Osprey author Leigh Neville this week examines the use of the Belgian designed L9A1 pistol, better known as the Browning GP35 or Hi Power by Australian forces in Vietnam as featured in King & Country’s Vietnam ANZACs range.
The 9x19mm Self Loading Pistol, L9A1, was the sidearm issued to Australian officers, armoured crew, and aircrew as a personal self defense weapon during the Vietnam War. The issue of pistols was designed to equip the individual with a handy compact weapon for those whom a rifle was too unwieldy. Many officers and signallers preferred however to carry a rifle as a visible pistol holster was a sure sign for an enemy sniper.
The L9A1 was appreciated for two main factors- its reliability and its 13 round magazine. Magazine capacities at the time were typically seven or eight rounds meaning the Browning almost doubled the firepower on hand in a similar sized design to its contemporaries- then the Walther P38 and Colt M1911. Units such as the British SAS and Australian SASR used the Browning as their standard sidearm right up until the late 1980s and into the 1990s (where it was replaced respectively by the SIG-Sauer P226 and the Heckler and Koch USP)
The pistol shared its L9A1 designation with the British Army who retired their Brownings in 2013 for the more modern Glock 17. The L9A1 continues to serve as the general issue sidearm of the Australian Army right up to today, despite production ceasing at FN Herstal in 2017. Most in-service Australian Army examples date from the 1980s although many have been rebuilt and re-barrelled.
Replacement of the Australian L9A1 has been discussed many times over the years but remains a low priority. Under the Army’s current Lethality programme, a new defensive pistol is slated for adoption within the decade- likely the 9x19mm SIG-Sauer M320 as adopted by the US military or a variant of the tried and tested Glock 17.
Intriguingly, in trials carried out by the Special Air Service Regiment several years ago, a stock L9A1 Browning was tested against a number of more modern designs including a Glock equipped with a mini red dot sight. The L9A1 didn’t come out on top but placed a respectable second showing that the core design by John Browning, first produced in 1935, could still hold its own.
The L9A1 is carried by two Australian armoured vehicle crew in King & Country’s ANZACs range;