Unblinking Eye
Franz Jäger’s Self Loading Pistol

 

Franz Jäger’s Self Loading Pistol

By Ron Schappaugh and Stefan Klein


Franz Jäger

The story of the Jäger pistol is the story of necessity being an angel of invention.

Franz Jäger
Franz Jäger in His Halle Gun Shop

Franz Jäger in His Halle Gun Shop

was born March 19, 1876, near Rampitz, Germany. While Franz was a teenager, his uncle Gustav Adolph Kersten, a Prussian armorer, helped him find a gunsmith apprenticeship in Zella -Mehlis, a gun making center near Suhl. After completing his four-year apprenticeship, he opened his own gun shop in Halle and soon advertised a shotgun cocking system of his design. At the age of 23, he emigrated to the United States and worked as a gunsmith in New York City, where he began to develop and patent his ideas. The first was a selective single trigger mechanism for double barrel shotguns. Later, with Carl and Edmond Bittiner, he started a company “Bittiner and Jäger” near what is now New York City’s city hall.

In 1902, Franz and his new family left New York for Liege, Belgium. After a year, they moved to Suhl to find qualified craftsmen that could execute the shotguns he envisioned. The custom gun shop he
Jäger Factory

Franz Jäger & Co. Factory in Suhl

established in Suhl quickly expanded, initially driven by installation of his single-triggers on guns made by other manufacturers. On the strength of this business and his other patents, he began making double shotguns and rifles. As he hired gunsmiths, his shop became too small, and in 1908 he formed a new company and built a factory which by 1914 had grown to over 50 employees. The Franz Jäger & Co. produced finely engraved double shotguns, rifles and combination guns with the brand name Herold. They were distinguished by their fine quality and innovative design, for which Jäger received numerous patents in Germany and abroad.

Everything changed on August 1, 1914 when Germany declared war on Russia and entered World War I. Shortly thereafter General von Falkenhayn, Kaiser Wilhelm’s Minister of War, decreed: “For the duration of hostilities all the hunting and sporting weapons factories are to be obliged to produce for military needs." Jäger lacked a design for a military weapon and also the milling and broaching machines necessary to make one. He was faced with closing his business and laying off his workers including his three brothers, Karl, Paul and Reinhold. The company desperately needed a military firearm design that its workers could make using existing equipment. Behold the angel.

From his experience
Jäger Pistol Patent Drawing

Jäger Patent Drawing

making double guns Jäger knew how to die-cut parts and how to design forgings that required minimal machining. According to his son Kurt, “After the last workers left the factory on a Friday evening, he talked with my mother, got himself some food and a few bottles of beer and then locked himself in the workshop. He already had the concept for a pistol and its components almost completely worked out in his mind. So, he went to work to make the parts. Early Monday morning, he left the shop with unkempt hair, unshaven and exhausted. But he had a smile on his face, and in his hand was the first prototype of the Jäger Self- Loading Pistol.” During the next weeks, design details were worked out, dies made and forgings ordered.

Jäger applied for a German patent on November 30, 1914, which was rejected on February 8, 1916, on the grounds that there was nothing unique about the design. Jäger’s claim that his design with a frame consisting of side-plates and spacers, which are connected by screws was dismissed as “differing from existing methods by only simple structural measures, which are within the ordinary skill of the art.” The rejection of his application for a US patent noted that Jäger’s claimed ideas were already covered by Patent Number 1,059,405 for the Sprague Folding Pistol.

The German Army’s evaluation was equally unenthusiastic, dismissing his design as “only from sheet metal.” But, the army approved the Jäger along with 26 other pistols as acceptable for private purchase by military officers. Officers reportedly purchased approximately 2,000 pistols for the price of 33 marks. The one party impressed by the design and eager to manufacture the pistol was the Krieghoff company, also located in Suhl. They may even have assisted with the patent costs, but once the patent was denied they lost interest.
Franz Jäger - 1916

 Franz Jäger -1916

Production started in October 1914 and ended in 1917. In three years, approximately 13,000 pistols were produced. During the war, the factory also designed and produced a simple flare pistol. As the war progressed, Jäger’s brother Paul joined the army and was killed in 1914, and his brother Reinhold was drafted. In the spring of 1916, Franz Jäger himself was drafted and served in Infantry Regiment 71 in Erfurt, leaving only Karl, with little business experience, in charge.

