Friday, July 29, 2011

Lets Play a Game with a Walther PP .22 and a P22

I have two Walther .22 caliber pistols. The first is a 1943 Walther PP .22 Cal like the one below.

The second one is a recent production Walther P.22. Like this one.

Guess which one is better?
One pistol is totally reliable and have never failed. The other occasionally jams. Which is which?
One is the most accurate pocket pistol I’ve ever fired, the other is marginal at best. Which is which?
One is well made, robust, beautifully finished. The other is cheap. Which is which?
One feels perfect in my hand, well balanced and sturdy, the other feels like a blow dryer. Which is which?
Well I’m sure you’ve guessed it. The 1943 Walther PP .22 Cal is the hands down best. It’s not even close. I impulse bought the P22 and have not been satisfied in really any respect. It was a stupid purchase since I already owned the PP .22 cal.
This leads me to think, how would a Browning HP do against more modern polymer wonder nines? Or how would an all steel original CZ 75 fare against a polymer wonder nine? I think I know. The FACT is, that all steel, well made and finished pistols of yesteryear can more than hold their own against these modern polymer C in C made Frankenstein creations. Of course we have proof, not rigged and irrelevant “torture or endurance tests” but rather the crucible of combat in two world wars. We also have one more thing, our own hands and ability to appreciate quality.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Final Thoughts on the P.38

As a summation to the two part blog entry on the P.38 and P1, I’d like to share my thoughts. The P.38 was, back in the day, the coolest and most advanced handgun in the world. Today it’s viewed as a quaint relic of WWII and the Cold War.

The P.38 seems very ordinary and unremarkable, and like the old joke about Shakespeare, it’s full of clich├ęs. Of course the double action trigger, excellent fixed sights and superb ergonomics (a term unknown at the time of the P.38s design) taken for granted today.

However the P.38 is still remarkable. Before there was an AK-47 rifle, the P.38 was the “AK-47 “of handguns. This is a metaphor, illustrating the P.38s excellent reliability in all climates and conditions.

This begs the question, what are the qualities of the P.38 that stand out today? Well, for one thing, the P.38 is a “no drama” handgun. This means there are not really controversial features or modifications needed. The sights, grips, trigger pull, surface finish are all just fine as it comes from the factory, no need for aftermarket add-ons.

The P.38 is superbly reliable and carries comfortably in a belt holster. Its 9mm Parabellum cartridge is accepted as a world standard. A pretty good package and a great piece of history.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Post WWII use of the P.38, P1 and P4 Pistols

Immediate post war use of the P 38.
Post war use of the P 38 came immediately after V-E day. The French occupied the Mauser Factory in Oberndorf, Germany and began to assemble P.38s from the thousands of parts on hand. They continued production into early 1946. The late war Mauser factory code and the year of production are on these pistols, i.e. “SVW 45” or the rare “SVW 46”. These pistols have a unique gray phosphate exterior finish and distinctive steel grips. They have earned the moniker “Gray Ghost” among collectors. A few of these pistols actually received a blue finish and were issued to the French Police. The blued pistols are prized collector’s items today. In early 1946, the Soviet Union objected to the continued French production of the P.38. There was a wartime agreement among the Allies not to continue production of German weapons in their sectors after the war. Consequently, the French closed the Oberndorf factory. However, the French did manage to produce and take delivery of about 55,000 P.38s.

Czechoslovakia also assembled P 38 pistols from the Spreewerke factory located there. Again, these were leftovers of Nazi German production and used to rearm the Czechoslovakian military and police. Second hand wartime German P 38s have found their way to France, Austria, East Germany, Morocco, Finland, Vietnam, and to America, in the duffel bags of returning GIs. In the last 15 years Eastern European countries, and former Soviet Republics, have released numbers of P.38s, presumably taken from German Forces during and at the end of the war.

Because of its sinister wartime image and rakish appearance, the P 38 became a mainstay of the Motion Picture and Television industries from the 1950s to the late 1970s. The P 38 operated well with blank ammunition, securing its place on the big and small screens. Its photo credits are much too numerous to list but the P 38s film career undoubtedly contributed to its continued popularity among civilians. Many WWII themed movies and television shows made during this time featuring the P.38. The P.38 was also widely used as a “communist” weapon in many Cold War thrillers in film and television.

