Classic Handguns: The Browning Hi Power

The Browning Hi Power pistol has been in continuous production for more than eighty years. During that time it has been used by military and law enforcement agencies in more than eighty countries and by both sides in World War Two, various Arab- Israeli wars, the Falklands War and the First Gulf War. No-one is certain precisely how many have been produced (especially if you include clones and copies) but there must certainly be an awful lot of Hi Powers out there. By any measure, this is a classic handgun.

What’s in a name?

Before we start talking about the Hi Power, I do want to quickly clarify what it’s actually called. Some people seem certain that it’s “Hi Power” while others are equally vehement that it’s “High Power”. In fact, both are correct. When this pistol was first offered by FN in 1935, it was sold as the “High Power”. When it was first imported into the US in 1954, it carried “Browning Arms Company” markings and was sold as the “Hi Power” to avoid confusion with the “High-Power” hunting rifle also sold in the US at that time. Since then, this pistol has been generally known as the “Hi Power” and that’s how I’ll refer to it here.  Though it has  also known by a bewildering array of other names: versions of the Hi Power have been identified as the P35, HP-35, FN Model 1935, GP35, Pistole 640(b), BAP (Browning Automatic Pistol) and L9A1 depending on which country they were being used by.

Development

John Moses Browning with another of his creations: the M1917 machine gun

Prolific US gun designer John Moses Browning began work on the design of what would become the Hi Power in the early 1920s. This work was undertaken in response to a French military requirement for a new service pistol, the Grand Rendement (“High Yield”) or Grande Puissance (“High Power”) pistol. This referred not to the shooting power of the pistol but to its magazine capacity – the French requirement specified a pistol with a magazine capacity of at least ten rounds of 9mm ammunition, a higher capacity than that offered by any contemporary semi-automatic pistol. Browning’s intention was to design a full-size military sidearm that would replicate the rugged reliability of the Colt 1911 whilst addressing that pistol’s most serious shortcoming – a magazine capacity of just seven rounds. Browning died in 1926 before completing the design, but a US patent for the new pistol was applied for in 1923 and registered in 1927. The rights to the design were passed to the state-owned Belgian firearms manufacturer FN Herstal who used their Chief Designer, Dieudonné Saive, to refine and complete Browning’s initial work.

Dieudonné Saive with another of his creations: the FN-FAL Battle Rifle

The first prototype of the new pistol featured a locked-breech recoil system and a double column, sixteen round magazine. Saive continued to work on the design in the early 1930s, paying particular attention to making the grip as slim as possible. By 1931 the revised design incorporated a thirteen round, double-stacked magazine and a trigger mechanism which ran up into the slide area in order to avoid increasing the width of the grip. Ironically, the pistol was not adopted by the French Army whose requirement had first inspired the new design but, in 1935, when it was finally completed, the pistol was adopted as the principal sidearm of the Belgian Army as the FN Model 1935 Pistol.

An early Hi Power with tangent rear sight

The first production model of the Hi Power had a 4.65” barrel, weighed 35 ounces, was 7.75 inches in overall length and had a magazine capacity of 13, 9mm rounds. A small manual thumb safety was provided on the left side of the frame and a lightweight ring hammer was fitted. The pistol was single-action only and there was no grip safety as seen on the 1911, but there was a magazine disconnect safety – the pistol could not be fired if the magazine was removed. Grips were checkered wood and the rear of the frame was slotted to accept a detachable wooden shoulder stock. The front sight was a standard blade but the rear was an adjustable tangent type with graduations to allow shooting to a range of 500 meters (the very first models had graduations to 1000metres!). Many of these early Hi Powers were produced with a distinctive and attractive glossy black corrosion-resistant finish which involved applying black enamel paint over a phosphate base finish.

Early Hi Power tangent sight graduated to 500 metres. Which seems more than a little optimistic. I don’t know about you, but I can barely see a target at 500 metres, let alone attempt to hit one with a handgun.

For a pistol which has proved so popular over the years, the original version of the Hi Power had a number of serious flaws. First, the trigger action: due partly to the magazine disconnect safety, the trigger was nasty. It was heavy, the release point was indistinct and there were pronounced stages to the pull. The magazine disconnect safety also meant that on many Hi Power pistols the magazine would not drop free cleanly when the release was pressed. Reliability wasn’t great either. Until 1962, the Hi Power was produced with a tiny internal cartridge extractor which was prone to breakage. In fact, when subjected to the pressures of military grade ammunition, both the slide and frame of early Hi Powers were prone to cracking. The thirteen round magazine was one of the main selling points for the Hi Power, but users quickly came to realise that fully loading the magazine could lead to jamming and that it was actually better to load just twelve rounds.

Hi Power with shoulder stock

Add to this a hammer that was so light that it had difficulty in firing some military cartridge types, a short tang which could lead to hammer bite, a small, imprecise and difficult to operate manual safety and fixed sights which were small and difficult to read and you may be wondering why this design has lasted so long? There are probably two main answers to this. The first is obvious: magazine capacity. Compare the thirteen rounds available in a Hi Power magazine to other World War Two era service pistols. You got just six rounds in the British Webley Revolver, seven in the US Colt 1911A1 and eight in the Russian Tokarev TT-33, the German P-08 (Luger), its replacement the Walther P-38 and the Japanese Nambu. That gave the Hi Power a distinct firepower advantage over most comparable service pistols in the 1930s and 1940s and it wasn’t until the 1970s/80s that other semi-automatic pistols began to catch up in terms of magazine capacity.

