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|The Evolution of Die Leuchtpistole|
Development during the production period
Walther's flare gun construction had several clear improvements over the Leuchtpistole M/1894, but it was by no means "a perfect product". Although the balance and mechanism were improved and refined, it was still relatively heavy and unwieldy. In the mid-1930s this resulted in a “mid-life update” to the construction; the first modifications of the flare gun construction since it was completed in 1926. These included a shorter barrel length, a larger trigger guard (which also leads to a new locking lever and trigger), and a large weight reduction by manufacturing the barrel and the frame out of Duralumin.
Unfortunately, there are no reliable sources that can date the introductions of these changes to the production, but some help can be found in contemporary publications, and the fact that Walther began dating his flare guns in 1935. Also adding to the confusion is the fact that the Walther Company also manufactured large quantities of its flare guns for export, for the commercial market and to various state and paramilitary organizations in Germany. Many of these flare guns where used by the Wehrmacht later in the war, as the need arouse. In addition, two additional manufacturers started making these flare guns, but they only manufactured on a military license with the entire production going to the Wehrmacht or police. It is relatively easy to separate the initial military production from the commercial product by the marking on the flare guns. See the article Markings, makers and names of Die Leuchtpistole for more info on this subject.
In order to get the best possible picture of the changes to the construction, we must look at each change individually.
The visually most important change is the transition to a short barrel. The barrel length was originally 230mm, but it was reduced to 155mm, a saving of 75mm.
This reduction occurs while the gun is still manufactured in steel, as there are no known Walther flare guns in Duralumin with a long barrel. The original barrel length was "inherited" from Leuchtpistole M/1894, and was apparently "required" to deliver the ammunition in use at the moment with the desired accuracy. Whether or not the precision requirements were downgraded or if the ammunition was improved with higher precision is not known, but in 1935 Walther ceased to manufacture the long barrel flare gun for the Wehrmacht. The production of the short barrel flare gun, and possibly the long barrel version, continues for the commercial market until at least the end of 1937. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to find any documentation concerning the change in barrel length.
In D409, "Die Leucht-, Signal- und Schallmittel" (February 1935), only Walther's long-barrel flare gun is referred to, while the first short-barrel specimen in Duralumin on a military contract is dated the same year.
An interesting publication in this context is Denckler-Verlag's handbook; "Die Leuchtpistole und ihr Gebrauch". Unfortunately, the handbook is not dated, but some indications to its age exist. The personnel in the drawings use Reichswehr uniforms, but do not have breast eagles. This was introduced in 1934, so roughly simplified; the publication is probably from 1934 or 1935. The flare gun described is solely the long-barrel version in steel. According to the manual, this is the current flare gun, but it also refers to a new version of the flare gun which is shorter and lighter. And based on the stated weight, it refers to the Duralumin edition. If you want to rely on this publication, it provides two interesting pieces of information. First, there is no "transition window". Deliveries to the Wehrmacht go straight from flare gun in steel with long barrel to flare gun in Duralumin with short barrel. Second, it may seem that the shortening of the long barrels did not start until after 1935.
Scratch marks from the saw are still
visible on the barrel.
Scratch marks from the saw are still visible on the barrel.
The flare guns manufactured up until the change in barrel length occurs where shortened at a later date, probably by the Reichswehr's own gunsmiths. This was simply done by sawing off the barrel at the same length as the new barrels; 155mm. Whether or not a short barrel flare gun is shortened or was manufactured that way is usually easy to detect by inspecting the muzzle, as this generally has a rough appearance from the saw cut.
flare guns with a long barrel are relatively rare today,
of them were modified before or during WW2. Whether this happened as a
of centrally issued orders or as a result of local initiative is not
today. The shorter barrel made the flare gun 70 grams lighter, while at
same time the flare gun became easier to handle.
The biggest change to the construction of the flare gun during the entire time of production occurs when Waffenfabrik Walther starts producing the barrel and frame out of aluminum. The alloy chosen is called Duralumin, developed by the German metallurgist Alfred Wilm in 1909 and named after his employer; Dürener Metallwerke A.G.
Duralumin consists of 95% aluminum, 4% copper and 1% manganese. Due to its hardness combined with a low weight, this material was widely used in the aviation and airship industry in the 1920s and 30s.
The above add shows the interior of an airplane body, built with Duralumin.
A Leuchtpistole manufactured in Duralumin at Waffenfabrik Walther in 1937. The color has changed from black to a even bottle green.
The transition from steel to Duralumin in the two main components of the flare gun resulted in a further weight reduction of 600 grams, which, along with the gain from the shortened barrel, gave an approximate halving of the weight from the original flare gun. It is also assumed that the cost of production went down, as Duralumin is far easier to machine compared to steel, while material costs increased.
