Walther PPK Pistol – Brief History and Review

By David Tong
Gun writer David Tong gives us a look into the history of the Walther PPK Pistol.

The Walther PPK pistol was a shortened version of the 1929 Model PP, and was first produced in 1931.


USA –  -(Ammoland.com)- One of the most iconic pistols of the 20th Century has to be Walther’s “Polizeipistole Kriminalmodell,” or police pistol detective model.

The Walther PPK pistol was a shortened version of the 1929 Model PP, and was first produced in 1931. I once owned one of the commercial, pre-war and pre-Nazi pistols with the 90-degree safety lever in brightly polished blue finish, in the then usual 7.65mm / .32ACP caliber that all WWII pistols were chambered in, as well as several postwar examples. Postwar they were also produced in .22LR and .380ACP / 9mm Kurz.

Essentially the Walther PPK is a shorter (both length and height) and thus lighter version of the Walther PP handgun.

Walther PPK Pistol Specifications:

  • Type: Double and single-action semi-automatic, blowback-operated
  • Length: 6.1”
  • Width: 1.0”
  • Height: 3.9”
  • Magazine capacities: 8rds in .22LR; 7rds in .32ACP, 6rds in .380ACP
  • Weight: 21oz for all steel models. Postwar PPK/L with aluminum frame 16oz.

The PPK has some differences from its parent PP. Primarily, the rear grip frame strap was removed and replaced by a single-piece wraparound checkered plastic grip to further lighten the pistol. Its shorter butt also reduced the magazine capacity by one round from the PP for each caliber as a result.

Both pistols featured a fixed front sight milled integrally with the slide, a fixed barrel that is press-fitted and cross-pinned into place on the receiver. A rear sight is drift adjustable for windage only. Both sights are rather small and hard to see, to this day.

Walther PPK chambered in .380 ACP
Walther PPK chambered in .380 ACP

The trigger pull on the .32ACP version is a fair bit lighter in double-action than on the .380ACP, as is the recoil spring compression. This makes the .32 much easier for the smaller or weaker-handed people to manipulate the pistol’s slide for loading and unloading. The .380 also recoils far more than the .32, and it borderlines on harsh depending on how much experience one has.

As a blowback auto, whose recoil attenuation is merely the slide being held closed upon firing by its weight and recoil spring, and in the absence of another mechanical delay such as the ubiquitous tilting barrel short recoil Browning system, this recoil feels harder than the even smaller aluminum-framed SIG-Sauer P238 that shares the same .380 chambering.

However, the Walther PPK Pistol is a joy to use nevertheless. It is dirt simple to field strip for cleaning, and equally easy to clean. With an empty magazine in place, rack the slide to the rear to allow the internal slide stop/ejector to lock it open. Remove the magazine, pull the trigger guard down and move it slightly to either side so it rests on the bottom of the frame.

Grasping the slide firmly, retract it to the rear as far as it will go, lift upward on it and slide it over the barrel area of the frame. Remove the recoil spring from around the barrel, and it is ready to clean and lubricate.

Reassemble in reverse order, by placing the tapered end of the recoil spring back over the barrel (it is directional, so friction holds it into place). Grab the slide and slide the barrel/spring through the hole in the front of the slide and pull it backward and then down to allow the slide to engage the slide grooves of the frame. Let the slide seat by moving it forward until it stops. Pull on the trigger guard downward again, and let it gently be seated through the rectangular cut that it is located with. This retains the slide during firing as it limits rearward slide travel. Replace magazine and you are done.

During my experiences with the Walther PPK Pistol, I did find the .32ACP version much easier to shoot accurately than the .380ACP. At the 50’ indoor ranges I once inhabited, I was easily able to place all my shots within a 2.5” circle from two magazines when my eyes were much younger. The .380 is probably as accurate, but the recoil level in such a small and light pistol with an unlocked breech makes it more of a chore.

There have been five major manufacturers of the PPK. The original, Carl Walther Waffenfabrik, was originally established in Zella-Mehlis, Thuringia. This was occupied by the French, and they continued production for a time at that location but moved operations to its native firm Manuhrin (“Manufacture D’armes du Rhine”).

Manurhin actually was responsible for the first 20-30 years of postwar machining production of the PP and PPK, and many were marketed under their moniker. However, Walther, now relocated to its current factory in Ulm, Germany, also has been stated to have imported these unfinished pistols and fully finished and proofed them at their factory so that they were then “German” made.

These pistols were made up until 1968 when the infamous Gun Control Act of that year’s ATF points system barred the importation of “small guns.” A stop-gap measure was created with the introduction of the “PPK/S,” which married the short slide and barrel of the PPK to the longer and heavier frame of the PP. Interarms was the American importer until the early 1990s and the death of its founder, Samuel Cummings.

For a few years, Interarms also had US-made production done by an Alabama firm under license from Carl Walther. Smith and Wesson bought the licensing for the PP and PPK in the mid-2000s and produced them in their Houghton, Maine plant. It is said that Ruger produced the investment cast frames for the S&W pistols.

These pistols differed from all earlier ones in one functional way. They were the only ones I am aware of when a single machine cut eliminated the “two feed ramp” original design and turned it into a pistol that was completely functionally reliable with modern jacketed hollow point defensive ammunition. This is no small matter for those who wish to carry a pistol with cartridges that are considered at best, marginally powerful for the job.

Current Walther PPK w/ long frame tang
Current Walther PPK w/ long frame tang

While S&W abandoned licensed production of the pistol about 2011, the new Walther USA firm is now also building them under license here in Arkansas.

All models are still made with the other major S&W refinement, the longer frame tang to help protect the skin of the web of your hand from being sliced by the very low rear slide rails and help those with thicker hands, but are otherwise mechanically identical.

While I think that the PPK is slightly obsolescent in this day of sub-miniature pistols that are all the rage these days, it remains viable to those of us who prefer real steel in our handguns, for the implied balance and durability advantages they offer.

Notwithstanding a healthy dose of history, mind you.

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