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German cross  The history of Die LeuchtpistoleGerman cross
A prelude...
Collecting firearms is getting harder and harder all over the world, but one field of interest is still without restrictions in most free countries of the Western hemisphere; flare guns and their accessories. The simple reason for this is that flare guns are still in use as survival equipment in civilian trades.
The number of models and varieties is almost unlimited, but in this article I will focus solely on the workhorse of the Wehrmacht; Fritz Walther's "Leuchtpistole" that was manufactured from 1926 until 1943. It was used within all branches of the Wehrmacht up until the end in 1945, and then continued its service life in several armies postwar. It is still in regular use in the Norwegian army today.
It was issued in a handful of varieties that all have the same basic construction and functionality, but differs in details, materials and markings. Collectors love these variations, as there is really no limit to how they can collect flare guns; from the main varieties to production year or serial number! 
The flare gun is a product with far more than strictly military value. In Germany they were manufactured during the prewar era for export, for the commercial market, for the police and several other paramilitary organizations. These flare guns do not stand out as any different from the military production, but they can be identified by the markings.
The scope of this study will be the flare guns manufactured for the Wehrmacht (Heer). Markings will be covered with focus on the standard military contracts and the differences between the different manufacturers. This should enable the reader to tell the military and commercial contract flare guns apart.
In an attempt to get things right I have once again gone back to the original written sources and studied as many surviving specimens as possible. And once again a lot of new knowledge has been gained...

The story begins

Cover art; «Die Leuchtpistole und ihr Gebrauch», Heinz Denckler Verlag, 1935

The use of purpose built handguns to fire light- and signaling pyrotechnics didn't really catch on until the Russian-Japanese war in 1904-05, and it became a standard "tool of the trade" during the Great War. In the early days the use of the flare gun was limited to shooting flares to illuminate the battlefield at nighttime. The guards in the trenches could fire a single flare to light up the terrain in front of him to see if imminent danger was present. The advantages of this was that the light was emitted on the spot the guard needed it, exactly when he needed it. The disadvantage was that the firer's position would be revealed, and that the light emitted would be short-lived, normally around 7 seconds. In adition to white flares being used to illuminate the battlefield, it was soon used as a tactical tool. A variety of different combinations of colored lights, number of stars, colored smoke, and sound was manufactured. The flare gun was also used as a practical tool to conduct land survey, to make weather forecasts and as distress-signals on land, water or in the air.
The standard flare gun used by the Central powers during the Great War is today called "Hebel" or "Model Hebel". This designation 
does not relate to any manufacturer, but is the German word for the lever in front of the trigger guard that was used to release the lock between the barrel and the frame. The official name of the flare gun was "Leuchtpistole Model 1894", and it was designed by the "Ingenieurkomitee des Heerespionier-Corps", as the use of flare guns was initially linked to trenches and fortifications that sorted under the engineering corps. Flare gun M/1894 was manufactured in large numbers by many manufacturers. Until now, 28 different makers have been identified in 4 countries.


Leuchtpistole M/1894

In an effort to reduce the ability of the Central Powers to wage war again, the Versailles Treaty of 28 June 1919 imposed restrictions on the size of the respective armies and the type of weapons they could be equipped with. The German army was restricted both in terms of the number of units, number of officers and men, as well as weapons. At the same time, large quantities of weapons were unaccounted for in Germany after World War I, and the authorities had initiated a mortgage scheme in which the citizens received a sum of money if they handed in military weapons. To prevent the soldiers from stealing weapons to get the prize-money, the Reichswehr's weapons were marked "1920". This also applied to the flare gun M/1894.
Weapons that were no longer allowed in the newly created "Vorläufige Reichswehr" and the later "Reichswehr" were to be destroyed or disposed of, and this also included all types of flare guns.

In the end this resulted in the need for a new flare gun. Losses had to be covered, and flare guns wrecked due to wear and tear had to be replaced, and in addition the increased needs due to reorganization and newly developed combat techniques had to be met. In addition, there was a growing commercial market for flare guns; within law enforcement, railroad services, civilian shipping and the ever-increasing civil aviation. The flare gun Model 1894 (Hebel) was a tried construction but had some flaws and weaknesses. It was poorly balanced, the parts were hand-fitted and it had a protruding hammer. Furthermore, the gun was constructed with forged leaf springs that were subjected to breakage and weakening, and it lacked a spring-loaded barrel release/opening. It was only the effect of gravity that made the barrel pivot around the front screw to allow access to the chamber. 


