The myth of East-German newly manufactured P.38 pistols


There is the tale of 120 P.38 and 120 Luger pistols allegedly newly manufactured in East Germany in the early 1950’s. Also known as the N-series guns.

The very comprehensive book “The P.38 pistol” by Alexander Krutzek, Dietrich Jonke & Orvel L. Reichert is giving some conflicting info on that matter.

The serial number range for these allegedly newly made P.38’s according to this book is N1000 – N1120.

On page 278 though they picture the very first pistol N1001 which is clearly using an old cyq slide.

PIC P38  1a

PIC P38 1as

But on page 301 they are listing these guns as: “GDR production (Suhl) 1953. All major parts newly produced.”

Here you can see the P.38 N1031 with Mauser byf44 slide:

And here is N1080 with a byf43 slide:

PIC P38  1b

PIC P38 1b

If you don’t have the above mentioned book at hand – there is a very interesting website showing among others a few more East German P38.’s.

That A.B.9 marking is no indication for a newly made part.

On the post-war East-German “Walther” PP pistols this marking (A.B.70 used as well) appears sometimes on the frame and/or the slide and maybe not at all esp. on the 1001 marked PP’s.

According to an article in DWJ (Deutsches Waffen-Journal) 2/2002 there was a complete P.38 production line ready set up in 1954. And a production of 60,000 P.38 planned for 1956 which was cancelled in 1955.

So how come that the known N-series pistols are dated 1953, before that production line was ready?

Considering the fact that in 1958 the first year of manufacturing the Makarov pistol in East Germany just a handful were made, that production goal of 60,000 P.38 sounds pretty optimistic.

Growing up in East Germany and doing my mandatory military service there as well I can tell you there was always a huge difference between the plan and the official success messages and reality.

For example the one new plant for manufacturing concrete walls for those prefabricated buildings – it wasn’t ready in time. So they simply picked up some concrete walls from another plant and at the official opening ceremony these parts were rolling out at the end of the manufacturing line!

Well, let’s check this by reference to an East German “VOPO” P.38 pistol.

It’s a plain vanilla Spreewerke cyq gun which got a new barrel in East Germany and with the VOPO markings defaced later on before importation to the U.S.

PIC 2 + 3

PIC P38 2s

PIC P38 3s

There was an import restriction for guns from combloc countries and by peening out the VOPO star the origin of these guns should be hidden. I wonder if anybody at U.S. customs in the 1980’s would have known the VOPO star…

Now if you take a look in the cartridge chamber of that newly made East German barrel you will notice a small ring joint.

PIC 4 + 5

PIC P38 4s

PIC P38 5s

What they did – they cut off the old barrel right in front of the barrel block and drilled the block out from the front almost all the way and sleeved it with a newly made barrel.

To hide the ring joint at the front where the barrel sticks out of the barrel block they peened over that small gap. All East German made P.38 barrels I’ve seen were like that except for one where the peening was left out and the ring joint was clearly visible.

PIC 6 + 7 + 8

PIC P38 6s

PIC P38 7s

PIC P38 8s

That partly sleeved cartridge chamber also leaves clear marks on the cartridge casings.


PIC P38 9s

It tells us that – just a few years after the war and stripped of all manufacturing equipment by the Russians – they simply were not able to manufacture the complete barrel.

They had some lathes to turn simple barrels but nothing to make more complex parts like the slide and frame much less the way more complex Luger pistol!

Some small parts like springs, the slide release lever and firing pins were newly made to rework old WWII guns but as far as I can see no newly manufactured main parts like frame, slide and complete barrels.

That N-series was made from old existing guns and a few maybe assembled from spare parts they found in some military armory or received from the remaining P.38 manufacturers in Czechoslovakia. Since all the guns, parts, machinery from the former Walther factory in East Germany were confiscated by the Russians right after the end of the war and shipped to the Soviet Union.

If any of the readers has one of those N-series P.38 available it would be great if you could check the barrel to see if it was sleeved and give us a feedback.

And you could also check under the left grip panel for the manufacturing number which I’ve seen on several cyq frames which were supplied to Spreewerke by another manufacturer. You wouldn’t have that on a newly made post-war frame.

PIC  10

PIC P38 10s

If you don’t have the above mentioned book at hand – there is a very interesting website showing among others a few East German P38.’s.


10 comments to The myth of East-German newly manufactured P.38 pistols

  • Jerry

    Wow. Great knowledge sharing Chuck.
    I actually have one of those EG VOPO P38s with star intact. I’ll have to examine it based on this new information.

  • One correction to your post. N1001 is not the first pistol. I own N1000. I’ll have to check it over more closely after reading what you say here.

    You should also examine the N series Lugers which I believe were made at the same time and the same place.

    I always appreciate a critical analysis of conventional wisdom, or as Warren Buxton would say, “The dogma of the day”!

    Best regards,
    Bob Adams

  • Pete

    Since the new barrel is installed from the front what holds it in other than a interference fit ?

  • Another thoughts…..
    VEB Ernst Thälmann-Werke in Suhl certainly had the capability to produce any firearm and wouldn’t have to rely on reworked or spare parts. As a combination of the Suhl firearms companies (Gustloff, Sauer, Haenel, etc.), they had access to the best craftsmen and engineers in the area – except those sent to Tula in the Soviet Union. They also would have had blueprints and the manufacturing workbooks from Suhl and Zella-Mehlis – except for any removed to the West.

    We know they manufactured the N-series Lugers and the production series of PP copies in .22 and .32.

    This doesn’t mean they didn’t take advantage of reworked and spare parts, but they certainly didn’t rely only on those sources.

    • Storm

      I suppose by mid 1950s many of these top ww2 engineers simply “defected” to west germany.

      Books and blueprints could have been destroyed by germans in closing stages of ww2, or confiscated/looted by soviets, along with all the best machinery.

      • No doubt some engineers relocated to the Western Zone, but many did not. The Soviets forced a group of gun designers/engineers to relocate to Tula, but they returned to the DDR about 1950. I have a photograph and names of some when they returned to the DDR. Much documentation on German WWII firearms remain in the archives in Suhl, but Walther documents seem to have completely disappeared. Some of the machinery, but certainly not all, was acquired by the Soviet Union. The Soviets immediately restarted the manufacture of arms (and other goods) in the Soviet Zone using existing machinery, then allowed the companies to continue when the DDR was established. It’s a very interesting period but not well known in the West.

        Regarding the two-piece P.38 barrels…. That could have been just an expedient shortcut in the manufacture of barrel assemblies. If it worked and was cheaper or faster to make, then why not? FN did the same in manufacturing HP barrels!

  • Storm

    Why did they put the new barrel, what was wrong with the old one ?

  • Storm

    As for the concrete factory story, similar anecdote exists from Yugoslavia,
    where first batch of Yugo cars, destined for a port to be shipped to USA, after the official shipping ceremony, train filled with them casually returned next day to factory, as they werent finished at all.

  • Chuck: I just checked the matching barrel on N1000 (which is in new condition) and it also has the ring visible in the chamber, so it must be a new two piece assembly. However, the outside is properly machined so no seam or peening is visible.

    I’d suggest that Suhl was left with an adequate supply of machinery to manufacture anything they needed.

    It would be interesting to machine a cross-section in an old DDR P.38 barrel to see exactly how it was manufactured. The barrel shank could even be threaded to screw into the back half or could just be a press fit.

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