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This Browning Hi-Power model 640(b) was manufactured at the Fabrique Nationale d'Armes de Guerre or National Factory of Weapons of War in Herstal Belgium or simply FN for short, some time in late 1941 or early to middle of 1942. It is a self-loading pistol that operates by using a short recoil, delayed locking block system. The Hi-Power is a semi-automatic pistol that has been chambered for the .9mm Parabellum cartridge. The pistol has been designed to operate as a single action firearm that utilizes an external hammer. The pistol is made form steel and has a blued  finish. The sights include an inverted V shaped blade front sight that is drift adjustable for windage, and a V notch rear tangent sight that is finger adjustable for elevation out to 500 meters. The pistol is fed by a double column 13 round detachable box magazine and utilizes a push button magazine release that is located at the bottom left side rear corner of the trigger guard. An empty magazine will not eject from the pistol under its own weight. The pistol also features a manual thumb safety located on the frame at the top rear of the left grip. The pistol has a 4.40 inch barrel with 6 grooves using a right hand twist. The pistol has an overall length of 7.72 inches and an unloaded weight of 34 ounces. This firearm does employ a slide hold open mechanism to inform the operator that the last round has been fired. The diamond checkered grip panels are made from walnut.

This firearm design is based in part on the ideas of the American firearms inventor John Browning, and was later patented by Fabrique Nationale(FN). It all started on May 9, 1921 when the French military authorities contacted a Belgium arms manufacturer known as Fabrique Nationale D'Armes de Guerre of Herstal, Belgium or National Factory of Weapons of War located in Herstal, Belgium. The French requested a new service pistol that they called the Grand Rendement, French for "High Yield", or alternatively Grande Puissance which literally translated means "high power". The requirement set forth by the French military for the firearm was that it had to be compact, have a capacity of at least 10 rounds, a magazine disconnect device, an 8 inch barrel, 600 meter adjustable rear sight, an external hammer, a positive safety, and be capable of killing a man at 50 meters which meant that it needed to be chambered in .9mm or larger with a projectile mass of around 8 grammes, and a muzzle velocity of 1150 feet per second. It was to accomplish all of this at a weight that was not to exceed 2.2 pounds. The pistol must also be able to accept a detachable shoulder stock.

John Browning did not get involved until the magazine was perfected by Dieudonne Saive who was John Browning's assistant and employed at Fabrique Nationale at the time. With the magazine in hand, Browning built two different prototypes for the project. One was a simple blowback design, while the other was striker fired and operated with a locked-breech recoil system. It was the locked breech striker fired design that was selected for further development and testing. Working with the Versailles Trial Commission the design was refined. The first pistol design was called the FN Browning Model 1922. French trials of this pistol lead to the subsequent FN Browning Model 1923 and then the later Browning Model 1924 that was fitted with an external hammer. John Browning died in 1926 before he could finish the design. In 1928 after a number of Colt 1911 patents had expired, Dieudonne Saive redesigned the firearm by combining it with the best features of the 1911. Even though John Browning had nothing what so ever to do with the redesign of the pistol, and had in fact been dead for nearly two years, the pistol still bore the great inventor's name and was known as the FN Browning Model 1928. By 1931 the removable breech bolt was abandoned, and a take down system featuring a removable muzzle bushing much like that of the 1911 was initially incorporated as well as a curved rear grip strap and a 13 round double stacked magazine. By 1934, the Hi-Power design was complete and ready to be produced. France decided not to adopt the pistol, instead selecting the conceptually similar Mle. 1935 that was developed by the Swiss designer Charles Petter. The Browning Hi-Power was first adopted by Belgium for military service in 1935 as the Browning P-35. At this time it was also adopted by China, Latvia, Lithuania and Peru, but only 56,000 pistols were manufactured by FN before the German army invaded Belgium and Holland on May 10, 1940.

The Hi-Power pistol has been known by several names through out its history. It is often referred to as simply HP which is short for Hi-Power or High-Power or as GP which is short for the French term, Grande Puissance which literally translated means "high power". The Irish called it the BAP which is short for Browning Automatic Pistol. It is also known as the P-35 which is based on the introduction of the pistol in 1935. During the Nazi occupation of Belgium in 1940, the Germans gave it the name Pistole Modell 640(b), the "b" stood for belgisch or Belgian. Some have even called it the King of Nines. In Canada it was called the No.1 MK I and later the No.2 MK I*. It originally received the Hi-Power name due to it having the first functional double column 13 round magazine, which was nearly twice that of contemporary sidearm designs of the time. With a full magazine and a cartridge loaded in the chamber, the Hi-Power is able to achieve 14 rounds of continuous fire before the pistol was in need of reloading. Which is an amazing amount of firepower over other pistol designs that was used in WWII such as the U.S. 1911A1, the German Luger, the Japanese Nambu, and the Russian M1895 revolver.  

