The Ortgies Pistol
by Ed Buffaloe and Dr. Stefan Klein
Heinrich Ortgies was the son of a Frisian farmer, born about 1870 near the town of Jever in Lower Saxony. He became a merchant and moved to London at the age of 21. Later he is known to have worked in St. Petersburg, Russia; Baku, Azerbaijan; and Tiflis, Georgia for various weapon manufacturers. At the beginning of World War I he was working in Liege, Belgium also for one or more gun manufacturers. During his time in Belgium he was appointed Turkish vice-consul, apparently due to his business connections in the Middle-East. The nature of his work in the weapons industry is not specified, but since he started life as a merchant we presume he was a sales representative or trader.
According P.B.W. Kersten in his book entitled Wapens en Munitie (1946), Ortgies bought the design of his pistol from a German gunsmith named Karl August Brauning. Brauning reportedly worked for Fabrique Nationale in Liege, Belgium. In Kersten’s estate was found an Ortgies prototype with the serial number 01 which was originally owned by Brauning. Brauning later immigrated to the United States and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He lived near Stamfort, Connecticut and worked as an engineer for the Yale & Towne Manufacturing Company at least until 1938. He secured a number of patents for firearms and locks.
Heinrich Ortgies organized his firm under the name Ortgies & Company probably in 1919. Production is variously reported in English-language sources to have begun sometime between 1919 and 1921, but a German author (Gerhard Bock in Moderne Faustfeuerwaffen), writing in the period shortly after World War I states that the Ortgies pistol appeared “shortly after the end of the war.” The war ended in November 1918, so it is unlikely that production began before 1919. The earliest advertisement we have found for the Ortgies pistol appear in the 25 February 1920 edition of the German gun industry trade journal Der Waffenschmied, so the gun was clearly in production by this date. Several sources report incorrectly that Heinrich Ortgies died in 1919 and his business was sold after his death, however Der Waffenschmied for 14 April 1937 reported his death as taking place in March of 1937 at the age of 67.
Ortgies & Company made only pistols chambered for 7.65mm Browning (.32 ACP), though it is clear that Heinrich Ortgies, from the beginning, also intended to produce pistols in 9mm Browning Short (.380 ACP) and 6.35mm (.25 ACP). The Tillig article displays the cover of the Ortgies manual showing a first-variant pistol, which says: “Die Ortgies- Selbstladepistole Kal. 9, 7,65 und 6,35 mm Patentiert in allen Kulturstaaten” (Patented in all civilized countries). In addition, Tillig also mentions an article by Gerhard Bock in the Waffenschmied for 25 March 1920. Bock reports that (at the time) the pistol is only produced in 7.65mm but will also be produced in 9mm and 6.35mm.
One possible reason Ortgies & Co. did not produce pistols in 9mm is that it was considered a military caliber and was banned from sale in Germany by the Inter-Allied Military Control Commission, so it could only be manufactured for export. 6 .35mm production was probably delayed because it required different tooling and Ortgies’ small factory had neither room, time, nor personnel for a second production line. When Deutsche Werke assumed production, the company must have claimed it was making pistols in 9mm only for export, but the Inter- Allied Military Control Commission soon ordered them closed.
The war reparations forced on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles were rapidly destroying the German economy. Deutsche Werke clearly wished to manufacture as many guns as possible before halting production. The Inter-Allied Military Control Commission ordered Deutsche Werke to cease production of all arms and ammunition no later than 1 April 1922. However Tillig, in his February 1985 Deutsches Waffenjournal article, states that Deutsche Werke did not actually cease production until 30 September 1923, coinciding with the peak of the hyperinflation experienced by the Weimar Republic in the period between 1921 and 1924.
