Then came Hitler's invasion of the Low "
Countries. Belgium was quickly conquered, and the FN
factory annexed to the Third Reich's cause. Saive and
some of his colleagues managed to flee to free
countries. Saive was instrumental in founding a
production line at the John Inglis Company in Canada,
where the Hi-Power would be produced throughout World
War II for Canada, England, China, and other Allied
some 319,000 Belgian Hi-Powers were manufactured by
the Nazis during their occupation. By the time the
Allies liberated Herstal, the German occupying forces
had had to resort to forced labor, and the guns they
were producing were the worst Brownings of all time,
with ugly finishes and often poor fit.
marched on. In the second half of the 20th Century,
the Browning Hi-Power became the overwhelming choice
of service pistol for most of the NATO nations and
virtually all of the British Commonwealth countries.
It was said that the Hi-Power was the only firearm in
common use on both Allied and Axis sides in World War
II. Nor would this be the last time men with Brownings
would face other men with Brownings in battle. The
P-35 was the standard sidearm of both sides in the
Falklands intervention, and many were used by both
Israeli and Arab forces in the Middle East.
would be licensed by FN from factories in Canada and
Argentina. Unlicensed copies would emerge from
Hungary, Israel, and even Indonesia. (An agreement was
in place for England to build them at Enfield during
the war years, but the project never got off the
ground.) Hi- Powers assembled in Portugal began
earning a reputation for superior functionality in the
1980s. Stevens estimates that FN alone had produced
1.5 million of these pistols by the mid- 1990s.
P-35 has been produced in other calibers, notably .30
Luger and, in the 1990s, .40 S&W. Various double
action models have been offered to the market, one
designed by Monsieur Saive himself in 1952. The
most mechanically intriguing of these options was the
FA, or Fast Action design, which survives today as the
SFS (Super Fast Safety) retrofit offered for both
Hi-Powers and 1911s by Bill Laughridge's Cylinder
& Slide Shop (800-448-1713;
www.cylinder-slide.com). A lightweight aluminum alloy
frame, also designed by a then-aging Saive in the
1950s, was offered commercially but never caught on.
quintessential Browning Hi-Power remains a steel-frame
single action semiautomatic chambered for the 9mm
Parabellum cartridge. It is today imported into the
United States by FNUSA.
History: The P.35's Attributes
It is far more than a sense of history that drives the
continued fascination of the shooting world with this
oldest 9Xl9 pistol design currently in production.
Some elements of the Browning's design make it
irresistible to shooters.
from its less-than-optimum cartridge, it is an
excellent weapon," Jeff Cooper said of the 9mm
Browning. "If it is not quite right as issued, it
is readily modified by a competent gunsmith into the
best heavy-duty 9mm auto in existence." (2)
a dozen Hi-Power enthusiasts to name three things they
like about the gun, and one word will almost certainly
be common to all of them: "feel." John
Browning was a master of ergonomics long before the
word was coined. His design work on the Grand
Rendement would have been roughly concur- rent
with the U.S. Army Ordnance Department's review of
Model 1911 features that could stand improvement, and
would result in the updated Model 1911Al.
a study that ran from December 11, 1920 through
October 22, 1923,new features were discussed including
a shorter trigger easier for small fingers to reach.
These were set in stone in the "-AI"
modifications made official on June 15, 1926, well
before Browning's death, (3) and would have been well
known to him while working on the large capacity 9mm
pistol for FN. The trigger reach on the Grand
Rendement appears to have been retained on the P-35,
and in turn is functionally identical to that of the
is probably why, in spite of its double stack
magazine, the Browning Hi- Power seems to fit so well
in even small hands, while still being comfortable in
large hands. The glory for this must be shared with
Saive, who did the final fine-tuning of the grip
shape, which so many shooters with hands of all sizes
describe as a perfect fit with natural pointability.
much care was taken not to make the grip too fat that
the trigger linkage of the P- 35 actually extends up
into the slide area. As we shall see, the Browning
trigger pull is notoriously difficult to tune, largely
because of this strange geometry of its design.
