Guns and Gear

Gun Review: Arms Tech Limited OSS Hi Standard

The cost of collecting historically significant World War II militaria has been reduced by Arms Tech Limited’s faithful recreation of the OSS Hi Standard pistol.  

When the U.S. entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor, not only did it have its work cut out for it as far as creating an intelligence network from scratch, it also had to create weapons specifically designed for use by its operatives

Historically Significant Sidearm

Time was of the essence, and within six months of the U.S. entering World War II the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was formed on June 13, 1942. Its leader, Col. William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan, who previously held a position of importance within the intelligence community and reported directly to the President Roosevelt, patterned OSS activities after the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Donovan envisioned the OSS as serving a dual role: intelligence gathering and waging clandestine warfare. To accomplish this, he created a number of branches within the OSS, each with specific objectives. One was the Research and Development Branch. Its director, Stanley P Lovell, came to work for the OSS from an organization named the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC)—an organization created prior to the U.S. entering World War II, “…to coordinate, supervise, and conduct scientific research on the problems underlying the development, production, and use of mechanisms and devices of warfare.”

By October 1943, the Research and Development Branch consisted of four divisions: the Technical Division, which served as liaison between the NDRC and SOE; the Documentation Division, which was responsible for creating all manners of papers necessary for the establishment and protection of an agent’s cover; the Camouflage Division, with the role to effectively conceal the accessories and devices necessary for special operations and the Special Assistants Division, responsible for providing equipment to agents not within the purview of the other divisions—including weapons specially designed for clandestine operations.

In addition to creating such items as knockout drops, suicide capsules and a matchbox camera, the division was also responsible for creating some truly unique weapons including the Smatchet, the Liberator, a suppressed version of the M3 Grease gun and the Stinger, a single-shot .22-caliber pistol that resembled a fountain pen.

Interestingly, the origins of one of the Special Assistants Division’s most successful albeit later creations, the Hi Standard HD Military or HDM suppressed .22 LR pistol came from an unlikely source—Bell Telephone Laboratories (and you thought the company only manufactured telephones).

The HDM  proved quite effective for covert operations, so much so that following World War II, it was used extensively by CIA operatives and military special operations personnel for the next three decades in operations during the Korean War, Vietnam and the times of political turmoil and military tension that defined the Cold War. While reference to the latter may conjure romanticized images of spies clad in black Borsalino hats and overcoats plying their clandestine craft throughout the Eastern Bloc, perhaps the most famous documented Cold War incident associated with a Hi Standard HDM pistol involves CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers, who was captured with one in his possession when the U2 aircraft he was flying was shot down during a reconnaissance flight over the Soviet Union in 1960.

Undoubtedly, there are HDMs still in use today. In fact, some online sources allude to the pistol’s service life spanning to the early 1990s during Operation Desert Storm.

Who says History Doesn’t Repeat Itself?

Thankfully Arms Tech Limited offers a near-exact reproduction in the form of its OSS Hi Standard Pistol. Though not blessed with the same heroic lineage, it is designed to the same authentic specifications as the World War II-era HDM and provides both history buffs and NFA enthusiasts the opportunity to own one of the most popular and historically important handguns ever to be used in clandestine warfare.