WE Browning “Hi-Power” Model 1935

My review of the WE TT-33 ended, “This pistol has made quite an impression on me …. and has definitely rekindled my interest in 6mm gas-blowback airsoft guns.” — and it had, so much so that a couple of days later I decided upon another of their range of classic pistols, the Browning M1935 or Browning High Power…

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Those words were written a couple of months ago, but as soon as I had “put pen to paper” (or rather “fingers to keyboard”!) things went wrong! On collecting my new GBB pistol, I knew something was awry in that the slide did not feel quite right and had a tendency to “jam” if pulled back manually without the magazine in place.

Being rather keen to get home and start the review – along with the fact that I didn’t wish to put my good friend and local airsoft shop owner, K.Don, to any trouble – I convinced myself this would be remedied with a little lubrication and use and so instead of requesting a replacement I took it home. The upshot is that I was unable to get the slide working properly and that, coupled with perhaps some “overzealous” racking and releasing of the slide, I managed to exacerbate the problem causing one of the smaller parts of the hammer assembly to break.

Disappointment reigned, but having tried K.Don’s display gun in the shop I was convinced I had just been unlucky, that this was still a good pistol and one I would like to have in my collection. Last week was the first chance I had had to again pay a visit to his shop. Being th e excellent chap that he is he insisted we swap pistols and that he would look into repairing/ replacing the hammer assembly at a later date.

I am a firm believer in the saying “every cloud has a silver lining” and there is an upside to this in that I am now able to comment on a “used” pistol which is at least a couple of years old, albeit with a new magazine. In the process of writing this review I have put over three hundred rounds through it on top of goodness knows how many in the past… and so far, so good!

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Real Steel Background

John Moses Browning designed his legendary “High Power” 9mm semi-automatic in 1925, a year before his death, but it wasn’t until ten years later following some refinements by his understudy, Dieudonne Saive (who later went on to design the FN FAL rifle), that it finally went into service with the Belgian Army as the Model 35 (also known as the Browning HP 35 or GP 35, “GP” standing for “Grande Puissance”).

The pistol was manufactured by Fabrique Nationale (FN) of Belgium and went on to become one of the most widely used pistols of the 20th Century with over one million being produced. A notable exception was the United States Army, but then they already had another of Browning’s famous designs… the 1911A1.

A point worthy of note is that whilst the operation of the Model 1935 is based on Browning’s famous “short recoil” design where the barrel and slide move backwards until the barrel drops away from the slide, it is achieved by means of a downward sloping slot under the barrel interfacing with a stud in the frame as opposed to the swinging link used in the venerable 1911.

British Commonwealth countries were quick to realise the value of this pistol. With the onset of World War 2 and the subsequent German occupation of Belgium, production was moved to John Inglis and Company in Toronto where two variants were produced.

One had a “tangent leaf” rear sight which could be fitted with (and stored in) a detachable shoulder stock whilst the other (more familiar version) came with fixed sights. These were identified as the “Browning FN HP No1 Mk1” and “No2 Mk1” respectively, the former being intended for domestic use and the Nationalist Chinese (some remarkable photographs of a rare Browning No1, made under contract for the Chinese, may be found at the Carolina Shooters Club – a link is given at the end of this review).

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Inglis Browning FN No1 Mk1* (courtesy of carolinashootersclub.com).

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Close-up of the left-hand side of the slide. The asterix represented minor modifications not deemed to warrant an increase in the designation mark.

Post-war, the 9mm FN Browning was adopted throughout NATO and it is only very recently that the British Army has decided to replace this iconic sidearm with the Glock 17 (Generation 4).

The term “High Power” (or “Hi-Power” as it is often written) refers to the (then revolutionary) high capacity of the magazine with 13 rounds of 9mm Luger (or 10 rounds of .40 calibre S&W) stored in a double stack magazine. With a muzzle velocity of around 335 m/s its effective range was approximately 50m. However, the adjustable rear sight was graduated at 50m intervals for distances of up to 500m.

The WE-Tech (WE) “Hi-Power” Browning (Model 1935)

wehi21 Packaging and Presentation 2 / 5

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Whilst the box is more than adequate for safe transportation, it is a little lacking in imagination… especially for such a classic gun! That said, it is made of robust cardboard with polystyrene cut-outs to hold the gun and magazine. The manual is also rather basic, although it does describe the main parts to the pistol, its basic operation and how to conduct a field-strip (although two salient points are missing which are described later on). A very useful exploded diagram is included, but the parts listing is only given in Chinese (fair enough, I suppose, as it’s made in Taiwan… but English would be handy as well!).

Visual Accuracy 8 / 10

This replica is similar to the Canadian (Inglis) made “Browning FN HP No1 Mk1” with adjustable rear sights and a slot in the rear of the grip intended for the attachment of a combined wooden stock/ holster.

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Browning FN HP No1 Mk1, fitted with a detachable stock, made by the Inglis Company for the Chinese Nationalist Army (courtesy of adamsguns.com).

