Sig's P Series Guns

By R.K. Campbell

Among the most successful of modern handguns are those manufactured by SIG-SAUER. Commonly referred to as SIG’s, these pistols have earned an enviable reputation for accuracy and reliability. The P228 is in service with the US Army as the M11 and the P226 version is in use with other branches of the armed services, notably the Navy Seals. The Japanese Navy adopted the original P220 in 9mm Luger and numerous nations use the P226. In many cases, the SIG pistols have performed as well or better than the handguns chosen for martial use but other handguns have been chosen on the low bid. The SIG is more expensive than most handguns and little can be done to cut costs in this high quality weapon. SIG is located in Switzerland. Due to economic rules and conditions it is not economically feasible to manufacture the handguns in Switzerland and attempt to compete on the world market-note the four-figure price of the SIG P210.

J.P. Sauer and Sohn of Suhl, Germany, was chosen to manufacture the new P series pistols in the early 1970’s. However, it is evident that Sauer had more than a little input into the world beating P220 pistol.

Some features of the new pistol are similar to the World War Two era Sauer HP38. This pistol, a blowback in caliber 7.65mm (.32acp) or 9mm Korto (.380acp), incorporates a double action trigger of uncommon smoothness. The HP38 also incorporated a decocker into its design that any SIG fan would recognize. Since the HP38 is a concealed hammer design, the decocker was necessary to lower the hammer for safe carry. This decocker will cock the hammer if a hard press is given the device when the gun is at rest. The HP38 also incorporates a manual safety and magazine safety. The modern SIG-SAUER P230 is very similar to the HP38, but simplified.

So, it seems the best features of SIG and SAUER were combined in the P series pistols. The P series were developed when European police forces were upgrading in response to terrorist threats. The first wave of European terrorism was fought with the gun, not the bomb, and most police forces were woefully undergunned. The Walther PPK .32 was standard issue. Officers armed with a .380 auto were considered savvy!

The P series pistols were designed for military and police use. They were obviously well suited to anti terror use. They were more than accurate enough for hostage rescue and anti terror work. They fulfilled an important and emerging tactical doctrine. Since special teams would rely mainly upon long guns, the handgun should be as simple as possible. The SIG is simple. There is no manual safety, only a smooth double action trigger. The SIG is among the first mass production handguns to incorporate a positive firing pin block or drop safety into the design. This made the gun safer in hard use. We aren’t supposed to drop our handguns, but cops and soldiers often drop or strike handguns hard enough to raise sparks.

The SIG P220 was among the first modern handguns to make extensive use of stampings. A steel breechblock rides in the high quality stamped slides. This arrangement has proven durable in hard use. The P220 uses an aluminum frame. The SIG is full of innovative features that have become more common by the 1990’s. The gracefully tapered slide rides inside the frame, in the P210 manner. This adds to the handgun’s rigidity and may add to the SIG’s legendary accuracy.

The SIG departed from traditional locking lugs. The SIG uses angled camming surfaces on the bottom of the barrel in traditional Browning Hi Power style, but locks up butting the barrel hood into the ejection port. This is a simple system that has proven durable and accurate.

The SIG’s smooth double action trigger system uses an internal drawbar with excellent leverage and smooth trigger compression. SIG’s are remarkably consistent. Most double action trigger compressions will run to ten pounds while the single action compression is set at four and one quarter pounds. Each will smooth with use.

The SIG is simple to field strip. Simply lock the slide to the rear position and rotate the takedown lever down. The slide then comes off as a unit. The recoil spring and guide are easily taken from the bottom of the barrel and the barrel comes out the bottom of the frame. Reassembly is the opposite, easily accomplished.

The SIG is less desirous of frequent cleaning and lubrication than early generation pistols, if not quite as maintenance free as the Glock. A few drops of oil on the long bearing surfaces mating the frame and slide are all that is required.

The SIG’s grip frame curves in the handle is a graceful S shaped curve that makes the gun fit most hands well. Many double action designs are a long reach for average sized hands but many shooters find the SIG the most comfortable of all double action semi automatic handguns. A special short trigger is available for those with short digits. Most of the SIG line is available in double action only format. This action is very popular with police agencies but the double action first shot single action following version remains in military and special team use.

The most popular SIG pistol versions are outlined in the following table -

*P220 - The original single column magazine pistol. Original 9mm pistols used a European or heel type magazine release. Later versions use the American or Browning type magazine release. This pistol was originally offered as a nine shot 9mm pistol, the most popular military and police version in Europe. Later, the pistol has been offered in .38 acp Super and .45 acp. The .45 caliber pistol is obviously aimed at the American market where it was originally marketed by Browning as the BDA. (Browning Double Action) The .45 caliber pistol has proven very popular in America.

