H&K P8A1: The Bundeswehr’s USP

Thanks to my friends at Bear Arms in Scottsdale, we have an H&K P8A1 to take a look at today – the current Bundeswehr issue version of the USP. Chambered for 9x19mm and adopted in 1994, only a few things differentiate the P8/P8A1 from the standard commercial USP. Most notably is the safety, which operates in the opposite direction as the commercial guns – up is fire and down is safe. This was specified by the German government to duplicate the operation of the pistol the P8 replaced – the P1. In addition, the P9 uses translucent magazine bodies (15 rounds capacity), allowing one to see how much ammunition is in the magazine from a glance.

A few further changes distinguish the P8A1 form the original P8. Most noticeable are the sights, which were plain white dots on the P8 and were replaced with luminous painted dots on the A1. The slide finished was changed to a more durable type on the A1, and a few places on the inside of the slides were beefed up as well. This was in response to reports of slide cracking with extended use of very hot ammunition.



  1. Using overcharged ammunition for the side-arm tends to reduce service life. But I doubt one ever goes into a brawl with the P8 without a main weapon first! Who shoves a pistol (even if it was a magnum-strength handgun) into a rifle fight? An idiot! At least I didn’t say we shoved a baseball bat into a knife fight, or someone would comment on the plentiful amount of piñata…

    • Based on logic (as you aptly high-lighted) alone, there is no place for pistols in military. Yet, as you know and feel as a tax payer, your money was recently spent on new join-services pistol in your country. Yes, they shoot, yes their production supports local (in state of New Hampshire) industry, and that’s about all. You make your own conclusions.

      • “there is no place for pistols in military”
        Far flung statement. Did any big military abandoned totally usage of pistols?

        • I think Denny meant that pistols are not main weapons in military usage. Unless we’re dealing with light cavalry who shoot on the charge, pistols remain in holsters unless you’re in a “get your mitts off me” situation.

          • Yes, it is an anachronism and as you say introduced originally for purposes of mounted troops.
            Whoever says: “it’s for backup” I will tell him: hands up is the best backup. Or, you want to put up fist fight?

          • “..пуля из этого патрона на дальности до 100 м способна пробить бронежилет 3-го класса”


          • Is it not strange that Russian military is introducing one new pistol after another (I could count at least 5 in last couple of years), but officers still carry Big Mak?

          • Unfortunately I don’t read Russian

            That’s an unusually steep grip angle, and I don’t like the water pistol trigger connection.

          • It says the (9x21mm) projectile can defeat class 3 body armor at 100m. That is a canard as far as I can tell. If that was true, there is no need for rifles.

          • “If that was true, there is no need for rifles.”
            Yes it does say it, but there class 3 should be understand as current AND Russian class, not old Russian which is probably source of confusion.

          • “..not old Russian which is probably source of confusion.”
            give me a break 🙂

            I tell you Russian joke (will attempt to translate for benefit of all present). I hope we have no ladies around to be offended.

            Question: is it possible to take down oak with dick?
            Answer: yes, IF dick is strong as oak and oak as mushy as dick!

      • The logic is that you are not taking a pistol into a rifle or a machine gun fight; the pistol is there for those occasions when your rifle or MG is not accessible or usable, which is a lot more often than you would like, especially in this era of “sudden jihadi syndrome” among the “allies”.

        I know of one case in Iraq where a guy was attacked in a latrine on a FOB by an infiltrator who intended to take his rifle and go out in a blaze of glory. What happened was actually that he suffered from what Colonel Jeff Cooper used to refer to as “poor victim selection”, and wound up being beaten to death in the latrine by a half-naked GI whose pants were around his ankles, and the story related to me was that there was extensive involvement of a porcelain toilet in that beating–Whether it was torn from its moorings and used as a club, or it was something he was beaten against, I don’t know. I also don’t know if the details related to me weren’t exaggerated past the raw fact that there was a fight in a latrine over a rifle that led to the death by beating of a known bad guy.

        Things like that are why pistols come in handy, and are still on issue.

        • A U.S. Air Force general once said that while we might have “push-button warfare” in the future, the guy in charge of said button would be wearing a pistol, and the button would be protected by men with rifles.

          The whole point of a handgun is that it can be available when you can’t practically have a rifle (or shotgun) handy. This is true whether you’re talking military, police, or civilian self-defense.

          The handgun is inherently a defensive weapon; its offensive use is due to people (including screenwriters) who don’t know any better, as Col. Cooper observed.

