Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Prince of Pocket Pistols: Walther's PPK

M: "When you carry a 00 number, you have a license to kill, not get killed. Furthermore, since I've been head of MI7 there's been a forty percent drop in casualties, and I want to keep it that way. From now on you carry the Walther... unless you'd rather return to standard intelligence duties."

Bond: "No sir, I would not."

M: "Show him, Armourer."

Armourer: "Walther PPK, 7.65 millimeter, with a delivery like a brick through a plate-glass window. The American CIA swear by them."

-script excerpt from "Dr. No", 1962.



The PPK in action: "That's a Smith and Wesson...and you've had your six."


You've got to love Ian Fleming, and Hollywood. The CIA using a PPK? “Delivery like a brick through a plate-glass window”? Ha! Substitute the word “pebble” for brick, and “against” for through, and you get a better idea of the 7.65mm Browning round’s capabilities. Still, compared with the Beretta .25 Auto pistol that Bond was swapping for his new PPK, it was indeed a significant improvement. But before we talk too much about the cartridge, let’s explore the gun that fired it.
 
Released in 1931 by the famous Carl Walther company, the PPK was a modification of Walther’s earlier PP (the PP stands for Polizei pistole, or police pistol).  You can probably guess what the target market for the PP was based on its name. One of the first successful guns featuring what we now refer to as a traditional double/single action design, it quickly developed a reputation for being reliable, ergonomic, and easily concealable. Such features contributed to its immense popularity in Europe with both civilians and cops. The PP was first made available in 7.65mm Browning (also known as the .32 ACP and .32 Auto) and Walther soon followed with other chamberings, to include the rare .22LR and more powerful 9mm Kurz (.380 Auto). Magazine capacity varied between 8 and 10 rounds, based on the cartridge.
 
 
A near pristine, Cold War era Walther PP. Man, I miss the Cold War sometimes.
 
 
Concealable as the PP was, Walther decided it could be still smaller and lighter. The resulting design was the PPK, (the K for “Kurz”, or short or small).  The PPK’s main differences were its redesigned and shortened grip frame, and its slightly shorter slide/barrel. Basically, the PPK was about half an inch shorter than the PP in both length and height. The nipping and tucking also shaved off a couple of ounces of weight. The compromises were a slightly shorter sight radius and a decrease in magazine capacity by one round, which considering the gun’s role, were kurz small sacrifices. No pun intended.
 
 
Pun  completely intended. Sorry about that.
 
 
The PPK proved to be even more popular than the PP, because all the things that made the PP great were duplicated with the PPK, and then some. The most frequently encountered chambering was the .32 Auto, and it was well suited to the pistol’s simple blow-back recoil design. The PPK in .32 Auto had a seven round magazine, plus the ability to carry one in the chamber with the hammer down, thanks to the double action/decocker design.  As I alluded to earlier, the .32 Auto was a pipsqueak. Even other anemic rounds, like the 7.62x38r Nagant, or the 38 Long Colt, are veritable powerhouses compared to the little 32.
 
 
Left to right .32 Auto, .380 Auto, 9mm Luger. Some folks consider the 9mm Luger small.

Designed by none other than John Moses Browning himself at the turn of the 20th century, the .32 Auto is a straight-walled, semi-rimmed cartridge. In its original loading, it sports a mighty .311", 71 grain FMJ bullet that on a good day gets up to 900 feet per second. Before I sound like I’m too critical of the cartridge, it’s worth noting that Mr. Browning designed it specifically for use in pocket pistols, such as the classic Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless. For what it’s supposed to do, it’s a very capable round. It’s light in weight, has low recoil, produces little if any flash, can be easily suppressed, and with proper shot placement in the hands of a decent marksman, is adequately lethal. In fact, two of the most famous deaths in history are attributed to the .32 Auto. As I mentioned in my article here, the cartridge started WWI *edit: the actual caliber was .380 Auto. My mistake*. What many people don't know is that it ended WWII, at least in Europe: Hitler committed suicide with a Walther PPK chambered in .32 Auto.
 

And there was much rejoicing. Thanks, John M. Browning!


Speaking of WWII, the PPK served in other ways besides sending Der Fuerher to Hell. The German police and military were equipped with them, with PPKs being mostly reserved for higher ranking and/or elite officials in the military. The P.38, of course, was the mainstay German sidearm of the war, supplemented by the older (but still quite capable) Luger P.08.

After the war, Walther picked up the pieces as best it could. Having survived intact as a company, it faced the new reality that was a divided Germany. Walther was forced to leave their old headquarters, as it had the unfortunate chance of being located in the region that had become East Germany. They soon set up shop in Ulm, West Germany, but it would be some time before Walther resumed production due to prohibitions on domestic weapons manufacture by the victorious Allied Powers. As a result, the first new PP series pistols rolled off the assembly line in 1952: in France. Yes, France. Walther licensed licenced production of the PP series of pistols to Manufacture de Machines du Haut-Rhin, also known as Manhurin.  Even though these pistols were made in the heartland of Germany's former enemy and territory, they bore the mark of the new Ulm headquarters. Still, it was a bit of a kick in the balls.
 

