I like replicas of historic firearms, and they don’t get much more historic than the P08, better known as the Luger. I have owned Luger replicas before: A Tanaka version (beautifully made and looked very good, but was made of plastic, was very light and was only an indifferent shooter) and a WE version (basically a metal copy of the Tanaka version, minus some of the markings and with the addition of some quality control issues that made it randomly shoot in full-auto mode) and I never really fancied the non-blowback Umarex version. So when I heard that KWC, the people behind the Tanfoglio Witness, were producing a blowback Luger, I was very keen to give one a try.
Incidentally, KWC make two versions of the Luger: one in 4.5mm and one in 6mm. Both are functionally and visually identical. The version reviewed here is the 6mm, but all comments should also apply to the 4.5mm version.
Real steel background
The first thing to mention is that what we’re looking at here isn’t formally called a Luger at all. It’s actually called the Pistole Parabellum 1908, or P08. It’s generally known as the Luger because it was designed and patented by German engineer Georg Luger in 1898. However, I’ll refer to it as the Luger in this article for the sake of simplicity. Manufacture began in 1900 with German firearms company DWM (Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken). The Luger was later manufactured under license in a number of other locations in Germany and even at one time by Vickers in the UK.
German Navy P08
The Luger was an early attempt to produce a self-loading pistol, a handgun which could be fired and reloaded more quickly than a revolver. Most later designs used some form of moving slide to extract the spent shell casing and load a new cartridge, but the Luger employed a unique toggle mechanism. Venting gases cause the barrel and toggle to move backward until hitting a cam, which hinges the toggle knee-joint, unlocking the breech and extracting the spent cartridge. A spring then forces the toggle closed, pushing the next round into place. It’s a neat technical solution which causes relatively little recoil, though it does have disadvantages. The toggle operates to very tight tolerances which made manufacturing costly and expensive and the mechanism is also prone to jamming if dirt, dust or debris are present.
Back in the early 20th Century when Luger production started, there were no CNC systems to ensure that all components were identical to a fraction of a millimetre. Producing the individual parts of a Luger relied on the eyesight and attention span of Claus von Steadyhand and his colleagues as they used manually controlled machine tools. So, individual parts could and did vary fractionally in size and finish. The factories where Lugers were produced got round this by employing skilled and very experienced inspectors, whose job it was to take batches of freshly machined Luger parts and try various combinations until they had assembled a pistol in which all the components worked flawlessly together. This meant that each Luger was a perfectly operating little engineering masterpiece, but manufacturing required lots of skilled labour. No surprise then that the German Army switched to the more conventional and easier to manufacture Walther P38 before the outbreak of World War Two.
The Luger wasn’t a completely new design, being partly based on the existing Borchardt C/93 self-loading pistol, though it was a neater and much more compact design than the earlier pistol. The Luger was available in 4″, 6″ and 8″ (Artillery) form. The artillery version featured adjustable sights, a wooden holster which doubled as a stock and an optional 50 round, drum magazine.
The Luger used a seven round, drop-out magazine in the grip, which was more steeply angled than most pistols (145° between the barrel and grip, compared to 120° on the Colt 1911, for example). The base of the magazine on most early Lugers is made of wood, something no replica has yet attempted to recreate. Early versions were chambered for a new cartridge, the 7.65mm Parabellum (also called the .30 Luger in the US) and the Luger was adapted by Swiss armed forces in 1900. Concerns that the Luger lacked stopping power led to the design of another new cartridge, the 9 x 19mm, which became known as the 9mm Luger and has been used in a whole range of handguns since. The Luger was updated in 1904 to take the 9mm cartridge, and at this time a safety on the right side of the frame was added. The Luger was adopted initially by the German Navy and then by the German Army in 1908 (at which time it gained the P08 designation). Thereafter, sales to German military forces accounted for the vast majority of Lugers produced.
Luftwaffe Unteroffizier (Sergeant) training with a Luger during World War Two.
There was some intermittent production of Lugers in Germany after World War Two (mainly to satisfy demand in the US) and Luger production didn’t officially end there until 1986.
