Jul 1, 2013

Weapons of Choice: Browning Hi-Power Semiautomatic Pistol

After selling his rights to Colt Firearms for the M1911 US Army pistol, commonly referred to as the “.45 Colt”, John Browning was commissioned by FN [Fabrique Nationale] to design a new military sidearm that would be capable of killing at 50 meters, the bullet be at least 9mm with a muzzle velocity of 350 m/s (1148 ft/s), compact, capacity of at least 10 rounds, a magazine connect device, an external hammer, a positive safety, and simple to disassemble and re-assemble.
Browning built two prototypes in Utah and filed patent for Browning design on June 28th, 1923, granted on February 22nd, 1927. 
.40-Caliber 1971 Model
One prototype was a simple blowback design and the other operated with a locked-breach recoil system.
By 1931, the Browning Hi-Power design had a shortened 13-round magazine, a curved rear grip strap, and a barrel busing that integrated with the slide assembly. By 1934, the Hi-Power design was complete and ready to be produced. It was first adopted by the Belgium military in 1935 as the Browning P-35. France, although a French firearm maker commissioned Browning to develop a pistol, did not adopt the Hi-Power, but instead the lower-capacity Modèle 1935 pistol.
Since FN took the design, the Browning Hi-Power has been refined. Standard Hi-Power pistols are based on the single-action design, but modern ones are double-action semi-automatic.
The Hi-Power, like many other Browning designs, works on the short-recoil system, where the barrel and slide initially recoil together until the barrel is locked by the slide and a cam. However, unlike the Colt M1911, the barrel is not moved vertically by a toggling link, but instead by a hardened bar that crosses the frame under the barrel and contacts a slot under the chamber [rear part of barrel]. The barrel and slide only recoil together for a short distance [thus “short-recoil] and the chamber and rear of the barrel are drawn downward and then stops. The downward movement of the barrel disengages it from the slide and continues rearward, extracting the spent cartridge from the chamber thus ejecting it. After the slide reaches its limit of travel, the recoil spring brings it forward again, stripping a new round from the magazine and pushing it into the chamber. This also pushes the chamber and barrel forward. The cam slot and bar move the chamber upward and the locking lugs on the barrel reengage those in the slide.
A fine pistol, the Hi-Power does have two flaws:
  • The standard trigger pull is heavy. The standard Hi-Power magazine safety is connected to the trigger and is released by a plunger pressing on the surface of the magazine. This action of the plunger adds tension to the trigger pull and requires more force to operate and also adds resistance. This is solved by removing the magazine safety; however it also removes the pistol's warranty. Another solution is polishing the interface surfaces between the safety plunger and the magazine. After-market trigger springs are also available to reduce the tension. However, it is best to have a gunsmith perform these changes because changing one part of the action often affects other parts and the firearm will either not fire correctly or become dangerous.
  • Another flaw is that the pistol has a tendency to “bite” the web of the shooter's hand between the thumb and forefinger. This is caused by pressure from the hammer spur or by pinching between the hammer shank and grip tang. Many Hi-Power owners have this problem fixed by altering or replacing the hammer, or by learning to hold the pistol to avoid injury. Government and tactical models of both the Hi-Power and Colt 1911 have a smaller, rounded “burr” hammer, like the Colt “Commander” compact version of the 1911 that is popular for concealed-carry purposes.
Chinese Nationalist, 1937-1945
Browning Hi-Power pistols were used during World War II by both Allied and Axis forces; although not as famously as the Colt M1911. After occupying Belgium in 1940, German forces took over the FN plant and Germans began using the Hi-Power. For collectors, Hi-Power pistols produced in Belgium during the Nazi occupation have German inspection marks or Waffenamts, like WaA613. It was used mainly by the Waffen SS and Fallschirmjäger personnel.
Hi-Power pistols were also produced in Canada for Allied use by the John Inglis Company in Toronto. The plans were sent from the FN factory to Britain when the plant was soon to fall into the hands of the Nazi. The pistol was popular with the British airborne units, as well as covert operations and commando groups like the Special Operations Executive [SOE], the US Office of Strategic Services [OSS], and the British Special Air Service [SAS]. There were two versions produced, one with an adjustable rear sight and detachable shoulder stock [primarily used for Nationalist Chinese contract] and one with a fixed rear sight.
Sultan of Oman contract pistol
After the war, Hi-Power production continued at the FN factory and also increased their product offerings that included the FN-FAL rifle and FN MAG general purpose machine gun. It was adopted for service in 50 armies worldwide in 93 nations. At one time, most NATO nations used it. Former Iraqi ruler, Saddam Hussein, often carried a Browning Hi-Power. Former Libyan ruler, Muammer Gaddafi, carried a gold-plated Hi-Power with a depiction of his face on the grip design, which was taken by Libyan rebels after his death.
More modern designs have become popular with pistol owners, but the pistol remains among the best made and widely distributed pistol globally. In 2013, the British Army replaced the Browning Hi-Power with the polymer-framed Glock 17 Gen 4 that weighs less and has an external safety. My personal choice is the Browning Model P-35 in the Hi-Power series.


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