Although handguns were the main firearm for World War II, many soldiers and paratroopers also had WW2 pistols. Most pistols used at this time were distinctive and specifically produced for a given country, but some were used in multiple countries.
Due to the high demand for firearms during the Second World War, most were mass-produced. A few prototypes were a limited edition. In most cases, the initial design evolved over the years, with several variants developed to optimize efficiency and leverage new technologies. Besides, many countries were keen to outdo their opponents.
The range of ww2 pistols included revolvers, semi-automatic pistols with varying operational mechanisms, and manual pistols among others. Below is a look at the seven most iconic pistols of World War II.
7 Iconic WW2 Pistols
Colt M1911 A1
- Country: US
- Type: semi-automatic, short recoil
- Years of service: 1911 – present
This pistol was also known as Colt Government, Colt m1911, M1911, or simply the .45. It is a semi-automatic, recoil-operated, single-action American gun designed by John Browning in 1911 and produced by the Colt Manufacturing Company.
It gained a reputation for its short recoil mechanism incorporated in a basic pistol design, a design that became adopted in many 20th century pistols.
It featured a .45ACP cartridge with 85 rounds rate of fire. It was effective for shooting within a 50m range. The feed system has a capacity for seven or eight rounds, depending on the model.
Between 1911 and 1985, the U.S. military procured over 2.7 million units of the M1911 and M1911A1 variants as they were the standard-issue sidearms for the U.S. armed forces.
It is still in service, mainly as a civilian pistol. It is popular in civilian events such as USPSA, IDPA, International Practical Shooting Confederation, and bullseye shooting. Its more compact variants are popular as concealed carry handguns for civilians. The U.S. Navy, U.S Marine Corps, and U.S. Army Special Forces still use modern derivatives.
WW2 Pistols: German Luger P08
- Country: Germany
- Type: semi-automatic, recoil-operated
- Years of service: 1898 – 1949
The Luger or Luger P08 was also commonly known as Pistole Parabellum or Parabellum Pistole. It was a toggle-locked semi-automatic pistol first produced in 1898 in Germany and designed by George Luger as an improvement of the Borchardt C-93 pistol and manufactured by the Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken, a German firearms manufacturer.
In 1900, the Swiss military adopted the Luger pistol. The Imperial German Navy adopted it in 1906 and then by the German Army in 1908. It also became the standard service pistol in various countries in Europe and America, including Bolivia, Brazil, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Portugal. However, it is mostly known for its use by the Germans army during World War I and World War II.
Unlike many semi-automatic pistols whose design incorporated slide actions, the Luger has a toggle-back action design. Such that, once fired, the toggle assembly and barrel move about 13mm backward due to recoil. Once the round had exited, the toggle and breech assembly would travel forward, and the next round would load in the chamber.
WW2 Pistols: FP-45
- Country: U.S.
- Type: Manual, single-shot
- Years of service: 1942 -1945
This pistol was also known as the Liberator, OSS Pistol, or MI942 Pistol. The single-shot pistol was produced mainly for use by the U.S. Army during World War II against resistance forces and arm clandestine in occupied territories.
Its name, FP-45, was derived from the designation Flare Projector Caliber 45, which also referred to the Flare Pistol M1942. It was deliberately mislabeled as a tactic to make the enemy think that it was a signal flare gun.
The entire production project was completed in 11 weeks only between June and August 1942, with 1milion units manufactured. It was an easy-to-use and easy-to-manufacture pistol for mass production, produced by Guide Lamp Corporation GMC Division in Anderson, Indiana. The goal was to promote insurgencies with civilian participation.
There was a specific distribution process for the guns. They retailed at $2.10 each. The package came with a 12-step pictorial instruction manual to help the operator set it up and use it correctly without any special training. The visual representation ensured no language or literacy barrier. It came packaged in a clear plastic bag with ten extra rounds of .45 ACP.
The overall design of the gun was highly utilitarian with no fancy features. It had a large and blocky pistol grip, and the spring-loaded trigger had a curved wire trigger guard. It was mainly stamped metal and had a muzzle velocity of 829 feet per second with an eight-meter range limit.
The pistol remained in service between 1942 and 1945. Its design concept was renewed in 1964 by the CIA as the Deer Gun, but it was never issued.
Beretta Model 1915
- Country: Italy
- Type: Spring-loaded, semi-automatic
- Years of service: 1911 – present
The Beretta Model 1915, also known as the Beretta M1915, was a semi-automatic pistol designed by Tullio Marengoni and manufactured by Beretta. It replaced the Glisenti 1910 due to its weak firing mechanism.
The first model was in service between 1915-1918. The 15,670 manufactured units were issued to the Royal Italian Army for use in World War I. 56,000 units of the second model were produced and used in World War II up to 1945.
The main reason for production was to meet the shortage of sidearms in Italy and across Europe. The design of the Beretta 1915 was ahead of its time. It was chambered with a 7.65X17mm Browning SR cartridge with limited models having the 9X19mm Glisenti Short Chambering.
