The Schouboe Pistol
Information about the Schouboe pistol has been accumulating over the years. This article is a survey of the known guns and the known information, and an attempt to establish a typology.
The Schouboe pistol design was patented by Jens Theodor Suhr Schouboe in December 1902. According to Hogg & Weeks, in Pistols of the World, Schouboe “is variously described as technical manager or chief engineer of the Dansk Rekylriffel Syndikat” (Danish Recoil-Rifle Syndicate, or DRS), which was founded in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1896 to make auto-loading rifles. The company is best known for making the Madsen light machine gun (co-designed by Schouboe with Julius Rasmussen) and later for the LAR light assault rifle. In 1936 the company name was changed to Dansk Industri Syndikat AS (DISA); it was also sometimes referred to as Madsen AS. DISA is still in business today.
Ian McCollum is undoubtedly correct when he states that the Schouboe pistol was in a continuous state of development during the entire time of its manufacture. Probably only about 500 guns were made over a period of fifteen years, and almost no two are exactly alike. All were hand made and hand fitted, and may be considered prototypes for a gun that never quite made it into mass production.
Model numbers have been assigned various Schouboe pistols over the years, as may be seen for instance in the Standard Catalog of Firearms. I will reference the model numbers, but I am assigning type designations for greater clarity, which I believe are more helpful because the model designations are regularly misapplied to earlier and later guns. I base my typology on both internal and external changes to the gun. For the purposes of this article, I am assuming the guns were manufactured in serial number order, but this is by no means a certainty.
Patent and Original Design
The Schouboe pistol is an unlocked breech design with an internal hammer, originally chambered for the 7.65mm Browning cartridge (.32 ACP). The patent (Austrian 13950; British 1902-28940; Norwegian 12474; U.S. 733681) shows a gun with the recoil spring in the top of the slide and a flat mainspring behind the magazine well. The lower part of the mainspring also tensions the magazine release, which is a simple lever that is squeezed toward the front of the gun, very similar to the ones seen on early Browning pistols such as the 1899/1900 FN and the 1900 Colt.
The trigger has a high pivot point; when pulled it moves the transfer bar. The transfer bar in the early design appears to be of the browning type, with two arms that run on either side of the magazine and are joined at the rear. The transfer bar engages the upper portion of the sear. The sear itself is a simple spring-loaded pivoting lever with a hook on the bottom to catch the hammer notch. The hammer itself has a strong curve to reach over the top of the sear. The patent shows a pin that extends through the back of the frame to serve as a cocking indicator. Altogether, it is a very simple and elegant design. According to R.K. Wilson in his 1962 article: “The Schouboe was one of the earliest designs of self-loading pistol to provide a true inertia striker system.” He also states: “...positive disconnection off the trigger bar is provided,” though I have been unable to determine exactly how disconnection is accomplished.
Not including the magazine, the gun breaks down into three basic parts: the frame, the barrel with its extension, and the slide. The slide fits over the barrel extension from the rear. Just in front of and beneath the chamber of the barrel is a hook which fits under a pin set into the front of the frame—a form of yoke and trunnion. At the rear of the slide is a latch which fits into a hook in the back of the frame. The latch is a separate piece, to which is attached the recoil spring guide rod. The recoil spring tensions the latch.
The Type I or Model of 1902 or Model of 1903
This model designation is based on the patent filing date in late 1902, and the earliest pistols were likely made in 1902; though the gun is sometimes referred to as the Model 1903, after the date the patents were granted. The slide extends all the way to the front of the frame and has an ejection port on the right side. The gun has a flat mainspring, allowing for a very slim grip, and the simple early magazine release. Bady states that the gun “...was introduced commercially in 1903, first with a 3.5-inch barrel, later with a four-inch barrel,” though few of the guns I have documented actually have these barrel lengths.
The earliest Schouboe pistol I have been able to document is serial number 108, with a 150mm (5.9 inch) barrel; it is the one gun most like the patent. Chambered for the 7.65mm Browning cartridge (.32 A.C.P.), the magazine holds ten rounds. The extractor is internal. Due to the positioning of the safety far to the rear, I cannot say exactly how it functions, though I presume it must lock the hammer or the sear in some fashion. The slide is checkered on both sides, front to rear. This is the only Schouboe pistol documented with a cocked hammer indicator in back of the frame, as shown in the patent. Note that the serial number is stamped on the locking piece, not on the frame as on later guns. The latch for the locking piece is attached to a heat-treated flat steel spring which runs underneath the rear sight. This is also the only Schouboe pistol observed thus far with a removable sideplate on the left side. The grip plates, possibly of hard rubber, have a single screw at the bottom.
The Type II or Model of 1904 or Model of 1907
Schouboe quickly realized that, if the gun were to be adopted by any military, it would need to be chambered for a larger cartridge. But the unlocked breech required a light bullet to keep chamber pressures within the limits of the design. The development of an 11.35mm cartridge began in 1904 in conjunction with Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM). Donald Bady, who corresponded with the Dansk Industri Syndikat AS (DISA) in the 1950s, when presumably there were some employees who still remembered World War I, states that the first guns in 11.35mm were made in 1904. This is where the Model 1904 designation originated. The 1907 model designation is based on a pamphlet issued by DRS in 1907.
