A New Twist On The High Power


by R,K, Campbell

photography by R.K. Campbell

May 11, 2006




Perhaps the most successful military handgun of all time is the Browning High Power, also known as the P 35, HP 35, or Grande Pruissance.  Battlefield success is one thing, and the Browning has saved the lives of many allied troops.  But in terms of sheer numbers the Browning stands alone.  The pistol was adopted by over one hundred nations in its hey day and remains on the front lines in many third world nations as well as in the hands of dedicated operators world wide.  The High Power has been a success story all of the way. 

The pistols main point of manufacture has been Belgium. Of late, the familiar slide marking Made In Belgium, Assembled in Portugal has reflected the changing dynamic of old world craftsmanship.  The John Inglis company of Canada produced a version made from FN Browning blue prints, with certain strengthening of key parts according to historians. The pistol has been copied in Eastern Europe, doubtless without license, and also in Israel. Some of the pistols are cheaply made in order to sell at a considerably lower price than the Belgian product, others, such as the Israeli Kareen, claim to be improvements.  Among a very few license built copies of the Browning is the FM Browning from Argentina.  Argentina produced the Colt 1911 A1 under license for many years as the Modelo 1927, and the FM High Power is another product of international licensing. 

At this point we should address a difference of opinion among handgunners concerning the 1911 .45 and the High Power 9mm.  Many point to the High Power as an improvement over the 1911 pistol.  Browning eliminated the swinging link, using angled camming surfaces.  He simplified the design considerably with the elimination of the barrel bushing, relying upon a friction fit between the barrel and slide.  Browning eliminated the grip safety, which some of us feel was and is a good safety feature.  The US Calvary demanded the 1911 grip safety in case the pistol were dropped from a horse - it would prevent the gun from firing.  I like this feature.  Browning didn’t design the High Power to compete with the 1911, the Army and Marines were pleased with the 1911 and were not going to purchase another pistol. They were in the midst of a transition to the 1911A1 about the time Browning developed the High Power. But the European market was a different matter.  A .45 caliber service gun would have been unthinkable in  Europe, Norwegian experience notwithstanding. While both are excellent handguns, they were designed and built to sell at the request of individual governments.  This takes nothing away from John Moses Browning, rather it adds to his genius.  Whether you needed a pocket pistol, an alley fighter, or a lever action rifle, he was the man for the job.  He did remarkably well in all fields with none of the hit and miss attributed to some designers of the era.   (Remember the ‘other 1911'– the Winchester 1911 semi auto shotgun that came to be known as the "suicide special"?) 

While I prefer the 1911 pistol on the basis of caliber and other traits that endear it to armed professionals, I am willing to admit that the High Power may be faster to a first shot hit in trained hands than even the 1911.  The High Power is a bit shorter and lighter and with the modern safety design, the pistol can be manipulated as quickly as any pistol.  A good hand with the High Power has very good hit potential.  Whether the cartridge will do the job or not must be addressed, however.  But with a low bore axis and straight to the rear single action trigger compression the High Power remains the top 9mm in the world for serious use.

Among the most popular and widely distributed copies of the High Power is the license-built FM clone from Argentina.  Prior to World War Two, the capitol police placed an order for Browning High Power pistols.  The High Power was a type of substitute standard in the military for many years, serving alongside the home built Modelo 1927 Colt clones and the home designed Ballester Molina. Argentina liked the High Power but wished to develop a manufacturing capability of their own, a wise move.  In 1969  Fabrica Militar de Armas Portatiles Domingo Matheu obtained a license to build the High Power.  These early guns were identical to then-current FN Belgian production, complete with the stepped slide of the Browning pistol.   Early versions sported a lanyard ring.   When the MK II Browning was produced by FN, the FM types were left behind.  They retained the original small slide lock safety and embryonic military style sights.  The new MK II Browning featured high visibility sights, a remarkably well designed speed safety, and a new polish in the feedway that make the feeding of modern jacketed hollowpoint ammunition a surety.  The FM guns were well made and reliable, but lagged behind in improvements. Still, with a retail price often half that of the FN gun, they were a relative bargain.  When the pistols were imported to America in number, they were of the second generation, a design that did away with the steps in the slide to simplify production.   This may make for a stronger slide, but it would take more shooting than most of us care to undertake to prove the point.  I respected these  guns enough to modify two.  I fitted a Cylinder and Slide Shop extended safety to one, as well as certain internal modifications including WC Wolff premium springs.  The other pistol received a Bear Coat self lubricating Teflon based finish and Ashley Express sights.  Each would prove completely reliable.  Contrary to popular belief, the High Power is easier, not more difficult than the 1911, to work with and modify. Each of the FM guns was given a trigger job that produced a good smooth four pound trigger with the magazine safety intact.  That is all we can ask for in a carry gun. 