The other reason that the original Hi Power proved so popular is a little more difficult to define: Feel. The word “ergonomics” wasn’t being commonly used when John Moses Browning was designing handguns, but he and Dieudonné Saive certainly understood what it meant. Pick up a Hi Power (or a decent replica) and I think you’ll see what I mean. It feels perfectly balanced and the grip will comfortably fit almost anyone with average-sized hands. Because of this, the Hi Power is generally recognised as one of the easiest to control semi-automatic 9mm pistols. It’s also one of the only true single action 9mm semi- automatic pistols available and field stripping and re-assembly are as simple as they are on the 1911.

Hi Power Mark III

Despite its shortcomings, production of the original Hi Power continued up the early 1980s. However, there were numerous minor changes during that time – the ridiculous tangent rear sight and the slot in the frame to take a shoulder stock were dropped as standard fitment immediately after World War Two (though Hi Powers with tangent rear sights were still available up to the 1980s). From 1962 the fragile internal extractor was replaced with a more robust external unit and from around 1965 the ring hammer was replaced by a heavier, conventional spur hammer. In the early 80s the Mark II version appeared which had polymer grips, a larger, ambidextrous manual safety and easier to read three-dot sights. In 1988 the Mark III was released which also had a distinctive glossy black, epoxy finish and a firing pin safety.

If you want a little more bling, what about a Hi Power Renaissance, hand-engraved in the FN Factory

There have been a number of variations on the basic Hi Power design over the years including the HP-DA which shoots in double as well as single action, versions chambered for .30” Luger and .40” S&W rounds and a lightweight version with an aluminum alloy frame. However, only the standard steel framed Mark III in 9mm is still being manufactured and it continues to sell more than eighty years after this pistol was first introduced.

Production

Initial production of the Hi Power was done at the FN factory in Herstal from 1935 and around 35,000 were produced by the time World War Two began in September 1939. In 1940, Belgium was over-run by German forces and more than 300,000 Hi Powers were manufactured while the Herstal plant was under German control.

An Inglis Hi Power with fixed sights – note the “hump-backed” slide

In 1940 licensed production of the Hi Power also began in Canada at the John Inglis and Company plant in Toronto. Inglis produced two versions of the Hi Power: one with the tangent rear sight and shoulder stock mounting (mainly for a contract to supply Nationalist Chinese forces) and one with more conventional rear sights and without the shoulder stock slot. The latter version of the Inglis Hi Power incorporated a distinctive (and ugly) hump-backed slide, the only version of the Hi Power to have this feature. More than 150,000 Hi Powers were produced by Inglis in 1944 and 1945.

Assembly of Hi Powers at the Inglis plant

After the end of World War Two, production continued at the FN works in Herstal in addition to licensed production in Argentina and unlicensed copies were produced in a number of other countries including Hungary, Israel and Indonesia. No- one is quite certain how many have been manufactured over the years – most estimates suggest the FN factory alone produced over 1.5 million Hi Powers with unknown numbers of copies and clones being produced elsewhere.

An FEG Model PJK-9HP, a Hungarian copy of the original Hi Power

The Hi Power is still being manufactured and sold by Browning in the US. Two versions are currently available: the Mark III with black epoxy finish and plastic grips and the Standard with a polished, blued finish and walnut grips. The Standard is available with either fixed sights or that 500m tangent sight.

Use

Waffen-SS Panzergrenadiers in 1944. The soldier second from the right is holding a Pistole 640(b)

The first use of the Hi Power as a military sidearm was by the Belgian Army in 1935. German airborne and Waffen-SS forces also used Hi Powers manufactured while the Herstal plant was under German control as the Pistole 640(b) during World War Two (though it was also known in German service as the P35). British airborne forces used Inglis Hi Powers in 1944/1945 as did special forces units such as the British SAS and the American OSS.

Even Russian forces used the Hi Power during World War Two. Here a group of partisans are being trained in the use of the Hi Power.

In 1954 the Hi Power was adopted as the standard sidearm of the British Army (as the L9A1) and by the army of the Republic of Ireland (as the BAP). Many more countries began to adopt the Hi Power during the 50s until it became virtually the standard sidearm of European NATO forces. By the sixties it was easier to highlight armies which didn’t use the Hi Power – more than eighty (some sources say ninety) countries officially adopted this pistol during this time.

A soldier of the Parachute Regiment holding an L9A1 around 1960

It wasn’t until the 80s and 90s that use of the Hi Power began to decline as newer semi-automatic pistol designs finally began to adopt high capacity, double column magazines as standard. Even then, the Hi Power remained in use in some parts of the world, as it still does.

Hi Power replicas

WE 6mm Inglis Hi Power

Given how popular the cartridge firing version is, it’s surprising that there aren’t more replicas of the Hi Power. WE make a 6mm, gas powered, blowback replica of an Inglis Hi Power, complete with hump-backed slide, 500 yard tangent sight, imitation wood grips and a frame slotted to take a shoulder stock. This does seem to be a surprising subject for a replica – Inglis Hi Powers with tangent sights and shoulder stock slots were produced in limited numbers and mainly for China. If you’re going to the time and trouble to produce a Hi Power replica, why not go for one of the far more common later FN versions? The WE Hi Power is a functionally and visually faithful replica, but it has been around for some time now and it isn’t as accurate a shooter or as reliable as more modern WE replicas. I owned a WE Hi Power many year ago and it didn’t shoot particularly well and was prone to both leaking and jamming.

Tanaka 6mm Hi Power Mark III. Looks superb and is a great functional replica but not such a good shooter.

