The Radom vis Pistolet wojskowy wzor 1935: this is no "polish" joke.
Since the 6th century Avars, Huns, Goths, Mongols, Lithuanians, Teutonic knights, Tartars, Cossacks, Swedes, Russians, Austrians, Hungarians, Germans and Soviets have ridden and marched across Poland--usually burning, raping and looting in the process. The fact that the Polish culture and nation has survived these repeated depredations and political partitions speaks highly of the tenacity of the Polish people.
Prior to 1914, Poland was divided among the German, Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. With the end of the war in 1918 a new Polish state was formed from the three disintegrating empires under General Jozef Pilsudski who, between 1918 and 1935, held the offices of Prime Minister, General Inspector of the Army Forces and Minister of Military Affairs and was in fact the country's benevolent dictator.
After WWI Poland attempted to integrate Ukrainian territory into their new state which led to a conflict with the Bolshevik government in Russia. The resulting Russo-Polish War (1919-1920) would have seen the Reds victorious except for massive military aid from France that turned the Soviets back at the very gates of Warsaw. This conflict showed that, despite their patriotic fervor, the neophyte Polish army was inadequately trained and armed.
Polish soldiers were equipped with a mind-boggling assortment of modern and obsolete small arms scavenged in the aftermath of the Great War, supplied by their new allies, received as war reparations and bought on the world market.
While the "official" sidearm of the Sily Zbrojne Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej (Armed Forces of the Polish Republic) was the ex-Russian 7,62mm Revolver Sistemy Nagana obr. 1895g (Ml895 Nagant revolver), thousands of German, Austrian, Hungarian, Belgian, French and Spanish revolvers and pistols of various types, models and calibers were also in service. Standardization of small arms and local production of military equipment was given the highest priority.
In 1927 the Polish government formed the Panstwowe Wytwomie Uzbrojenia (PWU, State Armament Factories) and installed rifle-manufacturing machinery from the German arsenal in Danzig, supplied as war reparations, in a new facility in the city of Radom known as
Paristwowa Wytwornia Broni. At first, the Polish-issue Mausers--the Karabin wzor 98 and Karabinek wzor 98--were assembled from German and locally made parts but production of new Mauser short rifles--the Karabin wzor 29--began in 1929. (1)
By the late 1920s the army's Nagant revolvers were rapidly approaching the end of their serviceable life. While totally obsolete, the Polish army--which was dominated by the cavalry--felt the revolver was more suitable for mounted use and were in general opposed to the introduction of semiauto pistols.
To provide new handguns, the Polish government purchased machinery for manufacturing the unique gas seal Nagant revolver from the Belgian company that had originally developed it for the Russians, Fabrique d'Armes Nagant Freres. The machinery was installed at the Radom facility--which had been renamed Fabryka Broni w Radomiu in 1927--and production of the Rewolwer Ng 30 began in 1930 with approximately 20,000 being manufactured by 1936. (2)
In 1929, the Polish government began negotiating with the Czech company of Ceska Zbrojovka (CZ) for a license to manufacture that firm's Armadni Pistole raze 9mm vz. 24 at Radom. This semiauto pistol used a complicated rotating barrel system to lock the breech which, when you consider it was chambered for the 9mm Browning Short (.380 ACP) cartridge, was overly complicated and unnecessary.
As an alternative to the vz. 24, Radom's technical director, Andrzej Dowkontt, and one of his engineers, Piotr Wilniewczyc, undertook the development of a semiauto pistol chambered for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge.
Their initial drawings and blueprints impressed government officials sufficiently that it was agreed to postpone action on the Czech license until working models of the new pistol could be produced. Dowkontt and Wilniewczyc had based their new design largely upon the tried and proven Browning 1911 pistol, although it contained several unique "improvements" meant to simplify production and satisfy the demands of the influential officers of the Polish army's mounted wing.
NOTE: Throughout the years, a number of sources have claimed that FN engineers assisted in the development of the new pistol, but this cannot be verified from official Polish records.
Working with Jan Skrzypinski of the Paristwowa Fabryka Karabinow (State Rifle Factory, another division of PWU located in Radom) the first prototype pistols completed the initial trails successfully. The only change being deemed necessary was a modification of the sear. On March 16, 1933 the Polish government purchased the rights and patents for the pistol from its two designers for the princely sum of 50,000 zloty ($9,650 in 1933 U.S. dollars).
Continuing trials and minor modifications resulted in it being two more years before the pistol was officially adopted as the VIS Pistolet wojskow wzor 1935 (note: "VIS" is Latin for "power"--possibly to differentiate the new pistol from the rather lackluster 7,62mm Nagant revolver?), so a literal translation might be "Powerful Semiautomatic Pistol Model of 1935." Due to it place of manufacture today they are commonly referred to as "Radom" pistols.
