The turn of the century into the 1900s was an interesting time in firearm development. The invention of smokeless powder and Hugo Borchardt’s first semi-automatic pistol caused the world’s armies to re-examine their sidearms. Switzerland and Germany adopted the Luger. We know that the United States chose John Moses Browning’s Colt 1911 pistol. The Kingdom of Norway also conducted pistol trials during this time. Their decision along with subsequent history leads us to an interesting and ironic story.
The Norwegian Military Defense established the Permanent Rifle Commission in the 1880s to evaluate all types of small arms. The commission tested all of the commercially available semi-automatic pistols of the time, including the C93 Borchardt, C96 Mauser, the Luger, FN Browning, and the Colt 1902. In 1904 the commission decided that an automatic pistol should not be adopted as they considered the designs to be not fully developed.
The Colt 1902 Military Model (bottom right) was determined to be one of the better designs over the Luger and the earlier Borchardt.
In 1909 another commission was formed to study small arms calibers. The Pistol Caliber Commission of 1909 determined that 9mm or .38 was the best caliber for military sidearm use. Therefore new trials were ordered by the commission focusing primarily on 9mm or .38 caliber pistols.
These trials included the Colt 1902 Military Model, Roth-Steyer 1907, and updated designs from Fidejeland, Krag, and other Norwegians. The Colt 1902 Military Model was the clear winner, as all other designs had some inherent weaknesses. Troop trials were ordered to begin in 1911.
Norway began negotiations with Colt over the possibility of licensing the Colt M1902 design. Rather than purchase directly from Colt, Norway wanted to manufacture its own pistols and pay a royalty to Colt. However, the situation was further complicated because John Moses Browning had already licensed his designs outside of the United States to Fabrique Nationale.
The matter was referred to an international patent arbitrator. Colt hired Colonel Ole Herman Johannes Krag (of Krag rifle fame) to represent them. Ultimately the arbitrator decided that Fabrique Nationale held the rights to the Browning design. Norway negotiated with Fabrique Nationale and secured the rights to manufacture the 1902 Military Model pistol at a cost of 25,000 Norwegian kroner.
While all of this legal maneuvering was taking place, Norway ordered and received 25 Colt 1902 Military Model pistols from Colt’s London Agency. The pistols were issued to a field artillery unit for trials. The pistols performed extremely well and the commission decided that they could not be improved. Thus it appeared that Norway was all set to go with the M1902.
However, Colonel Krag (who was representing Colt) returned from the United States with interesting news. He informed the commission that the United States had just adopted a brand new pistol, the Colt 1911 chambered in .45ACP. The commission decided to hold off on the 1902 design until this new pistol could be tested.
The Commission again reached out to Colt’s London Agency to procure a Colt Model 1911 government model. Colt sent them serial number 976, which was manufactured exactly 40 units later than my 1912 Colt Government Model, serial number 936.
A new round of tests was ordered with this pistol. The Colt M1911 was tested against offerings from Webley & Scott, Mauser, Schouboe, and various other Norwegian designs. The Norwegian trial closely mirrored the trials held by the United States. Only the Colt passed the test without breakages or stoppages. On September 24, 1914 the Norwegian Minister of Defense officially adopted the Colt government model automatic pistol, caliber .45 ACP for use by the Norwegian armed forces.
Norway production began at Kongsberg Vapenfabrik, the government weapons factory in Kongsberg, located about 45 miles from Oslo. The Norwegians redesigned the slide stop to make it easier to operate with one hand. To accommodate this change a small section of the left grip panel was cut out.
Kongsberg Vapenfabrik manufactured well over 20,000 units of what was called the M1914 in the period between 1914-1940. Early examples had a nice blue finish (although nowhere near as fine as Colt’s finish on early government models). However by 1938 the clouds of war had gathered in Europe and Kongsberg switched to a faster and less labor-intensive phosphate and enamel finish.
In 1940 the Germans invaded and quickly occupied Norway. The factory was captured and kept in operation to produce weapons for Nazi use. M1914 pistols and Krag rifles produced at the factory were transferred to the Armeoberkommando Norwegen (Norwegian Army Command). Most of these weapons were used by German or Norwegian Quisling forces (Norwegians who collaborated with Germany). The M1914 pistol was designated as the Pistole 657(n) by the Germans.
By 1945 the end was near. The German Army Weapons Office (Heereswaffenamt) ordered the Kongsberg factory to gear up for the final Allied invasion as no resupply from Germany was possible. Even though M1914 pistols had been produced for the German war effort since 1940, it was only in 1945 that the Nazi waffenamt was added to the stamps.
Norway was liberated on May 8, 1945 bringing an end to German occupation. After the war a few hundred additional pistols were manufactured, but without the Nazi waffenamt. In 1947 the production of the M1914 pistol by Kongsberg Vapenfabrik was discontinued permanently.
In total approximately 32,000 Norwegian M1914 pistols were produced by Kongsberg, 8,223 during Nazi occupation. Of the 8,223 made for the Germans, only 920 had the waffenamt applied – marking the gun as a Nazi “1911.”
The Kongsberg M1914 (Pistole 657n) as seen here with its WW2 “brother from another mother,” the Colt M1911A1. In a strange twist of irony America’s iconic 1911 ended up being used by the Nazis as well. I wonder what John Moses Browning would have thought of that?
Beetle is an amateur collector, writer, and photographer. His favorite FFL had this to say to him: “You like all the weird stuff.” He can be reached at [email protected].
This post was originally published in 2014.