Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the 9mm

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the 9mm

So let’s say TEOTWAWKI has happened and we’re all on our own just trying to survive. Here’s the question: What kind of gun do you carry?

Sure the 22 is a great survival rifle. The bullets are cheap (as long as you buy them before SHTF), there is little recoil, and ammo is easy to find. But the same could be said for a BB gun or air rifle.

When you need real stopping power, reliability, and plentiful ammo, you should be using the 9mm bullet.

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But first, let’s learn a bit about where this caliber came from, what different load types are available, and why it is so popular.

9 mm ammunition, also known as 9×19, 9×19 mm, 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum (Parabellum is a Latin word that means “Prepare for war if you seek peace”), and 9 mm NATO is one of the most popular and most used types of ammo in United States and in many other parts of our world.

The fact that over 60% of police in United States use this ammo is evidence that most law enforcing agencies depend more on 9 mm ammo than any other type of ammo.

According to Newsweek, the 9mm Parabellum is the reason why semi-automatic pistols are more popular than revolvers in United States. There are multiple reasons for the popularity of 9 mm ammunition that includes low price, availability, and effectiveness for police use and for self-defense.

The 9mm Parabellum is also described as the world’s number one and widely used handgun cartridge in the 2006 edition of “Cartridges of the World”.

Initially, the German navy started to use the 9 mm Lugar in 1904. That was later adopted by German army, followed by all major armies in Europe and North America. The navy, at that time, was the most high tech part of the armed forces and most of the high tech and new weapons were initially used by Navies.

The 9mm ammo was designed to add more penetrating power in a bullet that can penetrate through the field gear of the soldier very easily. The purpose of the larger caliber was to make an enemy soldier incapable of taking part in the battle by wounding or killing the soldier.

Today, there are different types of loadings available for the standard 9mm cartridge that vary in type of bullets, weights of bullets, and loading pressure.

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History and Origins of 9mm Ammo

The 9mm Parabellum was designed by a German weapon manufacturer, George Luger in 1902. He presented the new 9 mm version of his pistol in 1902 to the British Small Arms Committee through the Vickers Limited that was immediately approved. The American Army received three prototype Luger 9mm pistols in 1903 that were tested at Springfield Arsenal.

The 9 mm caliber was initially used in pistols but was soon adopted to use in machine pistols. German army widely used 9mm Caliber in their submachine guns in First World War. The 9 mm cartridge that was designed by George was first commercially launched by DWM (Deutsche Waffen – und Munitionsfabriken), a German company that first used the cartridge in their Luger semi-automatic pistol.

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It is widely believed that George Luger initially designed the ammo to wound enemies, not to kill them but later, the bullet proved to become one of the most lethal ammos used in wars at that time.

Soon after it was launched and used in battlefield, it was accepted as one the most powerful bullets that guns at that time could accommodate.


George Luger, who was employed by a German weapon manufacturer Loewe & Co., first designed a 7.65 mm Parabellum. As complaints started to rise against the reduced stopping power of 7.65 Parabellum, George Luger then designed the 9mm Parabellum that soon became a success and was widely accepted. As the 9mm Parabellum was used in Luger pistols, it soon became popular as the 9mm Luger and 9x19mm.

The 9mm Parabellum design was relatively different from other cartridges at that time that also used the term 9mm in their names. These cartridges include 9mm largo, 9mm Makarov, and 9mm short.

As the initial design of 9mm cartridge was derived from the 7.65×23 Parabellum cartridge, there was a resemblance in the cartridge design but the 9mm cartridge was just 19mm long, a much shorter version of the earlier 7.65 Parabellum Cartridge.

The shorter length allows George Luger to include an angled and smaller grip. In coming years, there were several more changes in the design of the luger that included the removal of grip safety and replacement of leaf mainspring with an alternate like coil spring.

1900 to 1910

At the same time, in 1903, Belgium also produced a 9mm cartridge known as 9×20 mm browning long that was widely accepted initially in Belgium, France, Ottoman Empire, Sweden, and Netherlands. The 9×20 mm browning was soon replaced by the more effective 9mm Parabellum in coming years and is now completely obsolete.

