There was brief mention a couple months ago that I had acquired one. Now that I've caught up with life (mostly) and had a chance to take it to the range and make sure it works, I'm finally getting around to a more in-depth post about my newest gun.
In 1938, Germany adopted the P.38 handgun for military service, joining twenty-seven various handguns adopted between 1914 and 1945. Approximately 1,200,000 were manufactured during the span of WWII, and the design was adopted by the post-war West German Army, as well as numerous police units throughout the country. The design also has a great historical significance, as it was the first double action automatic for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge.
In 1957 the Bundeswehr (German Army) adopted an updated version, the P1, which is little more than a P.38 with an Aluminum-Alloy frame in place of the original steel frame. This lowered manufacturing costs, and also lowered the overall weight of the pistol (840 grams down to 770 grams.) The design utilizes a short-recoil operating system, with a tilting locking block that mates the barrel to the slide at the start of the firing cycle. There are two small recoil springs that run along the sides of the frame and inside the slide, rather than a single large spring around or under the barrel as typically found on semi-auto pistols.
Users of the M9 will be familiar with the system, and it's no accident that the open slide design on the Baretta is reminiscent of the P.38's open design. The M9's locking system is a copy of the P.38/P1 system. (I do, however, like the P1. The M9, not so much.)
A problem with the operating system and recoil spring combination became apparent when the frame material was switch to the more brittle aluminum. It was found that cracks would start to form around the area of the locking block and front of the recoil springs, and a steel cross pin was added to the later manufactured P1s to help alleviate the problem. It is suggested that you avoid firing +P ammunition through aluminum framed P1s.
My example was built in April of 1979 and saw use in the West German Army according to the markings. It was imported by I.O. Inc., and sold by AIM Surplus.
The steel cross pin can be seen between the take down lever
and slide release. (Also Photoshop magic has happened
to the serial number.)
The overall fit and finish of the pistol is what you would expect from a Walther, that is despite being an Army issue gun, it still shows a high level of care in the machining, and a nice even finish throughout all the parts. Either the Germans took really good care of their pieces, or they seldom left the holster. (The later is quite likely, given they were jokingly referred to as "eight warning shots and a well aimed throw" according to some.) While the finish is a more utilitarian parkerizing rather than blued, it is still a nice even finish.
The I.O. Inc. import mark is cleanly electro-penciled along the bottom of the exposed portion of the barrel. AIM Surplus also included two magazines and a Flectarn holster with each gun (the holster requires a German web belt however. I am contemplating finding another one (they're cheap) and replacing the funky plastic clip with some regular belt loops or something.)
My only complaints in regards to the design are a matter of preference, That being the slide mounted safety/decocker, and the mag release.
The safety, on one hand, is very positive and easy to manipulate. Unlike some slide mounted safeties it is easy to reach with your thumb (assuming you're a righty) and moving it to the safe position will also decock the hammer. My complaint stems more from the fact that I'm a 1911 shooter at heart, so the positions are backwards. I can't count the times I've embarrassed myself on the range with my other Walther (the P22) by flipping it to safe and pulling the trigger. All I can say is there's a reason the Hon. JMB built his the way he did.
The other problem, the mag release, is also a European idiosyncrasy that this American will never fully appreciate I guess. It's the long standing heal clip type.
I suppose it qualifies as "ambidextrous," but it definitely slows down your reloads. On the plus side, we also had the CZ52 out at the range the same day, and when compared to it's mag release, the P1's seem amazing.
The P1 does have the distinction of the first loaded chamber indicator that I didn't find more annoying than of use. It consists of a simple spring loaded plunger that protrudes from the rear of the slide, just above the hammer, when there is a round in the chamber.
Marty did find a problem with the indicator though, as once during firing the slide failed to return to battery, and a sharp tap on the rear of the slide can be a bit painful when there's more or less a nail sticking out. No blood was drawn, but it looked like it smarted a bit.
I also found that the bottom edge of the slide can be a bit painful if you've got bigger hands and aren't wearing gloves. Some blood was drawn during that magazine. I just need to be more mindful of my high-thumb grip when shooting this one.
Aside from the little bit of a learning curve, the operating system and tail heavy design makes for a surprisingly pleasant shooting pistol. The somewhat wide (for a single-stack 9mm) grip spreads the recoil out nicely, and the rearward balance point makes for less strain on your wrist during extended sessions. The relatively light slide also keeps the muzzle flip to a minimum, much less than what I had expected due to the overall balance of the gun.
As this was simply a "familiarization" range, we didn't test for accuracy (the target stand uprights at that range are made from giant cardboard tubes the local paper mill uses to make giant reams of paper, so they sort of self destruct in the winter...) but it was good enough to peg some bowling pins at 7 yards.
The double-action pull is obviously an early design. While smooth, there is some noticeable stacking and it maxes out my trigger pull gage, placing it in the 10+lbs category. Single-action is a crisp 5-6 lbs, well within the realm of "service pistol." The feeding angle between the magazine and chamber is quite shallow, and aside from the one failure to return to battery (possibly user induced) it ate 80 rounds of Winchester White-box 115gr. FMJ without any other issues.
Another point of interest is that the extractor is on the left side of the gun, so the empties tend to get flung in the opposite direction of most autos.
Overall, I'm more than pleased with this gun, and it is a fantastic addition to anyone's collection. Plus it's C&R eligible, which is always great (who doesn't enjoy the big brown truck of happiness delivering fun right to your door?)