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A P38 I Thought I'd NEVER Lay Hands On

Combloc

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The company advertised this little guy as a WWII vintage Spreewerk pistol that had been reworked by the East Germans for issue to their police. I like Eastie stuff so I took a look. Withing seconds, I realized that the company didn't understand what they had. Yes, is was issued to DDR police forces, but this was no Spreewerk. What they were selling but were unaware of, was a P38 that is actually one of the hardest to find P38's in the world, an East German manufactured P38, not a wartime rework! I couldn't believe my eyes. At this point in my collecting life, I didn't really care to own one, I just wanted to get a close look at and document one. Other than an very late war enigma, Mauser made commercial marked P38 I have kept, I sold off all of my other P38's YEARS ago. So, I didn't much care to spend the money, but the only way I was going to get to do that was to actually buy the thing. So, here we are.



When it comes to a made from scratch East German P38, there are three camps.

1. People who have no idea they exist (the vast majority, I think, of surplus firearms collectors).

2. People who know they were made. If you know they were made, you almost certainly know how few were made

3. People who refuse to accept that they were made. Well, if you still believe that after reading what's coming, you are seriously in denial and no amount of evidence is going to convince you.



We'll start with a couple basic left and right views while I fill you in on what is known, what is not known, and what is surmised about these puzzling little pistols.





Until the East Germans got serious about rearming to serve Mother Russia in 1956, their "army" was really nothing more of an armed police force using whatever weapons they had on hand laying around after WWII. This consisted of a mix of WWII Russian and Third Reich equipment. It wasn't until the formation of the Nationale Volksarmee (NVA) or, in English, National People's Army, in 1956 that they began to rearm with more modern weapons of Soviet design made in east Germany. The actual police forces continued to use older weapons though until production was such that they too would be equipped with the newer designs and the older weapons were put into long term storage. Over the years much of the old equipment was sold or outright given to other countries around the world as military aid.



So, what's the deal with the P38 in East German service. Well, they used quite a few that were left over from WWII. Along with every other design made during the war, many thousands were refurbished for reissue under the new boss. They would disassemble them, inspect all the bits and toss out any part that was considered to be unfit for reuse. Then, they would dip blue most of the parts over the existing finish, and reassemble them into "new" pistols, carefully hand fitting replacement wartime or outright newly manufactured parts. During this process, very little if any attention was made to keeping serial numbers matching weapons. Any parts that were mismatched were simply restamped or electropenciled to match. Usually, but not always, the frame was considered the base part and all numbers were matched to it. Simple right? No, not at all.



If you look at a fair number of East German reworked firearms, you'll find that there was actually very little consistency when it came to the entire process. Most times everything is matched to the frame but you'll find examples where everything was matched to the slide. Sometimes little bits were renumbered to match, but sometimes the original number was simply stamped over with an "x" and left at that. Sometimes, almost everything was mismatched and then force matched during the process while other times almost everything is numbers matching with only a minor part force matched. Then it comes to inspection and acceptance marks. They too run the gamut of minimal to extensive. Long story short, East Germanreworked weapons are like Chinese preban imports......any collector worth his salt knows that to believe anything other than NEVER say never is hubris.



Now that we've very briefly looked at Eastie reworked weapons, we come to the topic at hand, the P38 as newly manufactured by the East Germans. The glaringly obvious question is WHY? They had a zillion examples from WWII laying around already. WHY would they make new ones? Well, nobody knows. Perhaps they decided to make a few and compare that process to reworking and see which would produce a product that was of better Quality or faster. Maybe it was a result of national pride. We don't want to use weapons with swastikas stamped on them. We want to use our own, manufactured by us. My personal hypothesis is that, since they were into the early 1950's at this point and none had been made since 1945, they decided to make a small run to train machinists because they knew that the rework process was going to require newly made parts. The best way to learn is by doing and, since we made them, why not issue them?



