Among the most respected small self-loading pistols is the Walther PPK. The Walther P series was not the first double-action, first-shot pistol; the Little Tom predated the Walther, although the Walther PP was widely recognized as a high-quality, well-made and reliable handgun with good features. Demand for a more compact version resulted in the PPK or detective version.
The compact PPK is shorter in the slide and barrel, and the grip frame is also shorter.
The later PPK/S is a result of import points and other nonsense instigated after the 1968 Gun Control Act. The PPK/S features the short slide of the Walther PPK and full-length grip of the PP.
The PPK/S is not a bad gun at all. The combination of what was seen as an onerous law and a great respect for the PPK affected sales of the PPK/S even though, eventually, the pistol was widely accepted; after all, there was no way to get a PPK. Some years later, Walther began manufacturing the pistol in America, and the rest is history since import points are not applied to our own handguns.
The PPK is a fine gun. However, if you have fired the full-size, original PP pistol, you will realize that the PPK is a great shooter, easy to manage and accurate.
Features of the PPK
The PPK became known as the carry gun of one Bond, James Bond. I do not wear a tuxedo, and I drive a Ford Truck, not an Aston Martin. However, I still appreciate the Walther PPK. It is a simple pistol in most ways. The trigger action is double-action, first-shot, and the operating action is a simple blow-back without the complication of a locked breech. The barrel is about 3.25 inches long, and it is heavier than the new breed of polymer-frame guns.
It is heavier for a reason. The recoil is light, and the pistol is also very accurate, even surprisingly so. The double-action, first-shot pull is long and smooth and most useful at conversational range. The single-action press is smooth and crisp at just under 4 pounds, which makes the trigger action an aid to accurate fire. A slide-mounted safety and decocker are part of the design. Pressing the decocker down safely lowers the cocked hammer and, if left down, the lever operates as a safety. The PPK safety is easily manipulated by average-size hands. Unlike the safety lever of larger pistols such as the Beretta 92, this slide-mounted lever is easily reached due to the small dimensions of the PPK.
The fit and finish of the Walther PPK is excellent. The hand fit is good, and while a large hand may be a little cramped, the pistol fits most of us well. The 7-round magazines are high quality, and the magazine release is positive. My pistol came with two magazines. One features a finger-rest extension that makes it a better fit for larger hands. The checkered grips give your hand good adhesion when firing. That is important because the hand must be stable when firing the pistol and operating the double-action trigger.
The PPK’s slide has a reputation for biting the web of the firing hand in recoil. I experienced that trauma during these firing tests. Perhaps there is a means of gripping the pistol to avoid the problem. By keeping a solid grip and the web a little lower, you can avoid that problem. When disassembling the pistol, I noticed the rear edges of the slide are sharp.
In the past, the pistol also had a less-than-stellar reputation for reliability. However, after owning at least a half dozen of the type in the original PP, PPK and PPK/S versions (including one .22 LR and several .32 ACP versions), I cannot recall a malfunction. I did own a well-worn police trade that occasionally dropped the magazine due to a worn magazine catch, but the pistols have been generally trustworthy. I believe they need more frequent cleaning and lubrication than some types, although that is part and parcel of older designs. And older designs are not a bad thing. They simply require more maintenance.
You must grasp the pistol firmly to ensure function. The PPK is a blow-back action—the simplest of designs—with a recoil spring that wraps around the barrel.
To field strip the PPK, follow these steps:
- Remove the magazine.
- Rack the slide several times to be certain the handgun is not loaded.
- Place a finger tip in the chamber to be certain, beyond any question, the chamber is empty (this is an NRA-certified method of clearing the pistol).
- Press the trigger guard down.
The tip of the trigger-guard housing will butt into the slide, anchoring the slide to the frame.
With the trigger guard depressed, pull the slide to the rear.
- Tilt the rear of the slide up and over the front of the barrel, separating the slide from the barrel.
The recoil spring remains wrapped around the barrel. The fixed barrel cannot be easily removed.
This is all the disassembly needed for routine maintenance.
Shooting the PPK
The magazines are a good design that captures the loaded cartridges securely under the feed lips. Loading the magazines requires some effort. I broke out my personal example from the safe, lubricated it and made it ready for this test and review. I loaded the pistol with Fiocchi 95-grain FMJ for the range work, ammunition that is reliable, accurate and clean burning. I fired 50 rounds of the Fiocchi cartridges in rapid-fire range drills and discovered the pistol is more accurate than you would think for the size. The sights are a limiting factor; however, they are larger than those on many pocket pistols of the era.
The Walther is fast on the draw. The double-action trigger is smoother in some examples than others. After about 5 yards, rather than attempting to stage the trigger and hope for a hit, you may as well cock the hammer for deliberate fire. In the single-action mode, the Walther is quite accurate, and it is not difficult to put a magazine into the X-ring at 10 yards in rapid fire. Recoil is controllable. I am no fan of the .380 ACP for personal defense—it is what it is. I have some question as to the advisability of using an expanding bullet in this caliber. The balance of penetration and expansion is too short on the side of expansion with most JHP loads in this caliber, limiting the effect of the cartridge.
The .380 ACP simply is not powerful enough to both penetrate and expand with most loads. This is a personal decision. I have proofed the PPK with a number of hollow-point loads and found them reliable and accurate enough for defense. The single, most important component of wound potential is marksmanship. Fiocchi offers a number of good hollow-point loads, one of which is the Extreme Terminal Performance (XTP) bullet. This is a loading I trust to provide adequate penetration with expansion as well, which provides an accurate, reliable loading suitable for personal defense.
The Walther PPK as a handgun is popular, often based more on appearance, fit, finish and even mystique than performance. There are more powerful handguns, although few that give you such pride of ownership. The balance of the handgun is ideal, and it carries well. It is often considered a pocket pistol and may fit most pockets well. The PPK is an easy handgun to fire accurately at close range, at least in single-action fire, and it comes on target quickly in trained hands. Overall, there is little to fault. The PPK is an iconic pistol that should be in every handgunner’s collection.
Although James Bond is well-known for carrying a Walther PPK, a real-life individual who saw real action was the late Skeeter Skelton. Skelton was a gun writer active for several decades. His work could be taken to the bank. Skelton’s talent was such that, occasionally, he passed the information and enlightenment stage to produce real literature. As a working cop on the Mexican border, Skelton was serious about finding a credible weapon for under-the-shirt carry that was not conspicuous. The 2.5-inch barrel Smith and Wesson Model 19 .357 Magnum did not quite make it; he preferred the Colt Commander .45. He also carried the PPK by necessity.
He tested the pistol’s penetration against pine boards. Compared to the most common .38 Special loading of the day, the 158-grain RNL, the PPK .380 ACP had the same penetration against pine boards. The 158-grain .38 breaks about 700 fps from a 2-inch barrel, and the 95-grain FMJ .380 ACP breaks over 900 fps. Clearly, either was comparable for concealed carry. Today, personal defense loads have greatly improved the .38 Special and give it a clear advantage. Just the same, the .380 ACP has the penetration to get to the vitals. The rest is up to you.
During the test program, I used an Alien Gear IWB/Tuckable of the hybrid type, an affordable, quality holster with a clean bill of health.
15 yards, bench-rested, 5-shot groups
|Fiocchi 95-grain FMJ||2.8 inches|
|Fiocchi 90-grain JHP||2.4 inches|
|PMC 95-grain FMJ||3.4 inches|
Have you used or tested any of the Walter PPK pistols? Share your opinions, experiences and results in the comments section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
Trackback from your site.