Since the days of the Sixteenth Century caracole, the pistol has been the traditional sidearm of the mounted soldier, and pistols designed as such are frequently easy to tell from their "badge-of-rank" kin. As far back as the days of the percussion revolver, the Colt Navy had a .36" bore, while the Colt Army, a cavalryman's weapon and expected to be able to kill a horse, was a .44. Cavalry pistols tended to be large, accurate, and often slotted to accept a shoulder stock, so as to allow them to double as a pseudo-carbine.
Poland's cavalry had long been emulated in Europe, and as the newly-reconstituted nation built up an army after WWI, they searched for a domestically produced sidearm to equip their cavalry troopers. In 1935 a design by Wilniewczyc and Skrzypinski was settled on and, dubbed the ViS wz.35, was adopted by the Army that year. It was made at the Radom plant with the assistance of Fabrique Nationale engineers working under contract, and offered an interesting blend of familiar Colt/Browning features with some new touches.
LEFT: Radom disassembled, showing its Browning heritage.
Photo by Oleg Volk
Photo by Oleg Volk
The trigger was a sliding affair, similar to that used on many Browning designs, and the grip safety would be familiar to any user of Colt pistols. The barrel, while operating on the familiar Browning tilting-barrel short recoil system, used a cammed lug under the breech end to effect unlocking, rather than the more usual swinging link; this feature was shared with the FN GP35 "High Power" pistol that was making its debut the same year, and seems to point to a certain amount of Fabrique Nationale influence. The gun was chambered in the by-now-ubiquitous 9x19mm Parabellum, and was fed from an eight-round single column magazine. It had a butt slotted to accept a shoulder stock, and was provided with a decocker so that the trooper could more safely return it to his holster with one hand than if he was trying to control the fall of the hammer with his thumb while astride a possibly skittish mount.
RIGHT: "S"-rune on barrel lug, indicating contract manufacture for Waffen SS, most likely by inmates at Mauthausen.
Photo by Oleg Volk.
After Poland was overrun by the German and Soviet invasion of 1939, the Radom plant fell in the German -occupied half of the country and the Poles were soon forced to churn out arms for their conquerors, who called it the Pistole 645(p). The wz.35 was a common issue weapon to the Waffen SS, and as that force grew, the pistol was simplified in manufacture so as to keep up with demand. Polished bluing was replaced by a brushed finish that got rougher as the war went on; the slot for the shoulder stock disappeared; finally the frame-mounted takedown catch was deleted. Late-war guns produced by Steyr using slave labor are wretched indeed, with extremely coarse finishes and crude wooden slabs for grips.
In 1945 the Radom plant was destroyed by the invading Russians; it was a sad ending for the last horse pistol. As a footnote, though, a limited run of replica (reissue?) Radoms were produced by a revived Radom in 1997; excellent examples can command price tags of almost four figures; good originals seem to be bringing anywhere from $450 for a sad-looking wartime piece to over $2,000 for a nice pre-war "Polish Eagle" (well over $2k if that Polish Eagle has German Waffenamt proofs.) The pistols are a joy to shoot and spare parts, while difficult to find, are not impossibly so. They make a worthy addition to any collection.