Please Educate Me On Walther's P-1 And (Post War) P-38


November 10, 2005, 11:03 AM
I'm seriously considering buying a Walther P-1 or post war (1960s vintage) P-38 after the holidays, and I'd appreciate any info/opinions concerning these pistols. Specifically some of the questions I have are:

1) Other than one having an alloy frame and the other a steel one, is there any other differences between the P-1 and a post war P-38?

2) If you had a choice between the two pistols, which one would you choose?

3) How reliable, durable, and accurate are they?

4) How difficult are they to field-strip and clean?

5) How is the trigger?

6) How are the sights?

I would be using this pistol for just casual range/target shooting and plinking.



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November 10, 2005, 11:13 AM
I'm in the waiting period for my brand-new P-1. Picked it up in Kali for $329. Came with 2 mags, cleaning kit, and holster (that weird Germanflauge material). The single action I can live with, but the DA was pretty heavy. Didn't get a chance to disassemble mine, but from research it looks fairly straight forward, reminds me of Berettas. The sights look fine. As far as durability, I would prefer the steel framed P-38.

November 10, 2005, 02:05 PM
In order:
1. There are TWO P-38 pistols: The 1930's to 1945 steel framed guns, and the POST-WAR aluminum framed guns.

Speaking ONLY of the POST-WAR aluminum framed Walther's, there is NO difference between the P-38 and the P-1.

The P-38 was intended for use by West German police, foreign military sales, and commercial sales all over the world.

The P-1 was nothing more than the P-38 as made for issue by the West German military, who designated it as the "P-1".
The sole difference were the markings applied to the guns.

This is similar to the US military issue Model 1911-A1, and the commercial Colt Government Model.....same gun, just one marked for GI issue, the other for commercial sales.

2. Since they are exactly the same gun, made on the same production lines, the choice comes down to condition, and whatever value you place on having commercial markings on the gun.

"Usually" the P-38 marked guns have a better chance of being in good condition, having not seen as hard of use.
Many of the military issue P-1's were practically brand new, but a good many were used, rebuilt guns, and some were actually parts guns made up from worn out guns.
These are usually ID'd by having multiple rebuild marks and "X-ed" out serial numbers.

Choice comes down to actual condition and your personal preference on markings.

3. The Walther was designed to be a military-police pistol. As such it HAD to be as reliable and durable as possible, and accuracy needed to be adequate for combat distances.
The Walther was never intended to be a target pistol. Actual accuracy depends on the individual pistol, the ammo, and the shooter.

Where there have been reports of Walther's breaking, these tend to be confined to the P-1's that were heavily used, or to guns in which the new owner has been shooting hot loaded ammo.

The two most common facts that turn up on a broken P-1 are the use of hot ammo, and in cases where the owner has replaced the factory-stock recoil springs with "extra power" springs, in the belief that this is somehow needed.

One P-1 that I saw that had a broken frame was actually broken through the take-down lever hole, by the slide slamming SHUT.
The extra power springs, and hotter ammo literally hammered the front of the frame forward until it broke.

In later Walther P-38's and P-1's, Walther installed a hex-shaped pin through the frame.
The actual purpose was to provide a hard steel "wear seat" for the locking block.
Heavily used guns would wear the softer aluminum locking block ramp until the gun developed locking problems.

The steel pin provided a hard surface for the block to slide over.
This pin also reinforced the frame, to prevent cracking.
If you intend to shoot a LOT of ammo, you might want to buy a Walther with the reinforcement pin.
If you intend to shoot a normal amount of ammo, it's unlikely you'll ever need the extra strength of the pin.

4. The Walther P-38/P-1 is possibly the easiest, fastest auto pistol there is to strip.
You can literally field strip it faster than you can describe it, and the average person can do it in less than 10 seconds.

Here's a link to a Walther owner's manual with all the detains:

5. Double action trigger is heavy, and somewhat "stagey", single action has some creep and over-travel.
Remember, this is the FIRST double action service pistol ever designed, and it was intended as a service pistol, not a target pistol.
Due to the Walther design, there is little that can be done to improve the trigger, since spring kits very often cause reliability problems.

Again, this is a service pistol, and like most service pistols, the trigger was intended to work and be safe under all conditions.