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In 1910, an Italian Company introduced another version of 9 mm cartridge with reduced power. The cartridge was designed to use in the 9mm Glisenti pistol and machine pistols. After the acceptance of 9mm cartridge by German Army in 1904, Bulgaria and Holland were the two other countries that were using 9mm cartridge before the First World War.

First World War

In the First World War, German army used bulk 9mm ammunition as their standard ammo. Many other countries at that time started to experiment with different types of 9 mm bullet designs and soon after WWI, countries started to adopt the use of 9mm.

Second World War

In WWII, when Germany wanted to conserve its lead resources, the lead core of the bullet was replaced by iron core. The bullet was known as the black bullet jacket because of its iron core with enclosed lead.

The core was soon replaced by the copper after 1944 and Black Bullet Jacket soon became obsolete. Iron was also used as the core in another variation when it was compressed as an iron powder into a solid material under very high temperature.

Acceptance of 9mm Ammunition

After the First World War, the use of 9 mm cartridge became widespread in Europe and North America with the rapid production of machine pistols, most of which were designed to use the 9mm cartridge.

Today, more than 70 countries around the world are manufacturing 9 mm cartridge. The 9mm Parabellum is now considered as the standard pistol cartridge by NATO and armies of many other countries.

As 9 mm submachine guns and pistols became standard weapon for police and other law enforcing agencies in many countries of the world, the 9mm ammo became more popular and demand started to rise immediately after First World War.

Similarly, in United States, 9mm handguns are the most popular among law enforcement agencies and common people as the size is well known for its effectiveness in self defense.

Even though a few countries have banned the use of weapons for common people that use military cartridges, it is still one of the most popular cartridges used in countries where it is legal.

The reason why 9 mm cartridges became popular among police and other law enforcement agencies was their superiority over formerly used .38 Special revolver cartridges.

The revolver used cylindrical speedloaders while 9mm is stored into flat magazines. That brings much more effectiveness for policemen who need to respond quickly with their firearms in different situations. As most of the police switched their revolvers with semi automatic handguns, the 9 mm cartridge was the only natural and effective choice.

Effectiveness of the 9x19mm Parabellum

Initially, the capacity of the bullet was to travel till 50 meters but with the advent of technology and time, the traveling capacity increased. The 9 mm round is considered as a very effective and lethal bullet that can create damage at longer ranges.

The combination of moderate coil and flat trajectory in the 9mm cartridge is highly effective allowing the bullet to travel to longer distances.

Different loads are used in the 9mm cartridge that allow more penetration or power expansion.

The most popular load in 9mm bullets among law enforcing agencies in United States is 7.5 g (115gr) +P+ 9 that loads at 400 m/s, is considered as the best load used for self defense purpose.

The effectiveness of the 7.5 g (115gr) +P+ 9 load is based on the hydrostatic shock theory that allows the 9mm cartridge energy to cause a significant wound in a living thing through 7.5 g (115gr) +P+ 9 load.

The weight of the bullets used in cheap 9 mm ammunition is mostly between the range of 115 to 147 gr.

The effectiveness of 9mm ammo directly depends on the type of load used in the bullet.

There are different types of loads with variation in energies they contain. There are loads available with energy little more than 400J and up to 700J.

Similarly, the penetration depth is also dependent on the type of load, with a capacity of penetrating from 8 inches to 40 inches.

The 9 mm hardball used by the NYPD raised issues like over-penetration, including passing through the human body in most cases, that forced NYPD to switch their firearms with alternates.

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In 1986, the Miami Shoot-Out happened in the United States where two bank robbers succeeded in killing two FBI agents besides the fact that the robbers were outnumbered by 4 to 1. Later studies into the incident showed that both robbers were shot multiple times but they kept fighting.

Many investigators blamed the 9mm Silvertip used by the FBI agents as it failed to expand properly allowing perpetrators to fight for a longer time. Even though the incident created a controversy against the use of 9mm cartridges, most of United States police still use 9 mm as their priority ammo.

Loads Used in the 9mm Parabellum Cartridges

The 9mm Parabellum Cartridges have now been in use for more than 100 years. During this period many manufacturers have used different types of loads in order to achieve different results.

