Hello and welcome back to another edition of The Rimfire Report. In this ongoing series we discover, review, and discuss anything and everything surrounding the rimfire firearm world. This week we’re taking a trip back in time to the end of WWII and into the realm of the Cold War. The High Standard HDM is one of the few rimfire pistols to have had a chance to play a part in both theatres and with good reason.
The Rimfire Report: The Clandestine High Standard HDM
High Standard began producing the base model of the pistol – the HD – in 1940. The single piece, 40-ounce, blowback-operated 22LR pistol would go on to be the most popular pistol made by High Standard for the next two decades.
Much of this success can probably be attributed to the United States War Department ordering a whopping 34,000 of the HD pistols for use in basic pistol training – both economical and practical for soldiers who needed to get a grasp on the basics.
The thinking was that the pistols would be cheap to field for training units as even back then the 22LR cartridge was inexpensive and that this marksmanship training would ease recruits into using the much larger and more powerful 1911 in 45 ACP
Plinker, teacher, President, spy
As WWII pressed on throughout the 1940s, the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS) decided that its operatives were in need of a smaller caliber suppressed pistol. Between October of 1943 and March of 1944 2,600 special High Standard HDM pistols were made for the OSS with serial numbers ranging from 114,000 through 117,000.
The HDM made use of an integral suppressor that was developed by Electric Bell Laboratories. The integrated suppressor was reported to reduce the sound of the shot’s report down to 20dB which is said to be about as loud as some rustling leaves in the wind. The pistol made use of full-metal-jacket 22LR rounds that were specially developed for the pistol.
OSS Head Bill Donovan was able to demonstrate this still classified pistol to then-President Franklin Roosevelt inside the Oval Office. According to the story, Bill Donovan fired the gun into a sand trap while the President was dictating a letter at his desk with Roosevelt being oblivious to the discharge of the firearm.
The Past Inspiring the Future
At the time, suppressors didn’t often see a lot of field use. The United States frontline combat strategy of the era was highly focused on overwhelming an enemy that had overexpanded itself and suppressors would have added to each soldier’s gear cost.
The Electric Bell Laboratories suppressor was constructed of brass mesh wich surrounded the ports of the HDM’s barrel. Baffles made of the remainder of the length of the tube which contained the entire suppressor assembly. The brass mesh inside the tube was designed to be replaced every couple of hundred rounds as it wore away.
It would be another 80 years before another factory produced integrally suppressed pistol would come into the market with the SilencerCo Maxim 9. The Maxim 9 shares the integrated suppressor nature of the High Standard HDM but adds the ability for the user to change the size of the pistol and also increases the lethality of the system by using the 9x19mm round. However, I don’t think we will be seeing the head of the CIA discharge this weapon in the Oval Office in an attempt to impress the president any time soon.
High Altitude Agent
One of the most famous incidents the High Standard HDM was involved in came about during the Cold War. CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers was sent on a mission that would put him deep into Russian territory and eventually lead to his capture after his Lockheed U-2 spy plane was downed by a USSR S-75 Dvina surface to air missile.
After his plane was struck the U-2 entered an inverted flat spin and Powers was forced to eject along with his survival kit. The Survival kit issued by the CIA contained a map, compass, money, saxitoxin-impregnated needle hidden inside a fake silver dollar (poison pin), and of course – the High Standard HDM.
Gary Powers was captured upon his landing in Soviet territory and was placed on trial and subsequently sentenced to work in a hard labor camp until his release roughly a year later. His pistol, however, was not returned to him and is now on display in a Moscow Museum among other artifacts recovered from the downed U-2 spy plane.
A Legacy of Lethality
The High Standard HDM pistols would go on to be used throughout the cold war and even in the Vietnam war with a North Vietnamese People’s Minister of Mobilization being neutralized in Hanoi Square by an unnoticed and unheard assassin. Rumors abound that these lethal rimfire pistols still remain in various special forces and CIA inventories to this day but no confirmation can be found to substantiate these claims.
Unfortunately, current estimates put the total number of legally possessed HDM’s at scant 10 pistols – rare indeed. I hope you enjoyed this dive into the clandestine world that features one of the most popular rimfire calibers of all time. As always, thanks for taking the time to read and we’ll see you next time in The Rimfire Report.