The first P.08 Luger I handled is the property of U.S. Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant Travis Thompson. We were young corporals working in an armory when he brought his bring-back in for repair. It was the souvenir of Thompson’s grandfather, U.S. Army Sgt. Donald Thompson, a “Motor-T” driver from Grinnell, Iowa, during World War II. When it came to me, the Luger had a broken firing pin and a worn side-plate. Besides the need for replacement parts to make it work, the Luger was complete, albeit with a barrel that was curiously missing half its bluing. The 1916-manufactured DWM Luger was storied to have been picked up on the battlefield after it was found stuck in a pool of blood and snow, but this was not verifiable. The Luger was given to Sgt. Thompson by another soldier while stationed in Germany with the 9th Division, 9th Signal Company. Thompson passed away on August 18, 2015, and because he didn’t talk much about the war, many of his stories died with him.
It used to be that I wasn’t in a rush to acquire a Luger and I thought that they’d always be available. Before the Gun Control Act of 1968, Lugers could be bought from the back-page ads of Guns & Ammo for $80. They were once so plentiful that they were featured on 19 G&A covers between 1960 and 1980. There were a few reproductions in the 1970s and ’80s that tempered the Luger market, but demand has since outpaced supply of significant variations. Clean examples are now in private collections and museums, and the internet has afforded easy access for deep-pocketed collectors to quickly find those most coveted, driving prices skyward.
I own just one Luger and it’s the pride of my handguns. It features a mismatched Mauser S/42 upper with serial number “3481” on top of a lower receiver with the number “3568”; two guns brought together. With the exception of the magazine numbered “1391”, the small parts all feature either “68” or “81”. Though having a “68” number, the trigger, takedown lever, ejector, magazine release button and thumb safety are all straw parts, as is generally the case with rebuilt Lugers.
After 1936, rebuilt Lugers were salt blued with replacement parts heated in a furnace with burnt bone and carbonia bluing. The resulting finish was a light straw to brown color. Straw Lugers are less desirable than those with original parts and finish, but enthusiasts are starting to discriminate less because Luger prices make them the most affordable way to own one. I don’t mind shooting it either, and I’m always impressed by its reliability and accuracy.
It’s relatively easy to find information on a Luger’s markings through books and websites, but the backstories are what’s being lost among the gun store hordes, pawn shop trades and grieving widows. I asked the man from whom I obtained my Luger if he knew my pistol’s story, only to learn his. He didn’t know the soldier who brought it back, but he did tell me about the man who inspired his reason for purchasing it. Jack Thomas was one of Gen. George Patton’s tank commanders who had brought back three pistols. One of them was an S/42, and Mr. Thomas lent the young man the Luger for study. Proud of the kid’s affection for history, Thomas later gave him his pair of polished mahagony-colored jump boots that he wore while following Patton across Europe. Though he never had a chance at acquiring Thomas’ Luger, he was taken back by the act of kindness. At the first chance he got, he snapped up an S/42 variant. Unfortunately, he didn’t think to get its story from the previous owner.
Even though the history of my Luger remains a mystery, I surmise that each of these souvenirs possess more of a story than we’ll ever know. Today, seeing a Luger in person is similarly as rare as meeting a World War II veteran. They are all special. We’re at the cusp of losing their untold tales, so if you have one or know one, please write it down and share it. Should you have the other half of Mauser S/42 with serial numbers 3481 or 3568, send me an email! I’d love to learn that story, too.