In 1974, J.P. Sauer & Sohn GmbH of Eckenforde, Germany, began partnering with SIG, the Swiss Industrial Company, to build impressive modern service pistols. (Readers in the USA should be aware that Sig Sauer, Inc. now forms a separate business entity from either the Swiss or German firms). J.P. Sauer, begun in 1751 in the eastern German city of Suhl, commenced handgun manufacture with outside designs, including the Reichsrevolver, in 1880, the unusual double-barreled Bar repeater from 1900 to 1914, and the Roth-Sauer long-recoil automatic pistol from 1905 to 1909.
Manufacturing others’ handguns made Sauer want to market their own. Heinz Zehner’s original design, patented May 20, 1912, entered production as the Sauer Model 1913, which chambered the .32 ACP (7.65mm Browning) cartridge—a world standard in smallish automatic pistols since FN introduced it in their Model 1900, John Browning’s first automatic pistol. The Model 1913 had a fixed 3-inch barrel, around which the recoil spring was placed, and a separate breechblock with the slide being a simple steel tube hollowed from the rear. This unique design avoided either the close tolerances in barrel-to-frame fit necessary in Browning pistols or the loose slide-to-frame fit Walther pistols require. It’s also very modern in concept, as only the breechblock required major machining, and the slide simply encloses the operating components.
A screwed-in end cap held the striker in place. On the first 4,800 pistols, the end cap included a shallow groove on top through which the shooter squinted at the front sight. Afterwards, Sauer added a larger separate rear sight, which also held the end cap in place, pushing down to allow the shooter to unscrew the end cap for disassembly. The detachable box magazine held seven cartridges, while two slots in each side of the magazine allowed the shooter to examine the contents.
Since the pistol lacked an external hammer, Sauer included two clever features alerting the shooter to the pistol’s state of readiness: the mechanism allowed the manual safety to be set on safe only with the striker cocked, and with the mechanism cocked the trigger protruded slightly, revealing the number 1 on its left side.
The Models 1913 (left) and 1930 (right) solidly established the J.P. Sauer company in automatic pistols, the P226 (top) being one of this company’s most respected later products in their current partnership with SIG. More modern competitors’ designs, such as Walther’s PP/PPK series of pistols (bottom), eventually drove the Model 1930 out of production.
The Model 1913 usually came in a high-polish blued finish with the barrel and breech left in the white, with grips of checkered hard rubber or newfangled Bakelite plastic, common today on the handles of pots and pans but then a marvel of Germany’s world-leading chemical industry. Regrettably, the rubber or Bakelite grips get brittle with age, and the locking tabs tend to loosen over time, particularly during shooting, so these parts often require replacement or repair.
The Model 1913 made an immediate impression on European police forces. During WWI, though the German army did not officially adopt it, officers privately purchased several thousand Model 1913s. At the war’s end in 1918, the factory halted Model 1913 production until 1922, when Sauer changed the triggerguard’s shape by making it flatter on the bottom, extending the end cap’s gripping serrations forward onto the slide’s rear portion, and altering the manual safety to lock the slide open, eliminating the latch in the triggerguard. Model 1913 serial numbers attained about 180,000. Many served in WWII as the German government continued to let selected personnel carry privately purchased handguns chosen from an approved list. A 1953 police handbook from communist East Germany still listed the Model 1913 for issue. Model 1913s abandoned by German units in Norway in 1945 saw extensive Norwegian police use for years after the war, these having the added marking “POLITI” followed by a serial number on the left slide.
The Model 1913 achieved the difficult goal of putting .32-caliber ammo in a .25-sized package like a modern Beretta, even though the .32 cartridge has twice the .25’s power. Models 1913 and 1930 found favor both for concealed carry and as a holstered sidearm for police officers and soldiers, and both pistols generated a large and loyal following for civilian self-defense, too. With the striker cocked and the pistol ready to fire, the Model 1913’s trigger protruded slightly, showing the number 1 on its left side.
The Model 1913’s excellent design, materials and workmanship, combined with exceptional accuracy and reliability, encouraged volume agency sales despite its high price. Its compactness and high power-to-weight ratio ensured a loyal civilian following, too.