Seeing him unwrapping a vapor barrier bag, it was pretty clear he was about to show us a pistol of some kind. But... what slid from the bag and onto the padding of the blanket was something I never expected to see without thick glass between myself and history.
A FP-45 Liberator pistol. Before that, I had seen exactly two of these in my whole life. One, decades ago, in a display case at the Army's Aberdeen proving grounds, and the other in a tiny gun shop in Indiana. The second one had been crushed in what I consider a clear example of all-to-common misguided and small minded government bureaucracy.
The 'Liberator' pistol is not fancy. In fact, it's hard to imagine a firearm less fancy than the FP-45, unless it's made from water pipe in a Prison workshop. The Liberator pistols, over a million of them, were made from crude sheet metal stampings, a blob of zinc casting, and a smoothbore barrel.
It's a single shot .45acp pistol with crude sights, a terrible trigger, no accuracy at all past a few yards, and a form not even mother could love.
Made by the Guidelamp Division of General Motors at the behest of the US Army over a few months in the Summer of 1942, the Liberator was never intended for use by our armed forces. Turned over to The Office of Strategic Services (OSS... the forerunner to the CIA) the Liberator had a more interesting future planned.
The idea was simple really, even if diabolical. The pistols would be air dropped by the hundreds of thousands into enemy occupied territory, where it was expected the Germans would never be able to recover all of them. Useless as a battlefield weapon, the issue of providing useful weapons to the enemy was moot. On the other hand... as a weapon of terror in the hands of the resistance, the Liberator might have had extraordinary value. A common civilian, alone with a conquering German soldier, suddenly produces the single shot .45 and drops the man in a surprise attack, afterwards making off with the soldiers weapons. Now the German Army is down one soldier, the resistance has one more battle rifle, and every other German soldier has to wonder.... will he be next?
I say might have had, as the OSS never carried out the plan to any degree. Aside from a few FP-45's finding their way to the Philippine resistance and perhaps China, the Liberators were not deployed as expected. They languished in warehouses, and after the war... almost all were destroyed.
The history of this ugly little $2.50 pistol, and it's extreme rarity, leads us to where we stand today. A lonely little Liberator will usually fetch $1200 to $1400 at auction. In its original cardboard box with a short wooden dowel for ejecting spent cartridges and the original 10 rounds of .45acp the pistol was supplied with, it will bring upwards of $2000. Add in the original cartoon instruction sheet printed in 1942, and the auction may reach $2500; 100 times what the pistol cost to produce in scarce wartime dollars. This places the Liberator on a collectable plateau normally occupied by rare Winchester rifles and early Colt 1911 pistols.
How it ended up in my friends hands is his story to tell. His allowing 'Ol Carteach to handle the unique and rare find... that's my story to share, and I do so in the images below.
There is one thing more. Looking at the small piece of history as it lay on the table where we shared breakfast, he wondered aloud if I might have any mild .45acp hand loads on hand. At the question, my jaw dropped just as it had when the pistol first fell into my view. He meant to fire the FP-45!
Yes, I had some mild cast lead hand loads running about 650fps. A few of them run through my Commander by my friend and I were deemed as mild enough to chance shooting in the Liberator. Somehow... I was elected to take the first shot.
Folks.... I was faced with an opportunity to do something most shooters could never even dream.... Hold in my hand and fire an actual piece of history. On the flip side of that coin... the Liberator pistol was intended for use in desperate times by desperate people. There was a very real chance it would simply explode in my hand on firing.
I didn't see that as much of a choice.
I apologize for the quality of the video. It was just two old guys facing a stunning personal moment in history. Here is what happened:
To my friend, all I can say is thank you. Thank you for an opportunity of a life time.
And now, some images of the Fp-45 Liberator to share.................
My own search for the 'perfect' carry pistol has taught me that such does not exist. Something 'better' will always come along.
I began concealed carry with a Ruger Speed Six in .357 magnum. Heavy and bulky, but powerful and dependable and reasonably accurate and...... What more could be asked for?
That didn't stop me from asking.... and I moved to a Colt Combat Commander. Eight rounds of .45acp power in a flat package that was 99.999% dependable, and besides that... it was a Colt .45. What more could be asked for?
Well.... maybe if it was a little lighter, and easier to conceal under Summer clothes. After all, Hiding the pistol on me was most of the battle. My carry piece needed to be small enough, light enough, that I would carry it all the time... right? I moved to an older Taurus model 85 stainless snubby in .38 special. It was little, fairly light, and very dependable. Surprisingly accurate too for a snubby. That little heater was a breeze to carry, whether in a belly band or a belt holster... or even a coat pocket. The cartridge, .38 Special, had a long history and was reasonably effective with the right ammo. What more could I ask for?