New production FM pistols incorporate the modern improvements, including high visibility sights and ambidextrous safety.  There is a rib that runs along the slide that is different from the FN slide.  It is distinctive and while some can take it or leave it, it does offer a non glare sighting plane. The pistols I have tested that have been produced in the past year or so exhibit a good trigger compression, typically breaking cleanly at four to four and one half pounds. This is the best trigger action yet seen on a High Power pistol straight from the factory.  The pistols also feature a good smooth feed ramp that feeds practically any hollow point bullet. These pistols have the addition of a positive firing pin lock, practically a standard for international sales. The finish is a businesslike black phosphate, although a type of nickel finish is occasionally seen. The grips are black plastic nearly identical to the modern MK II Browning types.

Perhaps the big news is the successful development of a Detective version of the High Power.  This has been tried with varying degrees of success in the past.  It is very difficult to design and execute a short slide version of any full length service handgun.  The dynamics of slide velocity and the necessity of stronger recoil springs to tame the increased slide velocity of the shorter lighter slide can present a daunting proposition to any designer. FM found that the captive recoil spring of the full length pistol did not work well with short slide pistols.  The FM Detective features a full length guide rod that protrudes from the slide during recoil, much in 1911 fashion.  This seems to have cured any problem with short slide function, as my pistol is completely reliable with a myriad of factory loads as well as handloads.   Recoil is not excessive, partly a product of the heavier springs needed to curb slide velocity in such a short handgun.  When the need to feed from a thirteen round double column staggered magazine is considered, and that the rounds will feed from heavy compression to almost no compression, we see that the pistol offers a high standard of reliability regardless of type.

I have a good bit of experience with three full size FM types, and this experience has been positive.   Since the Detective class is a new idea,   I felt that it would behoove us to concentrate on the shorter pistol.  As such, I have been shooting, firing, and carrying the Detective for the better part of seven months.  I like it well enough to consider it among my top-flight personal defense handguns.  When I am not carrying a 1911 .45, I am more likely to be carrying this handgun than any other semi auto.  There were objections to the handgun at first, but these are nit picking.  First, I didn’t particularly like the bold slide markings.  But then, they are less obtrusive than the MK IV SERIES 70 billboard type markings we all know and love.  They certainly let you know what you are handling!  Second, I did not like the grips. They are not as hard as the FN types but the slight palm swell does not feel good in the hand – I thought.   Almost fifteen hundred rounds later they are still on the gun and I feel more confident in the pistol as time goes by.  They will stay.  Often, the first thing I trash is the grips on my Browning High Power and 1911 type pistols.  But this gun’s stocks will stay in place.  I have acclimated quite well. 

The Detective pistol offers few tradeoffs compared to the full length pistol.  It is quicker from leather by a margin.  It is difficult to say the pistol is quicker on target, but it seems to come on target quickly due to the short sight radius. It is as reliable as the full length pistol, per limited testing.  The full length pistol, with its longer sight radius, will usually prove more accurate in bench rest testing but the difference is not so great as we may imagine.  The three dot high visibility sights offer a good sight picture and can be acquired quite quickly.  Overall, there are no flies on this gun. It works well in the practical and mechanical sense. 

I have fired an eclectic number of cartridges in the High Power, choosing a carry load and also qualifying the handgun with a variety of loads.  The gun was first fired with Winchester’s 124 grain NATO loads.  This is a good choice for breaking in a pistol, although break in was not necessary.  The FM came out of the box shooting.   Everything put in the magazines has fed, chambered, fired and ejected normally.   I settled upon a combination of the National Bullet Company 125 grain round nose bullet over a moderate charge of HP 38 for most of my work with this pistol.  Velocity is 1,050 fps.  This is a mild, accurate and reliable loading that allowed me to understand the merits of this handgun.  I have to admit the test period was not all work.  It is a ball to unload a magazine from the 9mm at pine cones, dirt clods, cans, and other range brick-a-brack.  This type of shooting, firing at targets at known and unknown ranges, gives the shooter a better gauge of the pistols performance than paper shooting.  The FM is a fine light handgun for all around shooting.  I may admit at this time that the 9mm is a better plinker than the .45, while the .45 is more effective against the possible range of animate targets. 

For personal defense, I made an interesting choice.  Over the years, I have tested more 9mm Luger ammunition than practically any other.  It is no secret some of these loadings have given dismal results.  The deviation in penetration and expansion can be one hundred per cent, with some loads expanding too early and others expanding hardly at all.  Careful consideration should be given a loading destined for personal defense.  With the scenario calling for lightly clad individuals in a crowded environment,   I looked to light fast hollowpoints.   The Cor-Bon 100 grain PowR’Ball is intended to offer optimum feed reliability in any type of military pistol.

