Walther P38

Walter HP Speerwerke 1428.jpg
Type Semi-automatic pistol
Place of origin  Nazi Germany
Service history
In service 1938-present
Used by See Users
Wars World War II [1]
Production history
Designed 1938
Manufacturer Carl Walther Waffenfabrik, Mauser Werke, Spreewerke
Produced Walther P38 1939-1945
Pistole P1 1957-2000
Number built ~1,000,000 [1]
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 50 m (55 yd)
Feed system 8-round detachable single-stack magazine
Sights Rear notch and front blade post

The Walther P38 is a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol that was developed by Walther 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.



The P38 was developed from the Walther AP (Armee Pistole).

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 satisfied the previous problems and production for the Heer (German Army) 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.[citation needed]

P38 made by Mauser, coded "byf 44" with matching presstoff and leather holster

Design details

The P38 uses a double action trigger design similar to that of the earlier Walther PPKs, and a loaded chamber indicator is also incorporated.[2] 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-engaging 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.[3]


The P1 used by the Bundeswehr.

The Walther P38 pistols were manufactured from 1957 to 1963 and can easily be identified by the P38 on the left-hand side of the slide.

The Walther P38 was in production from 1938 to 1963. From 1945 to 1957 no P38s were produced for the German military. After the suppression of the Hungarian and East German uprising in the early 1950s by the Russians, Russia posed the major threat to peace in Europe and the world. Accordingly, there grew a pragmatic de­sire to rebuild West Germany’s 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 Germany since the end of the war, but Walther had been preparing all along for the time when a renewed German army would again seek high-quality firearms. When the Bundeswehr announced it wanted the P38 for its official handgun, Walther was ready. Using wartime pistols as models, and with new engineering drawings and machine tools, Walther was able to resume P38 production within two years, a remarkable achievement. 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. From 1957 to 1963 the P38 was again the standard sidearm for the (West) German military. In late 1963 the postwar military model P1 was adopted for use by the German military and is still used today, and can be easily identified 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. The aluminum frame was later reinforced with a hex bolt above the trigger guard.

An improved version of the P38, the Walther P4, was developed in the late 1970s and was adopted by the police forces of Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg.

In the United States, the Walther P1 is presently under Curio & Relic status.



  1. ^ a b c Bishop, Chris. Guns in Combat. Chartwell Books, Inc (1998). ISBN 0-7858-0844-2.
  2. ^ Military Small Arms of the 20th Century, Ian Hogg, John Weeks
  3. ^ "P38 - 9mm semi-automatic pistol - history & development of the weapon". Hellcat Patriots' Rifle Club. http://p38.50webs.com/history.html. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Jones, Richard D. Jane's Infantry Weapons 2009/2010. Jane's Information Group; 35 edition (January 27, 2009). ISBN 978-0710628695.
  5. ^ a b c d Diez, Octavio (2000). Armament and Technology. Lema Publications, S.L. ISBN 84-8463-013-7.
  6. ^ Hyytinen, Timo (2002). Arma Fennica II Military Weapons. Gummerus Oy, Inc. ISBN 951-99887-0-X.
  7. ^ Marchington, James (2004). The Encyclopedia of Handheld Weapons. Lewis International, Inc. ISBN 1-930983-14-X.

External links

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