Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Name is “Joe, Average Joe”
An Examination of the Walther PPK and the PPK/S

My friend Doc Wesson has inferred that I have reviewed so many 9mm pistols recently that the blog should be renamed “Average Joe’s 9mm Handgun Review”. So in deference to Ole Doc we’ll leave the 9mms in the safe today and examine a pair of small pistols chambered for the .380 ACP or, as it is know in Europe, the 9mm Kurtz (short) or 9mm Browning…hmmm, doesn’t seem like we distanced ourselves too much from the 9mm after all.

Anyway, we are going to look at platform for one of the most successful pocket pistols of all time, the Wather PPK (choice of the James Bond) and its Americanized version, the PPK/S.
Carl Walther (1860 -1915) began his career as an apprentice gunsmith and eventually opened up his own business in 1886 focusing on making target rifles. He became infatuated by the small blowback pistols designed by American firearms genius John Browning, who had a great following in Europe as Fabrique Nationale of Belgium was producing many of Browning’s designs.

Walther worked on his designs for many years until success was reached in 1911 with Model #1, a small pocket pistol chambered for the 6.35mm (or .25 ACP) round. From this point until 1929 Walther’s company continued to build small pistols in the 6.35mm caliber as well as the 7.65 (or .32 ACP) in models 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. All of these pistols were straight blowback designs with internal firing mechanisms.

In November of 1930 the Walther Company was granted a patent for their Polizei-Pistole (Model PP) which was a revolutionary design for its time. The PP was a 7.65mm/.32 ACP caliber pistol with a 7 round magazine, a 3.86 inch barrel, an external hammer and traditional double action mode of firing (first round is a long double action pull and the subsequent rounds are fired in the single action mode as the retraction of the slide cocks the hammer). The PP also sported a “loaded chamber” indicator in a pin that extended from the rear of the slide, just above the exposed hammer, when there was a round in the chamber. Another revolutionary feature of the PP was the frame mounted magazine release located on the left side of the frame, just in back of the trigger, instead of the heal mounted magazine release more commonly found on European pistols. Lastly, after chambering the first round (which would leave the hammer in the cocked, single action position) activating the safety lever would safely lower the hammer onto the live round rendering the pistol safe and ready for double action fire.

The PP became widely popular, especially with the German police and paramilitary factions and Walther produced it in .380 ACP, .25 ACP and .22 Long Rifle as well as the original .32 ACP chambering.
The success of the PP, which is by no means a large pistol, brought about requests for a more compact version for plainclothes police officers. Thus the Kriminalpolizei-Pistole or Model PPK was born. This was merely a shortened PP with a grip frame that held a 6 round magazine and a shortened slide containing a 3.35 inch barrel. This was another extremely successful design and was chosen for the cinematic depiction of the British Secret Service as just about every James Bond, from Connery to Craig, has carried the PPK.

PPKs sold well in the United States and were employed as the pocket pistol back-up guns for many police officers until the Gun Control Act of 1968 restricted their importation due to its small size (and as we all know, crime plummeted and became almost non-existent…pardon my sarcasm aimed at the misguided and naïve notions of the liberals who think that the mere prohibition of material items will curb crime and violence—it’s not things, it’s people). This lead Walther to combine the PP and PPK to meet the requirement for importation by using the shortened slide of the PPK on top of the larger grip frame of the PP which they named the PPK/S. The PPK/S became a hit as Americans liked the longer grip frame which allowed them to get their entire hand around the pistol.

The first pistol we are going to examine is a vintage 1966 PPK produced 2 years before the GCA of ’68. This is an original Walther with no importation markings on the pistol. The PPK sports brown plastic wrap-around grips and a lanyard ring at the bottom of the grip frame. This small pocket pistol is, for lack of a better term, a honey. It is very accurate for its intended range (I could work with it very well out to 31 feet and was still getting solid upper torso hits out to 50 feet).

(upper torso shot with 50 rounds at 21 feet--bottom torso shot with 50 rounds at 31 feet.)

(head shot at 21 feet--torso shot at 50 feet)

One of the things that I was expecting but did not experience was the famous Walther slide bite. This has been written about for years and I did experience it in two PPK/S pistols I owned in the past, one an Interarms import in the early 1980’s and the other one was a stainless steel more recent model now made by Smith & Wesson. In both of those the bottom of the slide ripped into the web of my hand when the slide retracted drawing blood during shooting sessions of more than 50 rounds. However, this 1966 made pistol leaves no mark on my hands whatsoever.