So, how many did they make? The general belief among researchers is about 120 starting with either serial number N1000 or N1001. It's tempting to assume that the "N" means "N production" and many collectors do, but I've never seen an official German document that states that. None has ever been seen with a three digit number and none has ever been seen with a number over N1120. A few have been found in this serial range with an N prefix frame or slide with a wartime mismatched (none forcematched that I am aware of) frame or slide serial number. It is assumed that those examples became mismatched after DDR service because, while the Easties did all kinds of weird stuff, weapons were at least matching when they were reissued, be it by original numbers matching or force matching. All of the above also applies to lugers although it's believed that only about 100 of those were made. They also made new PP's but they made a much larger run of those, about 20,000.



Now we come to the question of how do we know these are newly manufactured pistols and not just another rework? Well, I'm glad I pretended that you asked my friend. I have to go for the moment and do life things but I promise you I'll be back a little later this evening and get to it. Starting with the next post, we'll leave the History behind us and focus on this particular pistol. If you have any interest in P38's at all, I think your going to enjoy this. See you in a few hours.
 
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Combloc

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Okiedokie, time to get going on this. Now, can I tell you with 100% certainty that every single part you're going to see on this pistol is 1950's East German production? No, I cannot. While I 100% believe that the Easties DID make every single part of a P38, that doesn't mean that is the case on this exact P38. However, I DO think that if you're going to see one that is made of entirely new parts, you're most likely only going to see it on an "N" series example. The problem is that many parts are absolutely identical to their wartime counterparts. There simply is no way to tell them apart. However, many parts ARE identifiable as East German because of the details of the part in question; the devil is always in the details!

We'll start with some detail photos of various areas on the assembled pistol and then get into various components.

Top view:


Front strap:

Notice all of the machining marks. I've only seen photos of a few N series pistols but every one I've seen is roughly machined like this. As you look at the pictures that follow, you might get the feeling that this pistol has seen a lot of use but that's not the case. While it most certainly has been shot, the finish is actually about 95%, perhaps a little higher. The rough machining just makes it look worn. Also, the slide is as smooth as a normal P38 and the trigger is about the same to. They just lookd rough from the day they were born.

Trigger guard area:





Bottom of grip:



Meeting of the mindless, the frame, barrel and slide:



Rought finish on barrel. The bore is excellent + though:



Beavertail:



Now let's look at some components. First up is the magazine disassembled:


The magazine body is completely unmarked. I've seen some that are purported to be East German that show no welds and the sides exhibit curved milling marks of the kind you see on later war Spreewerk slides. They are also unmarked and I do believe them to be Eastie made. Is this one too? I simply do not know. I'll show you all four sides and a closeup of the a couple spot welds and you WWII collectors can tell me. I've never seen the little oval welds before but I'm no expert.








The follower is typical Eastie where they blued the entire thing and then polished the bluing off the top of the follower:


Inside of follower is blued and there is still lots of commie cosmoline in there. In fact, the entire pistol still has lots of storage cosmoline in it.



Bluing left intact on the rear of the follower.

Assembled:


Weld details:

The angle makes them look more rounded than the really are. The following picture shows the best indication of the ovalized welding probe:


Floorplate numbered to pistol. The whie is not original but only added to make the marks show up better. This applies to the entire pistol as well:



We continue in the next post.
 

Combloc

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Next are the grips. The majority of East German reworks use recycled WWII grips but they did make new ones and, if you know what you are looking at, they are very easy to spot.

To my knowledge, all East German made grips are dark bakelite, many times with some slight red/orange blotches seen in the proper lighting. If you look at the insides, there are never any markings, only some mold release pin marks. No WWII grips look like this.



On the outside, they look like typical grips at first glance but there are differences:

The escutcheon molded into the right grip is simplified compared to its WWII counterpart. The inside diameter bevel down to the threads is much less pronounced.
On the left grip, the last groove just underneath the thumb rest is very short. While there are variation in wartime grips, none of them have such a short groove to my knowledge.
Here's a closeup of the little dude:


So, if you can take the grips off of a pistol to look at the insides, you can tell right away if they are Eastie made. If you can't, you can still tell by looking at the outside of the grips but it's a little harder to tell.

