Collecting P.38's | A Beginner's Guide by John Parker 3/3/2015
After Hitler came to power in 1933, the German armament industry began surreptitiously expanding to supply the increase in demand for military weapons. The German military recognized a need to replace the German Luger as its primary sidearm and looked to its small arms manufacturers, namely Walther and Mauser, to fill that need.
Walther had had begun developing, what was then the first double-action military handgun, the MP or Military Pistol. This double action feature was first manufactured and incorporated in the Walther Model PP in 1929 and then later in the Model PPK in 1931. The Model MP was refined and improved and Walther submitted the new Model AP, or Armee Pistole for trials. More improvements were made and patents obtained by Walther until the much improved Model AP was submitted to the Heereswaffenamt, or Army Weapons Office, for test trials. The Heereswaffenamt liked the Model AP, but ask for an exposed hammer and new safety that would lock the firing pin instead of the hammer.
In late 1938, the army officially accepted Walther’s new design and officially named it “Pistole 1938” or P.38. Orders were slow coming to Walther from the military, so they began producing and selling what was designated as the Model HP, or Heers Pistol (Army Pistol). This model was sold both to the military, in limited quantities, and to the Swedish military.
After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Walther had tooled up sufficiently to supply a pilot run of P.38’s to the military. These were delivered in the early months of 1940 and were the first of the “0” Series pistols. There were basically three variations of the “0” Series pistols, all of which incorporated the “Walther” banner on the slide. The first 1000 or so pistols had the extractor on the interior of the slide and is commonly referred to as the “Hidden Extractor” model. The next 2300 or so “0” Series pistols had the extractor on the outside (as did all future P.38s) but had a rectangular firing pin. This was replaced by a round firing pin at about serial number 03300. All subsequent P.38s had round firing pins.
The “0” Series P.38s were manufactured until about August of 1940, when the “Walther” banner was removed and the 480-code for Walther was applied on the slide. The 480-code P.38s were produced between August and September 1940.
Walther then was given a new code which was “AC”. Undated AC-code P.38s, or commonly referred to as “AC-No Dates”, were produced around October 1940, and are the rarest of the military produced P.38s. In November 1940, Walther added the “40” date to its slide, hand stamping it underneath the “AC”. These P.38s are referred to as AC-40 added. When a new die was obtained, the AC-40 code (around serial number 5000a) was centered on the slide and this variation was produced until the end of 1940.
In 1941, Walther produced three basic variations of the P.38. The first was a continuation of the high polish finish and had the “ac” code stamped on the front of the trigger guard. The second variation still had the high polish finish, but the “ac” no longer appeared on the trigger guard. In mid-1941 the finish was changed to a dull, military finish and would remain that way until war’s end.
Walther was given a Waffenamt number “359” and that number was stamped on various parts of the pistol indicating that particular part had been “accepted”. Also, up until the early part of 1942, all P.38s were issued with two matching numbered magazines. The practice of numbering the magazines and stamping the “359” on small parts, was discontinued about this time, so there are basically two AC-42 variations, an early one with the small parts numbered (and possibly a matching magazine) and a later produced AC-42 without the small parts stamped “359”.
Walther produce two basic variations of the P.38 in 1943. The first was a continuation of the AC over the 43 date. Around November, the AC-43 was stamped on the same line as the serial number, and thus has been referred to as the “Straight-line 43” variation.
In 1944, Walther began experimenting with their blued finish to enable them to produce the P.38 cheaper and quicker. Some of the AC-44 P.38s will have a “plum” color on the frame or slide as a result of this experiment. Other than that, the AC-44 had no other changes.
As the war was drawing closer to an end, the Walther factory was being bombed and during the production of the “c” serial block of pistols, P.38s were assembled at the factory with “mismatched” serial numbers. Most of these were in the “c” block where the barrel, slide and frame, all of which should have had matching numbers, were assembled with “c” block serial numbers, but not the same numbers. For whatever reason, Walther also manufactured some P.38s with a “0” pre-fix to the serial number during this time. These are referred to as AC-45 “0” series variations.
Mauser and Spreewerke P.38s
In the early part of 1941, it was obvious the Walther could not supply the growing demand for the P.38 pistol. With the impending invasion of Russia scheduled for later that year,
Walther was instructed to assist Mauser-Werke AG in Oberndorf-am-Neckar, with drawings, models and tooling to gear up production of the P.38. Mauser-Werke was to continue to produce the Luger until the P.38 was being produced in sufficient quantities. It took nearly a year for Mauser-Werke to finish the tooling-up process. They began supplying troops with the P.38 in November, 1942. Mauser continued to produce the Luger until the end of 1942.
Mauser had been assigned the code “byf” and the Waffenamt acceptance number “135”. Mauser produced about 15,000 byf-42 P.38s in 1942 and they are highly sought after by collectors. In 1943, Mauser produced about 150,000 byf-43 P.38s.
In late 1944, Mauser began experimenting with finishes, just as Walther had at their factory. They began producing a dull phosphate or “Parkerized” finish. Most of these had a blued barrel and phosphated slide and frame, but a few were all phosphate. These guns are referred to as “dual-tone” P.38s.
In 1945, Mauser was assigned the code “SVW” and manufactured both blue and phosphated finished SVW-45 P.38s until the French captured the factory in April, 1945.
In addition to the military contracts that were given Mauser, the police, under the control of the SS and Himmler, ordered several contracts of P.38s. These were byf-43, byf-44 and SVW-45 pistols, both blue and phosphate finished and with the police acceptance mark that consisted of a stylized eagle and the letter “L” or “F”. All of the police guns were manufactured in their own serial number block and none have been observed with any alphabet letter suffix. All of the police guns are rare, especially the SVW-45 gun where is estimated that only about 500 were produced.
To add to the confusion of identification, Fabrique Nationale, in Belgium, began tooling up to manufacture frames and slides for all three P.38 manufacturers, Walther, Mauser and Spreewerke.
Fabrique Nationale’s Waffenamt number was “140” and the code engraved on the slide was either AC over 43, or AC over 44. The “AC” letters were larger than the “AC” letters used by Walther. Most of these slides went to the Mauser factory and both military accepted and police accepted guns were produce, but in very limited quantities.
Like Mauser, the Spreewerke factories in Spandau, Germany and Hradkou-nad-Nisou, Czechoslovakia, began tooling up for production of the P.38 pistol to meet the demands of an army fighting on two fronts. Spreewerke was assigned the codes “cyq” and later “cvq” (some think this later code was the result of a broken die). Unlike Walther and Mauser, Spreewerke never dated their P.38s. They began their serial numbers at 1-9999 and then added a letter to the end of the numbers like 1a-9999a, and then “b” and so on until the alphabet had been used up. They then made some “0” series P.38s with the “0” in from of the numbers like: 09876. Spreewerke also manufactured P.38s with an “a” or “b” pre-fix to the numbers, like: a1234 or b5678.
Spreewerke manufactured over 280,000 P.38s and one has to estimated the monthly production to determine about when their P.38 was manufactured.
There were many other sub-variations of P.38s that resulted in changes in the slide, frame or having a part from a sub-contractor, but this simple document is hopefully useful to someone who wishes to begin collecting P.38s and to know the basic variations to look for.
In summary, I have listed the basic P.38 variations according to manufacturer.
“0” Series (1st-2nd-3rd)
AC-45 “c” block mis-match
AC-45 “0” series
cyq -a prefix
cyq -b prefix
cyq -"0" prefix
AC-43 FN slide
AC-44 FN slide
byf-43 E/L police
byf-44 E/F police
AC-43 E/F police
AC-44 E/F police
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