Hidden History: the Kolibri 2.7mm pistol

Sat Sep 08, 2018

Writer’s note: I totally didn’t forget to include a Hidden History in our first issue of the semester, and this note totally isn’t an admission of guilt that I forgot. Look, to make up for the fact that I totally didn’t forget, this week’s issue has two Hidden History articles. Better? Better.

The turn of the 20th century was a very experimental time in firearm design. World War I (WWI) yielded some very unique designs and innovations that would eventually pave the way for the standard-issue rifles and automatic weapons of the modern day. While the earliest attempts at machine guns or self-loading rifles would certainly be interesting historical anecdotes to explore, our topic for this Hidden History article is going to be much…smaller. We are going to be looking at the farthest possible extreme for a concealed carry option - the 2.7mm Kolibri pistol.

In 1914, Austrian watchmaker Franz Pfanni decided to try his hand at creating a self-defense pistol. Given the microscopic nature of his usual work, he adopted a “smaller is better” approach to the pistol he designed. The result was what is, to this date, the smallest pistol ever created. The 2.7mm Kolibri (from the Hungarian “colibri,” meaning “hummingbird”) was a semiautomatic (one round fired for every pull of the trigger) blowback pistol chambered in its namesake 2.7mm Kolibri cartridge, of which it could hold six in a single magazine. For reference, 9mm is a benchmark round for many modern pistols, so the Kolibri fired rounds over three times as small as those of a modern handgun. When loaded, the Kolibri weighs 0.22kg (about half a pound) and can easily fit in the palm of one’s hand.

When fired, the 2.7mm Kolibri round is recorded as having a normal muzzle velocity of about 200 meters per second (or 650 feet per second). When coupled with the fact that a single cartridge for the gun weighs 0.2 grams, this meant that the rounds fired from the Kolbri had a muzzle energy of about 4 whole joules. For reference, the average human punch has an energy of about 150 joules. In addition, given the tiny size of the gun and Pfanni’s lack of experience in creating firearms, the barrel of the Kolibri had no rifling (a helical groove pattern machined on the inside surface of a gun’s barrel) so in addition to being pathetically weak, Kolibri cartridges also had no spin, further reducing their effectiveness at range..

Unsurprisingly, the Kolibri failed miserably at filling its marketed self-defense role. Rounds from the pistol were found to simply bounce off their targets or be sufficiently stopped by plain clothing. With its stopping power being nonexistent, operation requiring an awkward pinch-grip, and the simple act of loading the gun being unwieldly given its small size, production of the Kolibri ceased in 1938 with less than 1000 total units being produced.

At the very least, Kolibri pistols are somewhat sought after today, if only for their comical appearances and historical novelty. Notably, the pistol made an appearance in the WWI-themed videogame “Battlefield 1,” appearing as the absolute weakest weapon in the game, oftentimes dealing a measly single point of damage (out of 100) per shot. Still, the gun is, if nothing else, notable for being the absolute smallest centerfire pistol ever created and a prime example of the concealed carry concept being taken way too far.



Appears in
2018 - Fall - Issue 2