Farewell To the Browning Hi-Power

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms

Fabrique Nationale recently announced that the Browning Hi-Power pistol is being discontinued from manufacture. In the perfect handgunning world, all pistols would have the mix of history, performance, and collector interest of the FN Hi-Power. The Hi-Power is among the most recognizable handguns worldwide. If you scan the news, you may see a Hi-Power in the hands of Indian police or being waved by a woman during a street battle in Iraq.

Browning Hi-Power pistol right profile

This is a classic Hi-Power.

Our Canadian allies issue the Hi-Power, and it works as well today as a battle pistol as ever has. The Hi-Power has been issued to the armed services of more than 50 nations. A generation ago, the Hi-Power was issued to elite units in the United States including the New Jersey State Police Fugitive Squad and FBI Hostage Rescue Team.

The history of the Hi-Power is interesting. The pistol was developed by John Moses Browning as a European service pistol. Browning was a great inventor; he was also among the greatest gun salesmen of all time. While 1911 fans may decry the small caliber 9mm and derisively call it the ‘Half Power,’ a .45 caliber service pistol would have been unthinkable in Europe. Browning did not base the Hi-Power on the 1911 but upon Browning principles just as the Tokarev and French 1935, by different inventors, are based on Browning’s work.

Originally, the Hi-Power was intended for the French Army. The French did not want a grip safety, and none was supplied. I respectively submit that Browning had learned a few things since 1911, and the Hi-Power was designed to be produced as economically as possible.

Field stripped Hi-Power pistol

The pistol field strips easily.

The Allies left World War I with a great respect for the 9mm Luger cartridge. The 9mm met French requirements and it offers a good level of power for its compact size. The Luger cartridge is compact enough that 13 cartridges could be stuffed into a relatively compact magazine. Browning further refined his locked breech action to eliminate the swinging link and the result was the Hi-Power or Grande Pruissance.

Browning died in his office in Belgium before the final work was completed. Early models illustrate that the Hi-Power was defined by Browning. Dieudonne Saive, a respected inventor in his own right, refined the pistol and gave us the final form. The Hi-Power is a well balanced handgun and among the finest service pistols of all time.

The French did not adopt the Hi-Power, but just the same, the type saw immense commercial success. Early variants were shipped to China and South America among other nations. During World War II, the Germans took over the FN plant and turned out the Hi-Power for the Wermacht. John Inglis of Canada, a respected maker of armaments including ships boilers, took up production of the Hi-Power for the allies.

The Hi-Power has the distinction of serving on both sides of practically every conflict since 1939. The Hi-Power has been in continuous production and remains a popular handgun today. A look at the specifications of the Hi-Power shows that it is ideally proportioned for the cartridge it chambers. There is enough weight to absorb the recoil of the 9mm cartridge, but the pistol is light enough for daily carry. The grip fits most hands well. The trigger press is straight to the rear, and the pistol is flat enough for concealed carry.

Hi-Power
Barrel length 4 5/8
Sight Radius 6.5 inches
Overall length 7.75 inches
Weight 34 ounces

The pistol is all steel and well made of good material. The Browning design has gone through several generations but each is recognizable as a Hi-Power. The changes have been minor, usually limited to differences in the sights and the manual safety. The early versions feature a slide lock safety that is smaller than many competing types. With practice, the safety isn’t as difficult to manipulate, as some would have us believe. Just the same, in a dedicated defensive handgun, the Cylinder and Slide Shop Inc. extended safety is an aid in speed and positive function.

Pistol being fired showing a spent cartridge in the air

The pistol is controllable in rapid fire.

On the plus side, the original safety is positive in operation and unlikely to be inadvertently moved to the off-safe position. The slide stop and magazine release are easily reached and manipulated. Most, but not all, Hi-Power pistols feature a magazine disconnect that prevents the pistol from firing if the magazine is not in place. The Hi-Power is smaller and lighter than the 1911 .45, and handles quickly. With the greatest respect for the 1911, and its speed into action, if there is a handgun faster to an accurate first shot than the 1911, it is the Browning Hi-Power.