Some wanted more penetration power while other manufacturers were interested in longer ranges or larger expansion ability of a bullet. The loads used include mostly full metal jacket ball load that is known as FMJ.

Other types include loads with tracers, dummy loads, blanks, exotic load sfor law enforcement agencies, duplex and triplex loads, shot loads, squeeze bore loads, and tubular bullets.

The Ball load was initially used in the 9 mm Parabellum cartridge. These bullets were FMJ coated with truncated cones weighing 124 grains that were later replaced by round cones in 1915 but the weight remained the same.

Germany used round cone bullets from 1916 onwards but the United States used truncated bullet loads well into the 1930s. Later, in an attempt to conserve lead, Germany switched to a new type of bullet with an iron core known as the black bullet jacket.

These bullets became increasingly popular, as Germany used these bullets as standard bullet ball loads for their army.

Another type of bullet was used by compressing iron powder at high temperature into a material known as Sintered Iron.

These bullets were known for their dark gray color and were used commercially in 1943. During World War II, Switzerland used ball loads that were covered into the aluminum case from 1941 to 1945.

During the same period, Germans also developed another ball load for the use in pistols with silencers. The 150 grain FMJ bullet was developed to achieve subsonic muzzle velocity.

The British also used many heavy ball loads to use with the silencers. Some of the ball loads were heavier to the extent of 170 grains.

Loads with Tracers were used initially by Germans. There is not much evidence but most believe that the German Navy used tracer bullets as experiments before World War I.

Tracer bullets started to become evident after the 1930s, when General Franco’s forces widely used these bullets in the Spanish Civil War. During World War II, many nations started to test and develop different types of tracer bullets.

France was the first country that started to develop 9mm Parabellum tracers for commercial use immediately after World War II.

Dummy Loads are also considered as the initial loads developed by DWM to use in the 9 mm Parabellum cartridge. Germany commonly used this hollow and light weighted dummy load in World War I.

After 1940, Germany introduced dummy loads with plastic cases with only a steel head. During World War II, Winchester produced dummy loads for Britain. Besides Britain, Australia and Canada also used dummy loads during  World War II.

Dummy loads became popular and are commonly used today for different purposes. There is a wide range of dummy loads available to use with 9 mm Parabellum cartridge.

Blank Loads is another common type of load used in 9mm Parabellum cartridge. Many German companies commercially produced blank loads after the 1920s.

Most of the companies used iron powder with a paper bullet to create a weight for the bullet for its effectiveness. Another variation of blank load includes mercury filled in a wooden bullet.

The common use of such blank loads in bullets in United States is in Hollywood and for training purposes. The French and Britain also produce blank loads commercially. The French use them almost exclusively in their standard military munitions (kidding).

Proof loads are developed by many countries that are manufacturing 9mm cartridges and other 9mm ammunition to test the weapons. The basic use of such loads is proof testing of the weapons during manufacturing.

Different countries develop different types of proof load according to the use in these countries. In the United States, the proof load is used in a tinned case with red case head. In Belgium and Britain, copper cases are used while in Czech Republic, nickel cases are used.

Above mentioned loads are the most commonly loads used in 9mm Parabellum cartridges but there are hundreds of other variations manufactured in different countries around the world for special purposes known as Special Loads.

Headstamps Used

With hundreds of different kinds of loads available for the 9mm, it is hard for a layman to distinguish between them. For this reason, headstamps are used to help people distinguish between the loads.

With the help of a headstamp, anyone can easily identify the company that developed the round and the country where the round is manufactured. It can also help you in identifying other information like if the round is for commercial or military use, the type of the load, the case design, and the manufacturer.

There is a code on the headstamp that enables the user to identify the bullet type. There is a list of such codes available on different ammunition websites online.

If anyone is trying to buy 9 mm ammo, it is really important to understand how to interpret the code on the headstamp in order to save yourself from any accident.

Cartridge Dimensions

The cartridge case capacity of the 9mm Parabellum is 0.862 ml i.e. 13.3 grains H2O. The empty case generally weighs not more than 4 g. The bullet diameter is normally 9.01 mm with a neck diameter of 9.65 mm. The base diameter is around 9.93mm while the rim diameter is 9.96mm.