We'll examine the slide in the next post.
 
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Combloc

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I believe that the reason the seller thought this pistol was a reworked Spreewerk was the grinding marks on the slide. Yes, superficially, they do remind you of that but closer examination reveals otherwise. Where Spreewerk marks are curved and slant in one direction, the grind marks on every N series I've seen, while curved, are at a lesser radius and are angled both forward and back. They also have grind marks running generally parallel to the bottom edge of the slide. Additionally, the "P.38" script and wartime inspection marks are absent (not ground off, mind you, but never applied in the first place).

Here's a good example of the marks on the right rear of the slide. Notice also that this is where inspection and acceptance stamps would be placed on a wartime example:


The entire right side:


Typically, an N series has a spot in the same place on both sides of the slide where the bluing took differently. I assume this has something to do with heat treating. Right side:


Same area on the left side:

Note absence of "P.38" script. Again, careful examination of the slide reveals that this mark was not removed. Rather, it was never applied in the first place

Faintly struck at the front left of the slide is a partially struck Crown/N inspection stamp similar to if not identical to the clearly struck one on the frame which we will look at later:

The bare steel just behind the "N" is unknown to me. Whether something banged into the pistol at some point or a marking was removed here, I cannot say.

The entire left side of the slide:

Notice the long relief cut at the mouth of the housing for the extractor plunger and spring. This detail is markedly different than wartime examples.

A closeup of the sloppily applied serial number on the slide:



Safety markings showing just the smallest remnants of paint still present:


A couple pictures of an East German manufactured P08 barrel extension for comparison. This particular one really does look like it was done by Spreewerk:




In the next post, we'll finish up with the slide by looking at its innards a little bit.
 
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Combloc

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This last post of the night will finish up the slide. Tomorrow, we'll move on to the frame.

This is the firing pin:


An East German manufactured example is super easy to spot as it has an extra crossmember as indicated by the toothpick:



"0" inspection mark and what looks to be a harness test punch on the bottom of the firing pin:




Internally, an East German slide looks pretty much like one made during the war although you might see a little extra grinding where it rides atop the frame to make the parts fit!
Right rear looks pretty normal:


Same for the left rear:


Right front....yep, looks pretty typical:


Left front.....let's see what we've got here........holy grindorific Batman!!:

Hey, so long as it works in the end I guess. Those wacky Easties.


Okiedokie. That's it for tonight. I'll pick up with the frame tomorrow. Nighty-nite!
 

TraFALgar

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Great information and pictures!
So would this East German P38 have been manufactured at the Ernst Thälmann Werke in Suhl, using tooling and drawings from the WWII-era Walther plant in nearby Zella-Mehlis ?
An article on Forgotten Weapons site says they produced a Walther PP clone there from 1953 until 1957 (until Makarov production started).
 

Combloc

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Great information and pictures!
So would this East German P38 have been manufactured at the Ernst Thälmann Werke in Suhl, using tooling and drawings from the WWII-era Walther plant in nearby Zella-Mehlis ?
An article on Forgotten Weapons site says they produced a Walther PP clone there from 1953 until 1957 (until Makarov production started).
Thank you. Yes sir, made in Suhl and assumed to be using old drawings for the most part. I did a writeup on the PP as well:

Ernst Thaelmann Produced PP a Little East German Gem | The FAL Files
 

Combloc

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In this post, we're going to look at the frame. We'll start with general left and right side views and then zoom in on a few details.

Right side:



Left side:



Generally speaking, the frame is nearly devoid of markings. If I detail stripped the thing I might find a couple but, unless I had another in hand to also strip down for comparison, I see no need to do that. So, let's just see what we can see while leaving it intact.
Front half of the right side:

Again, we see the rough machining. For some reason, I usually prefer this over a finely finished product as it speaks of a sense of urgency and purpose. But I'm going out into left field here; time to reel it back in. Notice the little hump that projects downwards underneath the trigger pin. There are variations of this during Third Reich production from very pronounced to totally nonexistent. This particularly subtle profile is only seen on the DDR production run.

