WWI Austro-Hungarian Small Arms Part I

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WWI Austro Hungarian Small Arms Part I

Roth-Steyr Models 1907 and 1912

Austria-Hungary finally moved to replace its aging Rast-Gasser revolvers with the Roth-Steyr 8mm Pistol Model 1907 and the 9mm Steyr Pistol Model 1912. Österreichische Waffenfabrik Gesellschaft (Steyr) manufactured some 60,000 Model 1907s; Fegyvergyr of Budapest produced another 30,000. The Model 1907, or Repetier Pistole M. 07, served as Austria’s first semiautomatic pistol and, issued to the Kaiserliche und Königliche Armee (Ku. K), saw wide use during World War I. Its well-publicized use by aircrews during the war also earned it the title Flieger-Pistole (Flyer Pistol). Austrian pistols were stamped with the Austrian double-headed eagle and date, with Hungary marking its pistols with the country’s crest and date of issue. A brass disk fixed to the right grip panel denoted regimental issue. In addition to Austria-Hungary, the Model 1907 also saw service with the Australian Air Service.

The Model 1907 is a recoil-operated weapon and was designed by Georg Roth and Karel Krnka. Its 10-round internal magazine in the grip is loaded with chargers or stripper clips. The Model 1907 is also somewhat unusual in that although the action of the breech mechanism reloads the pistol it does not cock its striker. The striker was activated by an independent trigger mechanism that, as in a double-action, required a deliberate and heavy trigger pull to cock and fire the pistol. This feature was most probably intended as a safety measure, as the Model 1907 was initially destined for issue to cavalry units. It may have lessened the chances of accidental discharge while on horseback, but unfortunately for infantrymen and others it did make the Model 1907 difficult to aim accurately. The Roth-Steyr was a well-built weapon but was expensive and difficult to manufacture. It was also somewhat bulky, with a large knob on the rear of its bolt, giving it something of the appearance of a child’s ray gun.

The most widely issued semiautomatic pistol among Austrian forces during World War I was chambered for the 9mm Steyr cartridge and was known by a number of names. It was variously called the Model 1911 (or M11) in its civilian version, the Steyr Pistol Model 1912 (or M12) in its military form, and officially as the Selbstiade Pistol M12. It was also popularly known as the Steyr Hahn, (hahn meaning to “hand” or “hammer”), in contrast to earlier hammerless models. Some 250,000 Model 1912s were manufactured and issued before Steyr ended its production in 1919. The Model 1912 was also used by Chile and Romania, and during World War II a number were rebarreled to 9mm Parabellum and issued to Nazi troops. The slides of Nazi reissue Model 12s were stamped “08” to distinguish them from their original 9mm Steyr chamberings.

Unlike the Model 1907, the Model 1912 was more conventional in its outer appearance, superficially resembling the squared lines of the Colt-Brownings of its day. Still, the eight-round magazine, although located in the grip, was not removable and was charged by means of stripper clips guided by a slot machined into the top of the slide. It was also fitted with a hold-open device that keeps the slide open after firing the magazine’s last cartridge. This was a distinct advantage to combat troops in that it alerted them to an empty magazine in the heat of battle. The Model 1912 was equipped with a thumb safety on the left side of the frame near the hammer, and another safety prevents the pistol from discharging unless the slide was fully closed. Despite such measures, it was still possible for the Model 1912’s main safety to become partially disengaged, allowing it to accidentally fire.

The locking of the action was accomplished by means of corresponding slots and ribs in the barrel and inside of the slide. Upon ignition, the barrel and slide remain locked during the initial recoil, but as the bullet passed through the barrel the internal cams twisted the barrel to the left, freeing the slide and allowing it to continue in its rearward cycle. This movement opened the action to eject the casing, cocks the pistol’s exposed hammer, and strips a fresh cartridge from the magazine. The Model 1912 was a rugged pistol but, as were other Steyr designs, already outdated when it was introduced, owing to its lack of a detachable magazine.

Frommer Stop

While a member of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I, Hungary insisted on arming its Honved (Army) officers with a domestic semiautomatic pistol-the Frommer Stop-rather than its allies’ Steyrs. The early designs of Rudolf Frommer (1868-1936) of the small arms firm Fegyver és Gépgyar Részvénytarsasag of Budapest reflected his close association with both Krnka and Roth. His pistols were thus beautifully engineered but typically overly difficult to manufacture and maintain for military use. Frommer patented the Frommer Stop pistol in 1912, and it became known in Hungary (for obscure reasons) as the 19 Minta Pisztoly, or Model 1919 Pistol. Possibly as many as 329,000 were manufactured before production ceased in the 1930s (Ezell 1981: 233).

