By Micheal Heidler, American Handgunner
The most common pistol of the German Wehrmacht was the Walther P38 in caliber 9 mm. Serial production began in 1939 by Walther, followed by Mauser (1941) and Spreewerk (1943). The P38 was thought to replace the expensive and time-consuming manufacture of the standard pistol: the Model P08, commonly called the Luger. But due to the circumstances of the war this plan could not be implemented completely. In the first half of the year 1944 the German troops lost 110,092 handguns and this number rose to 282,701 handguns in the second half of the year. Such high losses could not even be compensated by all three manufacturers together.
The shortage of handguns had unforeseen consequences for the German Volkssturm (People’s Storm), when the first units should have received their equippment in late 1944. Although the Gauleiter were authorized to receive weapons from armament factories in their districts, these weapons had to come from over-production or had to be made after an official Army contract had run out. But this claim was only written on paper. The manufacturers had their hands full even to take care of all official orders. At the end of the day there was nothing left for the Volkssturm.
Since early 1944, Walther and Mauser tried to simplify their weapons as well as develop new models. None of them went into serial production, but the experience benefited the companies when the call for a “people’s pistol” came up at the end of the year. Now it was necessary to produce more, faster and cheaper than ever before. In addition, the weapon had to use the P38 magazines and to hit a 20x20cm (7.8″x7.8″) target at 25m (27.3 yards).
On November 30, 1944 there was a meeting between the Haupt-Dienststellenleiter Saur, SS-Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger and other members of the Technisches Amt (Technical Department). In the process Saur got the promise for a monthly supply of 20,000 “Volkspistolen (People Pistols) model Walther.” The very next day, Berger sent an official contract to SS-Standartenführer and Wehrwirtschaftsführer (leader of defence economy) Erich Purucker, who in turn forwarded it to the Walther company. There the order was accepted as “War-Order Nr.1005 Waffen SS” on January 4, 1945.
The Walther Volkspistole owned by the Walther Company. Courtesy of their collection.
Note the crude construction, mostly consisting of sheet metal stampings.
Left: Small parts, like the hammer, are not stampings.
Right: Stamped indents help to hold the outer slide shell to
the inner, and do double duty as gripping points.
For Walther it was hard to cope with this additional order. The production was already quite busy with the production of P38, K43, VG1 and other military equipment. Also it was getting more and more difficult to acquire all the necessary raw materials to keep the production going. So director Fritz Walther wrote a letter to Purucker on January 24, 1945, saying, “I confirm the receipt of the above-mentioned war-order. In the meantime a decree of the OKH (Wa A Az. 72-b-35 Wa Chef Ing 4 VIa2) for procuring raw materials and supply and an order for setting up a production facility for the Volkspistole (handwritten added: 9mm) have arrived. … Serial production is not possible before the production facility is set up.
The compulsory dates of delivery February 1945, March 1945 etc. can not be confirmed. The raw materials request to the Hauptausschuß Waffen (Main Committee for Weapons) in Berlin is released today. Please influence the Committee to allocate the required supply-rights for iron and sheet metal as quickly as possible. The order SS-4924 is classified as Dringlichkeitsstufe I (predecence rating level 1). My other productions run in the predecence rating level 0 and I have all sorts of difficulties in obtaining the raw material. And therefore I fear that the procurement of raw materials for the lower level 1 is considerably more difficult.”
As a result of this letter, Walther received a message on February 10, that the order is now classified as the highest level called “Führer-Notprogramm” (Führer emergency program). However, it remains questionable whether this had been of some use. The few surviving pistols do not suggest the start of a large-scale serial production and, on 4th April, the US Army occupied the Zella-Mehlis area.
Markings were kept simple. The slide bears the Walther
trademark and the serial number (105).
The VolksPistole had a crude safety. The safety is marked with the letters “S” for
safe and “F” for fire. For disassembling the weapon, the lever above the trigger
has to be lowered. Then the barrel can be withdrawn
The traditional machined guide rails on the receiver were
replaced by five simple stamped-out areas on each side.
Left: The slide housing is made of two sheet metal half-shells, held
together at their rear by the clenching of the stamped-in grasping
grooves into slots in the inner shell.
Right: The machined bolt is held in place inside the slide by only
two lugs. They take all the recoil forces when shooting.
In the absence of significant documents not much can be found out about the simplification experiments with the P38. However, a few experimental pieces have survived the war and show the way to the people’s pistol “Volkspistole.” The two different simplified models are similar to the American Colt 1911 and were especially used for testing stamped sheet metal parts. Other innovations such as a rotating barrel cannot be found on the Volkspistole.