Like all movies adapted from books, the James Bond film franchise has some significant differences from Ian Fleming’s novels.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the spy’s handgun of choice, the Walther PPK.
The Walther PPK was 007’s government issue sidearm and appears constantly throughout both the book series (well, after From Russia with Love, anyway) and the film series.
In fact, the gun’s use by James Bond is considered to be a large part of why the gun is still popular today.
But what exactly is the Walther PPK anyway and what makes it so special?
Well, you’re about to find out, because in this post we’re going to look at the history of the Walther PPK and how it became the favorite gun of the world’s most famous fictional spy.
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For the optimal experience, feel free to start this playlist of James Bond themes in the background:
Table of Contents
Origins of the Walther PPK
The Walther PPK had been in production for almost 30 years before 007 would first get his hands on it.
The Walther PP (Polizeipistole) series was released in 1929 by German small arms manufacturer Carl Walther GmbH Sportwaffen, who designed the weapon for police use. The Walther PP Series was popular among European police and was used by German military and police under the Third Reich.
The Walther PPK (Polizeipistole Kriminalmodel), released the following year, is the most popular variant in the Walther PP series. The PPK is a scaled-down version of the PP, made to be more concealable, ideal for undercover work.
The PPK was also designed to be easy to use.
With a loaded magazine, just pull back the slide. A round will be chambered after the slide is released and the pistol will be prepared for single action fire.
If you want to be able to safely carry the PPK but still have it ready for use, press down the decocker catch with your thumb, dropping the hammer and rotating the hammer block between the hammer and firing pin and making the pistol safe for carrying.
Move the decocker catch back up to put the device into double action mode. When you’re ready to fire, you just have to pull the trigger. After a shot is fired, the pistol will return to single action mode, and the slide will remain open once the magazine is empty.
Unlike most contemporary pistols which had a heel catch magazine release, the Walther PPK has a frame-mounted magazine release.
You can see why it was popular among military, police, and intelligence, both real and fictional.
Even outside of the gun’s depiction in the James Bond franchise, it has a history checkered with use by notable individuals.
In 1945, Adolf Hitler used his PPK to commit suicide in the final moments of World War II. In 1979 the Walther PPK was used in the assassination of another dictator, South Korea’s Park Chung-hee, by Kim Jae-gyu.
Elvis Presley also famously owned a Walther PPK with a silver finish and “Elvis” engraved on one side and “TCB” (“taking care of business”) on the other.
But, while interesting, none of that explains how James Bond ended up carrying a PPK, so let’s move on.
How James Bond Got His PPK
Ian Fleming was no gun expert, but he did serve in British Naval intelligence in World War II.
He originally had James carry a .32 ACP Beretta 418, the same kind of handgun that Fleming carried during his own service.
It wasn’t Fleming’s idea to make the change. Rather, in 1956, not long before To Russia with Love would be published, Fleming got a fan letter from Geoffrey Boothroyd, a former Major in the British Army and a respected firearm expert.
Boothroyd wrote that while he enjoyed the James Bond novels, he felt that the Beretta 418 was underpowered for use by a spy.
He suggested that James should instead use a hammerless revolver like the Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight since it had more power and a hammer could potentially catch on the spy’s clothing.
The letter started a dialogue between the writer and the firearms expert.
Fleming wrote back, saying that he appreciated the letter and that he agreed with the suggestion that James should have a more powerful sidearm, but thought that he should have an automatic pistol rather than a revolver.
Fleming also asked Boothroyd to suggest one, which Boothroyd happily did: the Walther PPK.
To make the transition, Fleming modified the ending of To Russia with Love to include James’s Beretta getting caught in his holster, endangering James’s life. At the beginning of the next novel, Dr. No, James is given the Walther PPK by Q, who had been named after Boothroyd as thanks for the expert’s help.
The scene from the novel is used almost verbatim in the film version of Dr. No (1962), though in the film he’d been using a 9mm Beretta 1934:
The Walther PPK throughout the Film Series
The particularly observant may notice that the firearm in that scene isn’t actually the Walther PPK, though. While the gun is referred to as a PPK, the actual gun is a Walther PP.
Starting with From Russia with Love (1963), Sean Connery carries an actual Walther PPK in the rest of his appearances as James Bond.
When Connery vacated the role before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), George Lazenby also carried the PPK during his single film interlude in the role.
When Connery came back to play the character again in Diamonds Are Forever (1971), he once again carried the PPK before once again vacating the role, this time to Roger Moore.
During Moore’s tenure, the PPK didn’t play quite as central of a role. It appeared only in promotional material for Moonraker (1979), not the actual film.
In 1983, it only showed up in the opening credits for Octopussy, with Moore carrying the Walther P5 compact as his primary sidearm instead.
The Walther PPK was more visible in Sean Connery’s competing James Bond film, Never Say Never Again (the man just couldn’t let the role go, could he?).
However, Roger Moore carried the Walther PPK in the rest of his appearances as James Bond.
Timothy Dalton also carried the PPK during both of his films as the character.
Pierce Brosnan was the combo breaker.
He carried the PPK in Goldeneye (1995), but in Tomorrow Never Dies (1999), the character switches from the Walther PPK to the newly introduced Walther P99.
He continues to carry the P99 through the rest of his films in the franchise.
When Daniel Craig took over the role, he carried the Walther P99 in Casino Royal but returned to the PPK afterward.
But what about the pistols’ appearances outside of the James Bond franchise?
Where Else You Can Spot the Walther PPK
One of the easiest places to spot the Walther PPK these days is the affection spy film parody, Archer. Like Bond, the titlar Sterling Archer carries the Walther PPK as his preferred sidearm.
The Walther PPK has also become a staple of the action genre, appearing in films like Die Hard, Bourne Identity, and Zombieland.
It is particularly prevalent in media set in and around World War II and the Cold War-like Valkyrie, Inglourious Basterds, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (both the film and tv show). Hayley Atwell carries one as Agent Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger and a Walther PPK/S in the Agent Carter series.
The Walther PPK is also a favorite in crime shows like Law & Order and The X-Files.
In a fun coincidence, both Franco brothers have carried the Walther PPK on screen, James as Harry Osborn in Spiderman and Dave as Eric Molson in 21 Jump Street.
So there you have it, a look at the simultaneously weird and awesome history of the iconic Walther PPK, a firearm more famous for its appearance on the silver screen than for its performance as a firearm.
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That’s not to say that the Walther PPK isn’t an effective weapon. After all, Boothroyd suggested it to Fleming for a reason.
The Walther PPK combines reliability, power, and ease of use in a small, easy to conceal package, making it an ideal carry weapon for military personnel, police officers, intelligence agents, and maybe even you.
What’s your take on the PPK?