I also owned a beautiful Tanaka 6mm, gas powered, blowback replica of a Mark III Hi Power which was visually and functionally spot-on, but was constructed mainly of plastic and shot with little power and indifferent accuracy (the same as most of the Tanaka replicas I have owned in fact). Given Tanaka’s somewhat haphazard approach to production, you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s also very difficult to find one of their Hi Power replicas. Tanaka also produce a blowback replica of an original Hi Power complete with tangent sights and imitation wood grips, but I have never actually seen one of these so I can’t say if it’s any better as a shooter.

Umarex Hi Power Mark III. A powerful and accurate 4.5mm steel BB shooter but it’s mainly plastic, the slide is fixed and that CO2 loading tab is pretty ugly

If you fancy a 4.5mm Hi Power the most popular option is the CO2 powered Umarex Hi Power Mark III. This has pros and cons. It’s a licensed replica which includes Browning Arms Company markings, it’s a decent visual replica and the ambidextrous manual safety works as per the original. It’s also fairly powerful (over 400fps is claimed) and very accurate for a BB shooter. However, construction is mainly plastic so it’s rather light, the slide does not move and the slide release is moulded in place and has no function. The look of this replica is also spoiled somewhat by the large plastic CO2 loading tab in the base of the grip.

Chrome version of the EKOL ES66

If you’re lucky (or unlucky) you may be able to find an EKOL ES66. This is (or was – I don’t know if these are still made) a Turkish manufactured, CO2 powered replica which shoots 4.5mm steel BBs and looks a little like the Hi Power, though it’s not a precise replica and like the Umarex version it has a visible CO2 loading tab in the base of the magazine. The ES66 is available in chrome and black finish, is of mainly metal construction and has good weight and balance. The slide moves (though only with the magazine removed) but this isn’t a blowback replica and the slide release catch is non-functional. Another notable feature of the ES66 is that it doesn’t have a manual safety – what looks like an ambidextrous safety is actually just a de-cocker. And as a shooter, it isn’t very nice at all. Claimed power is around 350fps but accuracy is truly awful – groups of 10”and over at 6m are not unknown.

Conclusion

Once again, we have a popular and influential handgun which is very poorly represented in terms of replicas. All of the Hi Power replicas mentioned above have issues and we lack any good, recent blowback replicas of the later versions of this pistol. Given how many replicas there are of various iterations of the 1911 and Beretta 92, it seems very surprising that there aren’t more Hi Power replicas around.

Another view of my Tanaka Mark III – a blowback Hi Power replica as good as this that also shot well would do very nicely, thank you.

So, come on someone (KWC, I’m looking at you!), what about giving us a decent, reliable, accurate, blowback replica of this popular and long-lived handgun. I know I’d want one!

Related pages

WE 6mm Browning Hi Power

The semi-automatic handgun designs of John Moses Browning – Part 3: 1910 – 1926

Umarex Beretta 92 FS

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The Beretta 92 FS was one of four (or five, if you count the RWS C225) CO2 powered, pellet shooting semi-auto replicas introduced by Umarex between 1996 – 2000. All shared similar mechanical design, with a rotary pellet holder concealed within a cast zinc alloy body with a moveable front part of the slide which gives access to the loading area. Sixteen years after it was launched, the 92 FS is still part of the Umarex range and is still popular with shooters and collectors. But can a design that’s almost vintage by replica standards really be that good?

Real steel background

The Beretta 92 FS is a development of the original Model 92 and a result of the outcome of the complicated, confusing and controversial process by which the US military selected its new service sidearm in the 70s and 80s.

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Early Beretta 92 with frame-mounted safety

The Beretta 92 design originated in the early 1970s and was intended as a replacement for the elderly Beretta M951. Launched in 1975, the 92 is a short recoil operated, locked breech pistol with an aluminium frame and a distinctive cut-away slide that has become a feature of Beretta pistols. The 92 is chambered for the 9x19mm round, can be operated in SA and DA modes and has an exposed hammer. The earliest models featured a frame mounted safety but the 92S launched in 1976 and all subsequent models featured a slide mounted safety.

The Beretta 92 was adopted by the Brazilian army in 1977 and by Italian law enforcement and military units in 1978. In 1979 the United States Air Force (USAF) was instructed to hold trials to find a replacement for all US military M1911A1 and 38 Special revolvers. The Joint Services Small Arms Program (JSSAP) represented a massive opportunity for sales and semi-auto pistols were submitted by Colt (with the SSP, a development of the 1911 design in stainless steel), Heckler & Koch (with the P95 and the futuristic VP70), Smith & Wesson (with the Model 459), Star Firearms (with the M28) and FN (with variants of the Hi-Power). Beretta submitted the 92S-1, a slightly modified version of the 92S.

In 1980, after over one year of testing, the USAF declared the Beretta 92S-1 the winner. However, that wasn’t the end of the story. In 1981, the US Army challenged the outcome of the JSSAP in Congress, claiming amongst other things that the USAF had used the “wrong kind of mud” in tests. In early 1982, the US Department of Defence declared the results of the JSSAP void, and ordered the US Army to conduct a new series of trials. In May 1982, the US Army declared that all pistols submitted had failed the required tests and this second trial was abandoned.

In 1983, Congress instructed the US Army to re-start testing, this time under the designation XM9 Service Pistol Trial. Pistols were submitted by Smith & Wesson (Model 459A), Heckler & Koch (P7M8 and M13) , Walther (P88), SIG-Sauer (P226), Steyr and FN. Beretta submitted the 92F, a further modification of the original 92 design with a new finish and a re-shaped grip and trigger guard. Testing continued until September 1984 but the announcement of the result was delayed by a legal challenge from H&K and S&W after their designs were eliminated from the trial. Finally, in January 1985, the US Army announced the adoption of the Beretta 92F as the M92 pistol. Orders were placed for over 300,000 pistols.

