A Fabrique Nationale “High Power” in the collection

John Moses Browning’s final pistol design is known as the “High Power”, “Hi-Power” or P-35. It is mostly a J. M. Browning design but the final work – including the high capacity magazine – was done by Dieudonné Saive of Fabrique Nationale (FN) in Belgium. Browning had worked with FN before, so this was not a strange development. One notes John Moses died some nine years prior to the actual emergence of the pistol in 1935; this also explains why Mr. Saive finished the design.

The pistol is noteworthy in design. It is a pivotal piece of design in handgun technology. For one thing, it was the first major caliber (which may be argued of course) to be offered with a ‘large capacity’ magazine. Incidently, it is the large magazine capacity which generated the nickname of ‘High Power’, not the caliber size. One notes the Savage pistols of the 1910s and 1920s had ‘double stack’ magazines, but were in caliber .32 ACP. The Savage pistols are noteworthy as well, but they are another story.

Also noteworthy, this pistol – similar to the Browning designed Colt Government Model (1911 and 1911A1 in military form) – could be carried fully loaded and hammer cocked with the safety engaged. Other than the Government Model, most pistols were somewhat vague in carry mode. Many semi-automatic pistols had safeties, but were either clumsy or imprudent to use in such mode. The “Ruby” semi-automatic from the Basque regions of Spain and the Beretta line of pistols had a manual safety, but it was not located in a manner to be used like the manual safety of either the Government Model or the P-35. Other pistol manufacturers had avoided the problem by adding a double action function, as in the Walther PP introduced in 1931 or the J. P. Sauer & Sohn 38H.

The take down function is a bit simpler than the Government Model and the P-35 design does away with the barrel bushing. Good for maintenance, bad for accuracy when the gun is worn.

The design also included a magazine disconnect. This was at the behest of the French Army, who had invited bids for a new Army sidearm. For those few who don’t know, a magazine disconnect prevents a pistol from being fired without a magazine in place. This is a very good feature for those poorly trained troops who cannot remember to remove the magazine PRIOR to removing the round from the chamber. It also turns such a pistol into a rather short club in the absence of a magazine. I think all S&W semi-automatic pistols have such a design. I’ve always thought it absurd. But I’m not in charge, and many disagree with me.

The design also incorporates one of the strangest trigger mechanisms I’ve ever seen in a pistol. More about that later.

At any rate, the offering of the P-35 was a turning point in defensive handgun design.

I’ve fired a few belonging to friends. One such was so worn at the internal barrel bushing in the slide the pistol would not keep all shots on a 50 yard target at 50 yards. Not in the black or scoring rings, but not all on the paper. Admittedly, a heavily used gun. In those days, I carried a gun as matter of personal defense and my budget was limited; being married and having children does in fact reduce one’s disposable income. I have never been impressed with the defensive capabilities of the 9mm Luger (9×19 NATO) cartridge and so I never had one. However, I always knew of the significance of the design and wanted one for my collection for some time.

My chance came when I noted an advertisement in Shotgun News offering used – surplus, it turns out – FN made High Power pistols for a less than outrageous price. So I went to my local neighborhood gunshop – Old Market Firearms in Hastings, Nebraska – and plied the proprietor with money. Poof! There it was.

I have to admit, my first impressions were not joyful. The pistol appears to be a military issue pistol with adequate but minimal upkeep. It was finished in that ‘black paint’ finish reminiscent of WWII era Webley revolvers. However, they are prominently marked “Fabrique Nationale” and that is what was advertised. It needed cleaned. Actually, sterilized might be closer the mark. Perhaps stripped and blued or parkerized. But that would remove the authenticity from the dear thing, so I’ll settle for cleaning at the moment. Pulling the grips showed the insides to be cleaner than I anticipated. It seems to be oiled heavily – at least more than I normally use. Upon further inspection, it seems what I thought was dirt is mostly the ‘paint’ finish wearing and scuffing.

The grips are standard black plastic. I have no plans to refinish this pistol or change the grips. It is an example of a real P-35 in issue condition.

