June 22, 2023
I bought my first Luger pistol in 1968. It was mismatched, but it functioned, and I was fascinated by the toggle action. In the half century plus since then, I’ve owned quite a few Luger pistols. My favorites have always been the American Eagle and Navy Lugers. The Navy Lugers with their slim six-inch barrel are aesthetically pleasing, but I’ve also found they shoot well. Intended to challenge the British Royal Navy, the Kaiserliche Marine (the Imperial German Navy) was modern and well trained. Expected to perform a global mission protecting Germany’s overseas colonies and commercial shipping, the Navy was expected to project power on land as well as by sea. However, unlike the United States, Great Britain, and other naval powers, the Imperial Navy did not have a force of Naval Infantry or Marines. Instead, Imperial sailors were trained to perform as boarding or landing parties. Although a certain number of rifles and machine guns would have been available to these sailors, the pistol leant itself well to use while handling small boats and was also widely used.
Initially adopted in 1904, the autoloading pistol chosen for the Imperial Navy was in 9mm Parabellum caliber and had a six-inch barrel. It was issued with a wooden shoulder stock and leather holster; the stock being affixed for use as a “carbine.” To take advantage of its longer range, its rear sight could be set for 100 or 200 meters. Inclusion of a grip safety also rendered the pistol safe if dropped during a boarding operation or other nautical activity. It was also issued with a double magazine pouch, giving the sailor 24 rounds of ready ammo. The P04, more easily stowed aboard a U-Boat, was a perfect weapon for the undersea sailors who might board a captured ship or guard captured crewmembers. It also armed other boarding or shore parties with a weapon having more range than the typical handgun but still easily handled with one hand without the stock affixed.
The P04 Navy had three main variations in classic format, all manufactured by DWM (Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken). The first P04 variation had a flat main spring, a one piece or modified toggle lock, a fat barrel, a grip safety, and a long frame. Only an estimated 300 of this were produced. The second variation, often labeled “1906,” had a coiled mainspring, no toggle lock, a standard barrel, and a grip safety. Early examples had a safety that was on “safe”
(GESICHERT) in the down position while later ones were safe in the up position. Many of the former were altered to the later configuration. Approximately 21,000 of this variation were produced. The Third variation, usually labeled “1908,” had the same characteristics as the 1906 variation except no grip safety. About 85,000 of this variation were produced. Additionally, there were wartime, aka 1914, variants including 1916 and 1917 versions that lacked the grip safety. A total of about 22,900 examples were produced for a total of all 52,700. There were also some P04, P06, or P08 Lugers produced for commercial sales.
German Navy Luger Photo Gallery
Luger Grip Safety
View of the P-06’s grip safety (left); because of its small surface, the hand must be positioned correctly to depress it for firing. Eight-shot group fired one-handed at 50-feet. (Right)
Thompson’s Model 1906 Navy Luger disassembled.
M1906 Nave Luger Markings
The marking on Thompson’s M1906 Navy Luger for the altered safety (left), which is on “safe” in the up position. Pushing a full magazine into place after the toggle has locked to the rear on an empty magazine (top right). To release the toggle when locked open, slapping it back with the palm is quick and effective (bottom right).
DWM 1906 Luger
A DWM 1906 Luger (top) with wooden shoulder stock attached. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Service) Thompson's Luger in the "safe" position (bottom right).
Navy Luger Accuracy
A 25-yard group firing two-handed from a rest.
German Navel Lugers
M1906 Navy Luger (top) with stock, holster, and magazine pouch—finding a complete rig such as this is difficult and expensive. An unaltered Navy Luger (bottom) showing the safe marking in the lower position of the safety lever.
(Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Service)
DWM M1908 Luger
A DWM M1908 Naval Luger; note that the grip safety has been deleted on this model. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Service)
The toggle operating when firing the Navy Luger. (T.J. Mullin photo)
Imperial Navy sailors who appear to have just completed qualification with their Luger pistols. (Bundesarchiv)
German Navy Boarding Party
Imperial sailors with Luger pistols and boarding cutlasses. (Paul Scarlata collection)
Top of the Naval Luger (top right) showing the system for moving the rear sight to the 200-meter position. Markings for the II Torpedo Division (left) along with the rack number 1345 on Thompson’s 1906 Naval Luger.