Right rear:

Notice that a couple of the pins are in the white and the sear is blued.

Bottom right side of grip with some commie cosmoline present:

I'm only doing broad brush strokes here because, for the most part, the frame is nearly identical to earlier production.

Left rear of the frame:

Notice the peculiarly shaped slide release. It's a stamped component and the shape of it is exclusive to East German production.

Another angle of it:


And one more of the slide release lever from an above angle:



Ant the left front of the frame are the only readily noticeable markings:

The takedown lever is numbered with the last two digits of the serial number. Above the serial number we have two stamps. The rearward one is a Crown/U inspection stamp and, front of it, we see a state eagle flipped on its side with the head towards the front. To the rear of the serial number, there used to be a VOPO sunburst surrounding a two digit number denoting the district the pistol was assigned to. That was obliterated by the Easties before sending it out into the world to begin a new life on the international market. Incidentally, this pistol bears no import mark. That means it was either imported into this country before the 1968 Gun Control Act, smuggled in afterwards, or, it was simply missed when they were import stamping other pistols being imported, take your pick. In front of the serial number is what collectors call the "AB9" stamp. Some say this stamp denoted the part as East German made. Others say that, yes, it is an East German stamp, but it's not outright saying that the part it's on is Eastie. I don't know exactly what it means but I do know it was placed there by the East Germans. With regards to these stamps, sometimes you see NONE of them defaced. Sometimes, you see ALL of them defaced. USUALLY, you'll see at least one of them destroyed as we see on this example.


The last thing we need to look at on the frame are the tops of the rails. On this example, both rails, from front to back, have been polished at a minimum and ground down and polished at a maximum. They are NOT simply shiny from use wearing the bluing away. Remember when we saw the grinding on the inside of the slide earlier; presumably during hand fitting during assembly? Well, that's what was done here; the bluing was removed during hand fitting of the slide to the frame:






That's it for this post. We'll finish up in the next one with the barrel and locking piece.
 
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Gazz

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Looking at the slide stop/release I am pretty sure it is stamped. The folded over tab is quite obvious. Cool pistol in any case.
 

Combloc

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We finish up tonight with the barrel and locking block, both of which are East German made. Like just about everything else, the parts are almost devoid of markings. On the bottom of the barrel, we find a Crown/N mark and the number "853":

This is accepted by collectors as a date, August (eighth month) of 1953. You'll also see this Crown/N with a three digit date code on newly made P08 barrels.


The only other mark on the barrel is the serial number:



Up at the muzzle is a rather crudely struck index mark showing that it was zeroed, most likely at 25 meters:



There are no anti-glare lines machined into the rear of the sight, just some rough machining lines:


Like the rest of the pistol, the barrel exhibits plenty of machining marks:

However, the bore appears to be as well done as any I have seen, WWII vintage or West German Postwar issue.

Two last pictures of the barrel showing the step from the barrel proper to the barrel block. The barrel and barrel block are clearly machined from one block of steel and not two separate parts as someone I found on another site believes.





And now, we come to the last part we need to take a look at, the locking block. Although I've read that some of the locks on N series pistols seem to have scrubbed and reused locks, that does not seem to be the case here. As this is a critical part that must be very precisely fitted, it appears that great care was put into its manufacture as it is finely machined. The only markings on it are the last two digits of the serial number.








Well, that's it. To my knowledge, this is now the most documented (online at least) East German produced P38. Although it is believed that only 121 were made (N1000-N1120), I have never seen any official East German document that says this to be so. For all I know, they could have made 50,000 but N1120 is the highest number found to date. Additionally, as of this writing, only about 30 have been cataloged. Of those, one has a cracked slide and at least four have had incorrect slides installed over the decades. That leaves just 25 floating around in proper, matched configuration. So, until more are found, that makes this little guy one of the least encountered P38's ever made. No wonder it took me decades to finally stumble across one!