Development and production of the Schouboe pistol was interrupted by the start of the Russo-Japanese war in February 1904, when DRS went into full-time production of the Madsen machine gun, which was light enough for a soldier to carry and also had low enough recoil that it could be hand-held, whereas the Maxim machine guns of the day were often wheel-mounted like a small cannon. The Russo-Japanese war ended 5 September 1905, but the DRS backlog of orders for their light machine gun was not completed until 1907. While development of the Schouboe pistol continued, actual production was quite limited, which is likely why the first publicity pamphlet was not issued until 1907.
The Schouboe drawings reproduced by Roger Marsh show an updated design with a helical hammer spring and the hammer strut protruding from the bottom of the magazine release when the hammer is cocked. Marsh notes the semi-circular cut on back of the sear, which he says corresponds perfectly with the high position of the safety. The trigger, transfer bar, sear, and hammer are nearly identical to those shown in the patent. The cartridge is the 11.35mm Schouboe. The magazine release shown in the drawing is actually the third design utilized, the second being shown below.
Serial number 141, in a Scandinavian museum, is chambered for the 11.35mm Schouboe cartridge, and seems a likely candidate to have been made in or around 1904. This is the first gun documented that clearly has a helical hammer spring, as shown in the 1907 schematic drawing. The extractor appears to be internal, beneath a housing with a circular area at the rear. This gun has triangular-cut slide serrations and a flared gripping area toward the rear of the slide. The safety is in a position where it likely acts directly on the sear. The trigger guard is relieved at the rear to allow for a better grip. The magazine release is the second style utilized, and is of an earlier design than that shown in the drawing—it is not quite rectangular and is pressed forward to free the magazine. The magazine still has a slot cut in its rear, where it is engaged by the lever attached to the release, so the mechanism is essentially identical to the Type I pistol, but with a large button at the base of the lever. The bottom of the hammer strut is designed to protrude through the bottom of the magazine release when the hammer is cocked, a design which appears on all subsequent Schouboe pistols. The grip itself is flared slightly at the bottom for a more ergonomic fit. Grip plates are of wood with a single screw at the bottom. A not-quite triangular piece of metal is attached to the right grip plate and serves to anchor the hammer and sear pins. The gun is unmarked except for a serial number on back of the frame.
Schouboe serial number 164, in an Uruguayan collection, is a relatively early 11.35mm with a six-round magazine. As a presentation pistol, I presume it was either a thank-you for purchasing Madsen light machine guns, or perhaps an inducement to purchase them, or simply an example of the fine machine work DRS was capable of. The gun has the early style safety mounted high on the frame just beneath the slide (as shown in the 1907 drawing), and the flared gripping area at the rear of the slide. The magazine has a slot on the back, and the release is pressed forward to eject the magazine. There is a lanyard loop on the left side of the grip frame.
Schouboe serial number 168 has a 150mm barrel, and a safety lever and trigger guard which match the 1907 drawing; however, the slide configuration is closer to that of serial numbers 141 and 168. What looks like a housing for the extractor is heat treated to a blue color, as if it were a spring, but there clearly appears to be an internal extractor beneath it. The magazine release is still of the earlier type that is pressed forward to eject. This gun is unmarked, except for the F and S markings for the safety positions. The upper position is “Fire” and the lower position is “Safe.” The shape of the grip indicates that this gun is chambered for the 11.35mm Schouboe cartridge.
Norwegian Test of the Schouboe
According to Hanevik: “Early in 1907, the chairman of the "Permanent Rifle Commission" wrote to the "Danish Recoil Rifle Syndicate" (DRS) regarding the automatic pistol "system Schouboe"... The chairman asked to borrow, or buy, a copy of the pistol for tests in Norway. If possible, the commission wanted a 7.65 mm caliber pistol instead of the 11.35 mm that was also available. The chairman asked in particular whether a pistol with a kind of medium caliber had been constructed, and expressed interest in possibly trying one. Some time later, the commission received a 7.65 mm caliber Schouboe pistol with 500 cartridges (probably No. 154, with holster and livery).”
“At the commission's meeting in September 1907, the "new" pistols were presented. This was a new Schouboe pistol in caliber 11.35 mm (probably no. 219 or 257, both of which are mentioned in the Main Arsenal's accounts), the new Colt pistol in caliber 11.4 mm, a new Bergmann pistol M / 1903 in caliber 9 mm and a 7.65 mm caliber Pieper pistol.” Tests of the various pistols were performed in 1908 and a report issued on 22 February. The Schouboe had some performance issues, though it was able to complete all tests, but the gun was considered “not fully developed.”