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US Navy personnel training with the Beretta M9

And that, you might think, would be the end of the story. Except it wasn’t. The M9 was adopted by, amongst many other units, the US Navy SEALs. Several M9s used by SEAL units suffered catastrophic failures, where the slide split in two and the rear half of the slide struck the shooter in the face (“You aren’t a Navy SEAL, Until you’ve tasted Italian steel.“). At the same time lobbying in Congress by S&W resulted in the announcement of yet another trial in early 1989, the XM10 Service Pistol Trial. Beretta submitted the 92 FS, modified with a slide over-travel stop and a re-worked hammer to prevent a broken slide from striking the shooter in the face (the failures in SEAL M92s were later found to be due to the use of over-pressure ammunition rather than any inherent defect in the M9). In May 1989, the Beretta 92 FS was declared the winner (for the third time!) and orders were placed for an additional 60,000 M9s.

So, it took ten years, four rounds of testing, several allegations of misconduct, a Congressional inquiry, legal action, a major fall-out between the US Army and the USAF and a huge amount of suspicion and ill-feeling, but in 1989 the Beretta 92 FS was finally accepted as the standard sidearm for the US Military.

The Umarex Beretta 92 FS

Released in 1998, the Umarex Beretta 92 FS is a replica of the pistol used by the US military and followed the design of the Walther CP88 and Colt 1911 which had preceded it. It’s an all-metal design and up to eight .177″ pellets are held in a rotary holder which is loaded by pressing down on the takedown lever, which allows the front part of the slide to move forward, exposing the loading area. CO2 is retained inside the grip and accessed by removing the right side grip. The ambidextrous slide mounted safety is fully operational though it does not incorporate a de-cocking function.

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Early glossy black finish 92 FS with walnut grips

The 92 FS was originally available in black or nickel finish with black plastic or walnut grips. The original black finish was a glossy, polished finish but this was later changed to a more matt, bead-blasted finish. In 2014, a matt grey finish version was introduced as the 92 FS Sniper Grey. All versions are mechanically identical.

Umarex originally supplied a (non-functioning) compensator in black and nickel finish as an accessory for the 92 FS. Unlike the Umarex Walther CP88, the compensator on the 92 FS is not used to conceal a longer barrel or to increase the sight radius – it’s just a cosmetic addition and I’m not certain that it is still available. Umarex also supply a rail which can be attached in place of the rear sight and which allows the mounting of an optical sight.

Spec;

Calibre: .177″ pellet

Magazine capacity: 8 pellets

Propellant: CO2

Barrel length: 4.52″ rifled

Weight: 1260g

Overall length: 210mm

Sights: Notch and post, rear sight has windage adjustment

Action: SA/DA

Packaging and presentation 4/5

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Gloss finish 92 FS in early style case

The Umarex Beretta is supplied in a plastic hard case with a foam insert. Earlier models were supplied in a blue hard case with foam cut-away to accept the pistol and accessories. Later models are supplied in a black case with generic, eggshell type foam. All versions are supplied with two rotary pellet carriers and a hex key for sight adjustment and both styles of case can be used to store the 92 FS with a compensator attached.

Visual accuracy 9/10

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Beretta 92 FS (left), Umarex Beretta 92 FS (right)

The Umarex Beretta 92 FS is a very good visual replica of the original. Every line and contour of the original is accurately reproduced, the sharpness and details of the castings is outstanding and the join between the front and rear part of the slide is unobtrusive and concealed by the slide serrations. The safety, takedown lever and magazine release are all operational (even though they don’t perform the same function as they do on the original) and even the non-functional slide release is cast as a separate part and looks convincing. The looks are enhanced by accurate Beretta markings on the slide and grips.

Functional accuracy 5/15

Given its design, the Umarex Beretta 92 FS is never going to be as a functional replica as a blowback design. The rear part of the slide doesn’t move, there is no drop-out magazine, there is virtually no felt recoil when shooting and only the manual safety operates in the same way as it does on the original (though it doesn’t include a de-cocking function).

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That said, this has more convincing weight and heft than most blowback replicas. It’s one of the few replicas which actually weighs more than the loaded cartridge version. The hammer and trigger action are also very close to those of the original. So, ironically, while it doesn’t mimic the functionality of a cartridge firing semi-auto pistol, this handles and shoots more like a firearm than many more functionally accurate replicas.

Shooting 37/40

CO2 is retained inside the grip and the CO2 chamber is accessed by pressing the magazine release, which causes the right side grip to pop out. A hinged pad at the base of the grip is pulled down, the thumbwheel is loosened and the CO2 cartridge is placed inside. The thumbwheel is then tightened, and the CO2 is pierced by pressing the hinged pad flat against the base of the grip. This is best done with a sharp slap from the palm of the hand – if you try to close the pad slowly, there will be a notable loss of gas.

926Pellets are then loaded into the rotary pellet carrier. It’s worth taking time to ensure that all pellets are firmly tamped down into the carrier – if not, the carrier may fail to index, causing the pistol to jam. The front part of the slide is opened by operating the takedown lever, the pellet carrier is placed inside and the front part of the slide is pushed to the rear until it latches. You’re then ready to shoot.

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The sights on the 92 FS are a simple notch and post design with no white dots or aiming aids. They’re clear and easy to read except against very dark backgrounds. The rear sight can be adjusted for windage by loosening the small hex screw on top of the sight – a suitably sized hex key is supplied. The 92 FS can be fired in double or single action. The double action trigger pull is fairly long and moderately heavy, but it is smooth, consistent and has a clear break point. Manually cocking the hammer also indexes the pellet carrier, so this replica has a true single action trigger pull which is short, light and crisp. The trigger action is very nice indeed in DA and SA – creamy smooth with no catches or graunches and with a clear and consistent break.

