Guns and Gear

P35 Vs. P38

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By Mike “Duke” Venturino, American Handgunner

Contrary to common misconception, when Germany unleashed its blitzkreig on Poland in 1939 precipitating World War II, its military forces were woefully unprepared, especially in regards to small arms. They were just as short of pistols as they were tanks. Of course the “Luger” will forever be identified with Germany’s military, and rightly so because it served in their holsters from 1906 when first adopted by the German Navy (Kreigsmarine) and still served as official sidearm of the German Air Force (Luffwaffe) to 1945. Interestingly, the Germans seldom if ever called it “Luger.” Mostly it was P08 to them — Pistole 1908.

However, as early as 1938 the German Army (Heer) adopted a replacement pistol designed by the Walther firm. It was named for that year — P38. Actually Germany’s military was not unhappy with the P08’s. They were replaced because they were expensive in both money and time to manufacture. When outlining what they required in a new pistol the German ordnance people specified it have both double-action/single-action trigger modes and fired the 9mm Parabellum.


The finished product had those features plus grips of a black synthetic material instead of wood. Early ones were checkered and latter ones merely had lateral grooves. Barrel length was 5″ and the safety was a sizeable lever on the slide’s left side. It is the “decocking” type; meaning if the P38’s exposed hammer is at full cock, when the safety is engaged the hammer will fall but is blocked from striking the firing pin. Another notable feature that had to have been appreciated in the dark confines of a foxhole or bunker is a loaded chamber indicator directly above the hammer recess. When a round is in a P38’s chamber a small pin extrudes backward. Magazine capacity was eight rounds.


Duke’s FN-made P35 with German markings was made in 1944. Below: The
target is a good example of how Duke’s P38 and P35 shoot with modern
Winchester 9mm, 115-gr. FMJ factory ammo.


Lotsa’ Features

There are two other features that had to be appreciated by P38 users. I certainly do! One is its sights are large by military standards of that era. The rear is a blade dovetailed into the slide. The second one is a blade front sight dovetailed to a stud atop the barrel. It can be drifted laterally for windage or it can be replaced with taller or shorter ones as the need may warrant.

Mine warranted replacement. It is of 1943-vintage wearing the code “byf”, meaning it was made by Mauser. It shot very low with the front sight blade on it. I bought a set of various height sight blades from Numrich Arms. Even then the lowest one had to be filed slightly to make point of aim coincide with point of impact. Also it had to be drifted significantly left to fulfill zeroing.

By May 1940, Germany’s Wehrmacht had overrun Belgium, in the process capturing the Fabrique Nationale (FN) factory intact. It was ordered to continue producing military weapons which were then absorbed by Germany’s armed forces. One of these was John M. Browning’s last creation, the Hi-Power, aka P35.


The P35

An American familiar with JMB’s Model 1911 won’t be nonplussed if handed a P35 the first time. Its grip may be thicker but one’s right thumb lands right on the smallish safety and if that thumb is pivoted slightly it lands right on the magazine release button. Something else similar to US Model 1911/1911A1 pistols are the P35 sights. But that’s not a good thing. The front is a tiny nub staked into the slide and the rear sight is a blade dovetailed to the slide with an equally tiny notch. Windage can be adjusted by drifting the rear sight laterally but elevation is what you get per individual P35.

Whereas the P38 gets an extra “atta-boy” for its double-action trigger mechanism, the P35 gets one for its magazine capacity. In an era when seven to eight rounds per magazine was normal, the P35’s held 13 rounds. Hence the reason for the thicker grip, which incidentally were checkered wood throughout World War II production.

For my collection, a P35 was hunted down wearing German Waffenamts, i.e. military acceptance stamps. They are tiny eagles holding a tiny swastika inside a circle in their talons. Mine was made in 1944, and its finish shows some tool marks indicating production had been speeded up compared to the beautiful blue on pre-war Hi-Powers.

In shooting my two specimens, the P38 will rarely fail to completely eject an empty case — emphasis on rarely. My P35 so far has never failed to function in any manner. Both are more than adequately accurate. What I have never discovered is what did German soldiers think of the two pistols? Did 13 rounds trump eight? Was DA pull for first shot needed in combat? I’d like to know.

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