By R.K. Campbell
The Browning High Power is among a very few handguns that owes its design to two of the finest designers that ever lived. Not a committee gun by any means, the High Power was very much a human effort. Most of the design work was accomplished by the American designer and inventor John Moses Browning. After Browning’s death the final work was undertaken by Belgian designer Dieudonee Saive. Saive is credited with the FN 49, FN FAL and other rifles as well as machine guns and other implements. The final version of the High Power or Grand Puissance or simply the “neuf millimetre’ is a great pistol and has become a classic handgun. The Browning High Power is the single most successful military handgun design of all time. At one time the High Power was in service with some one hundred nations. The High Power has been copied and cloned in Argentina, India, Israel, Indonesia and Hungary.
Among the more interesting variants of the High Power is the John Inglis manufactured pistol. There is much misinformation on the Inglis High Power and some of the facts are difficult to nail down after sixty years. Just the same the important facts are there. The history of the war and the manufacture of the pistol in Canada are clear, and production records exist that tell us how many pistols were manufactured. It is interesting to note that many of the reports in the popular press indicated that John Inglis Company was formed to manufacture the High Power. The company is actually an old line Canadian company that has produced boilers for warships among other heavy manufacturing items. The founder, John Inglis, died in 1898. The company is a respected manufacturer and during the war they produced many tons of war material. During the First World War they produced shell casings. The events that led up to the manufacture of the Inglis High Power are interesting.
Germany overran Belgium and the FN plant in 1940 and used the FN plant to arm the German Army and their allies. Research indicates that Fabrique Nationale employees escaped to Britain taking with them drawings of the High Power pistol. At this point the story is more difficult to pin down and substantiate as some authorities have stated that the drawings were lost and that the Inglis pistols were reverse engineered from existing High Power pistols. We do not know for sure, but it is an even bet that good drawings and specifications were available as the Inglis High Power and the commercial High Power often will interchange parts. We do know that Inglis began manufacture of the High Power in 1944 and produced a good number of pistols in a relatively short time period. The original pistols were intended for use in China but many were diverted for Allied use. The pistol was particularly popular with the British, who officially adopted the High Power for service use after the war.
It is important that the difference between numbers and marks are understand, as Number 1 and Number 2 and Mark *1 are not the same. Marks indicate differences in production such as changes in the ejector or extractor. Numbers are more significant. As an example the Number 1 Inglis High Power is the Chinese version with tangent rear sights and a slot in the handle for a shoulder stock. The Number 2 is the Allied version with standard fixed sights. The Chinese were among the last holdouts in deploying handguns with a fitted shoulder stock. The Chinese issued the High Power with a special wooden stock that was also a holster for carrying the handgun. The concept has some merit in arming artillerymen, tankers and truck drivers. The stocked handgun was the precursor to our modern personal defense weapon or PDW. In defensive actions the stock is a modifier of accuracy potential but does not bring the pistol into carbine class by any means. The Chinese version was sometimes diverted to Allied troops but by and large the Number Two with fixed sights was the standard Inglis High Power used by Allied soldiers.
Interestingly, the Germans used some three hundred thousand Pistole 640 9mm handguns as they designated the FN produced High Power pistols. The Nazis took over an operating manufacturing plant. Inglis started from scratch and produced 153,480 pistols. Over 42,000 went to the United Kingdom and 22,820 to Greece. Australia received 700. The majority went to China. After World War Two, many nations used the Inglis High Power including Malaysia and New Zealand. The Dutch received 10,000 during their battles with guerillas in the pacific. India produced a clone of the Inglis High Power. It is clearly based upon the Number 2, not the FN High Power. Given that Inglis also produced Bren guns and other material and that production began in 1944 and ceased in 1945, production figures are respectable.
The serial numbers of the Inglis High Power were pantograph engraved. As such they were applied after the pistol was finished, and the numbers were in the white. If the piece has been refinished the serial numbers are refinished or blued not in the white. The pistols were given a phosphate finish when new. Notably, even though the Browning High Power became available from FN Herstal after the war, the Inglis High Power remains the standard issue of the Canadian Army. The pistol is currently serving in Afghanistan.
The handgun illustrated is a well used pistol and has been arsenal refinished. It is stamped with serial numbers in the China contract range but bears no import marks. An ex-Canadian pistol? A war trophy? Taken from a fallen Chinese in Korea? We will never know. The pistol is in good operating condition. Like many original High Power pistols the magazine safety has been removed. This safety prevents the pistol from firing if the magazine has been removed. The magazine safety bears upon the trigger, making for a rougher action in a military pistol that already features a trigger action with six bearing points. Trigger compression is often heavy. By simply removing the magazine safety a lighter compression is realized – often the improvement is fifteen to twenty percent. We do not recommend removing any safety device but this was often done. The long trigger of the High Power remains spongy after this modification. A close examination of the Inglis High Power shows that the front sight is neatly dovetailed in place, a time consuming procedure during war time production. Today such a sight is the mark of a high end pistol. The rear sights offer a good sight picture despite rather optimistic calibration to three hundred yards. The fit and finish rivals or equals anything produced on either side of the Atlantic during World War Two.
We elected to test fire the pistol as an evaluation of this piece of history. We inspected the barrel, locking lugs and action and declared the piece ready to go. The magazine spring seemed in good shape and so did the recoil spring. We chose Black Hills 115 grain ball ammunition as it is noted for good function and accuracy. This is not as hot as Canadian service loads or the 9mm NATO, clocking about 1,175 fps from the five inch barrel of the Inglis. We also used the Black Hills 147 grain jacketed hollow point, a modern loading featuring deep penetration. Velocity was 980 fps. The modern JHP load fed well in the Inglis. All of our raters enjoyed firing the High Power as the recoil is mild, the pistol is well balanced, and the handgun is lively in the hand. There were no malfunctions in firing over one hundred rounds of ammunition. It is not known how many rounds have been fired in the life of this pistol but since it has been refinished it must have seen considerable service. The refinish is a military phosphate. As for accuracy, we kept the tangent sight set at its lowest setting and never missed the eight inch plates at 25 yards.
In the larger setting of the history of the Browning High Power, the John Inglis High Power is an important pistol. It is still serving and is in fact a more serviceable pistol than many that came later.
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