D-Day Weapons: American
America truly became ‘‘the arsenal of democracy’’ from 1939 to 1945, providing millions of D-Day weapons. In that period U.S. armories produced a staggering amount of arms and ammunition. Just among infantry weapons, American industry turned out 11.6 million rifles and carbines, 2.8 million pistols and revolvers, 2.3 million submachine guns, 1.5 million crew-served machine guns, and 188,000 automatic rifles—nearly nineteen million small arms—plus forty-seven billion rounds of small-arms ammunition. Many of these weapons were in the hands of soldiers who exited the landing craft on the beaches of Normandy.
Despite adoption of the M1 Garand, at the time of Pearl Harbor the main U.S. infantry weapon was the Model 1903 bolt-action rifle, heavily influenced by Germany’s Mauser 98. Little changed from the First World War, the 1903-A3 had improved sights and a slightly different stock than the original ‘‘Oh Three’’ but remained the same accurate, reliable weapon familiar to the doughboys of the Great War. Though the ‘‘Springfield’s’’ five-round capacity and manually operated action left it behind evolving weapon technology, it remained in production early in World War II; 1.4 million were delivered. Infantrymen in the first American offensives of World War II—at Guadalcanal in the Pacific and French Morocco in North Africa—were armed almost exclusively with M1903s. Later in the war, especially accurate ’03s were fitted with optical scopes and successfully used as sniper rifles. In Saving Private Ryan, Private Jackson (Barry Pepper) uses a sniper-configured M1903-A4.
The M1903’s replacement was well under way when the war began in Europe. In 1920 Springfield Arsenal in Massachusetts began work on a semiautomatic rifle to replace the bolt-action ’03. It was a lesson in perseverance—designer John C. Garand spent nearly sixteen years perfecting what became the landmark M1.
Originally chambered for a .276 caliber cartridge, which offered improved ballistics over the standard .30-06, the M1 eventually was rechambered to fire the existing cartridge, owing to enormous stocks of ’06 ammunition in the army inventory. The decision, made by then army chief of staff Douglas MacArthur, also was founded on the fact that nearly all the army’s machine guns fired the same cartridge as the ’03. Consequently, Garand’s project was somewhat delayed, but it still was delivered ahead of schedule, with initial production in 1936. The unit cost—$90 to $110, three times that of the M1903 Springfield—was considered by some authorities scandalously high at the time.
The M1 became the global standard by which military rifles were gauged. The gas-operated weapon was fed from an eight-round en bloc clip inserted into the receiver, with the bolt locked to the rear. With the clip set in place, the bolt was manually closed under spring pressure, stripping the top round off the magazine. The eight rounds could be fired as fast as the trigger could be pulled; after the eighth round was discharged, the clip was automatically ejected with a loud pinging sound and the bolt locked back. Apart from the difficulty of ‘‘topping off ’’ the magazine, the M1’s greatest drawback was its weight: nine pounds, eight ounces empty. Some four million M1s were built during the war by Springfield Armory and Winchester Firearms.
Original concerns about the accuracy of a semiautomatic rifle proved unfounded. The army accepted four minute-of-angle groups from production rifles—that is, four inches spread at one hundred yards, eight inches at two hundred yards, and so on. However, many Garands were capable of far better performance; there were documented instances of individual riflemen obtaining first-round hits out to five hundred yards. Additionally, in postwar matches the ‘‘gas guns’’ began winning over tried-and-true ‘‘bolt guns.’’
The Garand’s ultimate tribute came in 1945 when Gen. George Patton declared it ‘‘the greatest battle implement ever devised.’’ World War II veterans still fondly describe it as ‘‘the Normandy assault rifle.’’
A carbine (originally a nineteenth-century cavalry weapon) is essentially a small, or short, rifle, often firing a reduced-power cartridge. The M1 carbine is a case in point. Partly designed in prison by David Williams (portrayed by Jimmy Stewart in the film biography), the M1 carbine was a short stroke, gas-operated weapon equipped with a fifteen-round detachable magazine. Its .30 caliber cartridge case was significantly smaller than the .30-06 round in rifles and machine guns and therefore lacked comparable range and penetration. However, the World War II–era carbine was not intended to augment rifles but to replace pistols, especially among officers and noncoms as well as crews of many vehicles. Some infantrymen questioned the wisdom of equipping unit leaders with distinctive weapons, which might draw the attention of enemy snipers, but many officers and NCOs liked the carbine’s light weight and portability. At five pounds, seven ounces it was more than four pounds lighter than the M1 Garand. Winchester’s ‘‘war baby’’ was produced in enormous quantity: some 6.2 million from 1941 through 1945, with ten contractors delivering as many as five hundred thousand a month in 1943. A folding stock variant was provided for paratroopers (M1A1), and a select-fire M2 variant also was manufactured. It was critical among D-Day weapons.