Like most of the Umarex pellet shooters, the 92 FS shoots with a loud and satisfying bang. It’s notably louder than most BB shooting replicas though not so loud that you’re likely to upset the neighbours or require ear protection.

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Six shots, 6 yards, RWS CO2 target pellets. Inner (black) circle is just over 1″ diameter

Most owners report power close to the claimed 400fps. I chronoed both my 92s on a chilly day in November and got a very reasonable average of around 375 fps for both. Accuracy is very good. Both my 92s were capable of grouping at around 1″ at six yards and at about 1½” – 2″ at ten yards. I also shot the 92 FS on several occasions at 25m, something I don’t normally bother with on a replica pistol with iron sights. At 25m from a rested position the 92 FS was capable of placing all eight shots within a 6″ square target and could probably realistically group at 4″ or less. At 25m I find that I’m at the limit at the abilities of my eyesight for shooting with open sights, and any error is likely as much down to me as the pistol. Flat fronted target type pellets seem to work well in the 92 FS, though if you are shooting at ranges of over 20m, you might want to try pointed or domed pellets as these seem to be more accurate at longer ranges.

CO2 consumption is good. I was generally getting between 55 – 70 full power shots from my 92s depending on temperature.

Overall, this is a very good shooter indeed. It’s as good as any of the Umarex pellet shooters at 6m, and does seem to be slightly better at longer range. I don’t know why that should be, and it may simply be that the 92 FS suits my style and eyesight better, but both examples I have owned seemed to be effective shooters at 10m and over.

Quality and reliability 14/15

The Umarex Beretta 92 FS is well made and finished and suffers from few reliability problems. One issue which seems to affect most of the Umarex pellet shooters which use the rotary pellet carrier is a tendency for the screw which retains the front part of the slide to loosen and even to strip its thread. The screw is located below the muzzle, in the position occupied by the guide rod on the original. If this fails or comes loose, the front part of the slide will fly off the gun when the slide release is operated. Problems can be avoided by periodically checking that this screw is tight and by cushioning the forward movement of the slide when you operate the release lever (while being careful to keep your hand away from the muzzle!).

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Seals do wear eventually, but replacements are readily available. The complex trigger and indexing mechanism benefits from regular lubrication, though this requires splitting the casing halves and may be something best left to a professional unless you’re confident to reassemble a range of tiny pins, springs and sears. The rifled barrel also benefits from regular cleaning. Very rarely, the front sight on the 92 FS has been known to come loose with extended use. This can be fixed by using a dab of superglue when re-attaching the sight.

Otherwise, this is a very reliable and long-lasting replica. The finish in particular appears to be very hard wearing and durable. The 92 FS seems to accept a range of pellet types, but both examples I have owned gace the most consistent results at 6 – 10m with flat-fronted, target type pellets.

Overall Impression 13/15

In some ways, this feels like a throwback to an earlier period. Remember when replicas felt as if they were assembled and finished by craftsmen rather than churned out in an anonymous Asian factory? That’s how the 92 FS feels. It exudes quality and thoughtful design and doesn’t give the impression that any element has been built down to a price. Perhaps that’s because it’s one of the few currently available replicas which is manufactured, assembled, finished, assembled and tested in Germany.

There are those who argue that the later matt black finish doesn’t look as good as the earlier glossy finish, and there may be some truth to this. But pick up a 92 FS compared to almost any other replica made within the last five years and it feels like a better quality product in almost every way. It may cost twice as much as some other replicas, but you get the feeling it’ll last much longer. As ever, you get what you pay for.

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And it’s a great shooter too. It’s probably the most accurate multi-shot replica I have owned at ranges of 10m and even 25m. Combine this with a creamy smooth trigger and reliable and long lasting mechanicals and you have a satisfying replica that should last for years.

The black and nickel finish 92 FS and the new Sniper Grey version are still part of the Umarex range. The nickel finish version is available with walnut grips and I believe that Umarex also still sell the wood grips separately for this model. These are expensive, but they do transform the looks of this replica. One thing to note is that the wood grips seem to have a slightly more rounded profile than the plastic versions, making the grip more bulky. If you find the standard grip of the 92 FS rather wide, you may want to think carefully before fitting wood grips.

Conclusion

Given its design and the lack of blowback, the Umarex 92 FS doesn’t replicate the feeling of shooting the cartridge version in the way that blowback versions do. However, balanced against this 92 FS is way more powerful and accurate than most blowback designs – this is one of the very few replica pistols I have owned with which I could reliably place a shot on a standard size target at 25m. It’s also very nicely made and finished – the quality of the castings is outstanding, early glossy versions in particular look superb and the finish seems to be very hard wearing and chip and scratch-resistant. I’d go so far as to say that a black or nickel version with walnut grips is one of the best looking replicas you can own.

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This is also a weighty replica with the heft and feel of a firearm. This is good – if you want to persuade someone of how realistic replicas can be in terms of feel, hand them a 92 FS. But it’s also a drawback. Like the original, the Umarex 92 FS is bulky and can feel very heavy if you’re shooting for extended periods. The 92 FS probably isn’t the ideal choice if you have small hands or weak wrists.

Overall, I probably prefer shooting the Umarex 1911 over the 92 FS at 6m, simply because that pistol is slimmer and a little lighter. But despite their mechanical similarities, I found the 92 FS to be the better pistol at longer ranges, and the SA and DA trigger action is just wonderful.

