The SIG P210 (Official military designation Pistole 49) is a locked breech Semi-automatic pistol designed and manufactured in Switzerland by Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft (SIG).
Of all steel construction and chambered for 9 mm Luger and .30 Luger (7.65 mm Parabellum) or .22LR. The P/49 was the standard service pistol of Swiss army from 1949 to 1978. It was also adopted by; the Armed forces of Denmark and Norway, the German Bundespolizei, Turkish Army, Venuzualian Airforce and others. Remaining in service with many of these forces into the 1980’s. It also remains in production for civilian sales in a number of variants.
In 1945 the Swiss Government decided it was time to replace the .30 Luger’s they had been using since the turn of the century, and issued a specification for a replacement in 9x19mm. After exhaustive trials the submission from Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft was accepted and adopted as the Pistole 1949. This weapon was a compound of ideas, essentially Browning; but taking much for the work of Charles Petter, a native Swiss who had spent many years in France designing the French Army’s Modèle 1935 pistol.
In the first years of the 1950’s, with production for the Swiss Army well in hand, SIG looked to market it’s new pistol abroad. While money was generally tight as the world stuggled to recover from the war, many countries did whish to bring some order to their inventories. In stripping the armouries of Europe Germany had left enough of their own weapons behind to cement 9x19mm in place as a de facto regional standard for those countries that didn’t want to adopt Russian weapons. In this market SIG faced stiff competition from Fabrique Nationale and in 1952 Beretta introduced the P-52, but the Swiss gained a toehold in Scandinavia with Denmark and then received the contract to arm the newly formed Bundespolizei. In this latter case SIG won almost by default. Belgium refused to sell arms to Germany, Italy was politically impossible and France by insisting they should get the business eliminated themselves.
To explore the civilian market SIG had to cross that Atlantic, but found little interest in America. Although the P210’s virtues were well remarked up on by American Gun Press, both price and calibre were not to the local taste and sales were low. Civilian sales have continued to be slow for the P210 to this day, but they are also steady and the model has come to be SIG’s ‘flagship.’ As sales of their other products increased in the late 1980’s, the P210 saw some limited modernisation and a diversification in the models being offered, but it remains a low volume prestige product.
The SIG P210 is a single-action locked breach pistol, with a frame mounted safety and magazine safety working against a single column magazine of 8 rounds capacity. It has been chambered for 9x19mm, .30 Luger, and .22 Long Rifle (.22 LR); with a .22LR adaptor kit for training with the larger calibres. The barrel is 120 mm long, the slide works in external rails and the lock is a removable subassembly, as with the Tokarev TT. The major elements of the weapon are machined from solid steel, originally forgings but in recent production cut from the bar. Combined with very high production values the result is a pistol of excellent quality and great reliability.
The external rails provide almost twice the bearing area of a Browning GP-35 and three times more than an M1911 type pistol, which allows for a very consistent interface between slide, barrel and frame, to the benefit of accuracy. The locking system is tilt-barrel Browning as modified by Petter, using an enclosed cam riding on the disassembly pin rather then the original swinging link or later open cam. The trigger is of the two stage military type, unusual in a single action pistol. The safety catch is placed to be depressed by the right thumb and is awkward to use in comparison with the standard Browning safety, it also provides less safety by locking only the trigger rather than both the trigger and the hammer. However the lock work does offer very good geometery for a smooth pull and consistent let off.
The single column magazine is conventional and locked by a heel catch, which is by far the pistol’s greatest flaw. Many shooters, particularly those familiar with the classic Browning catch just behind and below the trigger, dislike heel catches, as they are slower and generally need two hands to operate. In compensation the heels catch is mechanically more secure and has far less chance of being inadvertently operated. However the original P/49 catch is a hollow loop that does not take abuse well, unfortunate in a component so exposed and represents the worst of both worlds. The magazine safety is far better piece of design, it does not drag on the magazine or adversely play upon the trigger function when not engaged.
