Walther's Compact Combat Autos

by David W. Arnold

The German Arms company of Carl Walther, which has been making auto pistols since 1908, has produced several classic designs. Two of the company's most notable models are the PPK and the P.38, which are largely responsible for getting the concept of the double-action auto pistol accepted. Walther continues to be a leading force in the European arms industry and makes a variety of service and target auto pistols and also some competition-grade air rifles and pistols.

Walther's two latest combat pistols are the P5 Compact and the P88 Compact, both of which are double action autos chamered for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge. As their names clearly indicate, they are scaled-down versions of the P5 and P88 service pistols.

As those familiar with Walther pistols know, the P5 has many of the design characteristics of the famous P.38. It has pretty much the same barrel locking system and trigger mechanism, while the slide is secured to the frame with the same type of barrel catch. The latter is located in the usual position at the left side of the front of the frame.

One major difference is that the slide-mounted hammer-dropping safety of the P.38 has been replaced by a frame-mounted dual-purpose control lever that is both a slide stop and a decocking lever. While the pistol does not have an external safety, it does have a firing pin lock that prevents firing except when the trigger is fully operated. The heel-style magazine catch has also been changed to one of the button type that is located just behind the trigger guard. Both the control lever and the magazine catch are positioned on the left side of the frame. The only other major difference is the slide, which in the case of the P5 is solid instead of being open at the top.

The only difference between the P5 and the new P5 Compact is size. The latter has a new three-inch barrel, which is a half-inch shorter than that of the full-size model. This, in turn, gives the P5 Compact an overall length of 6 5/8 inches instead of 7 1/8 inches, which reduces its overall weight from 28 ounces to 26 ounces.

In all other respects, the pistols are identical. Both have the same height and width, which gives them an eight-shot magazine capacity. This can be increased by one if the chamber is also loaded.

All exterior metal surfaces of the P5 Compact are blued, while the grips are of a tough, checkerd black material. A portion of the sides of the slide have a high polish, which contrasts nicely with the matte finish of the rest of the pistol. Sights are fixed, although the rear is drift-adjustable for windage. The sights have the three-dot aiming system for shooting in low-light conditions.

The P5 Compact operates and shoots just like the full-size model. Being a conventional double-action, pulling the trigger raises and drops the hammer for the first shot. Thereafter, all subsequent shots are fired single action with the hammer cocked.

After the last shot has been fired, the slide is locked open. It is released by depressing the control lever. Depressing this same lever also lowers the hammer when cocked to put the pistol in the double-action mode. To release the magazine, simply push in the magazine catch.

Like the full-size P5, the compact model disassembles just like the P.38 for normal cleaning and maintenance. The first step is to remove the magazine, then pull back the slide and visually check that the chamber is empty. Next, decock the hammer. Then push back the slide about 1/4 inch and rotate the barrel catch forward. This releases the slide so that it can be drawn forward off of the frame. Once this has been done, push in the barrel locking plunger to release the barrel from the slide and remove it. The pistol is now completely field stripped. It is assembled in reverse order. When doing so, make sure that you push down on the barrel locking piece when putting the slide back on the frame.

The Walther P88 is a radically different design that has none of the P.38 characteristics. For a start, it uses Browning's tilting barrel system to lock the action during firing. Second, it also has a dual-purpose control lever that is mounted in the frame above the trigger. Like the P5, this is both a decocking lever and a slide stop. Unlike the P5, the P88's control lever is located on both sides of the frame, which makes the pistol fully ambidextrous. The P88 also has a firing pin lock, and its magazine catch is of the button type, which is in the same position, just behind the trigger on the left side of the frame.

In the new compact model, the barrel has been reduced from four to 3 3/4 inches, giving it an overall length of 7 1/8 inches. This makes it 1/4 inch shorter than the full-size P88. The pistol's height has also been slightly reduced, which cuts its magazine capacity by one round to 14. This can be increased to 15 when the chamber is also loaded. The Compact P88's overall weight when empty is 29 ounces.

Walther has made some significant design changes to the P88 Compact's slide, apparently with a view to making it less bulky. The ambidextrous dual-purpose control lever has been dispensed with and replaced with a separate slide stop and a hammer-lowering safety. The former is located in the usual position on the left side of the frame just above the trigger. The safety is ambidextrous and mounted on the rear of the slide. The barrel locking lever is, however, the same as that on the full-size P88. It is positioned on the left side of the frame, just forward of the slide stop.

In all other respects, the P88 Compact is the same as its bigger brother. It is a conventional double-action semi-automatic pistol. The sights are fixed, with the rear drift-adjustable for windage. Like the P5, it also has the three-dot aiming system. Finish is matte blue metal surfaces, with the slide sides polished and black plastic checkered grips.

All of these changes make the P88 Compact operate and function pretty much like the old P38. Depressing the safety drops the hammer and disconnects the trigger until manually released. It is therefore possible to apply the safety before loading so that the pistol will be in the double-action mode after cycling the slide to chamber a round.

When it comes to disassembling the compact for cleaning and maintenance, the procedure is the same as for the full-size model. First, apply the safety, remove the magazine and pull back the slide to check that the chamber is empty. Then rotate the barrel catch down in a clockwise direction and pull the slide off of the frame. All that remains to be done is to remove the mainspring assembly, and then the barrel and stripping is complete. The pistol is assembled in reverse order.

