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Sauer 38H auto pistol.

Like the 1936 Chrysler Airflow, the Heinkel 119 bomber, and the Ferguson rifle, the Sauer 38' was design far ahead of its time. How many of us believe, for example, that the manual cocking device on a hammerless or concealed hammer pistol is a product of 1970s technology? In fact, it appeared not a decade after the Great Depression on the Sauer 38H.

Similarly, how many of us automatically (no pun intended) associate the spring-loaded, controlled-fall decocking lever with today's DA wonder-niens exclusively? Surprisingly, the Sauer 38H had just such a lever long before the start of World War II. And as for that cDA or cocked n' locked" carry mode option so many of us find appealing on the ultra-modern CZ-75, the Sauer had that as well, along with a super-convenient safety release, in the days when Detroit's latest products still had running boards.

What's more, all this innovation was compressed into a handy and sleek, shootable pocket-sized package. Emphatically then, the Sauer 38H was a "prophetic" arm--one which pointed the way toward the innovations we're experiencing today. Let us then investigate how the 38H came to be and how it fared during the brief eight years of its production life.

The 1930s was the "period of the Walthers" in terms of European pocket pistol design. Truly, Waffenfabrik Walther had scooped the competition when it had brought out the PP and PPK; no one else anywhere offered a concealable DA/SA auto, much less one so slick as either of the Walthers. The market thus "belonged" to the Zella-Mehlis firm, which could sell pistols as fast as it could build them.

But Walther's traditional competitors were not to be outdone for long. Mauser-Werke at once accelerated studies which would lead to the HSc; Sauer und Sohn, in business since 1751, hastened to complete work on their own DA auto, in development since 1932.

What emerged from Sauer's Suhl-based plant in 1938 was the innovative pistol alluded to above: a 25-ounce, 6-1/4-inch, .32 ACP-chambered gun featuring an eight-shot magazine, a 3-1/4-inch barrel, and the super-advanced readiness-mode features listed in the opening paragraph, with the exception of the manual safety. Early '38s, which were dubbed simply "Model H", bore no thumb safety at all, since the cocker/decocker, in combination with the DA trigger, was considered adequate enough to ensure safety.

Commercial production got off to a promosing start. Early Model Hs were Walther-like in terms of quality, and their concealed hammers won for them friends alienated by the Walther's exposed hammers, which some claimed let in dust and caught on coat pockets. ineed, Sauer's only early misadventure with Model H marketing concerned the absence of the thumb level. A lever was desired--in fact, mandated by civil authority, according to one source--and thus the manual safety was added before 3,000 guns had been completed.

Commercially viable though it may have been however, the Sauer Hodel H's sojourn on the civilian market was over by late 1938. AT that time, all Model H production was usurped for military and police use in the Reich. "model H" became Pistole Modell 38h, in accordance with German military practice, and production en masse commenced. Commercial amenities (the civil markings, high polish finish etc.) were tolerated for a while, but only for a while. As the war progressed and demands from the Luftwaffe grew more strident (the Luftwaffe was the chief user of '38s, though police and the Wehrmacht claimed a share also), standards grew more lax, to a point where late wartime guns became quite rough and bore only a caliber designationon the slide. End-of-war guns--the very last of the quarter--million or so '38s completed--even came to be built sans thumb safety, a la pre-war Model H.

One would of course have expected so advanced a design as the Sauer 38H to be revived after the war. But alas, that is not what happened. We're unsure of exactly why; doubtless the occupation of Sauer's plant by the Russians and the subsequent incorporation of Suhl into the German Democratic Republic were decisive factors. Sauer und Sohn had to relocate, without the 38H tooling, to Eckenforde in the West. There the firm underwent years of hard times before prospering again. Quite possibly, the prospect of undertaking massive retooling to compete with the hyper-popular PP and PPK again just didn't hold much appeal. In any event, at the end of the war the Sauer 38h production was forever finished.

How great a loss was this? That was something this author set about finding out recently with the aid of a supply of Reming .32 ACP full-jacket ammo and a late-war manufacture Sauer 38H loaned by Verona Shooting Supplies, 759 Allegheny Fiver Blvd., Verona, PA 15147. Of course, firing trials were preceded by a bit of the usual familiarization handling--a practice which, with the Sauer, tells you at once just why the '38 is held in such reverence. For every control on this gun--every control--is exactly where it should be and operates in a manner consistent with the principles of human engineering. This in a 1930s era design! Incredible when one considers that only recently--within the past decade in fact--have manufacturers been making a sincere effort to design handguns human hands can operate. Yet here in the 38h we find a decocker just as handy as a Walther P-5's; a safet fully as usefull as a Czech 75's, and a manual cocker.

What's more, such manageable controls lead to eminently useful and ultra-modern carry-modes. Insert a magazine and cycle the action so as to chamber a round: you may now thumb the safety upward to "safe" position and thus carry "cocked n' locked", as on a 1911.

Or you may thumb the hammer-dropper to uncock the pistol, and carry it in the double-action mode with the safety on or off, at your option. If you do elect DA carry, you needn't even deal with the DA trigger if you don't want to. Upon drawing, as the pistol is brought to bear on target, simply thumb down that combination cocking/decocking lever against spring pressure. You'll feel the Sauer go to cocked mode in your hand, thus giving you that nice, short 4-1/4-pound letoff for your shot. You may, of course, decock the pistol at any time by simply thumbing the cocker/decocker downward. Can anyone conceive of a more modern system, even today?

Nor are these the only wonders! The trigger is truly a phenomenon, at least if the test piece s representative. The DA pull is smooth, with only a slight slack at the break-point, and it feels far lighter than its 11-1/2-pound letoff would lead one to believe. Most contemporary DA autos don't do so well. Single-action letoff is 4-1/2-pounds--eminently serviceable. Sights are quite decent too, at least for a pre-World War II gun. The traditional U-notch is, to be sure, what one gets for a rear sight but in this case the "U" is unsually wide, just fine for combat work since much daylight appears on both sides of the front post when sights are aligned.

As for performance, the test piece piled five of the Remington 71-grain .32 full metal jacketed bullets into a super-tight 2-1/4 inches from the 25-meter bench: that's very fine grouping from a pocket auto. Furthermore, there were no feeding or extraction bobbles (empties were unerringly tossed into a neat pile 4 feet to the right, and 2 feet front the shooter). Controllability was all this writer could ask, six shots, fired over 3 seconds from 10 meters (10.9 yards) went into the Option Silhouette's A-ring as of try number one.

Even field stripping was benignly simple. To dismount a 38h, one first removes the magazine, then draws back the slide and checks to ensure that the chamber is empty. Then the disassembly catch located in the roof of the trigger guard is pulled downward. Next, the slide is drawn backward as far as possbileM the left-end of the slide is raised, and the slide is allowed to run forward--under control of the hands--off the frame. This concludes take-down.

Of course, the 38h isn't absolutely perfect in all ways, although this report may by now have given a contrary impression. The spring on the cocking level, for example, was, as implied earlier, a bit too stiff to permit easy manipulation by this writer's hand. And the lack of a manually operable slide hold-open would be keenly felt if a feedway stoppage occurred.

But still, all things considered, the Sauer 38h emreged from testing as an undisputed winner of a design. Indeed, the more I dealt with the 38h, the more I was forced to recall the very favorable comments I made in print some months ago regarding Sauer Werke's very newest product, the double action P 226 9 m service pistol.

Now to be sure, P 226 is only built by Sauer; most of its engineering comes from Switzerland. But still, one encounters the magnificent 38H and is tempted to comment: "must run in families..."
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Title Annotation:evaluation
Author:Shimek, Robert T.
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Jul 1, 1984
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