Well.... perhaps if it carried more than five rounds... that would be nice. Flatter would be helpful as well. This brings us to my S+W M+P 9mm compact. Twelve rounds of 9x19mm! A round arguably as powerful as the .38 Special with modern loadings. The M+P was not really any larger in dimensions than the Taurus snubby, and actually a little flatter. Add in a design which promotes instinctive shooting for me, great accuracy, and pretty good reliability. The M+P compact is a pistol one can carry all day long without noticing, will work every time, and shoots straight. What more could someone want?
Well.... perhaps if it came in a real caliber... one that started in '4' and ended in '5'. That would be nice. Loe and behold... S+W did just that! So.... my chubby butt was moved to the toy shop in search of the new breed, where my fancy was instead stolen by the Glock G-30 short frame model. Here was everything I looked for in the new M+P .45c, but came in a tried and true bullet resistant (if not bullet proof) Glock package. The G-30 is powerful, accurate, very shootable, and carries like a dream. All day long it rides my belt, and I seldom feel the slightest discomfort. The little Glock has racked more miles riding on my body than most hybrid cars will any given year. What more could someone ask for?
Well...... I have learned to stop asking that question. There will always be something newer, better, more powerful, easier to carry, more accurate.... it's all just a matter of time. I can easily envision a future where I carry a Mk VII Mega Blaster series two, with a 5 kilowatt laser effective at two miles, and all in a package smaller than my cell phone..... and I'll still be looking for something better.
The reality is not hard to see, once the glitz of 'newer' and 'better' wears off. We'll carry what we carry for what seems the best of reasons at the time. Choose your features from the full menu, but realize that every choice is a trade off. Big, small, powerful, easy to shoot, accurate, fast, safe, light, heavy..... you choose to suit your needs and desires.
Which brings us to a particular set of needs shared by many people, and the answer Ruger provides in the LCP weapon.
"Small enough to vanish into a pocket, especially with a 'pocket holster'. Light enough to pocket carry while wearing Summer weight shorts..... and no belt. Powerful enough to provide some reasonable level of distraction and deterrence, taking full advantage of modern pistol ammunition ballistics. More dependable than the average small auto, and with no added controls to complicate matters."
This list of 'requirements' reads like the specifications for the little Ruger LCP. Certainly not a primary weapon by any means, it does fill the role of backup pistol as if designed for it... as it likely was. In addition, it serves admirably in another role..... as a pistol to always be found with it's owner. By virtue of size, weight, and simplicity it fairly begs to be pocketed. Not just when leaving the house for errands, but quite literally all the time. It's a ready addition to a bathrobe pocket, and simply vanishes into a pair of comfortable jeans. Go ahead and sit on it while eating breakfast... you might not even notice. Completely forgettable till it's presence is required or sought, the LCP has a lot of nothing going for it... and that may be it's best feature.
Crossing the (postal) scale at less than ten ounces, the Ruger LCP is also well under an inch thick. With a total size much smaller than a snubnosed revolver, the LCP can be 'palmed' by anyone with fair sized hands. Lay the pistol on a table, and most folks will have little difficulty completely covering the LCP with one hand.... comfortably.... with room to spare.
Small pistols are nothing new. Colt made pocket pistols for generations, as did Beretta and a host of other companies. Some were quite high quality, built of fine steel and sporting grips made from excellent wood. The Ruger LCP has none of that, being formed of modern polymers and using steel only where it must. This best explains why the LCP in .380 weighs less than the dinky Beretta Bobcat in .22 rimfire.
Regarding controls.... the LCP has very, very few. The trigger; Pull it through it's long and smooth double action pull, and the pistol goes off. That's about it, aside from the magazine release button.. No external safeties, no release for a slide locking back on an empty magazine. No..... nothing. It does have a slide lock, but it must be manually engaged to function, and is suited for range use or times when the pistol must visually be empty and safe. In normal firing it does not come into play.
The Ruger LCP is chambered in .380 acp, a round often thought the lowest end of usefulness in self defense. It's a weak sister to the 9x19 Luger round, and is generally the most powerful round suited to blow back operated pistols... if the words '.380' and 'powerful' can be used in the same paragraph. The 9mm Makarov is marginally stronger, but just barely.
The LCP has a smooth design, with nothing sticking out to catch pocket linings or clothing. It's not a hammerless design, but the hammer is so shrouded as to be ignored. The works are double action only, with a very long trigger pull. Smooth, with a clean break, it most resembles a double action revolver in use. The same smooth and rapid long squeeze gives the best results, even though the LCP will never, ever be regarded as a target pistol.
The sights are machined into the slide itself. In front, a low nub, with the rear having a wide undercut notch. Nothing protrudes above the slide to catch. In fact, at first glance it would be easy to say it really has no sights, at least until the pistol is raised into the line of sight and they become evident. This is in keeping with the pistols intended design and use.... last ditch backup defensive shooting at short range (across a room would be a far shot).
