In the German armed forces pistols have always been in short supply, even though the serial production of the most common pistol, the P38 in caliber 9 mm, began already in 1939 by the Walther Company. Followed by Mauser in 1941 and Spreewerk in 1943. The model P38 was thought to replace the expensive and time-consuming manufactured standard pistol model P08. But due to the circumstances of the war this plan could not be implemented completely: In the first half of the year 1944 the German armed forces lost 110,092 handguns and this number rose to 282,701 handguns in the second half of the year. Such high losses could not even be compensated by all three manufacturers together.
The shortage of handguns had unforeseen consequences for the German Volkssturm (people’s storm), when the first units should get equipped in late 1944. Although the Gauleiter were authorized to receive weapons from armament factories in their districts, these weapons had to come from over-production or had to be made after an official Army contract had run out. But this claim was only written on paper. The manufacturers had their hands full even to take care of all official orders. At the end of the day there was nothing left for the Volkssturm.
Since early 1943, Walther and Mauser tried to simplify their weapons and to develop new models. None of them went into serial production, but the gained experience benefited the companies when the call for a “people’s pistol” came up at the end of 1944. Now it was necessary to produce faster and cheaper than ever before. The weapon had to use the P38 magazines and to hit a 20×20 cm target at 25 meters. And of course it should be ready for serial production as soon as possible.
On November 30, 1944, there was a meeting between the Haupt-Dienststellenleiter Saur, SS-Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger and other members of the Technisches Amt (Technical Department). In the process Saur got the promise for a monthly supply of 20,000 “Volkspistolen (people’s pistols) model Walther”. The order was accepted as “War-Order Nr.1005 Waffen-SS” on January 4, 1945.
For Walther it was hard to cope with this additional order. The production was already quite busy with the production of P38, K43, VG1 and other military equipment. Also it was getting more and more difficult to acquire all the necessary raw materials to keep the production running. Almost the whole weapon was made of stamped sheet metal, except for barrel, bolt-head, springs, grip-plates and a few other small parts. And almost everything was joined together with bolts and rivets, and the spot-welded points have been reduced to a minimum. The order was then classified as the highest level called “Führer-Notprogramm” (Führer emergency program). However, it remains questionable whether this had been of some use. The few surviving pistols do not suggest the start of a large-scale serial production. And on April 4, 1945, the U.S. Army occupied the Zella-Mehlis area.
The whole range of simplification becomes obvious when disassembling the Volkspistole:
The barrel is retained in the frame by a hardened cylindrical plug which engages the blind hole shown in the underside of the barrel breech. When lowering the lever on the left side of the frame above the trigger, the plug retracts and the barrel can be withdrawn forward. Afterwards the slide can be removed.
The slide housing is made of two sheet metal half-shells, riveted together at the front. At the rear end they are held together by the clenching of the finger grips into slots in the inner shell. The slide housing is then positioned around a machined bolt, only connected by two lugs on the top surface of the bolt. These lugs take all the recoil forces when shooting the Volkspistole.
Also the Mauser Company could make good use of past experience for the new Volkspistole (people’s pistol) project. From 1942 on Mauser did make experiments with stamped sheet metal parts for the model HSc. First of all a simplified trigger was put in production, followed by a sheet metal slide. According to Ott-Helmuth von Lossnitzer the company was at that time busy to develop a weapon to replace Walther’s P38 service pistol. This project with the designation “M.7057” was an internal working of Mauser without an official order. The draft was finished in December 1943: a simplified pistol using numerous stamped sheet metal parts. After creating the part drawings, the production of the first components began in January 1944. In March the first weapon could be completed. A second weapon was presented to a representative of authorities in June. Although the model was well received, Mauser wanted to carry out some more internal functional tests with steel-case ammunition and steel primers. The following month, the weapon was stressed with 400 rounds and thereby all identified problems were eliminated. Mauser was confident of being able to present the pistol at the next meeting of the “Infantry Weapons Special Commission” on October 19. Work was continued industriously and even a third model with some minor improvements was completed. But in October the situation changed unexpectedly: From now on the people’s pistol had the highest priority and workers were deducted from other projects for this new task.
In the monthly reports of the Mauser Weapons Research Institute is stated:
M.7057 9 mm Pistol
with Falling Barrel Breech (Falllaufverschluss)
The model mentioned in the last report was completed according to plan. However, at the moment, only a little interest exists for this project because the VP (Volkspistole) is given the highest priority.