The KWC P08
Kein Well Toy Industrial Co. Ltd. (KWC) is a Taiwanese manufacturer of 4.5mm and 6mm replica guns. The company was formed in 1978, but didn’t produce their first replica until 1984. In 2007 the company released their first blowback replica (the Taurus PT99). Since then, although they continue to offer a large range of spring powered pistols, KWC are generally best known for their production of all metal, heavyweight, blowback guns which replicate the look, feel and function of firearms. KWC act as original equipment manufacturer for several distributors and are the manufacturers of such well-known replicas as the Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness, Mini Uzi and Sig P226 X5 as well as several recent replicas from Umarex. Despite being heavy, visually and functionally accurate, metal replicas, KWC pistols are generally also fairly low cost.
Previously KWC have focussed on replicas of current weapons (with the exception of their 1911 range) but in 2013 they began to offer a larger range of all metal, blowback replicas based on historic firearms including the Tokarev TT-33, Makarov pistol, Mauser M712 and the P08 (and if anyone from KWC is reading this, I’d love to review that Makarov…). Almost all KWC blowback replicas are offered in both 4.5mm and 6mm format, though in terms of function and construction these are otherwise identical. The P08 is available as KMB-41DHN (4.5mm) and KCB-41DHN (6mm) models. The 6mm version is listed as providing 1.2 Joules of muzzle energy, so it’s actually too powerful to be classed as an airsoft weapon in the UK.
The KWC P08s are all metal, blowback replicas powered by CO2 which is retained in a full-size, drop-out magazine. The toggle mechanism, manual safety, magazine and release and the takedown procedure from the original are all faithfully replicated.
Packaging and presentation 3/5
The KWC P08 is supplied in a card box with polystyrene insert to fit the pistol, a single magazine, an allen key for tightening the CO2 and a small box of BBs. A short user manual is provided which is even less useful than the usual manual provided with Taiwanese replicas. My KWC P08 came almost without any lubrication at all, and one of the first things I did was to carefully lubricate everything.
My KWC P08 was supplied through a German supplier, Versandhaus Schneider, and I was initially confused because this replica was described on their site as a GSG product – German Sport Guns are a German manufacturer of .22lr replicas and a distributor for some replica pistols. I assume that GSG must be the distributor for the KWC P08 in Germany? My P08 also came with a sheet of additional instructions from GSG in the box, and laser engraved text on the left of the frame reading “GSG Cal. 6mm“.
Visual accuracy 7/10
In terms of the overall outline of the Luger, this very well done. The shape of the grip, receiver, toggle, ejector pin, barrel and sights are all very close to the original. However, I’m not so sure about the finish – most Lugers were blued, which gives a shiny finish, and even the Umarex Luger replica looks closer to the original finish than the semi-matt black used here. Black grips look wrong too (though some Lugers did come with black bakelite grips), and brown, wood-effect grips would have been much more appropriate. The button on the base of the magazine was often silver rather than black on the original and on early versions, the magazine base was made of wood.
And then there are the markings. On the right side of the frame is the KWC logo and serial number and on the left is the GSG logo and “Cal. 6mm BB“. Fortunately, although this text is in white, it’s fairly small and not too noticeable. Under the manual safety the text “Gesichert” (Secured) is engraved. The only other markings are the number 15 which is engraved on the cover plate, takedown lever and manual safety blade. That’s it. Which doesn’t even come close to replicating the markings on a real Luger. I don’t understand why, if you’re going to the time and trouble to replicate the Luger in such functional detail, it wouldn’t also be possible to add a few genuine looking markings? The first blowback airsoft Luger I’m aware of was the Tanaka version, which included a fair sprinkling of proof and inspection marks, though it did include the number 15 on the cover plate, takedown lever and manual safety blade. Then came the WE Luger, which appeared to be a straight copy of the Tanaka version, but dropped all markings except the 15 on the cover plate, takedown lever and manual safety blade. Internally, the KWC Luger does not seem to be a copy of the Tanaka or WE versions, but it does appear that the markings have been directly copied from the WE Luger. Which is a pity.
So, a fair attempt at a visual replica of a Luger, but not perfect.
Functional accuracy 14/15
Functionally, the KWC P08 is very good indeed. It has good weight (everything but the grips and CO2 transfer box is metal) and the toggle mechanism works as it should and locks back when the mag is empty (there is no equivalent of a slide release on the Luger – the only way to unlock the toggle is to re-rack it with a round in the magazine or with the magazine removed). The manual safety can only be engaged when the pistol is cocked (there is no cocking indicator on the Luger) and there is no decocker. The magazine is full size and the release and takedown work as they would on the original. Even the complex and convoluted trigger mechanism is accurately modelled here.
