Larry Vickers on WWII German Pistols

Larry Vickers’ TacTV YouTube channel has updated with an excellent series of videos on the major full-size service pistols used by the German Wehrmacht in World War II. The videos include both an overview of the handguns’ histories, as well as timed shooting trials with each. Larry’s claim, early in the first video, that viewers will learn something certainly held true for me:





The high performance of the Polish Vis pistol was notable, as is the relatively small gains of the excellent sights on the P38. Certainly, post war handgun designers knew this, too, and the handguns of the fifties through ’70s are generally amalgams of features from these four designs, and the 1911.

Though its flash can sometimes make TacTV blend in with some of the more poorly produced firearms programs out there, I have not at all been disappointed with its content. Larry’s channel is one I watch intently.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • Don Ward

    Good video by Mr. Vickers and very well produced.

    The main thing with the Polish Radom, and Larry admits this, there is a lot of familiarity with the 1911 and muscle memory which is improving his shooting performance with that weapon. And that counts for a lot. I imagine if he spent more time practicing with a Luger or Walther P.38, his scores would improve.

    I wouldn’t say I learned anything new from these series but it’s the first time I’ve seen the four handguns put together like this in a slick little video presentation. As a modern takeaway, it is always interesting seeing how militaries of that day had the philosophy of not carrying handguns with a round in the chamber which (to today’s shooters) might seem primitive and barbaric. And from an actuarial standpoint, it was probably the correct choice.

    I’ve only watched the first, and last two videos and haven’t had a chance to take a gander at the four individual weapons videos. But the thing I always try to remember about the German Army is that they were probably the most pistol-centric military of the era due to the combination of occupying unfriendly subject populations and the atrocities committed by the Wehrmacht and SS on those peoples. The handgun was the “PDW” of choice for the Germans and they scrambled to make sure every policeman, courier, supply clerk and cook was armed with at least some firearm because of the danger of commando raids, partisans and resistance groups.

    • petru sova

      I might add that the only way to carry without a holster or handle when out of the holster todays pre-loaded striker fired weapons aka the Glock and Glock copy cat systems is with an empty chamber because of the lack of a manual safety.

      • Zebra Dun

        No, That would be the same as saying the revolver without a manual safety could also not be carried with a round in the chamber.
        Treat an auto without a safety as you would any revolver.

        • petru sova

          You just shouted to the world that you do not understand the mechanical differences between a double action revolver and a pre-loaded striker pistol. They are completely two different animals. The double action revolver has a very long hard pull as opposed to the short stroke pre-loaded striker pistol that has a much lighter and shorter pull. And no one in their right mind would carry a single action revolver with the hammer cocked back but people like yourself who do not understand how pre-loaded striker systems work think nothing of carrying one with a round in the chamber because since you cannot see the danger you think that there is no danger.

          • Zebra Dun

            No I understand striker fired versus hammer fired.
            I also understand what you said.
            The Colt lawman is an example of a hammer fired that has a hammer block so that if dropped on the hammer it will not fire unless the trigger is pulled. it is a safety on a revolver.
            The same thing as a striker fired revolver non safety equipt is the 1973 Ruger super blackhawk which had the hammer resting on the firing pin so that if dropped it could discharge as the hammer would strike the pin.
            How ever, both revolvers are carried with rounds in the chamber.
            The old style cowboys often left the one cylinder empty under the hammer so if a stirrup or drop occurred on the hammer it would not fire.
            On these revolvers pulling the trigger allowed the loaded cylinder to come into battery.
            In a shoot out possible situation all six cylinders would be loaded.
            The rule of thumb here is, “don’t drop your weapon and in a shoot out don’t worry about it” treat an auto loader without a safety as you would a revolver, leave an empty chamber under the hammer or carry loaded in the right circumstances.
            I agreed with your thinking but allowed for a dire need situation.
            I like revolvers.

    • joe

      “As a modern takeaway, it is always interesting seeing how militaries of that day had the philosophy of not carrying handguns with a round in the chamber which (to today’s shooters) might seem primitive and barbaric.”
      Was the same practice in used in the late ’60s? This is especially noticeable in “Saving Private Ryan,” and I question whether Dale Dye researched this manual of arms or whether it continued during his service?