The .38 Super is popular in those jurisdictions that allow private handgun ownership but do not allow civilians to own martial calibers. The 9mm Luger and the .45 acp are often prohibited on this basis. For this reason, most European manufacturers of 9mm Luger handguns offer the same handgun in .30 Luger caliber. The .30 Luger was the original “rulebeater” which allowed the Reich to produce Lugers under the Versailles treaty. There is no need to change magazines or even recoil springs, only a .30 caliber Luger barrel is needed. .45 caliber handguns can be produced in .38 acp Super since the .38 acp Super and .45 acp share a .900 inch long cartridge case. Of course, slides, springs and magazines must be specific to the .38 acp Super cartridge.

I have tested the P220 extensively and carried the .45 caliber version on duty. I regard the .45 caliber P220 as the most potentially accurate of all SIG P series handguns.

*P225 - A compact version of the 9mm P220, no longer offered. An excellent all around handgun suitable for duty or concealed use.

*P226 - The high capacity variant of the 9mm P220, with a fifteen round magazine. A popular military pistol, seeing wide use with the US police agencies. This pistol tied with the Beretta as the US service pistol, but the Beretta won out on the low bid. Used by Navy Seals and many Federal agencies. I have been issued the P226 and found it an outstanding handgun in all regards. The P226 in now available in .357 SIG and .40 caliber Smith and Wesson calibers.

*P228 - A compact version of the P226, the US issue M11. A very well proportioned and accurate pistol, extremely popular with those who are lucky enough to be issued this handgun.

*P229 - The P229 is in compact format but the heaviest of the SIG pistols due to its solid steel slide. This slide was needed, SIG felt, to contain the recoil and energy of the .40 caliber Smith and Wesson cartridge. The handgun has also been chambered for the 9mm Luger and .357 SIG. The most expensive of SIG service pistols, it is a well balanced, accurate handgun with many good qualities.

*P245 - A compact version of the P220 .45 caliber pistol. I have not yet tested this handgun, so I must withhold comment.

*The P239 is a modern version manufactured in America. I have test fired this handgun in 9mm Luger caliber and while it performed well it is neither as smooth nor as accurate as the P220 or P226, but it is much less expensive.

How reliable are the SIG pistols?

Recently, the Ohio State Patrol tested service handguns in order to replace handguns that had malfunctioned during critical incidents. The OSP tested some 19 different handgun variations. An incredible 228,000 rounds of handgun ammunition were fired during the test. Among the handguns considered were examples from Heckler and Koch, Beretta, Smith and Wesson, Glock and Ruger. The handguns were fired at different angles in many different scenarios and in the hands of rank and file raters. The single most reliable handgun and the handgun rated highest on all points was the SIG SAUER P226 pistol in .40 caliber Smith and Wesson. This modern double action only pistol was adopted by the OSP.

Problems in Service

There have been two minor problems associated with the SIG P series in long service. One can be cured easily with training and the other seldom occurs.

When firing the SIG pistol, some shooters will rest their thumb upon the magazine release of the SIG. This is especially true of shooters trained on the Colt 1911. They tend to rest their thumb upon the slide lock safety of the 1911 when firing. If this grip is effected with the SIG pistol, the hand depresses the slide lock, which is located in about the same relative position as the Colt’s side lock safety. Thus applied, the grip prevents the slide from locking open on the last shot. Adopting a high thumbs up grip cures this problem.

Well worn SIG magazines occasionally will not hold the slide open on the last shot. This seems to be the first indicator of wear in SIG pistols. Replacing the magazine usually cures this problem.

Overall, the SIG SAUER line of pistols has proven to be successful for the company and reliable in action. Those issued the SIG pistol feel the brass has not shorted them on a duty handgun and issued the best handgun available. They are probably correct.

A short history of the US M11/SIG Compact pistol

The Army began investigating a compact pistol that would be issued to short statured and CID personnel. The XM11 program began with a study at the Fort McClellan Military Police School in January, 1990. A draft request for proposals was issued in October, 1991. Three pistols were tested at Aberdeen Proving Ground in early 1992. Their pistols fired a total of 15,000 rounds with one malfunction.

The M11 is destined to be issued to aircrews, military police and CID officers.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V3N12 (September 2000)
and was posted online on January 9, 2015


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