Marco Vorobiev was a member of the elite Soviet Spetsnaz in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He's a U.S. citizen now and conducts training courses that draw on his special forces training. He'll have a new installment every Wednesday.
Just as it was for US GIs, capturing an enemy sidearm was considered a feat of prestige among the Soviet troops during World War II. German pistols of all models were captured in various engagements. Some were officially reissued to the troops, but most were unofficially allowed to remain in service with Soviet units.
The war was taking a heavy toll on Soviets, so they appreciated a little help that their enemy could provide by the way of captured guns. In fact reliable German handguns such as the Walther P.38 were welcomed addition to any front-line unit, especially reconnaissance troops. After the war, huge numbers of German guns were taken back to Soviet Union for indefinite storage.
The P.38 was among the trophy guns that I got to shoot during my recent trip to Russia. In spite of its appearance that cannot be mistaken for any other gun, it had a traits of a modern firearm from its automatic system to magazine to overall feel. It shot just like any modern full frame 9mm handgun would. The recoil was very controllable and accuracy exceeded my expectations.
Unlike the popular belief it was the P.38 and not the Luger that truly was mass produced. More than 1,180,000 P.38 pistols were produced during the war by several factories in Germany and abroad. Due to lack of capacity at Walther Waffenfabrik GmbH as war raged on the Eastern Front the drawings had to be transferred to several other plants such as German companies Mauser-Werke A. G. and Spreewerke GmbH.
At the same time several German and Foreign plants were producing components for P.38s. German C. G. Haenel Waffen und Fahrradfabrik AG and Czech Erste Nordbohmische Waffenfabrik plants were producing magazines, Belgian Fabrique Nationale d'Armes de Guerre and Czech Zbrojovka Brno were making frames and slides. For a whole lot more information on this, see Peter Kokalis' article in the SGN Treasury, No. 11.
The design and relative ease of production of the P.38 ensured that production continued well after the war. In fact, the commercial model of Walther P.38, the P1, was produced up until 2000.
As I continued to fire the P.38, some idiosyncrasies of the pistol's design started to pop up. For a single stack magazine, the pistol's grip was rather large and bulky. Although the skinny exposed barrel gives an impression of slim handgun, the slide and its frame make the P.38 rather wide. Nevertheless, 70 years ago this was the state-of-the-art sidearm. Today, though serviceable, the Walther P.38 belongs in someone's collection as an exhibit rather than in a hip holster as a viable sidearm.
Both the American GIs and Soviet soldiers valued captured German pistols. The American lieutenant has a Walther P.38, while Soviet captain has a Luger in his belt. The Russia at left has a Tokarev on a lanyard.
With a sniper rifle, binoculars, grenade and holstered P.38, this sniper is ready to head into action. Captured pistols were widely used on all sides.
Members of Soviet reconnaissance unit fire their weapons in celebration. Soviet TT pistols are grossly outnumbered by the German Lugers and Walther P.38s.
The Walther P.38 we had at our disposal was made by Walther in the early years of the war. It was in excellent shape and appeared as if it was captured unissued.
Vorobiev says the P.38 felt like a modern pistol in handling and operation. It was easy to aim, and that positively impacted overall accuracy in his hands.