The Jäger pistol was a modest commercial success, selling approximately 11,000 civilian pistols. And while the rejection of his patent left Franz without protection for his design, it did not prevent him from manufacturing the pistol. It seems obvious Franz Jäger never had any interest in manufacturing handguns other than to save his company. Following WWI his family business focused on unique high quality sporting shotguns and rifles. However, along with many other small firearms firms, the company never fully recovered. Franz Jäger died in 1957 but the Jäger name continued to be associated with quality hunting arms for decades under several companies guided by his sons Paul and Kurt.


The Jäger Pistol

Jäger Pistol

The Jäger pistol deserves its place in firearms history not because of a new innovative action; rather, what is noteworthy is that the design introduced a new level of modern industrial manufacturing techniques into the production of firearms. While these techniques were belittled at the time, 30 years later they were widely used on weapons like the MP40, the Sten gun, and later on the AK-47. While most chronicles of the Jäger pistol state that parts were made from stamped and shaped sheet metal, this was not the case. The pistol’s flat side-plates were made from 2.7mm (.106 inch) steel, which was far too thick to shape by stamping. Instead, the flat side-plates were die-cut, i.e., punched. (Note: some sources report the side-plate thickness as 2.4 or 2.5mm.) While its appearance was quite modern, the quality of finish was far below that of Jäger shotguns and rifles

Jäger Pistol

The Jäger pistol has a simple striker fired, blowback action with the recoil spring surrounding the barrel, typical of many 7.65mm pistols of the era. The revolutionary feature that Jäger introduced was a frame composed of four parts. The two die-cut flat side-plates required only minimal milling on the inside surfaces. The forged-steel front and back straps were also finished with limited machining. They are held between the side-plates by three screws and two spring loaded pins. The front strap, which extends to the muzzle, includes the trigger guard and holds the trigger and its spring. The back strap contains the lockwork (sear, sear spring and safety) and the butt-mounted magazine release and its spring. This self-contained removable lockwork concept was seen again with the Tokarev TT-30 and the  two French 1935 pistols.  The trigger bar, which also serves as the disconnector, slides in a diagonal recess milled into the right side-plate. The manual safety blocks the movement of the sear when it is engaged by rotating rearward. There is no magazine safety and no means to hold the action open.

Jäger Pistol Disassembled

The barrel has a rectangular chamber block with an integral feed ramp. The two variations of the pistol have different combinations of round studs and pins on each side of the chamber block. They fit precisely into holes punched in the side-plates and align the barrel and frame. The barrel has four right-twist lands. Interestingly, the six pistols with serial numbers ranging from 3889 to 9102 reported in Mathews’ Firearms Identification have land widths and twist rates that vary significantly. The breech block, which houses the extractor, firing pin and the firing pin spring, is one of the few parts that required precise machining. The breech block sits loosely in the slide and rests on the top edge of the slide-plates. A transverse groove on the top of the breech block engages with the bottom half of a large transverse pin through the slide. The ejector is attached to the inside of the left side-plate by a “T” shaped pin on the early pistols and by a large flat head screw on later pistols.

Jäger Slide Section - Bruno Brukner

Jäger Slide Section

For a number of years there was debate as to whether the slide was formed or machined. This question was settled when a slide was sectioned and microscopically examined. The adjoining photograph from Dr. Brukner’s Waffenfreund article clearly shows the inhomogeneity in the steel caused by bending. The slides appear to have been made by forging a bar of steel around a mandrel to form a “U” shaped channel. The formed slide was milled to provide a slot for the lug on the top of the barrel; and the inside surfaces of the slide gripping areas, that overhang the side-plates, were milled to their final dimensions. Drilled holes hold the large transverse breech block pin, other slide pins, and the front sight. The front and rear of the slide was closed with carefully fitted machined steel pieces. The front piece of the slide, which supports the barrel and retains the recoil spring, also incorporates the front sight, which projects upward through a slot in the top of the slide . This front piece is pinned to the slide. The method for securing the slide rear closure piece started with a single screw, then a small pin was added, and later a rivet may have been used instead of a screw.

The interior parts and surfaces were typically roughly finished, with coarse milling and filing marks as shown in the photograph above.  However, considerable attention was paid to the exterior appearance. All of the small transverse pins through the slide and the large flat head screw holding the ejector to the left side-plate were carefully fitted before the slide and the side-plates were polished and finished. In most cases the pins are difficult to see, adding to the gun’s sleek look. All parts were hot-salt blue finished except for the barrel and trigger.

