Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Walther P.38 Pistol Series

The Walther P.38 Pistol Series
by Mishaco

One of the very first C&R firearms I was ever exposed to was the German P.38 in 9mm Parabellum, developed by Carl Walther. It took me many years to get one, and even longer to buy, sell, and trade around to get the ones I wanted. Now that I have done so, i thought I would do a write-up on this pistol that frankly, seems under appreciated in many circles today. This is also an unusual thread for me as I do not often do them covering German firearms, with the exception of Walther designs. Please forgive me as i do not know German and my speech mangles it nearly beyond understanding.

Warning: P.38 collecting would appear to be roughly as addictive as heroine. Also about as expensive as a heroine addiction too.


Development & Early Years:
During and after the First World War, Germany's military forces were primarily equipped with the P.08 Luger-Parabellum pistol. The P.08 was chambered for the reasonably powerful 9mm cartridge and had a natural point-of-aim. On the otherhand, the Luger was rather unreliable when dirty, single-action only, and somewhat expensive to manufacture.

As a result around 1934, the German Wehrmacht started to express an interest in obtaining a more modern sidearm to replace the Luger. The new pistol was to be more reliable and durable than the older design, easier to mass-produce, and was to retain the Luger's good handling characteristics. In 1929, Carl Walther of Zella-Mehlis, Germany had introduced the world's first commercially viable automatic pistol, with the option of a Double Action trigger pull on the first shot. Some in the military thought having this feature in a fullsized service sidearm would be benefitial as well.
During the mid-1930s, many German smallarms inventors and manufacturers were at work developing prototypes to perhaps win the military contract. At Carl Walther, Fritz Walther and Fritz Barthelmes were also hard at work on a new fullsized 9mm handgun. Back during the First World War, Walther did put a 9mm Parabellum handgun into limited production; the Model 6. This pistol operated on a simple blowback principle and did not have a locked breech. It was not a success as it had a very stout return spring, heavy slide, and still really was not strong enough to handle repeated firings of a full-power round, such as 9mm.

The first pistol in the P.38's long development process was the Walther Model 'Militaer Pistole' or MP. This pistol already had the P.38's characteristic open topped slide, exposed barrel, and dual return spring arrangement; but in many other ways, especially with regards to its locking system, the MP was very different from what came after it. It utilized a firing and safety system very much like that of the PP's. The MP was offered to the military, but it was deamed too complex and not well suited for mass production. Still, it was a step towards what would become Germany's next standard issue sidearm.

In 1935, Walther unvailed the Armee Pistole or 'AP' as its next advancement. The AP introduced a locked breech system quite similar to what would later appear in the P.38. On the otherhand, like the MP before it, the AP had a concealed hammer and internal extractor. Its grips were made of either checkered walnut or bakelite. Only about 50 AP pistols were built. The first 9mm Double/Single Action pistol from Walther to have an external hammer was what collectors today refer to as the 'MP/H' with its predecessor the 'MP/F' having been the company's last attempt at a 'hammerless' design. The MP/H prototypes were first seen in early 1938, and were quite similar to later production models.





(HP Pistol from the 1939 Swedish contract)

Later in the same year, the first Heeres Pistole or 'HP' was manufactured by Walther. The HP was the immediate forefather of the military P.38 and in fact, the name continued to be used on commercial and export pistols even throughout all of the SEcond World War. In total, about 25,000 pistols were manufactured with the HP slide rollmark, with approximately 7,000 made before 1941. This was the first commercially available DA/SA pistol in a full-power cartridge. It also had some other advanced features for its time such as a combination safety/decocking lever, loaded chamber indicator, wrap-around grips, and the usage of many stamped metal parts rather than machined/forged ones. The HP was made available for commercial purchase in late 1938. The first pistols were sold with checkered walnut grips, which Walther would continue to offer on and off, until late 1940.

One of the earliest large purchase orders for the new pistol came from Sweden in 1939. The first order consisted of 1,000 pistols, all with serials ranging from 1065 to 2065 and with an 'H' prefix. They were given the designation of M/39 and issued to both military units and police officers. A second Swedish order came in 1940 and seems to have been for roughly 500 firearms with serials from 2100 to 2600. The M/39 was the first Hp variant to have an external extractor, rather than an internal one, which the design originally called for. These pistols had the early black checkered bakelite grips and also had checkered takedown levers rather than lined ones.

