Walther: The Gun Maker Whose Weapon Killed Hitler (And So Much Extra)
If you’ve seen a James Bond movie, you’ve likely heard the name Carl Walther GmbH, or at least Walther – like Walter PPK, the compact semi-automatic pistol associated with the polite British secret agent. We say bound rather than carried because on the big screen, Bond didn’t carry the gun as often as some might think, and he also didn’t use it as often.
Thanks to its appearance in the early Bond films, the gun became iconic worldwide – even if it’s almost ironic that Walther was so closely associated with the British spy, since the company is actually German and its handguns were developed just before the Nazi era while Worn by German police and military officers during WWII, and one was even used as a suicide bomber by Adolf Hitler.
Walther, Carl Walther GmbH
The now iconic German arms manufacturer was founded by Carl Walther in 1886. Its origins, however, go back to another century when Matthias Conrad Pistor first worked as an armourer and gunsmith in the Kassel armory. This armory began operating around 1780 to make pistols and weapons, and Pistor made a name for himself for his fine weaponry.
Pistor opened its own factory in the Thuringia region, where other local companies also made small arms for the German states, while others made their way to North America and even India. Some of Pistor’s local compatriots even went to America and worked on the early Kentucky and Pennsylvania long guns. Pistor decided to stay in Thuringia, but it was his great-grandson Carl Wilhelm Freund Walther who would start one of Germany’s most famous gun manufacturers.
Carl Walther began as an apprentice gunsmith before founding the company under his name. Even then, he initially manufactured hunting and target shooting rifles using Martini and Aydt breechblocks. Although he had little equipment and tools, he married another gun-making family, and this allowed the company to grow and expand.
Of Carl Walther’s five sons, three went to the family business, but it was his eldest son Fritz Walter who took the company in a new direction thanks to his interest in the burgeoning semi-automatic technology. The company presented its first prototype in 1908 and the Model 1 went into production in June 1911. The recoil powered handgun proved popular in Germany and Austria-Hungary.
Meet the PP and PPK
After World War I, Fritz further refined his designs and his Model 6 was the first to be used for the 9 x 19 millimeter Parabellum cartridge used in handguns such as the P1908 Luger. This led to the police pistol in 1929, a semi-automatic blowback pistol that has been in use almost continuously since its introduction.
This led to a more compact version, the PPK – Police Pistol Kriminal – which featured a shorter handle, barrel and frame, but also reduced the magazine capacity. The smaller size was supposed to make it more obscure than the original PP, which is actually the pistol used by the fictional James Bond in the film Dr. No.
Both the PP and PPK included several unique features, including a double-acting trigger with a self-cocking hammer. The pistols were offered in numerous calibers, including the .22LR, 6.35 millimeters, 9 millimeters short and 7.65 millimeters.
The German dictator Adolf Hitler committed suicide with this PPK, which was chambered in .32ACP / 7.65 millimeters, while singer Elvis Presley reported having a PPK with a silver finish, which was labeled “TC” for “Taking Care of Business” .
The other “notorious” pistol introduced during the Nazi era was the P38, which was intended to replace the more expensive and complicated Luger. While the German military reportedly didn’t specify a caliber, Fritz Walther knew that only a 9-millimeter version would be successful. The first order for 800 P38s was delivered on April 1, 1939 – just five months before the outbreak of World War II and by the end of the war, more than 1.2 million units had been produced.
As an interesting side note, it was reported that three of the Walther brothers handed over their hometown of Zella-Mehlis and the company’s factory on April 3, 1945 to elements of General George Patton’s Third Army.
After the Second World War
Since Zella-Mehlis was in the Soviet zone of occupation, the Walther business was reduced to little more than designs and patents, but Fritz Walther opened a new shop in Ulm and began re-producing the P38 for the West German police and military.
In 1993 the company was taken over by Umarx Sportwaffen and today operates under the Walther brand as part of the international PW Group. The company continues to manufacture a range of handguns and long guns for law enforcement, military sales, and civilians around the world. These include such notable handguns as the P99 and PPQ.
Walther Arms, Inc., based in Fort Smith, Arkansas, has been the official importer and distributor of Walther products in the USA since 2012.
It remains a company that was shaken by war but came back stronger.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear, including A Gallery of Military Headdress, available on Amazon.com.
Image: Creative Commons