Korvettenkapitan Waldemar Kophamel was filthy, exhausted, and hungry. He had been confined within a compact steel tube along with fifty-five of his mates for nearly three weeks now. This morning, however, he was sucking in sweet clean ocean air by the drought. Unterseeboot-151 was his home, his family, and his tribe. This particular morning it was also a predator.
Slinking along the dark North Sea Kophamel and his crew had kept the fat British steamer within view for hours. As dawn broke he opened his diesels and closed the range before the hapless ship had time to evade. Now his forward deck gun, a high-velocity 150mm beast, was manned, armed, and ready. Pulling his boat up alongside the British ship he slid his sidearm out of its holster and attached the wooden shoulder stock. Snapping the toggle action closed over a live round he rested the gun’s barrel on the conning tower coaming and steadied his nerves.
The British crew only now realized the peril that had arisen from the darkness. His opposite number, a British officer of about his same age and build, peered back at him through binoculars from his own bridge. Nothing about the enemy vessel seemed amiss.
Kophamel glanced to his left to see Seaman Haus pulled in tight behind his MG08 Spandau Maxim gun. Seaman Peters stood alongside, his fingers quivering on the cloth belt shiny with cartridges. He would try to allow the British to abandon their vessel before his deck guns sent her to the bottom. However, if he suspected anything the English would earn themselves a fight.
Kophamel sensed the danger before he saw it. The English Captain turned and spoke to a sailor standing alongside before raising his binoculars to his eyes again. The crewmen scurrying around the deck suddenly disappeared, and he saw the fat black muzzle of a Lewis machine gun pop up over the railing around the merchant vessel’s bridge. At the same moment, men with rifles seemed to sprout along the length of the ship. Kophamel screamed, “Feuer!”
The noise of the Maxim gun so close to his head was deafening. Kophamel concentrated on his sights and snapped off four quick 9mm rounds before the deck gun roared, punching a heavy 150mm high explosive shell into the English merchant vessel right at the waterline. The round detonated belowdecks with a dull crump, and inky black smoke shot out of the doomed ship’s funnels. English .303 rounds pinged off of his own vessel as Haus raked the merchant ship from bow to stern and back. He then concentrated his fire on the Lewis gun, silencing it just as Kophamel’s deck crew punched a second round into the ship’s entrails. His Luger locked open over an empty magazine as flames began to appear from the ship’s speaking tubes. Return fire slackened and died.
Most of the ship’s crew would make it into the water, but the steamer was beginning to roll. There would not be nearly enough lifeboats. He stowed his long pistol back in its holster, took one more deep drag of fresh air, this time finding it tainted with the faint odor of oil, smoke, and death, and dropped back down into his boat before dogging the hatch above him. War is hell.
The P14 Navy Luger
Georg Luger left an indelible mark on the firearms world that persists to this very day. His extraordinary eponymous handgun was not an altogether original design, however. His mentor, a German engineer named Hugo Borchardt, was actually the first to realize the human knee would translate into a serviceable firearm.
You can test out the theory behind all Luger pistols simply by standing up. When locked the human knee can support your body weight for extended periods without fatiguing. However, crack that knee joint forward just a hair, and the structure collapses. A Luger pistol operates much the same way.
The military designation of the familiar short-barreled Luger pistol is the P08 Parabellum. P08 refers to 1908, the year the Kaiser’s Army adopted the standard Infantry model. Parabellem is a cut from Si Vis Pacum, Para Bellum—let those who seek peace prepare for war. The German Navy adopted the gun several years earlier.
The Swiss were actually the first to adopt the Luger as a military arm chambered in 7.65x21mm in 1900. The P04 is the early Navy model and it included a grip safety. The later P14 did not. The toggle checkering differs between the two variants as well, if you can bring yourself to care. Both German Navy models fire the 9mm Parabellum cartridge.
The standard P08 Luger pistol sports a four-inch barrel and comically small fixed sights. The gun feeds from an 8-round single stack magazine and incorporates any number of prescient features. The magazine release is located underneath the right thumb, though the magazines tend to be a bit sticky. The magazine baseplates were originally made from wood and featured a handy little divot to render them more graspable.
Navy Lugers all sport a mounting lug on the butt for a wooden shoulder stock. Thusly equipped the long-barreled Luger makes a serviceable enough carbine. The rear sight on the Navy gun has two positions for 100 and 200-meter engagements. Press the knurled button in from the right and slide the assembly rearward to set it for the longer distance.
Nowadays naval engagements take place well over the horizon. In 1916, however, the world was a very different place. Early German U-boats did employ serviceable torpedoes, but a great many engagements were prosecuted on the surface using deck guns and small arms. Naval personnel of this era needed a sidearm that could reach out far enough to harass enemy vessels while also serving to repel boarders at extremely close ranges.
Kophamel’s U151 sported four deck guns, two 88mm and another two 150mm. The boat packed nearly 2,500 rounds of ammunition for these four weapons. While the vessel could do twelve knots on the surface, its top speed submerged was less than half that. As such, the capacity to prosecute surface engagements remained a critical capability.
In a manner of speaking the Navy Luger was designed as a decapitation weapon. It was hoped that German U-boat captains might use these sidearms to pick off enemy commanders during close quarters ship-to-ship combat. That they were relatively ineffective in this role did not diminish their mechanical elegance.
The BATFE exempts Luger pistols from the arcane barrel and stock restrictions that govern less collectible guns, so slapping a shoulder stock on your vintage Luger pistol attracts no federal ire. Thusly configured the gun is fairly comfortable and effective. As the sundry components will break down for easy portage the Navy Luger was a remarkably advanced close combat tool for its day.
The trigger is mushier than it should be given its single action design, but the gun balances fairly well off the shoulder. The stock is skinny and austere yet remains nonetheless better than nothing. Shooting off a rest I could remain dangerous out to a football field and beyond. The single stack box magazine features a loading button to ease reloading chores and packs 8+1 of 9mm chaos onboard.
The stocked Navy Luger swings quickly and runs fast. Reloads are not as snappy as they could be given the sticky magazines. However, compared to the full-sized bolt-action Infantry rifles with which it competed the Navy Luger was a sports car in the close fight.
There is a veritable Internet religion surrounding the holy rites of Luger collecting. The sundry details of sights, serial numbers, condition, and origin can determine values that span the spectrum. Low end mismatched guns are still available on a modest budget, while top-end collectible pieces cost more than my car. Hunting for deals is half the fun. My modest collection would not turn heads anyplace serious Luger nerds congregate, but they do look cool hanging on the wall. A glance about GunsAmerica demonstrates an ample selection.
We committed gun geeks can contract the vapors over some of the most ridiculous trinkets. However, in the Navy Luger we find a mechanical elegance not readily embodied within lesser guns. The lines are sensual and the engineering inspired. Hefting one of these World War 1 classics will transport you back to a darker, bloodier, more desperate time.