Roddy McDowell (Private Morris) carried a carbine in The Longest Day, as did Tom Sizemore (Sergeant Horvath) in Saving Private Ryan.
Automatic Rifles: BAR
One of John M. Browning’s masterful designs, the Browning Automatic Rifle met the need of portable firepower in World War I, though it saw very limited combat in 1918. A popular rumor (disproved by the facts) stated that Gen. John Pershing would not allow the BAR into combat for fear that the kaiser’s army would copy the design. In truth, the first division equipped with BARs did not reach the front until September 1918.
The original BAR was little improved upon in the Second World War, weighing 15.5 pounds empty and firing .30-06 cartridges from a twentyround detachable box magazine. The M1918 was a select-fire weapon, capable of semior full automatic with a nominal cyclic rate of five hundred rounds per minute, depending on the gas-system setting. The World War II M1918A2 was full-auto only, with slow and fast cyclics.
Tactically the BAR provided a base of fire for the American infantry squad, suppressing enemy fire while riflemen maneuvered for advantage. U.S. Army doctrine therefore differed from Germany’s, in which riflemen supported the automatic weapons. Issued with a bipod, the BAR was usually carried without the support, as a weight-saving measure. The automatic rifleman normally carried twelve magazines, while his assistant packed as many more, in addition to his own rifle or carbine.
Some 188,000 BARs were produced from 1939 to 1945.
The BAR appears in most film depictions of infantry combat in World War II. In the 1960s TV series Combat, Corporal Kirby (Jack Hogan) used a BAR in Sergeant Saunders’s (Vic Morrow’s) squad, while PFC Reiben (Edward Burns) carried the Browning in Saving Private Ryan.
During World War II, nearly every one of the 2.5 million machine guns in the U.S. armed forces was designed by John M. Browning. In order of appearance they were the:
The classic ‘‘Browning water cooled’’ was similar in outward appearance to the German Maxim and British Vickers but internally was quite different. Chambered in .30-06 caliber and fed from a hundred or 250-round cloth belt, the M1917 was designed for the U.S. Army during the First World War but saw very little combat. However, its durability and exceptional accuracy commended it to the American armed forces, who used it in both World War II and Korea.
The 1917 was a crew-served weapon, mounted on a tripod with traverse and elevation knobs. The basic gun weighed 32.6 pounds empty, forty-one with eight pints of water in the cooling jacket. The standard tripod weighed fifty-three pounds, for an ‘‘all up’’ weight of ninety-four pounds without ammunition. Rate of fire was between 450 and six hundred rounds per minute.
Browning’s inventiveness extended to the .50 caliber design, originally intended mainly for antiaircraft use. His 1918 design was water cooled but evolved into the superb M2 air-cooled weapon that remained in use at the turn of the millennium. The M2 .50 caliber was the standard American aircraft gun of World War II and Korea, typically cycling at eight hundred rounds per minute; the infantry version’s rate of fire was around five hundred. It was also used on vehicles, often in an antiaircraft role. The basic gun weighs about eighty pounds and the tripod another forty-four, but ‘‘Ma Deuce’s’’ range and power are unexcelled, and no other nation fielded so capable a machine gun during the war.
The need for a light machine gun was evident during the First World War, and Browning’s air-cooled M1919 met the requirement. The primary difference was the 1919’s perforated shroud over the barrel, which enhanced cooling. Mechanically almost identical to the M1917, the ‘‘Browning air cooled’’ operated on the same short-recoil principle and was fed from the same hundred or 250-round cloth belts at four hundred to 550 rounds per minute. At 30.5 pounds it was only two pounds lighter than the empty water-cooled Browning, though its standard tripod weighed just fourteen pounds, for a combined gun and mount weight of 44.5 pounds.
Tactically, the 1919’s advantage was its lighter weight and need for only two soldiers rather than the 1917’s three. In the bipoded A6 version with shoulder stock it remained in use until arrival of the 7.62 mm M60, but even then the Browning was a popular helicopter gun during the Vietnam War.
