Walther PP Series Pistols

Carl Walther designed one of the all time beautiful and practical pistols, the Walther PP. What makes this story interesting is that he did this in the late 1920's! The Walther PP has been copied by more firearms manufacturers than any other handgun, with the probable exception of the Colt 1911. Since the PP series look very similar, many people get them confused with one another, especially since there are at least three designations in the lineup. These being the PP, PPK, and the PPK/s. We hope to resolve that confusion in this article as well as discuss some of the historical and practical aspects of the Walther PP series, and touch on the newest in the Walther PP series, the PPK/e.

Short History

The PP is among the first, if not the first, successful compact double-action-single action, semi-automatic handguns in the world. It is a marvel in simplicity and accuracy as well as a clever design. It was first produced in 1929 at the factory at Zella-Melhis, Thuringia, which is now eastern Germany. First issue was to European Police and sport shooters. During WWII, Walther produced many PP series pistols for the Wehrmacht. This became one of the most popular sidearms for Nazi high ranking officers and party leaders, usually embellished and marked to denote the party or ministry and even title of the person carrying it. Some were gold plated and engraved for the highest party officials and general officers (field marshals). Adolph Hitler is reported to have shot himself with his gold plated PPK. Many Walthers were brought back as trophies by returning GI's after WWII. In the 50's and 60's, fictional character James Bond carried the PPK in Ian Fleming's series of novels, and later movies, which spread the Walther fame around the world.

All the PP series were made in a variety of calibers, including .22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, and 9mm Kurtz (.380 ACP).

After WWII, manufacturing was changed to the Manurhin Company in France for several reasons. First, the Zella-Mehlis factory fell into the East German sector that was controlled by the Soviets. Carl Walther barely escaped East Germany with just the clothes on his back, his family, and drawings for all his pistols. Next, West Germany was forbidden to make arms after WWII. So, he had to work a licensing agreement with Manurhin in 1952 to manufacture post-war PP and PPK pistols, which were made there until 1986. Things changed in Germany and in 1957 Walther established his new factory in Ulm. Many will think that because post war German PP pistols were marked with antlers (Ulm factory mark) and "Made in Germany," they were made at the new Walther plant. This is not true. Manurhin was well established in producing high quality PP series pistols and Walther saw no need to add this load to the new factory. Manurhin simply made the complete pistols then shipped them to Ulm where they were roll marked with the "Made in Germany" markings. This held true until, starting in 1978, a licensing disagreement began between Walther and Manurhin. Walther had let a contract with Ranger Manufacturing in Gadsden, Alabama for the production of the PPK and PPK/s models and distribution by Interarms in Alexandria, Virginia as a work-around for importing the PPK which was banned by the 1968 Gun Control Act. This was interpreted by Manurhin as a breech of their license with Walther for exclusive manufacture for the pistols. Manurhin continued to produce the PP series until 1986 when the license with Walther was finally pulled. In spite of this, Manurhin continued to make and distribute Walther PP pistols under their name for sale in Europe. As of 2007, the PPK license is now under the manufacturing control of Smith & Wesson who also make the PPK/s.

Walther PP

The Walther PP is a blowback-operated semi-automatic pistol which was first produced in .32 ACP caliber. It is considered by many to be the most elegant of the series due to its long barrel and one of the most aesthetically pleasing handguns of all time. The PP stands for Police Pistol. The barrel length is 4 (3.86 actual) inches. Many of these were issued in .32 ACP as police duty pistols continuing on through the 1970's and 1980's, when many European police departments began to upgrade to higher capacity, more powerful, pistols. As a result, many police trade-ins have been generated and imported to the US for sale to the public.

Magazine capacity for the PP is 10 rounds of .22LR, 9 rounds of .25 ACP, 8 rounds of .32 ACP, and 7 rounds of 9mm Kurtz.