          It’s true that, as Keith’s Third Law of Gunfighting states, you never bring a pistol to a rifle fight. (First Law is “Have a gun”; Second Law is “Never bring a knife to a gunfight”.) But that rather implies you had good reason to expect such an IA. The handgun is for situations in which you have to deal with the unexpected and cannot do it in the most direct and effective way, which is indeed to use a rifle.

          It’s worth noting that in Europe, handguns are viewed with suspicion by the “authorities”, even as their legal ownership increases in light of Europe’s rising violent crime rate.

          And that in the past, most Europeans were never permitted to possess a rifle, except when it was handed to them along with a uniform and a demand for obedience, as W.H.B. Smith put it.

          Maybe Europeans, in and out of government, need to re-examine their premises in light of what the Red Army used to call “objective conditions”.



      • As someone who regularly used his sidearm in combat (boarding ships and other close quarters situations), I must say that the above comment is very ignorant indeed. A pistol is only useless in combat when nobody bothers to train the operator how to properly utilize it. All tools are useful, if one is smart enough to recognize and adapt. The vast majority of people who claim things are useless or that they hate them for no objective reasons, or typically the same people whom desperately want those things and yet are merely prevented from obtaining them by budget or legality. This is an act of denial, not an indictment of the object itself. and the vast majority of veterans that you meet will have never even seen a pistol in their military service, but a lack of familiarity and experience doesn’t negate the benefits of the weapon system itself. I’m sure the person that wrote the above comment has no military experience whatsoever. Pistols are amazing combat tools, and anybody whom has actually utilized one on a regular basis will agree. Besides, even if not utilized as a primary weapon, what will you do when you experience a bolt override in your rifle? That is not a problem capable of being resolved by immediate action, and unless you have some sort of tool or pry bar, your weapon is now down for the count. Bet you will wish you were in possession of a sidearm then. Seriously people think about what you say before you type it.

    • WOW fellas, you are definitely a bunch of armchair warriors. Handguns Absolutely have a place in the military/ combat! Handguns are issued to troops that have a job requiring one. Such as pilots, military police, field medics, armorers and other MOS/ jobs where it would not be practical to carry a long gun or even PDW (I was a active duty Marine armorer). Furthermore the handgun was/is used in wars by officers and non commissioned officers. Where drafted citizens, conscripts and troops with little intestinal fortitude or honor might attempt to retreat from or elude the battle. During trench warfare for example, if a troop refused to climb out of the trench and run across no man’s land during a wave attack. The officer or non commissioned officer would threaten and/or shoot the troop refusing to fight. Finally handguns are necessary in combat as a fallback or secondary weapon. If your primary weapon/ long gun runs dry and you don’t have time to reload, jams, has a catastrophic failure, has no full magazines to reload, ect. One drops their rifle (in most cases) and draws their sidearm/handgun to finish the fight. For the most part only special operators, security details and a few others only have this privilege! The average infantry soldier or Marine does Not get issued or even qualify with a handgun. The powers that be see it as a unneeded expense.

  2. Standard issue porcelain toilet bowl? Or issued to officers only? 😉

    Flintlock and some percussion (ignition) pistols had the end of the grip capped in steel or brass and shaped to be used as a club, once the thing had been fired.

    Many pistols will have been used to beat brains out since then, Fairbairn relates one example from his days of policing Shanghai, in “shooting to live”.

    I wonder whether with plastic fantastic construction, porcelain toilet bowls might need to be more widely issued?

      • LOL… Yeah, the possibilities are endless, and nightmarish. The US Army in Europe used to buy this German-made toilet-cleaning solution that was, to say the least, somewhat caustic. Spray that in someone’s face, and I guar-an-tee you they won’t be doing much besides screaming, for quite awhile. We had a guy screw around with that stuff, one time, and the rest of us junior enlisted took a clear lesson from his trip to the aid station and subsequent weeks-long convalescence for his facial burns… Dude’s eyes were never the same, afterwards.

        This is one reason why I have to look at the vast majority of these “lone wolf shooter” situations, and shake my head: There is no damn way I’d ever undertake something like that, knowing the possibilities I’d be going up against. You have to be functionally insane to think that going into a building filled with normal humans by yourself is going to turn into anything other than an utter disaster, even if you do have a gun… Note that I said “normal humans”; the deracinated creatures inhabiting modern society are basically so many sheep; Seueng-Ho Choi would, under different cultural conditions, have received a face-full of furniture leg or a couple of gallons of bleach, had he tried that crap he did on another group besides middle-class college students. The fact that he was armed would have made little or no difference; I can about guarantee you that were you to order someone to pull a similar act in an apartment building in delightful suburban Mogadishu, the results would likely include that “someone” roasting on a spit in the forecourt… With their pistol shoved up their ass.

