The .38 Special is a rimmed, centerfire cartridge by Smith & Wesson. The 9mm Luger also known as 9X19mm Parabellum was designed by George Luger and is the most popular and widely used military handgun cartridge.
|Bullet diameter||.357 in (9.1 mm)||9.01 mm (0.355 in)|
|Neck diameter||0.379 in (9.6mm)||9.65 mm (0.380 in)|
|Base diameter||0.379 in (9.6mm)||9.93 mm (0.391 in)|
|Case type||Rimmed, Straight||Rimless, tapered|
|Place of origin||United States||German Empire|
|Designer||Smith and Wesson||Georg Luger|
|Rim diameter||0.44 in (11mm)||9.96 mm (0.392 in)|
|Case length||1.155 in (29.3mm)||19.15 mm (0.754 in)|
|Overall length||1.55 in (39mm)||29.69 mm (1.169 in)|
|Maximum pressure||17,000 PSI||235.00 MPa (34,084 psi)|
|Velocity||679-980 FPS||950-1400 FPS|
|Cost||More expensive than 9mm||Cheaper than .40 S&W & .45 ACP|
|Penetration||9.9-16.2in.||8 - 40" (13')|
|Used by||US police department US Navy, Marines and Air force||NATO and others; Militaries, police, and self defense.|
|Variants||.38 Special +P||9 mm NATO, 9×19mm Parabellum +P, 9×19mm 7N21 +P+, 9×19mm 7N31 +P+|
|Primer type||Small Pistol||Berdan or Boxer small pistol|
The .38 Special was introduced in 1898 as a military service cartridge as .38 Long Colt had insufficient stopping power against the wooden shields of Moros during the Philippine-American War. The .38 Special rounds can be fired from revolvers chambered for .357 Magnum or the .38 Long Colt as only the case length of .38 Special is different. But a .357 Magnum is more powerful and cannot be fired in a revolver chambered for .38 Special. The 9mm Luger was designed by George Luger from his earlier 7.65X21mm Parabellum. In 1902 he presented it to British Small Arms Committee. In 1903 he presented 3 prototypes to the US Navy. It was adopted by the German Navy in 1905 and the German Army in 1906.
Initially, .38 Special was introduced as powder cartridge and then was manufactured as smokeless powder loadings as a result of its popularity. Initially the 9mm Luger was lead core. But during WWII to conserve lead, it was made using iron core jackets. By 1944, normal copper core cartridges were produced.
.38 Special were popular among the US police and was used by the US Air force, Navy and the Marines. But their popularity has declined due to the higher capacity and quicker reloading of semi-automatic pistols in the 9mm Parabellum, the .357 SIG, the .40 S&W, the .45 ACP, or the .45 GAP versions. .38 Special is used for target shooting, formal target competition, personal defense, and for hunting small game.
9mm Luger has become the popular caliber for US law enforcement agencies due to the availability of compact pistols with large magazine round capacity using this caliber. It is also a popular self-defense cartridge for civilians where permitted.
Ammunition in 9mm is available in bulk and has many variations than the ammunition for .38 Special. It is also cheaper.
A .38 Special can hold 5 to 6 rounds while a 9mm Luger can hold up to 18 rounds.
A .38 Special fires bullets with velocity between 679-980 feet per second. The velocity varies according to barrel length and type of gun.
A comparison of velocity of .38 Special bullets with different weight and type:
|158 Grain LRN||770 FPS|
|148 Grain LWC||690 FPS|
|130 Grain FMJ||810 FPS|
|110 Grain||980 FPS|
A 9mm fires bullets with velocity ranging between 1200 and 1430 feet per second depending on the model. A comparison of velocity of 9mm bullets with different weight and type:
|115 Grain FMJ||1120 FPS|
|124 Grain FMJ||1200 FPS|
|9mm NATO +P 124 Grain JHP||1220 FPS|
|147 Grain JHP||1000 FPS|
Accuracy of shooting is dependent more on the skill of the shooter than the cartridge or gun. But still .38 Special is renowned for its accuracy.
The energy delivered by most 9mm pistols have high penetration and expansion with premium JHP bullets. The 115gr JHP +p or +P+ is the best of this lot for self-defense.
.38mm Special offers low recoil when compared to the 9mm Luger. Bothe these cartridges have lesser recoil as compared to other cartridges like .40 S&W.
This video demonstrates the felt recoil of a .38mm Special.