The story of the 9mm Parabellum or 9X19mm cartridge or 9mm Luger is a relatively straightforward tale.
At the turn of the (20th) century, all the major militaries of the world had ditched their single-shot, .45” bore black-powder cartridge service rifles in favor of .30” caliber “small bore” ones, and the early ballisticians of the day who were so enamored with the idea of great velocity also toyed with the idea of .30 caliber service pistols.
Thus, the Model 1892 Borchardt, the 1896 Broomhandle Mauser, and the Model 1900 Luger pistols all used a .30 caliber bore and approximately 85gr bullets moving between 1,200 and 1,300fps. The cartridges proved lacking in stopping power early on, with all due respect to Churchill’s report from the Soudan in 1898.
The German firm of Deutsches Waffen und Munitionsfabriken, Berlin (German arms and ammunition factory) developed and introduced the 9X19 cartridge or 9mm Parabellum in 1902. Little did they know that their progeny was to become the most widely used service pistol cartridge in the world, a century later.
In researching the round, I found quoted that the Latin phrase, “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” (If you want peace, prepare for war) was also DWM’s company motto.
The round was originally chambered in the famous Luger Pistol reviewed elsewhere on AmmoLand News, and became German issue in 1908.
The 9mm Parabellum has several features to recommend it.
First, the 9mm Parabellum has a slightly tapered cartridge case. This is said to better ensure reliable feeding compared to the straight-cased orthodoxy of then and now. The original bullets were a full-metal-jacked truncated conical shape of 124gr weight, loaded quite hot at over 1,200fps.
Later on, the round served in both world wars, and became something of a European standard as well. The other major arms-makers in Western Europe were the Belgians, and they were also quick to acknowledge the light-recoiling round and small size, and a number of staggered column magazine pistols were built, including the famous FN Hi-Power of 1935.
In the U.S., the cartridge stayed moribund until after WWII. Early postwar examinations of German small arms led the Army Ordnance department to recommend the development of a double / single action pistol similar philosophically to the Walther P38. What resulted was Smith & Wesson’s prototypes of the early 1960s that became their Model 39 pistol that Illinois State Police adopted in 1967.
Police agencies had used the .38 S&W Special cartridge in double-action revolvers for over 60 years at this point in time, and they hoped that the 9mm would offer them easier to control firepower to improve hit probability.
This, it accomplished, however the use of the diminutive hardball round, or the early generation jacketed hollow points proved to be poor stoppers. The round soldiered on, literally, becoming the most widely used pistol round in history, hamstrung by its poor results in combat.
To this day, most signatories to the Hague Convention 1899, Declaration IV, that forbids the use of expanding bullets by uniformed military forces of countries that are signatories to that treaty, are still enjoined from using what has finally transformed the round into an adequate stopper, namely computer designed and manufactured jacketed hollow point bullets. As the basic exterior ballistics of the current 9X19 NATO round have not significantly changed from the 1902 original, indeed, its round nosed shape is arguably WORSE than the original truncated-cone, bullet technology had to catch up with 1890s smokeless propellant and the increased progressive pressure curve promised.
Today, the round is probably second in US police service only to the .40 Smith & Wesson round, and the FBI, who was largely responsible for that round’s adoption by most of the LE community in the 1990s, has now gone back to the Parabellum.
The reasons are pretty simple. It kicks less. There does not appear to be much difference in the temporary stretch cavity wound it causes in a human torso. It is cheaper for anyone, from individual shooter, to agency, to military formations, to acquire and train with. Finally, more rounds can be held in a magazine that the same sized pistol can carry.
Modern top-quality American 9X19 rounds include the Barnes 115gr SCHP, Cor-Bon 115gr +P, Federal 124gr HST, PNW Arms 115gr SCHP, and the Speer Gold Dot 115gr or 124gr. All of these rounds will penetrate the FBI four-layer heavy clothing test in ballistic gel, expand to at least .55” and penetrate no less than thirteen inches.
In some ways, its evolution mirrors society, in that people “of the modern Age” do not have the same outdoors, shooting background of previous generations of American teens and young adults. These newer shooters are interested in adequate, inexpensive, and easily acquired. One cannot blame them, much. The concurrent interest in AR-15 style rifles is a striking parallel, to me.
Probably the movie industry has led people to drink from this well, too. How many times have we been exposed to the 9, in “pray and spray” style shootouts on film, from “Die Hard” on up?
While the 9mm Parabellum is not my favorite self-defense round, it has many good attributes that make it a decent choice as it is chambered in many compact and discrete carry pistols that most of the later generations of shooters also seem to prefer.
More good 9X19 caliber pistols are available now than any other caliber, and it spelled the death knell of the revolver for all but hunting and recreation.
9mm Parabellum Resources:
- 9mm Parabellum Videos : http://tiny.cc/6ec1cy
- 9mm Parabellum Ammo : http://goo.gl/aG2d4t
- Books about 9mm Ammo : http://tiny.cc/3jc1cy