All Walther pistols are imported into this country by lnterarms of Virginia, which sent me samples of both pistols for evaluation. The P5 came in a black plastic box that contained cleaning accessories, an instruction manual and a spare magazine. The P88 was in a cardboard box that held the exact same accessories.

Both pistols displayed the usual high quality of fit and finish for which Walther is renowned. The single-action trigger pulls of both pistols were crisp, requiring just over six pounds of pressure to drop their hammers. The double-action pull of the P5 was smooth and needed just under ten pounds to cycle it through. The double-action trigger pull of the P88 was a little heavier, requiring just under 12 pounds to raise and drop the hammer.

In appearance, the P5 Compact has a very sleek, modern look. This is largely due to its slide with its solid angular top. The shortening of the barrel and slide make for a nicely proportioned pistol.

The P88 Compact is, in my opinion, a far nicer looking pistol than the full-size model, which has a blocky, angular appearance. The compact version has much sleeker lines, thanks to the redesigned slide, and it is also very well proportioned.

I found that the pistols had very nice handling qualities. The grips were very comfortable and enabled me to easily engage their triggers when in the double-action mode. They also pointed very well for me, and I was able to reach and manipulate all their controls without having to change my grip. The sights were clear and easy to pick up when the pistols were brought quickly into aim.

Shooting the pistols was conducted at the Petersen ranch on a sunny but rather windy day in early April of this year. The ammunition used in the evaluation consisted of Federal 124-grain FMJ, Hornady 147-grain JHP XTP, Pro Load 124-grain JHP +P, Remington 115-grain FMJ, Remington 115-grain JHP and Remington 147-grain JHP subsonic.

The pistols were first shot for accuracy from a seated benchrest at 25 yards, using my Millett Benchmaster rest. The P5 Compact shot groups that were within 4 1/4 inches with all of the ammunition. Best accuracy was with the Remington 115-grain FMJ ammunition, which produced a five-shot group that measured 3 1/4 inches. The general accuracy of this pistol is quite acceptable for a compact auto that has a barrel only three inches long. As far as the regulation of its sights is concerned, the pistol consistently shot a little to the left of point of aim with all of the ammunition. This, of course, can be corrected by drifting over the rear sight, but I did not have the facilities to do this at the ranch.

The P88 Compact proved to be the more accurate pistol. Its best performance was with the Remington 147-grain JHP subsonic ammunition, which produced an amazingly tight 1 1/8-inch group. Unfortunately, I did experience two malfunctions where the cartridges did not feed properly during the shooting of this particular string. Two other groups were under three inches, while the rest were under four inches. This pistol was better regulated, shooting just a tad to the right of my point of aim. All groups shot by both pistols are in the accompanying accuracy chart.

Both pistols were a pleasure to shoot when I put them through their paces on the combat range. In my usual practice of shooting fast two-shot strings from five back to 20 yards, both autos kept all shots within the nine-ring of a B27 combat silhouette center. The P88 actually grouped all but one of its shots in the ten-ring. Each two-shot string commenced with the first shot being fired double action, and I was able to make a quick transition to the second single-action shot with both pistols, thanks to their easy triggers.

I ended the shooting session by doing some fast close-quarters shooting, drawing each pistol from a holster under a coat. For this exercise, I used a Michaels of Oregon Side Bet belt slide holster. This is a universal holster that fits most handguns and is constructed of Cordura nylon. One of the nice features is that it has a securing strap that is both adjustable and detachable.

The holster fit both pistols like a glove yet still made them easily accessible. After a little practice, I was soon making smooth draws from under a jacket and then getting off a fast, accurate shot. Much of this was due to the excellent grips of the pistols, which enabled me to get a full hold as I drew them from the holster. Their good pointing qualities were another asset, as the sights were invariably on target the moment I got the pistols up to eye level.

When it came to reliability, I experienced no further malfunctions with the P88. During the combat evaluation, it digested all of the ammunition, including the Remington 147-grain JHP subsonics. The two malfunctions experienced during the accuracy evaluation may have been caused by the bottom of the slide coming in contact with my Bench master rest.

The P5 Compact was completely reliable with the ammunition that had roundnose bullets, like the Federal 124-grain FMC, Remington 115-grain FMC and Remington 115-grain JHP ammunition. The rest of the ammunition had truncated cone-shaped bullets, and these consistently got stuck on the feed ramp during firing. Editor Jan Libourel had exactly the same problem when he shot the pistol.

You don't see too many Walther pistols in gun shops in this country, which is probably due to their high cost. This is unfortunate, because Walther makes fine handguns. The P5 and P88 Compacts are two good examples. The P88 Compact, in particular, proved to be a very accurate, reliable pistol with excellent shooting characteristics. The P5 Compact is also a good-shooting pistol that was reliable with selected types of ammunition. And while it was not quite as accurate as the P88, its dual-purpose control lever does make it a little simpler to operate. The compact size of both these autos makes them easy to conceal, and they are worthy additions to the Walther combat pistol line.

First published in the August 1993 edition of Handguns

P5 Compact Specifications

Action type Locked-breech, double action
Caliber 9x19mm
Capacity 8+1
Overall length 6 5/8 inches (168mm)
Barrel length 3 inches (76mm)
Weight 26 ounces
Finish Blue
Sights 3-dot, adjustable rear
Grips Black checkered plastic

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