Of course, the French weren't smug about it. Not in the least.

The post-war PPK was functionally identical to its pre-war siblings. Manhurin maintained the rights to produce the PPK all the way up to 1986, and exported it freely around the world. The new PPKs enjoyed the same good reputation as the old ones, and in 1962, Hollywood introduced it to the United States as the sidearm of none other than James Bond, 007, the consummate British Cold War spy.

I'd be a loud liar if I was to say that my interest in the PPK had nothing to do with the fact that 007 carried it (albeit reluctantly, at first). There's something interesting about a German designed gun, made in France, carried by a Brit, and used in America...even if it's complete fiction. At any rate, Connery's portrayal of 007 is timeless, and has made the PPK more famous than anything history has recorded. That's okay. Some guns are just cool to have, because of what they are. The PPK is one of those guns.



007's PPK is alive and well in Skyfall, pictured here in .380 Auto.


I've wanted a PPK for a long time, but there was always something else that seemed to be ahead on the list. Besides, wartime PPKs are strictly in the collector realm, with collector prices and availability, and even post-war French and German made PPKs are quite expensive. In 2002, Smith and Wesson acquired the licence to produce and distribute the PPK in the United States. They made some minor tweaks, to include improving the double-action trigger and extending the beavertail to protect larger hands from slide bite, and they also produced it in stainless steel, but the end result is a PPK at heart. Not long ago I saw a S&W made PPK at the local gun shop. The price was right, the caliber was .32 Auto, and my will power was weak, so 15 minutes later I walked out with a 21st century PPK.


My S&Walther PPK in stainless steel, with the flat base magazine.

I really enjoy shooting the PPK. Though S&W has a somewhat checkered reputation with this gun, and some purists will turn their noses up at one, I'm very happy with mine. The fit and finish are excellent, and the fixed barrel and low recoil contribute to exceptional accuracy. It came with two magazines: a flat base, which leaves your pinky hanging, and one with a finger rest. I prefer the flat base myself, but those with the .380 Auto version might feel differently. I already had some experience with the diminutive .32 Auto cartridge in my CZ-70, which I'll probably get around to writing about someday. It's a downright pleasant cartridge to shoot, even if it does take some dexterity handling and reloading the little rounds. Take down with the PPK is simplicity itself: pull down on the trigger guard, pull the slide to rear and up, and your pistol is field-stripped.

I've read rumors that S&W has either lost or given up its rights to produce the PPK, and that Walther will either be making it themselves in their US factory, or selling the rights once again to another company. There may be some truth in this: my PPK had just arrived at the gun shop two days before I bought it this month, but the test-fired cartridge that came with it was in an envelope dated 9/12. The PPK has long since been eclipsed as the perfect carry gun by lighter, cheaper, and more powerful pocket pistols, but in my opinion there's none that have yet been able to match its class and pedigree. I know I say this alot, but no serious collection is complete without one. And last I checked, 007 doesn't carry a polymer gun.


Because Oddjob eats polymer guns for breakfast.

11 comments:

  1. I LOVE this blog, keep writing mate!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I certainly intend to! :)

      Delete
  2. Vrock:

    Now this one I've actually shot (in .32 ACP) from Dad's ever-expanding collection. Nice little gun with minimal kick, though the pinky-extension mag makes it much easier for a fat-fingered glob like me. Knowing I'll end up someday with Bond's gun is enough for me.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Ned. You know, I tried it last week with the pinky mag again, and it does make shooting easier. Your dad's collection sounds like something I would love.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Bond obtained a Walther P99 in Tomorrow Never Dies and he carried it throughout The World is Not Enough. Now that they've rebooted the series, he's back to the PPK.

    Sigh. Two steps forward, three steps back. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah...I had forgotten that Brosnan carried the P99. A buddy of mine has a Walther PPQ, the successor to the P99, and it's a fine full sized combat pistol. Still, I think the PPK is a better choice for a secret agent who relies more on brains, stealth, and subterfuge than firepower. Besides, the P99 would print terribly in a white tuxedo. :)

      Delete
    2. If we think about it, Bond cellebrated it's 50th with the 23rd Bond movie SKYFALL and as such, the movie just had to take us back to the basics and that is; the 1964 Aston Martin Db5, the great fitting suits and tuxedos and the Walther PPK, the three standards of the thrilogy.Our great grand children will be talking about it long after we're dead and burried but the 2 PPK's I have will live on.

      Delete
  5. Fantastic blog, and entertainingly written. A correction, though. The "K" in PPK does not stand for Kurz. It stands for Kriminal, from the German Kriminalpolizei. The Kriminalpolizei (or "KRIPO") are the German equivalent of American detectives, so the PPK was the German equivalent of a snub-nose .38.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I still carry my stainless PPK in . 380 as my off duty weapon . I qualify in the 97 to 100 range every time with it. Fits perfectly in my jeans with 2 spare mags. Love this gun. Oh, it's not the oversized SW one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The beavertail doesn't make it oversized...

      Delete
  7. Can you suggest a site or a source to research my PPK by S/N. Thanks

    ReplyDelete