'The VIS-35 Polish Radom Pistol' by R. W. Simms

by R. W. Simms


Good accuracy, reliability, and handling qualities make this a great WW2 shooting classic.


One of the great “sleeper” handguns to serve in World War II was the Polish Vis-35 service pistol, often referred to informally as the “Radom” pistol.  The Vis-35 was a native Polish design but it borrowed heavily from the Colt 1911A1 and Browning Hi-Power pistols.  This heritage would form the basis for one of the best service sidearms of World War II.


The genesis of the Polish VIS-35 pistol occurred shortly after World War I when the Polish military decided to upgrade their antiquated revolvers to a modern semi-auto handgun.  There was much squabbling and in-fighting about this decision.  The Polish cavalry in particular felt that a revolver was the sidearm of choice for horse-mounted troops.  By 1929 a decision was made to adopt a CZ pistol in .380 ACP caliber (this caliber is also known as the 9 x17 mm as well as 9mm Kurz or 9mm Corto depending on which country used it).

Two native Poles were distressed enough about this decision to act decisively.  Piotr Wilniewczyc was a Polish weapons designer.  Together with Jan Skrzypinski, the managing director of the Warsaw rifle factory, they formulated a plan to derail the CZ agreement.  Their success was offset by the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 as Poland became the first casualty of World War II (the CZ BRNO plant fell into German hands as well).


Wilniewczyc borrowed some design concepts from the Colt 1911A1 pistol and the FN/Browning Hi-Power.  He also used some of his own ideas and Skrzypinski’s factory to create a first-class service sidearm.  Originally the pistol was given the designation of WiS-31.  This combined the first letters of the Wilniewczyc’s and Skrzypinski’s last names (the “i” in the middle translates to “and” in Polish) along with the 1931 prototype design date.  Military trials proved the soundness of the design.  The Polish military was impressed enough that they adopted the pistol in 1935 as the official Polish sidearm.  Ironically, the new designation was Vis-35, very close to the designers’ original moniker although they are frequently referred to as simply “Radom” pistols.  “Vis” means “power” in Latin and may be a borrowed attribute from the FN/Browning “Grande Puissance” or “High Power” pistol.  Whether this is true or not, there can be little doubt that Wilniewczyc’s decision to chamber his brainchild in 9mm Parabellum was a significant improvement over the .380 ACP round originally envisioned by the Polish military.


The Vis-35 pistol utilizes a Browning-style slide-on-frame arrangement.  The barrel has locking lugs that engage into recesses in the top of the slide similar to the 1911A1 and Hi-Power pistols.  The barrel is locked into these recesses by a cam reminiscent of that used on the Hi-Power.  The trigger is of double-stirrup design ala the M1911.  The Vis-35 incorporates a M1911-style grip safety.  Interestingly, there is no manual safety on the pistol.  Instead, a lever on the slide retracts the firing pin and drops the hammer when actuated, very similar to the way a modern Ruger P95 decocker works.  The 8-round magazine is of single-stack design and is released from the gun using a thumb-operated pushbutton, similar to that found on a M1911 or Hi-Power pistol.  Original magazines may be marked on the floorplate with an eagle-over-189 waffenamt , an eagle-over-623 stamped on the side of the magazine, or they may exhibit no markings at all.

Vis-35 pistols are said to be either “3-lever” or “2-lever” guns.  The earlier 3-lever models had a M1911-style slide stop, a hammer drop lever, and a take-down catch located where the thumb safety would be on a M1911 and frequently mistaken for one.  As the Germans implemented manufacturing shortcuts, one such “product improvement” was to eliminate the take-down catch entirely.  This version is referred to as the 2-lever model.


Vis-35 grips are sometimes thought by novices to be mismatched because they have different wording on the left and right grip panels.  The pistols were stocked with black or brown plastic grips that had “VIS” molded into the right panel and “FB” molded into the left panel.  “FB” stands for Fabryka Broni, the factory in Radom, Poland where the Vis-35 pistols were manufactured until the last months of the war.  Earlier pistols were issued with black grips.  Somewhere in the T-block series, the changeover was made to brown grips.  In late 1944, dark brown grips are often observed, and the last thousand or so pistols have crude wooden “cheese crate” grips.


The Vis-35 as manufactured by Poland was among the very best 9mm pistols utilized in World War II.  From an accuracy and dependability standpoint it is certainly as good as the P.38 pistol, probably better than the P.08 Luger, and is bested by the FN/Browning Hi-Power only by virtue of the latter’s 13-round magazine capacity.


The Nazi war machine of 1939 was impressive.  Their equipment and tactics were new and modern.  The German invasion of Poland in September of 1939 was the flashpoint that began World War II.  Although the Poles fought valiantly and desperately, their horse-mounted cavalry was no match for the most modern and efficient army on earth.  The Polish army suffered over 200,000 casualties during the Blitzkrieg, and the Germans took over 500,000 prisoners.  In this sad scenario lies the origin of the Polish Joke.  Apparently, the idea that brave cavalrymen, some armed only with pikes, would charge machine guns in defense of their country appeared ludicrous to some and the height of stupidity to others.  It is an unfortunate and untrue stereotype that remains with us to this day.


The Germans were nothing if not methodical.  As they overran countries they evaluated indigenous firearms designs with an eye toward utilizing them should the need arise.  Each firearm evaluated was given a fremdgeräte (foreign equipment) number.  The Polish Radom VIS-35 was given the fremdgeräte designation of Pistole 645.


At first no one in Germany seriously thought that the Wehrmacht would ever use (or need) anything other than German arms.  The thought was that foreign weapons would be used to arm turncoat overseers in each overrun country.  However, Hitler’s genius became somewhat less than self-evident after he decided to launch a second front against the Soviets in the east, and suddenly all manner of weaponry was in short supply.  It is alleged that the SS, who were not generally issued Lugers or P.38’s, preferred to carry the FN/Browning Hi-Power or Vis-35 Radom pistols as their sidearm of choice.  Certainly, the Vis-35 pistol was one of the best foreign service pistols the Germans had at their disposal.


Although the Vis-35 had only a short nine year run, from 1936-1945, collectors identify four distinct variations and numerous sub-variations.  The first variation is the Polish Eagle model, so named because of the beautiful eagle that graces the deep rust-blued slide.  These pistols were meticulously hand-crafted, and were as good as the best that Europe had to offer at the time.  The Polish Eagle model also came equipped with a slot on the pistol’s backstrap.  The idea was to create a wooden holster that could also be used as a shoulder stock that would fit into the slot to make a carbine of sorts.  Apparently this idea was scrapped as very few Vis-35 holster/shoulder stocks have ever surfaced.  The Polish Eagle Vis-35 Radoms are true collector’s items these days, fetching more than $1,000 when they appear on the market if they are in decent condition.


Things went gradually downhill once the Germans seized possession of the Fabryka Broni plant in Radom, which occurred less than two weeks after the invasion.  Collectors categorize the occupation pistols manufactured with Nazi oversight as Type I, Type II, or Type III guns.


It should be noted that some early Vis-35 Radoms were produced for the German navy and sport Kriegsmarine markings.  These are hard to find and expensive to buy when they do turn up.


Vis-35 pistols produced under Nazi supervision are usually separated into three major categories or “types”:


Type I Vis-35’s retain the slotted backstrap for a shoulder stock, and they have the takedown catch, making them 3-lever pistols.  The Nazis stamped their own marks, or waffenamts on each pistol manufactured under their control.  Type I Radom pistols have an eagle-over-WaA77 waffen stamped on the frame and frequently appear with the number 625 inspection/proof mark.  The very first pistols produced under Nazi control were made up of pre-invasion parts, and some of these early occupation examples can be found with both the Polish Eagle and German inspection waffenamts on the slide.  The serial number range for Type I Vis-35’s is 0001-E8000.  Around 60,000 Type I pistols were produced.  Most, if not all, are believed to have been  manufactured in 1940.


Type II Vis-35’s still retain all 3 levers but the slot for the holster/shoulder stock was eliminated.  Another cost-cutting exercise on the Type II guns was to change the labor-intensive rust bluing to the cheaper salt-bluing process.  The eagle-over-WaA77 waffen is still present up to serial number M8400.  Around the start of the K-block (K0001) the trigger relief cuts (like those seen on the 1911A1 pistol) were eliminated.  From S/N M8400-Z2000 the waffenamt was changed to eagle-over-77 (sometimes referred to as E/77).  The Type II is the most frequently encountered Vis-35.  Approximately 150,000 were manufactured from 1941 through late 1943.


Figure 1.  Typical profile of the Type I and Type II Vis-35 pistols showing all 3 levers.  This example is a Type II, identifiable by the absence of theM1911A1-style trigger relief cuts on the frame.  Type III guns look similar but lack the takedown lever on the left side of the frame above the grip safety.


It may be useful to know that hardcore collectors identify sub-variants within several of the Vis-35 types, but the differences are pretty minimal and beyond the scope of this topical article.  Most shooting enthusiasts will be satisfied just to know which type of pistol they have.


Figure 2.  View showing the right side VIS grip panel, different from the left side


Type III Vis-35’s really began to show the decline in workmanship and finish as the war deteriorated for the Nazis.  Several sub-variations of the Type III exist as cost-cutting intensified.  The most obvious change was the elimination of the takedown catch.  Additionally, the waffenamt changed from E/77 to E/623 for the serial number range Z2000 through most of the second alphabetic K-block (some Radoms in this range have also been reported with E/WaA623 waffens).   It is important to note that when the Germans got to serial number 9999 in the Z-block, they just started over with serial number 0001 and never missed a beat.  This, of course, means that some early-war and late-war pistols have the same serial number.  Grip color changed from black to medium brown to dark brown as the Germans began using sawdust and cardboard filler in the plastic resin used for making the grips.


In December of 1944, as the Russians closed in, the entire Radom factory was moved to a Steyr facility in Austria.  Austrian Vis-35’s exhibit several unique features, among which was the change from bluing to phosphate as the finish of choice (some K-block pistols will be found with a blued finish).  Although phosphating was initially implemented at Fabryka Bromi it appears that only a relatively small number of pistols received the new treatment before the factory was relocated.  Brown plastic grips appear to be the norm for Steyr-produced guns, although the last 1,000 or so will be found with wooden grips and are typically marked with a bnz code.


Figure 3.  Typical Type III Vis-35.  Note the tubular style pins and the absence of the takedown lever.  The late-style dark brown grips look almost black.  With a serial number in the high 3,000’s of the second alphabetic K-block, this particular Vis-35 was most likely manufactured at the Austrian Steyr plant in the last month of production prior to the plant being captured by the Russians.


The total number of Type III Vis-35 pistols produced at both Radom and Steyr is between 65,000 and 100,000 pistols, depending on which reference source you choose to believe.  Part of this uncertainty lies in the fact that some letter prefixes were skipped in both the first and second alphabetic serial number series.  Specifically, it is alleged by some experts that the letter blocks I, O, Q, V, X, and Y were not used during the first alphabet series.  It is also believed by many that I and J were skipped during the second alphabet series.  Incidentally, the last pistols produced before the end of the war in May, 1945 show the crudest manufacture but command some of the highest prices due to their relative scarcity.  Many of these late-war pistols will be marked with Steyr’s E/623 or bnz code instead of the Radom eagle-over-77 waffen stamp.  Experts cite that between 21,000 and 24,000 Vis-35 pistols were produced at Steyr, but less than 1,000 pistols are believed to have been produced with the bnz code.


Exact Vis-35 production figures are unavailable, but it some experts estimate that the total number of Vis-35s manufactured is between 300,000 and 400,000 pistols.