Magazines

Two types of magazines were used. The most common has a tapered steel spur attached to the surface of the base-plate extending to the front. The spur was for depressing the front and back strap dimpled pins when field stripping. The bottom of the front strap was grooved to provide clearance for the spur. Some early pistols had flat base-plate magazines that extend beyond the magazine box front. Pistols issued with flat
Jäger Pistol Magazines and Magazine Wells

Magazine & Magazine-Well Variations

base-plate magazines do not have a groove in the bottom of the front strap. Flat base-plate magazines found in pistols with a grooved front strap are probably replacements. Both types hold seven rounds and have six holes in each side. The sides and back of the magazine box overhang the base-plate and are secured to it by two pins. Most spur magazines have the full serial number on the base -plate next to the spur. Flat base-plate magazines are not typically numbered. Note: several other European pistol magazines fit the Jäger.

Grips

All factory grips were horn; most were black but a few dark brown grips have been observed. Some early grips have a letter scratched on the back side and some later grips have a stamped number. These are believed to be inspectors marks. There are no known factory issued wood grips.

Accessories

Little has been written about accessories for the Jäger pistol, perhaps because there were none. In 1916, Jäger was awarded a patent for a pistol holster; but, it is not known if this was a holster for his pistol or if it was ever manufactured. Jäger pistols came with a small folded card containing field stripping instructions.


Variations and Anomalies

There are no universally accepted variations for the Jäger pistol even among European collectors. This may be because little has been written about the Jäger, compared to other pistols.

A database with information on 228 Jäger pistols from a variety of sources both in the United States and Europe, primarily Germany, was used for this analysis of variations. Sources include magazine articles and books, as well as auction photographs and other online image sources. In most cases the information is limited to serial number, one versus two pins, commercial versus military, and spur versus flat base-plate magazine. The lowest serial number recorded in the database is 1 and the highest is 12606. The distribution of the 228 pistols is relatively uniform across this range. There are ten gaps of over 200 guns with the largest being 621 guns (11299 to 11920). Of the pistols recorded, 72 are First Variation and 156 are Second Variation. Assuming a total of 13,000 pistols were manufactured, the 228 pistols are 1.8 percent of the total - not a very significant sample from which to draw conclusions. Nevertheless, this is what was available to work with.

Variations

The collected information supports two significant variations, each containing a large number of pistols, with readily observable differences and distinct serial number ranges. There is one sub -variant with less significant differences and a random distribution. Finally, there are several anomalies involving a very small number of pistols.

  • First Variation – Serial Numbers 1 to ~5000. (The highest noted is 5509, with seven Second Variation pistols with lower serial numbers.)
  • First Variation with Flat Base-Plate Magazine – interspersed in serial numbers ~1 to ~5000.
  • Second Variation – Serial numbers ~5000 to ~13000 (The lowest noted is 5167.)
Jäger Pistol Variants

First and Second Variation differences are highlighted in the photograph above. The most obvious are in group #1. Both have a screw which secures the side-plates. The First Variation pistol has a large pin permanently fixed to the chamber block that projects through the slide-plate at 1:00 o’clock to the screw head. On Second Variation pistols, barrel studs located closer to the top of the side-plate replace the large pin. These studs are an integral part of the chamber block.  A smaller also permanently fixed pin passes through the chamber block, at 2 o’clock to screw head. This pin provides additional stability to the barrel.

Change #2 thickens the trigger slightly, and as #3 shows, the Second Variation example has a slightly wider grip contour. At #4 the frame inscription was changed as described below. The serial number location #5 was moved from the lower front of the right side-plate to the opposite side. This change occurred later than the other changes in the transition. The Second Variation example in the photograph still has its serial number, 5390, on the right side.

The profile and thickness of the nubs #6 on the front strap were changed to facilitate field stripping . Slight changes to the profile of the side-plates are visible at #7 and #10; the purpose is not obvious. An additional pin #8 was added to Second Variation pistols to secure the slide front closure piece, and the height of the front sight #9 was lowered. The change in the front profile of the slide grip area is visible at #11.

The method of securing the slide rear closure piece #12 underwent several changes. Except for a limited number of very early pistols, both variations have two fasteners. A small, often difficult to see, pin is located high on the slide behind the grip serrations. The other fastener is a screw for the First Variation and a “rivet” on the Second Variation. The change from a screw to a rivet also occurred later, at least as late as serial number 6205. Perhaps it never changed and high-head screws were simply ground flat before the slides were finished. Many examples in the 9000 and 10000 range are found with faint marks of a screw slot still visible.