The Wehrmacht itself officially adopted the new pistol in 1938, hence its military designation in Germany of Pistole.38, however, the first prototypes were not delivered to the army until 1939. From the middle of that year, through March of 1940; Walther produced three series of test or trials pistols for the military. These pistols are often referred to as belonging to the '0' series as their serials all began with that number. Approximately 13,000 0 series pistols were shipped by Walther; quite a large number for a trial run. These pistols were the first true P.38s and changes were incorporated as feedback was received from users in the field.



(HP pistol manufactured between the 2 Swedish M/39 contracts in 1940)

Early P.38s were much like HP pistols, complete with a commercial style Walther banner on the side of the slide and a high-polished blued finish to the metal parts. Most all of the small parts were serialized and proofed as well, including the grips and magazines. STill, P.38s did differ from HPs in a few ways such as having differently shaped extractors and slide release levers. They also used different styles of firing pin. The original HP had a squared pin that was retractable; the P.38 used a rounded pin. The lanyard staple was changed from a semi-circular shape, to a rectangular style. Also, the grips of the P.38 were changed from the earlier checkered pattern with a circular releaf hole for the lanyard, to ones with a horizontally lined pattern and larger, squared off releaf hole. These new grips were thought to be less likely to collect grit and dirt, and to be easier to clean and maintain. They were also probably a bit faster to manufacture. All P.38s came from Walther with bakelite grips. Walnut grips were never used on military pistols; only on some, but not all, commercial HPs.
By 1940, the military hotshots in Berlin felt the P.38 was ready for primetime and in April of that year, the army placed the first large order with Walther for the new pistols. Two months later in June, DWM/Mauser was ordered to discontinue P.08 Luger production as the P.38 was slated to replace it in front line service. However, the Mauser administration was resistant to abandon a well tested and known design for something so advanced and managed to extend P.08 production for another two years. Nevertheless, by the middle of 1940, the P.38 started to be mass produced. At this time Walther was its only manufacturer, but this would not last long; not with the invasion of France and war with Britain in full swing. Nazi-Germany needed military weapons of all sizes and types, including 9mm sidearms.

Interesting Features:
The P.38 is undeniably a German design. While it is definitely less complex and tightly fitted than the P.08 Luger, it nevertheless is more complex with more small parts than say the Soviet Tokarev or American 1911A1. There are many complete technical diagrams and illistrations online and in books of this pistol, so i will not even try to recreate them here. I just thought I would point out some of the design's interesting characteristics and features.

1) The P.38 is indeed the world's first commercially successful Double ACtion capable automatic pistol, which fires a full power cartridge. This combined with the pistol's decocker safety meant a soldier could carry the pistol with a live round in the chamber, with the hammer down, and still be able to fire a shot by simply squeezing the trigger. America, Russia, and Japan also issued automatic pistols during WWII and all of them gave orders that the pistols were to be carried without a round in the chamber during normal activities.

2) The P.38's decocking lever gave the soldier a safe way to lower the hammer of his pistol, with a live round in the chamber. As with all safeties, this one was not fool-proof, but it was much safer than trying to manually ease the hammer down on a 1911 or TT33.
3) The P.38's locking system means the barrel only moves front to back; never tilts out of alignment. This allows it to be more accurate.
4) The ejection port of the P.38 is very large, which means it is quite difficult for the pistol to 'stove pipe' a casing. Also interestingly, the ejector is on the left, meaning spent casings fly in that direction.
5) The pistol's sights were more than adequate for a combat pistol with a wide notch rear and blade front. The front sight is drift adjustable for windage and different heights can be installed for factory adjustment of the elevation.
6) The wrap-around bakelite grips not only allow for a solid gripping surface, but because they also make up the gun's backstrap, they allowed for easier manufacturing of the frame.
7) The P.38 is extremely easy to field strip for cleaning and basic maintenance.
8) The pistol points naturally with good balance and is not overly heavy and/or long and bulky. These features were carry overs from the classic Luger, though the P.38 has a sharper grip angle.
9) The P.38 was less expensive than the P.08, had fewer parts, took less time to manufacture, and required less skilled labor. The P.38 cost the military approximately 3/4ths the cost of a P.08 in 1942.
10) The P.38/P1 was in active military service in Germany for over 60 years. It was also used by such nations as France, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia for several decades. This is a testiment to its solid design and overall acceptable performance.