It will feed in the likes of a circa 1970 Browning High Power or the Egyptian Helwan.  This round nosed bullet is actually a wide mouth hollowpoint that features a polymer ball that is capped into the hollow point bullet to insure feed reliability.  In tests involving tissue simulations, the PowR’Ball performs in a similar manner to the same company’s 115 grain JHP.  However, the 100 grain PowR’Ball consistently breaks 1,450 fps from the 3.75 inch barrel FM and practically 1,500 fps from the five inch barrel.  A generation or two ago, Colonel George C. Nonte designed a shortened .38 Super cartridge he managed to chamber into several short light 9mm pistols of the day.  He achieved 1,500 fps with 90 grain Sierra JHP bullets.  With modern technology, Cor-Bon has outstripped this loading by a margin while using the 9mm Luger case. This is a powerful load sure to increase the load on moving parts, but I find the loading accurate, reliable, and destructive.  The PowR’Ball loading offers a real advantage in such a compact pistol. Most of the time, you won’t need to run so hot and you should choose an appropriate practice loading.  If your scenario calls for felons behind light cover, then the 124 grain Cor-Bon loading is superior.  For my scenario, PowR’Ball is impressive.  

At this point I should mention that the FM guns are delivered with thirteen round magazines.  With the sunset of the ban on high capacity magazines, we now are able to own and purchase new high capacity handguns once again.  It is going to be quite interesting.  I have on hand a rather well worn and aged Mec Gar extended magazine that holds a full 25 rounds.  I don’t deploy it on defensive missions and did not when I was a peace officer occasionally carrying a Browning High Power, but the magazine has proven reliable and is completely enjoyable on trips to the range.  I know the anti gunners will never get it and frankly some of the other handgunners on my range don’t get it, but if the business were grim serious all of the time it would be a shame!  Often it is fun to simply empty a magazine into the paper as quickly and safely as we can pull the trigger.  Often, I have a day when I choose to fire a handful of Magnums at the 200 yard paper.  This serves no purpose, as I will not be hunting any game at 200 yards with the .44 Magnum.  By the same token, since I am not involved in clearing bunkers I won’t be firing 25 rounds of 9mm in a few seconds.   (For either use, there are better tools.)   I simply like shooting these handguns. I have often been critical of the 9mm for ballistic effectbut on the other hand there is no better centerfire plinker anywhere, and no semi auto better suited to bringing shooters into the game.   The FM is a worthy gun on all counts.

Carrying the FM

I have settled upon two holsters for carrying the FM of late, and I will probably stick with them as they seem to offer the best solution to numerous problems.  First, the FM is suitable for carrying concealed under a light jacket.  For this task the High Noon "Topless" offers considerable advantages.  These include excellent molding of the gun to the leather.  The Topless also features a retention screw.  The retention screw offers two advantages.  First, it will adjust the draw of the gun by friction and once the leather becomes well worn the retention screw can tighten the holster considerably.  I like this a lot and find the topless a tremendous asset in carrying the handgun on a strong side position.  It offers good retention but is fast, very fast.  The trademark tan finish and gold threat of the High Noon type holster is very distinctive, with a look that fairly screams quality. 

For deeper concealment, we need an inside the waistband holster. One of the most interesting new types comes from one of the master shops, and a quite famous one I might add. Milt Sparks Gunleather is the home of the unmatched "Summer Special", but they are also an innovative shop offering new products.  The "Watch Six" was developed partly in response to the difficulty in concealing the popular but blocky new generation of handguns such as the Glock and the SIG.  It does not incorporate a welt for holstering the gun, but rather relies upon light but very strong horsehide construction.  This offers a previously unrealized level of concealment for pistols such as the Glock but even more concealment for the 1911 and Browning High Power type handguns.  The Watch Six should never be worn without the pistol holstered, and there are certain tradeoffs, but overall this is a worthwhile advance for those needing more concealment than offered by the king of concealment holsters, the Summer Special.  It is also offered at a very good price.  I am impressed on all counts.

Accuracy Results

25 yards, benchrest - five-shot groups

Fiocchi 147 grain JHP 3.0 inches
Handload: 125 grain National Bullet Co./HP 38 3.5 inches
Handload: Sierra 115 gr. FMJ/HP 38 (1,245 fps) 3.25 inches
Georgia Arms 124 grain JHP +P 3.0 inches
Georgia Arms 115 grain Ball (remanufactured) 3.5 inches
Cor-Bon PowR’Ball 100 grain JHP 2.9 inches


Dealer Warehouse - FM Pistols

4813 Enterprise Way Unit K

Modesto Ca. 95356



High Noon Holsters

PO 2138 

Palm Harbor Fl 34682



Milt Sparks Holsters

605 East 44th Street #2

Boise Idaho   83714



R.K. Campbell

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Click pictures for a larger version.


The FM Detective is a well turned out compact pistol with many good features.



The FM offers the all important straight to the rear, single action trigger compression. The FM High Power is properly carried cocked and locked, safety on, hammer to the rear.



The FM Detective is not petite but genuinely compact.



The new style paddle safety of the FM is a praiseworthy addition to the High Power class handgun.



This illustration clearly shows the difference in length between the FM five inch gun and the 3.75 inch barrel Detective pistol.



The full length FM Classic is an excellent performer, with good accuracy potential.



Note the embryonic safety and small sights of this original FM military type handgun.



The FM rides easy in this top quality Topless holster from High Noon holsters.



The Watch Six is a new addition from Milt Sparks holsters that offers the greatest concealment and fills a real need for an affordable quality holster.



Lee Berry wrings out the FM Detective and finds it good.