By Vincent J. Curtis
As Esprit de Corps’ resident Colonel Blimp, an “old Cold War warhorse,” an archaic ‘death or glory type’, I’d like to put a good word for Canada’s old armaments makers. Specifically, John Inglis and Company.
You would be correct to associate John Inglis with Bren guns, of which it made some 186,000 examples during the Second World War. But it is also famous for the Inglis Hi-Power pistol, which the Canadian army adopted as its standard sidearm in 1944. These self-same handguns are now completing their 75th year of continuous service in the Canadian armament inventory.
The Inglis Hi-Power eclipses in duration of service the Colt M1911, which was the standard issue U.S. sidearm from 1911 to 1985, a total of 74 years. The M1911, another John Browning design, was manufactured for World War I, in the 1920s and 1930s, and then in another massive wave during World War II. None of the guns made in 1911 served all the way through to 1985. The handguns made by John Inglis and in service to this day were made between February 1944 and October 1945.
The Hi-Power was John Browning’s last design, and he did not live to complete it. Working with Fabrique Nationale, Browning sought to develop a pistol that would meet the requirements issued by the French military in the 1920s for a new pistol: a high capacity, semi-automatic in nine millimetre calibre and with a magazine disconnect safety device. Browning’s collaborator at FN was Dieudonné Saive who developed the double-stacked, single feed magazine that is now standard today in practically all modern high capacity pistols.
Browning looked to improve upon his M1911 design, and he had to get around the patents he had sold to Colt. The trigger mechanism in particular had to be changed, in part to incorporate the magazine disconnect mechanism.
Ultimately, the French didn’t buy, and it was the Belgian military that adopted the model in 1935. When the Nationalist Chinese government came to Canada shopping for Bren guns, they asked if Inglis could also make them the Browning Hi-Power which they bought directly from FN before 1940. Canada’s lend-lease agency, the Mutual Aid Board, agreed to fund the purchase of 180,000, and Britain wanted an additional 50,000. With orders of this scale, Inglis set about to manufacture the Browning Hi-Power in Toronto. With the help of Saive, Inglis developed its own version built upon English measurements instead of metric.
Mass production began in February, 1944. The first allotment was sent to India for transshipment over “the Hump” but the logistical absurdity then became apparent. Besides this, at that point of the war, the Nationalist Chinese were more interested in fighting the Communists than the Japanese, and so the bulk of that Chinese order was cancelled. Canada had thousands of these handguns just sitting around and, with all this production capacity, the Canadian army decided to appropriate them for its own use The Inglis Hi-Power replaced the venerable Webley revolver in Canadian service in late 1944.
Eventually the Canadian army received nearly 60,000 Inglis Hi-Powers in the Chinese and No. 2 Mk 1 patterns.
After the war, the Hi-Power became a de-facto military standard, and was adopted as a side-arm in about fifty countries. Most of these were made by FN in Belgium after the war. Today, the original Inglis Hi-Power remains in service in Canada and Taiwan. The Inglis tooling and dies were shipped to India’s Ishapore factory and were used to make side-arms for India.
After 75 years of continuous use in the Canadian military and with roughly 14,000 left in inventory, the Inglis Hi-Power is coming to the end of its useful life. FN ceased production in 2017. Fashions are changing. Given the newer materials of construction, it is unlikely that any of the possible replacements – “the plastic wonder 9s” – will serve as long as the all-steel Inglis Hi-Power.
Will the government surplus these old warhorses to the Canadian market place?