Ortgies & Co. manufactured approximately 16,000 pistols in 7.65mm before production was assumed by Deutsche Werke. Matthews, in his book Firearms Identification, Volume I, states that he believes Deutsche Werke restarted the serial number sequence, claiming to have examined a gun with Deutsche Werke markings having serial number 5834. However, Koelliker collected these guns for years and he believed the serial numbers were contiguous, as do most other sources. Don Maus pointed out to us a list of Ortgies pistols in his book History Writ in Steel, which, judging by their markings, were likely owned by
The 7.65mm and 9mm pistols were all serialled in the same sequence, whereas the 6.35mm pistols were numbered separately. The total combined production of 7.65mm and 9mm pistols was approximately a
quarter-million, and total production of 6.35mm pistols was approximately 183000. It may seem hard to believe that Ortgies & Co. produced only 16000 pistols in less than two years,
whereas Deutsche Werke produced over 400000 in approximately three years. However, Deutsche Werke was a much
larger company with correspondingly greater resources, and was trying to keep as many people gainfully employed as possible in the difficult post- war years.
From 1916 through 1921 Ortgies took out a series of patents for various aspects of an automatic pistol design. He patented every feature that was patentable in every country where he thought his gun might be sold, including Germany, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Great Britain, and the United States.
Deutsche Werke also took out a patent, German Patent No. 389606 (10 January 1922) for a barrel insert system that would
allow the Ortgies pistol to use a training round. The round itself is not specified, but the usual training round used in Germany at the time was 4mm.
The Ortgies Design
The Ortgies pistol has a number of unusual design features. The most obvious is its grip safety which, once squeezed, stays in the “fire” position without further pressure of the hand on the grip. A button on the left side of the gun allows the grip safety to pop back out. Since the grip safety is powered by the striker spring, the safety can only be popped out, i.e., placed in the “safe” position, when the striker is cocked. Hence, if the safety is enabled, the gun is cocked. When the grip safety is enabled, the sear is prevented from moving downward and the tension on the striker spring is reduced. Pressing the safety- enabling button also allows the slide to be lifted off the frame rail for disassembly. The striker serves as the ejector.
The Ortgies design for the grip safety actually negates the purpose of having a grip safety in the first place, which is to prevent the gun from firing unless a hand is grasping it. The problem with many grip safeties is that men with large hands have trouble disengaging them, but locking the safety in the off position is not a satisfactory solution to the problem.
The barrel on the Ortgies can be removed by twisting it 90 degrees. It has a T-shaped double lug on the bottom which rotates into slots in the frame. This design feature allowed easy conversion from 7.65mm to 9mm by swapping out the barrels. Since the magazines (like those of the 1910 FN Browning) were designed to take either cartridge, no other change was necessary. There is no evidence that Ortgies & Co. ever made or sold 9mm barrels, though Deutsche Werke certainly did.
The sear on the Ortgies rotates in the middle and extends from the trigger to the rear of the frame where it has a small lateral lug which engages the striker. The sear is tensioned by a small flat spring beneath its rear section. No connector is necessary with this design. When the trigger is pulled, the rear portion of the sear rotates downward, releasing the striker. When the grip safety is enabled, a flange moves beneath the rear of the sear, blocking its downward travel.
The Ortgies disconnector design is unique. The vast majority of disconnectors, following Browning’s early designs, move up and down as the slide reciprocates, and a little minor wear does not affect their functionality. In Ortgies’ design, however, the disconnector is a small button that moves laterally when the slide reciprocates. When depressed, the button disconnects the trigger from the front of the sear. The range of motion of the disconnector is only about a millimeter. According to J.B. Wood, in his book Troubleshooting Your Handgun, “The engagement is so delicate that a very small amount of wear on the slide contact surface of the button can cause the disconnector to cease functioning.”
According to J.B. Wood, the weakest part of the Ortgies design is the striker (or firing pin). The Ortgies’ striker is a little longer than most and has two arms at the rear which extend downward at a right angle--one of these engages the sear and the other prevents the striker from rotating. Because the striker is hollowed out, the metal at the bottom of these arms is very thin and is subject to breakage more than any other part of the gun.
Like the C96 Mauser “Broomhandle,” the Ortgies has no screws. Only a few guns with special-order button safeties were provided with a screw to secure the grips. Koelliker identified one Ortgies pistol with a grip screw that did not have a button safety.