The little production data available indicate that about as many 3-lever Type II pistols were produced as all other variants combined, so it is likely that this is the pistol the shooting enthusiast is most likely to encounter.  That’s not to say that the 2-lever Type III pistols are rare; they’re not.  It’s just that generally Type II pistols will more often be found for sale. 

Most Type II’s were originally issued with black grips.  Beware of reproduction grips.  Many will have a duller finish and are often thicker than the originals.  Original issue grips are brittle and easily broken.  Finding a set of original grips can be challenging so subtract at least $100 when purchasing a Vis-35 without them.    Type III pistols are usually found sporting brown grips, but with very late war pistols anything is possible.


Custom wooden, bone, or plastic grips were also fashioned by out-of-work European craftsmen and sold to G.I.’s.  One such commonly encountered non-factory Vis-35 grip variant is made from plexiglass aircraft windshields and sport the G.I.’s initials or photographs underneath where they can be prominently seen.  These modifications offer a unique historical perspective and do not affect the pistol’s function, but they do significantly lower the collector value.


Additionally, G.I. bring-back pistols were often customized by returning soldiers.  Chrome plated Lugers, P.38’s, and Vis-35’s are often encountered.  In 1945 a pack of cigarettes could buy a chrome plating job for a G.I.’s war trophy.  It is important to note that there are no recorded instances of German occupiers producing chrome plated presentation weapons for the Nazi high command.  Such stories are generally recounted by unscrupulous or uninformed sellers in order to artificially inflate the value of their wares.  Non-factory modifications like these do allow the shooting enthusiast to acquire a shooting specimen at a greatly reduced price though.


Vis-35’s are sometimes encountered with worn slide releases and/or hold-open notches on the slide.  Remove the magazine and check to ensure that the slide hold-open keeps the slide retracted when manually actuated without the benefit of magazine spring pressure.  This typically does not affect the pistol’s function, but it offers another negotiating point for a price reduction as this defect will prevent the slide from staying open after the last round is fired.


Many Vis-35 pistols were issued with an eagle-over-189 waffen stamped on the magazine floorplate.  Some can also be found with E/623 stamped on the side of the magazine.  Both early and late wartime (and some post-war) magazines were issued without this waffenamt.  These original unmarked magazines can be difficult to differentiate from modern aftermarket magazines. 


Don’t rely on the hammer-drop lever to safely lower the hammer.  The mechanism has been known to fail and accidental discharges have resulted.  Instead, point the pistol in a safe direction and gently lower the hammer with the thumb while pulling the trigger.


Original spare magazines will logically enhance the value of any Vis-35 pistol.  The same can be said for other original accessories such as an original holster.  Nazi issue holsters will be of the military flap configuration with an attached spare magazine pouch, usually in brown leather but infrequently found in black.  Add $100-$200 for an original issue holster, more if the holster is in excellent condition.


Figure 4.  Typical Vis-35 occupation holster.  Even in its current distressed condition this holster would likely sell for $250 or more to a collector.


Field stripping the Vis-35 is fairly straightforward:


  • Remove the magazine and cycle the slide to ensure that the gun is unloaded.  Lock the slide fully to the rear.  On Type I and Type II pistols this is accomplished by pushing the takedown lever up to engage the takedown notch in the slide.  Type III Vis-35’s are missing both the takedown lever and notch.  On these pistols it is necessary to push the slide fully to the rear and push the hammer drop down so it engages the notch on top of the hammer. 


  • Pull the recoil guide rod forward while simultaneously pushing the slide stop out. 


  • Ease the slide forward off the frame. 


  • Remove the captured recoil spring assembly by rotating the recoil guide rod plate that bears on the barrel locking block 90 degrees and easing the assembly up and out. 


  • The chamber area of the barrel can be lifted up at this point and the barrel can now be removed by pulling rearward.


  • Reassembly is simply reverse order.


