Mike Morton heads back in time to the Second World War to look at the Walther P38 from Umarex, a historic replica with a modern blowback action
Walther’s P. 38 was designed in 1938 as a replacement for the P08 Luger, and due to the gun’s reliable and robust design, production ended up going on for far longer than the end of the war.
Luckily for airgun shooters, Umarex has come up with the Walther P38, a similarly reliable and robust BB-firing blowback replica that’s still very much in production.
Walther P38 – key specifications
Gun supplied by: John Rothery (Wholesale) (www.bisley-uk.com)
Manufacturer: Umarex (www.umarex.com)
Model: Walther P38
Calibre: 4.5mm (.177)
Ammo Type: Steel BBs
Capacity: 20 rounds
Sights: Fixed front and rear
Powerplant: 12g CO2 capsule
The P. 38 was made for the German armed forces during the war years, but production continued after the Second World War, first for the French, then for West German and South African military and police forces, who used the P38 and its later P1 and P4 variants.
Umarex’s P38 is a well-balanced and good-looking pistol, and just like the 9x19mm Parabellum-firing original is of metal construction.
As might be expected from Umarex, this BB-firing replica has a nice level of detail, such as the lanyard loop and ersatz grip screw. Some small details are missing, however, such as the “S” (Sicher/Safe) and “F” (Feur/Fire) lettering underneath the safety catch, which should be white and red respectively, while the letters are just the same overall black as the rest of the gun.
While it would have been great to have seen the metalwork given a blued finish, the black finish on the CO2 variant is smooth and evenly applied. Wartime P. 38s were made of blued steel, but post-war variants had a parkerised finish, giving them an ultra-matt and almost grainy texture.
The post-war P. 38 also differed in losing the dot and space between the letter and numbers, now just known as the P38. Both wartime and post-war P. 38s were fitted with metal or Bakelite grips, so despite the change in naming, Umarex’s version resembles a wartime gun, borne out by the box art, which features a black and white photo of a German Heer soldier equipped with a P. 38.
Walther’s original P. 38 came from an era when left-handed shooters were largely ignored, and Umarex has correctly carried over the 1938 design, with the safety catch being located only on the left-hand side of the gun and a thumb groove being added to the left-hand grip, both features assisting right-handed shooters.
Lefties needn’t worry. My son is left-handed and reported no problems with the feel, function, firing cycle or fun factor of this gun.
A 12 gram CO2 capsule is housed inside the grip, and to access this area you need to pop off the left-hand grip. There are two little locator tabs at the top of the grip, so take care not to snap these off when removing or refitting the part.
Umarex has managed to include an integrated piercing screw, which is very useful as it means you need no extra tools to prep the P38 for shooting, and the screw has a folding handle so it’s invisible when the grip has been put back in place.
The safety catch locks the slide and blocks the full range of travel of the trigger. It can be applied before the gun has been cocked or after, in which case it will prevent the return of the hammer.
The P38 can be dry-fired with a CO2 gas capsule inserted but no magazine in place, and can also be decocked. In order to do this you’ll need to hold the hammer open with your thumb, ensure the safety is set to “F” then gently guide the hammer back to its resting, uncocked state while squeezing the trigger.
When loading the magazine, the spring-loaded follower can be pulled down and secured in a gate, which is great as it means you don’t need to maintain constant finger pressure, which can be both fiddly and tiring.
With the follower secured, up to 20 BBs can now be inserted through the hole in the top of the magazine, blocking it with a finger from the other side so the BBs drop down inside the mag rather than fall straight out the back.
The next thing would naturally be to release the follower, but if you do this up to three BBs will fall out the top of the mag because there won’t initially be enough spring tension to hold the whole stack in place.
The fix is simple though – pinch your fingers over both sides of the hole and then release the follower. This way all 20 BBs will be stacked up securely. When you’re ready to shoot, you can cock the P38 by thumbing back the hammer, or if you really want to you can rack and release the slide, which ends up doing the same thing.
Umarex suggests shooting nothing but steel BBs. I don’t normally waver from the manufacturer’s recommendation when it comes to ammo, but one of our Belgian readers recently contacted me to ask whether H&N’s Smart Shot Excite copper-coated lead BBs would work in this gun, and I can confirm that they cycle flawlessly.
That‘s not always the case with some BB guns though, so it’s always a good idea to make sure you have some recommended ammo on hand as well. Despite the success of the Smart Shot ammo, I used standard Umarex steel BBs for the bulk of my testing.
The fixed sights are a simple front post and rear U-shaped notch, but they work well enough. My initial accuracy testing began at six metres, and when shot two-handed and rested, I could get the P38 to produce 35mm groups. Back at 10 metres, group size opened up to 40mm, with the shots falling roughly 20mm low at both distances, so I had to factor in some holdover.
According to my research, trigger-pull could be anything up to 14lb on a P. 38, while trigger-pull on the Umarex P38 was a more modest and pleasantly consistent 10lb 8oz when measured with my Lyman digital gauge.
Trigger-pull is a strange thing, as a light trigger can really enhance a match rifle or pistol, but becomes less crucial with action-type guns such as BB blowbacks, so I wouldn’t let this put you off grabbing one for yourself.
When the magazine’s empty, the slide will stay in the rearward position. If you want to keep your shooting session going, you just need to refill and refit the magazine, close the slide by pressing down on the slide release catch and carry on firing.
I always like this feature as it saves gas as well as letting you know when you’re out of ammo. Shot count was around 50 with the review gun, with most of the testing carried out in relatively cool weather conditions.
Something I really appreciated was how quiet this gun was, considering it’s an unmoderated blowback with a relatively short barrel, making it a good proposition for the garden range.
Better yet, I really enjoyed the few weeks I spent with this gun. It’s nicely made, has a neutral point of balance and is a joy to shoot, making it one of my favourite historic CO2 replicas.
More reviews from Airgun Shooter Magazine
- Weihrauch HW98 Grey Laminate review w/ Mat Manning
- Gun Test: Weihrauch HW 95K
- Daystate Delta Wolf review with Mat Manning
- H&N Field Target Trophy Green pellet test
- Remington Express gun test