Production Information;
Official Designation: Pistole 38
Manufacturers: Carl Walther Waffenfabrik, Mauser Werke, Spreewerke (Wartime)
Produced: Walther P.38 1939-1946
Pistole.1 1957-200 (under P38 designation) 1963-1992 (under P1 designation for military contracts)
Number built: 1,200,000 (aprx WWII production)
Variants: HP, P.38, P38, P1, P38K, P4

Specifications;
Weight: 800 g (1 lb 12 oz)
Length: 216 mm (8.5")
Barrel length: 125 mm (4.9")
Cartridge: 9?19mm Parabellum (aka 'Luger')
Action: Short recoil, locked breech, with falling wedge shaped locking block
Trigger System: Double / Single Action with exposed hammer
Safety System: slide mounted manual safety lever, which also acts as a decocker
Muzzle velocity: 365 m/s (1,200 ft/s)
Feed system: 8-round detachable single-stack magazine
Sights: Rear notch, front blade post adjustable for windage
Effective range: Sights set for 50 m (55 yd)

The P.38 in WWII:
Three factories produced completed P.38 pistols during WWII. The first was obviously Waffenfabrik Walther, who would continue to build the pistols until the final day of the war. The next to come online was Spreewerke Metallwarenfabrik, located in occupied Czechoslovakia, which would actually produce a few pistols even after the official sessation of hostilities. The third was Mauser-Werke, who would also continue to produce pistols, even as late as 1946. Nearly 1,200,000 P.38s would be produced from 1940 through 1945, under the Nazi-German government.

Each of the three factories, like all German factories, had its own unique Waffenamt proof mark. These marks were stamped by inspectors of the Weapons Office assigned to oversee final production and assembly of the weapons. Large factories had their own specific inspector(s), while smaller ones had a roaming inspection officer which was assigned to a small region. It is worth noting that these officers were answerable to the Heerswaffenamt, not whichever factory(s) they were working at. Walther's was 'eagle over 359.' Mauser's was 'eagle over 135,' and Spreewerke used 'eagle over 88.' Later in the war, 'Waa' was added to the proof markings. A small number of P.38s manufactured by Walther and Mauser had the commercial nitro proof markings rather than the military Waffenamts. These pistols were intended for police use and also bore some other unique markings relating to their specific departments.





(German military P.38 manufactured in May of 1941)

Waffenfabrik Walther - Zella-Mehlis, Germany;
In June of 1940, after serial production of the P.38 was underway, the Walther factory was assigned the manufacturer's code of '480.' This code would be used in place of any actual maker's rollmark and would serve to identify Walther produced pistols to the Germans, while obscuring production facts from the Allies. The way in which the pistols were serialized was also intended to mask production figures. Serials would run from 1 to 9999 and then begin over again at 1, but now with a letter suffix, such as 'a.' This serial format, combined with the manufacturer's code, would give every pistol a unique identifiable number. It was hoped that roughly 10,000 pistols could be produced each month, meaning after 30 days, a new serial suffix would be used. Of course the real world numbers were never quite so neat, but it was actually a relatively realistic goal.

Walther produced roughly 7,000 pistols using the '480' code during the summer of 1940, before the factory was given a new mark. In August, the code 'ac' was assigned to Walther and would remain its code for the rest of the war. By April of the following year, the factory reached for the first time its goal of having produced 10,000 pistols in one month, however even this early, manufacturing shortcuts began to be taken.

By the second half of 1941, Walther was transitioning away from the high-polished blued finish, towards a matt 'military' style. Obviously this change did not effect the functioning of the guns, but did make them less attractive and was the second major step down for the P.38, with the first having been the switch to the horizontally grooved grips. The year ended in the 'j' serial block, with about 100,000 units produced.

In 1942, Walther stopped serializing some parts such as the grips and magazines. Also, some of the smaller metal parts stopped receiving their own proof markings. This year's production would end in the 'k' block with again roughly 100,000 pistols built.

By 1943 at WAlther, more tool marks were left on some metal parts, meaning less polishing was being done. Pistols from this period are still well made and good looking, but also one can observe less consistancy with the bluing and grip colouration. Again, 100,000 or so units left the factory with the last ones in the 'n' bloc. At sometime during the middle of the year, all three manufacturers introduced a new style of frame. This new frame was reinforced around the trigger pin hole. A short time later the extractor cutout on the slide was changed to eliminate the 'step' at the back. Finally, the magazine bodies were ever so slightly lengthened to improve reliability. A 'v' was added to the magazine's markings to indicate it was of the improved type.

At this time, Walther started using some slides manufactured by FN of Belgium and rollmarked 'ac43.'

By 1944 however, bluing began to noticibly deteariate with visible tool marks becoming more and more frequent. This year would see a dramatic increase in output for Walther with 130,000 pistols ending in the 'l' block. Walther would continue to use some slides marked 'ac44' provided by FN, as well as some frame forgings.

As one would expect, 1945 was a chaodic and incomplete year. Some pistols were produced with out of sequence serials, while otheres were built from random leftover parts and not serialized at all. Many ac45 pistols were rejected by the military and others never even left the factory. It is estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 P.38s were assembled by Walther before the end. The last pistols assembled were in the 'c' block. Also a few in the 'd' block were put together for American GIs when they captured the factory in April. During the final months, Walther started using phosphated small parts such as hammer, slide release, safety, and trigger. Slides made by FN would again occasionally be used, but with the older 'ac44' mark.




(P.38 with latewar features, manufactured by Walther in March of 1945)


Waffenfabrik Mauser AG - Oberndorf, Germany


(Mauser produced P.38, built in the Spring of 1944)

Mauser was initially approached by the military with a request to switch from P.08 to P.38 production in the summer of 1940. The original planned start of P.38 production was to be by the middle of the following year, but delays and legistics pushed it back much further. It was not until September of 1942, that Mauser actually began to produce parts for the new line, with the first completed pistols coming out in November. Mauser made one delivery of 700 pistols to the German military in December. The code 'byf' was assigned to the factory and unlike Walther, Mauser would not start over with the suffixes at the beginning of each new year. Also, since very few pistols were delivered before the New Year, it means 'byf42' coded P.38s are very rare today. Originally, byf pistols were as well made as ac ones, and Mauser pioneered the use of advanced metal stamping techniques and methods. With P.38 production finally underway, Mauser did eventually hault the P.08 lines.

Pistols produced by Mauser in 1943, mostly had even and well done military blued finishes, with a few rare exceptions. They exhibited few, if any, visible tooling marks, and gave few problems in the field. Mauser managed to produce about 144,000 pistols in its first full year of P.38 production, ending in the 'n' and 'o' blocks. Often this would be the case, with the factory producing more than one block at a time and thus ending with both. Some early year pistols would have the old 'byf42' marking on their slides. Pistols produced early in the year had a high-polish bluing. In mid year, Mauser started using what collectors today call a 'dusty' blued finish, which transitioned over to the more matt military blued finish towards autumn. Like Walther, Mauser adopted the updated slide and frame during this year.

1944 was Mauser's most productive year, making byf44 coded pistols the most common of all. Also, pistols made during this period could belong to one of several variants. Starting in the 'v' block, Mauser sometimes would use black plastic grips that were injection molded, rather than bakelite grips like Walther or Spreewerke were using at the time. Only Mauser would use true plastic grips, which were softer and often shinier than bakelite. They seem to have been installed at random, mixed in with various colours of bakelite ones. During this year, some 'dual' or 'two' tone pistols would come out of the factory. Usually these pistols would have a greyish-green phosphated slide and frame, which was assembled with a blued barrel assembly. Looking for ways to both speedup production and lower costs, the factory was trying out new finishes such as this one. Like with the plastic grips, use of phosphated parts seems to have been done nearly at random. Sometime during the year, Mauser stopped using a machined slide release lever and went to a simple stamped one. This left a longer, larger control that lacked serrations. Later,Spreewerke would also adopt the manufacturing shortcut, however Walther would not. At least that is what many sources claim, however I have observed a handful of Walther AC45 pistols in the 'b' block with the stamped slide release. In all, about 145,000 pistols would come out of Mauser in 1944. The 'z' block would be used in September and October, and Mauser would cycle back around to the 'a' block and even make some pistols in the new 'b' block before year's end. If one compares a pistol from Spreewerke, Walther, and Mauser; all manufactured in December of 1944, it will most likely be discovered that the Mauser example has the best fit and finish of the three.

In 1945, Mauser's code would be changed from 'byf' to 'SVW.' Why? no one really knows for sure since other factories such as WAlther did not have theirs changed, while factories such as Steyr did have theirs reassigned. One or two pistols have been reported with an 'SVW44' code, but these seem to be flukes. Some pistols with FN slides had 'ac43' and 'ac44' rollmarks. Pistols made during this shortened year could have blued or phosphated metal parts. Grips could be brown or red bakelite, black plastic, or even pressed metal. Mauser developed these metal grips very late in the war in an attempt to conserve petroleum. 1945 production would end in the 'f' block, with many of the final pistols stuck at the factory, with no way to be transported to the front lines for use.


(Another byf 44 P.38)


Spreewerke Metallwarenfabrik - Hradek nad Nisou, Czechoslovakia (Berlin-Spandau, Germany)


(Typical Spreewerke wartime P.38)

The Spreewerke factory was located in the occupied nation of Czechoslovakia, with its controlling administrative headquarters in Berlin. The factory was ordered to tool up to manufacture P.38 pistols in the autumn of 1941, and it delivered its first 50 pistols for inspection and testing in June of the following year. This means that Spreewerke was the third factory to be contracted to build P.38s, but was actually the second to go operational, well sort of at least. The first test series of pistols was rejected by the German military, so the factory submitted a new batch in August. This second test run was approved and the factory was ordered to commence immediate fullscale production. It was given the code of 'cyq' and unlike Walther and Mauser, Spreewerke did not use a two digit year code. This means dating these pistols is slightly more involved.

During Spreewerk's first year of production, about 7,000 pistols left the factory. This means the year ended with guns that still did not have a suffix. The first 500 cyq pistols were built with a mix of some small parts supplied by Walther. thus some early Spreewerks might have the 'e/359' proof mark on some minor parts.

In 1943, Spreewerk produced 108,000 pistols; more than Walther, but less than Mauser. These pistols were of good quality, but were still not as nice as the P.38s from the other factorys. The final pistols for this year ended in the 'k' block. From the outset, cyq pistols had a dark blue military finish and used grips supplied by a different subcontractor than did the other two factories. For whatever reason, Spreewerke was the only one to add their maker's code to their barrels.

In 1944, the factory built about 127,000 pistols, with the final ones for the year in the 'y' block. It should be noted that there are no CYQ pistols in the 'q' block; it was skipped for some reason. This year marked a sharp decline in the fit and finish found on all P.38s, but most of all with Spreewerke examples. Some pistols made during this year were built using frames supplied by FN of Belgium. Many 'fnh' marked barrels were also used. In the autumn, some cyq pistols were assembled with what are called 'cog' hammers today. These hammers were also used some by Walther in 1945, and they had a simplified style of grooving from the original hammers. The 'cog' hammers were manufactured by an unknown subcontractor and are unmarked. Mauser never used this part. By the W or X block, unpolished machine markings were common place on Spreewerke P.38s.

In 1945, Spreewerk used up all the alphabet and started over by adding an 'a' prefix rather than suffix. This was continued witha 'b' prefix block, and then a '0' was used rather than a letter for the next batch. Finally a '00' prefix was used in May on about 100-200 pistols, produced under communist occupation. As enemy troops were pressing in and about to overrun the factory, the 'WAA88' proof marking was abandoned in favour of a faster and simpler 'u' single digit stamp. There is no evidence that the code was changed from 'cyq' to 'cvq.' On the contrary, all of it points to this marking being a damaged stamp. Spreewerke managed to assemble 41,000 pistols before the factory was captured in early April. Some pistols made during this time had FN slides with the 'ac43' code on them.

Other Manufacturers;
Though Walther, Mauser, and Spreewerke were the only factories that produced complete P.38 pistols during WWII; some other firms were subcontracted to supply components. For example, Ceska Zbrojovka made locking blocks and barrels, with 'FNH' stampings. Most of these barrels went to Spreewerke. FN of Belgium manufactured both slides and frames. All three factories used FN's parts. Erste NordBohmische Metallwarenfabrik under the 'jvd' code manufactured complete P.38 magazines, which were often supplied with later 'cyq and SVW pistols.

The bakelite grips were also contracted out to several plants throughout Germany and the anexed nations. Walther used either grips made in-house or created by Allgemeine Electricitats-Gesellschaft. Very late in the war, some Walther pistols also were shipped with grips from Durofol, which were made with a high percentage of wood filler. At the beginning of production, Mauser used the same grips as Walther from Allgemeine Electricitats-Gesellschaft or Walther themselves. I do not know who manufactured the shiny plastic black grips that Mauser would later use, and I assume the metal grips were made in-house. With the first few thousands of pistols they made, Spreewerke used grips provided by Walther. However, by the middle of 1943, the factory switched to grips manufactured by Julius Posselt. These grips can easily be distinguished from other bakelite grips as they have five lines interrupted by the grip screw hole. In comparison, AEG and Walther grips have six interrupted lines.

the Wartime HP Pistol;
Interestingly, in 1941, Walther was continuing to manufacture some pistols for commercial sales, with the 'HP' name on their slides. Naturally military P.38s took priority, but about 17,000 Hps were produced from 1941 until 1944. These commercial pistols were offered for private purchase by officers inside Germany, and also were available for export to other Axis nations. The majority went to the Austrian Army, named the Bundesheer. These pistols can be identified today by a 'BH' stamp on their slides. Most if not all were refinished in military service.

The wartime HP pistol was built from the same parts and on the same assembly lines as Walther's P.38s; so the only differences between the two were in their markings and serial numbers. HP pistols were allowed to have serials that were five digits long and did not utilize the suffix code system. Serials were continued from pre-war commercial numbers.

The commercial line was also used by Walther to carry some prototype and custom pistols. For example, a few hundred HPs were chambered in 7.65x21mm Parabellum (.30 cal Luger). A small number were made as Single-Action only target pistols with walnut grips also. Walther did a run of 75-100 P.38/HPs with lightweight 'dural' frames. Dural frames were made of an aluminium alloy and worked, but were shown to have a short service life. So while the vast majority of Walther's output went directly to the Nazi-German military, the company was still allowed to nominally remain a private business venture. It is a common misconception that all HP pistols are pre-war, and this is simply not the case. In fact less than 20% were manufactured before Germany's invasion of France in 1940.

The Post War P38, P1, and P4:
Perhaps the best testiment to the P.38's effectiveness is the fact that its production did not end with the war that spawned it. The pistol enjoyed quite an extensive and prominent second life.

the 'Grey Ghost' pistol;
In May of 1945, the Allies captured the Mauser factory and it was immediately turned over to the recently re-established French government. The French ordered the workers at the factory to continue production of both the K98 rifle and P.38 pistol. Wartime production of the pistol ended in the 'f' block and French supervised production started with the 'g' block. These pistols were still coded SVW45 and early ones were assembled from parts manufactured during the war. In fact, many of these pistols retained the WAA135 acceptance mark and other Nazi markings. The French military marked their pistols with a 5 pointed star on the slide, frame, and locking block. These pistols had a grey phosphate finish, like late wartime P.38s were sometimes found with. It was this finish that lead to the pistols receiving the nickname of 'Grey Ghost.' Very early 'g' block pistols were built with the black plastic grips, but soon a switch was made to coated and ribbed metal grips, when stocks of the plastic grips ran out. These metal grips were thick and surprisingly heavy; making them at least as durable as bakelite. French P.38 production ran into 1946, with the code of SVW46 being used. After strong protests from the Soviet Union and pressure from the other Allies, the FRench finally did discontinue production at the Mauser factory and closed it perminantly. It did not matter anyway as most all of the parts had been used up. The last pistols produced at Mauser were in the 'k' block. In the early 1950s however, 500 more pistols were assembled in France as part of the 'l' block. These P.38s were destined for the police and were made from leftover parts that the French carted away from the Mauser plant before leveling it.