Serial number 211 is chambered for the 7.65mm Browning cartridge (.32 A.C.P.). The magazine holds seven rounds and the barrel measures 111mm (4.37 inches). The gun has a magazine release which does not extend over the base of the magazine, which is pressed forward to eject. The slide configuration is similar to serial number 141, but the safety is of the early type shown in the 1907 drawing. The shape of the extractor housing differs slightly from earlier guns. This gun, like others in 7.65mm, does not have the flared area at the lower portion of the grip. The magazine release appears identical with that of serial number 141. I believe that all subsequent 7.65mm pistols were built on the same frame, which should probably be given a type designation of it’s own—I suggest either “Type IIA” or alternatively “Type 32.” This gun does not have the plate on the right side to anchor the hammer and sear pins, but it seems likely that these are not the original grip plates.
Serial number 249 is nearly identical with the 1907 drawing, except for the position of the safety, which has been lowered, so that it likely acts on the lower portion of the sear or directly on the hammer. There is a cut in the lower edge of the slide into which the safety fits in order to lock the slide. This safety design appears to be the reason for the milled inset area at the rear of the slide, which is shown in the drawing of 1907. The up position engages the safety and locks the slide, and the down position disengages the safety; safety positions are unmarked. The gun is chambered for 11.35mm and holds six cartridges in the magazine. Activated by the magazine follower, a mechanism on the right side locks the slide open when the last round has been fired. Ian McCollum notes that though there is an external slide release on the right side of the gun, it is awkward and difficult to operate. Grip plates are of steel, with a single screw at the bottom, and appear the same as those shown in the 1907 drawing. This is the first gun observed where the magazine release extends under the baseplate of the magazine, and so is pressed to the rear to eject. This is also the first gun observed with an inscription, which appears on the left side of the slide in sans-serif characters as follows:
Dansk Rekylriffel Syndikat
There is a Schouboe pistol, serial number 271, which appears nearly identical to serial number 249, features a slide lock mechanism on the right side, and has a holster and two magazines, but is missing internal parts; I have been unable to ascertain further information about it.
Schouboe serial number 282 is a decorated Type II pistol, similar to serial number 164 above and 339 below, but with the Mexican eagle and snake design on the grips along with the words “Republica Mexicana,” and the initials “P.D.” on top of the slide. The gun is shown in Man at Arms magazine for July/August 2004, and is said to have been presented to Mexican President Porfirio Diaz in late 1903 or early 1904, though the design of the gun and its serial number indicate to me a slightly later production date. Diaz was president of Mexico until ousted in the revolution of 1911. The gun is chambered in 11.35mm and has the slide lock mechanism on the right side. It is in the Douglas Arms Collection (inventory № D277) of the Royal Military College of Canada Museum, Kingston, Ontario.
There is a Schouboe pistol with serial number 300 in the National Firearms Museum, chambered in 11.35mm. It has a safety, grip plates, and inscription like serial number 354 below, but does not have a slide hold-open mechanism on the right side.
Serial number 323 is chambered for the 7.65mm Browning cartridge (.32 A.C.P.). It is very much like serial number 211, which is also in 7.65mm, built on the “Type 32” frame with no flare at the bottom rear of the grip, and with the same shape trigger and internal extractor. This is the first 7.65mm I have documented with the new magazine release that moves to the rear to eject. The shape of the slide is slightly different from earlier 7.65mm pistols. The safety is mounted low on the frame, with the fire position forward, and the safe position up and to the rear. The grip plates are of a new shape, pointed at the top and secured by two screws. This is the last gun observed with the locking plate for the hammer and sear pins on the right side.
Serial number 328 is clearly a Type II, chambered for 11.35mm, with a six-shot magazine and a 150mm barrel. It has the same slide legend as serial number 249, and is also one of the few guns observed with the slide hold-open mechanism on the right side. The grip panels are of steel.
Serial number 339 is very similar to its predecessors 282 and 328, with a barrel of about 127mm, and with no mechanism for locking the slide after the last round is fired. It is described as a gift to Claudio Williman, the president of Uruguay, in 1910, following the signing of a contract for the Madsen light machine gun. The gun has pointed grip plates, held with two grip screws, featuring the Uruguayan crest. The trigger pivots on a screw rather than a pin. The rear sight is a separate piece, held by a screw at the rear.
Serial number 350, in an Uruguayan collection, is virtually identical to serial number 339, but without decoraction. There is an inscription on the left grip plate that reads: “AL GENERAL DON PABLO GALARIA SU AMIGO ALBERTO EIRALE 23-VI-910”. I believe this is a date, 23 June 1910, and the engraver simply left off the numeral one in 1910. If so, then serial numbers 339 and 350 are two very rare dated pistols, presented in the year 1910. General Pablo Galarza (1851-1937) was commander of the Army of the South in 1910, and was personal friends with Dr. Alberto Eirale (1870-1959), who was chief of health services for the armies during the Uruguayan civil wars.
Serial number 354 is virtually the same gun as serial number 350, also chambered for 11.35mm, with pointed wooden grip plates held by two screws. Serial number 354 is pictured in Darel Magee’s 1974 article entitled “Big Bore Blow-Back Auto Pistols.” The slide legend on serial numbers 339, 350, and 354 is in all-capital serif characters as follows:
DANSK REKYLRIFFEL SYNDIKAT
Comparison of Schouboe Magazine Releases
Copyright 2021 by Ed Buffaloe. All rights reserved.