Submachine guns or machine pistols (also known as machine carbines and ‘‘burp guns’’) are fully automatic shoulder-mounted weapons chambered in pistol calibers. They are intended for high-volume fire at close range, as typified by the German MP-38/40 and Soviet PPSH.
Famous as the ‘‘Chicago Typewriter’’ during the Roaring Twenties, the Thompson submachine gun was developed as a ‘‘trench broom’’ for close combat in World War I. The armistice was signed before the ‘‘Tommy gun’’ could be used, but it was quickly seized upon by shooters on both sides of the law during Prohibition. The Auto Ordnance Company’s 1921 model was exceptionally well made, including a ribbed barrel and muzzle brake with a pistol-style foregrip for better control in full automatic. The recoiloperated weapon fired the same .45 caliber cartridge as the Colt M1911, fed from twenty or thirty-round magazines or fifty-round drums.
Wartime demand for SMGs required a redesign of the Thompson, which was produced in the M1 variety, less complex and easier to manufacture than the original. In all, 1.7 million military Thompsons were produced for the Allies, including Great Britain, where it was valued by commandos and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
One of the most recognizable firearms of all time, the Tommy gun appears in most World War II infantry films. Sergeant Saunders (Vic Morrow) used one exclusively in the Combat television series, though seems to have fought the European campaign with only one or two magazines for his primary weapon. Even worse, the technical adviser for The Longest Day issued Garand ammunition belts or bandoliers to every actor carrying a Thompson, carbine, or BAR. (These performers included paratrooper Richard Beymer and Rangers Fabian, Paul Anka, and Tommy Sands.) However, in Saving Private Ryan Tom Hanks carries an authentic Thompson magazine ‘‘six pack.’’
M3 ‘‘Grease Gun’’
The American alternative to the Thompson was the M3, popularly called the ‘‘grease gun’’ for its resemblance to that tool. With demand for M1 Thompsons outstripping the supply, the .45-caliber Model 3 Submachine Gun was quickly designed and rushed into production in 1943. It was full automatic only, cycling at 450 rounds per minute, feeding from thirtyround magazines. A unique feature was the ejection port cover, which doubled as the safety. Based on a tubular receiver, the gun weighed eight pounds with a skeletal stock. The ‘‘grease gun’’ was cheap and easily produced from stampings and prefabricated parts; some 620,000 were manufactured during the war. The M3 proved a rough but effective combat tool and remained in the military inventory long after the Thompson had been withdrawn.
More than two million pistols and revolvers were delivered to the U.S. armed forces during World War II, of which by far the majority were Colt pattern M1911A1s. Designed by the same John M. Browning who invented nearly all American machine guns and the premier automatic rifle of the war, the 1911 already had proven its worth in the First World War. The recoil-operated semi-auto weighed two pounds, seven ounces empty, fired a heavy .45 caliber bullet from a seven-round magazine, and proved arguably the most reliable pistol of its time. In World War II it was usually carried by officers, NCOs, and crews of vehicles and aircraft. The U.S. government purchased 1.9 million pistols from several manufacturers in addition to Colt.
Throughout World War II, at least twenty Medal of Honor recipients were cited for actions involving the Colt pistol. Additionally, the M1911 set a record by remaining in continuous service for seventy-five years before replacement by the Beretta M9 in 1986. Even then, the durable Colt soldiered on in a variety of special operations units, and it is still widely employed a century after it was adopted. It was an overlooked but essential part of D-Day weapons.
Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) and Sergeant Horvath (Tom Sizemore) both fire 1911s in Saving Private Ryan.
Smith and Wesson’s .38 caliber ‘‘Victory Model’’ revolver also was widely produced (256,000 copies), but nearly all went to the naval services, because the army had priority on 1911s.
British D-Day Weapons
Rifles: Lee-Enfield Mark 4 No. 1
The British produced their own arsenal of D-Day weapons. The Lee-Enfield series of .303 caliber magazine rifles epitomized the British Empire for decades. Descended from the Lee-Metford model of 1888, the Lee-Enfield series was adopted with the Mark I of 1906. It was also known as the Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee Enfield—or SMLE—because it had a shorter barrel than its predecessor. The very similar Mark III appeared in 1907 and proved its worth early in the First World War. All SMLEs had a twenty-five-inch barrel and weighed about 8.8 pounds empty. With its rear locking lugs, the smooth bolt action allowed the SMLE to be fired with unusual speed, and reloading was normally done with five-round stripper clips rather than replacing a full ten-round magazine.