One source gives the typical number of P04 pistols issued to a German battleship of the period as 100. NOTE: “P04” is used generically here to refer to all variations of the Navy Luger. More specific information is available in The Navy Luger by Gortz and Walter. For example, the battleship Helgoland with a crew of 1,113 was issued 410 Gewehr 98 rifles and 99 P04 pistols. The gunboat Eber with a crew of 162 was issued 80 Gewehr 98 rifles and 28 P04 pistols. Boarding parties often were also armed with the Seitengewehre, the M1911 Boarding Cutlass, as well as the pistol. Due to space limitations submarines were not normally issued rifles. For example, the U-5 was only issued 24 P04 pistols.
One of the interesting aspects of the P04 pistols is that they had unit markings on the back strap, which gives insight into their deployment. For example, mine illustrated in this article is marked “II.T.D 1345.” Indicating it was issued to the Second Torpedo Division and had a rack number of “1345.” These should not be confused with U.S.-type PT Boats of WWII but were much larger and had a seagoing mission more akin to a destroyer escort. I’ve always found the German Navy Luger (AKA P04) one of the most fascinating Luger pistols. I’ll admit a little of this stems from the fact that at some point a group of friends and I started playing the Avalon-Hill strategy game Jutland. That led me to read books on the WWI German Navy. Hence, when I handled my first P04 Luger, my interest was piqued. That fact that I found its six-inch barrel rather elegant helped. Unfortunately, though, I couldn’t afford to purchase a Navy Luger. That remained the case for many years. I had the chance to buy or trade for a Navy Luger a couple of times, but it was generally one of the later ones. I wanted one of the 1906 models with the early safety. I really wanted one with the original holster, shoulder stock, and spare magazines and pouches. But, those were running at least a month’s salary for me at the time.
I finally acquired my Navy Luger from a friend who had bought a nice 1906 in an auction at a bargain. A combination trade/cash deal put it in my hands. A real advantage of the pistol from my point of view was it was nice, but not so nice I hesitated to shoot it. It did have the altered safety. I still would like a complete Navy Luger rig and even have an envelope with cash in my safe that I add to whenever possible towards that end. Unfortunately, the price for a Navy Luger with all accessories inflates faster than my envelope of cash does! But, I do have my P06 and I did take it to the range while preparing this article.
Although I got my Navy Luger a few years ago, I had not gotten around to shooting it until I took it out for this article; therefore, I’ll give my first impressions even though I have fired at least a dozen other Lugers during my shooting years. First, the P04 has a grip safety. I’ve used the Luger grip safety before on an American Eagle Luger so I was aware that because the Luger grip safety is relatively small and is on the left side of the receiver care must be taken in how the pistol is gripped to make sure the safety is fully depressed.
This grip safety must also be depressed while pulling back the P04’s toggle, a toggle, which I found took quite a bit of effort to cock even though I had disassembled the pistol and oiled it before taking it to the range. One further point about the grip safety: I found that when disassembling the P04 it was necessary to concentrate on squeezing the grip safety while pushing against the barrel to remove the side plate. The combination of the “V” rear sight with the front post allows more precise shooting than the sights of many WWI-era pistols. Trigger pull on the P04 wasn’t bad, which combined with the Luger grip’s well-known aid to natural pointing allowed me to shoot well on plates while getting used to the
trigger and handling.
For the purposes of shooting a group, I decided to fire a full magazine (eight rounds) one-handed at 50 feet. My friend Tim fired a five-round group at 25-yards from a rest. I chose 115-grain FMJ ammo for reliable feeding (Magtech brand), and the P04/06 performed perfectly with no malfunctions. I fired a couple of magazines at plates before firing on paper and on using two-hands at pepper poppers after punching the paper. There were no malfunctions among the 50 rounds fired. Older Lugers sometimes have a reputation for lack of reliability, but even though my Navy Luger is more than a century old it performed well. My own experience with shooting quite a few Lugers has been that loads that are too light, bad magazines, or Lugers that were assembled from assorted parts were generally the ones that malfunctioned.
I found, as I have in the past, that the Luger grip is comfortable and allows natural pointing. The “V” rear sight allowed accurate use of the pistol, but was narrow for quick target acquisition. My altered M1906 variation was safe when the lever was in the up position; thus, the process of pushing it down to fire was natural. I have not fired a 1906 Luger with safe being in the down position, but, as I found that I could push the safety up easily with my thumb, that operation would be easily performed as well.
As I mentioned earlier, I have always found the six-inch barreled Navy Luger aesthetically pleasing. As an added bonus, I found that mine is a delight to shoot. Before it gets cleaned and returned to its “berth” in the safe, I plan to put another 50 or 100 rounds through it. It also convinced me to keep adding to my “Complete Navy Luger Rig” fund.
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