German Imperial 1917 Death Head (Totenkopf)

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This is a beautiful example of the 1914 Model DWM (Deutsches Waffen Und Munitionsfabriken Co) Manufactured Pistole-08. The chamber marking represent the military contract year of production and this example is a 1917 dated Luger.   (1124)


NOTE: Photographs taken today with the high mega-pixel camera show more than we sometimes can see with the human eye. Magnified close-ups show us tool marks and natural surface conditions that one normally doesn't see in the ordinary handling of the weapon.  Photographs are copyrighted, all rights reserved, any extraction, reproduction or display of gun pictures without the express consent of the Phoenix Investment Arms is strictly prohibited. Thank you for your cooperation.


This is chambered for 9mm and has a standard 4" barrel (100mm) fixed sights and walnut grips.   This WWI Luger manufactured for standard issue firearm to the German military. The extractor is marked "Geladen" on the left side and the safety is marked "Gesichert" with the safe position being downward. The proof marks are the amazing story of this guns.

The serial number appears on the front of the frame, on the left side of the receiver, on the side plate sear and trigger. This Luger is all matching including the magazine.  This Luger bears a stock lug and a hold-open. It has the long sear and is unit marked.

The right side of the receiver displays all the Imperial Army acceptance stamps. Original grips are finely cut diamond shaped checkering made from walnut or in some cases beech wood. These grips are serial numbered to the gun. The original firing pins were marked with the serial number and  when manufactured the original grips were marked to the gun.  Since firing pins and grips wear and break it is not unusual to find unmarked firing pins or replacement grips.


August von Mackensen; German field marshall.  A type of irregular light horsemen were already well established by the 15th century in medieval Hungary. On the eve of World War I there were still Hussar regiments in the British (including Canadian), French, Spanish, German, Russian, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Romanian and Austro-Hungarian armies. In most respects, they had now become regular light cavalry, recruited solely from their own countries and trained and equipped along the same lines as other classes of cavalry. Hussars were however still notable for their colorful and elaborate parade uniforms. The German Imperial units had adopted the Deathhead (Skull-Totenkopf) as their symbol and this is probably the origin in German units. Below: German Hussars on the move.


The barrel is stamped with the German Military Acceptance Stamp Adler and it is clear that the Death Head (Skull) was rolled onto the headspace above the date.  We have seen several of these guns and the authentic ones are all the same 1917-1918 which must have been special issue to Pioneer or Sturm force units.

Above left the Imperial inspectors at the DWM factory stamped the receiver at each stage of their inspection.  The Eagle [Alder] appeared on the receiver and on the top of the barrel in this picture meaning the gun was accepted by the military.

The bottom of the barrel has both the serial number and the gauge marking which matches the frame and the bottom of the magazine.


The flamethrower was invented in 1901 by German engineer Richard Fiedler. He tested these devices in the 1908 Engineer Test Company, and equipped two special German Army battalions of former Leipzig firefighter Capt. Hermann Redemann in late 1914.

They were first used in combat against the French trenches at Malancourt north of Verdun Feb. 26, 1915. Due to the success of this engagement, a Third Guard Pioneer Battalion was created, commanded by Redemann, enlarged to 800 men and equipped with improved models from the Fiedler Flame Thrower Works in Berlin.

This unit used the flamethrowers at Ypres on July 30, 1915. Flamethrower assault squads of six men were added to the stormtrooper battalions commanded by Captain Willy Rohr after Aug. 8, 1915. The Allied armies adopted the flamethrower by 1916.


The "dead's head" continued to be used throughout the Prussian and Brunswick Armed forces until 1918, and some of the storm troopers that led the last German offensives on the Western Front in 1918 used Death's Head badges.

