Gun test: A tale of two Lugers

Service pistol lovers are spoilt for choice, as Umarex has not one, but two P.08s in its Legends line-up, so Mike Morton gets greedy and shoots both

Mention the word ‘Luger’, and most people will automatically think of this handgun being brandished by a jackboot and jodhpur-wearing German officer from the Second World War.

But the P.08, also known as the Pistole Parabellum, Parabellum-Pistole (Pistol Parabellum) or just plain Luger, was a derivation of Georg Luger’s original model that dates back to 1898.

It’s rightly earned itself a place in history, serving in both world wars as well as numerous other conflicts with multiple foreign users. Some models were even built for the Dutch by Vickers!

Key specs: Double Action

Gun supplied by: John Rothery Wholesale (www.bisley-uk.com)
Manufacturer: Umarex Legends
Model: Pistol P.08 (double-action)
Price: £84.99
Calibre: 4.5mm (.177)
Ammo: Steel BBs
Action: Double-action
Capacity: 21 rounds
Safety: Manual
Sights: Fixed front and rear
Barrel length: 116mm
Overall length: 216mm
Powerplant: 12g CO2 capsule
Weight: 820g
Shots per capsule: Approximately 50
Features: Integrated CO2 capsule piercing

Key specs: Blowback

Gun supplied by: John Rothery Wholesale (www.bisley-uk.com)
Manufacturer: Umarex Legends
Model: Pistol P.08 (blowback)
Price: £134.99
Calibre: 4.5mm (.177)
Ammo: Steel BBs
Action: Single-action blowback
Capacity: 20 rounds
Safety: Manual
Sights: Fixed front and rear
Overall length: 224mm
Weight: 855g
Powerplant: 12g CO2 capsule
Shots per capsule: Approximately 30
Features: Cocks using toggle-lock, similar to original

Airgun shooters have been treated to two different CO2-powered BB-firing variants of this iconic handgun from Umarex, both of which appear in the company’s historic Legends series.

BB calibre markings of 4,5mm (.177) are stamped on the side of the DAO, but are painted on the underside of the barrel on the blowback

One of the models is double action, which Umarex refers to as DAO (Double Action Operation), while the other P.08 option available is a blowback.

Although both versions are based on the same original model, they are quite different in form and function, offering users an alternative shooting experience.

Be careful when choosing one in the gun shop – it’s a little bit of a challenge to tell at a glance which is which, as although the box is slightly bigger on the blowback, both feature near-identical artwork.

They also feature completely identical names – both guns being formally referred to by Umarex as the Pistol P.08, with a sub-heading of Parabellum-Pistole P.08. However, Umarex uses a system of five small data icons on the box to explain the features, including each gun’s ammo count, and, crucially, whether the model is DAO or blowback.

Both models are of full metal construction with plastic grips. Early P.08s had wooden grips – and some models produced until 1930 also had magazines with a wooden bottom and extractor tab – but the use of wooden grips was discontinued in 1941 to save time and materials.

Umarex’s P.08s are therefore replicas of WWII vintage Lugers, both featuring a ‘42’ date stamp to signify a military contract from 1942, with official production from Mauser, the main manufacturer of the pistol at that time, coming to a halt in 1943.

Both handguns shape up quite nicely in terms of size and weight. The DAO model has an overall length of 216mm compared with 224 for the blowback, with the 9x19mm Parabellum version measuring 222mm with a standard barrel. The DAO weighs 820g, with the slightly more porky blowback coming in at 855g, while the original was a little heavier still at 871g.

P.08s of this vintage were produced in blued steel, while Umarex’s DAO variant has a graphite grey finish, and the blowback version comes in satin black. Both finishes were impeccably applied to the review guns, but I’d have loved to have seen them with a blued finish instead.

The shiny metal strip is only present on the blowback version – it’s a feature of the toggle-lock action that was present on the original P.08

The safety catch is located on the left-hand side of the action and reveals the word ‘gesichert’ (secured) when it’s in safe mode – a nice touch that pays homage to the original gun.