The P 38 used a simple and robust magazine (left) unlike the more frail model used by the P08 Luger (right). Photo author

The P.38 returns during the Cold War.
The return of the P 38 during the Cold War was the culmination of two larger events. First, the fledgling North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) decided to allow West Germany to reestablish its armed forces in 1955. Second, Walther built a new factory in the West German town of Ulm on the Donau (Danube) river. In the early 1950s, the French firm of Manuhrin and Walther reached licensing and production agreements for the PP and PPK pistols. This relationship continued when the P.38 design returned to production (German Police and Military designation model was changed to P1 in 1963). All three types of pistols can be with either Manhurin or Walther markings. For the P.38/P1, in post war (1958) nomenclature, the greatest change in manufacture was the substitution of an aluminum receiver replacing the steel one used in wartime P.38s. This was a revolutionary change in 1955. It also established another P.38 design innovation. Since that time, many manufacturers designed and produced aluminum receiver weapons and it is now a common feature.
Early Postwar (1958) Aluminum Framed P.38 with West German Army markings.

The P-1 enjoyed steady military and police sales from the 1950s to the 1980s. These pistols are marked with the trademark Walther Banner and model markings. The commercial P.38 with the aluminum receiver was marked with Walther/Ulm Donau markings. The German Bundeshwer and German Police used the P-1, until it was replaced in the late 1980s and early 1990s by newer designs. The commercial post war P.38 was a very nicely made pistol that achieved modest popularity. A snubnose version, the P38k was introduced for customers wanting a more concealable firearm. The P.38k was never made in large quantities and is a collector’s item today.
As seen on the cover of the factory manual, the P.38k was built with an even shorter barrel and with the front sight on the front of the slide. The pistol was built on P4 mechanicals, with the simplified slide and hexbolt.
As a curious side note, during the Cold War, the West Berlin Police were not allowed to use West German manufactured weapons due to treaty restrictions. Instead they used French Manurhin produced P-1s, successfully circumventing the restrictions. Note the markings on the slide and the starburst (West Berlin Police acceptance stamp) on the trigger guard.

The 1970s vintage P1 pistol (top) is typical of modern German production with aluminum frame, improved sights, and slight changes to the slide. The serial number is located on the frame. Lower pistol is early post war production. The last three numbers of the serial number are repeated on the slide and on the barrel. Photo Author

For purposes of clarity, the post war commercial aluminum framed P.38s made in Germany at the Walther plant in Ulm and so marked, will be referred to as P.38.
The post war Ulm manufactured P.38 is identical to the P1 except for slide markings. Walther did make a limited run of “All steel classic P.38s” in the late 1980s but they were quite expensive and the number produced was very small.
Options for civilian purchasers were the 7.65 Luger and .22 Long Rifle caliber pistols, these chambering are rare. The P.38 designation on commercial post war pistols was a clever and effective marketing strategy to capitalize on the excellent P.38 wartime reputation.

A comparison of early and late production postwar aluminum frames. A steel hexagon bolt placed above the trigger guard was added to aluminum frame P 38/P1 in mid 1970s. Although Walther was initially pleased with the durability of the aluminum frame, the hexagon bolt did increase strength. Photo author.

All good things must come to an end.
In the mid 1970s it became apparent that the P.38/P1 format was eclipsed by newer designs. Walther attempted to update the P1 design with the P4, truncated version of the P1. Although simplified and incorporating the evolutionary upgrades of the P1, the P4 saw very limited production and was not a commercial success. The official lack of enthusiasm for the P4 was probably due to the fact that it did not offer any increase in ammunition capacity, nor did its smaller size offer any significant advantages over the P1. In the atmosphere after the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attack and the rise of the Baader Meinhof Gang, the German police establishment realized it need significant upgrades or replacements for its existing weapons. Consequently, the P4 saw only limited acceptance with the West German police.
The striking resemblance between the P1 and P4 surely hindered acceptance of the P4, as it was not a significant advancement over the P1. Adoption by the West German Border Police and some small foreign sales accounted for the 5000 P4s manufactures by Walther and Manurhin.

The P4 (above has a shorter barrel and simplified slide that eliminated the loaded chamber indicator which was a feature on all P.38s and P1s.

The Walther P.38, the most advanced pistol in the world at the time of its introduction, possessed some features considered obsolete by the late 1970s. Chief among these was the magazine capacity limited to 8 rounds of ammunition and heel of the butt magazine release. The P.38 pioneered the double action trigger system for service sized automatic pistols, however, by the late 1970s there were many competitive designs that possessed lighter and smoother double action pulls. These improved designs appealed to police organizations and private citizens alike.
Starting in the late 1980s, the German Armed Forces, State Police, and Border Police have sold as surplus their P1/P4s and replaced them with more modern designs by Walther, Heckler & Koch, and Glock.

