By Kyle Mizokami, The National Interest
One of the most popular handguns in the world is a Swiss-German design that traces its origins back to the immediate postwar era.
The Sig P226 is a full-sized weapon that while failing to capture the prize as the Pentagon’s new pistol in the 1980s went on to achieve underdog acclaim as the official handgun of the U.S. Navy SEALs.
In the late 1940s Swiss gunmaker Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft, known by its initials as SIG, introduced a new nine-millimeter handgun using the work of French gun designer Charles Petter. The pistol, known as the SIG 210, used the same locked-breech pattern invented by John Moses Browning in the early part of the twentieth century, particularly with the FN-Browning GP35. Built with Swiss precision and attention to detail, the pistol was adopted by the Swiss Army. It was later redesigned by SIG to be easier to manufacture, resulting in the SIG P220.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. Army spearheaded two attempts to procure a new handgun for the U.S. military. The new gun would replace all previous guns, including the M1911A1 .45 ACP handgun but also various types of pistols and revolvers issued to pilots across the armed services. Not only were the older guns wearing out it was harder than necessary to support multiple types of handguns with spare parts and ammunition. One handgun, across all the services, would save money and provide soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard members with the latest in handgun technology.
SIG, which had partnered with the German Sauer gunmaker to access the export market, created the SIG Sauer P226 to participate in the U.S. Army trials. The P226 was developed from the P220 as a smaller, lighter pistol. Unlike the Glock pistols that became popular in the late 1980s, the SIG was an all-steel pistol.
The P226 is a double action handgun, meaning a single pull of the trigger both cocks the gun and releases the hammer. The P226 also drew the automatic firing pin locking system from the SIG P225, which prevents the firing pin from releasing if the pistol were accidentally dropped. The firing pin can only be released by actually pulling the trigger. The pistol is also equipped with a decocking lever that drops the hammer without firing the pistol. The pistol does not have an external safety.
SIG Sauer’s gun is 7.72 inches long with a 4.41-inch barrel--about typical for a full-sized service handgun. It is 5.5 inches high and weighs twenty-six ounces unloaded. Unlike previous SIG Sauer pistols, the P226 used a two column staggered box magazine, boosting its magazine capacity from nine rounds in the P210 to fifteen rounds in the P226. Muzzle velocity with typical ammunition is in the area of 1,160 feet per second.
The P226 is an all metal handgun, with an alloy frame and stainless steel slide. The frame is hard coat anodized while the slide is finished with Nitron. The result is a pistol designed to withstand the elements, corrosion, and other forms of damage. Modern versions of the pistol are fitted with an M1913 STD Picatinny rail underneath the barrel and forward of the trigger well, for attaching weapon lights and aiming lasers. A recent addition, the P226 RX Legion, features a cut slide to accommodate miniature red dot sights.
The P226 failed to win the U.S. Army contract, losing out to the Beretta M92SD. This occurred despite the fact that the German-Swiss gun proved much more reliable than the Italian Beretta during the trials and indeed had a level of reliability few other contestants. Shortly after adoption, the U.S. Navy SEALs noticed problems with their Berettas, including slides that broke apart on firing, causing injuries to the shooter. The SEALs replaced their Berettas with the P226, calling it the Mark 11 in Navy parlance.
The P226 is an evolution of an earlier design and indisputably one of the best pistols of the twentieth century. Although SIG is now promoting a newer line of striker-fired pistols—that went on to win the 2017 contract to replace the Beretta in U.S. service—the P226 is still a good choice for those that want a semi-automatic handgun with an old-school hammer arrangement.
Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat*,* Foreign Policy*,* War is Boring and the Daily Beast*. In 2009, he cofounded the defense and security blog* Japan Security Watch*. You can follow him on Twitter:* @KyleMizokami.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.