P-38 function question


June 28, 2012, 06:46 AM
I have had Dad's bring back P-38 for 17 years, I get it out once a year, put a few rounds through it then oil it and put it away. The numbers all match but with some pitting I would call it shooter grade. This was the first pistol Dad had me shoot when I was a kid. I'm 52 now and it means a lot to me , and even more that Dad passed at 90 a few days ago.

Now some questions. When you flip the safety lever to expose the "S "with the hammer back should this pistol decock? This one does not and it seems someone told me it should years ago. Whether intentional or not I remember the firing pin was broken and dad had "a guy" make a new one. I am wondering if something is amiss there.

The pistol has two original mags, shoots and cycles fine. I would like to make it right if it is not mechanically perfect.

Thank you,

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June 28, 2012, 07:29 AM
It's been a few years, but if I recall correctly, your P38 is working as it should.

I like the P38. It isn't as elegant a machine as the Luger, but it has better sights and is easier to shoot well; and in my experience, it's more reliable than the Luger.

June 28, 2012, 08:02 AM
If the hammer is cocked and you flip the safety on the hammer should fall.

June 28, 2012, 09:34 AM
Yeah, the hammer should drop when you flip the safety down. The hammer lowering lever was probably left out when it was worked on. Replacement parts are available, so it should be pretty easy to fix: http://www.gunpartscorp.com/catalog/Products.aspx?catid=6157

June 28, 2012, 10:24 AM
what happens is you can not lower the safety all the way with the hammer cocked and the hammer does not fall.

- Mark

June 28, 2012, 11:24 AM
Hi, I do not remember the exact differences between the original Pi-38 of the Wehrmacht, but there was a problem with the safety and trigger that was fixed on the newer P-38's. The original had a steel frame and is identifiable by the horizontal serrations in the plastic grip all running parralell. The new er P-38 or P-1 as it was called by the Bundeswehr has a checkered pattern with smooth boarders on the plastic grip. Not all parts are interchangeble between old and new model.



June 28, 2012, 12:56 PM
Thank you for the direction, winfried based on your description mine is an old unit. I once traced is back to around 1945 production.

thank you for the link. I removed the slide and from what I can see when you cock the hammer item Q rises into the slide blocking the rotation of the safety lever (item N) to the safe mode. I just am not sure why yet.

June 28, 2012, 01:24 PM
Thank you for the direction, winfried based on your description mine is an old unit. I once traced is back to around 1945 production.

thank you for the link. I removed the slide and from what I can see when you cock the hammer item Q rises into the slide blocking the rotation of the safety lever (item N) to the safe mode. I just am not sure why yet.
That's definitely not the way it's supposed to work.

Ron James
June 28, 2012, 02:51 PM
A word of caution, on a P38,you should never use the decocking lever { Safety } with a live round in the chamber. Too many of these old guns are worn and using the safety to drop the hammer will result in discharge. I have seen this happen on two WWII P38s.:eek:

June 28, 2012, 03:06 PM
76shuvlinoff - the real experts on the P.38 are on Waltherforums and the dedicated P38 forum

My* P.1 has a well-designed decocker that safely blocks the firing pin and then lowers the hammer - if yours isn't functioning smoothly, just ignore the safety lever for now, the way I see it, for a range toy, any condition between:
1- "round in chamber, ready to fire"
- or -
2- "cleared for storage/transport"
... really don't have any value.

But I AM curious what happens when you have the hammer down, the safety set to "more safe", and you rack the slide. If you experiment, please make triple sure the chamber is empty and no magazine is in the gun, or use snap-caps. What should happen is the slide cycles and the hammer drops again as it goes forward.

There are parts kits out there for the P.38, the experts would be able to tell you which kits would fix your issue, or maybe even point out the exact correct part you need. I've seen freebie old parts given away a few times, you might be able to score a serviceable part someone replaced trying to get their gun back to "as issued", if you were lucky.

* (1979 production, re-arsenaled by Walther and in great condition)

June 28, 2012, 03:56 PM
Big Dave. I might wander over to the P-38 site, I think I became a member there when I was tracing the origins of this pistol. Very helpful group I just never spoke to them about the decocking issue. I think what I really need a local P 38 smith.

Gun is empty safety lever down "Safe" mode.

Rack the slide the hammer stays cocked but the slide does not return completely to battery. I have to partially retract the slide, raise the lever to Fire mode ease the slide all the way forward then the pistol will fire single action.

Next scenario.

