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The BYF 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 Mauser Werke plant in Oberndorf, Germany. It is stamped with the Mauser Werke code of byf. 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 byf manufactured a touch over 150,000 P-38 pistols in 1944. By far, the most pistols was those of the second variation which includes the pistol seen on this page, with 120,000 being produced.

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.  

  

The photograph on the left is of the front and back of this byf P-38, while the picture on the right shows the top and bottom of this pistol.

The full serial number with the letter suffix is found on the on the three main parts of this pistol. They include the left side of the receiver and slide as well as under the front of the barrel near the receiver. A partial number consisting of the last three digits of the serial number is found on some of the smaller parts.

The right side of the slide is stamped with three Waffenamts or weapons office stamps as seen in the picture below. The left side of the slide is stamped with "P.38" at the front, then moving towards the right it is next stamped with "byf" over the number "44" and then at the far right of the slide it is stamped with the serial number of the firearm. The letter "P" in the P.38 inscription indicates pistole. The letters "byf" is the code given to the Mauser Werke firm during WWII.  

The picture on the left is of the three proof marks or Waffenamt(weapons office) stamps found on the right side of the slide. There are two stick wing eagle proof marks with the number 135 underneath and in the center is a eagle swastika proof mark. The purpose of these Waffenamt stamps was to prove that each firearm and its components met the quality standards set forth by the Heereswaffenamt or Army Weapons Office. In order to carry this out, inspectors were assigned to individual firms for large corporations or to a specific area if there were several smaller manufacturers. These inspectors and their Waffenamt or WaA for short were responsible to the Heereswaffenamt rather than the manufacturer to which they were assigned. Each weapons office can be correctly identified by the individual acceptance stamp they used. The Waffenamt or Weapons Office inspectors stamp with the number 135 underneath correctly identifies the army weapon inspectors of this pistol as being assigned to Mauser Werke.

The photograph on the right is of the underside of the bakelite grips. The grips were manufactured by Allgemeine Electricitats Gesellschaft or AEG for short of Osthavelland, Germany and have been identified as such by an emblem consisting of the letter P over 1529 over the number 2 on the inside of the left grip and the letter P over 1528 over the number 3 on the inside of the right grip. These markings are found on the inside of each grip in a round emblem that was part of the original grip mold. These rusty reddish brown grips were used from the middle of 1943 through the end of the war.  

When I purchased this pistol, it came with the WWII capture paper as seen in the photograph on the left. This certificated was issued to a Lt. Donald Kramer on Oct. 26 1945.

While a lot of firearms as well as other items were snuck home after the war, the penalties for such crimes were quite stiff, especially for firearms. Under the right conditions, soldiers were given permission to bring home as war trophy's certain items of captured enemy equipment. When permission was granted, the soldier was given a piece of paper similar to the one above as proof in case he was questioned.

Most likely, a lot of these "bring back" or "captured" firearms were not from the hands of a recently deceased enemy soldier taken in the heat of combat, but rather an item picked up by a rear echelon troop, such as from a pile of surrendered weapons. Of course there would have been many reasons why a soldier on the front lines would want to take home such an item, and I am sure many thousands of them did so. But one thing to remember is that there were piles and piles of surrendered weapons laying around.If you ever have the opportunity to purchase a war relic and the seller is claiming it is a "vet bring back". ask to see the capture papers. When a seller makes such claims, in most cases he has inflated the price of the item to reflect his claims. If the seller can produce no such document it would be wise for the buyer to think carefully before making the purchase. Lastly, these capture papers can be, and are easily faked, so always purchase just the item and do not pay extra for the story.

When an item first arrives, I tear it completely apart to not only give it a thorough cleaning, but to photograph and document every stamp and marking. I will end up taking dozens and dozens of pictures of each item. So as can be seen in the picture on the right, this P-38 has been broken down to just the frame or receiver. This will also give me a good idea if a particular firearm is safe to shoot.

  

  

Resource:

Lugers at Radom by Charles Kenyon                

German Handguns by Ian Hogg                

German small arms markings by Joachim Gortz & Don Bryans                

History Writ in Steel by Donald Maus               

The standard directory of proof marks by Gerhard Wirnsberger               

Official guide to gunmarks by Robert Balderson                  

Mauser military rifle markings by Terence Lapin               

Handbook of military rifle marks 1866-1950 by Richard Hoffman & Noel Schott  

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