Page from the 1937 GECO catalogue
(Picture courtesy of Vidar Andresen).
Click to enlarge
In the GECO sales catalog from 1937 one can order a Walther Leuchtpistol in steel with a short barrel for Reichsmark 70, - (weight 1425g) or, at an additional cost of Reichsmark 3.50, you can get it in Duralumin-Ausführung (weight 720g). This indicates that the Duralumin edition was more expensive to manufacture than the steel edition, but it may be that the price differentiation was used to turn the buyers away from the Duralumin edition that was manufactured for the Wehrmacht.
In addition, it is worth noting that commercial prices are 2-3 times higher than the Wehrmacht replacement prices, as listed in their parts list.
The construction of the barrel remained completely unchanged after the switch in materials from steel to Duralumin.
The frame remained unchanged externally, but somewhat less material was removed inside the grip to maintain stability.
The earliest pistols in Duralumin are dated 1935, and they are otherwise marked as standard deliveries to the Wehrmacht. Production that did not go to the Wehrmacht continued to be made in steel at least until the end of 1937.
The Duralumin parts were not blued like the other steel parts on the gun. In order to obtain a durable protective layer on the parts made of Duralumin they were anodized. Anodizing is an electrochemical treatment that enhances the natural oxide layer in an oxidizing bath. Thus, the barrel and frame become more resistant to corrosion and mechanical wear. In order to coat the Duralumin with a color, pigments had to be added during the process.
The durability of the anodizing seems to be very variable on the specimens that have survived the more than 75 years since production ceased. Some flare guns look as though they were manufactured yesterday, while others may have faded down to aluminum color. Mechanical impact will clearly affect this, since wear around the muzzle from the holster is very common on these flare guns. Sunlight seems to affect the discoloration of some guns, but far from all. Discolored flare guns are found both with grip frames that are markedly darker where the grip plates cover the Duralumin, while on other guns the frame is evenly discolored all over despite the grip plates having protected the grip frame from sunlight.
ERMA-ERFURT 1937. An odd version in several shades.
The variations in the surface treatment are believed to be due to alterations in the manufacturing conditions, such as the quality of Duralumin, heat in the anodizing bath, variation in exposure time, pigments, etc. All flare guns leaving the factories were initially black. The degradation of pigments / discoloration means that the color of Duralumin can vary from black to bottle green or mustard brown to aluminum white.
There is no "quick fix" to re-anodize the parts once the discoloration sets in.
The last change that occurs simultaneously with the shortening of the barrel and the transition to Duralumin in the main components was a redesigning of the trigger guard, the locking lever and the trigger. The trigger guard that was in production from 1926 until 1935 was now enlarged, and the trigger and locking lever was reshaped to fit the new contour of the trigger guard.
The reason for the redesign is not known, but it is believed to be due to feedback from users, which may not have been satisfied with the size of the original, as this was quite small.
A theory that this would enable the use of the flare gun in winter with mittens has been fielded, but doesn't seem to be very credible, and has not been supported by written evidence. In comparison, there were no extra-large trigger guards on any of the infantry weapons constructed after 1935, although this would have been more critical compared to a flare gun. The weapon designers chose detachable winter triggers instead. The reason for the enlargement of the trigger guard was probably due to something as simple as the fact that the original trigger guard was annoyingly small and had an improvement potential!
New and old model of the locking lever, trigger and trigger guard. Old model on top.
An interesting fact is that this conversion only consists of a re-design of the three mentioned parts. The frame remains unchanged. This allows older flare guns in steel to be upgraded with a large trigger guard (as long as all the three mentioned parts are changed). It is also possible to move parts from an older flare gun in steel over to a newer one in aluminum to create a fantasy model with a small trigger guard. The new, larger trigger guard was only a case of improving parts, and not a "new model" as such.
These three major improvements all occur in 1935. This new "edition" of Walther's flare gun is designated “LP34” (short for Leuchtpistole 34) by collectors, but it has not been possible to determine the origins for this name. It is neither an official designation nor a term that's supported by reality. The Wehrmacht didn’t categorize Walther’s Leuchtpistole in different versions.
Technical data after shortening the barrel:
Length 250 mm
Height with lanyard ring 179 mm
Thickness 36 mm
Weight in steel 1340 grams
Weight in Duralumin 730 grams
What caused the changes to the construction in 1935? The flare gun probably underwent some kind of user evaluation, where the weight and manageability came out as “poorly”. The unnecessarily small trigger guard has probably also been the subject of criticism.