    • As far as I know, it was a bog-standard (see what I did there…?) KBR-provided toilet, the one that the subject of the attack had been using, so I presume that to add insult to injury, it hadn’t been flushed before he used the skull of his assailant to break the thing…

      As I mentioned, I know for certain that the attack took place. Details like the toilet…? Those were entirely apocryphal, and related to me by third parties. Exaggerations may have occurred, as such stories are wont to grow in the telling. Bare fact was, though, that a jihadi infiltrator attempted to provide himself with a weapon, and the response resulted in him dying at the hands of the guy the weapon belonged to.

      I can’t really say that our jihadi was that bright, to be honest. There were a lot of guys whose sense of weapons security wasn’t that great, and you’d think that he’d have been able to find an unattended weapon, make off with it, and then do his thing. Trying to separate it from a live GI who’d notice, especially as the attack was supposed to begin with the assailant kicking in the stall door and going for the GI with an improvised club…? Yeah; not seeing that as the optimal solution, there, Achmed… Not to mention, the guy he chose to pull this on? Dude was (reportedly, again…) well over six feet tall, weighed over 200lbs, and was into playing rugby and doing MMA… His assailant was described to me as being around 5’8″, and about 140lbs.

      I can only speculate that there were some mistakes made about just who was actually in that toilet stall, before he kicked in the door.

    • Oh, those lovely old times when officers carried their .45 Webbley (tupperware)…
      “those were the days my friends which glory never ends…”
      La-la-la-laaa-la. 🙂

    • “Flintlock and some percussion (ignition) pistols had the end of the grip capped in steel or brass and shaped to be used as a club, once the thing had been fired.”

      Actually, that’s largely a myth. Using most such pistols as clubs will break them in two.

      The “bulged” butt was a holdover from the days of wheel-lock pistols used by cavalry. They tended to have large “balls” or “doorknobs” up to 7cm diameter at the very end of their butts- with necks too weak to allow their use as clubs.

      The real reason they were there was that the pistols were carried in saddle holsters either side of the saddlehorn. (Which is probably why they’re called “pistols”; in Spanish, the word for the saddlehorn was “pistallo”, hence “pistallo gun”.)

      To protect the gun’s delicate mechanism and priming from the elements, the holsters were deep enough to insert the weapon for its entire length, with a flap over the top. (Yes, the first “flap holster”.)

      The “ball butt” was thus vitally necessary. So the cavalryman could get a grip on the thing to get it out of the holster in a hurry when he needed it.



  3. A pistol issued in the military should be used as a backup weapon if your primary weapon is jammed, damaged, or destroyed.

    • Or, essentially unusable due to circumstances… While in Kuwait, doing the purchasing expeditions that we had to during the first phases of OIF, the Warrant Officer I worked for usually was in civilian clothes, and carrying concealed.

      And, lest you think that was a bit “over the top”, it turned out later that an al Qaeda cell that the Kuwaitis wound up having to do a raid on was working out of a building literally a door down from where we were spending a bunch of money on computer supplies like toner and printer ink… Which was a bit of a wake-up call, for the rest of us. My boss got to watch them hauling a bunch of weapons and other gear out of the building, when he showed up to pick up an order.

      • Interesting how associations – stored memories work. When I first visited Mexico in 1984 I knew about 3 Spanish words, not enough to weasel out from sticky situation. I was walking alone on my own and observing local life. No gun, not knife, nothing. I carried instead huge 250 pesos coin. My impromptu plan was to throw it at a robber. Here is your money, bastard! I am sure it would hurt, badly – if I aimed it properly.

      • Throw it?
        But it’s got my sandwiches in!
        I’ll wait until he gets closer and use the porcelain,
        Either that or strangle him with the chain.

        • Those 250 pesos bough me my supper than. I ate in their (Mexican) level eateries and it was ok; never got sick out of it. Actually, I made couple of interesting contacts there.

          • A nice sock full of 250 peso coins would be an interestingly lethal weapon… “Here, let me give you my coin purse… In the head, good and hard…”.

          • Sorry, i was thinking about you throwing big plastic pistol that is more useful when it’s used as a tupperware sandwich box, once you work out the goofy controls that work in the opposite direction to the usual convention

            And the opposite direction to the one that you would use instinctively 😉

            I’d like to visit Mexico some time. Especially the little town where the locals threw out the criminal loggers, the police and the politicians and few years ago, and have been living peacefully ever since.

