Updated May 25th, 2024 at 10:42 IST

Canadian Military Phases Out WWII-Era Browning Pistols, Settles for Modern Sig Sauer P320

The Hi-Power, in service since 1944, faces disposal, with some possibly retained for specialized use.

Reported by: Yuvraj Tyagi
The P320 offers enhanced features like a 17-round magazine and a polymer frame, with modular components for adaptability. | Image:Candian Armed Forces
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Ottawa: The Canadian military is set to retire its remaining World War II-era 9mm Browning Hi-Power pistols by the end of the year, transitioning to the modern 9mm Sig Sauer P320 pistols. This marks the end of an era for the Hi-Power, which has served Canada since 1944. The updated timeline for the Hi-Power’s disposal was revealed by Cheryl Forrest, a spokesperson for Canada’s Department of Defense. Currently, none of the approximately 11,000 Hi-Power pistols left in the country’s inventory have been disposed of. However, Forrest mentioned that some might be retained for specific training or other special uses, though no firm decision has been made.  

Canada's association with the Hi-Power began in 1944 when the military adopted this semi-automatic pistol, which was chambered in the 9mm Luger cartridge. The Hi-Power, initially known as the ‘High-Power’, features a steel construction and a double-stacked magazine with a 13-round capacity — a significant capacity at the time. The single-action only pistol operates via a short-recoil tilting barrel, a design that remains widely referred to as the "Browning action" in modern semi-automatic pistols.  

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Origins of Browning Pistols and Transition to Sig Sauer P320  

The origins of the Hi-Power date back to the 1920s, with John Browning, a prolific firearms designer, was tasked with creating a new pistol for the French military. Though the French did not adopt the design, the Belgian Army did in 1935, naming it the P35. The Fabrique Nationale Herstal (FN) factory in Belgium produced the pistols, calling them ‘High-Power’ due to their high-capacity magazine. During World War II, the Nazis produced over 300,000 Hi-Power pistols at the FN factory after conquering Belgium in May 1940. Plans for the Hi-Power were sent to the U.K. and then to Canada, where the John Inglis Company in Toronto began producing the handgun for Allied forces, leading to the weapon's nickname ‘Hi-Power’.  

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The journey to replace the Hi-Power has been long and challenging. Efforts to replace the ageing pistols began in the late 2000s. In 2011, the Canadian Department of National Defence planned to order a minimum of 8,000 new pistols, with options for up to 16,500, but this initiative was cancelled due to reluctance from foreign manufacturers to share technical data packages with Colt Canada for local production. The search resumed in 2017, and in 2021, the Canadian government requested bids for a new pistol. However, a complaint by Rampart International, representing Glock, led to the cancellation of this solicitation.  

Ultimately, in October 2022, the Canadian military selected the Sig Sauer P320, designated the C22, to replace the Hi-Power. The P320, already in use by Canadian Special Operators, gained attention after an incident in November 2020 when a member of the counter-terrorism unit Joint Task Force 2 accidentally shot themselves with one.  

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Features and Advantages of the P320  

The Sig Sauer P320 is a semi-automatic, short recoil-operated pistol that shares the 'Browning action' and 9×19mm Luger ammunition with the Hi-Power but features a higher-capacity 17-round magazine and a polymer frame. Polymer pistols have become the standard in the industry due to their durability, lower maintenance requirements, and reduced cost and weight. The P320 is also modular, with the fire control module being the serialized component, allowing for interchangeable grip modules — a major advantage.

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The collective procurement of C22s and C24s represents a $19.4 million investment to ensure Canadian Armed Forces personnel are well-equipped. With the final deliveries completed, Canada joins numerous international users of the P320, including the U.S. Army, which adopted the P320 in 2017 following the Modular Handgun System competition.   

Forrest indicated that all units currently using the Hi-Power will send them to Canadian Forces supply depots in Quebec and Alberta for disposal over the coming months. It has been suggested that the pistols will likely be destroyed via smelting. 

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Published May 25th, 2024 at 09:53 IST