The Allied Hi-Power pistols that were made by John Inglis and Company during WWII were often used for covert operations and commando groups including the U.S. Office of Strategic Services(OSS) and the British Special Air Service(SAS).  After the war, Hi-Power pistols have remained popular with many military forces from around the world and over 93 nations have officially issued this sidearm to its troops since its invention. Even the former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein and his military officers were seen armed with a Hi-Power pistol. Three quarters of a century after its first introduction into military service, the Hi-Power is still in use by many nations to this very day.  The weapon is either in use by, or is the standard sidearm of the following countries, the Argentine Army, Australian Defense Force, Belgian Army, British Army, Canadian Armed Forces,  Indian Army, Irish Army, Israeli police, Luxembourg Army, Singapore Special Operations Force and the Venezuelan Army, among others. Many firearms enthusiast consider the Hi-Power an improved design by John Browning over his famous M1911 pistol.

German manufactured Hi-Power pistols.

The Hi-Power pistols that were accepted by the German military will have one of three Waffenamt stampings or Weapons Office inspectors stamps found on them. These would be WaA 103, WaA 140, and/or WaA 613 The Germans manufactured over 315,000 of the Hi-Power pistols during their occupation of Belgium.

The Germans knew right away what they had procured in the way of the Belgian FN plant in 1940. The Belgians knew this as well from the past experience with the Germans in the first world war. Many of the Belgian employees and factory workers gave the Germans such a hard time back in 1914, that the Germans gave up on the idea of having the Belgians manufacture arms for them during WWI. In fact, the Germans turned the FN arms plant into an automobile workshop for the duration of WWI. With this knowledge behind them, the Germans quickly set-up shop and began manufacturing weapons at the FN plant. Several models of pistols were manufactured at FN under German control during WWII such as the Pistole modell 641(b), the 626(b) and the one featured on this page, the 640(b). The (b) was an abbreviation for belgisch or Belgium. It is thought that the following amounts of 640(b) pistols were made by the Germans....

1940................ 8,500

1941................ 65,700

1942................ 80,600

1943................ 101,200

1944................ 63,000 

When the Germans first started to manufacture the Hi-Power pistol in the 1940's, the pistols had all of the features that the original designers had intended for it. As the war progressed, the Germans started to do away with what they felt were non-essential components. Most of the very first pistols, a few thousand, were manufactured from captured parts and had a highly polish blued finish along with the shoulder stock slot and the tangent rear sight. The first item to go was the slot in the backstrap for the shoulder stock. The next item to go was the tangent rear sight. Examples with serial numbers around 145,000 have been confirmed by collectors to have both the shoulder stock slot and the tangent rear sight removed. To further speed productions, the quality of the finish on the pistols were reduced from blue to a dull blue, followed by a progressively less polished and machined metal surfaces.

WaA 613 = The very first Hi-Powers with the slotted shoulder stock cut and the tangent rear sight will be marked with the Waffenamt stamp WaA 613 and were manufactured from from May 1940 until early in 1941 with a serial number range of 44,500 through 65,200.

WaA 103 = The next group of Hi-Powers were made from January of 1941 until  May of 1942 and will be marked with the Waffenamt stamp WaA 103. Some reports claim that the WaA 103 marked Hi-Powers were only made during 1941 so the research is still ongoing. These pistols will be found with the tangent rear sight but no shoulder stock slot. They fall into the serial number range of 65,200 to 95,000.

WaA 140 = The third and final German WWII era made Hi-Powers will be found with the Waffenamt stamp WaA 140. These WaA 140 stamped pistols were manufactured from late 1941 until the liberation of the FN plant in Belgium in 1944. None of these pistols will have the shoulder stock slot, but the early made examples in the serial number range of 95,000 to 135,000 will have the tangent rear sight. When the tangent rear sight was removed, the Germans replaced it with a fixed rear sight that was drift adjustable for windage only. It appears that the first of these WaA 140 marked fixed rear sight pistols begin at around the serial number of 150,000 which leaves a gap in the serial number range between the tangent and fixed sight WaA 140 marked pistols.The fixed sight WaA 140 marked pistols continued until around serial number 200,000 which dates them toward the end of 1942. At the beginning of 1943, a new serial code numbering system is used which began at number 01a until number 99999a was reached. Then at the beginning of 1944 the serial number 01b began and continues to about 6300b, at which time German production ceased due to the liberation of the FN factory. All of the letter suffixed serial numbered pistols will be found with the fixed rear sight.

