American soldier guarding German POWs with a captured P38.
The P38 was designed in the late 1930s to replace Germany's then current standard sidearm, the P.08 Luger. Although a very capable sidearm, the P.08 was extremely expensive and time consuming to produce. In 1944 the cost of one complete P38 was $14.08, while the cost of one complete P08 Luger was $19.80.
German tank crews first carried the P38 during the Polish Blitzkrieg of 1939. Wartime demand was so high that despite three factories producing over a million P38s, Germany was not able to completely replace the P.08 before the war was over.
The P38 proved to be a reliable, robust, accurate pistol that gave birth to the modern double action / single action combat handguns common on today's battlefield. It remained in service with the German military and police until 2004.
Russian winters were so cold that gun lubricants actually froze on metal, jamming many semi automatic pistols. German soldiers quickly learned to remove all gun oil from the pistol’s moving parts. Despite the unfavorable conditions, the P38 functioned flawlessly.
Allied soldiers who found P38s on the battlefield or liberated them from German soldiers often carried them as personal weapons.
Origin: Nazi Germany
Military Service: 1938 - 2004
Wars: WWII, numerous other conflicts
Cartridge: 9mm Luger
Action: Short recoil, locked-breech
Magazine: 8-round detachable single stack magazine
Significance: First locked-breech pistol to use a double-action/single-action trigger.
Widely considered the first modern combat handgun.