Pistolet wz.35 Vis (Radom)
The Polish Pistolet wz.35 Vis semi-automatic handgun proved one of the best of her kind though the Soviet influence over Poland in the post-WW2 world signified her end.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
The Polish wz.35 pistol was one of the finest semi-automatic handguns of her era, appearing just shortly before the German invasion of September 1939 to officially begin World War 2. The Browning-based weapon proved exceptionally reliable and of great production quality though not many were available at the time of the invasion and subsequent occupation. Production continued under German control though quality suffered as a result of war time stresses and limitations. Surviving the war after the Soviet liberation of Poland, the wz.35 was not brought back as the standard sidearm of the Polish Army for Soviet influence dictated use of its Tokarev TT-33 series.
Prior to World War 1, Polish territory was claimed by the powers of Prussia, Russia and Austria (the Kingdom of Poland was forged in 1025 and dismantled as the "Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth" in 1795). It was not until the end of World War 1 in November of 1918 that modern-day Poland (as the "Second Polish Republic") was reborn. With its independence now formally recognized, authorities moved to establish a viable land army for the primary purpose of self-defense and, to this, the daunting task of outfitting its personnel was brought about.
For decades, the Polish Army relied on outside sources to stock its inventory. As such, it became a mixed assortment of surplus goods varying in origin (German, Austrian, British, American, Russian) and caliber. It was under this arrangement that the Polish Army fought its victorious campaign against Ukraine in the Polish-Ukrainian War of 1918-1919. The follow-up Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921 netted a Polish tactical victory and little else. During the war years, the Polish Army had peaked at 737,000-strong and made due with whatever was on hand.
In the 1930s, a move to standardize Polish arms was reinforced by a 1935 trial to select the primary sidearm of the Polish soldier. Engineers Piotr Wilniewczyz and Jan Skrzypinksi submitted a Browning design which centered around the tried-and-proven qualities of the Fabrique-Nationale "High-Power" (HP), a semi-automatic pistol started by fabled American gunsmith John Browning himself prior to his death in 1926. The Polish engineers introduced a slide catch that controlled the hammer and allowed the operator to carry the loaded handgun in relative safety. The catch was used to slowly release the hammer with a cartridge residing in the chamber, requiring a manual re-cocking action (managing the hammer with the thumb) to make the pistol "ready-to-fire" once more (a grip safety remained the primary safety facility) - this addition made the wz.35 one of the first pistols to utilize a "decocking" lever. During the action, the barrel was initially locked to the slide and then separated by a cam in the frame prior to the stripping of a fresh cartridge from the awaiting magazine. Polish authorities selected this in-house design as the standard Polish Army handgun in 1935 under the designation of "Pistolet wz.35" ("wz" standing for "model" and "35" for the year of adoption - 1935). It is notable that the move to semi-automatic pistols from revolver types was something of a world-wide event for many national armies.
With help from Fabrique-Nationale, lines were set up at the Fabryka Broni w Radomiu facility for local serial production, this helping the Poles begin to achieve arms independence at a crucial time in European history. Due to its manufacture location, the pistol came to be recognized as the "Pistolet Radom wz.35".However, the handgun was more appropriately recognized as the "Pistolet WiS wz.35" - "WiS" recognizing its two designers by initials. The "WiS" designation eventually evolved to become the "Vis" designation, Vis translating to "force" in Latin.
The Browning influence on the wz.35 could clearly be seen with its large slab-sided slide fitted over a short cylindrical barrel, integrated trigger group and pistol grip magazine. The hammer protruded from the rear of the frame and was "kicked back" when the slide recoiled rearwards during firing. During this action, the spring loaded magazine forced a fresh cartridge into the chamber while any expended cartridge case was jettisoned from the port at the top of the weapon. The action was termed "recoil-operated" and further utilized a closed-bolt arrangement. The trigger unit was a solid, curved assembly held within a thin, oblong trigger guard. The wide pistol grip gave a good firm hand-hold and was straddled along either side by wooden grips (checkered or smooth) screwed into the frame at two points. The slide featured a small section of ribbing to be used as a grip when cocking the weapon y the slide. The magazine release was a simple button along the left side of the grip. The slide release was also set to the left side of the body, just above the trigger group. A slide lock above the pistol grip assisted in stripping the weapon. The wz.35 was chambered for the widely-accepted 9x19mm Parabellum pistol cartridge of German origin and fed from an angled 8-round detachable box magazine inserted through the base of the grip. When compared to its contemporaries, the wz.35 was dimensionally larger and heavier than competing 9mm semi-automatic handguns but it would be these qualities that would make for an excellent pistol solution.
In practice, the wz.1935 proved a reliable, relatively comfortable and accurate semi-automatic offering thanks to its sound combination of power and weight. Break down and cleaning of the weapon was conventional and rather non-eventful, removal of the slide exposing much of the internal working components. As in other weapons seeing adoption prior to World War 2, construction materials used in the manufacture of wz.35 pistols series was considered top-notch which aided in reliability especially under battlefield abuses (dirt, debris, consistent use). Accuracy was helped by the fact that the loaded handgun weighed in at 1.123 kilograms and this transferred some of the violent recoil effects away from the operator. At the time of its inception, the wz.35 was largely regarded as the finest semi-automatic pistol anywhere in the world - quite a charge considering there still existed many Browning-inspired handguns and other quality offerings such as those from Beretta.
Production of wz.35 pistols ramped up in the years following with its formal introduction into service coming in 1938. Some 49,000 were in circulation by the fall of 1939 when, in September, the Germans and Soviets invaded Poland to officially begin World War 2. At this time, the wz.35 pistols in circulation were largely in cavalry hands, infantry resorting to whatever else was available. The Polish Army, now in defense of their homeland, could do little to stem the tide along two unforgiving fronts and the fighting ended with a complete Polish defeat on October 6th, leaving the country divided as two halves among the victorious powers.
In the western portion of the country, Fabryka Broni w Radomui fell under German control. In an effort to outfit their growing army, German authorities ordered continued production of the Polish wz.35 as the "9mm Pistole 645(p)" (the "p" signifying its Polish origins) and streamlined the production process through simplification of the base design (the hammer release catch and slide lock were dropped and rough finishes using lower-quality materials were the norm). These weapons were inspected by German officials and marked as "P Mod 35(p)" along their slide, replacing any Polish national markings in the process. To avoid funneling of the weapon to Polish resistance forces, the Germans took the extra step of relocating wz.35 barrel supplies and final assembly to Austria before ultimately moving all production to Steyr by the end of 1944. Despite its Polish origins, it would be with German forces that the wz.35 series would see most of its combat service. Numbers were assigned to German paratrooper elements as well as the enforcement wing of the Nazi Party - the Waffen-SS. German wz.35 pistols were, of course, of second-rate quality when compared to the Polish originals. Polish workers did manage to funnel numbers of wz.35 pistol frames to their underground and the barrels were fabricated in secret shops when possible. In all, production spanned five major batches of pistol (including the prewar models) and numbers ultimately topped 360,000 examples by the end.
Poland was eventually "liberated" by the Red Army in 1945 and the Soviets quickly moved in to assert their influence on all levels. With this new reality, production of the wz.35 series pistol was abandoned as attention turned to local production of the crude though effective Soviet Tokarev "TT-33" semi-automatic pistol chambered for the rifle-caliber 7.62mm round. It would not be until 1992 that the wz.35 would see a rebirth for it was offered on a limited basis by Lucznik Arms Factory (of Radom) as a commercial collector's piece built to the original 1937 finalized specifications. As can be expected these exhibited excellent finishes and represented their prewar counterparts rather finely.