In 1976, the West German Police issued a specification for a new small, lightweight service pistol to replace their stocks of Walther P38/P1′s and various 7.65×17mm (.32 ACP) pistols.
The police specification limited the new pistols weight to 2.2lb/35oz/1kg, it was to be no larger than 18x13x3.4cm and was to be quick to draw and safe to carry with a round in the chamber.
Earlier trials had taken place in 1974 examining pistols chambered in the 9×18mm Ultra round. Walther had submitted the PP Super and SIG-Sauer had entered the P230 for testing but with increasing criminal and terrorist activity in West Germany during the 1970s it was decided to adopt a pistol chambered in the more powerful 9×19mm round.
As a result a new round of trials with the new specifications was arranged. Mauser, Walther, SIG-Sauer and Heckler & Koch all submitted designs. Mauser offered the HsP,Walther offered the P5, SIG-Sauer entered the P225 (which became the P6) and Heckler & Koch submitted the PSP, later known as the P7.
The trials involved a gruelling 10,000 round endurance test (with cleaning after every 1,000 rounds), a rapid-rifle 500 round test and accuracy testing at 25 metres. One of the main problems of producing the desired sub-compact sized pistol in 9×19mm was that after approximately 1,000 rounds the pistol’s recoil spring may become prone to failure.
The police specification called for a 10,000 round lifespan. Each had their own approach; Walther’s P5 tackled the problem by using the dual-spring system used in the P38/P1 while Heckler & Koch used a gas-delayed blowback system in the P7. SIG-Sauer, however, employed the simplest solution – a heavy gauge braided spring to give increased strength combined with the Short Recoil action. This was also substantially cheaper to manufacture.
The short-recoil, lever-locked Mauser HsP was eventually dropped due to durability issues, while the Walther P5, SIG-Sauer’s P6, and Heckler & Koch’s P7 were successful and deemed fit for service and adopted by various German police departments.
The P5 was adopted by Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate’s State Police as well as the Dutch national police. TheP6 was the most widely adopted as it was the cheapest option available, with a total of seven German state police forces adopting it along with orders from the border police, railway police and the Federal Criminal Police Office. The most expensive of the pistols, the P7 was favoured by more specialist units like GSG9.
Our thanks to our friends at Gunlab for allowing us to take a look at these pistols.