The Last Cavalry Pistol: The Polish Radom Vis 35
By R. K. Campbell

Among the best designed and executed handguns of the World War Two era is the Polish Radom Vis 35. Officially known as the Radom ViS wz.35, this robust 9mm handgun was, to the best of this author’s knowledge, the last handgun specifically designed as a cavalry arm. As a historical backdrop, Poland was carved from national enmities after World War One, and quickly set out to develop one of the most admired cavalry units in Europe. While outdated by then modern tactical standards, the cavalry units were well-drilled and highly disciplined just the same. They were trained in rapid movement and rather than frontal assaults, they were trained to move quickly to the front, dismount and fight as infantry. In this means of maneuver they were more versatile than foot soldiers. Just the same, old traditions die hard and the Polish cavalry made futile onslaughts against mechanized German forces in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War. Part of the overall cavalry philosophy was reflected in the pistol the Poles chose as a cavalry arm. The Polish Radom was designed to be compatible with horseback operation. Engineers Wilniewcgzi and Skrzypinski designed a service pistol in 1935 that became the ViS wz.35. Historically, Fabrique Nationale engineers have been credited with some of the design work, and the Browning influence is clear. However, there were innovations not found on any Colt or Browning handgun to that date.

The Radom 9mm pistol is single action with a single column magazine. There is no manual safety. What appears to be a manual safety in production handguns is actually a takedown lever. The slide is pulled to the rear and the takedown lever locks into a slot in the slide. The trigger action is the standard single action type. The trigger slides in the frame straight to the rear. For lockup and to actuate the tilting barrel, the Radom pistol does not use the Colt 1911 type swinging link but rather the angled camming surfaces of the High Power type pistol. An interesting design feature is the full length guide rod. This feature is thoroughly modern and would not be out of place on the newest tactical pistol. This feature somewhat controls recoil as a subjective feature, and keeps the recoil spring from kinking in long firing strings with heavy loads. The ramped barrel imparts good protection to the case head and the feed ramp also seems to handle exotic bullet nose styles well. The sights are the common military type – no better than most and not quite as good as others. There is a small rib leading form the rear notch sight to the front post sight. The front sight is integral with the slide while the rear sight is dovetailed into the slide. The rear sight is adjustable for windage.

The grip safety is a very interesting feature. As many of you know, the Colt 1911 is derived from a series of handguns that did not feature a grip safety. At the time the United States Cavalry was a highly influential Department of the Army; the shock troops of the time. The grip safety is designed to prevent the pistol from firing if dropped. A cocked revolver might have fallen and fired if cocked, but the grip safety prevented self loading pistols from firing if the user lost control. The trigger is locked, and the trigger cannot move to the rear and contact the sear to drop the hammer if the grip safety is active. A second feature of the Radom was unique to the pistol, and a seldom seen feature on single action service pistols. The Radom pistol features a decocker. This device was incorporated to allow the mounted soldier to safely decock the handgun. In other words the hammer was cocked to make the handgun ready to fire. After firing the Radom could be decocked with one hand and reholstered, and then cocked and fired again when necessary.

Overall, the Radom is an example of a handgun designed expressly as the ideal service pistol for mounted troops. Even the shape of the grip makes for excellent handling, with a flare at the bottom of the handle that affords a good purchase. The design and execution of the pistol were excellent by any standard. The caliber, 9mm Luger, was the most popular European service cartridge and a good choice. While the 9mm does not have the frontal mass of a big bore cartridge such as the .455 Webley or the .45 Automatic Colt Pistol cartridges, the 9mm Luger with its high velocity has plenty of penetration, presumably to penetrate to war horse vitals. The Radom was issued to Polish soldiers well before World War Two and was in use when Poland fell in 1939. As was the case with every slave nation under Nazi control, the Radom factory was put to work supplying the big 9mm pistol to the Germans. Germany was continually hungry for material of all sorts. Occupying forces could not rest from the need for personal defense. Rather every solider and administrator had to be constantly armed for fear of an attack by resistance forces or a single armed citizen. For this reason the Germans authored many of the strictest gun control laws in history. Every behind the lines worker and every front line solder had to be armed, and the pistol was handy for such duty. Known as the Pistole 645 in the German supply chain, the Radom was supplied to German units including the Waffen SS.

The Radom pistol illustrated is among the handguns manufactured under the Nazi rule. It is a mid production pistol and is Nazi marked, with the usual proofs, including a Nazi eagle on the locking lug. This pistol features the Radom plastic checkered grips. Very late pistols had rough finishes and wooden grips. This pistol is marked as the middle production – still a good pistol, not as rough as later versions – by the lack of a takedown lever. The removal of the takedown lever from production was an expedient demanded by war time productions. Take down is a little complicated, but not to a great extent. The example shown here has been nickel plated. It is interesting that we often run across nickel plated World War Two service pistols. At one time quality handguns such as the Radom, the Browning High Power, the Luger and the Walther P 38 were available for thirty five dollars or less on the open market – sometimes much less. First class nickel plating could be done for about twenty dollars. Nickel was a popular option but the collector’s value of the pistol is ruined by such nickel. Just the same, a nickel plated handgun of this type makes for an affordable shooter. This pistol is in good condition with a relatively new Triple K magazine. The original magazine is probably long gone. We obtained two additional Triple K magazines from Gun Parts Corporation to aid in the firing evaluation. Service was professional and delivery on time.

Upon examining the Radom’s barrel, we found the bore was dark. The barrel was cleaned several times with a liberal application of Hoppes and a brass bore brush. After six or seven applications, the barrel looked a little better. However, the first accuracy test with lead bullet handloads was disappointing. Even with first quality hard cast lead bullets, a pitted bore is often inaccurate. Twenty five yard groups were more patterns than groups, averaging about six inches. Switching to Winchester's 124 grain ball loading, accuracy was good managing to put five shots into three and one half inches at a long 25 yards. (An average for three groups.) Accuracy was similar with the Winchester 115 grain USA load, but function seemed more positive with the heavier 124 grain bullet. I am not certain what the Polish service load was, but the odds are it was a typical European military load with a 124 grain bullet at very close to 1,200 fps. As a lark, several rounds of the law enforcement only Winchester SXT 127 grain +P+ was fired. Function was excellent, with no feed problems. This load clocks 1,250 fps + but recoil was controllable in the Radom pistol.

The Radom is a heavy duty handgun that when new was doubtless an accurate reliable handgun. Most of the raters who fired the pistol for evaluation rated the Radom as high as the Browning High Power for accuracy, a little better for hand fit, with a demerit for the lack of a manual safety. While we know a good bit about Radom production, there are many questions. As it happened late in the war, the Russians overran the Radom factory and destroyed it. As a result, records and estimates of production are an educated guess at best, but the pistol is an important piece of history.

Interestingly, the Radom pistol is slotted for a buttstock. In the United States, putting a buttstock on a pistol generally changes the category to an NFA controlled item- a Short Barreled Rifle- and requires registration in the NFRTR and having transfer tax paid. In the case of the Radom Vis 35, it is exempted from the NFA as a Curio & Relic, if it has an original buttstock, and requires no registration. There are a number of reproduction stocks that have been made, and they would not be exempted from the tax, because they would not qualify as Curio & Relics.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (July 2012)
and was posted online on June 1, 2012


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