The intrinsic accuracy of the Hi-Power is often very good. Practical accuracy is limited by sometimes heavy trigger actions. Over the years, the RCBS trigger pull gauge has measured Hi-Power triggers at 5 to 11 pounds, respectively. There seems no rhyme or reason. The tangent action isn’t easily improved. It is a shame that the heavy trigger action limits accuracy potential in many variants, but then the piece was made for short-range combat.

Then again, there is the shooter who manages the trigger and makes good hits in spite of the trigger action. As long as the trigger is consistent, little else matters to these practiced marksmen. Another advantage of the Hi-Power is speed of loading. All one need do to replenish the ammunition supply was to quickly insert the tapered magazine into a generous magazine well. No need for a magazine chute with this pistol.

pinned front sight on a pistol

Note sight pinned in place on this Inglis Hi-Power.

The Hi-Power features a heavy hammer spring. This makes thumb cocking more difficult, however, there is a reason for the heavy spring. 9mm Luger ammunition has been produced in many countries. Quality is sometimes indifferent and the Hi-Power had to function with every load and to handle variations in case length as well as hard primers. The hammer gives the primer a solid hit and the pistol has excellent reliability. The extractor design changed about 1962 from internal to external.

A complaint leveled against the pistol that may have little basis in reality is an appraisal of the longevity of the pistol and the claim that some have soft steel. It seems unlikely than FN would produce such fine shotguns and rifles and then use Basque steel in the Hi-Power! But claims of cracked slides without photographic proof are common.

I am certain Hi-Powers have suffered cracked slides. So has the 1911, Beretta, Walther P38, SIG, and Glock. I have examined well-used wartime Hi-Powers that rattled when shook. The barrel lugs were well worn and the frame showed hi wear spots, but the pistols functioned. My personal Action Works modified Hi-Power went well over 10,000 rounds without complaint—including performing as a test bed for +P+ 9mm ammunition. No problems just a little loss of accuracy at the 10,000 round mark. I think shooters need to understand that springs and magazines are a renewable resource and must be replaced. Guns sometimes wear out and need to be replaced or retired.

FM Hi-Power pistol clone

The FM clone is often a good shooter.

License-built pistols were produced in Argentina and clones and copies worldwide. The FM Argentine guns originally copied the Hi-Power while later versions deleted the step in the slide, producing a pistol with a different profile. The probable reason was to diminish machine work. The design may be stronger but it would take a truckload of ammunition to prove this out.

The Hungarian FEG is a quality variant, with good finish and performance comparable to the original, but not quite up to FN standards. Among the most interesting variants is the John Inglis produced Hi-Power. The story has been told that Belgian engineers escaped to Canada with plans under the arm for the manufacture of the FN Hi-Power.

During the war, the Hi-Power was a favored pistol for Commando use. After all, the standard British issue Webley revolver was not the most modern combat arm! The Inglis-produced pistol was sent to our Allies, including China, and was heavily used by the British. They liked the Hi-Power and while they used whatever was available during the war, after World War II the Hi-Power became standard issue for the British Army.

A bit of understanding is needed when studying the Inglis Hi-Power and any other Hi-Power. It is possible that Hi-Powers exist worldwide with the identical serial number as FN used the same blocks with different contracts. That’s all good for them, but it has a serious collector searching for identifying proof marks. The Inglis Number 1 and Number 2, Mark * 1 differ.

Woman shooting a hi-power pistol

The modern Hi-Power 9mm is a great combat and personal defense handgun.

Marks indicate differences such as the ejector or extractor while the numbers are more important. The Number 1 is the Chinese pistol with tangent rear sights and a slot for a shoulder stock. The Number 2 is the conventional sight version. Serial numbers were applied after finishing, and if the pistol was refinished, the numbers no long appear ‘in the white.’

