A Critical Look at the Walther PP Pistol


The Walther Polezei Pistole was introduced in 1929 and originally chambered in .32 ACP. It's also available in .380 ACP and has been made in other calibers such as .22 long rifle and .25 ACP. Without question the design was successful and it remains a popular pistol today. It spawned the shorter PPK a couple of years later which is merely the same platform having a shorter barrel/slide assembly and a shorter butt.  This sacrifices 1 round from the PP's 7-round capacity in .380 ACP. In .32 ACP, the count similarly drops by one from the larger pistol's 8-round magazine.


The top pistol is in .380 while the lower one is chambered for .32 ACP.  The .380 was purchased new. The .32 was bought used from a friend needing money. The older .32 has the better double-action and is much more pleasant to shoot.  I find the sights much better regulated for POA = POI on the .32 than the .380.


The Walther PP-series are conventional DA/SA semiautomatic pistols. They have the slide-mounted decocking system that's been emulated on so many other pistols. When a round is chambered a small pin protrudes at the rear of the slide above the hammer indicating such.  Some have reported that this can break or cause possible feeding problems.  I have not seen it in using perhaps half-a-dozen of the PP's and PPK/S guns over the years, nor with the two US-made PPK pistols I owned.


Here you can see the single-side decocker that also prevents the hammer being moved rearward and dropping.  It acts as a safety in that regard. Above an in front of the ring hammer you can see the loaded chamber indicator pin exposed.  This is how it looks with a round chambered.  Just in front of the Sile checkered wood grip is the magazine release.


The Walther PP in any caliber is straight blowback.  In other words when the gun's fired the barrel does not move rearward with the slide until chamber pressure diminishes.  The only thing retarding the slide is its weight, the recoil spring and the mainspring.




Action: blowback with conventional double/single action


Weight: 23.5 ounces


Construction: all steel


Length: 6.7"


Width: 0.851" across the slide


Barrel Length: 3.86"


Magazine Safety: no


Magazine Capacity: 7 rounds in .380 ACP, 8 in .22 and .32 ACP


Safeties: decocker, hammer block until the trigger is pressed completely rearward, loaded chamber indicator and inertial firing pin


Sights: fixed with the front sight integral to the slide and the rear sight mounted via conventional dovetail. Newer versions have a white dot in a slightly wider front sight and a single white bar below the notch in the rear sight.  The older guns have plain black front sights with the "U" notch in the rear.


Trigger: grooved on newer pistols and smooth on the older ones


Stocks: black checkered plastic in most versions


Finish: usually bright blue. None of the PP's were offered in stainless steel and none of the European-made Walthers were made in it.  Those manufactured in the US have been offered in stainless steel as well as chrome-moly.


This is the front sight on the .380 Walther PP. It represents the newer guns.  Note also that the top of the slide has a knurled rib running the full length.


Several other makers in other countries have copied Walther PP-series handguns.  This attests to the popularity of this genre of "pocket pistol."  Most served in police holsters and were replaced in the 1970's as terrorist acts increased.  Police simply wanted more potent sidearms.  The .32 or .380 that was as much for show, as use simply wasn't all that self-assuring when possibly facing people intent on your death.  That said, they were easy to tote and the Walther PP, PPK, and PPK/S were the "Cadillac's" for pocket autos to those preferring the double-action first shot.  In America, the Mauser HSc just never reached the same level of popularity.


Chronograph Data for .32 ACP: All data is based on 10 shots fired approximately 10' from the chronograph screens.



Average Velocity:


Extreme Spread:



Standard Deviation:


PMC 71-gr. FMJ




Speer 60-gr. Gold Dot




Hornady 60-gr. XTP





As you can see, I don't do much shooting with this caliber.  In my particular pistol, the Speer Gold Dot JHP's jammed tightly in the magazine.  I had to disassemble the magazine to get these rounds out.  The XTP's worked fine and grouped quite well.


Opinions vary on the best defensive load in this caliber.  Some prefer FMJ as adequate penetration is there.  Others cast their lot with expanding bullets in an effort to make a wider wound channel.  I personally don't trust this caliber for self-protection, but would probably go with the XTP.  It has been a reliable expander for me in informal tests and feeds reliably in my gun.  Not as aggressive in expansion, the XTP usually goes to about 1.5 times original caliber.  Thus, you get some expansion and penetration will probably be a little deeper than with some other JHP ammo.


Here you can see the Speer Gold Dot for .32 ACP.  I didn't have good luck with them and this one didn't expand when fired into water.


Chronograph Data for .380 ACP: This information was gathered in the same manner as for the .32 ACP.



Average Velocity:


Extreme Spread:


Standard Deviation:


Glaser 70-gr. Silver +P




Magtech 85-gr. GG +P




Remington 88-gr. JHP




Federal 90-gr. JHP




Federal 90-gr. HS




Corbon 90-gr. JHP +P




Magtech 95-gr. FMJ




Win USA 95-gr. FMJ




S. Barbara 88-gr. JSP*




Win Ranger 95-gr. JHP




Rem 102-gr. GS





*The Santa Barbara 88-gr. JSP is made by Empresa Nacional in Spain. I can find no designation as to its being standard pressure or +P.  Frankly I think it is TOO hot for use in anything but an all-steel pistol and would limit its use there.  I will not fire anymore of it in my lightweight Bersa and probably none in my steel .380's.


From left to right: Hornady .380 XTP, Magtech Guardian Gold JHP, and Remington Golden Saber after being fired into water.


Winchester RA380T (Ranger SXT and law enforcement only) is a very good standard velocity load for the .380 ACP.  In my informal tests, Remington's 102-gr. Golden Saber is its equivalent.


Here's the Walther with Federal 90-gr. Classic JHP.  This standard pressure load feeds very well and has performed well for me in a number of .380 pistols. I believe that in this caliber, placement will count for much, much more than expanding bullet performance.  The .380 ACP is right on the line and maybe just a little under it for my minimal requirements in a defensive caliber.


Not intended as a pure target round, all of the .32 and .380 ammunition I've tried has been more than sufficiently accurate for its defensive role.


This 8-shot group using Winchester .380 95-gr. ball was fired off-hand in slow-fire at 10 yards.  Note that the POA is quite a bit lower than the POI and that the first shot (DA) was approximately 2" out of the main group.


Fired at 7 yards off-hand, two 5-shot groups were fired with the Walther .32 ACP. I was aiming dead-on on the white spot in the center of the target. Had I used a 6 O'clock hold, the group would be right at the dot. It's been my continued experience that the 32-caliber PP's hit almost dead-on while the .380's hit considerably higher. I think both have their sights regulated for the lighter caliber.


Observations: The .380 pistol remains popular today, albeit with more and more models that are both lighter and smaller than these classic designs.  Something sometimes overlooked is the velocity loss inherent to the shorter barrels of such guns. They do not provide the full "power" of the .380 as with more traditional 3.5 to 3.9" barrel lengths.  Of course another way to look at that is that some of these really tiny .380 pistols are not much bigger than .25 autos so they are providing at least more punch in that light. I do not trust the .32 and am none too sure of the .380 ACP, but that doesn't necessarily make me "right." There is more to choosing a defensive pistol/caliber than "power". I personally set my lower limit at .38 Special from a 2" barrel with heavier bullets than are available in .380 ACP. Some are not comfortable with but 5 shots and much prefer the automatic's increased ammo capacity.  Other folks don't like the somewhat sharp recoil of the little thirty-eight's and some simply do not care for revolvers.  Ballistically, the .380 really doesn't make much sense anymore.  There are many very compact 9mm's that offer performance well above it.  Much of the time, so is the cost of the gun.  Here lies one of the .380's advantages. Being straight blowback, a gun of comparable quality to a locked breech pistol will usually cost less.  It's simply less complicated to make. Visually, the .380 ACP doesn't look that much smaller than the 9x19mm; the "problem" is that it operates at significantly lower pressures and simply cannot approach the 9mm's delivery with the same weight bullets.


For whatever reasons we find the John M. Browning's .380 cartridge thriving.


We also find that despite there being smaller, lighter, and less-costly pistols available, some folks simply want the old classic Walther, be it in PP, PPK, or PPK/S. I prefer the more traditional size .380's as I want all the velocity I can get for a given load and the longer barrels better provide it.


While these European-manufactured Walthers have proven reliable with a wide variety of ammo, there have been complaints from some using the American-made versions. I've owned a few of the American guns and my results were mixed.  Some were absolutely reliable and others would work only with ball or a very limited number of JHP loads. (Federal 90-gr. JHP worked in all.)  If you opt for a Walther PP-series pistol, you must be sure it is reliable with whatever ammunition you intend to use in it.


I've noted that more times than not, the DA trigger pulls on the .32's are both lighter and smoother than on the .380's.  This is just a guess, but could it be that Walther is using an increased power mainspring in the .380 to retard the slide in addition to the recoil spring?  In any event the double-action on my .380 is not nearly so nice as that on the .32 ACP.


The main complaint I have with the Walther PP is that it bites the hand that shoots it.  The slide is mounted so low that it's very easy to get the shooting hand nipped by the edges of the slide.  This seems to be a curse for folks with larger hands.  Others get by unscathed.  I've never been lucky in that regard and have never considered the Walther a particularly "comfortable" pistol to hold, much less, shoot.  This is subjective and others will disagree.


Though some examples of the Walther PP are extremely nice, it is not my first choice for a "carry .380".  I much prefer the Bersa Thunder.  I do not believe it to be as robust as the Walther, but it is very easy to shoot well and the sights are "on".  It also has a very usable DA trigger pull.  My choice is not necessarily yours.  If you prefer the Walther, go for it.  Unless it just has to be the smallest Walther, I'd opt for the PP with its extra shot and longer barrel.




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