WWII Vintage German Pistols — German Luger P08 and Walther P-38

| November 26, 2011 | 11 Comments

The two firearms I had with me today at the range are the most popular German Pistols history and the world has known. I have been blessed to relive a little history to see what our Fathers, Grandfathers, and other brave men of America was up against during the two World Wars.

The German Luger and Walther P-38

Of the two the German Luger is probably the most recognizable firearm of in history. The German Luger was used as a sidearm by the Germans in both World War I and World War II though also used by many other countries. The first country to actually adopt the Luger P08 was Switzerland. The German Luger P08 is known as a well balanced and quick pointing pistol. However, the unique angle of the grip is quite different from a Colt 1911 and most semiautomatic pistols making the Luger feel odd to those who are familiar with shooting more conventional pistols. The unique lines and slide mechanism of the Luger have both worked to make the pistol well recognized, but was also known to be problematic (jams) and expensive to produce. The Luger is also known for introducing one of the most popular cartridges to the world, known as the popular 9mm Parabellum cartridge. The P-38 was a replacement for the German Luger with a number of test variants being developed by Walther in 1938. Though the P-38 began development in 1938 this weapon was not adopted by the German Navy until 1940. This pistol was the first lock-breeched pistol to utilize a double action trigger. It is known for being less expensive to produce than the German Luger, less complicated (easy to use) and has a history for reliability. Because of the expansion of the German Army during the war other plants were contracted to make the P-38 the most popular being Muaser, Ceska Zbrojovka and Spreewerke.
The German Luger
The German Luger
The Walther P-38

Though most associate the German Luger with the German Army and the Nazi Party it was first adopted by Switzerland in the 7.65mm bottlenecked cartridge known in the U.S. as the 30 Luger. This firearm was reviewed and tested by the American Army but the Americans were disappointed in the continual jamming of the luger and the lack of knock down power by the 30 Luger which was the demise of this platform in America. Though these complaints did bring about the introduction of a new cartridge for the German Luger the 9x19mm which universally became known as the 9mm Parabellum. The name Parabellum came from the Latin phrase Si vis pacem para bellum. (If you want peace, prepare for war.) My imagination often gets the best of me and this is one of those times. Had the 9mm been the original cartridge of the German Luger I wonder how popular the John Moses Browning design of the 1911 would have been. Testing of the 1911 began shortly after the failure of the German Luger.
The 30 Luger

The 9mm Luger

30Luger 93grains vs 9mm 124grains

The sleek lines and unique lock back mechanism of the The German Luger has made it world renown. This lock back mechanism also made it a little more difficult to field strip and required very tight tolerances during manufacturing for consistent reliability.

Though reliability proved to be a problem for the Luger it has always been known for its accuracy derived from the tight tolerances required during manufacturing which led to an expensive process. On this day at the range the Luger would repeat it’s history. During my firing session I had 3 failure to ejects but the Luger combat accuracy was great. For this test I decided to try and replicate history as best as I could by finding some of the oldest 9mm ammo I had laying around, which was this Federal Hi-Power purchased in 1988 by my father. After the failure to ejects with the Luger I thought possibly this was not the greatest idea as it could be related to the ammo but I had 0 malfunctions with this same ammo in the Walther P-38. I did notice if I had an extra firm grip (tighter than normal, so tight my fingers started to turn purple) with two hands the Luger performed flawlessly. This was the same phenomena reported by the Calvary Board doing the testing for the Americans.
WOW look at the cost of 9mm in 1988, And this is not defensive ammo just regular hard ball

German Luger 6 shots at 7 yards

German Luger 5 shots at 15 yards, holding the Luger so tight there was a noticeable shake of the front sight

German Luger 5 shots at 25 yards, I was trying 3 shots to the body 2 shots to the head

The one thing I did notice with the Luger was the trigger seemed to be very good for its time in history. It measured in at 4 1/2 pounds with no over travel or side to side movement.

The Walther P-38 was developed as the replacement for the German Luger. It carried the same firepower an 8 round 9mm magazine and was made in both steel and aluminum frames. Known as a short recoil operated pistol it’s best known as the first breech locked double action pistol. It was said that ease of use and less complicated design won the Germans over. Though I would agree with ease of use over the Luger I am not sure about the less complication of design. The Walther P-38 in my honest opinion was right in line with other German designed pistols, over-complicated. For example, the P38 pistol has eleven small sized springs about twice that of the older P08 Luger pistol it replaced in service. It also had plenty of small parts and pins that were easy to lose during full disassembly, and a firing pin of intricate shape that was prone to breakage. In reference to the P-38 I would heed the warning of full disassembly should only be done by a certified gunsmith, this is due to parts being lost was well the firing pin safety cover and spring coming off during firing due to improper assembly. When reassembling always make sure the loaded chamber indicator is down a bit and not straight or the cover may not fit properly.

During my historic range session the Walther proved capable of good accuracy but not as good as that of the Luger, though function was 100%.

Walther P-38 5 shots at 15 yards

Walther P-38 5 shots at 25 yards 3 shots to the body 2 shots to the head

During this testing I noticed the double action trigger and the single action trigger was horrendous. I probably should not have expected much difference considering this was the first of it’s kind, breech locked double action. The double action pull weighed in at a very heavy 14 pounds on this pistol and the single action weighed in at 4 pounds. The safety performed flawlessly preventing firing while engaged as well as acting as a decocker giving the soldier the ability to carry the pistol with a live round in the chamber with the hammer down.