The Hi-Power is the only sidearm that this author is aware of that was officially issued to both sides during WW2. Nazi Germany acquired Hi-Power pistols that were manufactured in occupied Belgium, while the Allies used the Hi-Power pistols that were manufactured in Canada by the Inglis company.   

The Fabrique Nationale  firm is still in business today and is a subsidiary of the Herstal Group. The company now owns the Winchester U.S. Repeating Arms Company as well as the Browning Arms Company which was  founded by the family of John Moses Browning. They are now located in Columbia, South Carolina in the U.S.A. The FN Manufacturing LLC company is responsible for the development of U.S. government contracted military and law-enforcement weapons.  

The photographs on the left are of the top and bottom of the FN Browning 640(b), while the pictures on the right show the front and back of the pistol. In each of these photographs the magazine is shown fully inserted.

The full serial number can be found on the three main parts of the pistol. The full serial number is located on the frame directly above the trigger, on the slide directly above the serial number on the frame, and on the barrel which can be viewed through the ejection port on the slide. Neither the serial number nor a partial serial number is found on the magazine, trigger, guide rod, firing pin or other small parts.  

This Hi-Power pistol design incorporates several safety features. The first of these involves the way the pistol is constructed. Unless the slide and barrel are in their forward position and the action fully closed the hammer cannot be released. There is a manual thumb safety which is located on the frame at the top rear of the left grip. The pistol also utilizes a magazine safety that will not allow the pistol to fire unless the magazine is fully inserted. This magazine safety is connected to the trigger and is released by a plunger pressing on the surface of the magazine. Due to this design, some users of the Hi-Power have removed this safety device. The reason being is that the required force to operate this safety device along with the action of the plunger on the magazine adds tension to the trigger pull. Some of the pistols that were modified by Communist China have been marked with a hole drilled through the trigger to indicate that the components of the magazine safety have been removed.  

The photograph on the left is of the left side slide inscription. The top line reads as follows, "FABRIQUE NATIONALE D'ARMES DE GUERRE" and then underneath that is "HERSTAL BELGIQUE" .These first two lines are in French and translates as follows, "National Factory of Weapons of War Herstal Belgium". The stamp at the bottom of the slide reads, "BROWNING'S PATENT DEPOSE". The bottom line tells us that the Germans are in full control and that the Browning patents to this pistol are no more.

Also shown in the photograph on the left is two WaA 140 Waffenamt's or Weapons Office inspector stamps. They are tough to see in the picture, but they are there. One of the WaA 140 stamps is located on the slide and the other is located on the frame, just to the right of the trigger pin. A third WaA 140 that is not pictured is located at the front of the slide and directly under the muzzle. I found no German military test proofs in the form of an eagle over a swastika in a circle any where on this weapon.

The purpose of these Waffenamt stamps was to prove that each firearm and its components met the quality standards set forth by the Heereswaffenamt or Army Weapons Office. In order to carry this out, inspectors were assigned to individual firms for large corporations or to a specific area if there were several smaller manufacturers. These inspectors and their Waffenamt or WaA were responsible to the Heereswaffenamt rather than the manufacturer to which they were assigned. Each weapons office can be correctly identified by the individual acceptance stamp they used. During production of the Hi-Power 640(b) pistol, the inspectors at Fabrique Nationale d'armes de guerre plant used the eagle over 103, 140 and 613 stamps. A time period for each of the stamps is as follows,

WaA 103 = Fabrique Nationale d'armes de guerre, Lüttich (Liège) Belgium (January 1941 - May 1942).

WaA 140 = Fabrique Nationale d'armes de guerre, Lüttich (Liège), Belgium (Late 1941 - to liberation in 1944).     

WaA 613 = Fabrique Nationale d'armes de guerre, Lüttich (Liège), Belgium (May 1940 - early 1941).  

The photograph on the right is a picture of the rear tangent sight that is easily adjustable for distances out to 500 meters. An interesting note is that the rear sight on the commercial made Belgian pistols that were sent to China prior to WWII have the 500 meter mark situated about halfway up the leaf or about where the 350 meter mark is located on the above sight.

  

 

  

The photograph on the left is of the WWII capture paper, which is also known as the Veteran bring back document for this pistol. This certificate was issued to a T-4(Technician Fourth Grade) Henry Del Rossi on November 21, 1945.

