50 Famous Firearms You've Got to Own: Rick Hacker's Bucket List of Guns (2015)
PPK AND PPK/S
Officially, this handy little slab-sided pocket pistol is known as the Polizeipistole Kriminellmodell, which translates into “Police Pistol Detective Model.” However, it is more simply referred to as the Walther PPK, a double-action semi- automatic that first appeared on the European shooting scene in 1931, during particularly hard-pressed economic times in pre-World War II Germany.
The PPK was the product of Carl Walther GmbH, a successful and rather inventive firearms company (it also made mechanical and electric calculating machines during the 1920s), started in 1886 by Carl Wilhelm Walther, a third generation German gunmaker in the town of Zella-Mehlis. Eventually Walther brought his five sons, Fritz, Georg, Wilhelm, Erichh, and Lothar into the business. Upon the senior Walther’s death, his eldest son, Fritz, took the helm and in 1908 expanded the company’s products from hunting and target rifles to include semi-automatic pistols.
After a bit of a struggle in this field, the company finally achieved success in 1929 with its Model PP Polizeipistole, which was initially chambered only in 7.65mm caliber or, as it was more commonly referred to in America, the .32 ACP. Although considered marginally adequate for self-defense, even back then this round nonetheless achieved popularity by virtue of its light recoil, as well as for the small and compact semi-automatic pistols, such as the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless and the FN Model 1910, for which it was chambered. In addition, .380 ACP and .22 Long Rifle chamberings were soon added to the Walther PP. There were also a few models made in .25 ACP, which are quite collectable today. With its semi-arched backstrap, gently angled grip, exposed hammer, and hand-filling pointability, the Walther PP became an extremely successful double-action semi-automatic handgun, the first double-action specifically geared for military use. Small wonder it was almost immediately adopted by the German army and police.
Quickly capitalizing on this success, two years later, Walther produced a variant of the PP, the PPK, which featured a shorter 31⁄3-inch barrel, compared with the almost four-inch barrel of the Walther PP. The PPK also sported a more compact grip and magazine, reducing the cartridge capacity by one round. This translated into six rounds in a PPK chambered for the .32 ACP or .380 ACP, compared to seven rounds in the PP (plus one in the chamber, of course). To augment the PPK’s smaller grip, the magazine sported a finger rest on the bottom.
Both the PP and the PPK encompassed a number of innovative features, including a side-mounted combination safety and decocking lever, a loaded chamber indicator, and straight blowback operation with a recoil spring that slipped directly onto the barrel. There were also some drawbacks. For one thing, the 131⁄2-pound double-action trigger pull was hardly conducive for first-shot accuracy, and even the seven-pound single-action let-off wasn’t much better than the U.S. Government Model 1911. In addition, the sights were minimal, although it could be argued that this weapon was designed for self-defense, not target shooting. In that respect, flawless function was a hallmark of both the PP and PPK. Needless to say, surpassing even the PP in popularity, the PPK was enthusiastically adopted by the German police and the military, which included the Luftwaffe. Due to its more compact size, the PPK was especially coveted by Nazi officers.
After the war, the Walther factory was moved from its original location (which became East Germany under Soviet occupation, thus, few pre-war factory records exist), to the city of Ulm, in what became West Germany. Of course, in those post-war years, firearms manufacturing in Germany was prohibited, so, from 1952 until 1986 Walther licensed the manufacture of its PP and PPK models to Manufacture de Machines du Haut-Rhin (Manurhin) in France. These guns were imported into the United States by Interarms. They are easily identified, as the left side of the slide bears the “Carl Walther Waffenfabrick Ulm” stamping, while the right side is marked “Interarms, Alexandra, Virginia.”
In post-war years, the PPK not only survived, but thrived as a favored carry pistol for self-defense as well as a handy kit gun, and one not much bigger than a .38 Special snubby. And that became a problem, for, with the Gun Control Act of 1968, the PPK just barely missed qualifying for importation due to its compact size.
The solution to this problem was ingenious in its simplicity. Walther simply put the shorter PPK barrel and receiver on the slightly larger PP frame. Thus, you now had a combination of both guns that got dubbed the PPK/S, which was almost as compact as the PPK but had the extra round capacity and slightly longer grip of the PP. It was the best of both worlds. In addition, a stateside manufactured PPK, which was not prohibited by 1968 laws, was built by Walther USA and also distributed by Interarms. That arrangement eventually was cancelled, and, since 2002, the PPK as well as the PPK/S in both .32 ACP and .380 ACP chamberings have been made under license by Smith & Wesson in both stainless and blued steel versions (there’s a Crimson Trace variant, as well).
Weighing in at less than 23 ounces and with an overall length just under six inches, the PPK remains for many the ideal conceal carry weapon, especially in its .380 ACP chambering, as that cartridge has been improved dramatically in recent years as a self-defense round. Plus, there is very little on the gun to snag on clothing and, thus, it was a precursor of today’s popular “meltdown” configuration.
For all its classic design features, the PPK is probably best known for being the personal weapon of choice by a fictional super-spy named James Bond. Indeed, although Bond originally carried a Beretta 418, he is best remembered, in both Ian Fleming’s books and the subsequent films, for packing a Walther PPK. Inexplicably, he chose the .32 ACP chambering over the .380. Sean Connery kept true to Bond’s PPK tradition in all except the last of his James Bond roles, and though, in 1995, Pierce Brosnan dutifully picked up a PPK in GoldenEye, he broke the pattern with Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997 when, after initially using a PPK, he switched to a Walther Model 99, a gun still retained by the current James Bond, Daniel Craig. Yet Craig is sometimes seen using a PPK with a suppressor in a 2006 poster advertising Casino Royale, and also at the beginning of 2008’s Quantum of Solace, and although he loses his PPK in a plane crash, he gets another one later in the film. After all, as Agent 007 knows, the Walther PPK is too good a gun to be without.