Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Radom ViS wz.35: The last horse pistol.

While it's common to imagine that cavalry went the way of the Eohippus some time in the muddy Spring of 1915, it just isn't true. Most all of the major military powers retained cavalry formations into the WWII years. Russia and Japan both made extensive use of mounted troops, and the last United States Army cavalry charge was made in January 1942 in the Phillipines by three platoons of the 26th Cavalry.

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.

ABOVE: ViS wz.35 Radom, photo by Oleg Volk

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

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.


Anonymous said...

Estás enfermo

Hobie said...


These articles are good. I hope you continue writing.

I would like to see more depth such as personal experience you've had with the subject firearms.

Anonymous said...

Just for S***'s & Giggle's, I point oput that there are persistent rumors, none of which can be substantiated, of South Korean horse cavalry, possibly partisans, during the Korean War. And, of course, US Army Special Forces made good use of horses during the Afghn campaign, although so far as I know they never made an actual "charge"...

Anonymous said...

Would you please explain why a 36 cal. is not a cavalry pistol but a 9mm is?

Tam said...


The thinking at the time was that the high-velocity jacketed bullets used by the newfangled 9mm Parabellum rendered it vastly more potent than the unjacketed paper-patched projectiles used by earlier small-bore black powder rounds. This is why European militaries went from 10 and 11mm black powder handgun rounds to higher-velocity 7.62mm-9mm rounds in their handguns. Only the US and UK bucked the trend.

Anonymous said...

hi ser. i have the same gun gun i would like to sell model 35 sre. no t7017 with the mag no.the same the gun is in ex shape please email me at dshunting@yahoo,com
thank you Dan

jimthompson502002 said...

Good luck with that "F.N. assistance" line! Before I ran my last piece on the Radom, I did some research amongst Polish authorities, and they ALL agreed: F.N. was in Poland working on the B.A.R. project, and had NOTHING to do with the ViS 35, which is why they are not mentioned in any of the Polish literature. The "V" and the "S" credit the ACTUAL designers, Wilniewcyc (spelled with a "v" in Polish) and Skrzypinski, not the Belgian firm. Also: The German guns may command a price premium in some places, but the Polish pistols are far better made, and usually command an immense premium, whereas the Steyr pieces are often not even close to properly heat treated.

Jim Thompson

Tam said...

Mr. Thompson,

Did you read my piece before critiquing?

"The "V" and the "S" credit the ACTUAL designers, Wilniewcyc (spelled with a "v" in Polish) and Skrzypinski, not the Belgian firm."

Both of whom I credited in the second sentence of the third paragraph.

"Also: The German guns may command a price premium in some places, but the Polish pistols are far better made, and usually command an immense premium,"

I said that. I also noted that a Waffenamt-marked Polish Eagle will bring just about the highest premium of all, being a high quality prewar gun and yet having the Nazi-capture marks that collectors seem to pay the bucks for.

At the NAPCA show in Chattanooga last Fall there was a beautiful prewar with no capture marks. Nicest Radom I've ever seen by a long shot; good nitre bluing showing on all the pins. Pretty as a picture.

Anonymous said...

The Italians used Horse cavalry (the House of Savoy Cavalry) in Russia, and the German and Polish horse cavalry actually fought each other in 1939.

Anonymous said...

I have a Radom that is Nickel Plated with white grips. I have be researching the net for info and your article on the Vis35 is the best I have seen so far. I would like to post pictures of it to see if someone could add some info to my particular firearm.

Michael Zeleny said...

It is generally agreed that German WaA proofs detract from the value of a Polish Eagle ViS wz. 35 pistol.

Anonymous said...

Steven ask" if there is somewhere to get minor replacement parts for the desirable version of this wonderful hand gun?

Unknown said...

It is not that difficult to find replacement parts for the VIS, and there are often parts auctioned on Gun Broker (

Regarding the name of the pistol, VIS, it is only indirectly connected to the names of Wilniewczic and Skrzypinski (in Polish the former is spelled with "W", not "V"). Skrzypinski's suggestion for the name of the eventual wz. 35 was indeed WiS, i.e., W. and S. This name did not fly with the authorities, who instead chose the word Vis, meaning "power" in Latin. The proper capitalization is "VIS", as found on the right grip, although "Vis" is also used. Of course "VIS" is surely inspired by "WiS". Lastly, it is curious that VIS echoes the name of Browning's Hi-Power (I do believe that FN was not involved in the design of the VIS).



Anonymous said...

old blog (2006), just read it (2009), and it sticks! thx for the great info, commenting users included :)

Stig said...

In my opinion a most attractive and very robust looking pistol. Just an incredible piece of useable, well designed hardware right there. A very impressive pistol to my eye.