Although the Walther PPK has become almost synonymous with legendary super spy James Bond, you might be surprised to learn that it wasn’t always that way as the handgun has a history fraught with as many twists & turns as that of 007 himself.
WHY WALTHER? BECAUSE BOND WAS ALMOST KILLED BY A BERETTA.
Although the Walther PPK is Bond’s go-to handgun in most of the film series, it wasn’t until the sixth of Ian Fleming’s fourteen Bond novels, Dr. No, that the Walther appeared.
That’s for two very good reasons. The first being that Bond’s Beretta 418 got hung up in his holster, nearly resulting in his demise, in the previous book—From Russia With Love. That’s when MI6 gives him his Walther PPK while also giving him no choice but to accept his new issue sidearm.
The second reason has to do with a very determined firearms expert, who inspired a character the entire Bond universe would soon know by a single letter.
BOOTHROYD TO THE RESCUE
Because Ian Fleming had been outfitted with a Beretta firing .25 ACP during his time with Naval Intelligence in WWII, he outfitted Bond with the same handgun.
That’s when a fan of the Bond series of novels (who just happens to be a firearms expert), Geoffrey Boothroyd steps into the picture.
In a series of letters to Fleming, Boothroyd insisted that the .25 ACP round of the Beretta was simply too weak and opined that Bond should carry a larger caliber weapon.
And, it was in one elaborate letter that Boothroyd mentioned the Walther as a potential sidearm for Bond. What it lacked in accuracy, as compared to other options during the era, it made up for in added power with the .32 ACP round (7.65mm)—which was readily available everywhere. Which is important when you’re a globe-hopping secret agent.
Boothroyd’s input impressed Fleming so much, he went on to name the “Armourer” in the Bond novels “Major Boothroyd”. The “Major Boothroyd” character would be introduced as the greatest small arms expert in the world.
And, “Major Boothroyd” would later be known by the single letter “Q”. One of the most enduring characters in the Bond franchise.
FROM .32 TO .380—AND NOT THE GREATEST SPY GUN
Among the always-changing offerings of the Walther during the Bond films, by The Man With The Golden Gun, it’s generally assumed that Bond had switched from .32 ACP to .380.
For a “spy weapon” that should conceivably be super-reliable, the Walther favors a blowback system that has from time to time been criticized for cartridge movement which can cause feed and jamming issues.
Also, even though the Walther was in use in the 1930’s by some police organizations, it quickly fell out of favor due to its perceived lack of power, mediocre accuracy, and lesser performance than newer offerings. After all, whether the Walther is firing .22, .32 ACP, or .380 ACP—all of those rounds are inferior in stopping power to 9mm.
It does still serve as a reasonably decent concealed weapon, due to its size, reliability, and lesser recoil. However, most were manufactured from steel, rendering the Walther heavy for its size.
So, while the mere mention of the Walther PPK conjures up images of the ultimate handgun wielded by the ultimate spy, there are likely far better choices for the personal sidearm of a man with a license to kill.
And, it’s probably why Bond has switched back and forth with several Walthers during the film series. It’s likely why he actually fires the PPK in films much less than you might think.
THE HISTORY OF JAMES SHOOTING A WALTHER IN MOVIES
Bond has his Beretta M1934 .25 ACP taken from him by MI6 and is given a Walther PP. (Although they call it a Walther PPK.)
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
First actual Walther PPK in the Bond films—in .32 ACP. This film presents perhaps the most dubious non-Walther PPK moment in the Bond franchise. When an air pistol was substituted for all the publicity shots for this film, standing in for the PPK. As the legend goes, Sean Connery arrived at the photo shoot only to find that no one thought to bring the PPK. However, through sheer coincidence, photographer David Hurn had a Walther air pistol—which was then used in the photos. In fact, the photos turned out so well, that they were also used for Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice. Each with the Walther LP Model 53 Air Pistol (which sold at auction for a record $437,000 in 2010).
Bond doesn’t fire a single shot from his Walther in this film.
Bond drops his PPK, and it fires without cycling or ejecting a spent cartridge.
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE
Bond fires several rounds with the safety of his Walter PPK ON.
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER
Again, Bond carries his PPK, but he never fires it in this film.
LIVE AND LET DIE
Bond once again, doesn’t fire the PPK in this film, either. Onscreen Bond hasn’t ripped off a round with his PPK since George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN
THIS Walther PPK is accepted to be chambered now in .380 ACP due to Bond’s quote, “Six bullets to your one?” during the film.
THE SPY WHO LOVED ME
Bond’s trusty PPK suffers not one, but TWO stovepipe jams in a row. Luckily, he was shooting it into a gun tube, and not at a bad guy. And, through the miracle of movie magic, continued firing without clearing a jam or reloading.
James doesn’t even carry a PPK during this film, although he appears in some promotional materials with one.
The PPK doesn’t make it out of the opening credits, as Bond is carrying a newer Walther P5 throughout the film.
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS
Back to his .32 caliber PPK.
LICENSE TO KILL
As in the last film, Bond’s PPK is a WWII-era Waffenamt variant.
Bond’s PPK is a 7.65mm in this one.
TOMORROW NEVER DIES
Although Bond uses his PPK throughout most of the film, his new sidearm of choice, the Walter P99, makes its debut.
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH
It’s all P99, all the time in this one. Not even an appearance by the PPK.
DIE ANOTHER DAY
Again, the P99. With authentic, European-made Glock-style iron sights. John Cleese (Q) fires several rounds into bulletproof glass at short distance, apparently unconcerned with ricochets.
After giving his P99 a brass check and checking the mag load, he put the mag back with the chamber empty and striker de-cocked. Completely unready to fire a shot. This film also features a rubber stunt P99 created to avoid accidents/injuries.
QUANTUM OF SOLACE
The PPK is BACK! The 7.65 version. Bond even loses one and replaces it with another PPK. So, it seems that even after trying the P99, James is hooked on the oldies.
Bond has a palm-print reading gun in 9mm short PPK taken away from him and replaces it with another standard PPK. (The 9mm short—a .380 ACP—was actually a standard .32 ACP with mockup grips.)
While qualifying with his PPK, Bond fires the pistol 9 times, one more than the PPK’s capacity. Worse still, the target shows 11 bullet holes, which is two more than he fired, and three more than the firearm’s capacity. A promotional still shows James holding the palm-print reading PPK while wearing GLOVES. Rendering it inoperable.
It’s the old school Walther PPK again.
NO TIME TO DIE
Back to the classic Walther PPK.
As you can see, the history of the Walther PPK with James Bond is a twisting, changing story that could rival the plot of an Ian Fleming novel. Just know, independent of the legend and lore of the firearm when combined with one of film’s most iconic characters, the Walther PPK has performance strengths and weaknesses like any other firearm—and should be enjoyed in film through storytelling, and not necessarily binding realistic performance attributes.