  4. I didn’t realise that H&K had used conventional rifling!

    That, along with Browning tilting barrel locking and ordinary double/single action cooking rather than a lever (P9) or a grip (psp/p7)

    Must have had the hardcore H&K fanboyz giving birth to kittens.

    I’d love to know what rationalisations they used to avoid the cognitive dissonance; were H&k sprinkling some sort of magical pixie dust over these non H&K features to make them special?

    • “rationalisations they used to avoid the cognitive dissonance;”
      Weresn’t these feature requested by customer (i.e. Bundeswehr)?

      • Yeah, but polygonal rifling gives like five times the muzzle velocity and one hundred times the barrel life with the same loads

        and roller delay, that like gets you all the hot chicks when you walk through the door. ..

    • They (H&K) gave up one unique feature after another. How they attract customer, civilian or military, when offering a product which is on par with others, yet for 2.5 time the cost?

      In comparison, right next door neighbour (Glock) sells guns at about $500max a piece and so does CZUB. Are they that unique? No, Glock was one time, but it evaporated and became a staple and CZ is doing same thing they learned well over and over. K.I.S.S concept applies over all, as it should.

        • I was there (in LE) when the MP-5 (then still called the HK54) was introduced, complete with traveling demonstrators. One came to our range, showed us all the neat features on the ’54 (which still had a straight magazine at the time) and then invited us to shoot it.

          After doing so, I went to the arms locker, got out an M2 Carbine, and challenged him to a side-by-side test. The carbine naturally, outperformed the 9mm SMG across the boards, in terms of accuracy, power, range, simplicity of operation, and even rate of fire. It was also lighter, and back then cheaper.

          He got desperate and stated that the ’54 was more compact with the retracting stock. I accordingly demonstrated an M2 fitted with the M1A1 folding stock (a fairly common “police mod” back then).

          He went away with no sales.

          I still maintain that the U.S..30 Carbine makes more sense for police tactical work than any SMG, and probably is superior to 5.56mm rifles in terms of less of a danger space for bystanders.

          NB; Until the 1990s, several West German states’ police used modified and scoped .30 Carbines as DMRs. Precisely because they were powerful enough to be effective, but had less potential for overpenetration than 5.56 x 45mm or 7.62 x 51mm rifles.



      • Back in the 1980s, Handgunner magazine ran a multi part article about the German federation’s interior ministr search for a new police pistol.

        The bureaucrapic requirements made sure that it would be an entirely new 9map semi auto.

        Not only did the width requirements rule out revolvers, the size, double action and de cocking safety requirements ruled out any other 9mm semiauto pistols then in existence.

        Sig Sauer, Walther and H&K obliged by developing pistols to match the bureautwats wish list, and H&K were given as many bites at the testing as it took for them to get the PSP to pass the durability test.

        I’m not sure whether there was an unwritten understanding that only German pistols would be acceptable (no Belgian, Czech, Italian or Spanish guns were entered)

        And whether there was help given with the capital cost of developing the new mis sized and unusual safetied guns.

        From the outside, it could easily appear to be a fe’ral jobs creation scheme for those three German gun makers.

        • Keith:

          I remember those articles. Handgunner was a great magazine, I only wish it was still going. Mind you, there are no actual handgunners in Britain now are there?

      • “How they attract customer, civilian or military, when offering a product which is on par with others, yet for 2.5 time the cost?(…)(Glock) sells guns at about $500max a piece(…)”
        But are these both prices for bare automatic pistol? If more expensive offer also including maintenance and (free) replacement of broken parts, this might explain difference.

  5. I can recall a pic in the old American Rifleman mag of a US Army sergeant “checking his life insurance.” His policy number was M1911A1.

    Also, I recall reading in A Riflemen Went to War, the sniper-author carried a pistol and reflected that, “I may not need this very often, but when I do, I’ll need it bad.” He slung his holster in back, so that he could keep his pistol as clean as possible while slithering belly down through the mud. He lived to write about it, so we can draw some kind of conclusion from that.

  6. I cannot contribute to the extensive and definitely most interesting discussion of toilet brushes and the like in this thread.
    But what happened in real life was:
    An Afghani soldier walked past a group of Bundeswehr soldiers working on the tracks of a Marder IFV. He brought his M16A2 to bear and, in a long burst of fire, gunned down the soldiers, killing several of them. He proceeded to change the magazine to finish off the survivors. There had been one soldier busy on the other side of the Marder. He walked around the vehicle, pulling his P8, and shot the Afghani soldier two or three times, kiling him. So much for military worthlessness of sidearms carried all the time.