Gerhard Bock, in the 1923 edition of his book Moderne Faustfeuerwaffen und ihr Gebrauch, states that when there was a cartridge in the chamber of the early Ortgies pistol the slide would stand off the back of the barrel about 1 mm and that this could be felt in the dark by the thumb on the back of the slide, serving as a loaded chamber indicator. Bock states that this feature was eliminated from later guns. Bock being such a well known authority, we cannot doubt him, though no other source mentions this feature. A U.S. collector tells us that all of the second variant guns in his collection have the loaded chamber indicator feature, as do two of his third variant guns. We would like to hear from other readers with Ortgies pistols that have this feature.*
Serial number 01 has the rare first variant slide inscription on the left side. The slide is stamped on the underside with the numeral 6 and a cursive R. The left side of the frame is also stamped with the cursive R. The sight channel on top of the gun is lightly checkered to reduce glare. The recoil spring is flat wound. The grip plates are plain wood with no medallions. The magazine is blued, has a pinned baseplate, and is marked 9 m/m on the left side and 7,65 m/m on the right.
We believe it is very likely that Heinrich Ortgies gave this gun to Karl Brauning as a tribute for having designed it. Mr. Brauning left the Netherlands in June of 1923 and immigrated to the United States. We believe it likely that he left the serial number 01 Ortgies pistol with his friend Peter Bertus Wilhelm Kersten. Kersten was the owner of the firm Nederlandische Wapenhandel v/h Johan Munts in Amsterdam from approximately 1909 until his death. The Munts firm was the Dutch distributor for Ortgies pistols. Mr. van Gijn purchased the gun from the estate of Mr. Kersten.
We are unaware of any major internal changes made to the gun during its short production life. External changes are entirely to the slide inscription and grip plates. The serial number is stamped on the bottom of the frame in front of the trigger guard. The vast majority of Ortgies pistols are rust blued, with a relatively high polish finish (perhaps not mirror finish, but not flat either). A small number of sixth-variant pistols were nickel plated at the factory--both flat nickel and high-polish nickel finishes were available. According to Koelliker, many of the guns seen today with nickel finishes were not plated at the factory. Tillig maintains that factory-plated pistols are rare.
The most thorough article on the Ortgies to date is probably Koelliker’s 1981 article, but Tillig provides much information not found in Koelliker. Koelliker classifies the Ortgies into five different slide addresses, with the first address having two variants in style, and the fourth address as well. We find it easier to classify them as slide inscription variants and number them from one to six, but the reader needs to be aware of this difference should he compare our article with Koelliker’s, and we have included Koelliker’s nomenclature below to help readers distinguish them.
First Variant (First Address). (Serial numbers 1 - 2850?) The earliest guns were marked on the left side of the slide:
ORTGIES & Co - ERFURT
The inscription is in all capital serif letters. As noted above, serial number 01 has plain wooden grips. The earliest gun noted by Matthews is serial number 195, which he also describes as having plain wooden grips. The earliest gun noted by Koelliker is serial number 282, which he describes as having a round medallion with an intertwined HO (Heinrich Ortgies) monogram at the top center of the grips--these were the standard grip plates during all of Ortgies & Co. production and as well as early Deutsche Werke production. Koelliker estimates that the first 4000 or so pistols had the above-style slide inscription, however serial number 2862 already has the second variant address. Please write to us if you can provide more information on the serial number range for this inscription. The right side of the slide was blank except for the crown over N nitro proof mark on the lower edge, just behind the trigger. The same proof was also stamped on the frame just below the one on the slide.
According to Koelliker, early magazines were rust blued. Original Ortgies magazines are generally easily recognized because he patented the method of construction wherein the lower edges of the sides of the magazine form flanges that wrap around the base plate to hold it on. However, some of the early magazines do not use the patented baseplate, and it is worth noting that the patent for the baseplate did not take effect until April of 1921. The magazines had six holes on the left side and seven holes on the right side. Koelliker describes them as being stamped 9 m/m on the left and 7.65 m/m on the right, though with later magazines it was usually either one or the other, but not both. According to Tillig, in his February 1985 Deutsches Waffenjournal article, nickel-plated magazines were introduced around serial number 12000 for civilian guns, though any government contract guns (police, military, etc.) continued to have blued magazines. We have in our possession serial number 13680, which has a blued magazine.