I hope you all enjoyed this writeup and I hope you learned something. If any of you has one of these and you'd like to lend it to me for comparison, contact me and I'll gladly do another write up comparing it to this one part by part. The DDR made P38 is one of the most enigmatic P38's ever made and I think it would be beneficial and productive to the hobby to well document every one we can find. Thank you for your time. Mom, you made me who I am. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
 

ftierson

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Excellent presentation, thanks.
Yes, it is an excellent presentation and I also thank you for detailing it here.

Given my experience with DDR weapons, I must admit that I'm surprised by the roughness of most of the machining...

Then again, it sure beats the Taurus approach with their US made TX22, which displays very nice machining and shitty bores.

Forrest
 

Combloc

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I'd like to add an addendum to this and talk a little bit about East German made holsters for these pistols. While I have no doubt pre-existing holsters were used, the Easties also made their own. I'm certain they were made in considerable numbers but they are rarely encountered today. And while there probably aren't a whole mess of them floating around given their age, the numbers are most likely artificially low because most people don't know what to look for. Generally, when someone finds one of these, they think it's either some super secret and rare wartime variation or it's a poor attempt at a reproduction and artificially aged. All the while it's a lonely misidentified Eastie holster just looking for a long lost pistol to reunite with. That's why I'm including this....so that you will have some idea what to look for. I can't tell you every tiny detail to look for because there is considerable variation in detail, but there are some major giveaways. Very few were embossed with a makers mark (but some were) and use over the years has obliterated/made illegible any ink stamp there was in most examples. One of the three we'll be looking at below is embossed but it's become so hard to see with the passage of time that I can't read it nor can I get a picture of it; sorry about that. I would also point out that they made both hard shell and soft shell holsters. I'd like to show you a hard shell example but, most unfortunately, I don't have one. That makes me sad. So, what we will look at today are a few examples of the ones most often encountered, the soft shell type.


These were made of pigskin, cowhide, or a combination of the two. It's East German, so expect anything.

They were also made so that one size fits all. That is to say that either a P08 or a P38 will fit just fine, including the spare magazine and loading tool if the holster was going to house a P08:


Generally, the stitching is going to appear dark, but usually it was originally white as can be seen on this NOS example:

However, dark stitching was used as well. In fact, in this same NOS example, the loader too pouch was attached using a dark thread:

Notice the pebbled finish. Almost always, this is the case but sometimes, it's smooth.

Unisex spare magazine pouches:


One of them appears to have been made using at least one bit of repurposed leather. Notice the old stitching holes in the left belt loop:


Variation in loading tool pouches:



The example on the left has a stiffener at the corner of the flap, while the one on the right does not. The absence of one seems to be more common:


The most obvious clue that you're looking at one made in East Germany is the extra bit of leather added to cover the bottom of the grip:


This is the number one thing to look for. I've seen them without this detail but only once or twice. Almost all DDR produced soft shell holsters had this.

So, how much can you expect to pay for one of these? There is no real answer. I've paid anywhere from $40 to $125 for one and I've never walked away feeling i had paid too much. As with anything, if dude knows what he has, he's probably going to ask more. In the end, it's worth whatever you are comfortable paying for it.

So, there you go, a quick primer on East German soft shell holsters. The above should help you figure out what you're looking for/at. They're out there.




They also made a holster specific to the East German made PP. I don't have one of those yet but I'm always on the lookout for one. When I find it, I'll post that one up too.

Okiedokie, that's all for now. Thanks Mom!
 

Gazz

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I was in Berlin in 1990 and went to the flea market. There were vendors there selling abandoned military stuff for real cheap as they all had huge piles of it and I'm sorry I didn't stock up. Only thing I bought were some Makarov holsters and bunches of East German and Soviet pins, badges etc. I think I still have a Mak holster but I gave away everything else.
 
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