel. Gives it a low bore axis, actually. Helps with recoil.
If we flip her around, we’re going to see that we have the
simple safety. This is actually a German contract, so it
doesn’t have the spot facing where they sort of, you know, slightly, slightly milled down where the safety markings are so they stand out, but that was included on the Belgian 1900s. Grips should be the same. Everything else about this configuration is pretty much the same. Just so you know, I’ll bring up a
sight picture, but they’re pretty small, pretty hard to read and, importantly, an
internal lever that we’ll get to in a moment will rise to block the sight
picture if the gun is not cocked. Alright, now for take-down, unfortunately,
this gun doesn’t have an easy way to do that. You see the breech block is locked
in by two screws here, and we can go ahead and remove them and get a look, but
it’s not going to be the easiest process in the world. I’m going to have to loosen them both up, Take them out, and retain them somewhere without losing them. This is a tight-fitting pistol so I have the
luxury of taking the magazine out afterwards. You may want to do it before
and you may want to keep some pressure on that slide, but luckily our donor in
here has an excellent piece. So let me go ahead and get that mag out
just so you can see. This is a complete pain in the butt. It’s a push forward and pull out heel release. It’s extremely tight. It’s fingernail bending. Alright, so, from here the slide actually can be
let forward, it just takes a little bit of Jimmy on this because she’s so tight. I’ll give her a couple of pushes, and she
is away. Alright so we’ll set her aside. Now we have one of the most beautifully
complicated-looking set ups you can imagine. We’ll get into that more in the
animation, but let me go ahead and show you that breach block separately real
quick. I’ll release that recoil spring, which is also serving to work the firing pin – you’ll see that in a second – and pull out
that breach block. Pretty straightforward. Not the worst thing to get into in the
world, but certainly not easy, especially because when I go to set this back, I am
going to have to pull that string tight, and there isn’t really a keeper for it or
anything like that. So without too much of a fluff, why don’t we go straight over
that animation and get a real look at this thing an actual action. The FN 1900 is a single action striker
fired pistol of extreme simplicity for its era. Looking at it now there’s a little extra
going on. The action uses a single coil spring Now of course there’s another in the
magazine, but just a single coil spring throughout the entire action. That’s pretty impressive. There is no dedicated disconnector because it’s function of the trigger bar. You see its rounded top at the rear
gets pushed down by the breech block during recoil, which causes it to slip
off the sear. A set of three flat springs in the grip area the pistol actually
power the trigger bar, the sear, and hold that safety in place
when it’s in one of two positions. Note that there is not a dedicated
firing pin spring. Instead, the recoil spring has an extension linked to a
cocking lever. That cocking lever pulls the firing pin forward. That means both the firing pin and slide
operate off the same spring. All that in mind, the rest is pretty simple. We’ll let this thing run its course… …and hand it over to Mae. Alright, lemme load this thing. Rack the slide. Take aim, and… The safety is very simple to use. Let’s take a quick look. Not bad eh? Alright, here’s Othais. I’m glad we have Mae to stand in front of
the camera instead of me at the range. Half the time I get sweaty. Alright, so we are looking at the 1900 as
a military pistol for a moment. So we need to talk about what happened to those
Belgian contracts. They ordered pretty much the exact pistol you’re seeing here.