    • Phil Hsueh

      As I understood it the Germans during WWII saw pistols more as a status symbol than a PDW, which may partly explain the spare mag on the holster as opposed to actual mag pouches which LAV found inconvenient. I could be mistaken but it always seemed to me that it was mostly officers in both the Whermacht and SS carried pistols and even then it was mostly as a badge of rank more than anything else. While the German military then certainly did commit attrocities I’d hardly say that they were plagued by commando raids and partisans everywhere, certainly there was the French Resistance but I don’t think that every country that Germany conquered and/or occupied had active resistance groups along the lines of the French and even in France I’m not sure that they were ever so active that German soldiers in France on leave, or what not, needed to walk around armed at all times for fear of the Resistance.

    • Scotch

      Larry, If you want to disassembly the Radom pistol, do not use pliers, hammer, punches or other devices. Just pull forward recoil spring rod and gently push out the slide catch from the frame.

  • S O

    He could have mentioned that the P38 was taken into Federal German military service (Bundeswehr) after WW2 again as P1 and replaced by the P8 only in the 1990’s.

    By that time the P1s were worn out and documentation about which handgun had fired how many rounds had become dubious, so they were replaced along.

  • Nicks87

    No matter how old or fat Larry gets he will always be a badass.

  • Alex Nicolin

    Beretta 92 is basically a high capacity, long barrel P38 🙂

    • idahoguy101

      I wonder if Beretta pays royalties to Walther for copying the design?

  • sultan of swing

    Larry would have gotten along well with Otto Skorzeny

  • petru sova

    Did you notice they did not do a critique on the mechanical failures of any of the handguns? More on the real story later.

    The statement that the Dieudonné Saive High Power bites the hand was based on todays overweight people not the soldiers of WWII who were smaller in stature and most if not all where not over weight. I have normal hands, not fat hands and I have never suffered hammer bite from the High Power.

    The choice of the P38 over the High Power shows both men never bothered to study the two pistols mechanically or even talk to “real WWII veterans”. The High Power was the most coveted pistol by all nations of WWII which included the Chinese, Japanese, U.S. Germany, Britain, and yes French, Polish and Belgians as well to name just a few.
    Unlike the P38 the High Power was the more accurate handgun. The P38 was not known for its accuracy.

    The P38 was noted for breaking safeties, and slides and jamming up because of the open top slide that let in dirt and debris. Its main spring hangs naked down the outside of the frame covered only by the plastic grips. A hard fall that will crack the grips can bend or break the main spring strut putting the gun out of action, ditto for todays copy cat guns that use this same design such as the Sig “P” series pistols . The locking block of the P38 has the same problem with breaking that can also cause frame and slide failure that the modern day Beretta has that uses the same type locking block and it is made worse by the use of an aluminum frame such as also found on post war P38’s known as P1’s.

    The Radom suffered from broken op-rods even after going through various modifications of the op-rod. Its workmanship like the P38’s workmanship bordered on the crude towards the end of the war while the Saive High Powers that I have examined still showed a high degree of not only accuracy but workmanship as well. Ditto for the Inglis Canadian High Powers.

    The Luger suffered from cracked breach blocks and is well known as the “Jam-A-Matic” of the military pistol world.

    Both men obviously never heard of the Norwegian 1911 which was all a WWII handgun used by the Germans and no it was not in 9mm but it was used by the Germans. But it had its problems too. Its 45acp cartridge bounced off of helmets at a scant 35 yards as confirmed by U.S. tests in 1945 while the 9mm penetrated the same helmet at 125 yards with ease. The U.S. made1911 had shoddy workmanship which resulted in poor accuracy, unlike the finely made Norwegian copy and the 45 acp kicked more which resulted in most soldiers German and U.S. alike not being able to shoot it as well as the 9mm or 30 Tokarev or 30 Mauser. The looping .45 acp trajectory made hits more difficult as the ranged increased making it inferior to the flatter shooting 9mm or 30 Mauser or .30 Tokarev

    Another note from “real WWII Veterans”. Many I personally interviewed when they were still alive stated that they hated the 1911 .45 acp for many of the above reasons and many were traded off for European 9mm handguns. They had no problem killing people with 9mm either which refutes the nonsense that the .45 was the gun that would knock a man down, spin him around like a top or make him disappear in a red puff of mist. As one U.S. veteran told me “When I hit someone with the High Power he usually never needed a second shot.”

    I find their videos sophomoric and that is trying to be kind to both men. Lets face facts not critiquing the mechanical failings of the weapons teaches one little about the true worth and performance of the handguns in battle. No handgun is mechanically perfect and failing to inform and teach later generations of these facts fosters a false sense of security when it comes to the purchase and use of either classic hand guns or the more cheaply made modern plasticky, cast iron and stamped sheet metal handguns of today.