Externally the new pistol resembled the Model 1911 with the same slab sided appearance, grip to frame angle and single column magazine while the slide stop lever, magazine release and grip safety were all located in the "proper" 1911 positions.
So as to lower costs and speed up production, Wilniewczyc had replaced the 191 l's articulating link on the bottom of the barrel with a cammed unlocking method similar to that pioneered by FN on their Browning/ Saive Mle. 1935 pistol (the famous Hi-Power). He also did away with the barrel bushing, but unlike either the 1911 or Mle. 1935 pistols, the recoil system used a captive spring on a' full-length guide rod, while the rear locking lug on the barrel bore against the front edge of the ejection port.
Two other innovations were a hammer drop lever and the thumb operated take down catch The former was insisted upon by the Cavalry as it allowed the hammer to be de-cocked by pushing down on a lever located at the left, rear of the slide which first retracted the firing pin and then tripped the sear allowing the hammer to fall against the frame. The take down catch--which is located in the same position as the 1911's thumb safety--was used to lock the slide back for disassembly.
The only external safety was the grip safety--a device apparently adored by U.S. and Polish cavalrymen alike--which functioned in the same manner as that of the 1911 pistol.
A small rowel-type hammer with deep serrations was fitted which was intended to make it easy for a horseman to cock his pistol by pushing it against the heel of his reins hand, saddle or thigh. Finally, a lanyard ring was fitted to the heel of the grip, another necessity on a pistol intended for use by horsemen. Manufacture began at Radom in late 1936.
The VIS wzor 1935 was chambered for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge, known in Polish service as the naboj pistoletowe syst. "Parabellum" kal. 9 m/m. It was basically a copy of the German Patrone 08 and consisted of a tapered, rimless case 19mm long whose 124-grain full-metal jacket bullet was propelled to a velocity of approximately 1150 fps. It was an extremely rugged--but simple--pistol made from the finest materials and displaying first class workmanship. All pre-war pistols were finished in a dark blue and slide markings included the factory name "F.B. Radom," date of manufacture, the Polish eagle national crest, the model designation "VIS wzor 35" and the patent number "15567." Black plastic grips were standard on early pistols, the right one being marked VIS and the left FB. Pistols manufactured under Polish control had a slot in the grip back strap for attaching a shoulder stock, although their use appears to be limited and only a few are known to exist in collections today.
As is usual with any new product, manufacture got off to a slow start and only 49,500 pistols had been produced by the time the Germans invaded Poland in 1939.
As they did in many of the occupied countries, the Germans continued production of arms at Radom which they renamed Waffenfabrik Steyr, Werk Radom. Being both the wzor 29 rifle and the VIS wzor 1935 pistol used standard German 7.9mm Patrone sS and 9mm Patrone 08 ammunition they were taken directly in Wehrmacht service without modification. The VIS was given the Fremden Gerat designation 9mm Pistole 35(p), and proved very popular with German troops.
As the war progressed, German engineers made gradual changes to the VIS to speed up production. The first things to go were the shoulder stock slot and the take down catch. Beginning in 1944 brown plastic grips replaced the original black ones. As the war progressed the quality of fit and finish deteriorated.
Polish workers apparently smuggled several hundred VIS pistols out of the factory and supplied them to the Polish resistance movement, the Armia Krajowa, who used them to fight German occupation forces during the ill-fated Warsaw Uprising (August 1-October 2, 1944). 3
With the approach of Soviet armies in 1944, parts and machinery for making the VIS was transferred to a factory about twenty miles from Steyr, Austria, where assembly of pistols continued until the end of the war. Quality of these late production pistols declined rapidly: they were finished in a dull grey/green phosphate, solid pins were replaced with rolled pins and crude wooden grips replaced the checkered plastic style.
According to noted VIS collector, Frederick Hoffmeyer, approximately 310,000 VIS's were produced during the war years, making it one of the more common of the myriad types of foreign pistols in Wehrmacht service. The post-1945 Soviet-dominated Polish government opted not to restart production of the VIS wzor 1935, instead adopting Soviet pattern small arms including the 7,62mm Tokarev TT-33 pistol.
Disassembling The VIS Wzor 1935:
First remove the magazine and retract the slide to verify the chamber is empty. Pull the slide back slightly and move the take down catch up to hold it to the rear.4 Pull the recoil spring guide rod forward slightly and remove the slide stop, then release the take down catch and remove the slide off the front of the frame. The recoil spring/guide rod assembly and barrel can then be removed from the slide. Reassemble in reverse order (a tip: remember, after locking back the slide, to pull the recoil spring guide rod forward when reinstalling the slide stop).
