With the latest Bond flick now in the cinemas, it’s interesting to take a look at 007’s handgun of choice.
The Walther PP series pistols are blowback-operated semi-automatics. They feature an exposed hammer, a traditional double-action trigger mechanism, a single-column magazine, and a fixed barrel that also acts as the guide rod for the recoil spring. The series includes the Walther PP, PPK, PPK/S, and PPK/E. The various PP series are manufactured in either Germany or the United States. Since 2002, the PPK variant is solely manufactured by Smith & Wesson in Houlton, Maine, under license from Carl Walther GmbH Sportwaffen. In the past, this particular model was manufactured by Carl Walther in its own factory in Germany, as well as under license by Manurhin in Alsace, France, and by Interarms in Alexandria, Virginia.
Originally built in 1929, the Walther PPK remains a popular pistol, used today for concealed carry, V.I.P. protection, and Britain’s MI5, as well as by European and American police. It has also been a popular display pistol to give as a gift to American and British military officers.
The PP was first released in 1929, and the PPK in 1931; both were popular with European police and civilians, for being reliable and concealable. During World War II, they were issued to the German military and police, the Schutzstaffel, the Luftwaffe, and Nazi Party officials; Adolf Hitler shot and killed himself with his PPK (a 7.65mm/.32 ACP) in the Führerbunker in Berlin. More importantly(!), the Walther PPK (also a 7.65mm/.32 ACP) pistol is famous as James Bond’s signature gun in many of the Bond films, (including the latest, Skyfall), and novels. Ian Fleming’s choice of the Walther PPK directly influenced its popularity and its notoriety.
The most common variant is the Walther PPK, the Polizeipistole Kurz (Police Pistol Short), indicating it was more concealable than the original PP, and hence better suited for plainclothes and undercover work. Sometimes, the name Polizeipistole Kurz (Short Police Pistol) is used; however, the accuracy of that interpretation is unclear. The PPK is a smaller version of the PP (Polizeipistole) with a shorter grip and barrel and reduced magazine capacity.
The PP and the PPK were among the world’s first successful double action semi-automatic pistols that were widely copied, but still made by Walther. The design inspired other pistols, among them the Soviet Makarov, the Hungarian FEG PA-63, the Argentinian Bersa Thunder 380, the Spanish Astra Constable, and the Czech CZ50. Although it was an excellent semi-automatic pistol, it had competitors in its time.
Walther’s original factory was located in Zella-Mehlis in the state of Thuringia. As that part of Germany was occupied by the Soviet Union following World War II, Walther was forced to flee to West Germany, where they established a new factory in Ulm. However, for several years following the war, the Allied powers forbade any manufacture of weapons in Germany. As a result, in 1952, Walther licensed production of the PP series pistols to a French company, Manufacture de Machines du Haut-Rhin, also known as Manurhin. The French company continued to manufacture the PP series until 1986. In fact, Manurhin manufactured all postwar European-made PP series pistols manufactured until 1986, even though the pistol slide may bear the markings of the Walther factory in Ulm.
In 1978, Ranger Manufacturing of Gadsden, Alabama was licensed to manufacture the PPK and PPK/S; this version was distributed by Interarms of Alexandria, Virginia. This license was eventually canceled. Starting in 2002, Smith & Wesson (S&W) began manufacturing the PPK and PPK/S under license.
Walther has indicated that, with the exception of the PP and the new PPK/E model, S&W is the current sole source for new PPK-type pistols.
The PPK/S was developed following the enactment of the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA68) in the United States, the pistol’s largest market. One of the provisions of GCA68 banned the importation of pistols and revolvers not meeting certain requirements of length, weight, and other “sporting” features into the U.S. The PPK failed the “Import Points” test of the GCA68 by a single point. Walther addressed this situation by combining the PP’s frame with the PPK’s barrel and slide to create a pistol that weighed slightly more than the PPK. The additional ounce or two of weight of the PPK/S compared to the PPK was sufficient to provide the extra needed import points.
Because U.S. law allowed domestic production (as opposed to importation) of the PPK, manufacture began under license in the U.S. in 1978; Interarms distributed this model. The version currently manufactured by Smith & Wesson has been modified by incorporating a longer grip tang, better protecting the shooter from slide bite, i.e. the rearward-traveling slide’s pinching the web between the index finger and thumb of the firing hand, which was a problem with the original design.
In the 1950s, Walther produced the PPK-L, a lightweight variant of the PPK. The PPK-L differed from the standard, all steel PPK in that it had an aluminium alloy frame. These were only chambered in 7.65mm Browning (.32 ACP) and .22 LR because of the increase in felt recoil from the lighter weight of the gun. All other features of the postwar production PPK/S (brown plastic grips with Walther banner, high polished blue finish, lanyard loop, loaded chamber indicator, 7+1 magazine capacity and overall length) were the same on the PPK-L.
In the 1960s, Walther began stamping “Made in West Germany” on the frame of the pistol right below the magazine release button. The 1950s production pistols had the date of manufacture, designated as ‘month/year’, stamped on the right side of the slide. Starting in the 1960s, the production date, designated by the last two digits of the year, was stamped on the exposed part of the barrel that could be seen in the ejection port.