It’s not nearly as well known as the Colt M1911 or the Luger, yet the Browning M1910 fired one of the most consequential shots in history. On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb nationalist, used an M1910 to shoot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife Sophie, as their motorcade passed through Sarajevo, mortally wounding both. This single act set the political and military dominoes falling, ultimately leading to World War I.

A. Blowback mechanism. When the M1910 is fired, the rearward gas pressure on the cartridge case cycles the weapon, as the slide is not locked to the breech.

B. Sights. The weapon’s practical range is a little more than 30 yards, with the sights arranged in a groove cut along the top of the slide.

C. Barrel. With a barrel measuring just 3 1/2 inches, the pistol’s overall length is a mere 6 inches.

D. “Triple Safety.” A lever at the rear of the grip has to be depressed before the pistol will fire. There’s also a magazine safety, which blocks firing when the magazine is removed, and an external safety lever.

E. Magazine. The magazine holds either six rounds of .380 or seven rounds of .32 ammunition.

Princip’s weapon of choice was cutting edge for the time, thanks to the ingenuity of John Moses Browning. Browning began designing magazine-fed “self-loading” (or semiautomatic) pistols around 1896 and found a willing manufacturer in Europe: the Belgian company Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre. The M1910 was a slender blowback handgun, chambered in both .380 ACP (9×17mm) and .32 ACP (7.65 mm Browning Short); all it took to switch calibers was a barrel change. The barrel was the guide for the wraparound recoil spring, a design that contributed to the gun’s sleek profile, and the M1910 was striker fired, with no external hammer. The magazine held either six or seven rounds, depending on the caliber. (The Model 1910/22, introduced in 1922, featured a longer barrel, a larger grip frame, and two extra rounds in the magazine.)

The M1910 remained in production until 1983, with more than 700,000 going to military, police, and civilian markets. With its compact design, it was a perfect assassin’s weapon. The M1910 also claimed the lives of Paul Doumer, the president of France, in May 1932, and Huey Long, the governor of Louisiana, in September 1935. MHQ

Chris McNab is a military historian based in the United Kingdom. His most recent book is U.S. Supercarrier: Operations Manual (Haynes Publishing, 2020).

This article appears in the Winter 2020 issue (Vol. 33, No. 2) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Weapons Check | The Browning M1910

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