Owing to a 1920s designation change, the World War II version was designated Mark 4 No. 1, entering service in 1941. It differed from its Great War relative in having a different stock with a protruding barrel, simpler sights, and a ‘‘pigsticker’’ bayonet instead of the more conventional 1907 model. The Mark 4 was slightly heavier than the Mark III, weighing nine pounds.
The Lee-Enfield series of military rifles was in continuous use with the British army from 1895 to 1957.
The British army used the Lee-Enfield Mark 5 in carbine form; it was based on the action of the No. 1 Mark 4. The ‘‘jungle carbine’’ had a shortened barrel with flash hider mounted in a partial stock, retaining the same tenround magazine as the heavier rifle. Because it fired the same .303 cartridge despite its light weight, the Mark 5 had an unpleasant recoil and was not well liked. It is doubtful whether any carbines were carried by British or Commonwealth troops in Normandy.
The Bren was one of the most successful light machine guns ever produced, and it largely replaced the World War I Lewis gun. Heavily influenced by the prewar Czech Brno design, the Bren’s name was an acronym of BR for Brno and EN for Enfield Arsenal, where it was originally produced in 1937. Later the type was also made in Canada. The design featured a curved, thirty-round, top-feed magazine and an excellent quick-change barrel. Produced in four marks, the standard chambering was .303 British, but the type also was made in 8 mm Mauser, largely used by the Nationalist Chinese. Peak wartime production was a thousand per week.
Usually fired off a bipod, the Bren could also be mounted on a tripod or an antiaircraft mount. At a nominal twenty-two pounds it was light enough to be carried by the gunner, but to provide enough ammunition and spare barrels for continuous firing an assistant was necessary. Cyclic rate varied by models, between 480 and 540 rounds per minute. A small, tracked vehicle commonly called the Bren Gun Carrier often was armed with the gun for reconnaissance duty.
The Bren was so well designed that it remained a combat weapon for nearly half a century. British troops carried the type in the Falklands/Malvinas war of 1982, rechambered for 7.62 mm NATO.
Sean Connery played a Bren gunner, Private Flanagan, in The Longest Day.
Vickers Mark I/IV
An extremely long-lived weapon, the Vickers was essentially a slightly modified Maxim design that entered British service in 1912. Its portability improvement over the Maxim was accomplished by using lighter metals in the receiver and water jacket, but mechanically the two guns were very similar, both being recoil operated. The belt-fed, water-cooled weapon was chambered in .303 British, which was compatible with the standard infantry rifles of the Commonwealth. The Vickers became known for astonishing ruggedness and reliability; it was capable of firing thousands of rounds without a malfunction. During World War I the Vickers was a standard British aircraft weapon, relying on air cooling rather than water. Weighing about forty pounds, the Vickers gun was tripod mounted and thereby qualified as a heavy machine gun. Typical rate of fire was about 450 rounds per minute.
The Vickers remained in the British inventory until 1968, a service career spanning fifty-six years.
Britain’s primary SMG was the hugely produced 9 mm Sten gun. Entering production in 1941 and requiring a minimum amount of machining, the Sten was distinguished by a side-mounted thirty-two-round magazine. With its tubular receiver and skeleton stock, it was cheap to manufacture and easy to use. The weapon was produced in six models, and the Mark III required only five and a half manhours to build, as opposed to the Mark I’s eleven hours. Royal Ordnance, one of several manufacturers, was turning out twenty thousand a week at one point, contributing to an eventual total of some four million for all versions. A suppressed model, the Mark 2S, was produced with a Maxim designed silencer.
With a typical loaded weight of 8.5 pounds, Stens were selective-fire weapons. On full auto most Stens cycled at the rate of 540 rounds per minute. Troops issued the weapon were ambivalent about it; the Sten was considered fragile and unreliable but reportedly could be dropped in crates from low-flying aircraft and still function.
King George VI was given a Sten gun in a presentation case, though reportedly the monarch yearned for a Thompson.
Richard Todd (a D-Day airborne veteran) carried Stens as a fictional British commando in D-Day, the Sixth of June and as glider-borne Maj.
John Howard in The Longest Day.
