What started as an update to an already successful pistol, the FN Model 1922 went on to become one of the company's most enduring handgun designs and is a hidden gem for collectors.
To satisfy a military contract for 60,000 modified examples of John Browning's Model 1910 pistol, stretching that .380 ACP's standard 3.4-inch barrel an extra inch and bumping up the magazine capacity from 7+1 to 9+1, FN introduced what was initially referred to by some historians as the Model 10/22 (not related to the later Ruger plinker) in 1923.
Later formalized as the Model 1922, or just the M1922, when compared to the preceding M1910, the new pistol had an elongated slide, complete with a small but distinctive barrel lug, over a slightly lengthened frame. The production model went 7-inches long overall and weighed 25.7-ounces.
The initial order was made to spec for the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes– the Balkan country whose name would be shortened to Yugoslavia after 1929. Belgrade would ultimately pick up over 70,000 Model 1922s, along with 6 million cartridges, before 1940, coupling the buys with orders for millions of rounds of rifle ammo and crates of FN-24 Mauser-pattern rifles. FN knew how to bundle.
Likewise, Holland, classifying the pistol as the M.25, would order another 50,000. Then came Turkish contracts, orders from Greece, tenders from Romania (which also bought BAR light machine guns and motorcycles from FN), and deliveries to Finland, France, and Denmark. Overseas, Mexico bought not only thousands of pistols but huge stocks of spare parts to keep them in working order for generations without having to write back to Herstal for support. The Belgian Gendarmerie, naturally, also used the pistol.
When the Germans came to Belgium without an invitation in 1940, numerous handgun models were in standard production. Of those, the new management would supply over 400,000 Model 1922s to send back to Germany – more than any other design. Dubbed the Pistole 641b (with the letter for “Belgian”) in the .380 version and Pistole 626b for the .32 ACP, other than P-38s and Lugers, the FN 1922 was the most common handgun in German service in World War II, outnumbering Walther PP/PPKs by a more than 2-to-1 margin.
When the FN factory was liberated by the Allies in late 1944, the workers got right back to their job, this time refurbishing American infantry weapons, in addition to continuing production of legacy designs. Remaining popular, the M1922 kept rolling off the assembly lines until at least 1975. Instead of Hi-Powers or even more compact Model 1910s, FN's internal security force relied on the M1922 as their sidearm of choice into the 1980s, something that should speak volumes.
The model continued to linger on in service, with historian Anthony Vanderlinden detailing that numbers of Bavarian border guards and West German Bahnpolizei continued to use the guns for decades into the Cold War while some Danish police still clung to their M1922s as late as 1989 "with officers refusing to trade the guns in for Walther pistols."
Today, the FN 1922 has been out of production for over 45 years and, while collectors will walk over broken glass to get to a beat-up Hi-Power of the same vintage, at the same time often neglect to show the smaller gun that same sort of attention. On the upside, that means you don't have to pay Hi-Power money to get an often very well cared for FN 1922 that is steeped in history and tells a story.