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I posted this on another forum some years ago, where it has now passed into oblivion. Some here might find this experiment interesting.


It used to be said at the H.P. White Laboratory that "One experiment is worth a thousand expert opinions." So I conducted an experiment. Its purpose was to determine whether postwar Walther P.38/P1 barrels will work in a WWII P.38 pistol, using the WWII slide.

Sixty (60) postwar barrels from P.38s and P1s made between about 1959 to about 1973 were selected at random. Most of these barrels had been removed from among the thousands of police and BMI trade-in pistols imported into the U.S. in the 1980s. The lowest serial number on hand that could be ascertained was 082321, and the highest s/n 332250, Most of the barrels bore only the last few digits of the s/n: a few early production barrels showed 4 digits; most were later with just 3 digits. Almost all bore two West German Bundesamt eagle proofs (three of the barrels were commercially proofed at Ulm; one was s/n 2638E). All, without exception, also had a roundrel stamp (a dot within a circle) on the front of the left hand barrel lug--a characteristic postwar marking. About half had three hash marks hand-struck on the side of the right hand lug--the significance of this mark is unknown to me. All of the barrels were sleeved with liners; 56 were of the common cross-pinned variety, the other 4, later production, had sleeves flanged at the rear and countersunk into the barrel body. I mention all this to establish beyond any doubt that these were original postwar barrels made at Ulm, covering a wide range of production.

Five WWII slides were also gathered. They were: ac41 (f suffix); byf42 (no suffix); byf43 (f suffix); svw45 (g suffix) and another svw45 (h suffix). The first two were borrowed from complete guns; the others were orphan slides. An additional ac42 (g suffix) frame was also included in the experiment. Two postwar frames were utilized as "controls": s/n 8352E, slide dated 6/69, and s/n 332250, Ulm-proofed 1969, as well as a dozen WWII barrels just for comparison.

Each of the 60 barrels was tried in all five of the WWII slides. 53 of the barrels could not be inserted into any of the five slides.

Seven of the 60 barrels could be partially inserted in the byf43 slide, but only one of them would seat all the way to battery. The others left a 1/16" gap of headspace. The problems were one or more of the following: the rear "wing" lugs of the barrel, being machined in a fatter profile than on the WWII barrels, impacted the corresponding lugs inside the slide before the barrel was fully seated; the extractor cut would not align with the extractor, or insufficient clearance caused the rear end of the barrel to jam upward, sometimes also fouling the firing pin cover.

Four of the 7 barrels could be partially inserted in the ac 41 slide, but similarly, none completely.

Four of the 7 barrels could be partially inserted in the byf42 slide and in one of the svw45 slides, but none completely. Five of the 7 barrels could be partially inserted in the other svw45 slide, only one completely.

Of the seven barrels that could be at least partially inserted in at least one slide, four of them were early barrels with 4-digit partial serial numbers. One was the aforementioned commercial s/n 2638E (this series is said to have utilized some nonstandard parts). The remaining two were later three-digit partial s/n barrels.

Of the two --just 2 out of 300 possible --barrel/slide combinations that could be assembled with the breech fully closed, neither one could be inserted into any of the 5 frames available for testing. The bottom of the barrel hung too low to clear the front of the frame. No locking blocks were installed; this would only have made matters worse, as locking blocks are always selectively sized and fitted at the factory to individual guns to obtain correct headspace and precise locking/unlocking function.

Finally, all the barrels were tried in the postwar slides. All of them fit easily. All of the WWII slides were tried with WWII barrels. All of them fit easily. Out of curiosity, cylindrical plug gauges were tried in the fronts of both types of slides. The barrel opening is basically a circle, concentric with the firing pin hole. Postwar slides readily accept a 17mm diameter plug gauge. WWII slides will not, but a 16mm gauge will fit.

What conclusions can be drawn from all this?

First, postwar P.38/P.1 barrels and slides are fundamentally different from those of WWII. There is no semblance of interchangeability intended to permit postwar barrels to be used in WWII slides. Any such combinations that might be put together are flukes at the outer limits of manufacturing tolerance, and even if the assembly could be forced into the frame, it would be unlikely to properly work as a firearm. Interchangeability in today's parlance means not only the capacity of parts to be assembled to each other, but to function as designed.

Second, a WWII P.38 with a postwar barrel installed either has the barrel or the slide altered to make it fit, or actually has a WWII barrel that has been misidentified.
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