Grey Ghost pistols would serve in the French military for decades, including in the Foreign Legeon where some were issued to former Nazi-German soldiers. Many would be carried into combat in Vietnam and captured there. Thus some American soldiers would find and even bring home French marked P.38s from Vietnam a decade later. The pistols were finally pulled from service in the late 1960s and sold off to Interarms who imported them into the USA throughout the 1970s and 1980s. A few would remain in service with some police agencies in France and others would continue to be used by the independent Vietnamese.

the VZ.46;
After liberation from the Germans, Czechoslovakia was in a great deal of disorder. Its military was in shambles and utilized any firearms it could obtain. Many German weapons were left over and pressed into service, such as the K43 automatic rifle. Many different Czech pistols were in use also immediately after WWII such as the VZ.24, VZ.27, and VZ.38. To suppliment these pistols, the P.38 was also adopted into service as the VZ.46. Many were available to the Czech military as the Spreewerke factory had been located in their nation. Eventually the VZ.46 was retired when the 7.62x25mm VZ.52 came into use in the mid 1950s.

the Communist P.38;
During the war, Soviet Russia captured thousands upon thousands of P.38s. Some were mint, some in used but decent condition, and others were near junk. Sometime in the late 1940s or 1950s, a rebuild program was instituted in Russia. All P.38s were completely taken apart and had any damaged pieces disregarded. Pistols were refinished with a thick black coating, and either forced matched or reassembled with matching parts. Original grips in unbroken condition were used, but new domestically made ones were put onto pistols whose original grips were not salvageable. Then these pistols were put into long term storage as emergency weapons. Honestly, the real reason for the program was to give Soviet workers labor.

The P.38 also saw rather extensive use in post-war East Germany. Many wartime pistols were referbished and remarked. Many replacement parts were even manufactured such as grips, locking blocks, and magazines. In 1953, about 120 pistols with an 'n' prefix were built in East Germany; most from all newly made parts. These pistols would serve with both police and military officers for several years.

the P1;




(Standard later production West German Army P1)

For approximately a decade, the P.38 was not produced. In 1955, West Germany expressed interest to the Allies in being allowed to once again rearm; all be it in a limited and defensive capacity only. With the communist threat in Europe growing ever more menicing and with communist East Germany (DDR) next door, the Allies agreed that West Germany could again establish a military and furthermore, that firearms could once more be produced inside Germany's boarders. The newly reformed German Army became known as the Bundeswehr and began trials to select weapondry to equip itself with.

At the end of the war, the old Carl Walther factory in Zella-Mehlis was destroyed by Soviet forces, but Fritz Walther along with his family escaped to the West. With him, Fritz carried the blueprints for many of his companies firearms including the PPK and P.38. He re-established the Walther factory at a new location in the small city of Ulm, Germany, but originally this new factory could not produce firearms due to post-war limitations placed on the occupied nation. Instead it made hardware such as typewriters, but when Fritz heard that firearms production would again be allowed in Germany, he immediately switched his factory over to produce weapons.

One of the new pistols that Walther began producing in the mid 1950s was a 'P38' which was very similar to the wartime design but with a few improvements. The biggest change was with the frame. During the war, Walther experimented with aluminium alloy frames, which it named 'dural frame.' Some PP and PPK pistols were even produced with these lighter frames. So in 1957, a P38 with a 'dural' lightweight frame was introduced. This pistol had some other improvements, such as a redesigned firing pin and a machined trigger. Most of these new pistols had a two piece barrel, with an alloy outer sleave and a steel inner lining. The new design reverted to grips that were very similar to the early checkered style used in the late 1930s, but this time they were made of a more durable plastic rather than bakelite and used the squared lanyard cutout. The Bundeswehr was immediately interested in Walther's offering and after some testing and trials, it was officially adopted as the army's standard issue sidearm.