Whenever the Germans took over production of a foreign arms manufacturing facility they usually established a monthly production quota of 10,000 pistols.  It was not uncommon for factories to fail to meet this monthly quota early on, but it was occasionally exceeded as efficiency improved.  It is therefore necessary to extrapolate production dates based on the assumption of a 10,000 monthly pistol production rate.  The following chart provides what little actual information is known.  Note that production figures for 1940 and 1941 are detailed.  Total annual production figures for 1942, 1943, and 1944 are given but the quarterly output must be extrapolated.  It is important to note that while the figures below (from Berger’s book which he attributes to captured German war production records) are generally accepted to be accurate, actual production may vary slightly.  The Russians captured the Austrian Steyr plant in late 1944.  Any Vis-35 production past that time frame cannot be reliably documented at present.


Quarter      1940           1941             1942                1943                1944

First           -                 5,221             ------                ------                ------

Second       -                 6,800             ------                -------               ------

Third           1,583        6,842             -------               -------               ------

Fourth         10,656    11,134             -------               -------               -------

Total            12,239    29,997             51,000             140,000           65,000


Note that more than 270,000 pistols are believed to have been produced.  The first 10,000 pistols manufactured under Nazi occupation were produced in the serial number range of 0001-9999.  After this, the second 10,000 pistols were produced with an “A” prefix in the serial number range of A0001 through A9999.  This process repeats itself through Z9999.  Subtracting 60,000 pistols, to account for unused letter prefixes as noted earlier, leaves a total of 210,000 pistols in the first alphabetic range.  At this point the second serial number range begins as the Germans simply started over again with serial number 0001 (no prefix). 


A reasonable guess as to the quarter of production can be made by assuming that the first 10,000 pistols (which would have no letter prefix) were all manufactured during 1940.  The first 2,000 “A” block pistols (A0001-A2000) would have been produced late in the 4th quarter of 1940.  Extrapolating the remainder (based on dividing each year’s total annual production by 4 quarters) gives us the following production data, but due to the uncertainty as to exactly how many pistols were produced in any given month it can only be considered an approximation:








1st quarter






2nd quarter






3rd quarter






4th quarter












*  beginning of second alphabetic prefix series


Again, the above chart should be taken as a best-guess estimate.  Due to missing or incomplete production records it is very difficult to accurately pinpoint even the quarter of production for a given pistol.


Discriminating Vis-35 pistol collectors generally try to acquire premium examples.  These guns will typically have 90% finish or better, be in excellent mechanical condition, and will have been shot minimally.  Guns in this condition occupy perhaps only 20% of the market, which leaves a fairly large number of working guns in less than perfect condition.  These might well be referred to as “representative specimens” and may exhibit one or more of the collector’s three deadly

sins ---  refinishing, import markings, and/or mismatched serial numbers.  This is not necessarily bad for the shooting enthusiast as the price drops from thousands of dollars for a primo gun to mere hundreds for a good representative specimen, and their value won’t decrease if fired moderately.  Good Type II shooters can be had for as little as $500, or even less with a bit of luck.  Shop around.  The Vis-35 is a wonderful gun for the shooting enthusiast.  It is accurate and reliable with a trigger that will be very familiar to M1911 shooters.  Produced in standard 9x19mm caliber, ammunition is both relatively cheap and plentiful (refrain from using +P loads!), but the real thrill is being able to shoot a working piece of history.  With all this going for it, there is very little not to like about the Vis-35.



Caliber:                      9x19mm (9mm Parabellum)
Dimensions:               L=207 mm (8.1 in.) H=137 mm (5.4 in.) W=33 mm (1.3 in.)
Weight (unloaded):   822 g (29 oz.)
Barrel:                        121mm (4.75 in.), 6 groove, 1-in-10 right-hand twist
Magazine:                  8 round detachable box





















Exploded diagram of a Type II Vis-35 (typical of all models)








The Radom Pistol by Robert J. Berger, Copyright 1981


Axis Pistols – The Pistols of Germany and Her Allies in Two World Wars Volume III by Jan C. Still