The capture document reads as follows,

"1. I certify that I have personally examined the items of captured enemy equipment in the possession of T-4 Henry Del Rossi and that the bearer is officially authorized by the Theater Commander, under the previsions of Sec VI, Cir 155, WD, 28 May 1945, to retain as his personal property the articles listed in Par 3, below. 2. I further certify that if such items are to be mailed to the US, they do not include any items prohibited by Sec VI, Cir 155, WD, 23 May 1945. 3. The items referred to are: 1 Belgiun No. 106X72 Cal. 38.". On the bottom right hand corner it is signed by a Captain and I am unable to read the signature. Then underneath that it is written "Captain Med Det 358th Inf 1st Bn. This indicates that the Captain and Henry Del Rossi served in the Medical detachment of the 358th Infantry 1st Battalion. Then at the very bottom of the right hand corner is written "(This certificate will be prepared in duplicate)".

While a lot of firearms as well as other items were snuck home after the war, the penalties for such crimes were quite stiff, especially for firearms. Under the right conditions, soldiers were given permission to bring home as war trophy's certain items of captured enemy equipment. When permission was granted, the soldier was given a piece of paper similar to the one above as proof in case he was questioned.

Most likely, a lot of these "bring back" or "captured" firearms were not from the hands of a recently deceased enemy soldier taken in the heat of combat, but rather an item picked up by a rear echelon troop, such as from a pile of surrendered weapons. Of course there would have been many reasons why a soldier on the front lines would want to take home such an item, and I am sure many thousands of them did so. But one thing to remember is that there were piles and piles of surrendered weapons laying around.

If you ever have the opportunity to purchase a war relic and the seller is claiming it is a "vet bring back", ask to see the capture papers. When a seller makes such claims, in most cases he has inflated the price of the item to reflect his claims. If the seller can produce no such document it would be wise for the buyer to think carefully before making the purchase. Lastly, these capture papers can be, and are easily faked, so always purchase just the item and do not pay extra for the story.

The picture on the right is of the magazines that came with the pistol at the time of purchase. Both of the magazine bodies are an Olive drab color and both magazines are identical except for the markings on them. The floorplates are milled and not stamped and have a blued finish. One magazine is devoid of German markings, which indicates that it was probably made before the Germans took control of the FN plant. The other magazine has been stamped with a WaA 103 Waffenamt which tells us that it was made or became the property of the Germans some time between January of 1941 and May of 1942.  

The photograph on the left is of the markings that are found on one of the magazines that accompanied the pistol at the time of purchase. The marking is "WaA 103". The WaA 103 Waffenamt stamp tells us that it was made or became the property of the Germans some time between January of 1941 and May of 1942.

The picture on the right is of the markings that are found on the second magazine that was with the pistol at the time of purchase. I believe that these markings are found on magazines that were made in Belgium for the Hi-Power pistol before WWII.

  

How the pistol operates,

The short recoil principle of the Hi-Power operates by the use of a locking bar underneath the rear of the barrel. When the pistol is first fired, both the barrel and slide recoil for a short distance together. Then the barrel is unlocked from the slide by a camming action. Unlike Browning's earlier M1911 design, the barrel is not moved vertically by a toggling link, but instead by a hardened bar which crosses the frame under the barrel and contacts a squared slot under the chamber. As the slot engages the bar, the barrel is driven down which disengages it from the slide and thus stopping any further rearward travel of the barrel. The slide continues its rearward movement on the frame where it extracts and ejects the spent case. Toward the end of the rearward travel by the slide, the hammer becomes cocked. The recoil spring located on a guide rod underneath the barrel has become compressed by the rearward movement of the slide. The now fully compressed recoil spring drives the slide forward causing a new round to be stripped from the magazine and driving it into the breech. During this process as the slide moves forward, the cam slot and bar move the chamber section upward and the locking lugs on the barrel reengage those in the slide and then just a short distance later the return travel of the slide has ended. With the slide fully forward, there is now a fresh round in the chamber, the hammer is cocked and the pistol is ready to repeat the process the next time it is fired. 

  

Resource:              

German Handguns by Ian Hogg                

German small arms markings by Joachim Gortz & Don Bryans                             

The standard directory of proof marks by Gerhard Wirnsberger               

Official guide to gunmarks by Robert Balderson                  

Mauser military rifle markings by Terence Lapin               

Handbook of military rifle marks 1866-1950 by Richard Hoffman & Noel Schott

Inglis Diamond by Clive Law  

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