M.7082 VP Project
According a prompt request from the HWA (Main Committee for Weapons) and WaPrüf (Weapon Testing) that the development of a completely simple pistol chambered in 9 mm must be accelerated, we have built a blowback weapon with a self-cocking firing pin, with the simplest fashioning of the individual parts. The model has already been completed and submitted to the HWA and the Sonderkommission Infanteriewaffen (Infantry Weapons Special Commission). A decision is still pending. Testing has begun.”
Already in November 1944 the new weapon could be subjected to a production-technical comparison with the Walther model. The Mauser pistol took about 30% fewer working hours and about 20% less raw material to produce than the Walther pistol. The ratio of all parts was 1:3. Since both models still suffered minor shortcomings, two revised prototypes of each model were requested by the Waffenamt. Mauser extended the distance allowed for recoil, added a hold-open device for an empty magazine as well as a lanyard ring. Both weapons were fired by WaPrüf and found to be in order. For further technical evaluation by the infantry, the Waffenamt sent the weapons to the Döberitz army training facility.
In the meantime Mauser did a test firing of a people’s pistol in extreme cold. It should be clarified whether low temperatures can cause misfires or other malfunctions. According to the report, the unlubricated gun and five magazines were cooled down to -40 °C (-40 °F). The temperature was measured with a thermometer on the inside of the barrel wall near the muzzle using an aluminum foil as contact material. Three magazines were filled with steel case ammunition and the three others with brass case ammunition. Neither misfire nor other problems did occur.
The trial in Döberitz ended unsatisfactorily. The people’s pistol has been classified as unsuitable for field use, particularly because of the too long and heavy trigger pull. The Mauser report from December 1944 states:
“In order to make this objection superfluous the following work should be commenced:
a. In place of the existing double-action trigger pull, the pistol should be given a single-action trigger.
b. Besides the double-action mechanism, a single-action mechanism is to be fitted.
c. A half-locked pistol of simple construction should be developed.
The models a. and b. should further seek to achieve pleasant shooting through a more unyielding recoil and a buffer spring with about a 10 mm longer stroke.”
Mauser thereupon began to work on another three different pistol designs. Until January 1945 two new pistols were completed and handed over to the Waffenamt for inspection. In the monthly Mauser reports is written: “The hard kickback of the weapon is caused by the blowback action, which brings about twice the impulse to the action as a rigidly locked weapon. Currently attempts are ongoing to reduce the recoil by a modified chamber with transverse grooves. Also a more inelastic buffer and a gas pocket delay mechanism can help to reduce the recoil.”
After the Waffenamt had assessed the two weapons, a new request was sent to Mauser: A new model should be submitted that only features a simple double-action trigger. This weapon was still under construction in February 1945. It should also receive an automatic safety that prevents the ignition of a cartridge even when the loaded weapon falls down and hits a hard surface. Here the story of the Mauser people’s pistol ends. On April 19, 1945, just one day before the American occupation, the “Mauser-train” left Oberndorf towards the Alpenfestung (Alpine Fortress) in Austria.
In the course of the people’s pistol project also the Gustloff-Werke from Suhl submitted a weapon. It was in part based on an older 7.65 mm design of chief engineer Karl Barnitzke which has now been converted for 9 mm caliber. Interesting is the gas-delayed blowback action whereby gas bled from the barrel near the chamber creates resistance to the rearward impulse of the operating parts, which ceases when the bullet leaves the muzzle, allowing the operating parts to be forced rearward by the residual pressure of the cartridge case. The same principle was also used for the semiautomatic Gustloff Volkssturmgewehr VG45 (caliber 7.92×33). Much of the new pistol was made of sheet metal parts, held together by pins and spot welds.
It is said that five Gustloff people‘s pistols were made, but no proof can be found in the records that have survived the war. Also no Gustloff Volkspistole is known to be in existence today. One pistol took part in the official trials in December 1944. Probably the weapon did not work well because the Gustloff-Werke withdrew from the people’s pistol project–allegedly because of a lack of time and capacity.
A special thanks to Dr. Geoffrey Sturgis (Switzerland) and Werner Hamper (Carl Walther Company, Germany).