7: Browning Hi-Power
6: Walther P .38
5: Glock 17
3: S&W .357 Magnum Revolver
2: Colt SAA
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Walther P .38
Quite a few modern pistols have adopted the stacked magazine of the Browning HP, but they’ve also almost all adopted the double/single action of the Walther P.38 (named because it was adopted by the German army in 1938). The legacy of this mechanism alone makes the Walther worthy of this list.
Double/single action seems like a confusing term. How can something be both double and single of anything? In truth, it’s simply a hybrid between two previous popular designs. Single action pistols require the user to cock back the hammer before pulling the trigger. The trigger pull does the single action of releasing the hammer, which strikes the firing pin, which causes the bullet cartridge to explode and propel the bullet forward. Some semi-automatic pistols allow the recoil of the previous round to re-cock the hammer, so that you only have to pull back the hammer on the first round. Double action pistols don’t require manually pulling the hammer, the trigger both pulls back the hammer and releases it. The drawback is that the trigger pull is probably stiffer and longer, and this feature can cost both accuracy and fractions of a second.
The P.38, assuming a magazine was loaded and a round was chambered, used double action on the first shot. The recoil from that shot would cock the hammer, and it used a single action to release the hammer on the rest of the magazine. This hybrid mechanism was an improvement over either of its predecessors.
The P.38 held a satisfactory eight 9mm Parabellum rounds. It was very much ahead of its time when it was adopted, and it remained in military and police service into the 2000’s.