The high quality of materials and workmanship, with good design elements like the slide to frame fit, give the P/49 and P210 superb accuracy ‘out of the box.’ One of the Swiss Army’s original demands was a for a pistol of equal accuracy to their existing Luger for target competition, this was a tall order as specified 9x19mm calibre was less inherently accurate than the 7.65 Parabellum. Yet the P/49 showed itself capable of putting 5 shots into 5cm at 50m and every P/49 or P210 is shipped from the factory with a test target to prove the point. The P210 is still considered the standard against which full-bore service pistols are judged for accuracy.
As a weapon designed and made with few compromises in terms of quality the P210 has never been cheap or particularly common in civilian circles outside Switzerland. Relative rarity and high reputation have made the P210 somewhat of a collectors item, with prices of over $1000 not being unusual for a reasonable example. The second hand price has remained high, even with large numbers of ex-government P/49’s and P210’s appearing on the market; mostly due to SIG taking the unusual step of buying back its own product when the original customers released them surplus and then selling them a second time to civilian customers.
SIG P210-1 The first commercial version offered in 9 mm Luger and .30 Luger. Fixed sights, high polish blued finish and walnut grips, no lanyard loop.
SIG P210-2 Initial production Swiss Army version chambered for 9x19 mm Luger. Fixed sights, plastic grips with lanyard loop, sandblasted phosphate finish.
SIG P210-3 Made for the Swiss police, in 9x19 mm and .30 Luger. Fixed sights, walnut grips with lanyard loop, polished blued finish and solid heel catch.
SIG P210-4 The German Bundespolizei issue chambered in 9x19 mm, a modified version of the P210-2 that omits the lanyard loop and incorporates the modified heel catch.
SIG P210-5 Extended barrel civilian target version chambered in 9x19 mm and .30 Luger. Walnut grips, adjustable trigger, 150 mm extended barrel with a detachable and adjustable target sights, low sheen blued finish.
SIG P210-6 Export Military model in 9x19 mm, wood or plastic grips, fixed or adjustable sights, and low sheen phosphate finish
SIG P210-7 The .22LR rimfire versions with wood or plastic grips, fixed or adjustable sights, the latter fitted with a special cut down hammer. The special .22LR components for this pistol available as a kit compatible with all centre fire P210’s.
SIG P210-8 Intended for the American market but become the standard civilian model. Built on a modified frame and chambered for 9x19mm, the –8 is provided with a side mounted magazine catch and a range of options; grips in walnut or neoprene, adjustable trigger, adjustable sights, heel magazine catch, and finished in polished or low sheen blue, phosphate or patented low friction anti-corrosion coating (SIGCOAT).
SIG P210-5S The 1989 120mm barrel version chambered in 9x19mm to replace the –8. ‘American’ style frame, neoprene grips, adjustable sights, low sheen finish or SIGCOAT.
SIG P210-5SL The 1989 de lux 120mm barrel model chambered in 9x19mm to replace the –8. ‘American’ style frame, wooden grips, adjustable sights, blue or bright plated finish.
SIG P210-6S The 1989 ‘long slide’ with a 150mm barrel in 9x19mm. ‘American’ style frame, neoprene grips, adjustable sights, low sheen finish or SIGCOAT.
SIG P210-6SL The 1989 de lux 150mm long slide in 9x19mm. ‘American’ style frame, wooden grips, adjustable sights, blue or bright plated finish.
SIG P/49 Standard Swiss Army Issue, as per P210-2
SIG M/49 Commonly known as the Neuhausen in Denmark, is the Danish military issue weapon in 9x19 mm, and is a specially marked version of the P210-1 or P210-2. This has been the standard sidearm of the Danish military for over 40 years, and is now in the process of being replaced.
SIG P211 aka SIG KP (Kriminal Politzi) A prototype intended as a more concealable pistol for Swiss detectives. The barrel was cut back to 100mm and the slide shortened to match. Unfavourably received and not pursued.
SIG P212 an enlarged P210 chambered in 9mm Largo (9x23mm Bergmann/Bayard) for offer to the Portuguese Government. 100 produced for trials alongside 100 P210’s, rejected on cost grounds for the FN GP-35.