The Walther P38 (originally written Walther P.38) is a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol that was developed by Carl Walther GmbH as the service pistol of the Wehrmacht at the beginning of World War II. It was intended to replace the costly Luger P08, the production of which was scheduled to end in 1942.
P38 pistol manufactured by Mauser in 1943
|Place of origin||Germany|
|Used by||See Users|
|Wars||World War II |
Portuguese Colonial War
Vietnam War (Limited)
War in Afghanistan
Iraqi Civil War (2014-2017) (P1)
|Manufacturer||Carl Walther Waffenfabrik, Mauser Werke, Spreewerk|
|Unit cost||32 RM (1943)|
110 EUR current equivalent
|Produced||Walther P38 1939-1945|
Pistole P1 1957-2000
|No. built||~1,000,000 |
|Variants||HP, P1, P38K, P38 SD, P4|
|Length||216 mm (8.5 in)|
|Barrel length||125 mm (4.9 in)|
|Caliber||0.355 inches (9.0 mm)|
|Action||Short recoil, locked breech|
|Muzzle velocity||1,050 ft/s (320 m/s)|
|Effective firing range||Sights set for 50 m (55 yd)|
|Maximum firing range||55 yards (50 m)|
|Feed system||8-round magazine|
|Sights||Rear notch and front blade post|
The first designs submitted to the German Army featured a locked breech and a hidden hammer, but the Heer (German Army) requested that it be redesigned with an external hammer.
The P38 concept was accepted by the German military in 1938 but production of actual prototype ("Test") pistols did not begin until late 1939. Walther began manufacture at their plant in Zella-Mehlis and produced three series of "Test" pistols, designated by a "0" prefix to the serial number. The third series pistols satisfactorily solved the previous problems for the Heer and mass production began in mid-1940, using Walther's military production identification code "480". After a few thousand pistols the Heer changed all codes from numbers to letters and Walther was given the "ac" code.
Several experimental versions were later created in .45 ACP, and .38 Super, but these were never mass-produced. In addition to the 9×19mm Parabellum version, some 7.65×21mm Parabellum and some .22 Long Rifle versions were also manufactured and sold.
From an engineering perspective the P38 was a semi-automatic pistol design that introduced technical features that are found in other semi-automatic pistols like the Beretta 92 and its M9 sub-variant adopted by the United States military.
The P38 was the first locked-breech pistol to use a double-action/single-action (DA/SA) trigger (the earlier double-action PPK was an unlocked blowback design, but the more powerful 9×19mm Parabellum round used in the P38 mandated a locked breech design). The shooter could chamber a round, use the safety-decocking lever to safely lower the hammer without firing the round, and carry the weapon loaded. This lever can stay down, keeping the pistol "on safe" or be immediately returned to the straight position, keeping the weapon safely "ready" with a double-action trigger pull for the first shot. Pulling the trigger cocks the hammer before firing the first shot with double-action operation. The firing mechanism extracts and ejects the first spent round, cocks the hammer, and chambers a fresh round for single-action operation with each subsequent shot – all features found in many modern day handguns. Besides a DA/SA trigger design similar to that of the earlier Walther PPKs the P38 features a visible and tactile loaded chamber indicator in the form of a metal rod that protrudes out of the top rear end of the slide when a round is present in the chamber.
The moving-barrel design mechanism operates by use of a wedge-shaped falling 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-engaging the barrel; ending its return travel with a fresh round chambered, hammer cocked and ready to repeat the process. The falling locking block design provides good accuracy due to the in-line travel of the barrel and slide.
The Walther P38 was in production from 1939 to 1945. After the war from 1945-1946, several thousands of pistols were assembled for the French armed forces(frequently dubbed "grey ghosts" because of parkerized finish and grey sheet metal grips). Only after 1957 was the P38 again produced for the German military. Slowly over time, West Germany desired to rebuild its military so that it could shoulder some of the burden for its own defense. Walther retooled for new P38 production since no military firearms production had occurred in West Germany since the end of the war, knowing that the military would again seek Walther firearms. When the Bundeswehr announced it wanted the P38 for its official service pistol, Walther readily resumed P38 production within just two years, using wartime pistols as models and new engineering drawings and machine tools. The first of the new P38s were delivered to the West German military in June 1957, some 17 years and two months after the pistol had initially seen action in World War II, and from 1957 to 1963 the P38 was again the standard sidearm.
In late 1963 the postwar military model P1 was adopted for use by the German military, identifiable by the P1 stamping on the slide. The postwar pistols, whether marked as P38 or P1, have an aluminum frame rather than the steel frame of the original design. Starting in June 1975, the aluminum frame was reinforced with a hex bolt above the trigger guard.
During the 1990s the German military started replacing the P1 with the P8 pistol and finally phased out the P1 in 2004.
- Afghanistan: Afghan National Police received 10,000 P1s after the fall of the Talibans
- Argentina (trial purposes)
- Canada: Used by the prisoner transport services of the Correctional Service Canada until the late 1980s. P1 Variant
- Chad: P1 variant.
- Chile: Chilean Army.
- Independent State of Croatia
- East Germany: Used primarily by police and paramilitary.
- Finland: Finnish UN peacekeeping forces, P1 variant.
- France: Replaced by the mid-1950s.
- Germany: P1 variant.
- Iraq: Iraqi Kurdistan received 8,000 P1 pistols in 2014
- Kazakhstan - at least up to 2007 were used as service pistol in private security companies
- North Macedonia: P1 variant.
- Nazi Germany
- North Korea
- North Vietnam
- Norway: Norwegian Armed Forces. Replaced by the P80 in 1985
- Pakistan:Used by Pakistan Navy and Pakistan Army Medical Corps. In small numbers purchased from West Germany
- Portugal: Portuguese Army. Replaced by the Glock 17 in 2019
- South Africa: Standard sidearm of SA Police.
- Sweden: HP variant.
- West Germany
- Yugoslav Partisans
The original design for the Transformers character Megatron allowed him to assume the appearance of the P38. Due to subsequent changes in laws regarding toy replicas of guns, the United States later deemed the toy illegal due to the barrel not having an orange tip, making it hard to differentiate from the actual firearm. Australia also outlaws the toy from import for similar reasons.
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