Fritz Walther's Leuchtpistole


All this led to a new flare gun being constructed by Fritz Walther at Waffenfabrik Walther, Zella-Mehlis in the period 1923-1926. The factory applied for a patent on the gun on December 26, 1926, and this was granted in 1930.

The old and the new

A comparison shot of the old Leuchtpistole Model 1894 and Walther’s new Leuchtpistole

When Fritz Walther's new invention is placed side-by-side with the flare gun M/1894, the relationship is pretty obvious. The special shape of the barrel, with the octagonal part at the rear end as reinforcement around the chamber, is a clear handover from the M/1894. The same goes for the lever arm, the "Hebel", which follows the contour of the trigger guard. It also retained the same barrel length as the M/1894, and the weight remained almost unchanged. It was 3 cm shorter, since the grip and trigger arrangement was moved forwards, something that improved the balance greatly. Unfortunately, no background information regarding the new construction has survived, apart from the original patents. Whether it was a commission from the Reichswehr, or whether Fritz Walther constructed this for commercial sale is not known today.
It was marketed and sold commercially as the "Walther-Leuchtpistole", at the same time as orders for the Reichswehr were being made. In the Reichswehr it was simply called "Leuchtpistole".
Dating the actual introduction of the Leuchtpistole to the Reichswehr has proven difficult. The first edition of the Leuchtpistole was not marked with a year of manufacture on the frame, and it can't be dated using the serial number, although this may give an indication. The earliest indicators I have found is a photograph of the marking on a standard military model holster dated 1928. The earliest regulations or manuals identified are the "D 884 Richtlinien für das Zerlegen und Zusammensetzen der Leuchtpistole" from 1929.
The construction was completed in 1926, and it was commissioned by the Reichsheer sometime during the period 1926 - 1928, although the patent was not granted until 1930. Collectors like to refer to this as Model 26, but this is no official model designation.
Walther's new flare gun was ingeniously designed, with several new features developed specifically for this construction. The entire gun is held together by pins that individually lock the different parts in position, while the individual parts hold the pins in place when put under pressure by the spring pressure from the trigger guard (for the trigger mechanism), and the locking lever spring which holds the barrel open (for the barrel parts). There is only one screw on the entire gun, and it is the screw that holds the grip plates together. In the patent application for the flare gun, it is stated that vibrations using other flare guns assembled with screws caused the screws to fall out during use, but that the use of locked pins on this model eliminates this problem.

Technical data:
Length 326 mm
Height with lanyard ring 179 mm
Thickness 36 mm
Weight 1410 grams


Picture from Waffentechnische Unterrichtsbuch, 1940

The flare gun has no manual safety, but it is equipped with several functions that will prevent the untimely pulling of the trigger. The locking lever rod makes it impossible to pull the trigger if the locking latch is not fully locking the barrel to the frame, or if the barrel is fully open. The hammer spring rod is designed to retract the firing pin into the frame after the impact on the cartridge primer, once the trigger has been pulled. The firing pin will, due to this, not be in physical contact with the cartridge primer during the opening and closing of the barrel. The trigger and hammer are designed in a way that will not allow the hammer to go forward again without the trigger being pulled. It is thus impossible to obtain an unintentional misfire by the flare gun falling onto the hammer or due to the hammer being forced forward without the trigger being pulled simultaneously. In addition to this, the hammer got a new design that made it follow the contours of the frame piece, and it no longer stood out like a sore thumb as it did on the M/1894.


Excerpt from Waffenfabrik Walther's sales brochure from the early 1930s

According to the sales prospect from the Walther factory, all parts have been manufactured with the highest accuracy, making replacement of parts very easy. This point is worth noting. Today we take this for granted, but in the 1920s the parts were manufactured with large tolerances. These were then hand-fitted to the individual gun. Thus, for example, a pair of grip plates did not necessarily fit on guns other than the one they were fitted to. This is also a selling point in the WUM catalog from 1932, Walther’s flare gun is presented as "machine manufactured", as opposed to flare gun M/1894 which was still in commercial sale. Only the frame and the barrel are numbered on Walther's flare gun, while the previous flare gun M/1894 has serial numbered parts all the way down to the screws.


The WUM catalog from 1932. Picture courtesy of Vidar Andresen

The flare gun was only manufactured in one caliber, the German "Kaliber 4", sometimes also described as "Cal. 4". This was equal to 26.65 mm. This caliber had been set as a minimum size for pyrotechnic ammunition by the Engineering Committee set up by the Prussian War Ministry as early as 25 January 1901. The chosen caliber provided sufficient opportunity for satisfactory burning time, with acceptable recoil for hand held firing. "Load-capacity" was eventually not good enough though; this was later solved by extending the length of the case for special purpose ammunition.

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