The only very minor thing that doesn’t work on the KWC P08 (and to be fair, this hasn’t yet been modelled on any replica) is the loaded chamber indicator – on the cartridge version the ejector pin on top of the toggle stands proud of the toggle and the word “Geladen” (Loaded) is visible when there is a round in the chamber. But that’s being very picky – this basically functions in precisely the same way as an original Luger.
Loading CO2 is simple and will be familiar to anyone who has used any other KWC replica – the metal plug in the base of the magazine is loosened using the supplied allen key, CO2 is inserted from the side, and the plug is tightened to pierce. The only issue I found is that the P08 magazine is relatively small, and it’s difficult to get a firm hold of it as you tighten the allen key, so there can be a small loss of gas. Up to 15, 6mm BBs (or up to 21, 4.5mm BBs, depending on which version you’re using) are loaded through the opening in the magazine. Though previous experience with KWC replicas suggests that they work best if you don’t completely fill the magazine to capacity. There is no way to lock the magazine follower, but the spring is fairly light so at least you shouldn’t be losing any fingernails here. It is necessary to locate the magazine firmly – on a couple of occasions early on, I inserted the magazine and pulled the trigger, only to have the mag fall out. You don’t want to slam it in there – just make sure it has locked properly before you try to shoot.
The angle of the grip looks odd, and is different to most other semi-auto pistols, but the Luger feels natural in the hand and points well. The grip is fairly small and narrow and should suit most hand sizes. The toggle must be racked to cock the pistol for the first shot and the manual safety can only be engaged when the pistol is cocked. When you’re ready to shoot, you’ll find yourself looking down a particularly nasty set of sights. There is a broad, V shaped cut-out in the upper rear part of the toggle and a tall, thin, tapering, post at the front. There are no white dots or any other sort of aiming aids and it’s difficult to be precise, but hey, these are authentic Luger sights.
Then you pull the trigger. The trigger on the real Luger has been variously described as “mushy“, “imprecise” and even “horrible“. This is mainly due to the complicated mechanism – remember the old kid’s game Mouse Trap? Where you pressed a button at one end of a complex mechanism which started a series of interesting movements which eventually resulted in plastic cage descending on a plastic mouse? Well, the Luger trigger works in much the same way – you pull the trigger and a series of levers and plates move and eventually fire the pistol. There’s a lot going on and it’s perfectly replicated on the KWC Luger. It isn’t terrible and it does have a short travel, but it isn’t as precise as you may be used to on replicas of more modern pistols.
When you do pull the trigger, the first surprise is that the toggle flips up and down, briefly obscuring your view of the target. It’s disconcerting at first, but you soon get used to it. The KWC Luger isn’t particularly loud, but it does have a reasonably satisfying crack. The felt recoil effect from the toggle is notably less than you’ll find on other blowback replicas, and especially if compared to other KWC pistols such as their 1911 range. The toggle locks back after the last shot is fired, completely obscuring your view of the target, so you’re in no doubt when it’s time to reload.
Ten shots, six yards, semi-rested, 0.2g BBs. Black area is approximately 1½” in diameter. And yes, I know the target is on its side, but that’s the way it was when I shot at it.
KWC claim 360fps for the 6mm version, and that feels about right. 295 fps is claimed for the 4.5mm version. And I have to say that mine shoots very well indeed. Even allowing for the difficult sights, I’m able to group most shots using 0.20g BBs to within 1″ or so – highly impressive for a BB shooting pistol and extremely consistent. I suspect that part of the reason for this accuracy and consistency is due to the inner barrel not moving during firing, unlike most blowback replicas which have floating barrels. One minor issue with mine is that it shoots about 2″ high at six yards. I’m guessing that 0.30g BBs might work better.
I do have to mention CO2 consumption and cool-down here. Even with a fresh CO2, shooting a string of ten shots fairly rapidly (a shot every two seconds, for example) leads to a notable drop in power – it’s actually possible to hear the tone of the report changing with each shot as the power drops. Cool-down is very noticeable if you shoot rapidly – it’s so marked that the grip actually becomes chilled. CO2 consumption is also higher than I expected – around 45 – 50 full-power shots at 70°C and after one bout of rapid-fire shooting, under 40 shots. That’s just three full magazines on this 6mm version. I have no idea why CO2 consumption is so heavy on this replica – without a heavy slide to move, I had expected CO2 usage to be lower on the P08, but that certainly isn’t the case on mine.
