I’ve always felt that weapons from World War I are far and away the most fascinating in history, because it was around that time that industrialization and technological innovation began coming together in ways never before seen. Long leaps in weapons technology emerged within a very short time period, creating a paradigm where weapons as fearsome as the Vickers gun served alongside blackpowder guns from the century before. One glance at the Steyr-Hahn tells you that it perfectly represents the technology of the early 20th century, bearing all the marks of a design torn between modernity and antiquity.
Where you’ve seen it:
The only recent film I could find featuring a scene with the Steyr-Hahn was Michael Collins, wherein an IRA member uses one to assassinate a British intelligence officer (left).
The Steyr-Hahn began as a sidearm developed for the Austria-Hungarian Army, and, as its name implies, was brought into service in 1912. Like so many weapons in the early 1900s, it went on to serve in WWII, too, this time in the holsters of the Nazi Wehrmacht. Prior to WWII, orders for the Steyr-Hahn were also placed by Chile, Romania, and Germany (this was prior to the annexation of Austria by the Nazis), so many existing examples of this weapon will bear the marks of those militaries. Estimates suggest that less than 300,000 of these weapons were produced in total.
Though it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around since we live in a time of high-capacity magazines and beveled mag wells, back in the early 1900s, the concept of a removable magazine was a brand new one. The Austrians chose instead an integral magazine (left), designing the Steyr-Hahn much like the rifles of the time—to be charged by an eight-round stripper clip. Despite this, the Steyr-Hahn proved to be a dependable performer in the trenches. One might attribute some of that reliability to the gun’s short recoil operation, similar in design to the venerable 1911 platform.
The Steyr-Hahn shoots the 9×23 Steyr round, which is still accessible commercially (though you’ll probably not find it on the shelf at your local sporting goods store). The 115 grain bullet is nearly identical to the 9mm Luger’s. In fact, when the Nazis ordered the construction of Steyr-Hahns during WWII, they had them chambered to the 9mm Parabellum to jive with the rest of their weapons.
Like so many other service pistols through the ages, this is not a finely-tuned sports car so much as a shell-scarred battle tank. The sensation of shooting the Steyr-Hahn is a difficult one to describe: It’s as though you can feel every chunky, groaning internal part ratcheting into place when the gun recoils. The Steyr-Hahn’s sights are geared for hitting a person-sized target at no further than 25 yards, it has the ergonomics of a brick, and the process of charging the weapon with a stripper clip is hardly a lightning-fast operation. None of that means it isn’t still fun as hell to shoot, and as is usually the case with these old war horses, think of the stories it would tell if it could only talk!