The graduations on the rear sight are identical to those of the original and the pistol has an unserrated “ring” hammer in keeping with a High Power of this period.

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(NB. A “Capitan” version of the Browning Mk III, visually similar to the No1 Mk1, was reintroduced in 1993).

The only reason I haven’t given full marks is that no markings are included and I’m a sucker for the odd proof stamp or date somewhere on the gun (after all, lots of different models and variations have been produced). That said, it could well be that WE don’t wish to place any markings and are erring on the side of caution; similarly, it could be argued that no markings are better than the wrong ones… so there we are!

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Rare pre-war Belgian FN High Power made for the Estonian Home Guard (courtesy of icollector.com)

Apart from that, I’d say that visual accuracy is spot on! There are no seam lines and the plastic grip panels could easily be mistaken for real wood (although I still intend on purchasing some wooden ones for a reasonable sum; something I like to do for my more collectible replicas).

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If you’re feeling particularly pedantic, then on field-stripping the gun you may notice that the outer barrel and slide do not quite feature the same “barrel-locking” detail as the original. Also, the grooves on either side of the base of the magazine are not quite right – as seen in the photo – but in all fairness the position of one of the locking pins prevents these grooves from extending to the bottom.

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Field-stripped Inglis Browning FN No1 Mk1* (courtesy of carolinashootersclub.com). NB. the spring guide is shown upside down.

The finish on the WE model is very shiny and I prefer the slightly more “matt” colour of their TT-33. However, it is certainly very durable. In fact, when I asked K.Don for the exchange, he indicated some minor blemishes on the surface, but following a little polish with a cotton cloth (the one I use for all my guns, it having a slight impregnation of Ballistol) only one remains and that is barely noticeable unless you really search for it (in front of the ejection port on the right hand side of the frame).

A lanyard ring was sometimes attached, but none is given on this replica.

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Comparison with the WE TT-33

Functional Accuracy 13 / 15

Again, difficult to find fault. It is single-action only – as was the original – meaning the hammer needs to be cocked prior to being fired. Once cocked, it may then be locked in place by the thumb safety located on the left-hand side of the frame (described by the late Jeff Cooper as “Condition One”). The thumb safety mechanism is sound and works as it should.

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WE Browning “Hi-Power” at “Condition 1”. Note the “ring” hammer and thumb safety set “on”.

Unlike similar pistols, the Browning High Power also features a “magazine-disconnect” safety and this has been replicated here, i.e. the pistol cannot be fired, nor the hammer lowered, unless a magazine is in place. Generally considered to be a bad idea, it was initiated as part of the original design specifications provided by the French Army in 1935 (source: Wikipedia).

In fact, the hammer does not drop completely if slowly released with the magazine in place; it only comes fully to rest once the magazine is removed. At first, I thought this might be a potential source of damage to the firing pin, but as this “pin” is in fact a high tensile spring then I’m not unduly worried.

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To release the hammer without a magazine inserted (or with the slide removed), you need to depress the bottom of the metal plate surrounding the firing “pin” (spring).

Field stripping is quite straightforward and as far as I am aware identical to that of the cartridge firing pistol on which it is based. However, as previously mentioned, a couple of steps in the field-stripping procedure have been omitted from the manual.

The slide is first moved back untill it may be locked in position by raising the thumb safety into the notch just forward of the serrations on the slide. The slide stop is then raised in its cut-out so that it may be properly removed.

There is an indent on the right-hand side of the frame in order to facilitate the extraction of the stop (as there was on the original Model 1935). The thumb safety may then be lowered and the slide removed (carefully as the recoil spring is still under tension!).

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Apart from the slight difference in the shape of the outer barrel and the lack of one “locking lug” the internals are well replicated to those of the cartridge firing original. There is no recoil spring plug in a Browning Hi-Power; the outer and inner barrels are simply moved down and out of the slide once the spring and guide rod have been removed (care must be taken so that the inner barrel does not fall out of the outer as they are not joined together).

There is even a groove offset in the “hop-up chamber” (on the replica) identical to that of the original. This is to ensure the recoil spring guide isn’t put in upside down (comparison courtesy of alpharubicon.com).

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Shooting  25 / 40

I purchased this gun with the intention of using it more as a collector’s piece than for shooting. However, I was pleasantly surprised, especially as mine does not have a grub screw in place to adjust hop-up. In fact, I am not altogether sure adjustment is possible. However, the breech is fitted with a piece of circular rubber and this holds a loaded 6mm ball firmly in place.

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Gas is loaded by inverting the magazine and filling from a gas cannister via the valve in the base of the magazine. Up to twenty 6mm rounds may be loaded by holding the follower down and loading them from the top (the follower protrudes nicely and is easy to keep in place with your thumb). The magazine sits firmly inside the grip and the release button is under the right amount of tension.