Non-wartime finish of these pistols has always been amongst the finest in the world. During WWII as conditions became worse for the Germans, finish became progressively more crude, but functionality was always very good. Wartime PP's are a favorite of collectors and many command a premium.

Rarest in numbers is the .25 ACP followed by the .22LR. For that reason, these two calibers seem to carry the highest prices of the post-war PP series. Used police model PP's in .32 ACP may be had for around $300.

Remember, the PP always has the longest barrel and slide of the PP series and is most easily distinguished that way. Grips and magazines are interchangeable between the PP and PPK/s pistols. The advantage of the PP (and PPK/s) over the PPK is that it has a full steel backstrap which will provide a grip surface even if the grips have been broken and missing from a drop. This is one of the shortcomings of the PPK in that it has no steel backstrap, only the plastic grips. Thus, dropping the pistol and breaking the grips can render the PPK useless or very uncomfortable, if not difficult, to shoot.

Walther PPK

The PPK is mistakenly called the Police Pistol Kurtz, or short, which is an incorrect use of the letter K. K stands for Kriminal model. So the correct meaning is Police Pistol Kriminal model or police detective pistol. Introduced in 1931. This pistol was brought to greatest post-war fame by "Bond, James Bond," agent 007 for Her Majesty's Secret Service with license to kill. Of course, Bond is a fictional character created by Ian Fleming. Fleming however, was a real British spook type and was completely familiar with the positive qualities of the PPK as used for clandestine carry. That is undoubtedly why he chose it for his popular icon.

One of the ways to distinguish the PPK is that it has both the short barrel and slide (0.6 inch shorter than the PP) and short frame or grips. Also, it has no visible steel backstrap. So, you can usually determine the PPK from several angles in a photo. But, the lack of visible steel backstrap is the clincher. Grips and magazines for the PPK do not interchange with the PP and PPK/s.

Calibers for the PPK are the same as listed for the PP. However, capacity is reduced by one round for each caliber.

Because of the popularity of the PPK, it carries the greatest price tag of the PP series. Be it the bad-boy notoriety of the Nazi era, the James Bond craze, import ban, or all three, it is hard to say, but you will always pay more for a nice PPK.

Walther PPK/s

The PPK/s (s for special) is the answer to a situation that originated from the Gun Control Act of 1968. This legislation prohibited the importation of a pistol if it did not meet the minimum "points" required based on size of the pistol from front to back and top to bottom. The PPK missed the required minimum point count by just a fraction of an inch, so Walther decided to take the PP frame and fit it with the PPK barrel and slide to create the PPK/s. This has been a popular seller in the US. While still available, the higher perceived value of the PPK makes the PPK/s a far more agreeable purchase.

Calibers and capacities for the PPK/s are the same as listed for the PP.

For ID purposes, the PPK/s has the short barrel and slide and the long frame or grips. And like the PP, it has the steel backstrap which is always plainly visible. Magazines and grips interchange between the PP and PPK/s.

Walther PPK/e

Walther has a new member in the PP series made in Europe, thus the "e" designation. The pistol is actually made by FEG in Hungary. Calibers are .22LR, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP. Parts do not generally interchange with the PP and PPK/s, especially the magazines. The PPK/e is very close to the PPK/s, so no imports to the US are expected, especially considering the license agreement with S&W.

Epilogue

Once you get past the problems in differentiating the PP series, you can focus on the finer points such as best caliber, wartime models and manufacturing, best and worst features, and other points of discussion. Many articles can be found online and many printed books are available.

One tip for concealed carry. Only use the flat steel bottom magazine. The reason being, if dropped, the flat bottom mag will only be bent; the plastic finger grip bottom magazine will likely be broken, possibly beyond use. The finger grip magazine is fine for the range, but be sure to change it out when you carry.

Another tip, don't turn your nose up at the Manurhin PP Series pistols if you get a shot at one. They are the real deal and you just may pay a bit less for one in the process, now that you know the true story.