Browning has an extremely slim slide, elegantly
tapered toward the front, when compared to modern
duty-type 9mm autos. This makes it extremely discreet
to conceal and noticeably more comfortable to carry
inside the waistband. The gracefully slim barrel
combines with the light weight to enhance speed of
draw and target acquisition. As a rule of thumb, the
loaded Browning 9mm will be about the same weight as
the unload~ 19l1Al .4S auto.
there is indeed no free lunch. The Browning Hi-Power,
when seen in light of the way we use handguns today,
was a flawed gem. Fortunately, most of those flaws can
be polished away, so to speak, at the hands of an
Many of the Hi-Power's flaws were cured over time by
the industry, and particularly by FN/Browning. Until
1962, the GP had an internal extractor that was very
small, and prone to breakage. Notes master Hi-Power
custom gunsmith Bill Laughridge of the Cylinder &
Slide Shop, "The fastest way to break one of the
old extractors is to lock the slide back, drop a
cartridge into the chamber, and then slam the slide on
top of it. Always cycle the first round into the
chamber out of the magazine!" In '62, however,
the Browning was strengthened by a much more durable
most of its existence, the thumb safety of the
Browning was a flat little thing so palpably mushy
that your sense of touch literally couldn't tell you
whether it was on or off safe. The lever was also
extremely difficult to manipulate. Browning changed
that in the 1980s, with a great leap forward. The new
safety catch was just right in size, positive yet easy
to operate both up or down, and -for the first time
-ambidextrous. Another problem solved.
Most Hi-Powers, for most of the gun's epoch, were
manufactured for military hard- ball. The tough
jacketed, pointy nose rounds fed reliably, but
hollowpoints were a different story. It was simply
understood back then that if you wanted to carry your
P-3S with effective ammunition, you would send it to a
custom gunsmith to have it throated. Factory throating
came with the Portuguese- assembled Brownings
beginning in the Eighties. Quel difference! Now,
they fed even wide-mouth JHP rounds out of the box,
without a pistolsmith's attentions.
shooters were never really satisfied with Hi-Power
sights. The tiny front post and "U" notch
rear were impossible to pick up in anything but the
best light and conditions of calmness. Although the
500-meter tangent sight setting (listed as a thousand
meters on the first few models, according to Stevens)
was a joke, (4) shooters liked it if only because it
gave a slightly larger, clearer sight picture than the
fixed service sights. There were those who said that a
300 or 400 meter sight setting would actually put the
9mm bullets pretty close to correct for elevation at
perhaps 200 meters.
the latter 20th Century, the manufacturers had spotty
results with the adjustable sights they installed as
factory options. One in particular, made of sheet
metal, caused pistolsmiths to grind their teeth. Those
'smiths did a land office business, though, installing
BoMars for the serious marksmen. A BoMar sight rib
attached to a Hi-Power was the ticket for David
Westerhout of South Africa, the first man to ever win
the IPSC World Championship with a 9mm, back about a
quarter century ago.
pistolsmiths usually install Novak or Heinie fixed
night sights on custom Brownings. Frankly, many
thought that Browning solved the problem nicely with
the big, blocky fixed sights they began putting on the
guns in the 1980s.
FN was optimistic about thousand- meter sights, Saive
may have been optimistic about the 13-round magazine
capacity. Each generation rediscovers the fact that
the P-35 is most reliable when its magazines are down-
loaded by one round. Brit soldiers were taught to load
only 12 per mag, and SAS troopies told me they were
disciplined for having a thirteenth round in a
Than Refined Triggers
The Browning Hi-Power has always been infamous for a
trigger pull that is mediocre at best. Sometimes
creepy, sometimes "stagey," it is always
heavy, though in the best examples it is heavy and
smooth. Today's pulls are not truly bad, they're just
not as forgiving of a frisky trigger finger as are the
lighter-pulling guns that shooters currently seem to
for some of the Nazi Hi-Powers, in which the device
was deleted as a cost- cutting measure, this gun has
traditionally come with a magazine disconnector, which
keeps the chambered round from firing if the magazine
is not fully seated. This kept the magazine from
falling free when the release button was pushed, a
feature Americans like, and it also gets in the way of
the trigger linkage and further worsens the trigger
pull and makes it heavier. Much of this, too, has been
Browning had to come up with a ten round magazine to
satisfy the demands of Clinton's 1994 law, they put a
little spring on the bottom. I don't mean to be
uncomplimentary when I say it resembles a rat-trap. It
doesn't seem to slow down reloading, and when the mag
release button is pushed, this spring ejects the
magazine with vigor.
feature constituted one small silver lining in an
otherwise dark cloud. A ten round magazine is all you
need in IDPA shooting, for example, and indeed, that's
all the rounds you're allowed to have in the magazine
in Enhanced Service Pistol class, the category in
which a Hi-Power would compete in that sport.