The pistol operates on a turning bolt mechanism and is a long recoil-operated weapon-a needlessly complicated system for its relatively underpowered 7.65mm (caliber .32) Browning cartridge. The Frommer Stop also presents a somewhat unique appearance in the use of a tubular spring housing above the barrel. The housing contains both the recoil- and bolt-operating spring; a clever economical use of space, it presents a tricky arrangement for a soldier to disassemble in the field.

Unlike the Steyrs, the Frommer is fitted with a grip safety and a more modern detachable seven-round box magazine released by a catch at the base of the grip. External metal components are blued, and grips are of vertically grooved walnut and marked with the “FS” logo in an oval. The Frommer was generally unpopular among Hungarian troops, as it lacks stopping power and is more delicate when compared to other contemporary military pistols. Fegyvergyar manufactured a more powerful Frommer chambered for the 9mm Browning (caliber .380 ACP) cartridge at the end of World War I, but apparently few if any made their way to front-line troops.


A German designer who made a significant mark on rifle design, even though his weapons were never adopted in Germany, was Ferdinand von Mannlicher. He was born in 1848 in Bohemia and was educated in Vienna at the technical college. In 1876 he went to the World Exhibition in Philadelphia, where, instead of concentrating on the railway exhibits since he worked for Austrian railways, he became sidetracked by the Winchester and Hotchkiss weapons exhibits.

Mannlicher went into rifle design from that moment and received honors for his work, including a Gold Medal at the 1900 International Exposition in Paris. Although many of his designs were failures, his place in rifle history is assured because of his inventive genius. One significant design was a semiautomatic rifle patented in 1895, improved by 1900, which was operated by gas tapped from the barrel that forced a piston to actuate the mechanism. This principle is at the heart of most SLRs today. One area in which his weapons still survive is that of stalking, for Mannlicher sporting rifles made around 1900 can still be seen doing excellent work in the Scottish Highlands.


M1885 Rifle

Straight-pull bolt action. Clip-loaded magazine.

Cartridge: 11.15 x 58R Werndl.

Length: 52.3in (1328mm).

Weight: 10lb 8oz (4.8kg).

Barrel: 31.8in (808mm), 6 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1444 fps (440 m/s).

M1886 Rifle

As M1885, new sights.

Cartridge: 11.1 5 x 58R Werndl.

Length: 52.2in (1326mm).

Weight: 9lb 15oz (4.5kg).

Barrel: 31.7in (806mm), 6 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1444 fps (440 m/s).

1886/90 Rifle

M1886 rifles converted to fire 8 x 50R Mannlicher cartridge.

M/v: 2035 fps (620 m/s).

1888 Rifle

M1886 rebarreled.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 50.4in (1281mm).

Weight: 9lb 1oz (4.4 kg).

Barrel: 30.2in (765mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1755 fps (535 m/s).

1888/90 Rifle

Model 1888 with new sights for M88/90 cartridge.

M/v: 2028 fps (618 m/s).

1890 Cavalry Carbine

Straight-pull bolt.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 39.6in (1005mm).

Weight: 7lb 5oz (3.3kg).

Barrel: 19.61 in (498mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1886 fps (575 m/s).

1890 Gendarmerie Carbine

1892. As cavalry carbine.

Details: as M1890 Cavalry Carbine.

M1895 Rifle

Straight-pull bolt.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 50.4in (1280mm).

Weight: 8lb 5oz (3.78kg).

Barrel: 30.1 9in (765mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 2030 fps (620 m/s).

1895 Short Rifle

Straight-pull bolt.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 39.49in (1003mm).

Weight: 6lb 13oz (3.09kg).

Barrel: 19.68in (500mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1902 fps (580 m/s).

1895 Cavalry Carbine

Similar to short rifle.

Details: the same

M1914 Rifle

As German Gew. 98 but with a different stock.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 50.19in (1275mm).

Weight: 8lb 13oz (4.0kg).

Barrel: 30.7in (780mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round integral box.

M/v: 2034 fps (620 m/s).

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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