After the Second World War, the military and police of what was then-West Germany adopted a series of pistols, numbered in the order they were accepted. The SIG SAUER P225 became the P6, the Heckler & Koch PSP was the P7 … and so on. The designation of “P1” was given to the classic P-38, but the postwar version was quite different.
There were few small internal changes, but the main one was the frame material, which changed from steel to aluminum alloy. About 10 or 15 years ago — when they were phased out of service in Germany — they were offered on the US surplus market. Then, they were seen no more. Well, until Century International Arms stumbled upon some.
I’d like to imagine this happening with Steve Kehaya, Century’s product development manager over there, discovering an overlooked and abandoned warehouse. After Century sorted through the P1’s, they were originally offered in three grades: as new, unissued; used but not abused; and still fine, but showing some wear. Alas, at the time I’m writing this, all of the top-grade ones have been sold — although the others are still available.
The Walther P1 (right), compared to an original P-38 pistol. If you look closely,
you’ll notice a couple subtle differences in the postwar semi-auto’s appearance.
Using CorBon loads, this 3.5″ group from 7 yards shows the P1
is a capable companion for self-defense situations.
The Walther P1
In the original P-38 pistol, there were several “firsts.” One of these, for a full-sized military gun, was a DA/SA trigger system. Another was the automatic internal firing pin block — released only in the last fraction of trigger pull. And there was the excellent tilting-block barrel locking system, which Beretta wisely copied years later. All of these are present in the postwar P1.
There are a few changes, however. The major one, of course, is the alloy frame. Another is the ejector, which was allowed to fall forward when the magazine was taken out in the original. In the P1, it’s spring-powered to stay up, an unloading help for the last round. In reassembly, though, it has to be pushed down as the slide is put back on the frame.
Takedown is also simplified. You’ll no longer have to lock the slide open, turn the latch, ease the slide back, lower the hammer and so on. There’s now a small clearance cut in the lower left edge of the slide at the front. You’ll need to remove the magazine, push the barrel and slide about 1/4″ rearward until it stops, turn the takedown latch and move the unit forward and off.
Take-down for the P1 is quite simple and reveals it’s
very much like a P-38.
Fine Defensive Handgun
I noticed on my P1 sample, both the DA and SA trigger pulls were very nice. Obviously, in the postwar era, there was more time for the careful fitting of parts. My wartime P-38 is much more rough. But then again, in 1943, I’ll bet there was likely a jack-booted supervisor, yelling “SCHNELL!” at the workers. On my P1, there’s slight holster-wear on some edges, but the fitting is what you’d expect from Walther — superb.
Unlike some older military 9mm pistols, this P1 had no difficulty with hollowpoints. I tried it with loads from CorBon and Hornady at seven yards standing, with a 2-hand hold. Well-centered groups measured mostly 3.5″ to 4″. For defensive use, this is very acceptable. The P1 is too big for concealed-carry for most, but it would make a fine house or car gun. And, hey … these just might be the last of the P1’s available.
By J.B. Wood