Second Variant (First Address). (Serial numbers 2850? - 15921?) The remaining Ortgies & Co. production had the following style slide inscription on the left side of the slide:
Ortgies & Co - Erfurt
The inscription is in upper and lower case sans-serif italic characters. The earliest serial number we have recorded with this inscription is 2862, and Maus has recorded serial number 15921 as also having this inscription. Again, we would welcome further information that would clarify the serial number range for this variant.* A U.S. collector tells us that every second variant gun in his collection has the loaded chamber indicator feature. Most of these guns should have blued magazines.
Third Variant (Second Address). (Serial numbers 15922? - 37080?) The first Deutsche Werke production pistols were marked as follows:
We have also discovered a variant of this address which eliminates the apostrophe and adds a hyphen:
Both inscriptions are in upper and lower case sans-serif italic characters. Deutsche Werke may not have actually manufactured pistols in Berlin, but they almost certainly had offices there. It seems unlikely that Deutsche Werke would have transferred all the machinery and parts to Berlin only to return them to Erfurt at a later date. Pistols with this marking are found in both 7.65mm and 9mm, but not 6.35mm. We estimate the serial number range for this variant at approximately 16,000 to 38,000, but please write if you can help us obtain greater precision. Maus records serial number 16110 as a Deutsche Werke pistol. Tillig estimates that the first 9mm pistols appeared around serial number 20,000, and the earliest 9mm we have recorded has serial number 20515. This variant retained the HO monogram medallions on the grip plates. We believe at this time the magazines began to be chrome or nickel plated. The early magazines continued to have the HO (Heinrich Ortgies) monogram stamped on the right side, and continued to have seven holes on the right side and six on the left. Most examples we have seen were either marked 7,65m/m on the right or 9m/m on the left, but not both; however, serial number 67528 has a magazine with both markings. A number of Berlin address pistols are known to have the loaded chamber indicator feature.
Fourth Variant (Third Address). (Large frame serial numbers 29000? - 56500? Small frame 1 - 6000?) At some point production either moved to Erfurt, or the slide address was changed to Erfurt, and read as follows:
The inscription is in upper and lower case sans-serif italic characters. Koelliker estimates that 7.65mm and 9mm pistols with this inscription range from approximately serial number 30000 to 55000, with some minor overlap. He notes that there is some overlap between Deutsche Werke guns with the Berlin and the Erfurt addresses (he records serial 29078 with the Erfurt address and serial 30872 with the Berlin address, and we have identified pistols as high as 37080 that still retain the Berlin address).
The first production small frame (6.35mm) Ortgies pistols had the Erfurt address.; 6.35mm pistols with this inscription range from 1 to approximately 5500. These early 6.35mm pistols have a slightly shorter slide than later production pistols. Additionally, they have a thinner area of the upper frame where the slide attaches (sometimes referred to as the doll’s head). A U.S. collector tells us that these early small frame guns should not be fired because this area of the frame is very fragile.
Fifth Variant (Fourth Address). (Large frame serial numbers 56500? - 73119? Small frame 5500? - 47861?) The inscription on the large frame guns was changed back to two lines as follows:
DEUTSCHE WERKE AKTIENGESELLSCHAFT - WERK ERFURT
This inscription is in all capital sans-serif non-italic characters. The first iteration of this variant retains the HO grip medallion. At this time, the second variation of the HO grip medallion began to appear--the early medallions had a wide ring around the outside, with a much thinner ring inside it, and a stippled background. The later medallions had only a single wide ring and a flat background.
The inscription on the small frame guns was in serif characters:
DEUTSCHE WERKE AKTIENGESELLSCHAFT - WERK ERFURT
Sixth Variant (Fifth Address). (Large frame serial numbers 81540? - 263000? Small frame 47862? - 186000?) Around serial number 75000 the final slide inscription appeared with the couchant cat in a circle engraved in the middle. It reads as follows:
DEUTSCHE WERKE WERK ERFURT
This inscription is in upper case serif characters. Whereas all the models before had a blank right side, with the exception of the nitro proof mark, the sixth variant pistols are marked with
on the right side in small upper case sans serif characters. Most of these late guns were marked for export with the word “Germany” stamped beneath the serial number. Late magazines have the “D” logo stamped on the baseplate. The earliest small frame gun we have noted with a sixth variant slide inscription is serial number 23725 and the latest is 185455.