An unloaded DAO can be dry-fired with the safety in the fire position, while the blowback can’t be dry-fired unless the magazine has been removed and the action cocked.

If you try to cock the blowback while it has an empty magazine, the toggle-lock will remain open, which is a nice safety feature, and is an indication that the magazine is unloaded.

It’s now time to head inside the gun, where more differences between the two guns become apparent. 

Both pistols use the regular 12g CO2 capsule, but in the DAO model it’s been inserted into a well that’s hidden behind the right-hand grip. In the blowback model, it’s actually been integrated into the magazine.

When inserting the cartridge into the DAO version, you first need to remove the magazine so you can reach behind the grip and lever it out with your finger.

Be careful not to break the two plastic tabs that hold the top of the grip in place when fitting it back together. A captive piercing screw is located in the butt of the gun which uses a fold-out tab to make loosening and tightening the capsule easy.

The CO2 installation system on the blowback isn’t quite so elegant, as the capsule must be seated with a separate 6mm hex key. A key does come supplied in the box, which you’ll need to keep to hand when gassing up the gun.

Loading the stick magazines is similar with the two pistols, with the double-action model having a magazine capacity of 21 rounds, while the blowback P.08 has a slightly lower ammo count of 20 BBs. Both types require a spring-loaded follower to be pulled down, after which the BBs can be inserted.

Again, the DAO model is slightly better thought out, as the follower can be locked firmly inside a gate in the open position, while the follower on the blowback must be held open under tension with your thumb while the mag is being loaded with BBs.

I took turns shooting one Luger, then the other, so the test conditions on a humid, still day were consistent for both guns, continuing to reload and shoot until gas pressure became too low to deliver accurate groups. I began the test at six yards.

The blowback model must be cocked before the first shot is fired by operating the toggle-lock, just like the original P.08

Being double-action only, trigger-pull was a weighty 8lb 9oz with the DAO, while the blowback was a featherweight 4lb 10z. The sights on both guns are open and non-adjustable, with a V-notch at the rear. Despite the heavy trigger, I was able to achieve 10-shot groups measuring 5cm centre-to-centre with the DAO, while the blowback shot looser 6cm groups.

Don’t let the unusual action of the blowback catch you unawares, because as well as the gun kicking in your hand with each shot, the toggle-lock will jump upwards and backwards as the gun cycles.

When the mag is empty, the toggle-lock will stay in the open position, so you know you are out of BBs. With the DAO model, it’s up to you to keep a note of your shot count.

I did have an initial problem where the blowback wouldn’t fire all the BBs in the magazine, but this was purely down to the follower assembly getting stuck part-way.

All it needed was a little grease and a couple of minutes of me manually running it up and down inside its track for it to wear in, loosen up and start operating smoothly.

Back at 10 yards, group size opened up to an average 8cm for the DAO, and again a slightly larger average of 9cm for the blowback. I carried on shooting both guns at both ranges. Shot count was, as expected, far higher on the DAO, with this gun delivering around 50 good shots compared with around 30 for the blowback.

Both guns were capable of firing more BBs than this, but I wanted to see how many accurate shots could be obtained, as I always stop firing and change CO2 capsules when I reach this limit.

So on paper, it looks as if the DAO version should be the winner. But paper can’t convey emotion all that well. For some reason, the blowback P.08 just feels nicer in the hand – maybe that extra 8mm in length really does make a difference.

Gas is released by turning in the piercing screw that’s an integral part of the DAO Pistole Parabellum – no extra tools are required

But the clincher for me has to be the toggle-lock cocking, which just looks and feels right. Then of course there’s the blowback action itself, which is so much fun that it never gets old.

Ultimately, your choice will be down to the cost of each P.08, the shot count and the marginal accuracy advantage offered by the DAO set against the more realistic action and last round hold-open feature of the blowback.

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