Obviously with French instead of German on it. This is sort of actually a unusual piece,
but they had plain grips with no FN logo. These would turn out to be fairly
fragile and chipped often. You can actually find a lot of them that have
been reset with arsenal-made wood grips. It’s not uncommon to find. Now, over the
years, more and more of the Belgian military would have their Nagants replaced
with these 1900s, so you start to see creep into the
artillerymen, the cavalrymen, things like that, until finally by 1912 even the
National Guard has been re-equipped and so, by the time we get to world war one This is the official side arm of the
Belgian military throughout the entire First World War. This is the ubiquitous pistol of the
Belgians in that conflict. Belgium wouldn’t be the only adopter of
this pistol in a military or police role. We’re going to see it exported a lot of
place: Austria-Hungary, the German police, Finland, Norway… it gets around. But these are in small, sort of specific,
numbers and it’s a lot to cover. That’s a whole other
reading project. I’d recommend picking up a book for that. But, I actually, despite
the nature of our show, want to get away from the military implications of this
pistol for just a little bit. You see, the Model 1900 is hugely
important to firearms history because it burst the consumer pistol market
realistically. I mean yes before this, commercial pistols were sold to people,
don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t a fervor. It wasn’t a big growing,
exploding market until this little guy came out, and I think a lot of it has to
do with the fact that it was reliable, concealable, affordable. You could take it
into polite society and be personally armed. And the other thing is we’re sitting
at the end of the Industrial Revolution. The middle class has emerged. A man can
feel tied to a sense of modernity and technology. He has a personal identity that also
fits over top of his cultural identity. It’s a time of pride and of personal
interest, and consumerism is born in this period. And so, one of the big first consumer
markets is pocket pistols. It’s the armament of self in a polite and gentlemanly way. And so, these things spread like wildfire across the world. Now, a lot of you guys are international
viewers, but here in the US the idea of personal carry is still alive. So it all
descends from this little gun. Now we know from watching our series and
from the episodes that are going to come out after this one even, there are a lot
of .32 ACPs that appear because it is such an explosive market. I mean there’s
room to expand and sell for decades, in a myriad of designs. Everybody emulate this
little gun. It starts at all. I mean when you look at every other
little .32 that we’re going to show for this war, and even after. It’s this guy.
It all comes from him. I mean this is the birth of an entire
family of pistols and an entire market of gun buyers. Alright, now we should probably talk
about how this thing became the Model 1900. Because again, it was le Pistolet Browning,
and I’m sorry about my pronunciation there. When the 1910 comes out, that’s the difference. As early as 1902,
in some features you would see this called the model 1900, especially to distinguish it
from the 1899. But publicly it really wasn’t known as that, until they came out
with the “new model”, the 1910. This one then became the old model, or
the Model 1900. Alright, with over 700,000 of these made, it
was an extreme success for FM and it set them up for many years to come as a
reputable name in pistol manufacture. I mean we still… they are popular today
with handguns. It all comes from this little guy and
just scraping by the skin of its teeth from under Ludwig Loewe’s crushing
grip of “you must produce only for the Belgians”. Even Loewe couldn’t argue with this
thing and it was original to FN when they made their deal. Alright, that’s enough praise for this
little pistol from me. Let’s see what Mae thought of it. Alright, once again we’ve made room for
Mae after a brief station break. She’s got all the opinions on this
sucker, so let’s find out just what she feels about Johnny B’s 1900. Would you
start us on economics? Sure. Right off the bat, I notice this is a
pretty heavy .32, but it’s really thin. It’s still very comfortable. I’m able to get a
full finger grip on it. Now, one thing, ‘course, easy to spot right off
the bat, didn’t like, heel release. I mean even right here, when there’s
nothing loaded in it, It’s difficult to pull out. It was definitely one of the hardest
magazines we’ve had to handle to date. The slide I found really easy to
operate, actually, because of these serrated protrusions right here. Nice and easy. As for the safety on this
one, you can actually take your time with that. It just snaps right into place. It’s so
easy to one-hand. It’s… yeah, it’s just nice, crisp and clean. I definitely enjoyed
this pistol. Yeah, honestly it’s well thought out. Like,
again we talk about being the mold setter, but it’s still got a lot of
positive little features, because it focuses on usability. And going down that
line why don’t you tell us about actually shooting this thing. How did it do? You know I actually found shooting this to be very pleasant. The recoil, I thought,
was really controlled. That’s probably a combination between the weight and the low
bore axis. As for the trigger itself, it was a nice, smooth pull all the way
through, probably because of that trigger bar in there. It was a heavy pull through, don’t get me
wrong, but I felt that the weight was equally distributed throughout the
entire pull. Now the only thing I didn’t care for when
shooting this was actually the sight picture. These are probably some of the smallest,
worst, sights that I’ve shot to date. It actually made… it made a very difficult for my grouping
to be accurate I thought. Unfortunately, like we saw, the way that
mechanism is designed to block the sight picture, it feels like the sight picture is also
kept very low so that the mechanism could block it. It ends up just being some of the worst
sights we’ve seen. It’s the one big failing on this pistol. I think it’s just
supposed to be a point shooter. Alright, so I got to ask you kind of a
different question. How do you feel about this gun in terms of simplicity? Did it
feel… did it feel normal to work with? And we’ve worked with some odd stuff. Yeah, I found it simple. What do you want
from me? I mean all I have to do is slap in the magazines the bottom, I rack
the slide, pull the trigger and if I need to operate the safety, just one flick. This is simplicity for a
gun. Yeah we kind of take this for granted,
but in the 1900, if I may, in the 1900, and I keep trying
to drive this home, we have the birth of sort of the simple
slide operated handgun. Remember as you watch these videos we’re
going to have C96s, and Lugers, and Steyr-Hahn’s and all sorts of other
exotic stuff. And each one is going to have at least one or more oddity in the
way it operates. Like it’s just gonna have this one little finicky thing, or
this that and the other. Well when this gun game came out, this was
its one finicky thing. This was yet another very different pistol that was
not the same as any of the others. But it worked, and it worked well and it was very
teachable and approachable and so now, the idea of a magazine fed slide
operated single safety firearm… I mean that lasted for a very long time.
