The AC P-38 is a self-loading, recoil operated, semi-automatic pistol that is chambered for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge. The pistol pictured here has all matching numbers and was manufactured in 1944 by the Walter plant in Zella-Mehlis, Germany. It is stamped with the Walter code of ac and it has also been stamped with an X mark which indicates that it was captured by the Russians. The P-38 was the first locked-breech pistol design to use a double-action trigger. This pistol incorporates a blade type front sight and a U notch rear sight. It is fed by a single column 8 round detachable box magazine. On the pistol's butt there is a European style heel magazine release. This pistol has a barrel length of 4.9 inches and a total length of 8 1/2 inches with an unloaded weight of 28 ounces. The P-38 design incorporates a slide hold open mechanism to inform the operator that the last round has been fired and a de-cocking lever to safely lower the hammer without firing. The grip panels are a rusty color and made of bakelite. It is estimated that Walter manufactured around 120,000 P-38 pistols in 1944 with the left side slide stamped as "ac 44" in a single line as is found on this pistol.
The barrel-locking mechanism of the P-38 operates by the use of a wedge shaped locking block directly underneath the breech. When the pistol is first fired, both the barrel and slide recoil for a short distance together. Then the locking block is driven down which disengages the slide from the barrel and stopping any further rearward travel of the barrel. The slide continues its rearward movement on the frame and ejecting the spent case. Toward the end of the rearward travel by the slide, the hammer becomes cocked. There are two return or recoil springs located on each side of the frame which have been compressed by the slides rearward movement. These two, and now fully compressed recoil springs drive the slide forward causing a new round to be stripped from the magazine and driving it into the breech. During this process as the slide moves forward, the barrel is re-engaged and just a short distance later the return travel of the slide has ended. With the slide fully forward, there is now a fresh round in the chamber, the hammer is cocked and the pistol is ready to repeat the process the next time it is fired.
The first "P-38" designs that were submitted to the German Army(Heer) featured a locked breech and a hidden hammer, but the German Army requested that it be redesigned and include an external hammer. The German military accepted the P-38 design in 1938 but actual test pistols were not produced until some time in late 1939. The first company to start production of the P38 was the Walter firm located in Zella-Mehlis Germany. The Walter company manufactured 3 series of test pistols that were identified with a 0 at the prefix of the serial number. As it is often stated, three times a charm, and so it was with the final and third series that had worked the bugs out from the previous two. Beginning in the 1940's, Walter started production of the P-38 for the German army. The code Walter used to identify them as the manufacturer was 480, but after a few thousand pistols had been produced, the German army went to a letter system and Walter was given the letters ac to use instead of 480.
Walter continued to be the only manufacturer of P-38's until mid to late 1942 when production was started by two other manufacturers due to the demand for P-38's. The Mauser plant located in Oberndorf was given the code byf to identify them as the maker until early in 1945 when it was changed to svw. The Spreewerk plant in Hradek and Nisou located in Czechoslovakia was given the code cyq.
By now, you might be wondering why the Germans used all these codes instead of just using the manufactures name. One theory is that by using a code to identify the manufacturer, the Allies could not tell what affect their bombing and other missions were having in stopping the production of arms. For example, if a train load of fresh new Walter stamped P-38's was captured, the Allies knew right away that the Walter plant was still able to produce P38's. But if a train load of cyq stamped P38's were captured, then it was no telling where and which plant had produced them. Where do we attack to stop this production? Did that last bombing run hit a mock factory? Where is this cyq factory located anyways? While this code system did not always work in fooling the other side, when you are in a war, every little bit helps, especially if it causes the other side to expend more resources.
The P-38 was the standard service pistol for the Wehrmacht or German Army during much of WWII. In 1957, a modified version of the P-38 was adopted by the Bundeswehr or Federal Defense Force and called the P1. The P1 had a receiver made of aluminum alloy, instead of steel to help reduce the weight. The P1 remained in service until some time in the early 1990s.