Seventh Variant. Some small frame pistols in the serial number range between 32800 and at least 59000 (with most in the range between 54000 and 59000) were marked with an unusual slide inscription. We have also noted a large frame pistosl, serial number 81042, with this inscription. It reads as follows:
The inscription is in all capital serif letters. The right side of the slide is blank.
We have also observed a single large frame pistol chambered in 7.65mm (SN 117810) with the D.W.A.E. inscription on the left side of the slide and ORTGIES PATENT on the right side. We would welcome further information about These rare inscriptions.*
Button Safety Model
The button safety is positioned in front of the grip safety release button and has two functions when enabled. First of all, it locks the slide. Secondly, it blocks the grip safety and prevents it from being squeezed into the “fire” position. Pistols with the grip safety have a cut-out at the top of the grip into which the safety button descends when it is disabled. When disabled it reveals a letter “F” on the frame beneath it. There is also an “S” stamped just beneath the button, which is revealed when the safety is enabled. Pistols with the button safety do not have the patented grip plate retention mechanism found on other Ortgies--apparently it got in the way of the safety mechanism. Instead, button safety pistols have a hole drilled in the rear of the grip frame and a simple long screw holds the two grip plates on.
Since the only thing holding the grip safety out is the tension of the compressed striker spring, the button safety is a good idea.
Matthews stated that he encountered Ortgies pistols where it took only minimal pressure to disable the grip safety and make the gun ready to fire.
Usage and Evaluation
The prototype for all 7.65mm self-loading pistols is the 1900 FN Browning and, more specifically for the Ortgies, the 1910 FN Browning. The Ortgies is slightly larger and heavier than the 1910 Browning, but retains the Browning’s sleek look and smooth configuration, with very little to snag in pockets or on clothing. The design features of the gun were quite innovative, but it was impractical for use under field conditions.
The Ortgies is not rare and is readily affordable by budget pistol collectors, yet there are enough variants to make a nice collection. The first and third slide inscription variants are relatively scarce, as are the button safety models and any gun with factory nickel. The first hundred or so guns manufactured may have had plain wooden grips--these would certainly fall in the rare category.
The Ortgies pistol was adopted by the Hamburg Ordnungspolizei, the Reichswasserschutz, the Reichsfinanzverwaltung, the Berlin and other Prussian Schupo, the Prussian border guards, the Czech police, and the Finnish prison service where it saw service into the 1960’s and possibly later. The Wehrmacht also used the Ortgies pistol as a “Behalfswaffe” when demand exceeded production of the standard military pistol. Koelliker reports that: “The caliber 7.65mm pistol won more than 70 percent of all prizes [in 1921]; and at the championship shooting competition at Halensee, Germany, on September 26, 1921, the Champion, Mr. Janich, used an Ortgies pistol.” As late as 1935 the German Army High Command ordered that all higher military courts should each be equipped with one Ortgies pistol for the Court Sergeants on duty.
A number of Ortgies pistols were ordered by the Dutch government for use by police (Rijksveldwacht) and possibly military. These Dutch contract pistols were marked on the right side of the slide with the motto of the House of Orange, “ Je Maintiendrai”, and have grip medallions with concentric circles.
At the range we found the Ortgies pistols to be more accurate than we are. However, the small sights make aiming a challenge for older eyes. Our .32 Ortgies pistol functioned flawlessly, even with hollow-point ammunition. However, our .380 Ortgies suffers occasional “stovepipe” jams, the spent shell sticking in the ejection port, even after we changed the recoil spring, the magazine spring, and the extractor spring. A correspondent writes that he has similar issues with his .380, and has found that Hornaday Critical Defense ammo works best in his gun.
* The authors welcome corrections and further information about Ortgies pistols. We would also like to collect photographs of all the slide inscription variants to add to the article. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2012 by Ed Buffaloe and Stefan Klein. All rights reserved.