Skip to main content

WWII Pocket Pistols: J.P. Sauer & Sohn .38H

sauersohn_1

It is fashionable in some circles to scorn the Germans in World War II for their near-chaotic firearms procurement system.

In their defense — my late father was a European-theater combat vet, and I grasp the irony of my defending the Germans — when the boss man jumps the gun and starts the war ahead of schedule, there is no time to retool to a common standard. You make what you're already making and ship as many as you make.

That was the situation J.P. Sauer & Sohn faced in the late 1930s. Their 38H pistol, meant to be a competitive product against other makers in potential police pistol trials, was now a vital war product shipped to pretty much everyone.


Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 10.54.50 AMThe 38H is an all-steel, single-stack blowback pistol in .32 Auto (7.65mm Browning), although there are occasional rumors in collectors' circles of samples in .380 ACP or .22LR. As an all-steel pistol, it is a bit on the portly side.


For a .32 to weigh 25 ounces is impressive, since you can find full-size 9mms and even lightweight .45s that are only 25 ounces.

The grips are Bakelite, one of the original synthetic materials, and while Bakelite was hi-tech in the 1920s and 1930s, it does not age well.

As a result, it isn't uncommon for pistols of that era to have cracked or chipped grips. These, remarkably, are intact. The sights are not tiny, but they certainly are not modern easy-to-see sights. They are useable, however.

The controls are diabolical in their Teutonic inventiveness. First, the firing system is a DA/SA design, with the first shot double action, and then single action after that. However, the decocking lever on the side of the frame is also the cocking lever.


The "H" in the model designation indicates that it has an internal hammer; it isn't a striker-­fired pistol. If the hammer is cocked, you can decock it with the lever. You can then either fire the first shot DA, or you can use the lever again to cock the hammer.

The top of the slide, between the sights, is matted to reduce glare. The back of the slide has a cocking indicator, so you can tell if the hammer is cocked. But you can also tell from the position of the trigger. If the hammer is down, the trigger is forward in the DA position. If the hammer is cocked, the trigger is back in the SA position.

Plus, there's a safety on the slide, so you can have it on safe or not, and you can fire your first shot four different ways. There's also a magazine disconnector, so you practically have to consult the owner's manual each time you shoot it.


sauersohn_3

The magazine disconnector is a small stud affixed to the side of the magazine tube, and it does not add to the trigger linkage but blocks it. This (thankfully) means the trigger pull is not affected by the magazine disconnector. The magazine is steel, single-stack, holds eight rounds and does not lock the slide open when empty.

The trigger pull is interesting. The DA is smooth and even but so heavy it maxed out my Lyman trigger pull gauge. So, it's something greater than 12 pounds but still smooth and even.

The single-action trigger pull has a slight hitch to it, but not much, and it acts almost as a two-stage trigger pull. Once you have the trigger prepped, the hitch taken up, it is surprisingly clean and crisp for a wartime product.

I acquired this pistol. It came with two magazines, which was the way they were made and shipped.

Sauer shipped pistols where it was instructed to and did not produce specific serial number blocks for this or that organization. If you have a 38H that is unit or police marked, that was done after it left the factory.

The holster that this pistol was issued in did not make it to me, and one of these days I'll find a suitable replacement. Of the two magazines, one looks like someone spent an afternoon adjusting its feed lips with a pair of pliers.

However, both feed full metal jackets (FMJ) just fine. The adjusted one is not at all a fan of Hornady XTP. But in 1938, when the 38H started coming out of Suhl, the idea of a hollowpoint bullet in a .32 Auto was laughable. (And in Germany then, probably illegal.)

Shooting an all-steel .32 pistol should be an easy task. However, the slide is relatively light, and the snappiness of the slide velocity makes recoil a bit more than expected. Also, the grips were designed for a time when pistols were fired one handed.

There's a corner on the left panel, formed by two curves and the flat, which wedges directly into my hand at the base of the thumb. To shoot it comfortably, I have to keep both thumbs pointed pretty much straight up.

sauersohn_2

I can't speak to all of them, but the performance of this particular 38H is a real eye-opener. The first time I shot it, I had a loose bag of .32 Auto reloads, a 71-grain FMJ over 2.2 grains of WW-231. It's not a magnum load, and it seemed as if I could not miss.

At the time, I was in the midst of an acquisition run. I spent a few years in the late 1980s and early 1990s snapping up every martially-marked pocket pistol that came by, and none of the .32s shot as well as this one.

At the time, we had full-size USPSA silhouettes made of steel. I'd stand one up at 50 yards and bet I could put every shot from a magazine, eight rounds, on the steel. I never lost a bet.

In the testing for this column, all the FMJ ammo worked 100 percent from both magazines, and the 38H was pouty only with the XTP in the tuned magazine.

Disassembly is a snap. Unload the 38H. Inside the triggerguard is a two-edged tab. Pull it down. Now pull the slide back, tip the rear up and ease it off the frame. The recoil spring is around the barrel. Scrub and degrease, lube, reassemble and then you're done.

