Walther P1/P38: Eighty Years of Excellence

| October 4, 2017
Categories: Learnin'

When most people think of World War II German pistols (assuming they think about such things at all) the first thing that usually pops up is the famous P08 Luger, and with good reason. The Luger is a sexy little beast that’s achieved iconic status with shooters and collectors the world over. Even the standard 9x19mm round that most of us use (at least some of the time) is commonly called “9mm Luger.”

No doubt the Luger is a finely engineered piece of firearms technology. The problem was, it was too fine.


Lugers were the standard-issue sidearm for the German military from their adoption in 1909 until 1938. They fought the Great War and saw the Nazi rise to power. But damn were they expensive to build, and a pain in the ass to maintain in the field. When Adolf Hitler began the massive rearmament of Germany in 1935, equipping the new Wehrmacht with Lugers was cost-prohibitive to say the least. On top of that, the tolerances on the Luger were so tight that even small quantities of dirt or mud would cause them to jam, which isn’t exactly ideal when one’s life might depend on the functionality of one’s sidearm. Clearly, the time had come for the Luger to be replaced.

Carl Walther

Fortunately, the Carl Walther company had been experimenting with a new pistol designed as a service weapon for the police and military. Walther had seen some success with its PP line of duty pistols, and decided to kick it up a notch and develop a full-size sidearm for the army. Work on the design began in 1932. Six years and several prototypes later, the result was the soon-to-be iconic-in-its-own right P38, a design that was literally years ahead of its time.

The P38 was the standard-issue sidearm of the Wehrmacht throughout World War II. Thanks to insatiable demands on German industrial capacity, plenty of existing Lugers saw service as well. The demand for the P38 was so high, in fact, that the Walther plants couldn’t keep up, prompting contracts for the guns to be let to both Mauser and Spreewerk. The P38 pictured here is one such contract gun.

Want to know more? 

Check out Walther P38/P1: 8 Decades of Excellence on The Mag Life.


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    No doubt the Luger is a finely engineered piece of firearms technology. The problem was, it was too fine.

  5. Matt

    I always felt like Col. Barnsby, played by Harrison Ford in Force 10 From Navarone, whenever I fired mine. Ambushing those Germans and Chetniks in the mountains.


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