It is unclear today if it was Waffenfabrik Walther, who owned the patents, or the Wehrmacht as the buyer / major user that was responsible for the development. But in an article printed in
"Der Waffenschmied. Mitteilungsblatt des Heereswaffenamtes"
from September 1942 the conclusion is that the flare gun in its "new" design is the result of a development by a Waffenprüfamt under the Heereswaffenamt.
The article translated into English reads as follows:
The English verdict over the German flare gun
The English have analyzed a German flare gun that somehow fell into their possession. The new design ideas and the extensive use of alloy metals, with only the locking parts made of steel, have been extremely interesting. The German flare gun was thoroughly examined. The secret detailed survey report was sent to the French Ministry of Aviation, where it was found after the conquest of Paris.
The result of the English study is summarized as follows: the flare gun represents perfection within its particular field; it is a progress, both in design ideas and in the finished product.
The flare gun has proven its worth in the German Wehrmacht, both in the Heer and in the Luftwaffe, and it has gained great popularity because of its light weight. So the English judgment is not surprising; but it is always nice when a Wa Prüf development is fully recognized by the enemy.
Flare guns in Duralumin dated 1935 are extremely rare, so it is believed that these belong to a trial run, with full production first commencing in 1936. At the same time, a continuous change or improvement of parts continues until production stops in 1943. It is worth noting that none of these simplifications or improvements changes the construction. Thus, cannibalization and repairs can "blur" the image of what is "right". One can find several examples of late guns with early hammers, wrong grip plates and so on, because they are repaired with what was available when the need arose.
In 1936, the material in the grip plates changed from wood to Bakelite, while the shape and appearance of these grip plates remained unchanged. After this change, the flare gun remains in production without further changes until 1941. In 1937 production also started at Erfurter Maschinenfabrik Berthold Geipel GmbH, Erfurt (ERMA-ERFURT), and later in the year also at Berlin-Lübecker Maschinenfabrik, Bernhard Berghaus, Lübeck. This was due either to the fact that the production requirements exceeded the capacity of Waffenfabrik Walther, or the fact that the Wehrmacht wanted to avoid that all the eggs remained in one basket. The two new makers manufactured a completely identical flare gun, where the only things that separate them are the pigments used during the anodizing and the marking of the parts. Production continues in parallel by all three manufacturers with identical flare guns until 1941.
After two years of war and increasing demands for production efficiency, the flare gun is "renewed" at Waffenfabrik Walther in 1941.
Design and functionality are only changed in two aspects.
A chamber indicator is mounted on the rear of the left side of the breech face. This consists of a spring-loaded pin which is pressed backwards and out of the frame on the back if there is a cartridge in the barrel, which makes it possible to see and feel whether the flare gun is loaded.
In addition, the aforementioned change in the construction of the lanyard ring is introduced. The old version with a threaded stud is replaced with a spring-tensioned stud. In addition to improved functionality, manufacturing time is reduced by omitting two threading operations, while at the same time changing the design of the head that holds the lanyard ring. The new model is much simpler and less laborious to manufacture.
The new lanyard ring can be rotated infinitely without stopping.
Chamber indicator and the first and second model of the lanyard ring.
Furthermore, four parts on the gun are simplified to save raw materials, work operations and machining time.
The labor-intensive U-shaped locking lever was previously milled out of one piece. This is now stamped and folded.
The hammer spring rod with guide is simplified by exchanging the previously machined parts with stamped and folded parts.
The biggest and most visible simplification was the hammer. What was a selling point in the pre-war period was removed. The wide surface on the hammer provided a secure grip while cocking, but also required a lot of fabrication time, since the hammer (without the firing pin) was machined from one piece of steel. Instead, the hammer is now cut out of a steel plate in one simple operation. The profile of the gripping surface is left unchanged, but the width is reduced from 15 to 6mm.
The locking lever spring, which previously consisted of three parts, is simplified. The new spring is larger, and the two sleeves are replaced by a plunger with a small stud at the top.
Old and new models of parts that were simplified for mass production at the Walther factory.
One last change in the year 1941 is the discontinuation of the serrations cut in the front of the ejector cam. It is unclear why these serrations were initially placed there, apart from a possible role as an indicator during assembly, so they were probably not missed…
Narrow hammer, simplified locking lever spring, improved lanyard ring and chamber indicator are also introduced on the production lines at the ERMA-ERFURT in the following year (1942) and later also at Berlin-Lübecker Maschinenfabrik.
The simplified hammer spring rod with guide and the stamped locking lever are only manufactured at Waffenfabrik Walther and used on their own flare guns.
This manufacturer also simplifies yet another part in 1942. The milled guide on the top of the trigger guard that holds the hammer pin in place is replaced with a stamped part. This part is also unique for flare guns manufactured at Waffenfabrik Walther.
The new, stamped guide on the left, with the old, machined guide on the right.
