War History Online presents this guest article by Sam Hoober, contributing editor for Bigfoot Gun Belts and Alien Gear Holsters.
There were a number of WWII handguns employed by the various armed forces involved in that conflict, and examples can be obtained to this day. You wouldn’t necessarily want to shoot all of them, though. Some are incredibly rare, some have been out of production for so long that you couldn’t replace parts if you wanted to.
Some guns are very difficult to get ammunition for – good luck finding 8x22mm Nambu, for instance – but some WWII pistols CAN easily be supplied. To that end, here are 7 WWII pistols you can easily find, buy and shoot.
A Luger is cooler, but you don’t need to part with an arm, a leg and your firstborn to put a Walther P38 in the safe. The P38 is also a more significant firearm in terms of design.
The P38 was designed to replace the Luger P08, which was complicated and expensive. Walther adapted the double/single-action mechanism of the PPK for a service pistol and the 9x19mm cartridge, though the fixed-barrel blowback design was discarded in lieu of a short-recoil, locked-breech falling-block barrel and dual recoil springs. Like the PPK, the safety was located on the slide which decocks and places the pistol on safe. This allowed for double-action carry with the safety on or off.
After World War II, production continued into the 1960s, though P38 pistols would remain in service with various police forces and militaries until the 1990s. The design made its mark as well; a number of other gun makers copied the slide-mounted decocking safety design and thus the “double-action first shot” carry setup for a DA/SA pistol. Smith and Wesson’s Model 39 (and descendants), the Beretta 92 and Hechler and Koch’s double-action pistols (and others) all employ virtually the same safety mechanism, which is a testament to how well Walther designed the pistol.
The M1917 revolver was conceived as a stop-gap when production of 1911 pistols couldn’t keep up with the demand for them during WWI, and they were issued to a limited number of troops and ancillary personnel during World War II. There are two primary designs, both with some minor differences since the M1917 was produced by both Smith and Wesson and Colt.
In both cases, the large-frame revolver platform made by both companies was adapted to fire .45 ACP. In the case of Colt, the M1917 was a modified Colt New Service, and in the case of S&W, a modified Hand Ejector, from their N-frame platform. In both cases, the cylinder was machined so the rimless .45 ACP could be fired, though early Colt examples would not fire without the use of half-moon clips. Later versions of the Colt M1917 and the entire run of the S&W would both fire .45 ACP without moon clips, but rounds would have to be manually extracted by poking them with a pencil or similar object.
Today, you can shoot either pistol using .45 ACP with moon clips, or you can use .45 Auto Rim and don’t have to bother. Both models are long since out of production, but the beauty parlor is that .45 ACP is a low-pressure round. Provided good care, many decades of use are very feasible. For that, you get a big-bore revolver equally capable of big bullet plinking or personal defense as well as collecting.
Just remember: Colt’s cylinder release pulls back, Smith and Wesson’s pushes forward.