These days your standard duty handgun comes well equipped to carry a bright and powerful light. That rail that sits on the forward end of guns like the M17 isn’t there for decoration. Soldiers toss lights on these things all the time, and packing 1,000 lumens isn’t uncommon. Although lights on handguns have recently become widespread, the Nazi night pistol might be the earliest example of a duty-ready pistol fitted with a light.
This odd gun looks like it’s some sort of steampunk pistol. Weapon-mounted lights just weren’t a thing, and flashlights at the time were, in general, were typically fairly large. To see one mounted to a pistol designed in 1898 certainly broke the mold for the time. (Sadly, it belonged to the Nazi war machine.)
What is the Nazi night pistol?
The core handgun of the Nazi night pistol is the Luger P08 pistol. This was the pistol of choice for several countries and was most famously used by the Germans in World War I and the interwar years. Media has often made the Luger the go-to pistol for the Nazi regime. While they were certainly used, they were not the standard pistol of the WWII-era. Instead, the Walther P38 was the official sidearm of Nazi Germany, although, during the war, they notably used a wide variety of different sidearms.
By the time Hitler took power, the Luger was rather old. However, the design of the weapon seemed to work well for its intended task.
The Luger famously has four inches of exposed barrel. That was enough space to mount the light that made the Nazi night pistol so famous. There were no Picatinny rails at the time, so a special mount was machined to allow the light to mount the gun’s barrel. This mount could quickly and easily be attached as necessary.
The purpose of the night pistol
This was not a general-issue weapon or even a special operations weapon. This pistol was designed for guards at Hitler’s Sperrkies-1, aka the Wolf’s Lair. (How did these guys not know they were the baddies?) Officers with the Reich Security Service would be armed with the night pistol, and two would be on patrol at a time, along with the standard security detachments.
These guards would work day and night with a rotating post. They would be located inside and outside of the bunker. I imagine the light allowed them to be ready at all times since a bunker can be fairly dark, especially when you consider the size of the Wolf’s Lair.
In a book called Hitler’s Personal Security, Petter Hoffman mentions this pistol and light. Sadly, he didn’t have much more information on the light itself. He does mention the gun would be loaded with tracers that could help direct other security elements to the source of the incident.
The Nazi night pistol – Lights and action
The light itself featured a battery compartment right behind it. The light itself was likely not very powerful: I would be surprised if it were any more than 10 to 15 lumens of light. To put that into perspective, that is about the same light you get from those tiny novelty keychain lights. It’s not much light, but I guess in a dark room, with your eye adjusted to the darkness, it was better than nothing. Sadly, not much information about the light exists. It’s unknown how powerful it actually was, how long it functioned for, or what type of battery it used.
What is so fascinating to me is how the light was turned on. The light plugged into the grips. The grips featured a section of brass at their top and another in their middle. When the user gripped the gun, the circuit was finished and this automatically turned the light on.
The light attached over the end of the barrel, and a set of ears fit over each side of the receiver and rested on the receiver rails. The light sit right below the Luger’s bore. A line ran from the light to a brass socket on the grips.
It’s thought that the light and pistol were carried separately as the holster that carried the Nazi night pistol could not fit the light on the gun. It also bears mentioning the holster was specifically designed and tailored for a rapid draw.
The Luger used was an odd choice. It was a P08 but in the 7.65x21mm variety. The Nazis used 9mm, and the Luger was certainly available in 9mm. Then why the 7.65x21mm round? Perhaps it was easier to get tracers for this caliber. The caliber reportedly had less recoil which could be a factor to avoiding breaking or dislodging the light. Additionally, this Luger featured a grip safety, which was rather rare for the time.
What happened to the pistols?
Only two of these pistols are known to have survived. One is in a German museum, and apparently, a GI brought the other home. The one brought home was auctioned with Rock Island Auctions and sold for 184,000 dollars in 2012.
How many existed in total is unknown. Apparently, two Reich Security Service guards were on duty at one time so maybe only two ever existed. Either way, it’s a fascinating pistol with a mysterious history.