At the same time, they now change to rolled pins to hold the extractor and hammer pin guide in place. These require less steel as they are hollow, and they lock themselves in place due to the built-in tension.
The next change comes about in 1943. All manufacturers switch to a new type of grip which is of a simpler design, as they lack the locking lip at the top of the inside and have a more narrow shape. These are easily recognizable by a smooth ring in the pattern around the screw. The more narrow shape also means that the screw of the grip plates is shortened.
A final "special edition" of the standard flare gun is manufactured by ERMA-ERFURT late in 1943. This has red-brown grip plates and the serial number of the barrel is moved up to the lower field of the octagonal piece, for flare guns manufactured in the "m" and "n" blocks. Approximately 4,000 copies of these flare guns come with a special hammer that has a hole drilled sideways. The reason for this is unclear, as the weight saving can hardly justify the extra work. The last 2000 flare guns manufactured by ERMA-ERFURT use a standard hammer without the hole.
Narrow grip plates in light brown Bakelite, relocated serial number and the hammer with a hole.
And that was that for the "standard edition" in Duralumin. After 3 years of war, access to raw materials is getting worse, and this affects the use of Duralumin, which is given priority to the aviation industry.
In "Überblick über den Rüstungsstand beim Heer" dated July 1, 1942, the following are listed:
The "stamped construction" referred to here is the new flare gun designed to be manufactured from welded stampings in steel (Leuchtpistole 42) which first takes over in production in the second half of 1943. To cover the gap in production that arises from the lack of Duralumin up to "a fully developed heir made from sheet steel”, production of the flare gun continues in 1942 and 1943 in the alternative materials steel and zinc (Zink in German).
The zinc edition was a "crisis solution", as the material did not have the same qualities as Duralumin. The weight again increases to approximately the same as the steel version. In addition, zinc is much more susceptible to corrosion and cracking.
Although they are not on the list of development companies listed above, Berlin-Lübecker Maschinenfabrik is the first manufacturer to start production of frames and barrels in zinc in 1942.
These are manufactured in parallel with the standard series in Duralumin. The following year, all three manufacturers manufacture flare guns in zinc. The parts otherwise remain unchanged and follow the same pattern as the Duralumin edition with simplification of parts and the new handgrips.
ac 43, Zinc
Technical data for the zinc edition:
Length 250 mm
Height with lanyard ring 179 mm
Thickness 36 mm
Weight 1250 grams
Sufficient deliveries of raw materials first becomes a problem at Waffenfabrik Walther, where they return to manufacture steel frames and barrels in 1943 when Duralumin is no longer available, somewhere between serial numbers 422a and 2266a. In addition, they also manufacture frames and barrels in zinc from 1943.
Waffenfabrik Walther first manufactures flare guns for the Wehrmacht in 1943 in Duralumin, then steel and finally in zinc!
The four different types of grip plates. Number 3 and 4 have a more narrow profile.
The last change to the flare gun comes mid to late in 1943 when the grip plates on the steel edition are again manufactured in wood. This was probably a result of raw material for Bakelite production being scarce. The new version made of wood is simplified, with horizontal stripes unlike the early edition with checkering. These grip plates also occur on some of the zinc version flare guns from 1943, so the access to Bakelite must have been on and off that year.
It is difficult to determine when the production of Walther's Leuchtpistole finally ended, as the last part of the production did not go to Wehrmacht, and thus was not marked by year, but we are at the end of 1943, possibly the beginning of 1944. The military deliveries definitely stopped in 1943, when the production of the Leuchtpistole 42 took over.
Despite all the improvements and simplifications in production, as well as the fact that three different manufacturers manufactured the gun, the interchangeability of parts remained complete, with some minor exceptions. If an old grip plate screw was used with the new grip plates it had to be shortened. If an old lanyard ring was used on a newer frame, the hole in the frame had to be threaded up.
And finally, if the small trigger guard was reused on a later frame, the locking lever and the trigger also had to be changed.
To cite the sales prospectus that Waffenfabrik Walther distributed for the commercial market in connection with the sales of its original construction;
"All parts are manufactured with the utmost accuracy, making the replacement of parts very easy".
This also appears to apply to the production by the other two manufacturers. The original construction, however, had a "weakness" that was corrected along the way.
Practical use showed that the build-up of powder residue and dirt inside the frame caused poor impact on the primer. To correct this a new firing pin was designed 2 mm longer. The new firing pins were marked with a "V." on the side for “Verlängert” (Extended).
The order was announced in the Heerestechnischen Verordnungsblatt on May 15, 1943 and was to be carried out locally by the units' Waffenmeister as the problem occurred.
Hammer with the improved longer firing pin marked "V.".
The main features of the production can be summarized as follows:
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