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Browning model 1910

In this monthly blog series, our collections team write about their chosen Object of the Month, from our collection. In this blog post, Curator of Firearms, Lisa Traynor explores the history behind a model of pistol made notorious by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

The Browning Model 1910

Side view of self loading pistol

Side view of a blued centrefire self loading pistol with ‘FN’ printed in relief on the handgrip

Although the Browning Model 1910 was not a particularly iconic military or civilian pistol, it managed to achieve notoriety in world history for a different reason. On 28 June 1914, a young man named Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Serbian secret military society the ‘Black Hand’, used his Model 1910 to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne) and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, during their visit to Sarajevo. The consequence of which, contributed to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

The Browning Model 1910, serial number 19074, used in the Sarajevo assassinations is now on display in the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Vienna. Lying in the collection at the Royal Armouries is the same model of pistol (PR.8687) with the serial number 19590, currently on display in the First World War exhibition, ‘Bullets, Blades and Battle Bowlers‘. Although a difference of 516 may seem quite numerous, in terms of rate of manufacture the two pistols were quite possibly in the factory, Fabrique Nationale (FN), at the same time.

a blued centrefire self loading pistol with 'FN' on the handgrip

This pistol was used by Gavrilo Princip to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand on the 28th June, 1914 in Sarajevo. © Heeresgeschichtliches Museum

Weapon of choice

By the early 1900s, the pistol (or ‘handgun’) had become notorious in assassination plots. Pistols during this period were classified as either ‘revolvers’ (from ‘revolver pistol’) which were common in the latter half of the 19th century, or by the 1890s the ‘self-loading’ pistol, though this took some years to become popular. The most basic distinction between the two is that a revolver holds its ammunition in a rotating cylinder, which chambers a new cartridge as the cylinder rotates, whilst a self-loading pistol feeds ammunition from a magazine usually housed in the grip. As a class of weapon designed to be carried on the person and used one-handed, both were relatively compact and concealable. They could also be kept in a jacket pocket should the assassin prefer an attack at close-quarters, though they could have proven difficult to draw quickly.

The development of the self-loading pistol brought more advanced pistols into the arena of assassination. Although more expensive to purchase, the self-loading pistol provided its user with more favourable odds. Even if they failed to hit their target, the self-loading pistol was quicker to reload than the traditional revolver (without a speed-loader), provided the assassin had pre-prepared a fully loaded spare magazine. The spare magazines were also a compact size and would have fitted comfortably into a jacket pocket.

The Browning Model 1910

John Moses Browning, one of the most influential firearms designers in history designed his first prototype of a self-loading pistol in 1896, three years after the ground-breaking German Borchardt. Without the development of Browning’s prototype (later named the Browning Model 1900), self-loading pistols such as the Colt Model of 1911; and the Browning Hi-Power could have been very different. Browning lived through the period of great innovation in firearms technology. Born in 1855 when modern self-contained ammunition did not exist, he lived to witness many of his designs being used during the First World War, before his death in 1926.

The Model 1910 pistol employed the simple blowback mechanism. Pistols which use this system are less complex to produce but typically require cartridges with low velocities and pressures. As such they were more popular with civilian, rather than military markets. The Model 1910 also features three safeties. Firstly, a magazine safety that prevents firing when the magazine is removed. Secondly, a grip safety is incorporated allowing the discharge of rounds only when the weapon is in the hand. Finally it has a frame mounted manually operated safety catch.

self loading pistol with the magazine.

Side view of a blued centrefire self loading pistol with ‘FN’ printed in relief on the handgrip. Pictured with the magazine.

The Model 1910 came in two versions, one developed for the .32 ACP (7.65x17mm SR Browning) cartridge and the other for the slightly larger .380 ACP (9x17mm Browning Short) cartridge; which Browning had developed for Colt in 1908. The .32 ACP version held seven rounds of ammunition and the .380 ACP version, used in the Sarajevo assassinations, held six shots. A few models were also designed with interchangeable barrels to accommodate both calibres, presumably designed for purchasers of the pistol who may have had ammunition availability issues.

A Proficient Assassin?

Gavrilo Princip’s account of his notorious shots first stated that he had ‘deliberately aimed at the Archduke.’ As his shot was successful, his deliberate aim could suggest that he was a proficient user of the Model 1910. Yet Princip had only previously practiced with the pistol in Belgrade one month prior to the assassination. It has also been suggested that within organisations such as the ‘Black Hand’ ‘marksmanship training was very limited as ammunition was both scarce and expensive.’ This, therefore, calls into question Princip’s experience with this pistol. Unless you are a seasoned user of firearms, such as a trained soldier, it is very difficult, especially in a stressful situation, to account for your point of aim and the number of shots taken. If Princip was not that familiar with shooting this pistol, he would have found it difficult, as I have previously. I have shot this particular pistol many times, and have found that the added safety on the grip must be completely depressed in order for the pistol to work. It requires a tight grip which can affect your aim.

self loading pistol

Centrefire self-loading pistol FN Browning Model 1910 (about 1912)

In drawing from my own experience of this pistol, it is more likely that Princip seized the moment, pressed the pistol firmly into his hand and just shot in the direction of the Archduke’s car, as he states in his second testimony, ‘where I aimed I do not know.’ In addition to his confusion neither could he remember how many times he had fired the pistol, he thought twice but later during his testimony added ‘perhaps more, because I was so excited.’ The lack of clarity in Princip’s second account was most likely due to the high levels of adrenaline running through his body at the time he took his shots, making this account more plausible. Gavrilo Princip and his Browning Model 1910 did achieve notoriety that day, but not for his own course. Instead he ‘ignited the fuse’ which plunged the world into total war, ironically through one of the ‘luckiest’ shots in history.

To view the Browning Model 1910 pistol, and other items in our collection in more detail, visit our Collections Online.

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