The numerous small changes made as part of the Second Variation may reflect limited testing before production of the pistol began. Also, the army may have required changes before approving the Jäger for officer purchases.

Flat Base-Plate Magazine Sub-Variant pistols are identical to the First Variation with the exception of the magazines which do not have a spur, and the bottom of the front straps which do not have a groove for the spur. Seventeen pistols, 24 percent of those recorded in the First Variation range, are without a groove with 4512 the highest serial number. No Second Variation pistols have been noted without the front strap groove.

Military Marked pistols were privately purchased by officers and marked with the military acceptance stamps described below. Although it has been widely reported that 2,000 pistols went to the military, the source of this information is unknown. Based on analysis of the pistols recorded , the actual number may be much larger. With one exception (11095), all military marked pistols recorded are relatively evenly distributed across the range from 5167 (the first noted Second Variation pistol) to 9638. Of those noted between 5167 and 9638, 70 percent are military marked. Applying 70 percent to all 4,471 pistol in this range suggests more than 3,000 military marked pistols. However, this rationale may be flawed because there appear to be several block purchases.

Anomalies

  • Slide Serrations – Most pistols have nine vertical grip serrations on both sides of the slide. But, a few in the 10,000 range have six, seven or eight serrations which are wider and not as deep.
  • Fluted Front Strap – Serial number 7444 is reported to have factory machined grooves on the front strap.
  • “S” Safety Stamp – One First Variation pistol and three pistols in the 9200 to 10300 range have an “S” stamped on the left side-plate which is covered when the safety lever is in the off position.

Markings

  • Serial Numbers: Until approximately serial number 5400, serial numbers were located on the lower front of the right side-plate. After which they were located on the lower front of the left side-plate. Many other parts are stamped with the last two or three digits of the serial number. Often unrelated lightly-struck two digit numbers are found on interior surfaces, presumably assembly marks for hand fitted pieces. Some interior surfaces are also found with heavily stuck letters which may be inspector’s marks.
  • Proofs: All pistols were stamped with three commercial Crown/N proofs aligned vertically on the right side of the slide, the large barrel stud and the right side-plate.
    Military Acceptance Stamps

    Military Acceptance Stamps

  • Military Acceptance Stamps: Military pistols have a crown over a Germanic script letter stamped on the left end of the large barrel stud, and on the left side -plate below the large stud.
  • Slide inscription: First Variation pistols have the inscription “JÄGER-PISTOLE. D.R.P. ANGEM.–D.R.G.M.” Inscriptions on Second Variation pistols, with two noted exceptions do not have the “–D.R.G.M.” D.R.G.M. stands for Deutsches Reichsgebrauchsmuster indicating that the design had been registered for a patent. This change may have been made after the patent application was rejected in February 1916.
Slide inscription variants
  • Miscellaneous: A number of pistols have non-typical markings, including a Second Variation pistol with no markings of any kind. Several military pistols have infantry unit stamps E.M.G.K. 18. A. K. or J.R. 473.XXX on their front straps. Several also have British, Norwegian and Austrian markings. One has a “1920” Reichswehr property mark, two have a Prussian Eagle on the trigger guard, and one has an Eagle/N stamp.


Shooting Experience

The Jäger pistol has a very solid feel. The thick side-plates make for a very rigid frame and barrel alignment which contribute to excellent accuracy. Twenty-one rounds (three magazines) of Remington .32 Auto, 71 gr. ammunition were fired at a distance of seven yards using a rest. The smallest of the three groups was 1.6 inches (41mm) and the largest was 2.0 inches (51mm). There was one failure-to-eject malfunction.

That said, there are some aspects of the design that detract from the shooting experience:

  • The trigger pull is long, lumpy and heavy.
  • The area behind the trigger guard is very cramped resulting in an uncomfortable grip.
  • The lack of full length sides to the slide can lead to pinching a glove or flesh when closing the slide.
  • When the safety is engaged, it projects well beyond the frame and is vulnerable to damage.
  • Additionally, several pistols are reported to have broken trigger springs.


Disassembly

Disassembly is unusual but straightforward.