6. Sights are very good.
The rear is a square notch, the front is a Patridge blade.
On many P-1's and P-38's there are "Von Stavenhagen" type white dots on the front sight, a white bar on the rear.

The rear sight IS NOT windage adjustable. The rear sight and the slide top cover interlock and hold each other in position.
DO NOT attempt to drive the rear sight over to correct windage, since this will seriously damage the sight, top cover, and possible the slide.

Any needed adjustments are done to the front sight.
If needed, you can buy higher or lower front sights at:

For your stated purposes, a P-38-P-1 will serve quite well.
They're a fun gun to shoot, reasonably accurate, quite reliable with ammo they're designed to work with, and if you test various ammo to find a brand that works, you can usually shoot defense ammo reliably.

To top it off, the P-1 marked guns are today's "best buy" in a pistol.
Walther P-38 pistols were selling for $500 and UP before the current wave of P-1's arrived, and as soon as they are sold off by the distributors, the price will again begin to rise.

These were top-of-the-line guns made by Europe's premier gun maker, and are extremely under-priced for the high quality and value.

This is similar to being able to buy a like-new Colt 1911-A1 government issue .45 for $300.00.

November 10, 2005, 02:38 PM
Dfariswheel, thank you very much for that very informative/helpful post!


November 10, 2005, 03:43 PM
Agree with dfariswheel. P1 is the best buy today. Tomorrow they will be gone and probably go up considerably.

November 10, 2005, 05:16 PM
Dfariswheel gave an excellent rundown. I would make a few additional observations. While the guns are basically the same design the P-1 continued in production into the mid 80's. Over the years there were several minor improvements in design and materials. The hex bolt DFW mentioned is probably one of the biggest improvements and started showing up around 1974.

1) Other than one having an alloy frame and the other a steel one, is there any other differences between the P-1 and a post war P-38?

---- Already covered

2) If you had a choice between the two pistols, which one would you choose?

---- The P-38 is associated with all the Nazi WWII era collectables, if I owned one I'd shoot it only very rarely as it's real value is as an historical artifact. I own a P-1 from around 1982 and love it as a shooter.

3) How reliable, durable, and accurate are they?

---- The design was used by the German military/police for over 40 years so I'd say it's reliable and durable. Since it was designed for use in rough conditions it has a certain "looseness" that keeps it going when dirty but prevents it from being a precision tack driver. But I can kill cans all day with it. Accuracy is decent. Any P-38 or P-1 you buy will likely stand up to use with basic 9MM ammo loads (WWB works great). As stated before, the only problems I too have heard of come from using the high powered stuff.

4) How difficult are they to field-strip and clean?

---- Very easy, no special tools needed. But avoid taking the top of the slide off unless you absolutely have to, there's rarely a need anyway and if you don't get it back on just right you may be chasing parts next time you shoot.

5) How is the trigger?

---- It's a military gun, I'm used to mine and don't find anything objectionable

6) How are the sights?

---- DFW gave the proper rundown. The front blade sight will have a number 1 thru 4, 4 being the tallest. My P-1 came with a 4 and initially shot very low. Since mine is a plinker - I ground down my sight gradually, tested, reground, retested etc until it came up to where I shoot it well. I also got the brightest white nail polish I could find and painted the top of the blade and either side of the rear notch. It works for me

My P-1 was an issued pistol, showed a fair amount of holster wear and has the markings that indicate three trips for service to the German armory. I can only assume it was for routine service for springs and such since all the serial numbers of the major compnents match and the bore is still very good. Typically the P-1s for sale come with two mags, a cleaning kit and holster. If you're going to shoot it, I would recommend getting a set of magazine and recoil springs. They may not be absolutely necessary right away but you will like having them on hand. Wolff springs are about the best at Just get the regular springs and don't be tempted to use high powered ammo. My P-1 loves the cheapie bulk WWB 9MM from Wal-Mart. I would add, basic FMJ ball ammo feeds best - for me, hollow points seem to hang up in the magazine.

Brouse the picture gallery at

They have lots of pictures that will explain all the various markings that are a big part of the lore behind P-38s and P-1s. Lots of good info as well

November 11, 2005, 08:57 AM
Interarms imported some post war steel frame P-38 marked guns in the late 70s.
They are out there if you want to look but be prepared to pay when you find one.

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