Walther is one of those storied German firearms companies, like Mauser or Merkel or Heym or… The list goes on; let’s just say Germany has produced and still produces a lot of world-class guns. Some of those companies are relatively new (Heckler and Koch, for example, was founded out of the ruins and chaos of the post-World War Two era and only manufactured bicycles and sewing machines until 1956) while others, like Walther, were founded during horse-and-buggy days.
In 1886, Carl Walther started a mom-and-pop (literally: his wife was the daughter of a rifle manufacturer) rifle-making business in the little town of Zella-Mehlis. The Walthers’ sons inherited their parents’ genes and by 1903 the first factory was built. One of the sons, Fritz, became obsessed with the then new semi-automatic pistol technology and by 1908, father and son had created a prototype of their semi-automatic Model 1.
The Model 1 was not, contrary to what you might read elsewhere, the first commercially-produced semi-automatic pistol; that honor goes—technically—to an unwieldy thing designed by Josef Laumann, made by the Austrian company, Steyr, and named—for obscure reasons—the Schonberger, after the superintendent of Steyr’s factory. Go figure. The Schonberger is barely recognizable as a pistol. It looks—if you wish to be charitable—like a cumbersome cross between a Webley and a Mauser Broomhandle (which also predates the Walther Model 1 and which was carried by a young Winston Churchill during the Boer War) while the Model 1 is recognizable as an almost modern semi-auto handgun. The Schonberger was intended for the Austrian Army, but they passed, understandably, and as far as I know, production stopped after only thirty-five of them were built, so “commercially-produced” is perhaps glorifying the issue somewhat. The Walther Model 1, by contrast, had a run of 8000 before it morphed into a succession of equally numerous “variants” that continued until 1915.
1915 was also the year Fritz took over the company after his father’s death. Fritz appears to have been an exceptionally astute businessman and helped pull the company out of the turmoil and chaos that followed World War One by making calculators. In fact, calculators proved so profitable that after the repeated turmoil and chaos of World War Two, after his factory was destroyed and the town of Zella-Mehlis was locked behind the Iron Curtain and Fritz had to start over from scratch, he began by producing calculators in West Germany three years before he even built a new arms factory.
It’s important to note that Walther is responsible for some innovations that are taken for granted today. Consider the Walther PPK, one of the most iconic pistols in the world, an excellent, reliable little gun, a double action/single action with a blowback recoil system, forever associated with British super-spy 007. The PPK is the little brother of the original PP (Polizei Pistole) first introduced in 1929, a gun that took the pistol market by storm.
The PP was the first truly modern-looking pistol, sleek and slim enough not to be noticed when carried under a tuxedo. It was the first to operate in double action (first shot) single action (subsequent shots) and the first to offer a double-action lock that allowed it to be safely carried fully loaded and ready for use. Prior to the PP, almost all semi-autos were single action only, like an M1911, and had to be carried either cocked and locked (which was erroneously considered an unsafe no-no in those days) or with no round in the chamber, meaning the slide had to be racked before the gun could be fired. Needless to say, in a deadly encounter with an armed assailant, by the time you racked the slide and could shoot back, you might have lost interest in the outcome. The PP changed all that.
About the only negative thing you can say about the PP or PPK is that they were intended for a simpler time when smaller cartridges and fewer of them were the norm. A PPK holds six-plus-one rounds of .380 (or 9mm-short), an anemic round, and because the PP and PPK operate on a blowback system (expanding gases drive the bullet one way and the bolt assembly back the opposite way) .380 is the about largest caliber that can realistically be used.
The Walther company trumped itself in 1938 with the introduction of the P-38, the first locked-breech double action/single action pistol capable of handling more powerful rounds. Like the PP and PPK, it featured a pivoting locking block that permitted the gun to be carried fully loaded and ready to fire, but because it operated on a short-recoil, locked-breech system, the more potent 9mm could be used. It was reliable and durable, and the German army—and others—snapped it up.
Fast forward to today. Walther manufactures a plethora of handguns for police, military, competition, and civilian use, the preponderance of which are striker-fired. To put that into context, the complaint many people have about DA/SA pistols is the difference in trigger-pull between the first shot (think of a brand-new revolver with a stiff trigger) and the subsequent shots (think of the same revolver with the hammer cocked for you each time). On a striker-fired pistol there is no external hammer; instead, an internal striker is cocked automatically when the slide is racked, as in while loading. After that, each time the trigger is pulled and the spent casing is ejected and a new round is loaded, the striker is automatically re-cocked. Simple, right?
Well, no. It is a simple concept and it greatly simplifies the use of the pistol: there is no safety to think about under stress, and consistent trigger pull can facilitate accuracy. As always, the devil is in the details.
I shot some striker-fired pistols by various makers twenty years ago and I can vouch that the trigger pull was consistent because it was consistently bad. When cottage industries pop up all over the country offering ways to improve the trigger-pull on the handgun you’re considering buying, maybe you should consider a different gun.
Now take a look at an ad for the Walther PPQ in any gun magazine: “A Trigger Second to None.” It’s not a lie.
I had an opportunity to play with a Walther PPQ M2. The M2 differs from the original PPQ only in that it has a button magazine release (reversible for lefties) as opposed to the original, European-style paddle release on the trigger guard. If you like paddle releases, you can still get one. It has a polymer frame with interchangeable backstraps in small, medium, or large, with an excellent gripping surface. And you will need that because the polymer frame makes it an exceptionally light firearm, one that you barely notice on your belt. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the lightness means you will need that gripping surface to maintain control, even with standard 115-grain rounds. It’s not painful or unpleasant or even difficult to handle, but it is snappy.
The low-profile sights are easy to acquire, even for those of us with, ah, mature vision, and there is a Picatinny rail for those who wish to mount a light or laser. It can be field-stripped with ridiculous ease, has great ergonomics, and is easily concealable.
But the two things that stunned me when I shot it were the trigger and the accuracy of the thing.
The trigger was smooth, with none of the coarse and erratic mushiness I remembered from those striker-fired guns so long ago, but with an easy pull of 4&¼ lbs. on a Timney scale. Travel was about .4 of an inch and the reset was ridiculously short (.1 of an inch, according to Walther), and those are things which affect accuracy. Which brings me to what is probably the most desired element in any firearm.
Trust me on this: you’re not good enough to shoot up to the level of any reasonably well-made modern handgun. But accuracy is a tremendous boost to one’s confidence, and I was stunned by the accuracy of the Walther PPQ M2. Because it is a pistol intended for personal defense, I was shooting double-taps at ten yards. That is not intended to be an accuracy test, but rather a defensive speed drill. To do that with a gun one owns and is familiar with is fun, but with a gun one has never fired before it can be an exercise in humiliation until one learns the vagaries of the individual firearm, and when I say vagaries, I’m referring primarily to the trigger-pull. I can’t sum it up better than by telling you that when the range master walked by, she stopped and looked at the small remnants of the orange bullseye and asked me if I was showing off. I tried to pretend it was no big deal, that I always shoot that well, with every and any handgun, but she knows me better than that.