Browning P-35 Highpower
Designed by the American genius John M. Browning, the P-35 was so designated because it entered production in 1935. However, the pistol was designed in 1923 and languished until well after Browning’s death. Though sometimes considered an improvement of his classic M1911 pistol, the High-power was in fact a new design but retained the Colt’s single-action concept. Chambered in 9 mm, the standard European pistol caliber, it fed from a thirteen-round magazine and therefore had the highest ammunition capacity of any standard-issue sidearm in the world’s armies. Half a pound lighter than the 1911 with twice the ammunition capacity, the Highpower was an immediate success.
The main manufacturer was Fabrique Nationale in Belgium; when Germany conquered that country in 1940 the Browning remained in production and was carried by some German troops. With the Herstal factory in German hands and Britain at risk of invasion, P-35 production was taken up by Inglis of Canada.
Perhaps the best World War II depiction of the Highpower is connection with Sean Connery’s role as Maj. Gen. Brian Urquhart in A Bridge Too Far.
Webley No. 1 Mark 6
The Webley was Britain’s long-lived military and civilian revolver, dating from 1887. A top-break design that automatically ejected empty cartridges on opening and afforded easy reloading, the Webley was usually chambered in .455 caliber. The Mark VI was adopted in 1915 and was subsequently redesignated the No. 1 Mark 6 when reintroduced in .38 caliber during World War II. It was produced as the Enfield No. 2 Mark 1, similarly chambered for .38 caliber. The Enfield was extremely light—barely 1.5 pounds empty—and therefore more comfortable to carry than most other sidearms. A modification for the Royal Tank Corps removed the hammer spur to avoid catching on clothing within confined spaces; it could be fired only double action, with no means to thumb-cock the hammer. Wartime production was at least 105,000, but the sturdy revolver also was manufactured thereafter.
German D-Day Weapons
Germany was the by no means inferior to its Allied competitors in the production of D-Day weapons. The seminal bolt-action design by Peter Paul Mauser in his 1871 rifle became the global standard for decades; the Model 1898 was the major German infantry weapon of both world wars. Chambered in 7.92 x 57 mm, it was among the world’s finest production rifles for half a century. The Mauser was a five-round magazine-fed bolt action, loaded from stripper clips. The 1935 version was designated the 98k, for kurz (short), measuring 43.3 inches overall with a twenty-four-inch barrel. Total World War II production was approximately 7,500,000 for all German armed forces and many of Hitler’s allies.
Though rugged and accurate, the Mauser suffered in comparison to the
U.S. Army’s semiautomatic M1 Garand and Britain’s ten-round bolt-action Lee-Enfield. Sustained rate of fire went to the Allies in almost any rifle fight, but Germany’s excellent machine guns redressed the situation both in quality and quantity.
Depending on the variant, the Mauser 98 weighed between eight and nine pounds. Thousands were produced as sniper rifles, usually equipped with 1.5 to four-power scopes.
The success of America’s M1 Garand convinced the German army that a gas-operated semiautomatic rifle was highly desirable. Mauser and Walther’s G.41 designs were generally unsatisfactory, but the Walther G.43 was approved in late 1943; wartime production totaled 402,700. The German rifle had a detachable ten-round box magazine, which was superior to the M1’s eight-round en bloc clip both for sustained fire and ease of reloading. However, the G.43 suffered some of the same functioning problems that plagued both G.41 designs and reportedly was not as reliable as the Garand.
Sniper versions were fitted with various scopes, most often the four-power ZF-4.
Germany produced at least three rifles that might be termed carbines, though none matched the definitive World War II example of the U.S. M1 carbine.
Submachine Guns: MP.38/40
One of the most glamorous weapons of World War II, the MP.38 became almost universally (and erroneously) known as the ‘‘Schmeisser.’’ Weapon designer Hugo Schmeisser had no role in the Maschinenistole, but apparently Allied intelligence thought otherwise. Actually, the MP-38 was designed by Erma’s Heinrich Vollmer.
The ‘‘burp gun’’ was chambered for 9 mm, and the design was streamlined for wartime production, making greater use of stampings in the MP-40 version. It fed from a thirty-two-round magazine, and its portability and high rate of fire made it well suited to the blitzkrieg tactics of the German army in the first years of the war. It was most frequently carried by officers, NCOs, and vehicle crews. The skeletonized stock was fully foldable, maximizing the SMG’s use in tanks and armored cars. Its relatively heavy weight—about nine pounds—combined with the cyclic rate of 400 to 450 rounds per minute ensured that the gun was highly controllable. Total production for both models amounted to some 908,000.