    In conclusion the best gun by far in WWII was and still is the “original” Saive High Power as it was Dieudonne Saive that invented it not John Browning something that might surprise a lot of people. The original John Browning High Power was much different mechanically and was even a striker fired gun not a hammer fired gun. About the only thing Saive borrowed from Browning was the high capacity magazine.
    I would have to say if the two gun writers visited FN and called the High Power a Browning and not a Saive they would and should be shown the door. And if any of the two were ever in real combat they would be the first to throw the P38 into the nearest ditch and grab a Saive High Power.

    • DrewN

      I believe you might want to google the two fellows from the video before casting aspersions upon their experience. .

      • petru sova

        If they have any experience they sure have not learned much and if they have why are they hiding it?

  • Jake W

    I had to stop part way through this. Larry should know better. He talks about the “uncommon” chamber indicator of the P-38 and how it “died out”. I would negate his comments and say that the Springfield Xd line uses a VERY similar load chamber indicator. Come on Larry, you should be better than that.

  • Don Ward

    Have watched all seven of the videos now. It was interesting watching the field stripping; particularly with how complicated the Radom was. So Nathaniel, as you alluded to in the opening paragraph, what did you learn that was new?

  • Zebra Dun

    German Paratroopers went into battle with only a handgun, using them to fight their way to the weapons bundles with their main weapons inside.
    Arming Crew served weapons, vehicles crews and aircraft would soak up a lot of handguns.
    If your rifle is a bolt action it would make sense to carry a pistol.

  • petru sova

    I forgot to mention in my other post that the P38 had a troublesome stamped sheet metal top cover that regularly blows right off the top of the gun and when it does you lose most of the internal parts. Just what a soldier in combat needs, an exploding pistol. Seriously did these two birds that wrote all this non-sense about the P38 ever bother to study the history of these pistols. The P38’s stamped sheet metal top cover was mostly held on only by friction and the more you shoot it with hot loads the more likely the top cover will fly right off the gun. Anyone with any experience with this pistol has experienced this if enough rounds are fired through one. And they wanted this gun over the Saive High Power? Maybe they are on drugs.

  • petru sova

    This is my 3rd post on the glaring design deficiencies of the P38. I neglected to mention the defective design of the P38’s extractor that plagued the pistol almost up to the end of its production run which was very, very late Post War. The extractor of this gun was noted for blowing right out of the gun during normal use. Late in its production life they milled a notch in the extractor to attempt (notice I said attempt) to keep the extractor from walking out from under its detent. Again would a soldier in the field need this problem with his weapon. Perhaps the two genius Gun Writers should go back to school and restudy the sorry mechanical history of the P38. If they did they would not now have to suffer being laughed at for choosing the defective P38 over the well designed Saive High Power.
    Walther actually gave up on trying to perfect the extractor design of the P38 because in its later offshoot P5 pistol the extractor was modified extensively and there is little if any resemblance of its extractor to the original P38 extractor.

  • petru sova

    Anyone who would recommend the P38 over the Saive High Power is really making a fool of himself. Read my 3 posts on the P38’s History. Many times peoples portfolio’s are exaggerated and inflated and many take credit when other people that were working with them may have been the real engineers behind the accomplishments. I find it hard to believe with the statements made in their videos that these two birds know much of anything about WWII pistols.

    • DrewN

      Are you trolling? Because Ken Hackathorne and Larry Vickers are the last guys who need to “exaggerate their portfolio”. Their primary complaints with the Hi-Power are the small safety,gritty trigger (as issued) and poor sights. And as someone who carried an issue HP for a few years I tend to agree on those points despite my affection for the weapon. The safety is brutal to use under stress or with anything but clean,dry hands really.

      • petru sova


        • petru sova

          One other point not mentioned was the fabulous and totally superior ergonomics of the High Power over the P38. Try pointing the P38 at a target. Its about as well balanced as a cheap Wal-Mart electric hand drill. On the other hand the High Power points naturally like pointing your finger quickly at a distant object. It enables one to hit a target quickly far more easily than the awkward balancing P38. I have handled very few automatic pistols that point as well as the High Power and handled many like the P38 that were just terrible.

  • Scotch

    Larry, If you want to disassembly the Vis 35 pistol, do not use pliers, punches or other devices. Just pull forward recoil spring rod and gently push out the slide stop from the frame.

  • 17th Airborne

    You’ve ruined a good discussion with your obsession for discrediting the P38, give it a rest.