The Walther P-38 was delivered in many calibers 9mm, 380, 45acp including 22lr. The American Arms company completed a replica of the P-38 in a 22lr platform right down to the horrid trigger of a 14 1/2 pound double action trigger pull and a 4 pound single action pull.

While on the range taking notes and imagining what it was like to go up against these weapons as many of our family members did, I also found myself thinking about what it would be like as a German soldier utilizing either of these weapons.
As a German soldier both weapons were master craftsmanships for it’s time but I think I would have preferred the Walther P-38 over the German Luger simply because of it’s reliability. Both weapons were battlefield accurate for the simple sighting systems both utilized. As a range shooter I would much prefer the German Luger. It’s sleek lines, ergonomics and trigger makes me feel as one with this weapon which represents itself in the accuracy it’s capable of. As a collector The Luger is surely the more valuable of the two and will also gather many more looks on the range than the Walther P-38. As an American soldier facing either of these weapons was a tough task and those that did are the reason America enjoys its freedom today.

Thank you Darrell for loaning me such a nice specimen in your German Luger.

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11 Comments on "WWII Vintage German Pistols — German Luger P08 and Walther P-38"

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  1. Joe says:

    Nice writeup, enjoyed reading it. Why was 9mm so costly in 1988?

  2. Bob says:

    Very good article, interesting and informative. Two very nice guns as well!

  3. anonymous says:

    The P-08 is so much fun to shoot. I bought a ‘shooter’ so I could give myself a treat every once in a while. It is surprising how accurate they are with the primitive sights.

  4. REB says:

    A while ago I picked up a complete numbers matching 1938 Mauser Luger set with holster, tool, and two matching number mags. I have experienced zero failures. I use new ammo and the gun is in excellent, hardly used condition so that may contribute to the reliability. Incidentally I have an Ithaca M1911 arsenal rework (AA) and have zero failures with it too. I like them both but I have noticeably better accuracy with the Luger. To me the sights on the Luger are much better.

  5. Jim says:

    The Luger is unique, in that it’s grip angle makes for a good bit of “relative accuracy”* when pointing from the hip, in that it closely mimics pointing with one’s index finger. And, from the classic “offhand” stance, with the shooting arm fully extended, and the non-supporting arm usually in the “hand on rear hip” counter-position, it also points very naturally. *(compared to other guns fired from waist-height, which isn’t exactly the most accurate techique going!)

    Being rather neutrally balanced in the (appx) 4″ or 5″ (whatever the correct number in centimeters?), it was also a fairly non-fatiguing pistol to hold on-point from those positions.

    But, when you square your shoulders and take a modern, two handed hold, be it a fully squared stance, icosoles or Weaver, then the P-08’s grip angle seems to work against a good muscular-skeltal alignment, of the hands/arms/shoulders.

    Funny, how perfect it was for the two primary shooting styles of it’s day.

    That said, as your article so clearly illustrates, it’s other weaknesses would make me also choose the P-38.

    But I don’t think that had the 9mm Para been available at the American trials, that it would have prevailed. Remember, these trials came after the tests into hog and goat carcasses that did-in the .38 Colt, and mandated a .45 or larger bullet, with ballistics to equal or better the .45 Colt. The .45 ACP made the cut on that, but I don’t think the 9mm Para would have done so. Even then, the Ordnance Board had JMB up the .45 ACP from a 200 gr. ball round to the 230 gr. we know and love today.

    Which is why there were a couple of problematic, purpose made .45 Lugers in the mix back then. Like their counterpart you’ve featured here, their complexity, manufacturing cost and relative unreliablity doomed them then, too.

    Great article, by the way. Hope the writing of it was as fun as the shooting of it!

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  6. admin says:

    Jim glad you enjoyed the reading this was one of the most exciting reviews I have had the pleasure of doing. It was just as much fun to write about it as it was to shoot the specimens. That excitement is what really had my imagination going while shooting and writing this, thinking about the outcome of the 45 had things been different. You are most likely right I knew the 45 testing was done after, and I thought from my reading that the carcass testing came after the introduction of the 45 ACP, guess not I just learned something. Again it was the excitement causing my imagination to run away and get the best of me. I have done a bit of reading on both and when afforded this opportunity I had to jump at it.

  7. don carlyon says:

    I have a Kommer selvastadt pistole 6.35 cal It has the initials MK on the grip of the gun. it comes with the holster. Can you tell me the worth of this gun? It seems to be in pretty good shape

  8. jerry says:

    i am looking at buy a German P.38 with 1 matching clip how much should i pay for this and it does fire it’s has a low serial number

  9. Richard Lutz says:

    WWII Vintage German Pistols ? German Luger P08 and Walther P-38

    The Luger is a poor design for military use due to its close tolerances that require hand fitting and make it prone to jamming whenever it gets dirty. The P38 is also a poor design for military use due to its firing pin being prone to breaking and the top dust cover flying off along with the rear sight and firing pin. That said, they look great and have a lot of history behind them so make great paperweights.

    The best WWII pistol was the reliable TT-33. It was easier and cheaper to make than the 1911 and P35 and would easily shoot through the side of a steel helmet with the steel core bullets the Russians used, thus better at shooting through light cover. The TT-33 used the same round as the best SMG of WWII, the PPSh-41 (the MP40 had thin mags while its close tolerances made it stoppage prone when dirty).

  10. rick burkholder says:

    30 luger or 30mauser can use either in c 96 broomhandle

  11. 30 luger or 30mauser can use either in c 96 broomhandle ?

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