This is a great looking, powerful and accurate replica, and provided you can deal with its bulk and weight, a fantastic shooter. Grab a black one, find a set of walnut grips and you’ll have an attractive, accurate and satisfying air pistol that will still be shooting long after most other replicas have been consigned to the spares box. They don’t make ’em like this any more. Except fortunately, they do!

Total score: 82/100

Related pages:

Umarex Walther CP88 review

Umarex Walther CP99 review

Umarex Colt 1911 review

Cybergun GSG92 review

KJ Works M9 review

Links

Beretta 92 FS on the Umarex website

WE Browning “Hi-Power” Model 1935

My review of the WE TT-33 ended by stating, “This pistol has made quite an impression on me …. and has definitely rekindled my interest in 6mm gas-blowback airsoft guns.” — and it had, so much so that a couple of days later I decided upon another of their range of classic pistols… the Browning M1935 or, as it is more commonly known, the Browning High Power…

01 WE Browning M1935-Take3 063 - Copy

Those words were written a couple of months ago, but as soon as I had “put pen to paper” (or rather “fingers to keyboard”!) things went wrong! On collecting my new GBB pistol, I knew something was awry in that the slide did not feel quite right and had a tendency to “jam” if pulled back manually without the magazine in place.

Being rather keen to get home and start the review – along with the fact that I didn’t wish to put my good friend and local airsoft shop owner, K.Don, to any trouble – I convinced myself this would be remedied with a little lubrication and use and so instead of requesting a replacement I took it home. The upshot is that I was unable to get the slide working properly and that, coupled with perhaps some “overzealous” racking and releasing of the slide, I managed to exacerbate the problem causing one of the smaller parts of the hammer assembly to break.

Disappointment reigned, but having tried K.Don’s display gun in the shop I was convinced I had just been unlucky, that this was still a good pistol and one I would like to have in my collection. Last week was the first chance I had had to again pay a visit to his shop. Being the excellent chap that he is he insisted we swap pistols and that he would look into repairing/ replacing the hammer assembly at a later date.

I am a firm believer in the saying “every cloud has a silver lining” and there is an upside to this in that I am now able to comment on a “used” pistol which is at least a couple of years old, albeit with a new magazine. In the process of writing this review I have put over three hundred rounds through it on top of goodness knows how many in the past… and so far, so good!

02 WE Browning M1935-Take3 048 - Copy

Real Steel Background

John Moses Browning designed his legendary “High Power” 9mm semi-automatic in 1925, a year before his death, but it wasn’t until ten years later following some refinements by his understudy, Dieudonne Saive (who later went on to design the FN FAL rifle), that it finally went into service with the Belgian Army as the Model 35 (also known as the Browning HP 35 or GP 35, “GP” standing for “Grande Puissance”).

The pistol was manufactured by Fabrique Nationale (FN) of Belgium and went on to become one of the most widely used pistols of the 20th Century with over one million being produced. A notable exception was the United States Army, but then they already had another of Browning’s famous designs… the 1911A1.

A point worthy of note is that whilst the operation of the Model 1935 is based on Browning’s famous “short recoil” design where the barrel and slide move backwards until the barrel drops away from the slide, it is achieved by means of a downward sloping slot under the barrel interfacing with a stud in the frame as opposed to the swinging link used in the venerable 1911.

03a slide and barrel-bottom03b slide and barrel locking diagram-top

Diagram courtesy of worldguns.ru

British Commonwealth countries were quick to realise the value of this pistol. With the onset of World War 2 and the subsequent German occupation of Belgium,  production was moved to John Inglis and Company in Toronto where two variants were produced.

One had a “tangent leaf” rear sight which could be fitted with (and stored in) a detachable shoulder stock whilst the other (more familiar version) came with fixed sights. These were identified as the “Browning FN HP No1 Mk1” and “No2 Mk1” respectively, the former being intended for domestic use and the Nationalist Chinese (some remarkable photographs of a rare Browning No1, made under contract for the Chinese, may be found at the Carolina Shooters Club – a link is given at the end of this review).

04 no1 mk1 right hand side

Inglis Browning FN No1 Mk1* (courtesy of carolinashootersclub.com).

04a no1 mk1 field slide close-up

Close-up of the left-hand side of the slide. The asterix represented minor modifications not deemed to warrant an increase in the designation mark.

Post-war, the 9mm FN Browning was adopted throughout NATO and it is only very recently that the British Army has decided to replace this iconic sidearm with the Glock 17 (Generation 4).

The term “High Power” (or “Hi-Power” as it is often written) refers to the (then revolutionary) high capacity of the magazine with 13 rounds of 9mm Luger (or 10 rounds of .40 calibre S&W) stored in a double stack magazine. With a muzzle velocity of around 335 m/s its effective range was approximately 50m. However, the adjustable rear sight  was graduated at 50m intervals for distances of up to 500m.

The WE-Tech (WE) “Hi-Power” Browning (Model 1935)

Spec;

Calibre: 6mm

Capacity: 20 round, double stack drop-out magazine

Propellant: Green Gas (propane)/ HFC-22

Barrel length: 110mm (measured)

Overall length: 200mm (measured)

Weight: 810g (listed)

Sights: Adjustable rear for elevation only; fixed front post

Action: Single-action

Hop-up: Not on mine!

Packaging and Presentation 2 / 5

05 WE Browning M1935-Take3 001

Whilst the box is more than adequate for safe transportation, it is a little lacking in imagination… especially for such a classic gun! That said, it is made of robust cardboard with polystyrene cut-outs to hold the gun and magazine. The manual is also rather basic, although it does describe the main parts to the pistol, its basic operation and how to conduct a field-strip (although two salient points are missing which are described later on). A very useful exploded diagram is included, but the parts listing is only given in Chinese (fair enough, I suppose, as it’s made in Taiwan… but English would be handy as well!).