      • Btw. and this is important point to take to consideration. Combat armour the troops wear are impervious to effect of pistol ammunition unless it is of armour piercing (hard core) type. As far as I know standard NATO 9mm pistol round does not have this capability.

        Soldier NOT loaded with a back-up pistol plus its ammunition may otherwise carry lot more ammunition or/and grenades.

        • “Soldier NOT loaded with a back-up pistol plus its ammunition may otherwise carry lot more ammunition or/and grenades.”
          Still not all soldiers main weapon can be used at very short range, yet they might encounter situation which forces such combat – take for example RPG operators.

          • We are playing with words little bit here. Look, we both know that all major armies have in inventory carbine versions of rifles, not to mention 9mm SMGs. Their purpose is specifically for close combat. Any officer, no matter how lazy, can carry one.

            At the opposite extreme, it is known that there IS a defence against user of handgun in close quarters. During one of my “far flung” activities I came across a man (he was my Nihon Goshin Aikido instructor) who in order to defend his 7th dan had to submit yearly to testing. One part was defence against handgun; from several different stances.

          • And on top of it…..
            when comes to real close quarter encounter, you can take advantage of your standard issue firearm in combination with sling to strangle opponent or even dislocate one of his limbs. With proper skill lots can be done with rifle or carbine.

      • Here is incomplete list of German loses of personnel in Afghanistan, unfortunately not complete since the account ends by years 2013. When you go thru the chart you see that in vast majority cases shown the losses were caused by explosives. There are however cases, when Germans were involved in firefights with enemy and had KIAs due to effect of projectiles or shell fragments.

    • I’m with you there. Pistols absolutely have their place in modern warfare. As a main fighting tool? Obviously not, but I know of zero actual factual first tier operators that don’t train transition drills from rifle to pistol. Like repeatedly, to the point of failure free blind usage. They all seem to see the need. Like someone else posted, when you need it, “you need it badly.”

      The exact same thing goes for a bayonet/combat knife. Cannot find much logic for using a bayonet in combat, sure, but cannot even fathom sending someone to war without it. The utility always outweighs the burden.

      Speaking of the video, I marvel at the “novel” approach of slightly overbuilding a weapon, just to be pleasantly surprised by the benefits of extended service life. By the sounds of it, that overbuilt .40 chassis still needed improvements to handle the hot nines. Funny thought, maybe start from a clean sheet of paper during design phase, and not just automatically aim for cheaper manufacture as your overarching criteria, and instead design from the outset longevity, durability, and user-friendliness. Once that is established, then figure out a more cost effective per-unit-price. It makes no sense to run your life cycle tolerances to the bare minimum, and your stress loadings to the maximum, when the One And Only purpose for the product is not for said gun company to make profit, but for the desperate soldier in “oh crap moment,” literally it would seem, to defend his sorry ass against a right here, right now threat…

      All guns are a compromise of sorts, it has been said here many times. How satisfying would it be if the one factor that was never compromised, that was always held sacred, would be to ensure, without a doubt that the fighting personnel actually having to use the dang product has a robust and fully usable purpose built tool. (Even if it has to be overdesigned.) Hopefully one that rides on their hip, and never “clears leather,” because in the event that it does, it will be sorely needed.

      [M9 locking blocks cracking, and magazine issues, early Iraq war, come to mind.]

  7. The conventional rifling of P8 was required by Bundeswehr, not an HK idea. It simply shows (like the unnatural manual safety arrangement) that those responsible for the requirements had no practical knowledge in firearms.

    • to my understanding one of the reasons for the bundeswehr’s insistance on cut rifling was the idea to keep using the cleaning/maintenance kit and armourers’ gauges already issued for the p1.

  8. I don’t see why a pistol should be outdated for the military. They are not being used much in combat, but play a role in guarding prisoners etc, and deterring sneaky enemies from taking quick advantage of situations when the gun is on the back etc. They also play a role when checking containers and cars and whatnot, when a rifle may be too large and there is no fully armed advisory to be expected.

  9. I’m surprised Ian didn’t continue back further with the reason for the P8’s “down:Safe, up:Fire” thumb safety. “So it works like a P-38”. That pistol replaced the P-08 (Luger) which had the same safety positions… “backwards” from the Browning designs.

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