Hammer down, lever lowered to safe mode, pull the trigger DA style and the hammer will not move far enough rearward to trip and release.

Otherwise the weapon is functional and seems fine. Just bugs me a touch.

June 28, 2012, 07:19 PM
Well, that's odd, give me a minute to grab my P.1 to compare ...

is the hang-up at the point when the slide/barrel engage/disengage, roughly? Because on inspection, I can make my P.1 hang up there, by gently easing the slide forward. It is also the point where the safety's internal cylinder (part N) trips the sear, by pressing the raised device (part Q) on the left-rear of the frame down.

See if those parts are damaged or intact ... or replaced with a bubba part, perhaps?
You might want to check your FP's interlocks while you're at it. With the safety in "more safe" position, you should only be able to get the FP to move a little tiny bit by pushing on it, the same amount you can move the FP with the slide locked open. With the safety in "less safe" you'll be able to push the FP significantly further forward. If your FP was replaced with a one-off "hey, I have a lathe" special, it might not engage the safety lever or disconnector (see the multiple slots on part J?).

Again, I'm not the expert, in fact I haven't had the slide apart on my P.1 or the FP in hand - and I think you'll need to get in there at some point, something in the safety-frame relationship is borked, at a minimum.

June 28, 2012, 10:27 PM
The P-38/P1 decocker works by the safety rotating and pushing the lever, part "Q" down into the frame.
The lever pushes the sear UPWARD to release the hammer to drop.

What can happen with the P-38/P1 is if the hammer lowering lever, part "Q" is worn or it or the sear is worn or altered, the trip lever may not be able to push the sear upward.
This can happen due to wear or someone not understanding that the trip lever, Part "Q" is supposed to push the sear upward and altering the face of the lever incorrectly.
If the lever is altered or worn too much, the lever can't push the sear upward and will jam against the sear, exactly like what you have.

My first move would be to remove the grips and observe the trip lever and sear on the left side of the frame.
As the safety is lowered, the lever, part "Q" should contact the sear and push it up.
If it won't, look for wear or alteration to the sear or the face of the lever.

"Probably" a new trip lever will cure the problem unless the sear is worn or altered.

Jim Watson
June 28, 2012, 10:40 PM
Agree with bigfatdave.
The barrel of the safety N is also supposed to lock against the cuts in the firing pin J to keep it from moving when the hammer drops. I suspect the homemade replacement firing pin is not dimensioned right and it is what is keeping the safety from swinging all the way and releasing the hammer.

June 29, 2012, 05:00 AM
Jim, I suspect that it may be both the FP being non-compatible with the safety and damage to the safety & lever "Q" interface, because of the hangup going forward.

Obviously, something isn't right - and it will require some part removal well beyond the basic field-strip for cleaning. 76shuvlinoff, how about a picture of the underside of the slide, with the safety lever in both the "more safe" and "less safe" position, as well as in the spot it hangs up in ... and of the lever in the frame it interacts with?

We might be able to compare to what we have on hand to start detailed troubleshooting.

June 29, 2012, 04:36 PM
thanks for the efforts, I will try to dig into this and maybe get some pics tomorrow on my day off.


June 30, 2012, 02:49 PM
I looked at the pistol again today. If indeed the rotation of the safety lever is supposed to depress item Q and lower the hammer I believe the problem is in the hammer group and unrelated to the firing pin. With the slide removed I can not depress Q to lower the hammer even with a screw driver handle. I didn't go crazy, just firm pressure.

To look further I would have to push the pin out that retains the hammer. I have had a couple revolvers and some autos apart even rebuilt a couple Marlin 39As but this one intimidates me. I reassembled as is for now due to fear of lil bitsa things going flying.

Using a screw driver to push the FP forward the safety lever definitely impedes then blocks the forward motion of the pin (somewhat). I sure wouldn't bet the farm it could decock safely but visually that does seem to work. The safety lever does indeed make a full stroke.

sorry no pics today

edit to add:
I have found that if I thumb the cocked hammer back another fraction taking the spring pressure off Q I can easily rotate the safety lever to full safe and the hammer falls. The trigger remains in the pulled position until I move the safety lever to the Fire position then it snaps forward. Now I wonder if there is damage in there or if at some point someone changed out the mainspring for one that is too heavy??

- Mark

June 30, 2012, 07:09 PM
I still suspect that either the drop lever part "Q" or the area it contacts on the sear, or both, are either worn or altered.

You can easily remove the hammer by first removing the mainspring. This is easy.
Just push upward on the magazine catch and allow it to move out of the slots in the frame.
The mainspring will drop off the hammer strut.