The maximum pressure used and reported till now is 280 MPa by a variant known as 7N21. You can check out some performance data of this caliber.

Latest Improvements To The 9 mm

In the early 1990s, different manufacturers came up with multiple variations of the original 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge with different pressure standards.

Overpressure cartridges are manufactured by different firearm companies that are commonly labeled as “+P”. If the cartridge is of super high pressure loadings, it is labeled as “+P+”. These high pressure loadings are proved to have better ballistic performance as compared to standard loadings.

Most over pressure cartridges contain more powder as compared to a traditional cartridge.

Some variants also allow 9 mm rounds to achieve better terminal effectiveness. Such variants include improvement in jacketed hollow point bullet technology that comes up with better bullet designs.

Jacketed hollow point technology improves the rate of expansion of a bullet and decreases the chance of bullet fragmentation.

Another popular 9x19mm Parabellum variation is used by NATO. The variant is commonly known as “9mm NATO”. This is another overpressure variant of the original design, manufactured according to the standards of NATO.

As the use of expanding ammunition is not allowed in NATO, the most commonly used ammunition in 9mm NATO is FMJ ball bullets.

Similarly, the Russians have also developed overpressure variants according to their military standards. Russian variants are mostly light weighted with high muzzle velocities. These 9mm variants are designed to increase the penetration power of the round with a goal of penetrating through heavy body armor.

Another armor piercing variation of the Parabellum is the 7N21 that generates the highest pressure of 280 MPa. Another similar variation is 7N31 that is based on the same concept but uses a much lighter bullet in order to achieve higher muzzle velocity.

For the use in trainings, the United States has also developed a variant known as (Special Effects Small Arms Marking Systems). During training, the rounds with blue and red markings are used in the 9mm caliber.

The rounds are similar to paint balls in function. The 9mm SESAMS bullets are used in specially designed pistols along with popular rifles like M4 and M16.

The 9mm SESAMS allows law enforcement agencies to conduct trainings with the identical rounds that are used in real life.

As the rounds are almost similar to any other 9mm rounds, they are clearly marked as use of such rounds in normal circumstances can damage the weapon and can cause harm to the person trying to fire with these rounds.

Common Case Materials in 9mm Cartridges

The most common element used in the cases for 9mm cartridges in the last hundred years is brass. The brass cases are often plated with nickel to make them more durable and often for identification purpose.

Germany was experimenting on the steel cases from early 1900s that were washed with copper in order to prevent corrosion but they never produced the steel cases commercially until 1930s in a bid to save brass.

Soon, multiple variations of steel cases were manufactured in Germany including copper-washed steel cases and dark gray lacquered steel cases. Many countries, including France and Russia, are still using steel cases commercially but the United States never adopted steel cases, though we experimented with them for a few years.

Another popular alternate to brass is aluminum. The first country to produce aluminum cases was Switzerland that started producing the cases in 1941. These rounds were accepted widely immediately after their availability, but for unknown reasons,

Switzerland ceased their production just after four years. Countries like Belgium, Britain, and France also experimented on the aluminum cases, but never launched them for commercial use.

Cases have also been made from plastic. These bullets are used in blanks and short range rounds. These cases most often use metal heads in order to create weight for the bullet. Similarly, cases made up of titanium were also experimented but never launched commercially.

Popular Manufacturers

Some of the most popular manufacturers of bulk 9 mm ammo are Winchester, Remington, Federal, Speer, ATOMIC Ammo, and Cor-Bon. Winchester manufactures 9mm rounds with different loads.

Winchester FMJ and Silvertip are among the popular 9mm bullets used in United States.

More than 70 countries manufacture and use 9mm ammo, but only 27 countries are considered significant manufacturers of the ammunition.

  • southtpa

    if you find an ad for post WW1 lugers you will see that it states 124gr bullet 4 inch barrel and 1250 FPS. why is it so hard to find standard pressure 9mm that can meet this spec and why would John Browning design a pistol that could not easily withstand this loading . I’ve seen many sources questioning a high power’s ability to stand up to this once standard loading. ?????