Overall, this is a satisfactory shooter. It’s powerful enough, fairly accurate and consistent. The sights aren’t great and the trigger isn’t the best, but these are just part of the Luger experience. The high CO2 consumption and the notable cooldown effect are a surprise, but these don’t stop me enjoying shooting this replica.
OK, so it shoots a little high. But doesn’t it have hop-up adjustment?
I don’t think so. Some people say it has, some say it hasn’t. The KWC manual doesn’t mention hop-up, but then all it really says is that if you pull the trigger, the gun will go bang and that shooting your cat or policemen is a bad idea. All good advice certainly, but I would have liked something a little more in-depth. The additional sheet provided by GSG specifically mentions hop-up, and talks about “turning the screw anti-clockwise to amplify hop-up effect“. At least I think it does – it’s in German and my technical German is less than perfect, but it certainly talks about “das hop-up system“. However, the only screw I can find is in the rear of the sliding part of the toggle mechanism. There is a small, brass screw there, but it doesn’t look as if it’s designed to be set in different positions. Turning it anti-clockwise simply unscrews it, which can’t be right. Looking down the inner barrel reveals an O ring near the mouth of the barrel, but no way to tension or adjust this. So, I’m going to go with no – despite what GSG suggest, the KWC Luger appears to have fixed hop-up with no adjustment possible.
Quality and reliability 11/15
The KWC P.08 feels like a fairly well made and finished replica. However, I’m concerned that my version is already showing some signs of internal wear and I have also owned several Tanfoglio Witnesses (which are also made by KWC) and they turned out to be of variable quality. Now. it’s possible that this wear is entirely normal – most wear happens when a replica is first used, so this may not be something to be worried about, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it.
Areas of wear on the toggle after around 400 shots (arrowed)
I have also noticed that the outer barrel on my KWC Luger is slightly loose, and can move vertically by around 1.5mm measured at the muzzle. This doesn’t seem to affect accuracy because the outer barrel doesn’t really move during blowback, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on. This seems to be similar to reports I have read of loose outer barrels on the KWC Mauser M712 replica, though it has less effect on accuracy on the Luger. The outer barrel on the Luger is retained in the receiver by two recessed set-screws, and I suppose it would be possible to pack out the rear end of the outer barrel until it fitted more precisely, though I haven’t tried this.
Other than these things and so far (and after about 400 shots), everything is working as it should. The KWC Luger shoots very well, doesn’t leak CO2 and the toggle reliably locks back on empty. There is no sign of wear to the black finish and nothing has fallen off or worked loose.
Is the KWC Luger well-made and reliable? It seems to be at the moment, but ask me again in six months!
Overall Impression 12/15
Remember the first time you picked up a Tanfoglio Witness? And how it felt heavy and well made and substantial and rather like a cartridge firing pistol. The KWC Luger is like that. When you pick it up it has good heft and when you rack the toggle it moves precisely and cleanly. Everything about it just feels good. It isn’t up there with the best of the Umarex pellet shooters in terms of quality feel, but it’s way better than lots of other Taiwanese replicas. If it only had wood effect grips and a more convincing finish, it would be close to ideal.
Many of the less than perfect things about the KWC P08 are features it inherits from the original: The sights are poor, the trigger pull feels a little mushy and imprecise and there is no defined release point and the toggle action, though snappy, provides relatively little felt recoil effect. The lack authentic of markings is also an issue and I would have liked to see brown, wood effect grips and a finish that looked more like blued steel.
However, this is a functionally perfect replica of the legendary Luger, a cracking good shooter and it appears to be reasonably well made and put together though I have some reservations about its longevity. It’s also agreeably cheap, though the high CO2 consumption may be an issue. Is this the perfect Luger replica? Not quite, but if you want a Luger in your collection, I don’t believe that there is a better replica currently available.
Total score: 79/100
P08 on the KWC website
6mm GSG/KWC P08 on the Versandhaus Schneider site
4.5mm GSG/KWC P08 on the Versandhaus Schneider site