My current mode of carry for this pocket pistol is…in an Uncle Mike’s basic pocket holster placed in my pocket. With a length of 6.1 inches, a height of 3.8 inches, and a width of .98 inches the PPK is not uncomfortable to carry in a side pocket and loaded with potent defensive ammo like Hornady’s new “Critical Defense ammo”, you are well protected. Hornady’s .380 ACP Critical Defense ammo pushes a 90 grain bullet at 1,000 feet per second with 200 foot pounds of energy. The Critical Defense ammunition is a hollowpoint bullet where the cavity is filled with a red rubber substance ending in a tip that swells upon contact. The rubber tip means reliable feeding in a small semi-automatic pistol and also insures consistent bullet expansion as the rubber substance swell and forces the hollowpoint bullet to expand. Many hollow points can get clogged with any clothing material (like thick denim) that limits proper performance. The Hornady Critical Defense ammo was designed to remedy this situation.

We have already discussed the origins of the PPK/S In the 1980’s the Walther pistols were being imported by Interarms of Alexandria, Virginia and, for reasons unknown to me, the quality varied. Now Walther is having them made by Smith & Wesson in their Maine plant and the quality is certainly up to par. Since they are being made in the U.S. they can once again produce the smaller PPK but to date I have not seen one for sale anywhere near me. The Walther-America catalogue shows offerings for the PPK and PPK/S in Stainless Steel only, however the model I picked up for this review is a very handsome two-toned model with a blued frame and stainless slide with polished sides and a matte finish on top to reduce glare. This pistol is also very accurate as this target which shows the first 28 rounds out of the box at 21 feet demonstrates. [ Shots out to 31 Feet and 50 feet are accurate enough to get the job done.

The dimensions for the PPK/S are similar to the PPK except for the height which is 4.3 inches for the PPK/S as opposed to 3.8 inches for the PPK. The PPK/S comes with two 7 round magazines one which fits flush with the bottom of the grip frame and one that has a finger extension. I like the finger extension magazine the best; however it makes the grips a little long for pocket carry. It is thin and small enough to make a great belt pistol which I find very comfortable with an inside-the-waistband holster that also allows you to tuck your shirt in between your pants and the holster such as with this Galco hoslter.
One thing that this PPK/S shared with the 1966 PPK is, again, the lack of any slide bite. I was very happy that neither of these pistols lived up to their reputation for shredding your hand. Both pistols also had good trigger pulls coming in at around 8 pounds for the double action pull and just under 5 for the single action pull.

There are only two recommendations I could make. One is for both pistol’s sights. They are very small and although it does not hamper the accuracy very much I would prefer it if they were larger. The second recommendation is for the modern PPK/S. The edges of the grip frame are fairly sharp all the way from the trigger guard around the grip frame up to the hammer. These sharp edges did not injure my hand, but the pistol would be more comfortable if they were rounded off.

The only thing I think that is left open for discussion is the caliber of these pistols. Many of you may be thinking that a .380 just doesn’t cut it as a defensive round and I understand that notion but I have come across some interesting commentary in a book that I would like to share with you. The following passages come from The Complete Gun Owner, Your guide to Selection, Use, Safety, and Self Defense by James M. Ayres. The book was published in 2008 by Krause Publications. In this first passage Ayres is talking about the PPK in its .32 ACP chambering:

The pocket sized Walther was first recommended to me by a Hungarian Freedom Fighter who had fought Russian tanks with bottles of flaming gasoline in the streets of Budapest. Gabor (not his real name) had also accounted for a number of Russian soldiers with his 7.65 (.32) Walther PPK….Gabor said “I know, I know, in America everything must be jumbo….but you should understand that it’s not only the Cowboys with their blazing .45s that know how to employ guns”.

In this second passage, Ayres talks about the .380 cartridge:

One of my training sergeants, Sergeant First Class Poleaski, carried a Colt Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless .380 ACP in a shoulder holster during his service with the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II. He jumped into Italy and fought his way up the boot. Then he was pulled out and sent north. He jumped into Normandy before the D-Day landings and later at Nimagen (A Bridge Too Far).

One night when we were getting close to the bottom of a bottle of bourbon I asked him why he didn’t carry a .45. He said, “The .45 is over-rated and too heavy. I killed Nazis with this little pistol all over Europe. What counts son is where you shoot them.”

I, for one, do not think that the .45 ACP is over-rated. But I do agree with the two points being made in these two passages:
1. You need to know your weapon very well meaning practice and training and quite a bit of it.
2. Shot placement is the most important factor.

I am very confident that the PPK-PPK/S provides a package that can be with you just about all the time, is accurate enough to get the job done, and good defensive ammunition is available for it. The rest is up to me.