As a matter of fact nowadays we’re even starting to get away from the safety,
retaining an even simpler form of this gun. So this is it. This is the definition of, you know, the common handgun. Alright, so I’ll give it back to you. Final
opinion, tacky opinion: would you take it into battle? You know, I thought about it and I’m
gonna have to start making the tough call. For this one, like 1914, I had better options. I
wouldn’t have taken into battle. This heel release, the poor sights… I just… I would know there are better
options for me at that time but for 1900? Hell yes. I would take this into battle. Everything is about context. It was very
fast that people learned just what this thing meant in potential. And by the way
by 1910 Browning had worked out a much better design and we’re going to see
that one in another episode, so it got left in the dust. It’s just one of those
things. When you set the mold, you start to look sort of generic and even over
complicated by comparison. But, as we keep sort of hammering home, this thing’s revolutionary. This thing
changes the game and this is the root of so many other guns that we’re going to
talk about on this show. Alright, do you have any final impressions or do you think it’s time to wrap this one out? I think we got it. Okay good. Thank you all for watching.
We’ve definitely had an increase in viewership lately and we’re glad to have
you. Announcements are after the credits.
Thanks for one last time. Thanks everyone. [music] Hey everyone, sorry for the quality but this
is going to be a little quick and dirty. I’m in the middle of wrapping up the
final render for the episode you just watched, in addition to answering a bunch
of questions from the Great War, releasing our edited German rifles
episode, so if you haven’t seen that go check it out. The other thing I need to cover is that
we have an Indiegogo campaign for the posters going on. That has passed 5k now.
We do get to keep roughly a third of that to actually put towards the trip.
The rest is production costs, fees for Indiegogo, that sort of thing. So that’s huge. That’s helping a lot. We
are getting close that trip. I don’t know if i covered this but we will try to
make the actual filming trip in January. So you probably won’t see edited stuff
for that until end of January, beginning of February. I’m sorry we just like to do
it right. Let’s see, the other thing… Oh, Patreon is
up. I’m going to have to insert the dollar amount to my side after the fact
because it’s probably changing as we’re talking. Now, the other thing that I need
to cover is that we have a sponsor of sorts. We had an offer for sponsorship from
Handguns of the World, which is an excellent site, and we actually kind of
turn them down a little bit. In lieu of any sort of financial aid, we
actually asked if since they had such an extensive and very rare collection, would they be willing to donate pistols
for us to be able to shoot and they gave it some thought and they are willing. So
you’re going to see some more exotics, you’re going to see some more unusual
designs and a lot of that is going to come from our new partners over at Handguns
of the World. So certainly check them out, and let them know that you appreciate
us supporting them, and if you are a collector do consider, you know, picking
up something very unique for yourself over there. Alright, well that’s it for now. Thank
you all again for watching. Thank you thank you thank you for all
the support. We have donor guns coming in, we have donor cash coming in. Its getting a pretty good head of
momentum now. It’s looking like the series is going to be self-sustaining.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *