The P38EditThe Walther P 38 was developed primarily to replace the P 08, which was an excellent weapon but expensive to produce. After the National Socialists came to power in Germany in 1933 they decided upon a deliberate programme of military expansion into which the old P 08 could not fit. What was wanted was a pistol that could be quickly and easily produced but one that embodied all the many and various design features such as a handcocked trigger and improved safeties that were then becoming more common. Walther eventually received the contract for this new pistol in 1938, but only after a long programme of development.
Walther Waffenfabrik produced its first original automatic pistol design back in 1908 and there followed a string of designs that culminated in the PP of 1929. The PP had many novel features but it was intended to be a police weapon and not a service pistol. Walther consequently developed a new weapon known as the Armee Pistole (or AP) which did not have the protruding hammer of the PP but was calibred for the 9-mm (0.354-in) Parabellum cartridge. From this came the Heeres Pistole (or HP) which had the overall appearance of the pistol that would become the P 38. But the German Army requested some small changes to facilitate rapid production. Walther obliged and the P 38 was taken into German service use, the HP being kept in production in its original form for commercial sales. In the event Walther was never able to meet demand for the P 38 and the bulk of the HP production also went to the German armed forces.
The P 38 was (and still is) an excellent service pistol which was robust, accurate and hard wearing. Walther production versions, which were later supplemented by P 38s produced by Mauser and Spreewerke, were always very well finished with shiny black plastic grips and an overall matt black plating. The weapon could be stripped easily and was well equipped with safety devices, including the hammer safety carried over from the PP along with the 'chamber loaded' indicator pin. It was a well-liked pistol and became a war trophy only slightly less prized than the Luger P 08. In 1957 the P 38 was put back into production for the Bundeswehr, this time as the Pistole 1 (or PI) with a durai slide in place of the original steel component. It is still in production and has been adopted by many nations.
The P38 uses a double action trigger design similar to that of the earlier Walther PPKs, and a loaded chamber indicator is also incorporated. The P38 was the first locked-breech pistol to use a double-action trigger (the earlier double-action PPK was an unlocked blowback design, but the more powerful 9x19mm Parabellum round used in the P38 mandated a locked breech design). The shooter could load a round into the chamber, use the de-cocking lever to safely lower the hammer without firing the round, and carry the weapon loaded with the hammer down. A pull of the trigger, with the hammer down, fired the first shot and the operation of the pistol ejected the fired round and reloaded a fresh round into the chamber, all features found in many modern day handguns.
The first designs submitted to the German Army featured a locked breech and a hidden hammer, but the German Army requested that it be redesigned with an external hammer. This led to the subsequent adoption of the P38 in 1940. Several experimental versions were later created in .45 ACP, and .38 Super, but these were never mass-produced. In addition to the 9 mm Parabellum version, some 7.65x22mm Parabellum and some .22 Long Rifle versions were also manufactured and sold.
The fixed - barrel design mechanism operates by use of a wedge-shaped locking block underneath the breech. When the pistol is fired both the barrel and slide recoil for a short distance together, where the locking block drives down, disengaging the slide and arresting further rearward movement of the barrel. The slide however continues its rearward movement on the frame, ejecting the spent case and cocking the hammer before reaching the end of travel. Two return springs located on either side of the frame and below the slide, having been compressed by the slide's rearward movement, drive the slide forward, stripping a new round from the magazine, driving it into the breech and, in the process, re-engages the barrel; ending its return travel with a fresh round chambered, hammer cocked and ready to repeat the process.
Initial production P38 pistols were fitted with walnut grips, but these were later succeeded by Bakelite grips.
Type Semi-automatic pistol
Place of origin Germany
Service history In service 1938-1945
Wars World War II
Manufacturer Carl Walther Waffenfabrik, Mauser Werke, Spreewerke
Produced Walther P38 1939-1945 Pistole P1 1957-2000
Variants P1, P38K, P38 SD, P4
Weight 800 g (1 lb 12 oz)
Length 216 mm (8.5 in)
Barrel length 125 mm (4.9 in)
Cartridge 9x19mm Parabellum
Action Short recoil, locked breech
Muzzle velocity 365 m/s (1,200 ft/s)
Effective range Sights set for 25 m (82 ft)
Maximum range 50 m (164 ft) effective range
Feed system 8-round detachable single-stack magazine
Sights Rear notch and front blade post