This is not to say the pistol is inaccurate. My experience may vary from others, but the first six rounds fired from this little boomer left a group that could be covered with one hand, at a distance of about twenty feet. The next six rounds made a ragged whole in the middle of the first group. After thirty or forty rounds learning the trigger, control was acceptable, predictable, and reasonable.
As for care and feeding, I have tried only two variations on the .380 theme so far. One, a 90 grain FMJ load, fed every bit as good as one might hope. Function was perfect, and the little pills made a happily tight group even at pocket-pistol range. The other offering was a 90 grain JHP hand load specifically designed for the Colt .380 government model. As such, it's a warmish load, as the itty bitty Colt fully locks up. Even so, the Ruger spit out the harsh hand load without hiccup, and fed the truncated cone JHP as if designed for them.... as it probably was. This was somewhat of a surprise, as many small pocket pistols do not feed well on a diet of jacketed hollow points.
My impressions so far? Entirely favorable. The Ruger LCP is designed to fill a niche, and it does that job nicely. It's a quintessential pocket pistol, small, light, reasonably powerful, reliable, and not wildly expensive. Selling most places for under $300, the little 'powerhouse' is priced well for the market. It's directly compared to the Kel-Tec P3AT, and in fact the Ruger appears to have much the same design. The price difference generally runs about $50 or so, with the Kel-Tec being cheaper. A little research into the two pistols is not a bad idea, and that's what I did before making my purchase. I chose the Ruger over the Kel-Tec, as the price difference did not outweigh the perceived quality difference.
The Pistol went from it's initial range session straight to my vest pocket. At home, it slides into a plants pocket as it was designed to do. When I am out someplace, it can be found on me... someplace.
The Turkish Mauser I enjoy shooting has a taste for Sierra match bullets. My wallet does not enjoy the same flavor. The 200 grain Sierra match bullets sell for right around $30 a box, and are not always available.
The largest cost in reloading any cartridge is the projectile, and here we are fortunate. The dedicated hand loader has an option to buying commercial bullets. Surplus military ammunition can sometimes be bought at reasonable case lot prices and then broken down for components.
In my case, I have a fair amount of Yugoslavian 8x57mm ammunition made in the 1950’s. While it’s decent in it’s own right, it is corrosive and not quite as accurate as I’d like. Costing about ten cents a round, this ammo is a prime candidate for tear down.
My choice of tooling for this chore is the RCBS collet type bullet puller. Looking something like a loading die, it can accept various precision collets matched to projectile diameter.
Getting the correct size collet is important. While a .308” collet might work to pull .323” bullets, it will take more time and probably leave marks on the bullet. With the proper collet the works goes smoothly, reasonable quickly, and leaves the bullets virtually unmarked.
The bullet puller is mounted into the press like any sizing die would be, except depth is not critical. It’s helpful to have the bottom of the tool well under the shell holder plate as this allows better visibility of the operation.
With the loaded subject in a shell holder on the press ram, it’s advanced into the bullet puller collet from underneath until the case mouth gently bumps the collet. The threaded rod going through the tool is then tightened enough to tightly grip the bullet. ‘How tight’ is a matter of judgment, and depends partly on whether the bullet is glued, or ‘sealed’, into the case. If it is a sealed military round, the extra step of ‘bumping’ the bullet into the case a few thousandths with a seating die can help break the seal.
Once the collet is firmly gripping the projectile, a sharp push to the press handle will usually pull the bullet easily.
Of great importance is organization. Lay out the various items needed in a logical order. Containers for the pulled bullets, powder, and cases must be easily at hand. Also of great importance is labeling these containers. I recommend labeling the powder container, bullet box, etc before even beginning the operation. The label should have enough detail to make it clear exactly what is inside.
Once a rhythm is established it takes a very short time to make components out of loaded ammunition. The boxed ammunition pictured above was converted into it’s components in no more than ten minutes time.
Nothing will go to waste. There is load data on the Internet for surplus powder, and it can always be used at the original charge weight if it was noted. Many hand loaders like to reduce the charge by 10% or so simply for shooting comfort.
The cases can, and will, be reloaded again with other bullets and powder. In this case, they are destined to be cast bullet plinking loads.
The bullets…. there is the gold. In this case they were pulled with almost no marks at all. Just some light scratching where they were originally pressed into the case.
I’ll be running these through a vibratory polisher with white rice and dab of car polish. This will leave the bullets shinier than new.
Most surplus ammunition can be broken down for components, and the job is not difficult with the right tools. Sometimes wonderful deals can be had on old surplus ammunition of questionable shooting viability, but has valuable components worth more than the whole.
The final product, after a few hours in the polisher: