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Walther PPK/S: Fine tuning the first blowback action semi-auto air pistol

It began with three words, “Bond, James Bond” a timeless introduction that could be anything from charming to down right intimidating. For more than half a century those three words have also irrevocably linked the Walther PPK to Ian Fleming’s fictional British Secret Service agent 007, both in books and motion pictures. Before the first Bond film, however, the PPK was not part of that universal lexicon of commonly known names Americans carry around in their heads; a Walther PPK was simply a small caliber German handgun developed in the 1930s and issued to German officers during WWII. It became a trophy gun brought back to the U.S. by victorious American soldiers, then a collectible military handgun, and later still a popular backup gun carried by many U.S. law enforcement officers. But until it was written into Ian Fleming’s sixth James Bond novel “Dr. No.” the PPK was like Bond, in the shadows.

 

With the success of the Bond films in the 1960s, the Walther PPK suddenly became something of an iconic handgun and sales of the imported .32 and .380 ACP models soared until the U.S. government implemented the Gun Control Act of 1968 limiting the size allowable for an imported handgun. The PPK, which had been imported into this country since the 1930s, suddenly became just a bit too small to qualify for importation under the new federal guidelines (even though smaller handguns manufactured in the U.S. were exempt from the ruling). Walther responded by combining the slightly larger PP frame with the PPK slide to make the gun “large enough” to import, and thus the PPK/S was created for the U.S. market, and an even greater success story was about to unfold.

The Bond Legacy

For movie fans, the story of James Bond and the Walther PPK goes back to “Dr. No” when M calls Bond on the carpet and demands that 007 hand over his gun. Up to that point in the Bond novels, 007 had favored a .25 ACP Beretta Model 418, and it had almost gotten him killed on his last assignment. Bond reluctantly hands the Beretta to M who looks at Bond with disgust.

“Yes, just what I thought, this damned Beretta again,” says M. He glares at Bond, “I’ve told you about this before.” M pauses and then leans forward to continue chastising Bond, “You’ll carry the Walther. Show him Q.”

The quartermaster loads the magazine, slaps it into the gun, and hands it to 007. “Walther PPK, 7.65mm with a delivery like a brick through a plate-glass window; takes a brush silencer with very little reduction in muzzle velocity. The American CIA swears by them. [1]” Bond holds the PPK between his hands, feels its weight and balance, and slips it into his tan and blue chamois shoulder holster. M looks momentarily pleased. “And leave the Beretta 007.”

Thus the cinematic legend began. The year was 1962 and the Walther PPK had already been in production for 31 years (introduced in 1931). But how it ended up in the Bond novels and films had nothing to do with author Ian Fleming, but rather a gentleman named Geoffrey Boothroyd, a well respected British firearms expert who loved Fleming’s James Bond novels but disagreed with the character relying on a .25 ACP Beretta. He wrote to Fleming and a dialogue began between the two men which ended with the scene written into “Dr. No” where Bond hands over his Beretta for a Walther PPK; the very gun suggested by Boothroyd. Out of respect, Fleming named Q, Major Boothroyd, and with few exceptions, ever since “Dr. No” 007 has carried a Walther PPK.

For fans of the Ian Fleming novels, this pivotal “movie” event is taken out of sequence, as are the early Bond films versus the novels. Written in 1958, “Dr. No” was the sixth of the Bond books, and was published a year after “From Russia with Love” in which Bond still carried his Beretta. The films starring Sean Connery were made in reverse order.

Over the last half century, from 1962’s “Dr. No” to 2015’s “Spectre” there have been 24 Bond films, six different actors portraying 007, plus Sean Connery’s return in the 1983 remake of “Thunderball” re-titled “Never Say Never Again” which went head-to-head with Roger Moore’s sixth turn as 007 in “Octopussy”. The independent Bond film with Connery’s reprise of the role created quite the stir. Moore only appeared in one more Bond epic, his seventh, in 1985’s “A View to a Kill” before hanging up his 007 license. Neither Connery nor Moore would do another Bond film. In the next two movies, “The Living Daylights” (1987) and “License to Kill” (1989), Timothy Dalton brought a new, more brooding portrayal of Bond to the screen but still carried the PPK. Pierce Brosnan stepped into the role in 1995 as the fifth actor to carry the Walther. Brosnan’s characterization was part Connery part Moore, a mix that made him the second most successful actor at the time to portray 007 in a total of four films, the last of which took Bond into the 21st century in 2002’s “Die Another Day.” By then Bond’s venerable PPK had been replaced by the Walther P99.

Last year’s 24th Bond film, “Spectre” brought Daniel Craig’s more gritty and modern portrayal of Bond to the screen for the fourth time, and once again he carried a Walther PPK. Craig’s 007 did have a brief flirtation with the P99 in his first Bond adventure “Casino Royale” but returned to the PPK in “Quantum of Solace” and “Skyfall.” It seems you can’t keep a PPK out of 007’s holster for long!

The Umarex Legend and Walther PPK/S

            A little over 15 years ago Umarex surprised the airgun world with its first blowback action semi-auto air pistol, the Walther PPK/S. The CO2-powered PPK/S has since managed to stick around through a couple of iterations, including one version with a faux suppressor, (how very James Bond), and though not a particularly accurate air pistol beyond 15 feet, its legacy was that of being the first blowback action design from Umarex and Walther and the “first commercially successful CO2-blowback pistol.” Its success set the stage for the future of high quality, blowback action airguns copied from actual, cartridge firing semi-autos. And fittingly, the very latest model to come from Umarex is a reprise of the PPK/S with one very important feature “deleted,” the exposed seating screw handle for the CO2 cartridge. This was a necessary design 15 years ago, but not today with the addition of a separate internal seating screw and a hex head tool to tighten it. This gives the new PPK/S airgun cleaner lines, and that makes it worth owning all over again!

            The majority of original PPK/S air pistol design features have been retained in the new model, including the use of 15-round BB stick magazines which are easy to load and remove from the grip well using the PPK/S-type magazine release on the frame. The stick magazines are still slow to load since the follower does not lock at the bottom and you have to hold it down while loading BBs into the port at the top; it’s best to stock up and have several ready to go.  

The .177 Caliber PPK/S

            The Umarex Walther PPK/S uses a 3.5 inch smoothbore barrel, which, like the PPK/S cartridge model is affixed to the frame and surrounded by the recoil spring, thus making the blowback action airgun and cartridge guns identical in operation. The slide also locks back after the last round is fired so the hammer is cocked when reloading and the gun ready to fire when the slide is released. Unlike the .32 and .380 ACP models, however, the Umarex uses a single action trigger, thus to fire the first round the slide either has to be racked or the hammer manually cocked. The grip contour is just slightly different but very close in size and shape to the cartridge model with the finger extension base plate on the stick magazine. What the airgun lacks is the white dots on the sights (which would be a nice addition), along with a functioning thumb safety on the slide (cosmetic only on the PPK/S air pistol). In its place the CO2 model uses a frame-mounted safety on the right side which is easily worked with the trigger finger. These are all small compromises for the accuracy in overall detail and blowback action operation.

            Not at all surprising, the air pistol fits the majority of PPK/S holsters on the market as well as slipping into a reproduction of the blue and tan chamois shoulder holster worn by Sean Connery in the early Bond films.

            To test the new PPK/S air pistol Umarex .177 caliber steel BBs were used and a target set out at a distance of 15 feet. With the fixed sights and no white dots, target acquisition on a black background like the B-27 silhouette target used for the test is a little more challenging but at that distance it’s more point shooting than precision target sighting. That said, my first 15 shots all hit in the 9, 10 and X rings with the majority pulling to the left. With a minor correction I put the next 15 across the 10 and X rings with a center-to-center spread of 3.01 inches and a best five rounds inside the X. Stepping back to 21 feet, about the maximum distance for accuracy with this blowback action air pistol, I placed 10 of 15 shots around POA (the 8 and 9 rings at 2 o’clock) inside 4.0 inches, with five flyers going high and low. Overall, at 21 feet with a 3.5 inch, smoothbore barrel and blowback action, accuracy with the PPK/S was not disappointing and is more fun to shoot than for accuracy alone. This is simply a very cool air pistol and worth every penny of the price.

Like the original PPK and PPK/S models, the .177 caliber Umarex blowback action PPK/S remains a first, and like its Walther cartridge-firing counterparts, needs no prologue other than three words, “Bond, James Bond.”

[1] The PPK issued to 007 was chambered in 7.65mm or .32 ACP not .380. This remained a constant and the PPK in Bond films was a .32 ACP not a .380 until Skyfall when Q gave Bond a special PPK/S with a palm print reader in the grips making the pistol inoperable to anyone but 007. 

by Dennis Adler

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1 comment

  • Eric: January 20, 2017

    I am very happy to have the Umarex Walther PPK in my collection of replica Walther BB, Air soft, and spring versions of James Bond’s guns. The Walther PPK was a favorite because it was Bond’s go to gun. I had a plastic gun that used snap caps to make a gun bang noise. I never thought that I would have a working replica of the most well known pistol in Hollwood. Thanks for making this dream come true.

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