Despite being a "non-country" for well over a century, after World War I, Poland picked up the pieces and reestablished national sovereignty. With their country carved up by Prussia, Russia and Austria at the end of the 18th century, the Poles never lost their ethnic identity.
One of the first orders of business was to get the military going again. Though many non-endemic arms were adopted by Polish forces out of necessity, arms design did continue apace, resulting in one of the best auto pistols of all time, the Vis 35 Radom.
Early on, authorities set up an arms factory at Radom in Central Poland to produce Mauser-style rifles. By 1930 the Powers That Be decided to expand production and build a standard service sidearm (the army had been using a variety of old Austrian castoffs) and began testing all of the currently available arms with the goal of adopting one of them or developing a pistol of their own.
At the trials held in 1935, one design emerged triumphant: a Browning Hi-Power variation conceived by designers Piotr Wilniewczvy and Jan Skrzpinski. National pride played not a small part in the final decision, but the fact remained that the pistol was really a clever, solid piece of work.
Externally, the Vis 35 (vis in Latin means "power") resembled an amalgamation of a Hi-Power and a Colt 1911 Government Model. In fact, the short-recoil system employed in the Vis 35 was the same as that used in both of those Browning-designed pistols.
While many other features on the eight-shot 9mm Parabellum Polish auto were similar to those of its antecedents (grip safety, takedown latch and slide stop), one curious feature was the absence of a manual safety catch. There was, however, a lever on the left rear of the slide that permitted the firing pin to be withdrawn and the hammer to be safely dropped on a loaded chamber. Manually cocking the gun allowed the pin to revert to its original position.
Some of these guns were manufactured with slots at the rear of the grip for a shoulder stock, but there is some conjecture as to exactly how many stocks were made and issued. In any event, if one exists, a Vis shoulder stock would rank as a highly desirable auto pistol collectible.
As finally produced, the Vis 35 was one of the highest-quality military pistols made prior to World War II. The materials used were of the best quality, and the fit and finish exhibited commercial-grade characteristics. The guns were marked on the left side of the slide "F.B Radom," surrounding the date of manufacture (1936 — 39) and "VIS-wz. 35/Pat. Nr 15567." A Polish national-eagle emblem separated the two markings. "F.B. Radom" stood for the title of the factory, Fabryka Broni w Radomiu, and "wz" meant "model." The pistol's brown checkered plastic grips were marked with the large initials "FB" on the left panel and "Vis" on the right."
When the Germans overran Poland in 1939, they captured the Radom factory and turned its efforts toward supplying arms for the Nazi war machine. The Vis 35 was redesignated the P-35(p) — Pistole 35 (polnisch) — and was turned out by the thousands.
Some parts were also manufactured at Steyr Werke, and apparently by the war's end entire guns were actually being made in Austria.
Early Nazi Radoms exhibited good workmanship, but as the conflict wore on, fit and finish began to suffer and manufacturing shortcuts due to lack of materials began to manifest themselves. Finish suffered greatly, and late guns exhibit milling marks that would be unthought-of in early production guns.
Today, enthusiasts grade Vis 35s into several categories. First, of course, there are the pure Polish Eagle models made prior to WWII. These are the second-most desirable. Next come the Nazi-captured Polish Eagles, which still retain the eagle motif but also have German Waffenamt marks. These generally bring the most money on the collector's market.
Next in line, the P.35 Type I, has all three levers (hammer drop, takedown and slide stop) and the shoulder-stock grip slot. Type II has all three levers but no stock slot, and Type III has only two levers (takedown and hammer drop) and no slot. There is, however, a notch in the hammer that aids in fieldstripping and takes the place of the hold-open lever.
Sometimes wood grips impressed with the "Vis" and "FB" were substituted for the plastic panels, but these are quite scarce. In late production, plain grooved wooden grips were fitted. Black and brown plastic were both seen.
The takedown of the Vis 35 is quite simple. First one removes the magazine and ensures the gun is unloaded. The slide is then pulled to the rear and the takedown latch engaged in its notch on the slide. The slide stop can then be removed from the gun and the slide moved forward off the frame. Finally, the recoil spring and guide are pulled down and out of the slide and the barrel removed.
To take down a Type III gun, simply pull the slide to the rear and push down on the hammer drop. This will engage the notch in the hammer and hold the slide open for disassembly.
With its slightly flared grip, the Vis 35 is a comfortable, naturally pointing auto. Sights involve a simple notched rear that is drift adjustable for windage and a notch front. A thin matte rib runs the length of the top of the slide.
I've shot Vis 35 pistols of all persuasion over the years and have found them to be among the most accurate of WWII-vintage handguns. Recently, I ran some 124-grain Hornady FMJs and Winchester 115-grain FMJs through a good-condition Type III and was rewarded with excellent point-of-aim groups both from a rest at 25 yards and offhand at 10 yards. Sub-2½-inch groups were not uncommon, and functioning was perfect.
The Vis 35 is certainly one of the more romantic and prolific guns to come out of the Second World War, and these qualities, like so many others, are based on one very solid precept — steadfastness.