As it turns out, even the German disarmament was a temporary arrangement, (isn’t everything?) Only ten years later, the Allies were becoming increasingly concerned about a newer, more powerful antagonist in Soviet Russia, and it occurred to them that an armed West Germany might contribute to combating any belligerence from that sector. West Germany was allowed to rearm its military, and a shrewd Walther, quietly waiting for just such an opportunity, quickly offered to furnish the P38 as a sidearm. Within two years, using WWII era guns and newly engineered drawings, Walther was again producing the P38, with a couple of significant changes.
First of all, using superior metallurgy to what was available pre-war, they had created the gun with an alloy frame instead of steel. They had also altered the firing pin in such a way that the gun was ostensibly safer, the only downside being that it could not be interchanged with wartime guns. This new pistol was designated the P1, and remained in production until after the turn of the century. To put that in perspective, the Beatles, the Viet Nam war, Seinfeld, and Michael Jordan’s Bulls all came and went while Walther was still producing the gun for the German military. That’s an impressive run.
In a thrilling turn of events, I acquired my first P38 recently. I’ve handled many P38 pistols over the years and have had the opportunity to purchase many of them, but for one reason or another, I kept holding off. That came to an end while perusing a local pawn shop late last year.
This particular pistol caught my eye, first off because of the excellent condition and finish, and secondly because the ac45 designation on the slide, coupled with a 3-digit serial number made me do a bit of a double take. The ac45 indicated a Walther produced gun in 1945, and the 3-digit serial number indicated early in the year. I don’t consider myself the world's foremost Walther expert, but I knew I’d rarely if ever seen that combination before, and I’ve handled many, many P38’s.
I took it home and compared it with the information in my Walther book, and found that I did have a piece that was a bit more scarce than most. Walther made at least 34 changes to the gun from the first test guns until the end of the war, some as insignificant as changing a stamp or marking, but also including actual design changes to the gun or the style of grips. Mine was one of about 5500 pieces made in early 1945, and was actually listed in the book as one of 142 known serial numbers from that production run.
Having confirmed that my Walther P38 was, indeed, cooler than many other Walther P38’s, I had to try it out as a weapon. I had the opportunity to put it through its paces at an outdoor range a few weeks later, and it immediately became one of the smoothest and most accurate pistols I’ve ever fired. The all steel gun in 9mm was smooth with very low recoil, and the rear U-notch and front post worked beautifully. I stacked an entire magazine almost in one hole at just under 15 yards, and the few flyers were within a quarter to a half inch of the main hole. I was very impressed. The Germans made really cool stuff.
If you’re interested in collecting these guns, nice P38’s are currently available in the $1000 range, and nice P1’s can be had at half that price. Either of them make great shooters. I recently acquired a very nice P1 model from 1965, and it shoots quite comparably to my WWII gun. The West Germans would typically keep these guns in service for about a decade before giving them to police units. The police would use them for 4-5 years, then sell them to surplus arms dealers, which is how this one most likely ended up at a North Texas gun show around 1980. I certainly don't remember the event, but I was around when it appeared in a local shop in 2019, and I didn't miss the opportunity to add it to my collection. Heckuva nice gun, and I paid less than $500 out the door.
I’d love to tell you more about the P38 and it's history, but I just discovered some leftover boxes of 9mm in the ammo bag, and I happen to have a sweet 75-year old German gun to shoot them out of. See ya at the range.