  1. First
    Jäger Pistol Partly Disassembled

    Jäger Pistol Partly Disassembled

    remove the magazine, check the chamber, rotate the safety to the off position and pull the trigger.
  2. Remove the grips.
  3. Slightly loosen the screw on the left side-plate above the trigger.
  4. Use the magazine spur or something similar to depress the spring-loaded dimpled pin at the upper rear of the right side-plate and leverage the back strap to the rear. It will only move a short distance before the slide interferes with the sear on the back strap. Pull the slide slightly to the rear and up while continuing to rotate the back strap until it is free of the slide.
  5. Pull the slide back and up to release it and then remove by moving it forward. Note: the recoil spring is strong. The breech block will usually fall free as the slide is removed
  6. Pull the recoil spring free from the barrel.
  7. Free the front strap in the same manner as the rear by depressing the dimpled pin and pulling the strap down from the muzzle. The trigger bar will fall free from the interior of the frame as the front strap is rotated.
  8. Remove the two screws from the lower left side-plate and pull the front and back straps.
  9. Remove the screw on the left side-plate above the trigger. A spacer will fall free from the side-plates when the screw is removed.
  10. The slide-plates can now be wiggled free from the barrel.
  11. Further disassembly is not usually necessary, but it is not complicated with the following caveats. Do not remove the trigger bar spring and do not attempt to remove any of the transverse pins in the slide, the pins through the chamber block or the screw that holds the ejector to the left slide-plate.

Reassemble in reverse order with the following suggestions.

  1. DO NOT FORGET TO REPLACE THE TRIGGER BAR. If you forget, disassembly to replace it will be much harder because the gun will be cocked. When reassembling, insert the magazine to hold the trigger bar in the milled recess in the right side-plate before rotating the front strap up into position.
  2. Over tightening the side-plate screw above the trigger may cause the action to bind.
  3. Holding the pistol upside down when attaching the slide will keep the breech block in place.
  4. Be patient with the recoil spring when attaching the slide.
Young-Armorers

Young armorers with a Jäger Pistol on the Table


Epilogue

Questions remain for collectors to resolve by examining their pistols and researching German Army documents:

  • Was the thickness of the side-plates changed as a part of the many changes with the transition to Second Variation?
  • Was the slide rear closure-piece screw really replaced by a rivet or was a high-head screw used and then finished flat? If the diameter of both ends of the “rivet” on a late pistol are the same, it probably is a rivet. But, if the right-side end is smaller than the left it’s probably a permanent screw with the head ground flat. It may be hard to see the right-side end to measure.
  • What did the official Army document rejecting the pistol actually say?
  • Were any of the many changes in the transition to the Second Variation directed by the Army?
  • What is the source of “2,000 pistols purchased by army officers?”

Acknowledgements

    A number of collectors in the United States and Germany helped with this article. Larry Schuknecht shared material owned by the Jäger family. Dr. Friedrich Müller and Axel Pantermühl provided photographs and copies of many historic documents including the patent submittal and rejection forms, as did Othais at C&Rsenal. NAPCA members Al Gerth, Doug Kingston, Joe Stegmaier and Steve Fox contributed information about Jägers in their collections. Finally, our friend Ed Buffaloe edited the article and photographed the Late Variation military Jäger.

References

  • Bock, Gerald and Weigel, Wolfgang. Handbuch Der Faustfeuerwaffen. Berlin, 1968.
  • Brukner, Dr. Bruno. “Ausführungen der Jäger-Pistole.” Waffenfreund Journal, June 2000.
  • Fritz, Hans Jürgen, Suhl, Home of Gunsmiths. (in German interpreted by Dietrich Apel)
  • Heiel, Hans. “The Jäger Gun.” Gun Mirror magazine, March 1981.
  • Kauffman, Commander Clark. “Stampings in Automatic Pistols.” Automatic Magazine, Missouri.
  • Kemper, Herbert.  “Die Pistole von Franz Jäger.” Waffenfreund Journal, September 1986.
  • Mathews, J. Howard . Firearms Identification, Vol I.  Illinois, 1962.
  • Pawlas, Karl. Archive for Military and Arms Matters. Nurnberg, 1970.
  • Still, Jan. The Pistols of Germany and Its Allies in Two World Wars, Alaska, 1982.
  • Wirnsberger, Gerhard. “Zum 100. Geburtstag von Franz Jäger.” Deutsches Waffen-Journal, April 1976.
  • Wood, J. B. “The Unusual Pistol of Franz Jäger.” Guns Magazine, November 1973.

Copyright 2020 by Ron Schappaugh and Dr. Stefan Klein. All rights reserved.

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