Racking and releasing the slide has a satisfactory “ring” to it and the recoil spring is just strong enough for this kind of gun. Whilst not being particularly loud or feeling particularly powerful, muzzle velocity is not too shabby for a gas-operated blow-back pistol with a metal slide and I obtained velocities in the region of 86 +/- 3m/s using “Bombe” brand gas (HFC-22?) and 87 +/- 2m/s using “Puff Dino” brand “Green Gas” from Taiwan, in the shade at approx. 30°C (for some reason, the first shot is often slightly slower by approximately 5m/s and these were not included in the data sets).

Measurements were initially taken using both TK (white) and FireFly (black) 0.25g ammunition and I was achieving groups of about three inches at six yards using a free-standing, double-handed stance. At longer ranges, you can expect deliberately aimed shots to connect with an 8” target at 12m, about 90% at 15m and with balls flying straight and true towards a man-sized target approximately 20-25m away.

Switching to heavier 0.36g ammunition (FireFly, green) increased the muzzle energy with 77 +/- 1m/s being recorded over ten rounds using green gas. Similarly, 0.30g and 0.40g balls resulted in 83 m/s  and 75 m/s respectively, each over ten rounds at approx. 30°C. These values tend to be reasonably consistent throughout the duration of a charged magazine. Groupings also tightened by about half an inch.

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The bulls-eye targets were shot at the end of the session using .36g ammunition and “green gas”.

Depending on your shooting speed and weight of ammunition, at least 25 good shots should be had from a single three second charge of gas; if shooting quickly then some cooling-down of the magazine will be noticed. I have experienced neither a “double-feed” nor a jam, except when the piston return spring became unhooked.

There’s approximately a quarter of an inch of initial “first stage” to the trigger and some may describe it as being a little “spongy”, but the let off point is still reasonably easy to predict. As previously explained, the rear sights are adjustable in elevation but not for windage and the “dovetail” front post is triangular in shape (similar to, but smaller than, that found on the “Navy” Luger P08). The sight picture has the apex of the front post sitting about three inches below the centre of the target using 0.25g balls and pretty much at the intended point of impact with heavier ammunition.

The slide locks back when the last round is fired and may be released by either pressing down on the slide-stop or by further retracting and releasing the slide. There is no sign of wear to the cut-out in the slide where it connects with the slide stop.

Quality and Reliability 12 / 15

I feel it would be unfair to score this section based on my initial experience, especially as the gun I now have has, if anything, exceeded my expectations and is already over two years old.

It has a fair “heft” to it, especially with the magazine in place. Whilst being made of metal alloy, this alloy is quite substantial and certainly looks and feels as if it could withstand a few knocks. All parts of the gun fit together well, both in the slide and frame, giving an impression of quality and reliability… including the hammer assembly which reinforces my view that I was extremely unlucky with the first gun I bought.

The magazine is interesting in that it has a metal lip and like the gun feels solid and durable. Mine has so far been leak-free, holding its charge of gas for up to weeks at a time.

The field-stripped parts appear to be of good quality with a brass inner and (aluminium?) outer barrel. A screw at the front of the spring guide serves to keep a spring-loaded bearing ball in place which in turn prevents the slide-stop from coming out. I have found that this screw can work itself loose and have applied a drop of low-strength “thread lock” to mine (“A” in the photo below).

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“A” indicates the screw requiring a little low-strength thread-lock; “B” the missing adjustment screw and “C” the lack of one locking lug.

I’ve twice had to re-connect the piston return spring to its pin located on top of the piston. Thankfully, this is a simple operation! It is accessed under the rear sight and all that needs to be done is to remove the slide, raise the rear sight and hook the end of the spring  back over the pin using a watchmaker’s screwdriver or needle (as shown in the photo). I would like to point out that this spring has not become unhooked again (I more than likely did not place it securely over the pin the first time it came off).

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Overall Impression 13 / 15

Having now had the chance to properly inspect and handle the Browning Hi-Power (Model 1935) from Wei-Tech, I’m of the opinion that my initial troubles were an exception, not the rule.

However, it would be extremely helpful if WE was to make available – as fellow Taiwanese firm KJWorks has done – a procedure whereby spare parts may be sourced, at a reasonable price, directly from the parent company (it would also be useful if the parts listing was given in English as well as Chinese).

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To summarise, I am now extremely satisfied with this gun and am pleased to have what I hope will continue to be a reliable, fully functioning replica of the famous WW2 era 9mm FN Browning “High Power” to shoot occasionally and put on display. IMHO, it represents a highly collectible pistol which faithfully replicates the cartridge firing original in both operation and appearance.

I would also like to take this opportunity to echo the comments of others in that a few minor design changes would result in a “Browning FN HP No2 Mk1”… and I would like to have that one in black.

Total Score 73 / 100

Review by Adrian. Adrian is also a moderator for the Umarex Boys Club Forums.

Related pages

Classic Handguns: The Browning Hi Power

WE Tokarev TT-33

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