The P.38 and P1 today.
Walther, with their new marketing alliance with Smith and Wesson, no longer manufacture or import the commercial P.38 into the United States. Large numbers of P.38s, P1s, and P4s were imported over the years and it can still be found at attractive prices on many used gun shelves. Many P-1s are reconditioned and are in excellent condition.
Excellent condition wartime P.38s are increasing in value and represent a wise investment. GI bring back P.38s may range from excellent to poor condition, with some even nickel plated by their GI owners. Owners WWII vintage pistols should have them appraised.
Wartime P.38s with parts that no longer match, are refinished, or import marked, usually do not command a premium on the collector gun market. These pistols represent a good value for an owner that wants a steel framed pistol for shooting purposes.
Since World War II P.38 pistols are “Curio and Relics”, imports may trickle in from the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries for a while. Germany may continue to divest itself of surplus P-1s as well.

Summary of Differences between the wartime P. 38 and the post war P.38/ P1 pistols.
Weight. The all steel wartime P 38 weighed 34 ounces, the P1 weighs 27.5 ounces, post 1968 P1 weighs 28 ounces, P4 weighs 26.1ounces.

Construction. The post war P 38/ P1 uses an aluminum frame, saving 6.5 oz in weight illustrated above. The later (1970s vintage) P 38/ P1/P4 pistols have a steel hexagon bolt to strengthen the aluminum frame and a beefier slide.

Slide. The post 1968 slide also has additional grasping grooves to improve handling. The slide contour is changed to improve strength. In the P4 and P.38k the slide is simplified with the top cover and loaded chamber indicator elimated.

Safety and firing pin. Post war pistols have an improved safety and a rounded firing pin. They are a few small parts in the slide not interchangeable with wartime P 38s counterparts. However, the entire slide assembly will interchange. The hammer drop and safety operate slightly differently on the P4 and P.38k as it flips back into the fire position after the hammer is lowered onto the empty chamber (per West German police requirements).

Grips. Wartime P 38s used ribbed grips constructed of plastic and later steel. The plastic grips could be black or brown. Post war P 38/ P1/P4s use a black plastic checkered grip or a wood grip on special models.

Barrels. World War II barrels are one piece construction. Post war barrels are of two-piece construction.

Finnish. World War II P.38s from all manufacturers had a blued finish applied at the factory. The Mauser produced SVW 45 and 46 date codes have a gray phosphate finish. Postwar P.38/P1/P4/P38k have a dark gray matte finish on the slide, hammer, trigger and a semi-gloss black anodized frame.

Special Notes:
After World War II returning G.I.s occasionally had their captured war trophy pistols decorated or nickel plated as souvenirs. At the time these pistols were plentiful and no one thought much about it. In subsequent years as these pistols hit the secondary market, specious stories of “special U-boat finish” cropped up to sell these pistols to unsuspecting buyers.
Another scam occurred in the 1980s during an early importation of P1 pistols. An unscrupulous importer stamped these pistols with Nazi Waffenamt markings in a foolish attempt to sell these as World War II era pistols. The same has occurred with leather holsters, postwar holsters are marked with Waffenamt markings and World War II dates. Buyer Beware!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

More Six Shooters and Gun Smoke at the James Farm in September 2011.

Our friends at the James Farm in Kearney, Missouri will host another Old West Revolver Contest on September 17, 2011. This is the last match of the year so don’t miss it! It’s a great chance to shoot at the same place where Frank and Jesse James learned to shoot in the tumultuous days before the Civil War. Get the details on the Friends of the James Farm Website,

Interesting news in the Zoot Shooting world!

Zoot Shooting now includes the 1940s!!! Don’t think WWII reenacting but rather Bugsy Segal, Film Noir, big cars. Think about the post war music and styles. The new rules should be out “toot sweet”. Hopefully it opens up the firearms field to include some of the near WWII surplus, like the M1 Thompson, Walther P.38, M1 carbine, etc. This will be exciting!! Hopefully the rules will be in force for the Championship match in September!! See the website at

Monday, July 11, 2011

The World War II German P.38 Pistol

The Walther P.38 pistols have a mystique the started in late 1930s and continues today. This unique journey includes the sinister Nazi conquests of the Second World War and the intrigue of the subsequent Cold War.
The Carl Walther Waffenfabrik was a respected manufacturer of firearms in Germany during the early 20th century. Several successful small semi-automatic pistols were the mainstay of their product line. Walther revolutionized the semi-automatic handgun market in 1929 with the introduction of the Walther Polizei Pistol, called the PP. The PP, and later its compact version the PPK (Polizei Pistol Kriminal), used a double action trigger cocking mechanism. The PP and PPK are still popular today and in many cases they are considered the standard by which other small defensive handguns are judged.