Test Firing The VIS Wzor 1935:
While some VIS pistols were brought home by returning GI's after the war, small lots were imported over the years but in general they have been uncommon on the U.S. surplus market. Fortunately my good friend Tim Hawkins has several of them in his rather eclectic collection, two of which he loaned me for this report.
Both were made during the German occupation and are marked "F.B. Radom VIS Mod. 35 Pat. Nr. 15567." Apparently the Wehrmacht didn't want manufacturing dates or Polish eagles on "their" pistols, although why they insisted upon keeping the patent number is beyond comprehension.
Other markings include "P35(p)" stamped on the slide and Waffenamt eagles on several other components showing the devotion to duty of the many German inspectors involved in their production. One had the back strap cut for attaching a shoulder stock while the other did not, indicating later production.
As one well versed in the mysteries of the 1911, I found handling the VIS second nature with (most of) the controls in the normal locations. The hammer drop levers on both pistols worked easily although, just to be on the safe side, I tried each a few times with empty, primed 9mm cases. One can't be too careful with these old timers.
Having run out of things to examine, I figured it was time my wife Becky and I got out to the range to see if these two Polskie uroda (Polish beauties) could do what was expected of a military handgun.
At the range our first task was to see what type of accuracy we could coax out of the two Polish pistols. Jeff Hoffman at Black Hills Ammunition kindly provided a supply of 9mm Parabellum ammo loaded with 125-grain FMJ bullets for my endeavors. Setting up several targets at fifteen yards I proceeded to fire five, five shot groups with each pistol from an MTM K-Zone rest.
This proved no easy task as the VIS is graced with typical pre-war sighting equipment--the front blade was far too narrow and low while the rear V notch way too small--combined they tested my 60-something year old eyes sorely. But things were helped along by both pistols having rather decent trigger pulls, albeita bit heavy but with crisp let-offs. Not bad at all for handguns manufactured under trying wartime conditions.
Both Poles tended to print to the left forcing me to use a bit of "Kentucky windage" to put the rounds in the bullseye. But once I had this figured out, accuracy was quite surprising with both pistols printing several sub 2-inch groups.
With this (unexciting) part of my test firing completed I paced off a modest seven yards and set up a combat type target and proceeded to run the pair of Poles through a series of offhand drills. Despite their miniscule sights, they proved to be naturally pointing pistols and it became obvious that Messers Dowkontt, Wilniewczyc and Skrzypinskiof put a lot of thought into designing the ergonomics of the pistol's grip. This only makes sense because if there was ever anyone who needed a naturally pointing pistol, it's a cavalry trooper bouncing around on the back of a frisky mount!
I ran two magazines through each pistol, firing them with both supported and unsupported (one handed) grips and managed to put 29 out of the 32 rounds thus expended in the target's X and 9 rings. Instead of hauling the rest of the ammo back home, Becky and I spent an enjoyable 45 minutes engaging "targets of opportunity" (a.k.a. rocks and dirt clods) on the 25-yard backstop. By the time we ran out ammo we had run in excess of 200 rounds through the pair of wzor 1935s and experienced only one malfunction when a round hung up on the feed ramp. That's very impressive to say the least.
My final opinion of the VIS wzor 1935? Well, it appears to be built like a tank, was very reliable, suitably accurate and handled quite nicely. My only real criticism concerns its miniscule sights--but this same complaint can be voiced about most handguns of that era. It's easy to understand why the VIS wzor 1935 was popular with its users--Pole and German alike.
I would like to thank the following for providing materials used to prepare this report: Tim Hawkins, Lisa Warren, Francis Kennedy, Lew Curtis, Joe Kolander, Rock Island Auction Co., James D. Julia Auctioneers (http: 11 jamesdjulia.com) and all my friends at Jan Still's Luger Forum (www.luger.gunboards.com) and the International Ammunition Association (iaaforum.org).
Special thanks to Mr. Frederick Hoffmeyer of Cedar Ridge, Calif, for his time and expertise.
(1) Karabin = rifle; Karabinek = carbine; wzor = model
(2) Radom was also known as Zaklady Metalowe "Lucznik" (Lucznik Arms Factory).
(3) Armia Kxajow = Home Army.
(4) On late production pistols lacking the catch the slide is held the rear by pushing down the hammer drop lever while letting the slide move forward slightly to the take down position
Photos by Paul Budde & Becky Scarlata (unless otherwise indicated)
SPECIFICATIONS VIS PISTOLET WOJSKOWY WZOR 1935 Caliber: Naboj pistoletowe syst. "Parabellum" kal. 9 m/m Overall length: 8.3 in. Barrel length: 4.5 In., 6 grooves, right hand twist Weight (unloaded): 37 oz. Magazine: 8 round, single column box Sights: Front: Blade Rear: V-notch Grips: Black/brown lastic or wood
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|Date:||Apr 10, 2016|
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