The Stormtroopers (in German Stoßtruppen, "shock troops") were specialist military troops which were formed in the last years of World War I as the German army developed new methods of attacking enemy trenches, called "infiltration tactics". Men trained in these methods were known in Germany as Sturmmann (correctly "assault man" but usually translated as Stormtrooper), formed into companies of Sturmtruppen ("assault troops", more often and less exactly Storm Troops). The infiltration tactics developed by the stormtroopers are still in use today, in one form or another. Other armies have also used the term "assault troops", "shock troops" or fire teams for specialist soldiers who perform the infiltration tasks of stormtroopers.  Right: Death Head patch worn by German Stoßtruppen

Sturmtruppen overrunning a French position.  The "death's head" continued to be used throughout the Prussian and Brunswick Armed forces until 1918, and some of the storm troopers that led the last German offensives on the Western Front in 1918 used Death's Head badges.

The first major offensive led by the new Assault Detachment was during the first days of the Battle of Verdun in February 1916. Storm troops from the Assault Detachment was used in the first wave leading some units into the French trenches, attacking seconds after the barrage had lifted. This generally worked very well, even though it worked much better against the first trench line than against the less well-known enemy rear-area.

On April 1, 1916, the Assault Detachment was redesignated "Assault Battalion Rohr". Around this time it also increased its size from two to four pioneer companies. At the same time, work began on transforming several Jäger battalions into new Assault Battalions.


The inside of the gun is as clean and well maintained as the exterior. you can see all the matching serial numbers on all the small parts and the short sear of the post 1915 models, the thumb safety down (Safe) with the German word Gesichert (safe).  Below:  Above the breechblock their is a raised signal marked Geladen    to tell the shooter that the gun is loaded.  This can be felt in the dark so all one had to do was release the safety     and the noise of cocking the gun did not give the shooter away.

It is entirely subjective to give any Luger a rating of excellent or fine, just as it is to declare it xx% blued or strawed. Few Lugers are out of the box new and these are premium priced. Bluing percentages is like Beauty, in the eye of the beholder.  We strive to provide pictures so you can judge for yourself if the gun meets your criteria.


The Totenkopf was used in Germany throughout the inter-war period, most prominently by the Freikorps. In 1933, it was in use by the regimental staff and the 1st, 5th, and 11th squadrons of the Reichswehr's 5th Cavalry Regiment as a continuation of a tradition from the Kaiserreich.

In the early days of the NSDAP, Julius Schreck, (Left) the leader of the Stabswache (Adolf Hitler's bodyguard unit), adopted the Totenkopf to his unit. This later grew into the Schutzstaffel (SS), which continued to use the Totenkopf as insignia throughout its history. As they had done with the Swastika, and the "Stechschritt" (Goose-Step March): the Nazis adopted the Totenkopf from the historical tradition and used it for their own purposes, leaving it marked with a stigma that has continued to the present day.

It is important to note that the SS "Death's Head" symbol has some differences to the original German (Prussian) Totenkopf, the original being much more archaic in appearance (see images above), with the SS version appearing more realistic. Moreover, the Prussian Totenkopf could face left or right in half-profile, but usually it was shown en face. The SS Totenkopf, on the other hand, was always facing left in half-profile.





The 3rd SS Panzer Division -

The SS Division Totenkopf was formed in October 1939. The Totenkopf was initially formed from concentration camp guards of the 1st (Oberbayern), 2nd (Brandenburg) and 3rd (Thüringen) Standarten (regiments) of the SS-Totenkopfverbände, and men from the SS-Heimwehr Danzig. The division had officers from the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), of whom many had seen action in Poland. The division was commanded by SS-Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke. Through the Battle of France the division was generally equipped with ex-Czech weapons.

Adolf Hitler inspects the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler on arrival at Klagenfurt in April 1938.

Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler [Hitler's Personal Guard]


This 1917 All-Matching DWM Imperial Death Head is a very difficult gun for the collector to find and the historical paradigm may not be an absolute answer of one theory or another but rather an evolution  from the early Hussar calvary to the Nazi Death Head of the Schutzstaffel.