Most are in well-used condition. They were not as well finished as the FN versions when new. I have probably fired more rounds through the Inglis Hi-Power than any other. The pistols are pleasant to fire. The John Inglis gun is among my favorite recreational shooters. It isn’t possible to know who used the pistol, but we may draw conclusions as to how they maintained the handgun.

One example I recently handled and fired had the dovetailed front sight adjusted and then a punch was used to peen the surrounding metal. The result was that the pistol was sighted in for their eyes and the front sight isn’t likely to move again. Fortuitously, the setting was correct for my eyes and 124-grain Winchester PDX ammunition. I have also used other 124-grain loads with good results.

After considerable experience with the Hi-Power, parts interchangeability seems excellent. Other than the change to a different extractor style, the only change is in different generations of sights. The original military sights are no better or worse than many of the day. The later MK II sights are much better combat sights.

Browning Hi-power pistol in leather holster

This Hi-Power is carried in a Nightingale custom holster.

The tangent-style sights came in a number of variations. The late model Browning features variations on adjustable sights, including one type that seems to fit into the military dovetail. The adjustable sighted commercial guns are fine sporting guns—occasionally found in the used section at the shop with a sight leaf missing. These sights leafs are sometimes difficult to obtain.

Magazines interchange in all models. Mec Gar is the preferred magazine brand. I have stated my opinion on the longevity of the 9mm Hi-Power. Any handgun in use for so long will have among its number worn or broken examples.

I have found that the Hi-Power feeds modern JHP ammunition. When hollow points became common in the 1960s and 1970s many featured a wide mouth hollow nose not designed for feed reliability. As a result, these loads did not feed in military pistols without barrel polish or throating. Throating, once universally recommended in the popular press, isn’t the best course and often improperly done.

Modern loads, such as the Winchester Silvertip, perform well and feed reliably. As for Hi-Power accuracy, I feel that the average accuracy of the Hi-Power is pretty consistent. Most examples may be counted upon for a five-shot group of 2.5 to 3 inches at 25 yards with good ammunition and from a solid benchrest.

In the end, the Hi-Power is far more than a handgun to be kept in the safe and never fired. It is among the most useful of 9mm handguns. Light enough for constant carry, reliable, effective, and with more than a little pride of ownership, this is a handgun that has stood the test of time.

Have you had a Hi-Power encounter? What is your favorite John Browning gun? Share your answers in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (37)

  • Waterhammer

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    I’ve owned a WW2 capture just as one of the previous commenter’s did. Has eagle markings and was produced while German forces were occupying Belgium and utilizing the FN infrastructure to bolster their war production. It’s been a great handgun. Had a few problems with +p rounds but considering it was used by German troops on the Western front, then my Grandfather, then my father and then by me, I have been impressed by the reliablility and accuracy of a handgun that has been in operation for over 70 years and am bewildered as to why such an iconic weapon is being put out of production.

    Reply

    • Tiger

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      Why? The gun does not sell in the market today. FN has newer models to sell in the defense market. Browning`s main product line is long guns and hunting products. Like the 1911, it is no longer a front line military pistol or a police gun. And it’s avgerage price is well above a Glock, Sig, or Beretta of the same class. In automobile terms, it becomes like a Porsche 911 in a world of buying Hondas & Toyotas in mass.

      Reply

  • Dave

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    bought a Browning Highpower in 1969 and was amazed at the accuracy and ease of rapid fire that this firearm has, moved to another state and had to sell it. what a perfect 9mm!

    Reply

  • Michael Carroll

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    I have a relatively early Occupation FN HiPower, Nazi-proofed, which has functioned flawlessly in any number of target range visits and quite a few bowling-pin-shoots (a couple of which it won- and one of which it lost because I accidentally used the wartime issue mag and it double-fed on me. Cue the comments about spring and magazine aging!) It’s among the best shooting guns I own, which include a SIG P320 and a Glock 19. It’s well-balanced, controllable in rapid fire and deadly accurate (for a military handgun). Excellent pistol, and I’m searching for a later postwar as a shooter so I can retire the matching-number war pistol to collection status.