Arising from a 1932 design requirement, the Maschinen Gewehr 34 became the first truly general-purpose machine gun. The Mauser firm’s improvement on the Swiss Solothurn design resulted in a wholly new and innovative weapon. Relatively light at twenty-six pounds including the bipod, it was highly portable and could be employed tactically as a heavy machine gun when mounted on its extremely well-designed tripod. The MG.34 was chambered in Germany’s standard infantry cartridge, the 7.92 x 57 mm rifle round, and fed from a ‘‘snail’’ drum or a box-mounted, 250-round belt. Among its excellent features were a quick-change barrel and semi- or fullautomatic fire, depending on whether the upper or lower half of the trigger was depressed. The standard cyclic rate was nine hundred rounds per minute. However, the 34 was designed for peacetime production, and its beautifully machined mechanism was too complex for wartime volume. Additionally, its close tolerances resulted in functioning problems in dirt or sand.
Designed for mass production, the MG.42 made extensive use of stampings and had an even faster rate of fire than the MG.34. Depending on variant and unit modifications, the 42’s cyclic rate was 1,200 rounds per minute or higher. Though some ordnance engineers felt it was far too high and would waste ammunition, the design philosophy was based on practical experience. Frequently in combat only fleeting targets are available, and a trained gunner could quickly fill a small area with several rounds, increasing hit probability. On D-Day at least one MG.42 gunner fired twelve thousand rounds without a major malfunction.
The MG.42 heavy machine gun fired 1,200 rounds per minute, an exceptional rate at the time. It was the ideal weapon to use against an invasion force. This gun was so effective that the German army still uses a modified version of it today.
The MG.42 weighed about 25.5 pounds with bipod, and its barrel could be changed even faster than that of the 34. When mounted on a tripod with an optical sight, the 42 was considered a heavy machine gun. Its high cyclic rate has been compared to the sound of ripping canvas; one D-Day veteran recalled, ‘‘I got worried when I realized our machine guns went rat-a-tat and theirs went brrrrrrrt.’’
The U.S. Army was so impressed with the MG.42 that a program was implemented to duplicate the design in .30-06 caliber. Nothing came of the project, but the 42’s influence on the M60 machine gun is obvious, and the German Bundeswehr still uses the type, designated M3 in caliber 7.62
One of the icons of the German military was the Luger pistol, adopted by the navy in 1904 and the army in 1908. Ironically, its distinctive togglelink system was devised by a Connecticut inventor, Hugo Borchardt, who had been hired by Georg Luger of the Lowe factory near Berlin. Chambered in the then-new 9 mm Parabellum cartridge, the Luger became the most widely issued sidearm of its era, serving in many countries besides Germany. It was even evaluated in the United States. Recoil operated with an action inherited from the 1893 Borchardt design; it fed from an eight-round magazine inserted in the grip. Light and handy, the P.08 had a standardlength 4.5-inch barrel, but much longer ‘‘artillery’’ models were produced with detachable shoulder stocks.
Though susceptible to dirt and debris, which could cause malfunctions, the Luger was revived as a military weapon before World War II. In most European armies, sidearms were as much a badge of authority as serious fighting tools, and the fact that the Luger needed to be kept clean was not perceived as a serious problem.
In the 1930s Mauser was contracted to begin producing Lugers based on the 1914 design with a four-inch barrel. Mauser production was placed at some 413,000 from 1938 until the Walther P.38 replaced the Luger in 1942.
The first double-action autopistol accepted for military use, the 9 mm P.38 set the precedent for many sidearms entering the twenty-first century. When the safety was applied the external hammer fell but the firing pin locked, permitting the weapon to be carried safely while loaded. When needed, the safety was disengaged and the chambered round was fired merely by pressing the trigger. However, the first round’s trigger pull was always heaviest, whereas subsequent rounds from the eight-round magazine were essentially fired in single-action mode. The difference in strength required for cycling the trigger was not conducive to accuracy.
A user-friendly feature of the P.38 was a pin that protruded from the rear of the slide when a round was chambered. The shooter thus could tell by look or by feel whether his pistol was ready to fire.
Records vary, but Walther and other companies probably built about 1.2 million P.38s. The type was revived as the P.1 when the West German Bundeswehr was formed.
This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Normandy Invasion. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to D-Day.