The first models had all the trimmings: the safety, the decocker, the J.P. Sauer & Sohn markings. As the war progressed, Sauer simplified the markings, stopped polishing out the toolmarks and deleted the safety.

Would a pistol such as the 38H be greeted with much enthusiasm today? Not really. By today's standards, it is too heavy, it doesn't hold enough of what's considered an inconsequential cartridge, and the quality of the build would make it far too high-priced for today's consumer.Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 10.54.40 AM

Current Magazine Cover

Enjoy articles like this?

Subscribe to the magazine.

Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Red vs. Green Lasers: Visibility in Bright Light

Red vs. Green Lasers: Visibility in Bright Light

In this segment of “At The Range,” Handgunning Editor Jeremy Stafford and contributor Patrick Sweeney compare the visibility of red and green lasers in outdoor, sunny conditions.

Trijicon RMRcc Reflex Sight – Perfect for Optics-Ready Concealed-Carry Pistols

Trijicon RMRcc Reflex Sight – Perfect for Optics-Ready Concealed-Carry Pistols

The people asked and Trijicon answered. Introducing the RMRcc miniature red-dot sight for compact, concealed-carry pistols. Trijicon's new RMRcc features the durability and reliable controls that have made the RMR so successful, but its reduced dimensions make the “Concealed Carry” model better suited for the popular small-frame pistols designed for discreet carry and personal defense.

Guns & Ammo TV: Cameras Don

Guns & Ammo TV: Cameras Don't Lie: 9mm vs .45 ACP

The age-old question, 9mm vs .45 ACP. For some, this has been asked and answered already. For others, the debate goes on. In this segment of “Cameras Don't Lie,” competitive shooters Patrick Sweeney and Jim Tarr head to the range to put the vaunted loads on record, and then consider the footage.

Umarex Air Ruger 10/22 Rifle Review

Umarex Air Ruger 10/22 Rifle Review

In this segment of "Guns & Ammo TV," Gun Tech Editor Richard Nance and Pro-Shooter Jim Tarr head to the range to wring out the Umarex Air Ruger 10/22.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The story of a confederate sniper’s revenge and an exclusive look at his rifle.The Story of Civil War Sniper Jack Hinson and His Rifle Historical

The Story of Civil War Sniper Jack Hinson and His Rifle

Kyle Lamb - January 12, 2018

The story of a confederate sniper’s revenge and an exclusive look at his rifle.

In this segment of “At The Range,” Handgunning Editor Jeremy Stafford and contributor Patrick Sweeney compare the visibility of red and green lasers in outdoor, sunny conditions. Red vs. Green Lasers: Visibility in Bright Light Accessories

Red vs. Green Lasers: Visibility in Bright Light

Guns & Ammo Staff - August 24, 2020

In this segment of “At The Range,” Handgunning Editor Jeremy Stafford and contributor Patrick...

The Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm has a unique and versatile multiple-­zero system and an erector assembly unlike any other on the market. The Z5(i) is an excellent choice for an all-­around hunting scope.Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm Scope Review Optics

Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm Scope Review

Tom Beckstrand - September 09, 2020

The Swarovski Z5(i) P BT L 3.5-­18x44mm has a unique and versatile multiple-­zero system and...

The first in this new family of Springfield Armory rifles is the Model 2020 Waypoint, the result of years of engineering, testing and evaluation, combined with premium grade components found on rifles costing thousands of dollars more.First Look: Springfield Armory Model 2020 Waypoint Bolt-Action Rifle Rifles

First Look: Springfield Armory Model 2020 Waypoint Bolt-Action Rifle

Guns & Ammo Staff - September 29, 2020

The first in this new family of Springfield Armory rifles is the Model 2020 Waypoint, the...

See More Trending Articles

More Historical

In memory of Robert Emary, 101st Airborne, 506th Regiment, 3rd Battalion, I Company.About My Father (Now with Audio) Historical

About My Father (Now with Audio)

Dave Emary - July 15, 2019

In memory of Robert Emary, 101st Airborne, 506th Regiment, 3rd Battalion, I Company.

The Dardick revolver is one of the more bizarre firearms to come out of the mid-­20th century. Despite its unusual and ungainly appearance, it's not that uncomfortable in the hand.The Dardick Revolver Handguns

The Dardick Revolver

Garry James - March 18, 2019

The Dardick revolver is one of the more bizarre firearms to come out of the mid-­20th century....

From the [RETRO] .223 and 6mm-223 Load Data for Long-Range Handguns Historical

[RETRO] .223 and 6mm-223 Load Data for Long-Range Handguns

Bob Milek - September 16, 2019

From the "Guns & Ammo" April 1982 issue: The .223 Remington, a NATO cartridge, and the 6mm-223...

It's not too late to start collecting soldier souvenirs from the last century.Trench Art Historical

Trench Art

Eric R. Poole - November 09, 2018

It's not too late to start collecting soldier souvenirs from the last century.

See More Historical

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Guns & Ammo App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now