Nothing symbolizes German engineering quite like a 1930s Mercedes Benz limousine (right). Heavy, grandiose, with bold sweeping lines, it just seems to scream out gruffly, “achtung!” The Germans liked those same features in their weapons, too, as proven by the Borchardt C-93—the first ever mass-produced semi-automatic handgun in the world.
Where you’ve seen it:
I hate to reference the same game twice, but it seems as though my old standby time-waster, Red Dead Redemption, is one of the only places in popular media this gun has appeared in recent times.
The tale of the Borchardt is one of obstinance and opportunism. After Hugo Borchardt designed this pistol in 1893, one of the manufacturers, Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM), began promoting the gun through various military and commercial channels. The U.S. Army and Navy gave it a hard look, as did the Swiss army. They all said the same thing: despite the pistol’s speedy rate of fire (particularly by 19th century standards) and accuracy, it had a weird vertical grip that wasn’t very ergonomic, poor weight distribution (just look at that tumor-like bulge at the Borchardt’s back end!), surprisingly snappy recoil, and was expensive. DWM took these concerns to heart and set out to make enough changes to the design to overcome those shortfalls and make the pistol more marketable. But wouldn’t you know it, Borchardt happened to be one of those guys who didn’t handle criticism well: He thought his design was flawless. So DWM just handed the project over to Borchardt’s assistant and told him to make the improvements. That assistant’s name was Georg Luger. Yeah, that Luger. The improved design was later named the Luger P08 and went on to serve the Germans through WWI and WWII, becoming one of the most widely recognizable pistols in history. You can bet Borchardt and Luger didn’t exchange too many Christmas cards after the dust settled.
The C-93 operated on a toggle lock system more famously known—you guessed it—as the defining action of the Luger P08 (right). When the gun was fired, the recoil forced an arm upwards via a fairly complex series of hinged linkages, allowing the breech to unlock and eject the empty cartridge case.
Borchardt didn’t just design the pistol bearing his name; he designed a new cartridge to go with it, too. The 7.65×25mm Borchardt round was nearly identical to that used by the Mauser C96 (also known as the ‘Broomhandle’ Mauser and, for Star Wars fans, the basis of Han Solo’s DL-44 blaster), the 7.63×25mm Mauser. Some ammo manufacturers at the time even marketed them as interchangeable between the two guns.
Though it may have been one of the most peculiar looking sidearms ever dreamt up, one can’t argue with its importance in shaping history, even if Borchardt never got to enjoy the fame that came with it.
Opening composite photo courtesy of earmi.it and icollector.com.