Visual Accuracy 8 / 10

This replica is similar to the Canadian (Inglis) made “Browning FN HP No1 Mk1” with adjustable rear sights and a slot in the rear of the grip intended for the attachment of a combined wooden stock/ holster.

06 Browning_HP_Inglis-2 - Copy

Browning FN HP No1 Mk1, fitted with a detachable stock, made by the Inglis Company for the Chinese Nationalist Army (courtesy of adamsguns.com).

The graduations on the rear sight are identical to those of the original and the pistol has an unserrated “ring” hammer in keeping with a High Power of this period.

07 WE Browning M1935-Take3 052 - Copy

(NB. A “Capitan” version of the Browning Mk III, visually similar to the No1 Mk1, was reintroduced in 1993).

The only reason I haven’t given full marks is that no markings are included and I’m a sucker for the odd proof stamp or date somewhere on the gun (after all, lots of different models and variations have been produced). That said, it could well be that WE don’t wish to place any markings and are erring on the side of caution; similarly, it could be argued that no markings are better than the wrong ones… so there we are!

08 browning - left face - 13749113_1 (1) - Copy

Rare pre-war Belgian FN High Power made for the Estonian Home Guard (courtesy of icollector.com)

Apart from that, I’d say that visual accuracy is spot on! There are no seam lines and the plastic grip panels could easily be mistaken for real wood (although I still intend on purchasing some wooden ones for a reasonable sum; something I like to do for my more collectible replicas).

09 WE Browning M1935-Take3 072 - Copy

If you’re feeling particularly pedantic, then on field-stripping the gun you may notice that the outer barrel and slide do not quite feature the same “barrel-locking” detail as the original. Also, the grooves on either side of the base of the magazine are not quite right – as seen in the photo – but in all fairness the position of one of the locking pins prevents these grooves from extending to the bottom.

10 no1 mk1 field stripped

Field-stripped Inglis Browning FN No1 Mk1* (courtesy of carolinashootersclub.com). NB. the spring guide is shown upside down.

The finish on the WE model is very shiny and I prefer the slightly more “matt” colour of their TT-33. However, it is certainly very durable. In fact, when I asked K.Don for the exchange, he indicated some minor blemishes on the surface, but following a little polish with a cotton cloth (the one I use for all my guns, it having a slight impregnation of Ballistol) only one remains and that is barely noticeable unless you really search for it (in front of the ejection port on the right hand side of the frame).

A lanyard ring was sometimes attached, but none is given on this replica.

11 WE Browning M1935-Take3 025 - Copy

Comparison with the WE TT-33

Functional Accuracy 13 / 15

Again, difficult to find fault. It is single-action only – as was the original – meaning the hammer needs to be cocked prior to being fired. Once cocked, it may then be locked in place by the thumb safety located on the left-hand side of the frame (described by the late Jeff Cooper as “Condition One”). The thumb safety mechanism is sound and works as it should.

12 WE Browning M1935-Take3 078 - Copy

WE Browning “Hi-Power” at “Condition 1”. Note the “ring” hammer and thumb safety set “on”.

Unlike similar pistols, the Browning High Power also features a “magazine-disconnect” safety and this has been replicated here. Ie. the pistol cannot be fired, nor the hammer lowered, unless a magazine is in place. Generally considered to be a bad idea, it was initiated as part of the original design specifications provided by the French Army in 1935 (source: Wikipedia).

In fact, the hammer does not drop completely if slowly released with the magazine in place; it only comes fully to rest once the magazine is removed. At first, I thought this might be a potential source of damage to the firing pin, but as this “pin” is in fact a high tensile spring then I’m not unduly worried.

13 WE Browning M1935-Take3 007 - Copy

To release the hammer without a magazine inserted (or with the slide removed), you need to depress the bottom of the metal plate surrounding the firing “pin” (spring).

Field stripping is quite straightforward and as far as I am aware identical to that of the cartridge firing pistol on which it is based. However, as previously mentioned, a couple of steps in the field-stripping procedure have been omitted from the manual.

The slide is first moved back untill it may be locked in position by raising the thumb safety into the notch just forward of the serrations on the slide. The slide stop is then raised in its cut-out so that it may be properly removed.

There is an indent on the right-hand side of the frame in order to facilitate the extraction of the stop (as there was on the original Model 1935). The thumb safety may then be lowered and the slide removed (carefully as the recoil spring is still under tension!).

14 WE Browning M1935-Take3 030 - Copy

Apart from the slight difference in the shape of the outer barrel and the lack of one “locking lug” the internals are well replicated to those of the cartridge firing original. There is no recoil spring plug in a Browning Hi-Power; the outer and inner barrels are simply moved down and out of the slide once the spring and guide rod have been removed (care must be taken so that the inner barrel does not fall out of the outer as they are not joined together).

There is even a groove offset in the “hop-up chamber” (on the replica) identical to that of the original. This is to ensure the recoil spring guide isn’t put in upside down (comparison courtesy of alpharubicon.com).

15 spring guide comparison

Shooting  25 / 40

I purchased this gun with the intention of using it more as a collector’s piece than for shooting. However, I was pleasantly surprised, especially as mine does not have a grub screw in place to adjust hop-up (point “B” in the photo in the following section). In fact, I am not altogether sure adjustment is possible. However, the breech is fitted with a piece of circular rubber and this holds a loaded 6mm ball firmly in place.

