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P.38 Masterpiece or misfit? It's stood in the shadow of the Luger and M1911, but Kokalis says that with almost 1.2 million produced, the P.38 has to rank near the top of the World War II pistol list.

Part I--World War II Era

Who fielded the best small arms of World War II? If we're talking about the infantry soldier's single most important weapon, his rifle, then clearly the semiautomatic U.S. .30 M1 Garand rifle heads the list. If it's pistol-caliber submachine guns, we're talking about, then we mast probably choose the Soviet PPSh4l, as more were produced than all other submachine guns combined and it was a core weapon of the Red-Army's infantry troops.

In the area of machine guns, the finest General Purpose Machine of the war was probably the German MG42 and without doubt, the best heavy machine gun of all time was, and is, the U.S. Browning .50 cal. M2 HB.

Selection of the best handgun of the war will result in some fierce arguments. But, quite honestly, it was not the .45 ACP M1911A1. My choice would be either the "Browning High Power or the German P.38.

The High Power exhibits excellent human engineering and the greatest magazine capacity. But the P.38 was a very modern single-action/double-action design with a manual safety combined with a decocking device. Total World War II production of the P.38 by three manufacturers--Walther, Mauser and Spreewerk--was about 1,190,500.

The Carl Walther factory originated in the Thuringia area; where in 1592 the cities of Zella and Mehlis began to produce weapons. Carl Walther founded his company in 1886 and shortly thereafter began to manufacture small-caliber pocket pistols.


Carl Walther Waffenfabrik became interested in both the commercial and military potential for a 9x19mm Parabellum handgun by the late 1920s. Walther's first large-caliber handgun was the 9mm Parabellum Model 6, a scaled-up version of the 7.65mm Model 4. Introduced in 1915, the Model 6 was blowback-operated and thus required a substantial slide weight and heavy recoil spring.

However, German small arms manufacturers were prohibited at the time by provisions of the Treaty of Versailles from manufacturing 9x19mm handguns. But, well aware that the German political situation might bring about changes in that area and that there was a very real military potential to replace the P.08 (Luger), Walther was motivated to design a pistol in caliber.


The unqualified success of the 7.65mm Model PP led Walther to upscale the PP and develop both a blowback-operated prototype and another with a delayed opening locking mechanism similar to the Pedersen-designed Remington Model 1917 in which the slide and breechblock were interlocked as one piece at the moment of firing.

During the recoil cycle, the breechblock's rearward movement was halted and it separated from the slide by engagement of a recoil shoulder in the frame. Neither of these designs moved past the prototype stage.

During the mid-1930s the Wehrmacht called for a new pistol to replace the Model 1908 (Luger) that was fielded during World War I and proved to be both unreliable and expensive. It was demanded of the new design that it be simple, with as few parts as possible. In addition, component interchangeability, ease of disassembly and reliability were also required.

Four companies responded to the proposal in 1937. They were Mauser (the Model HSv), Sauer & Sohn (essentially a locked-breech version of the 38(H) pocket pistol), Berlin-Suhler Waffen und Fahrzeugwerke (Berlin-Suhler Arms and Vehicle Works), and Walther. Walther had the edge as it had already developed the HP (Heeres Pistole), which was very much already a P.38. The Swedish Army purchased the HP in 1939 under the designation m/39 and ordered about 1,500. Several minor changes were made to the HP and the Wehrmacht then adopted it in 1938 as the P.38. German troops did not see the P.38 until 1940. Let's examine the developmental history of the HP/P.38 in greater detail.

During the early 1930s, Walther began development of a pistol that would eventually lead to the P.38. Often referred to as the Modell MP, it was a locked-breech design with a exposed barrel, open slide, open slide top sealed by a cover, twin recoil springs mounted in rails on each side of the frame, and a loaded chamber indicator.

The rear end of the slide projected rearward to conceal the hammer completely, but the other features mentioned would all eventually be found on the P.38. The lockwork and safety mechanisms were all evolved from the Model PP. The locking mechanism was definitely not that of the future P.38, as the Modell MP had two separate locking blocks, one on each side of the barrel.

Walther engineers quickly determined that the MP's locking system was too complex, required extremely close tolerances with too many cam surfaces. It was a Teutonic engineer's dream, but a soldier's potential nightmare.

The second developmental stage of the P.38 was designated as the Armee Pistole (Army Pistol or Modell AP). Armee Pistole was spelled out on the left side of the slide, together with the Walther banner. All of the Modell MP deficiencies were corrected. Although a design with excellent potential, it was never placed into series production. In addition to a number of small changes, the locking mechanism became that of the future P.38. Very few were produced.

The third developmental stage of the Walther P.38 series has been called Modell MP/F by collectors, with the letter "F" designating a flat slide by removal of the reinforcement rib on the slide. There were also additional minor changes to the locking mechanism.

This was the last concealed-hammer version of this series, and in early 1938, Walther applied for a patent of a pistol in this evolutionary series with an exposed hammer. While it's unknown why Walther initially pursued a concealed-hammer design, as both the highly successful PP and PPK pistols had exposed hammers, it's possible that the Germany army had at first requested a concealed hammer pistol because of its experiences in the muddy trenches of World War I.

In any event, the fourth and final developmental stage in the P.38's design history was the Modell MP/H (indicating exposed hammer). Apparently only a few were produced before the army adopted the HP in 1938 (Modell Heeres Pistole--Model Army Pistol). The production relationship between the HP and the almost simultaneous P.38 (Pistole 1938) is unclear and quite confused.

Early P.38s were almost identical to the HP (which continued to be produced for "commercial sales," i.e., to well-connected Nazis). The major differences were different slide markings, an external extractor, the HP's rectangular firing pin was replaced by one with a round tip, a different configuration for the locking lever and slide stop lever on the left side, and a re-configuration of the grip panels.

It is interesting to note that in 1944 the cost of one complete P.38 was $14.08, while the cost of one complete P.08 Luger was S19.80. The commercial retail price of the Model HP during this time was $75.

Overall length of the P.38 is 8.6 inches (210.8mm). The barrel is 4.9 inches (125mm) with a six-groove bore with a 1:10 right-hand twist. The height is 5.4 inches (137mm) and the width, at the grip panels, is 1.16 inches (29.5mm). The weight, empty, is about 34 ounces (.963kg).

The sights are fixed, front and rear. The rear sight is an open U-notch and the front sight blade is dovetailed to an integral mount on the barrel.

Walther-made P.38s--World War II era

In April of 1940, the revised German proof laws were adopted and all commercial pistols produced from that time forward had the crown over "N" proof replaced with eagle over "N". The eagle was in the style of the official emblem of the Nazi party.

Although the Modell HP was the same as the contemporary P.38, except for markings and finish, the Modell HP was produced, inspected and proofed under civilian control and was not considered to be a service standard. My specimen, serial number 2721, was made between May of 1940 to September of 1940 and was one of approximately 380 produced during that time frame.

The entire pistol has a very high polish finish and the left side is marked with the Walther banner and "Waffen-fabrik Walther, Zella-Mehlis (Thur.) Walther's Patent Cal. 9m/m Mod. HP". The grips are checkered black plastic with an incipient thumb rest on the left grip panel. This variation is also encountered with checkered wood grips and in caliber .30 Luger (7,65mm Parabellum).


A few were made in single-action-only during this time. In Germany, the Modell HP was purchased by qualified military personnel, issued to special duty units not involved in combatant roles and also to Nazi party members. A small, experimental lot were made with aluminum alloy frames. An extremely small number have been encountered with "Mod. P.38" slide markings instead of "Mod. HP". Depending upon condition, Modell HP pistols, except for especially rare variants, sell for up to $3,500.


The Walther factory facilities required for series production of military contract pistols marked "P.38" did not exist until late in 1939 and were not completed until 1941. The pistol was not officially adopted until the first half of 1940.

The first P.38 pistols to come out of the Walther factory were those of the so-called Zero-Series Variation, so designated because their serial numbers are prefixed by a zero. Used for field trials and formal evaluations, they were the actual prototypes of the P.38 pistol series.


Commonly used in Europe, a zero prefix often indicated pre-series production and usually involved on a limited number of pistols. However, the Zero-Series P.38 pistols went through four developmental stages lasting until August of 1940. By that time approximately 13,000 Zero-Series P.38 pistols had been produced.

The frames, slides, barrels and magazines of Zero-Series P.38 pistols carry the serial number and the Walther factory Waffenamt stempel eagle over "359". These pistols have the same high polish finish and black plastic checkered grip panels as the Modell HP. Two magazines were issued.

My personal specimen is serial number 06252 and starting in the early 06000 range colored sights--a red band on top of the rear sight and white at the rear of the front sight are occasionally encountered. The red band on my rear sight is completely intact, but the white paint on the front sight is partially chipped away. The reason for these colors is not known. Zero-Series Variation P.38 pistols are quite rare and highly desirable. The current price range is from $4,500 to $6,000.

The original reason behind German military equipment manufacturer codes was to circumvent the Treaty of Versailles. The first codes were started in approximately 1934. By 1940 subterfuge was no longer necessary, but the concept was retained for purposes of security and to logistically facilitate procurement.

The first codes were either three-digit numbers, such as "660" for the Steyr factory in Austria and "243" for Mauser/Borsigwalde, or combinations of letters with numbers, such as "S/42" found on Luger pistols and K98k rifles manufactured by Mauser in the late 1930s.

The first code issued to Walther was "480" in about 1934 and it is found on the grip panels of HP and Zero-Series pistols. The use of the "480" code on P.38 pistols represents the first actual military purchase of this pistol by the German government. It was short-lived, as no more than an estimated 7,300 pistols were manufactured with this code on the frame and slide. Specimens are very hard to find, as it was issued in time to see the war's most costly battles on the Eastern Front and few survived.

The finish was still a fairly high polish and two serial numbered magazines were still issued with the pistol (the spare magazine has a "+" following the serial number). But by this time the grip panels had been changed to those with the prominent horizontal serrations that characterized the entire P.38 series by any of the three manufacturers throughout World War II.

In addition, the lanyard loop was changed from circular to a wider style with a flat top and with the left grip panel's lanyard slot depression changed from circular to rectangular. An absolute must for any aspiring P.38 collector, because of the wide range of condition in which they are encountered, "480" code P.38 pistols range in price from $2,000 to $4,500.

In October of 1940 the Walther manufacturer's code was changed to the two lower case letters "ac". This also was short-lived, as only several weeks after changing the code, it was decided to include the last two digits of the year of manufacture directly under "ac".

It has been estimated that no more than 2,570 "ac" no-date P.38 pistols were produced. Its finish remained high gloss blue. Its great rarity precludes a price range, as with an historical handgun this scarce, the rule becomes "whatever the traffic will bear."

The first "ac40" P.38 pistols, of which about a thousand were made, featured the code in an odd of balanced appearance with respect to the slide's horizontal centerline. The second variation, of which about 12,000 were produced, has the code located symmetrically with respect to the slide's horizontal centerline.

Both of the "ac40" variations are difficult to locate, as many went to the Eastern Front and never returned. They sell for $1,500 to $2,500 today when in excellent condition, which is rare.

It has been estimated that somewhat over 110,000 "ac41" P.38 pistols were manufactured. In the latter part of 1941, the finish was changed from a high gloss blue to a dull blue, obviously to enhance cost effectiveness, as the pressure of a wartime economy began to affect Germany's industrial potential.


There are three distinct variations of the "ac41" P.38. The first is characterized by the "ac" code stamped on the left side of the trigger guard. After a little more than 23,000 pistols, the code was dropped from the trigger guard and appears only on the left side of the slide. This constitutes the second variation.


The final variation occurred after almost 95,000 units had been produced, when the finish was changed to dull blue. A handful of "ac41" P.38s have been found with the death's head (Totenkopf) symbol on the right side of the slide. The meaning of this is unknown and as enigmatic as the Totenkopf-marked Luger pistols. An "ac41" P.38 is mandatory, even" in a beginning collection. But, as with the earlier variants, most of these went to the Soviet Union and were ground up in the cauldron of the battlefield. If the magazine serial number is matching, an "ac41" in really excellent condition will bring up to $2,500.


The "ac42" P.38 is a relatively easy variant to locate and frequently found in excellent condition. The estimated production is about 100,000 pistols and there are two variations. The first variation, which represents the first 25,000 pistols produced in 1942, still has all of the components with the eagle over "359" Waffenamt stempel. The last 75,000 pistols made that year exhibit the slowly escalating pressure to cut costs and increase the pace of production. As a consequence, the serial numbers were deleted from the magazines and grip panels, the caliber dimension on the barrel was removed, and the military acceptance stamp was deleted from all of the small components, appearing only on the frame, slide, barrel, locking block and magazine. Either variation of an "ac42" P.38 will sell today for $700 to $1,500, depending upon condition.


The "ac43" P.38 is quite common and once again the total production for the year of 1943 remained at approximately 100,000 pistols. The first variation, representing the first approximately 80,000 units made, is identical to the second variation of the previous year's production. A few "ac43" P.38s have been found with an eagle on the trigger guard, the meaning of which is unknown. Toward the end of the year the manufacturer's code and date was changed from a stacked orientation ("ac" over "43") to a linear configuration ("ac" with "43" as a suffix). Walther P.38 pistols made in 1943 sell for $600 to $900 in excellent condition.

In 1944, as Germany found itself with its back to the wall and the war going badly, Walther pushed approximately 130,000 P.38 pistols out the door. Thus, "ac44" P.38s are common and relatively easy to locate. Many will be found with barrels made by Fabrique Nationale in Belgium or Czech barrels and magazines.

The most interesting "ac44" P.38 pistols to collectors are those with what Buxton refers to as an "Experimental Finish." On most examples all parts are dull blue, except for the frame, which has a distinctive copper colored finish, but a few are entirely copper colored. While some believe that this was an experimental finish, others feel it was the result of poorly done and hasty bluing. I believe it was the latter, but no one knows for certain.

In any event, it occurred mainly within the "d" through "g" serial number blocks and this phenomenon significantly raises the value of an "ac44" P.38 from $900 to $3,000 (if the pistol is in excellent condition with a holster and two magazines).

By 1945, the Eastern Front was terrifyingly close to the borders of Germany and the war was to last only until 8 May 1945. Before its end, Walther was able to produce about 31,000 P.38 pistols rollmarked "ac45" and this is a rare variation as most never returned from the battlefield, And, in addition, the 1945 P.38 pistols had an extremely high reject rate at the factory--all of which contributes to their scarcity. Again, many of these pistols are encountered with FN barrels from Belgium. P38 pistols carrying the "ac45" code sell for $900 to $2,500.

The strangest Walther P.38 pistols of all are those of the so-called Late-Date AC Frame Variation. These are, to say the least, controversial pistols. These pistols are made up of Walther frames with other parts from Mauser ("byf" code) and Spreewerk ("cyq" code). After the first variation of the "ac41" P.38 pistols, the code "ac" was dropped from the left side of the trigger guard and never appeared on the frame again until it was found on these mixed parts pistols.

In addition, my specimen and a few others I have examined have no serial number of any kind. The slide is marked "byf" over "44" on the left side and eagle over "135" (the Mauser acceptance stamp) on the right side, and the barrel is marked "cyq" and eagle over "88" (the Spreewerk acceptance stamp). While a few believe these pistols were assembled after the war, the consensus of most authorities is that they are "last ditch" weapons cobbled together in very late 1944 and early in 1945, just prior to the end of the war. On the rare occasion one can be located they will cost you from $1,500 to $3,000.

During World War II the Heereswaffenamt acquired P.38 components from several captured factories. Bohmische Waffenfabrik, AG (Ceska Zbrojovka) in Prague, Czechoslovakia made barrels for both Walther and Spreewerk. Erste Nordbohmische Waffenfabrik, also in Czechoslovakia, made P.38 magazines with the factory code "jvd". Fabrique Nationale in Liege, Belgium built 4,720 P.38 frames and 2,272 slides between August 1943 and September 1944. The total number of Walther P.38s estimated to have been produced during World War II is 584,500.


Mauser-made P.38s

By early 1940, Heereswaffenamt began to explore the possibilities of new processes and technologies with regard to small arms production. One new process that proved to be of great interest was Blechpragetechnik, or stamped sheet metal technology, which was still quite new, but was eventually applied successfully to the MG42 General Purpose Machine Gun and also the MP40 submachine gun. Both Walther and Mauser had some previous experience in this area.


Walther was busy attempting to solve the problems associated with series production of the P.38. The P.38, representing both machined and pressed metal techniques, was very advanced for its day, but already on the verge of becoming obsolete.

Meanwhile, this left Mauser with somewhat greater time to develop stamped sheet metal processes, but the incredibly rapid intensification of the war soon curtailed their sheet metal design program as well. Mauser was first needed to manufacture contemporary small arms, such as the standard issue K98k bolt-action rifle and also the P.38.


Thus, in May of 1940 Mauser was directed to examine the possibility of manufacturing the P.38. To that effect, Walther delivered a set of blueprints, components and machinery, which were converted by Mauser to reflect their own production techniques.

It was originally estimated that Mauser's series production of the P.38 would commence by April of 1941, with termination of P.08 (Luger) production somewhat before this. However, Walther was still encountering serious problems with its series production of the P.38 and this delayed Mauser's program for the pistol's production also. Walther's production problems were not entirely solved until April of 1941.

As a consequence, preproduction of complete P.38 pistols did not occur until late in September of 1942. By November there still had been no deliveries to the Wehrmacht. Only 700 P.38 pistols were delivered by Mauser to the army in December of 1942, but by January of 1943 Mauser's serial production of the P.38 finally occurred. By the fall of 1942, the cost to the German government of one Luger pistol was $25 and that of the P.38 was $15.13. During the same time frame, a Mauser-made K98k cost $35.99.

The Mauser manufacturer's code was the lower case letters "byf" and was issued to them early in 1941. A date code of the last two digits of the year of manufacture was marked directly under the factory code. The Waffenamt acceptance stamp assigned to Mauser's P.38 production was an eagle over "135" and the military proof mark found on both Walther and Mauser P.38 pistols was an eagle over a circled swastika. The serial number system used was that applied to almost all German small arms: numbers from "1" to "9999" and then subsequently an alphabetical suffix.

Aside from the 700 pistols delivered in 1942, all "byf42" code P.38 pistols were actually assembled in the early part of 1943 and are in the 1943 serial number range, which began at "1". Estimated production with the "byf42" code is 24,000. Pistols marked with this code are quite rare and will carry a $2,000+ price tag.

Excluding these latter marked pistols, it has been estimated that approximately 31,000 "byf43" code P.38 pistols were manufactured by Mauser from April through December of 1943. Some are found with an unusual "dusty blue" slide finish. Difficult to locate in collector grade condition, this variant sells for $1,500 to $2,500.

The most common Mauser wartime P.38 is the "byf44" variant, as there were two alphabet production runs for an estimated total of more than 145,000 pistols. Depending upon condition, they run from $750 to $1,000.

On 6 December 1944, the Mauser manufacturer's code was changed from "byf" to "SVW". The reason for this is not known for sure, but it has been speculated that the Germans found out that a list of some of their codes had fallen into Allied hands during mid-1944, if not earlier. Only one or two "SVW44" code P.38 pistols have been reported. It's not a variant that any collector can reasonably hope to acquire.

There are two basic types of "SVW45" P.38 pistols: "German military issue" handguns and those made by the French after the war had ended and they occupied the Mauser factory. These latter pistols, called "French issue" will be discussed in Part II of this article, which will cover P.38 pistols manufactured after World War II.

Four types of German issue "SVW45" P.38 pistols can be distinguished: Type 1 with all parts, except the locking block and sear, having grayish green phosphate finish with either black plastic or sheet metal grip panels; Type 2, which is identical to Type 1 except that the barrel is dull blue (my personal specimen is of this type); Type 3 in which the entire pistol is dull blue; and Type 4 which consists of any combination of finishes except that of Type 2. Those with combinations of blued and phosphated parts are usually called "Dual Tone" P.38s by collectors. Estimated production of all German military issue SVW45 P.38 pistols: 70,740 with 23,000 issued and 47,740 rejected. These are extremely desirable variants and sell for S2,500 to $3,750. The total number of P.38s estimated to have been made by Mauser during World War II was 323,000.

Spreewerk P.38s

The least expensive route to starting a P.38 collection, no matter how modest your goals, is to start by purchasing one manufactured by the wartime's third supplier, Spreewerk in the city of Grottau (now known as Hradek nad Nisou--Hradek by the River Nisa), Czechoslovakia. Spreewerk P.38 pistols are considered to be of the lowest quality of any made during the war.


Partially as a consequence of this and also because so little was known about them until the recent publication of The P38 Pistol--Spreewerk Production by Jan Balcar and Ron Clarin (see below), most often Spreewerk P.38s rarely command more than $500 to $600, except for the extremely rare variations.

Since most of the workers were forced labor, mainly from Bohemia and Moravia, there were also persistent rumors that some Spreewerk" pistols had been "sabotaged" and might be "dangerous." This was not true, but it has not helped their desirability or value.


Production of the P.38 at Spreewerk Grottau commenced in July of 1942 and ended with the last 100 pistols believed produced in May of 1945. It has been estimated that during that time a total of 283,000 pistols were manufactured. From April of 1943 to April of 1945 the monthly production totals varied from about 10,000 to 11,000 units.


Within the total produced during that time, the authors have designated five distinct series and 14 variations. When books are published, variants delineated and pigeonholed, collector interest invariably increases and values begin to rise. Now is the time to start buying Spreewerk P.38 pistols.

The manufacturer's code assigned to Spreewerk Grottau was "cyq". Spreewerk-produced P.38s were not provided with the last two digits of the year of manufacture, either as a suffix or under the manufacturer's code. The Waffenamt stempel assigned to Spreewerk Grottau was eagle over "88".

An asterisk stamped on any component of a Spreewerk P.38 indicates a part designated as a repairable reject. Except for the locking block and sear, ail other parts on any Spreewerk P.38 were given a dull blue finish by means of a hot salt bluing process. Some Spreewerk P.38s have blued locking blocks.

The first alphabetical series began with serial number "1" and ended with serial number 10000z. The suffix "q" was not used. This represents a theoretically potential total of 260,000 pistols and thus the overwhelming majority of Spreewerk P.38s in collections and available for sale fall within this series.

There are six variations within this series. The 1st variation consists of the first 500 pistols assembled at Spreewerk, which made use of numerous small parts provided by Walther. The 2nd variation is identical, except there are no eagle over "359" marked parts. This variation goes from serial number "501" to approximately "3600c".


The 3rd variation, which goes out to about serial number "400d" represents only small changes to some of the parts. The 4th variation is characterized by reinforcement of the frame around the trigger pin and some less important changes, which occurred in June of 1943. The 5th variation occurred when Fabrique Nationale began providing frames at the end of 1944. These frames will be marked either with FN's Waffenamt stempel, eagle over "140" or with "MI" or "m" on the left front trigger guard. The 6th variation, somewhere around serial number "2350z", is often found with a manufacturer's code of "cvq". The mystery behind this is explored and explained by Balcar and Clarin.

The Spreewerk second alphabetical series was characterized by movement of the letter suffix to become a prefix. About 20,000 pistols were manufactured with this type of serial number and most of them carry the "cvq" code. Those marked with the "cvq" code are considered to be the 7th variation and those with the "cyq" code constitute the 8th variation.

After completion of the second alphabetical series another series was produced, for unknown reasons, with all serial numbers beginning with a zero. Only about 5,730 pistols were made in the Zero series and this is considered to be the 9th variation if the code is "cyq" and the 10th variation if the manufacturer's code is "cvq". The 1lth and 12th variation have slides made by FN and originally intended for Walther and marked "ac43" and "ac44", respectively. After the first Zero series, about one hundred pistols were produced with a double zero prefix and these have been designated as the 13th variation. The 14th and final variation consists of a handful of pistols with no serial number on the frame and stamped on the slide with the letter "S".

While classifications like this are important to providing the all-important categories that collectors need for the framework around which to build a meaningful and systematic collection, it pays to remember that they are purely arbitrary. Arsenals do not build small arms, especially in wartime, for the benefit of future collectors. For this reason there are always anomalies, contradictions and enigmas that will confound, frustrate and confuse future generations of collectors. That understood, The P.38 Pistol--Spreewerk Production remains the most important book ever published on Spreewerk P.38 pistols and I can recommend it highly without reservations of any kind.


Common Fakes

P.38 pistols with short barrels have always made collectors' blood rush to their heads, as they have been traditionally associated with the Gestapo (a contraction for Geheime Staatspolizei--Secret State Police) or the Waffen SS. I have a Mauser "byf44" short-barrel P.38 with just enough of the barrel protruding to mount the front sight. These pistols will also be encountered made by Walther and Spreewerk. They are sinister looking and eye catching. Unfortunately, all of them are also complete fakes.


There is absolutely no documentation that Walther, Mauser or Spreewerk ever made even so much as a prototype short-barrel P.38, or that pistols of this type were ever fielded by the Gestapo or the Waffen SS. I'm happy to own mine, but it is of no historical or collector value. When encountered they sell for $400 to $500.

An even more blatant form of P.38 fakery is the so-called Walther and Mauser banner P.38 pistols. After the Walther HP and Zero series P.38s, no Walther-made P.38 intended for the World War II Wehrmacht ever left the factory at Zella-Mehlis with a Walther banner rollmarked on the slide. Even more certain is the fact that no P.38 ever produced by Mauser was ever marked with the Mauser banner.


Those offered for sale usually have had the banner applied by a pantograph and are completely counterfeit. Even more preposterous is a commercial P38 with a supposed "Spree Werke Berlin" banner.

"Russian Capture" P.38s

Huge numbers of German small arms were captured by the Red Army on the Eastern Front during World War II. Most of the caliber 9x19mm Parabellum pistols were placed into storage and never re-issued, as the caliber did not conform to the Soviet 7.62x25mm standard service handgun cartridge.


During the early and mid 1990s, large quantities of these pistols were imported to the United States. They have caused considerable debate with a great deal of rancor and bitterness in collector circles.

All of these pistols have been "dipped," which means reblued without first polishing to remove defects. Most of them, in accordance with the Gun Control Act of 1968, have importers' marks prominently displayed on their barrels. Some do not and I'm lucky to have obtained, more than a decade ago, an "ac42" with no importers' marks, a perfect bore and no pits or blemishes under the hot salt bluing. Like many of them, my specimen has a blued locking block.


Further, these pistols can usually be distinguished by a black oxide finish that's suspiciously consistent on every single one of the components. Most were inspected and re-finished at the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant in Izhevsk, Russia. Unlike the Russian capture K98k rifles now being imported, most, but not all, of the P.38 pistols have matching serial numbers.

Some have serial numbers crossed out and replaced with new numbers. Many have a large letter "X" roll marked next to the serial number. A substantial number of rare variants, such as Zero series and "480" code pistols were imported. Several of these latter that I have examined looked like they were stored at the bottom of the Volga River.


Some P.38 collectors feel that Russian capture P.38s are interesting and represent a valid collecting niche. I am one who does not believe that. To me, Russian capture P.38s are no more that bottom-of-the-barrel "shooters" that will never substantially increase in value. My advice is to stay away from them and opt for "veterans' bring backs."

P.38 Holsters

Authentic P.38 holsters in truly excellent condition are rare and valuable, as leather deteriorates more rapidly than steel and plastic. The first P.38 holsters were patterned after those for the P.08 Luger. They were made of top grain cowhide with a fully molded flap of the type common to European military holsters of the era.

The earliest holsters were made in 1940. Most are black, although a few were made of brown leather. A very few were made of pebble-grain-stamped cowhide. Most of these holsters are marked at the rear with a large "P.38" and either a manufacturer's code with the last two digits of the date or all four digits of the year, and sometimes, but not always, with a Waffenamt stempel.

These hard shell P.38 holsters were replaced with a newly designed, two-flap, "breakaway" soft shell holster in 1943. A police type was similar except the closure strap was re-located on the holster's bottom flap. World War II-era P.38 holsters sell for $125 to $400, depending entirely upon condition.

How the HP/P.38 Operates


The P.38 series is a short-recoil-operated, locked-breech design with, at the time of its development, some truly unique features. The barrel and slide recoil together for only a short distance completely locked together until gas pressures drop to a safe level. After that, a falling block-is cammed downward to unlock the barrel and slide as the barrel strikes its stop in the frame and the slide continues rearward to cycle the action.

The frame extends forward over the trigger guard, which is an integral portion of the frame forging. The barrel and slide locking-block, which is hinged by a bent flat spring to the underside of the barrel, rests in a lug that is part of the barrel forging under the chamber and is unlocked by camming downward into a recess in the frame above and forward of the trigger.

Projections on each side of the locking block engage cutouts in the slide for locking. A sliding plunger projects through a hole in the rearward face of the locking block. After the barrel and slide have recoiled together for approximately a quarter of an inch, the plunger strikes a forward face on the frame, pushing it forward to cam down the locking block and release the slide. This method of locking was also used by Beretta on their series of 9x19mm pistols culminating the M9 adopted by the U.S. military, albeit apparently with somewhat less success.

There is a locking lever with a bolt at the front end of the frame extension on the left side that holds the slide to the frame.

The hammer and its lockwork are located in the frame behind the magazine well. A coil mainspring in the grip operates by means of a hammer stirrup. The slide travels on rails in the frame and extends only to the end of the frame extension, leaving the barrel completely exposed in front of it. The slide is also cut away in front of the breech.

There are two recoil springs and guide rods in the frame extending rearward from the breech. They are located in slots milled for them, one on each side of the frame. They are compressed as the slide moves to the rear to provide compression energy for the counter-recoil stroke.

The slide-mounted thumb safety is on the left side. If the hammer is cocked, pushing the safety lever down to the safe position turns the stem of the lever and locks the firing pin's travel.

It also operates a trip on the left side of the hammer that moves the sear and thus releases the hammer that, however, still cannot drive the locked firing pin. The sear is also rotated into a raised position that prevents the trigger bar and trigger from returning to the forward position.

If the slide is retracted with the safety lever down, the hammer will not stay cocked but will rotate forward with the slide. When the safety lever is pushed back up into the firing position, the sear is released from the trip and both the trigger bar and trigger return to their normal positions. The firing pin is also unlocked at this time.

The firing pin is also locked by a safety stop in the bolt. It cannot be driven forward by the hammer until it is released by a lever--which pushed upward by the sear, in turn forces up the safety stop. The slide must be fully forward in battery for this lever to force up the safety stop against its spring.

In addition, a positive disconnector was incorporated into the design. As the slide recoils rearward, it drives the trigger bar down from its engagement point with the sear. As a consequence, the pistol can only be fired when the slide is fully forward and locked in battery.


The HP/P.38 is fitted with a double-action trigger mechanism patterned after those found on the earlier Walther PP and PPK designs. This permits the pistol to be carried with a cartridge in the chamber and with the hammer down. Pulling the trigger will raise and trip the hammer and fire the cartridge. Subsequent shots are fired in the single-action mode, unless the safety lever is rotated down into the safe position.


Trigger pull weights on my three dozen P.38 pistols vary widely from 10 to 16 pounds in double-action and 4 to 6 pounds in the single-action mode. There is usually very little stacking prior to let-off in double-action and the single-action break is most often fairly crisp. The best trigger pulls are most often found on early Walther P.38 pistols, such as the HP and zero series variants and by far the worst are those of the Spreewerk pistols.


The extractor is a spring-loaded claw on the left side of the slide's breech face. The sheet-metal ejector is an Lshaped arm located on the right interior side of the frame and pivoted vertically on the rear axis pin. It is kept in the raised position by the magazine body.


Ejection is to the left of the operator. When the last round has been fired, the magazine follower pushes up against a projection on the interior of the frame which raises up the slide locking lever to engage a notch in the slide and hold the slide rearward. After inserting a loaded magazine, pushing downward on the slide locking lever will permit the slide to fly forward and chamber a round.

The HP/P.38, unusually for the time, also has a chambered cartridge indicator. This spring-loaded steel rod, square at the breech end and round at the end that protrudes from the rear of slide, protrudes out the rear of the slide when there is a round in the chamber. It can be easily seen and also used in a tactile manner in the dark.


The eight-round, single-line, detachable box magazine has seven cartridge indicator holes on each side of its sheet-metal body. The magazine floorplate can be easily removed for cleaning, which should be done each time the pistol itself is disassembled for cleaning and lubrication.

The magazine catch/release is located at the heel of the frame in the traditional European manner. As a result, magazines cannot be changed rapidly. However, this is almost never an important consideration for military side-arms that most often are little more than badges of rank. There is a lanyard loop on the left side of the frame, just above the magazine well. The grip panels on World-War-II-era P.38s are usually either reddish brown Bakelite or black plastic, both with pronounced horizontal serrations.


(The author would personally like to express his gratitude to Ron Clarin for providing the most recent documentation of World-War-II-era P.38 production estimates for use in this article. PGK)

Next month (5/20 issue): The postwar P.38


The P.38 Pistol, Spreewerk Production by Jan Balcar and Ron Clarin. Copyright 2009. ISBN 978-1-60458-364-9. Published by Ron Clarin, P.O. Box 65, Lakeville, MN 55044, Soft cover, 294 pages with numerous black & white and full color drawings and photographs. $49.95, postpaid.

The P.38 Pistol, Volume One--The Walther Pistols 1930-1945 by Warren H. Buxton. Copyright 1978. ISBN 0-87833-303-7. Published by UCROSS Books, P.O. Box 764, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87544-2350. 328 pages with numerous black & white photos. Recently reprinted--$80.

The P.38 Pistol, Volume Two--The Contract Pistols 1940-1945 by Warren H. Buxton. Copyright 1984. ISBN 0-96-140240-7. Published by UCROSS Books, P.O. Box 764, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87544-2350. 247 pages with numerous black & white photos. Recently reprinted--$80.


Walther Pistols, A Historical Overview, Models 1 Through P99 and Copies by Dieter H. Marschall. Copyright 2000. ISBN 0-9614024-4-X. Published by UCROSS Books, P.O. Box 764, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87544-2350. Soft cover, 130 pages with numerous black & white photos and line drawings. $22.

Website: bright shining example of what an Internet firearms forum should be, but almost never is. This one is moderated by a group of knowledgeable individuals very much dedicated to the P.38 and other Walther handguns, who are responsive, courteous and honest. Highly recommended to all those interested in the P.38, both beginners and advanced collectors alike.

Text and photos by Peter G. Kokalis
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Title Annotation:Walther P38
Author:Kokalis, Peter G.
Publication:Shotgun News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 20, 2010
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