Then push out the hammer pin part "HH". Remove the hammer, the hammer strut, and the safety lever part "P".

To remove the drop lever push the sear pin part "U" out from the LEFT side just until the drop lever can be lifted out.
Unless you have to remove the sear, don't push the pin any farther.

The "usual" is that the drop lever part "Q" is the part that's worn or altered.
You can see the area on the sear the drop lever contacts with the sear in the frame, and you can visually tell if the sear area is worn or altered.

Again, the drop lever is intended to push the sear UPWARD to de-cock the hammer.

June 30, 2012, 09:30 PM
I went back to P38 forum and revived a thread I started 3-4 years ago. I already have an offer of a package of several item "Q"s. (The drop lever? ) Anyhow If I find one that works the sender just wants me to return the rest of them with a small fee.


I know Dad's pistol shoots but now I have a need to make it right.

- Mark

July 1, 2012, 06:20 AM
Be aware that late war p-38's are known for improperly heat treated parts and sometimes slipshod craftsmanship, slave labor you know doesnt lead to pride in workmanship and you get what you pay for. Any late war gun from one of the Axis forces are suspect at best so shoot with caution.

July 28, 2012, 07:09 PM
I ordered a drop lever from Numerich Arms and after installation the decocker did indeed drop the hammer. I have read here (Thank you Ron James!) and on the P38 site there was the possibility on some of these old pistols to discharge on decocking especially when the action had been tinkered with. Well I am here to tell you yes it can happen. It happened to me and even though I was ready it's a bit unsettling. So I did it two more times using only one round in the pistol and my off hand to actuate the decocker. In theory it could go full auto until the mag empties. Now that would be ugly.

At this point I remembered about Dad having "some guy" make a firing pin for it years ago. I ordered a new firing pin from Numerich.

My new pin came in and thanks to a detailed P38 slide stripping video on Youtube I replaced the FP. Not only did I find the homemade pin to be visibly longer I found it installed upside down. No sure which of those two issues caused the AD but it's good now. I tested it one round at a time for 20 rounds then I tried it with one in the chamber and one in a mag for another 5 rounds. No issues.

This gun is an sentimental piece. I will probably put less than 10 rounds a year through it from here on out. It's just good to know it works as designed now.

It's going to be difficult to not shoot it, the thing is surprisingly accurate.



July 28, 2012, 07:22 PM
That's a pretty nice-looking wartime relic. Great story, and a great gun. Glad you got it working. Thank you for sharing.

July 29, 2012, 05:20 AM
I have a post-war Walther manual for the P-38 and it specifically recommends that when applying the safety/decocker on a loaded chamber one should not let the hammer drop directly on the firing pin, but that it should be slowed by using a finger between the hammer and firing pin.

Jim K
July 29, 2012, 03:29 PM
The wartime P.38 safety works by blocking the firing pin before dropping the hammer, but the hammer nevertheless strikes the rear of the firing pin. On the original Heeres Pistole as submitted for army testing, the safety worked like that on the PP/PPK, both blocking the firing pin and preventing the hammer from striking it. The army ordered the change in the adopted pistol because they felt that the danger involved was too slight to outweigh the additional cost of the original system.

But they did not take into consideration the lack of quality control and lesser quality steel resulting from increased production and losing a war (no army plans to lose a war!) and there were accidents. Not many, and probably more in the U.S. than in the German army, but they have happened.

One interesting incident happened with a P.38 belonging to a government agent. After a training course, he loaded the gun before holstering it, and dropped the hammer with the safety lever. The safety broke inside, and the gun fired. With the safety in the down position, the slide recoiled, the gun reloaded itself and as the slide closed the hammer fell, the gun fired, etc.

In other words, a neat full auto pistol until the magazine emptied. No one was hurt and holes in the walls and a couple of lockers were apparently the only damage to the facility. But a lot of embarassment and much chewing of tail by the agent's superiors.

Anyway, the postwar P.38 and P1 have gone back to the original design and are quite safe.


July 29, 2012, 07:54 PM
I'm glad to hear you got it working (safely, even)

Enjoy it, I doubt you'll be able to keep the round count all that low if you've discovered that it runs well AND is accurate in your hand.

Mine likes cheapo winchester white box in the 100x pack form walmart, and doesn't mind 115g Gold Dots (non "+P") ... I'd never put it in service as a defensive arm on purpose, but I keep some 115gGDHP on hand and one of the reliable magazines, because why not?

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