German 9mm Luger Bullets from World War 2

Last year (2013), I was given a metal box containing an assortment of odd rifle and pistol rounds that had been stored in a damp basement that was being cleaned out prior to the house being sold. Contained within this box were some common enough 30-30 and 30-06 rounds which I disassembled for the components as well as a small number of rusty steel cased 9 mm cartridges from World War 2. Thinking that perhaps I might reuse the pistol bullets, I took those cartridges apart as well.

After examining and weighing the bullets, I came to realize that in this small collection pistol rounds were examples of the three main types of 9 mm luger bullets used by the Germans during the war.

Steel Jacketed with lead core, lead core with a steel insert encased in lead and finally sintered iron. The last two types were largely a product of German material shortages that became more acute as the war ground on.

Lead became a critical wartime commoditity in Nazi Germany as it was used not only for bullet cores but for lead acid batteries and most paints and coatings of the time. When you consider the number of diesel electric submarines, tanks, planes, trucks and other vehicles the Nazis fielded, all of which used lead acid batteries and paint, you can see how important this base metal was to their war effort.

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At the beginning of the war, the bullets used in German pistol ammunition were of a conventional design, a copper plated steel jacket with a lead core, weighing about 124 grains.

Closeup view of World War 2 era German Steel Case 9mm Luger cartridge with Sintered iron bullet

In later german pistol ammunition, the lead core of the bullet was replaced with a composite core constructed of a steel insert encased in lead resulting in a bullet weighing about 100 grains. The end result was a cartridge with a higher muzzle velocity and a semi armor piercing capabilty but with a reduced sectional density and range.


The sintered iron bullet was a rather novel wartime expedient. Powdered iron was formed under great heat and pressure until the particles fused together producing a bullet plastic enough to engage the rifling.

Production of sintered bullets began in 1943 (Curtis)

With a bullet weighing only 90 grains, 9mm Parabellum ammunition using sintered iron bullets produced velocities in excess of 1500 feet per second. The high velocity of this round gave it somewhat improved penetration at close ranges but the poor sectional density reduced its capabilty at longer ranges. Sintered iron bullets were and are very hard on gun barrels, wearing down the rifling at an alarming rate.

Closeup view of World War 2 era German 9mm Luger bullets

Closeup view of World War 2 era German 9mm Luger bullets. The first 2 bullets on the left are copper plated steel jacketed bullet with a steel core incased in lead. Two bullets On the right are made of sintered iron.

Curtis, Lewis   "Introduction to Collecting the 9mm Parabellum (Luger) Cartridge" <> (accessed Feb. 11, 2014)