The sidearm had a blowback design with strengthened interiors to handle heavier cartridge loads. It has a solid trigger surrounded by a strong ring and slab-sided slide. The slide was fitted with front and rear iron sights and a top-mounted ejection port. The front part of the slide was cutaway, a characteristic of Beretta guns.
It had minimal barrel protrusion at the muzzle. Once the final cartridge was fired, the slide remained open for a new magazine to be inserted. The spring-loaded slide could hold up to 8 cartridges.
The design of Beretta 1915 inspired the modern Beretta semi-automatic line of pistols, including Beretta 70, Beretta 92, Beretta Cheetah, Beretta M9, among others.
- Country: Germany
- Type: Semi-automatic service weapon
- Years of service: 1942 – 1945
The Walther P38 was a semi-automatic pistol designed by Carl Walther as a service pistol. The idea of the pistol first came up in 1930 as most of the world was facing an economy precision. German was seeking a cheaper yet effective sidearm to replace the expensive-to-manufacture Luger P08. At the time, Carl had just gotten a contract to supply the German police with the PPK and PP pistols.
His first design was named Model MP (Militarische Pistole). It was a larger version of the PP with a 9X19mm chamber. However, the blowback design of the slide could not handle the powerful cartridges.
He later developed a second version of the pistol with inspiration from the Paul Kiraly design naming it AP (Armee pistole). This new model had a delayed-blowback operation, a double/single-action fire control system, an internal hammer, and a 4 7/8″ round barrel. They only produced 55, and the few available are collectibles that sell for $35,000 to $55,000.
Although AP’s design was pretty decent, Carl wanted to alter it so that the pistol had an exposed hammer that gave soldiers an option to cock the gun manually. He developed the third version and named it HP (Heeres Pistole). The pistol prototype had an external hammer and a safety mechanism.
The HP design was accepted in 1938. In 1939, three prototypes were produced and named Heer. In mid-1940, as Germany was mass-producing firearms for World War 2, it took up the Heer as one of its major service weapons and named it P38.
The P38 revolutionized the design of service pistols. It was the first to incorporate both a locked breech and DA/SA trigger, allowing the first shot to be fired in double trigger mode. It was also the first service weapon to feature a loaded-chamber indicator.
This pistol became more popular than the Luger among paratroopers. As such, it became a challenge for Carl to keep up with the demand. Mauser and Spreewerk GmbH helped in the mass production of the pistol.
About 1.2 million units were manufactured between 1918 and 1946. However, after World War II, the market became flooded with pistols, and many were bought by returning GIs as souvenirs. In 1957 Germany reinstated the P38 as its main service weapon until 1994. Six hundred thousand P38s were produced from 1957 to 2000.
WW2 Pistols: TT33
- Country: Soviet Union
- Type: Semi-automatic pistol
- Years of service: 1930 – 1955
After the Russian Civil War, the Soviet Union Red Army was keen to replace their aging Nagant M1895 revolver. There were various pistol prototypes in consideration, and the TT-33 was chosen. Fedor Tokarev designed it, hence the name Tula Tokarev abbreviated as TT-33.
It became the major service weapon for the Soviet Union Army during World War II and beyond and was also licensed and adapted in many other countries. This gun laid the foundation for the design of newer soviet firearms thereafter.
The TT-33 had a short recoil, locked-breech design. It was chambered for 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridges and incorporated a swinging link system similar to the Colt M1911 pistol.
It officially entered service in 1934 and was mass-produced at the onset of World War II. By the Nazi invasion in 1941, they had produced 600,000 units and many more during the Great Patriotic War. Ultimately, over 1 million units of the TT-33 were made. The last batch was produced in 1955, although it was retired out of service by the Makarov pistol in 1952.
- Country: Britain
- Type: Top-break revolver
- Years of service: 1887 – 1970
The Webley Revolver was also known as the Webley self-extracting revolver or top-break revolver. Webley and Scott designed it in 1887. The two manufactured some units with the help of RSAF Enfield.
It was the standard-issue revolver for the United Kingdom armed forces between 1887 to 1970, and about 125,000 units were produced from 1887 – to 1923.
It was a top break revolver with an operating mechanism whereby the revolver operated the extractor to remove cartridges from the cylinder. The single/double action revolver had a firing rate of 20-30 rounds/minute, and the feed system had a capacity for six rounds.
The first version of the revolver, the Webley MK1 was first adopted as a service pistol in 1887. In the height of the Boer war between 1899-1902, its variant MK VI gained prominence. The Mk VI, the most popular model of the Webley revolver, was introduced in 1915 during the first World War.
This pistol is one of the most powerful top-break revolvers ever produced. It fired large .455 cartridges effectively. Although the MK VI is no longer in service, its variant the .38/200 is still widely used as a police sidearm in many countries.
Most Iconic WW2 Pistols: In Conclusion
While the pistols above were not as sophisticated as the modern-day pistols, they marked the start of the evolution of modern-day handguns. They proved themselves in wartime combat and earned their place in history. Some are still in service, while others are out of service and fetch thousands of dollars as collectibles and souvenirs.