The Walther double action system safely lowered the hammer on a loaded chamber and the trigger could be used to subsequently cock and fire the weapon. The long and somewhat heavy trigger pull for the first shot was similar to a double action revolver; subsequent shots were in the manner of a normal single action semi automatic pistol. This system allowed a cartridge to be kept in the chamber of the weapon instantly ready for long periods of time. This was ideal for both military and police use. However, both the PP and PPK were blow back pocket pistols chambered for relatively weak cartridges such as 32 ACP and 380 ACP.

The prewar (1937) PPK (Below) was a state of the art defensive pocket pistol in the 1930s. It’s popularity, along with the slightly larger PP, continues to this day. The P.38 above is shown for comparison. Photo author

The 9mm Parabellum cartridge, the standard service round of the German Army and Navy since the early 20th century, and a growing number of other countries’ military establishments, was too powerful for a blowback pistol design like the PP and PPK. In fact, Walther’s attempt to develop a blow back 9mm Parabellum in World War I, failed.
The 9mm Parabellum operated at a pressure higher than the smaller pocket pistol cartridges. The locked breach recoil system, which was mature design by the 1930s, was the most promising design avenue for a new service pistol.
In the process of rearming during the 1930s, German military started looking for a replacement for the venerable P08 Luger. Walther combined their expertise with double action trigger mechanisms with the 9mm Parabellum and the design evolved to became the P.38.
The P. 38 was a much more modern design than the turn of the 20th century P08 Luger (lower left). Photo author.

The first attempt resulted in the Walther Armee Pistol or AP. The Walther AP’s are rare collector’s items today. This was a striker fired design that was quickly changed to an exposed hammer design and renamed the Herees Pistol or HP.
In the final days before WWII, the HP was sold commercially and to the Swedish Army. HPs were made in small numbers during the war for German police use. Sweden became the first nation to adopt the P.38, the most advanced service pistol at the time.
As an interesting side note, The P.38 was offered on special order in 45 ACP and 38 Super for the American civilian market, few, if any, of these were ever made. The onset of World War II in 1939 prevented civilian deliveries of the P.38 to America.
The P.38 pistol would be almost unknown in America until G.I.s encountered it in combat in 1942.

The venerable P08 Luger was a design considered “long in the tooth” by the late 1930s. The P08 Luger was one of the first successful semi-automatic pistol designs and had given excellent service in World War I. It was also the service sidearm of several European armies and a successful commercial product. Expensive and difficult to produce, the P08 Luger was dirt sensitive due to it’s exposed action and required excellent quality ammunition to function correctly. The advanced design P.38 provided the answer to these difficulties. Extensive testing demonstrated the P.38 was very reliable in adverse conditions, especially the cold. Although the P08 Luger continued in production until 1942 and served until the end of the war, the P.38 became primary German service pistol.

World War II usage.
Many of the P.38s features were revolutionary at the time of its adoption are taken for granted today. The P.38 possessed large sights and was the only World War II era pistol so equipped. Its double action trigger system has been widely copied in many of post war designs. The grips were ergonomic and fit different sized hands comfortably. The 8 round magazines were simple and robust. The P.38 pistol was simple and comparatively easy to manufacture in large numbers. More than one million P.38s were produced by Walther, Mauser, and Spreewerke for the German armed forces in World War II. Quality of the exterior finish did deteriorate during the war with the later pistols evidencing tool marks and thin blued finishes. The P.38s reliability and durability were never compromised.
During the War the different factories were assigned identification codes. The production codes are 480 and later AC for Walther, BYF and later SVW for Mauser, and CYQ for Spreewerke. For Walther and Mauser, this code, with the exception of the rare 480 codes, is followed by the year of manufacture and usually a numeric/ alpha serial number. Spreewerke did not date it’s pistols. P 38s that do not have matching numbers have had a part replaced or were assembled from leftover parts after the war ended. There were probably some pistols with non matching parts assembled in the frantic last days of the war.

During WW II the P.38 design changed very little. The only notable changes were enlarging the frame in the trigger pin area and a simplified extractor cut in the slide.Photo author

Although the P.38 was out of production by 1946, it had an impressive war record. Even the roughly finished late war specimens functioned reliably under the harsh battle conditions German soldiers faced. This included the desert of North Africa to the freezing winters on the Eastern Front. The P.38 pistol was able to successfully use the lower quality steel cased 9mm Parabellum ammunition Germany manufactured later in the war. This was something the P08 Luger pistol could not do. Moreover, the P.38 pistol was something of a symbol of Nazi advanced technology. Much like the STG 44 Assault Rifle, Tiger Tank, ME-262 Jet Fighter, and V2 Rocket, the P.38 was a symbol of the sinister and efficient technological advancements of the Nazis and the ingenuity of German industry.