In 1963, P38s destined for military service received the 'Pistole 1' or P1 designation. Pistols that Walther manufactured for commercial and law enforcement sales continued to be marked as 'P38.' The only difference between a post-war P38 and a West German military P1 is how the weapon is rollmarked. The P1 would remain the standard sidearm for decades, with the last order of new pistols being delivered in 1992. Starting in 1994 and lasting through 2004, it was gradually phased out and replaced by the HK P8. In all, about 500,000 post-war P38/P1s were produced, with the majority going to the Bundeswehr.

The P1 underwent some design improvements during its long production run. In 1968, a thicker slide was introduced, sometimes called a 'fat slide.' This slide made the weapon stronger and reduced the likelyhood of the slide stretching, and thus cracking. Slide cracking had been a minor problem with the design going all the way back to WWII. The new slide also had longer areas of cerations running down each side, which made it easier to grasp.

In 1974, the P1 received another important update; a hex pin was added to the front of the frame. This pin was added to prevent excessive wear to the alloy frame when the locking block slammed into it when returning to battery. It was not exactly meant to strengthen the frame; if anything it might have actually weakened the frame's overall structure a tiny bit. What it did do was provide a steel surface for the locking block to impact upon when returning to battery. It added about 0.5 oz to the weapon's weight, but extended its effective service life.

Some P1s began to appear with larger blade front sights with a white dot, starting in 1981. This type of front sight had already been used on some police P38 and P4 pistols. It is incorrect that this type of sight was on the P1 from its beginning in the early 1960s. Its also worth noting that many P1s can be found today with matt-grey/black phosphated slides and barrels. This is how military armorers refinished the pistols after they had been rearsenaled. It seems Walther originally shipped all pistols with a military grade blued finish.

the P4 & P38k;




(West German police surplus P4 pistol)

In 1975, a version of the pistol known as the P4 was introduced, primarily targetted at the West German law enforcement market. It was a further development of the P1 and retained its alloy frame with reinforcing hex pin and 'fat' slide. It borrowed a highly reliable safety system from Walther's PP Super design. With this safety system, the lever on the slide is soly a decocker. Once pressed and the hammer dropped, a spring in the slide automatically returns it to the upward position. The firing pin and hammer work together to provide for a safe weapon. The firing pin is tilted out of alignment unless and until the trigger is fully pulled rearward. The hammer in turn has a cutout near its base inwhich the end of the firing pin can rest, when being decocked. So there is virtually no way for the weapon to discharge without the trigger being completely pressed.

The P4 had a shorter 4" barrel as well. It was determined that this reduction in length would make it easier to handle for police officers, while not dramatically decreasing the weapon's accuracy or range. The hammer was also made shorter and rounded so that it could still be manually cocked, but was less likely to catch on clothing or in a holster. A new slide was made for this pistol, which did not have the sheet metal topcover and instead had the rear sights screwed into place. It also lacked the loaded chamber indicator, which could be found on all earlier P38/P1 models. Finally, the P4 had a ribbed target style hammer, like that found on many other Walther firearms of the 1970s. In all other respects, the P4 was the same as the P1, including with its sights, grips, and magazines.

The pistol found modest success, with its main users being the police forces of Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-WĊ¸rttemberg, in West Germany. In all, Walther manufactured about 8,000 P4s, with production ending in 1982. A civilian version was offered under the designation of P38 IV, though very few were sold.





(Walther commercial P38k made towards the end of the production run, with phosphated finish to the slide and barrel)

A version of the P4 with an even shorter barrel was also manufactured during the mid to late 1970s. This compact weapon was named the P38k by the factory. It had a 3" barrel, with the front sight relocated to the front of the slide, rather than on the end of the barrel itself. The rear sights were windage adjustable. In all other ways, the P38k was the same pistol as the P4. Only about 2,600 P38ks were built and it was not particularly a commercial success. Though it was quite short, it still had a large grip and was not all that light. Its barrel did not provide for much range either, as one might imagine. Today, the P38k is a curiosity and of great interest to Walther collectors.


So there you have it, a brief overview of the Walther P.38. Sorry, i couldn't find all of my pictures. I am particularly sorry i couldn't find those of a French SVW45 Grey Ghost, as it is really an interesting variant.

I do feel the P.38 is underappreciated though lately collector interest in the series has risen, as availability of good honest P.08 Lugers has declined. They are good solid pistols, with a wealth of history behind them.

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