    Reply

  • Michael McMillan

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    My very first pistol was a WWII issue High Power that had Nazi proofs stamped on it. I’d become interested in the Browning after reading Serpico, the autobiograhy of the New York police officer who carried one. That old Browning, purchased around 1975 looked like it had been used to hammer tent stakes, but shot just fine. A year or two later I bought a new adjustable sight version from Delta Arms in Indianola, Ms. I now carry Browning Double Model. All of the things mentioned in the article are true. No polymer guns for me!

    Reply

  • Paul

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    The Practical model is the most comfortable gun in the hand I have owned.

    Reply

  • Erwin

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    “Browning did not base the Hi-Power on the 1911 but upon Browning principles just as the Tokarev and French 1935″ – Yes!! I have a John Inglis, an FEG, a couple Chinese 15 shot, but my favorite isn’t even a 9mm…it’s a 7.62×25 Russian Tokarev that should be in Smithsonian. Inherited it from Dad of same name who used it and 4 pouches of grenades to impersonate a U.S. Army anti-aircraft battalion holding German survivors in RR tunnel at far end of Remagan Bridge over Rhine. He and ammo carrier had taken bridge, kilt defenders, kilt combat engineers mining piers, shot up their set-ups using BAR until barrel melted. Had shot 2,000 rds and only had Tokarev w/six mags plus about 40 loose rnds in pocket plus the 4 pouches of grenades. Germans unable to break out in counter-attack as commander testified he had been up against a U.S. Anti-Aircraft Battalion that had went upstream, somehow crossed Rhine, scaled mountain behind bridge, and dropped down to stop him and his men. The rest of the 1st Army finally decided to violate their orders too and relieved Dad 25 minutes after he had taken bridge. Ike said taking the bridge shortened war by 6 months!! Thank you Mr. Browning for the BAR and your Hi-Power design modified for the Tokarev made by Russians, liberated by German Officer, and then liberated by Dad and used for best effect.

    Reply

  • John

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    Had one in Europe in late 70’s early 80 nevered failed to impress. Then went to working my way through Northern Africa and Middle East in the 2000’s and early 2010’s once again my co workers who use other non metal arms found it sturdy and lightweight but good for the work. Today back here it is my conceal carry.

    Reply

  • Retired Navy Spook

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    I’ve had the same experience as several who have commented here. A Hi-Power manufactured in Belgium in 1967 was my second EDC gun, purchased used in 1976 for $150. Sold it in 1991 to buy my wife a 25th anniversary ring. Immediately regretted it, and found another mint condition Hi-Power also made in 1967 on an on-line gun auction several years ago. I still love the 1911, having qualified with it every year from the mid-70’s to the late 80’s, but the Browning Hi-Power is my favorite gun to shoot.

    Reply

  • Ringolevio

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    [Additional comment:]
    [Replying to my own post in order to add info:]
    The BHP was also the “big, black, 14-shot automatic” (as described by Peter Maas) that the real-life Frank Serpico carried in a backpack as he was traipsing across NYC rooftops, at a time when hardly anyone in the NYPD carried anything but a revolver. Other cops (very few of whom really knew a lot about guns) were in awe of that pistol.

    Reply

  • Glen61

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    C’mon people, the Browning Hi-Power was a revolution in gun design.
    IN 1938…!
    We are in the polymer age now, with the Sig 365 and other outstanding carry guns…..
    It’s time to move on,,,,, park the Desoto and get yourself a Honda Accord.

    Reply

    • Ringolevio

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      Well, Glen61, that’s an interesting analogy. I do often think of my Glock as the Honda of handguns, in terms of low maintenance and reliability. But since I have some experience with DeSotos, I would remind you that you can bounce Hondas off a DeSoto all day long, and it’s the DeSoto that’ll still go down the road.

      Reply

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