Today, we’re going to take a quick walk down memory lane to look at two classic military handguns that saw extensive service and earned reputations for being innovative, rugged, and reliable – the 1911 and the Walther-designed P38

Both of these firearms were made by various manufacturers over the years. Our sample 1911 is a Charles Daly from Chiappa while our P38 – or P.38 as it was originally written – is actually a Spreewerk manufacture gun of the Walther design. Let’s kick it off with the American classic and take a closer look at the 1911.

Charles Daly Chiappa 1911


Charles Daly Chiappa 1911
While not an original military 1911, this Charles Daly reproduction is still a fine example of the classic American handgun. (Photo: Samantha Mursan/

The 1911 is a single-action-only pistol originally chambered in .45 ACP – though there are other options available today. The gun features an external thumb safety and a beavertail safety on the back of the grip. It uses a short-recoil system that has since gone on to become a dominant feature of many modern semi-auto pistols. Though often copied, it’s the genius behind the original design of the 1911 that has made it an American favorite even today.

While not a collectible 1911, this Charles Daly is still a nice representation of what would have been used by American service members in the 20th century. There are some differences, noticeably the lack of textured grips, that would have been common on the various iterations of the military-issue 1911s, but the heart and soul of the gun is still the same.

A Bit of History

Remington Rand 1911
This wartime production Remington Rand 1911 served with U.S. service members in World War II. (Photo: Paul Peterson)

Designed by John Moses Browning, the 1911 represented the U.S. military’s move away from revolvers and into semi-automatic handguns. With some lessons learned from past conflicts, the U.S. Army demanded their next pistol be chambered for .45 caliber, and it was Browning’s design, manufactured and submitted for testing by Colt, that eventually won out in the Army’s trials.

Aside from the design, one of the most impressive things about the 1911 is its sheer length of service. From its adoption on March 29, 1911, and up until the present day, the U.S. military has put this gun to work. It served heavily through World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and a host of other conflicts until it was eventually replaced by the Beretta M9 in the 1980s. 

However, there are still some of these guns in the military’s arsenal, and the Marines adopted a variant as recently as 2012 for its special operations forces. That gives this gun over 100 years in the hands of America’s fighting forces, which is a heck of a feat for anything. While the 1911’s days of active service are more or less over with the U.S. military, its long life of service is a testament to the original design, with millions of these pistols made for the military over the decades.

Spreewerk P38

Spreewerk P38 pistol
This Spreewerk P38 represents one of the primary sidearms used by the German Army in World War II. (Photo: Samantha Mursan/

This pistol was manufactured by Spreewerk and bears the letters CYQ on the slide. Other P38s were manufactured by Mauser (marked BYF) and Walther (marked AC), with Carl Walther also being the origin for the design. The P38 actually served as an opposing sidearm to the 1911 during World War II and offered some significantly different features.

Unlike the 1911, the gun was a single-action/double-action design chambered in 9mm, as opposed to the larger .45 ACP. Like the 1911, the gun boasts an external manual safety, though it is also a decocker that allows the user to drop the hammer and carry the firearm in double-action mode. 

The gun also has a very simple disassembly process that allows the user to remove the slide and barrel assembly by simply flipping a lever and then dropping the hammer. It’s a forward-thinking design element that is featured even on some more modern firearms today. The pistol also has a heel magazine release – unlike the 1911’s side button – which is a fairly classic European design feature.



A Bit of History

Walther P38 pistol
The Walther P38 design included a safety/decocker so it could function as a single-action/double-action pistol. (Photo:

One of the most prolific yet often overlooked pistols used by the German military during World War II, the actual design for the P38 was accepted by the German Army in 1938 with just a few design change requests, such as the addition of an external hammer. The guns began rolling off the assembly line just in time to see the beginnings of the war in 1939, and well over one million were eventually produced before Germany finally surrendered in 1945.

Unlike our more modern Charles Daly reproduction 1911, this P38 was a wartime service pistol that still bears the marks of the manufacturer and the German military. This puts it squarely in the collector category, but it’s certainly more than capable of getting the job done if you wanted to put it to use on the range. 

Final Thoughts

I’m personally a fan of not just historical firearms but ones that I can still take to the range and shoot today. Both the 1911 and the P38, whether older production or new, are guns that were designed to last. They’re more than just display pieces, and both can certainly hit the range or pull duty as a self-defense firearm. They also have unique and highly recognizable profiles that make them stand out even more as historically significant military firearms.

Like cool old firearms?
Check out our Military Classics and Collectors Corner for more.

revolver barrel loading graphic