P08 Holster of Leutnant Barfels
146th German Infantry Regiment
1. Masurisches Infanterie-Regt. Nr.146"
Photos and text by John Strott

Parabellum Model 1908 Pistol and Its Holster
One of the most recognizable pistol designs of WWI was the 9mm, semi-automatic Parabellum Model 1908 pistol or P08.  The pistol later became popularly known as the Luger, in honour of its designer, Georg Luger.  The P08 was issued by the thousands to WWI German combat units and so it is no surprise that these weapons found their way into the hands of German Colonial Troops and other deployed units.  In addition to the pistol itself, pistol accessories were specially designed and issued to soldiers to carry the pistol on the person and keep the pistol in serviceable condition.   

One important accessory was the P08 holster.  Unique in appearance, the P08 holster was made of leather and had a large pocket covered by a leather flap that protected the pistol from the elements and held it securely in place.  In addition, smaller pockets were incorporated inside and on the side of the holster to hold a special gun tool, a cleaning rod, and a spare ammunition clip.  There were belt loops on the back of the holster for attaching the holster to the soldier’s accoutrement belt. 

These leather holsters were made in the thousands by hundreds of small manufacturing companies all over Germany.  For quality control, the holsters often bore maker’s marks stamped or pressed into the leather that included the maker’s name, maker’s location, and the year when the holster was made.  German Army Quartermasters from the various army regions who purchased the holsters added their own marks, “Bekleidungsamt” marks or “BA” marks,  stamped in black ink under the top flap of the P08 holster.  Individual German Regiments that received P08 holsters from their quartermasters sometimes impressed or stamped their own special unit marks on the holsters.  And on extremely rare occasions a solder might "personalize" his equipment by adding his own name, rank, and unit.  For the military collector and historian  these various maker and issue marks provide vital clues about the item's provenance.      

P08 Holster

The Find
I took a quick scan of a box of holsters before the show closed for the day. There must have been over 100 holsters of all sorts. I had no time to look at them all so I picked up the only brown P08 holster and opened the lid. To my surprise I saw the holster was both German army issue and regimentally unit marked. It took no time at all to strike a deal and make the purchase.

Markings Inside the Holster Flap

Holster Markings Description
The P08 holster was signed in pencil with a rank (Ltn), name (Barfels) and unit (IR 146) on the inside cover of the P08 holster top flap. It also was stamped in black ink, under the top flap "BA XI" indicating the holster was a German army issued holster.
The German officer had also carved his name “BARFELS” with a sharp instrument on the outside of the spare magazine pouch.

The Owner's Name Carved into the Magazine Pouch

The holster was also maker marked  "S Kellendorf, Munchen 1918".  The mark is a circular stamp, with the maker and location encircling the date. That particular maker is listed in John Walter's book, German Military Handguns 1879 -1918, and is listed as a manufacturer of P08 holsters.

Maker's Mark

Historical Background
Leutnant Barfels was found on page 94 (about 3/4s of the way down on the right side of the page) of the 1919 Prussian Army Seniority List.  It shows him as a member of the  IR 146 which matched the inscription on the holster.

The Asienkorps was a German Expeditionary force sent to assist the Ottoman war effort in late 1917. Originally intended to assist in the recapture of Baghdad, it ended up defending the Palestine Front in 1918.  The original Asienkorps consisted of three infantry battalions and three artillery detachments. The battalions were numbered the 701st, 702nd and 703rd Battalions. In mid-1918 German Infantry Regiment 146 arrived from the Macedonian Front. This unit included many Tannenberg veterans. It was a long way from the Masurian Lakes to the Jordan Valley.

The US Intelligence Report contained in 251 German Divisions in World War I indicates that IR 146 was part of the 101st German Infantry Division originating from the 20th Corps district of Eastern Prussia. The "IR 146 was in vicinity of Monastir in December 1917 and was reported sent toward Constantinople and Palestine in March 1918".  In Palestine, the IR 146 became a reserve unit supporting the Turkish Seventh Army and battled with the British Army and Arabs lead by British officer Lawrence of Arabia until the end of the war.

There are two primary entries pertaining to the German Asienkorps from Die Schlachten und Gefechte des Großen Krieges, 1914-1918 (compiled and published in 1919 by the Great General Staff) showing individual German units. These entries cover the periods of IR 146 combat in Central Palestine and East Jordan as such:

• Positional warfare in Central Palestine, 9 December 1917-29 April 1918
• Combat in East Jordan, 20 April 1918-20 September 1918
• Second Battle of East Jordan, 30 April 1918-6 May 1918
• Positional warfare in Central Palestine, 6 May 1918-18 September 1918, and in East Jordan, 7 May 1918-22 September 1918

In Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence described the retreating Turkish army as disintegrating and losing coherence and order; however, he paid homage to his German foes:

Exceptions were the German detachments; and here, for the first time, I grew proud of the enemy who had killed my brothers. They were two thousand miles from home, without hope and without guides, in conditions mad enough to break the bravest nerves. Yet their sections held together, in firm rank, sheering through the wrack of Turk and Arab like armored ships, high-faced and silent. When attacked they halted, took position, fired to order. There was no haste, no crying, no hesitation. They were glorious.

Conclusions about Provenance
It is considered a rarity to be able to fix ownership of a military item (such as this P08 holster) to a specific person, military unit, place, and time.  Based upon the evidence presented above a reasonable case can be made to connect the holster (made in 1918), the unit (IR 146 unit marked in holster), and the owner Lt Barfels (assigned to IR 146 in 1918 and whose name appears on the holster) to all be in Palestine 1918 (official records place the IR 146 in Palestine in 1918).




Thanks to John Strott for sharing this information and these photographs with us.
Please respect his generosity by not reproducing them without prior permission.





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