All the controls work. The slide seems to fit loose enough to travel back and forth but doesn’t seem to be sloppy loose. I’m not sure when this particular pistol was made, but the sights are rather modern. I was expecting the original ‘bump’ type front sight and traditional ‘U’ shaped rear; the sights are three dot variety (too dirty to tell if they glow in the dark) and both are installed on dovetails. The magazine pops out about three-quarters of an inch when released but does not fall out completely. I understand it is designed that way so the user can keep track.

According to my web searching, it was an Israeli issued sidearm. All that seems to fit; it’s a serviceable sidearm fitted with serviceable sights and maintained to function. And the little Mogen David – Star of David – stamped on the trigger guard.

One magazine was supplied with the pistol. It’s a Mec-Gar aftermarket magazine. It works properly, but I would have preferred the ambiance of an original magazine. (I can live with the disappointment, I’ve been divorced three times.)

I took the pistol and two magazines (another Mec-Gar my friendly neighborhood gunshop just happened to have) to the range. Since it looks like a military issue sort of pistol, I tried it out with FMJ ammunition. The ammunition used was my reloads, to the same ballistic data as 9×19 NATO pistol ball; a 125 grain FMJ at around 1150 fps.

Setting out a NRA 25 yard timed and rapid fire target at 25 yards, I fired two five shot strings of two-handed slow fire. At the 25 yard mark, the shots all grouped nicely to the sights and held within the 8 ring of the target. I have to say, the upgraded sights installed on the pistol are good quality patridge sights and work very well.

The difficulty with a closer group is the trigger. I haven’t tried the pull with weights or a scale, but the pull is well above five pounds and possibly seven or so. For an issue gun, this isn’t unusual. One does not hand a minimally trained trooper a pistol with a hair trigger. The trigger is very crisp when it breaks; it lets go all at once. Also, I could feel very little ‘creep’ or movement in the trigger prior to trigger break. It’s just heavy. (I’m too used to target guns, I suppose. I’m spoiled, okay?) Remember I mentioned the odd trigger system earlier? In a Government Model, the trigger is part of a strut system that pushes directly on the sear to release the hammer. Not so in the High Power. The trigger mechanism is much closer to a Luger or Nambu type 94. The trigger in the HP rotates and pushes a lever up against a levered bar (official nomenclature ‘walking bar’) in the slide; the other end of the walking bar presses down on a connector back in the rear of the frame which is linked to the sear which then drops the hammer. That lived in the house that Jack built.

Still in all, this pistol shows better than ‘combat accuracy’. (That is a vague term meaning with luck the pistol will deliver all shots on a 3X large white tee-shirt at 5 yards.) I’ll have to try again, but I do believe this pistol will reliably hit a full silhouette target at 50 yards, but I’m not counting on head shots on demand.

I picked up as many fired cases as I could find. They all look like – fired cases. I cannot find any serious ejector mark on the base of the case, the sides have that ‘dragged out of the chamber’ look common to semi-automatic pistols with full charge ammunition. I did note some scraping in the extractor groove indicating a good grip by the extractor. Ejection was typically about eight feet to impact on the ground; all to the right, about in line with my body, behind the gun to some degree.

Recoil was mild. About what one would expect from a light bullet fired from a full weight (officially 2.19 pounds) pistol.

The pistol worked well. I had one stutter in a rapid fire string; looked like the round under the feeding round bounced out of the magazine and had nowhere to go. Only happened once. The hammer spring is rather sturdy. I had several rounds in my stash that looked as if the primers weren’t fully seated. In many cases these won’t go off the first time struck and only seat fully; the second attempt fires the primer and the round. Not here. The heavy hammer spring fired them all. The recoil spring is pretty heavy as well. Nonetheless, action was perfect except for the double feed and that looks more like a magazine problem than a pistol problem.

All in all, John Moses’ last design is still going strong. It works as it should and delivers what it promises. Oh, did I mention it does not have a plastic frame?


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