16 WE Browning M1935-Take3 029 - Copy

Gas is loaded by inverting the magazine and filling from a gas cannister via the valve in the base of the magazine. Up to twenty 6mm rounds may be loaded by holding the follower down and loading them from the top (the follower protrudes nicely and is easy to keep in place with your thumb). The magazine sits firmly inside the grip and the release button is under the right amount of tension.

Racking and releasing the slide has a satisfactory “ring” to it and the recoil spring is just strong enough for this kind of gun. Whilst not being particularly loud or feeling particularly powerful, muzzle velocity is not too shabby for a gas-operated blow-back pistol with a metal slide and I obtained velocities in the region of 86 +/- 3m/s using “Bombe” brand gas (HFC-22?) and 87 +/- 2m/s using “Puff Dino” brand “Green Gas” from Taiwan, in the shade at approx. 30°C (for some reason, the first shot is often slightly slower by approximately 5m/s and these were not included in the data sets).

Measurements were initially taken using both TK (white) and FireFly (black) 0.25g ammunition and I was achieving groups of about three inches at six yards using a free-standing, double-handed stance. At longer ranges, you can expect deliberately aimed shots to connect with an 8” target at 12m, about 90% at 15m and with balls flying straight and true towards a man-sized target approximately 20-25m away.

Switching to heavier 0.36g ammunition (FireFly, green) increased the muzzle energy with 77 +/- 1m/s being recorded over ten rounds using green gas. Similarly, 0.30g and 0.40g balls resulted in 83 m/s  and 75 m/s respectively, each over ten rounds at approx. 30°C. These values tend to be reasonably consistent throughout the duration of a charged magazine. Groupings also tightened by about half an inch.

16 WE Browning M1935-Take3 042 - Copy

The bulls-eye targets were shot at the end of the session using .36g ammunition and “green gas”.

Depending on your shooting speed and weight of ammunition, at least 25 good shots should be had from a single three second charge of gas; if shooting quickly then some cooling-down of the magazine will be noticed. I have experienced neither a “double-feed” nor a jam, except when the piston return spring became unhooked.

There’s approximately a quarter of an inch of initial “first stage” to the trigger and some may describe it as being a little “spongy”, but the let off point is still reasonably easy to predict. As previously explained, the rear sights are adjustable in elevation but not for windage and the “dovetail” front post is triangular in shape (similar to, but smaller than, that found on the “Navy” Luger P08). The sight picture has the apex of the front post sitting about one and a half inches below the centre of the target using 0.25g balls and pretty much at the intended point of impact with heavier ammunition.

The slide locks back when the last round is fired and may be released by either pressing down on the slide-stop or by further retracting and releasing the slide. There is no sign of wear to the cut-out in the slide where it connects with the slide stop.

Quality and Reliability 12 / 15

I feel it would be unfair to score this section based on my initial experience, especially as the gun I now have has, if anything, exceeded my expectations and is already over two years old.

It has a fair “heft” to it, especially with the magazine in place. Whilst being made of metal alloy, this alloy is quite substantial and certainly looks and feels as if it could withstand a few knocks. All parts of the gun fit together well, both in the slide and frame, giving an impression of quality and reliability… including the hammer assembly which reinforces my view that I was extremely unlucky with the first gun I bought.

The magazine is interesting in that it has a metal lip and like the gun feels solid and durable. Mine has so far been leak-free, holding its charge of gas for up to weeks at a time.

The field-stripped parts appear to be of good quality with a brass inner and (aluminium?) outer barrel. A screw at the front of the spring guide serves to keep a spring-loaded bearing ball in place which in turn prevents the slide-stop from coming out. I have found that this screw can work itself loose and have applied a drop of low-strength “thread lock” to mine (“A” in the photo below).

17 WE Browning M1935-Take3 022 - Copy

“A” indicates the screw requiring a little low-strength thread-lock; “B” the missing adjustment screw and “C” the lack of one locking lug.

I’ve twice had to re-connect the piston return spring to its pin located on top of the piston. Thankfully, this is a simple operation! It is accessed under the rear sight and all that needs to be done is to remove the slide, raise the rear sight and hook the end of the spring  back over the pin using a watchmaker’s screwdriver or needle (as shown in the photo). I would like to point out that this spring has not become unhooked again (I more than likely did not place it securely over the pin the first time it came off).

18 WE Browning M1935-Take3 009 - Copy

Overall Impression 13 / 15

Having now had the chance to properly inspect and handle the Browning Hi-Power (Model 1935) from Wei-Tech, I’m of the opinion that my initial troubles were an exception, not the rule.

However, it would be extremely helpful if WE was to make available – as fellow Taiwanese firm KJWorks has done – a procedure whereby spare parts may be sourced, at a reasonable price, directly from the parent company (it would also be useful if the parts listing was given in English as well as Chinese).

19 WE Browning M1935-Take3 094 - Copy

To summarise, I am now extremely satisfied with this gun and am pleased to have what I hope will continue to be a reliable, fully functioning replica of the famous WW2 era 9mm FN Browning “High Power” to shoot occasionally and put on display. IMHO, it represents a highly collectible pistol which faithfully replicates the cartridge firing original in both operation and appearance.

I would also like to take this opportunity to echo the comments of others in that a few minor design changes would result in a “Browning FN HP No2 Mk1”… and I would like to have that one in black.

Total Score 73 / 100

Guest review by Adrian-BP

Buy:

You can buy this replica at Pyramid Air here.

Links:

http://www.carolinashootersclub.com/threads/175361-VERY-Rare!-WW2-Inglis-Canadian-FN-Browning-Hi-Power-No-1-Mk-I*-Chinese-Con

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