Ordnance Notes -- by Bob Stoner GMCM (SW) Ret.

Browning P35 9mm "High Power"

Typical fixed-sight Belgian High Power as manufactured through the late-1960s. (Photo: FN – Herstal)

At first glance, the P35 Browning looks very much like its predecessor, the Colt M1911-series .45 ACP pistol. It ought to, because it was the last design produced by the small arms genius John Moses Browning. Browning designed what became the P35 pistol as a follow-on to the M1911 and his first working prototype was almost finished shortly before his death in 1926. (Subsequent development of the P35 through its adoption for service was done by Dieudonne Saive of FN.) During his lifetime (1855 to 1926) Browning was granted 128 patents and is credited with over 50 million sporting and military weapons manufactured to his designs.

Browning had developed a very close working and marketing relationship with the Belgian firm of Fabrique Nationale. He was developing a double-column magazine pistol based on the M1911 that would be lighter, simpler, and have increased firepower (14 rounds as opposed to 8 rounds -- hence the "High Power" name). After Browning's death, Dieudonne Saive of FN continued development of the pistol and marketed the prototypes to the French Army as a replacement for their aging 8mm revolvers. The P35 was not adopted by the French as their service pistol, but it was adopted by the Belgians and the Danes. The Chinese were also impressed by the P35 and they had an FN-licensee, John Inglis, make them for the Republic of China Army in its fight against the Chinese Communists and Japanese invaders. Meanwhile, the British were very interested in the P35 for their own troops' use when Hitler invaded Poland in September of 1939. The FN factory was flooded with orders when the Germans seized Belgium in the spring of 1940. Fortunately, prints for production of the P35 as well as finished guns were spirited out of Belgium before the Germans arrived.

After negotiations with FN officials, the British decided to produce the pistol in Canada under FN license. The Inglis-built P35s were for use by the Chinese Nationalists and Commonwealth Forces (that is, British, Canadian, and Australian). Production was to cease after hostilities to protect FN's market around the world. While Inglis churned out its version of the P35 in Canada, the Germans were building their own version at the occupied Liege, Belgium plant. (Like a few other guns, the P35 had the distinction of being used by both Allied and Axis powers during World War 2). During 1943 to liberation in May 1944, the Germans produced P35's without the magazine disconnector. These guns are prefixed by "A" before the serial number.

The Browning P35 closely resembles the M1911 except that the physical size of the pistol is smaller. The P35 dispenses with the swinging barrel link system of the M1911 for a cam-locking system. The hammer of the P35 is reshaped (it resembles the "ring" hammer of the Colt .45 "Commander") and the P35 eliminates the grip safety and disconnector safeties of the M1911. The thumb safety of the P35 is similar to the M1911 in that it locks the slide, hammer, and trigger when the hammer is cocked and the safety engaged. The P35 differs from the M1911 in that it has a pivoting trigger and trigger bar to actuate the sear and hammer to fire the pistol. The P35 also differs from the M1911 in that it cannot fire with its magazine removed; the P35 incorporates a magazine disconnector.

The P35 pistol has been in production by FN and its licensees since the end of WW2. It has or is used by the armed forces of at least 50 countries around the world. It is still in first line service with the British Commonwealth countries, as well as police departments worldwide. P35 pistols have been produced with detachable shoulder stocks and rifle sights; double-action versions for today's users; fixed sight combat models and adjustable sight completion models; specialized target shooting versions; and factory modified plain clothes" police pistols or smaller, lighter versions of the P35. There are very few pistols that have earned the title of a "go to war" pistol. Among this select fraternity are the American M1911 Colt (and its clones), the Belgian Browning P35, and German Walther P38. These guns have a well-earned reputation for reliability and performance from arctic wastes, to desert sands, to the foulest tropical jungle. Navy SEALs used limited numbers of P35 High Powers in Viet Nam. The P35 was highly-prized by them.

Browning P35 Specifications:
Caliber: 9mm NATO (9x19mm)
Length -- 7.75 inches.
Height -- 5.0 inches.
Barrel -- 4.75 inches.
Weight (empty) -- 2.0 lbs.

© 2005 Bob Stoner R3