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The Browning Hi-Power 9mm

Classic Weapons

Few weapons are more desired or personal to military personnel than a pistol. Often a status symbol among officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs), pistols convey an image of personal marksmanship and authority. However, for special operations forces (SOF) personnel, pistols are often a weapon of choice, particularly for close-quarter and restrictive operations like hostage rescue and urban operations. And for much of the second half of the 20th century, the close-quarter weapon of choice for western SOF units was the Browning Hi-Power 9mm semi-automatic pistol.

The Hi-Power was the final evolution of semi-automatic handgun design by the legendary John Moses Browning, the dean of American gunsmithing. The creator of the legendary M2 .50 caliber machine gun and Browning Automatic Rifle, Browning was also the father of a family of handguns, including the classic M1911 .45 caliber pistol. Tens of millions of his weapons have been manufactured for more than a hundred years, and many are still in production and service today.

Btrowning Hi-Power Inglis workers

Workers conduct a final assembly of Hi-Powers destined for China at the John Inglis Co. munitions plant in Toronto, Canada in April 1944. Library and Archives Canada photo

The Hi-Power was itself an evolutionary development of Browning’s final pistol design, the 16-shot 9mm Grand Rendement (“High Capacity”) pistol, developed for the French military in the early 1920s. Somewhat large and clumsy, it was redesigned by Dieudonne Saive following Browning’s death in 1926. Saive was FN’s most gifted gun designer, and destined to become head of small arms production for FN. Thanks to a number of modifications to the basic Browning design, including reducing the magazine capacity to 13 rounds, shortening the butt, and replacing the old-style safety mechanism, Saive created a firearms classic that went into production at FN in 1935.

Called the Grand Puissance (“High Power” or “HP” for short) it was also known as the P-35. Tens of thousands were sold prior to World War II, when it was produced and issued to both Allied and German forces, including Fallschirmjäger (Airborne) and Waffen-SS troops. The Nazi forces took over the FN production works when they overran Belgium in 1940, and produced more than 300,000 Hi-Powers for their own use. Allied Hi-Powers, produced in Canada by John Inglis and Co., became very popular with elite troops, including British Airborne forces, the Special Air Service (SAS), and Special Operations Executive, as well as the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS). It was in the hands of the SAS that the Hi-Power became a SOF legend, providing them their basic close-quarters, personal weapons for over four decades. The Hi-Power provided the SAS the basis for an entire doctrine of close-quarters shooting, which they passed along to other SOF forces around the globe.

British soldier Browning Hi-Power

A British soldier aims a Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol on a shooting range at Basra, Iraq, in 2006. Only recently did the British military replace the Hi-Power with a more modern pistol, due to the essential soundness of the Hi-‘ design. MoD photo by Harland Quarrington

Known to the British as the “Pistol No. 2 Mk. 1” or L9A1 (after 1962), the Hi-Power could be equipped with a wooden or tubular shoulder stock to allow for more stable, longer-range shooting. In addition to the standard model that fired the 9 mm Parabellum round, the basic Hi-Power design could and was adapted to other types of ammunition, such as the Smith and Wesson .40 caliber. The Special Boat Service and other specialized British military units also adopted the Hi-Power as their standard sidearm for much of the late 20th century.

Despite perceived problems with the single-action trigger pull and a tendency for the hammer to “bite” the firing hands of users, the Hi-Power was and is extremely popular. Over the next six decades, FN alone would produce over 1.5 million Hi-Powers, with production (both licensed and illegal) in Canada, Argentina, Israel, Hungary, and Indonesia. More than 50 armies and 93 nations eventually adopted the Hi-Power as their standard sidearm, and it continues in manufacture and service today. And while units like the SAS have updated their arsenals with more modern handguns like the SIG-Sauer P226, the Hi-Power is still an excellent option for military/police forces throughout the world.

Browning Hi-Power Specifications

Type: Locked breech recoil-operated pistol.

Caliber: 9 mm Parabellum or .40 Smith & Wesson

Length: 7 3/4 inches

Barrel length: 4 5/8 inches

Weight: 2 pounds unloaded, 2.3 pounds with fully loaded 13-round magazine

Capacity: 13 + 1 or 10 + 1 (.40 Smith & Wesson)

Feed device: 10- or 13-round staggered box magazine, with 20-round or larger capacity box magazine available

Mode of fire: Semiautomatic

Muzzle velocity: 1,160 feet per second

Safeties: Half-cock notch, ambidextrous manual safety, firing pin block, and magazine safety

Sights: Standard blade front with notch rear (dovetailed to slide); 6.2-inch sight radius

Trigger pull: 7 1/2 pounds

Maximum effective range: 55 yards


John D. Gresham lives in Fairfax, Va. He is an author, researcher, game designer, photographer,...