Cylinder and Slide Shop can alter your pistol and high
capacity magazines to drop free. It involves judicious
polishing of the contact surfaces on both the
disconnector and the front faces of the magazines. The
price is reasonable, and it gives you the best of both
worlds. I say that because the common solution -simply
removing the disconnector -is unwise in today's times
of unmeritorious lawsuits.
know of one case in which the prosecutor made a big
deal out of a Hi-Power with disconnector removed being
proof that its owner was reckless with firearms. This
despite the fact the Browning was not even the gun
involved in the shooting in question.
burr or rowel type hammer that was so long the
Browning's trademark tended to bite the web of many
shooters' hands. For some years now, FN has been using
a more conventional spur hammer, which for most people
seems to solve the problem. It's an easy retrofit to
One Must Live With
Col. Cooper said the only problem with the Browning
was its caliber. That has been solved in a couple of
ways. Today's 9mm defense ammo is not your father's
9mm Luger round. If modern 9mm +P+ ammo had been
available in Jeff's formative years, handgun history
might have changed, because 115 grain JHPs at 1,300
fps or so produce autopsy results with phrases like
"macerated heart," something you'll never
see with a subsonic .45 Auto bullet. If you must have
larger bore diameter, Browning brought out the
Hi-Power in .40 S&W in the 1990s, and it can still
be had. More on that shortly.
is, however, one other short- coming with the 9mm
Browning. The P-35 is not the most rugged of 9mm
pistols. It was designed back in the '20s, remember,
before using submachine gun ammo in pistols became the
military paradigm, and before today's high-pressure
self-defense loads. The gun being slim, the parts are
relatively small and therefore relatively fragile. In
addition, many pistolsmiths consider
the Browning's parts comparatively soft in virtually
every incarnation of the gun.
Venezuela to Great Britain; I've seen quantities of
broken Brownings in government arsenals whose slides
and frames were cracked by the brutal hammering of
9xl9 NATO ammo. +P and +P+ loads also seem to be
contraindicated. Listen to Bill Laughridge, who said
to me, "Tell your readers in all caps, DON'T USE
+P IN HI- POWERS! It's been my experience that even a
few magazines of +P will upset the locking lugs."
A .22 conversion unit for the Hi-Power was considered
by FN, but never produced. (5) The vast majority were
produced in 9mm Parabellum. A relative handful were
made in .30 Luger. 9mm Para and the 7.65 mm Luger
round are normally "interchangeable
calibers" in the sense that all you need to swap
is the barrel.
.30 being a necked down 9mm (or the 9mm being a
blown-out .30, depending how you look at it, though
the case dimensions are actually a bit more
complicated than that), the same extractor and ejector
will work for both cartridges.
pistolsmith Laughridge has seen .30 Luger P-35s run
with as little as 10 pounds of recoil spring weight,
the two calibers will usually both work with a
standard l7-pound recoil spring: Today, the .30's only
purpose is to give you a good gun in countries where
you can't have a 9mm; anything the .30 Luger cartridge
can do, the 9mm Luger cartridge can do better.
the 1990s, Browning announced a .40 S&W caliber
version; but there was a long stutter between
announcement and avail- ability. The reason was that
the very high pressure of the .40 cartridge and the
high slide velocity it engendered gave reliability and
durability problems. This writer had been dubious: if
hot 9mm wrecked P-35s, what would .40 do to them?
turns out that Browning did it right. The slide on thy
.40 version is much heavier, more like that of a
Government .45 ACP. That plus a stronger recoil spring
seem to allow the .40 Browning to stand the gaff.
Indeed, Laughridge says that the trick set-up is to
get a .40 Hi-Power and convert it to 9mm. Now it Will
take the hottest 9mm without damage, have even less
recoil than the origina19mm P-35, and be
convertible to .40 S& W at will.
Classics endure. The Browning Hi- power is a classic.
The ones made today by FN are better than ever.
Throated to feed hollowpoints, ;'drop-safe"
thanks to the Mark III passive firing pin safety, and
still with those graceful lines and that perfect fit
in the hand; they are proof in steel that quality is
timeless. There was a til1)e not long ago when it
looked as if they would become extinct, and I for one
am glad this did not become the case. Best of all,
their current suggested retail makes these prestigious
handguns proportionally more afford- able than at any
time in the last 30 or 40 years.