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.
The Walther P5 was developed in the mid-1970s as an response to the West German police’s continued search for a 9x19mm service pistol to replace the older smaller calibre pistols then in service, like the Walther PP. It was developed to fit the new police specification for a small, handy pistol which could be brought into action quickly. Walther’s design competed against pistols from Mauser, Heckler & Koch and SIG Sauer.
The P5′s design evolved from the P38, combining the lock work and dual recoil springs of the P38 (re-designated the P1 in 1963) with a shortened barrel and a full length slide. While a shortened P38k had been produced in the early 1970s, this was only an as an interim solution. The P38K retained the same slide and frame as the original P38s, but had the front sight mounted on the front strap of the frame and none of the pistol’s contours were rounded to aid drawing and returning to a holster. Only around 2,600 P38Ks were produced.
Following the attack on the 1972 Munich Olympics games West German police began the search for a new service police. Walther’s response, the P5, was introduced in 1978. The P5 is a locked-breech pistol and has double-action/single-action (DA/SA) trigger. It uses the same short-recoil operated system and locking mech as the P38. This means that the barrel and slide recoil together for a short distance before the locking block falls and allows the slide to continue moving rearward, ejecting a spent case and chambering a new round.
Walther moved the P5’s decocker from the slide to the frame and this also served as the slide stop and slide release. I would say that the P5’s decocker is easier to operate, with a shorter length of travel, than the SIG P6’s.
Following the West German police specification Walther designed the pistol to be safely and rapidly brought into action, and as a result dispensed the manual safety. Instead, the pistol could be carried in condition two – with a round in the chamber and the hammer down. This was safely achieved by some upgrades to the P5’s hammer and firing pin. There is a small recess in the pistol’s hammer for the firing pin. The firing pin only moves into alignment with the hammer surface when the trigger is pulled.
The P5 has a 3.5 inch (9cm) barrel and fed from an 8-round, single stack, magazine with a heel release. Like the P38 the pistol ejects to the left rather than the right. The P5 has a stronger and more durable fully enclosed slide which is contoured to aid holstering. The pistol has an alloy frame, with full-length slide rails and an enlarged trigger guard for use with gloves.
In addition to the P5, Walther also developed a compact model for plain clothes use which had a slightly shorter barrel (3.1 inches), slide and a truncated hammer. It was introduced in 1988 and had a lighter alloy frame with the P5 Compact weighing 750g (1.65lbs) rather than 795g (1.75lbs). While early production pistols retained the heel magazine release the majority had a thumb release. A small number of P5-Lang, long barrel target pistols were also produced in the late 1980s.
Disassembly is simple and comes directly from the P38. The slide is retracted a little until the barrel catch can be rotated. The slide and barrel can then be slid forward off the frame once the trigger is pulled.
The P5 proved to be an accurate and reliable pistol and once it was accepted by the police trials (along with the designs from Heckler & Koch and SIG-Sauer – the P7 and P6 respectively.) It was adopted by uniformed officers of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate’s State Police – these pistols were marked ‘BMI’ for Bundesministerium des Innern – the Federal Ministry of the Interior. This pistol is a BMI-marked gun and dates from February 1983.
It also became the standard issue sidearm of the Dutch police who purchased around 50,000 pistols, becoming Walther’s largest customer for the P5. The Dutch guns were later fitted with aftermarket Houge rubber grips and some changes to the hammer safety system were later made in the mid-1990s. The Dutch police retired the P5 in 2013 replacing it with the P99Q.
The P5 also saw some military sales with elements of the Portuguese Army adopting it and the P5 Compact was also adopted by the British Army. Selected in the late 1980s for issue as a personal protection side arm. It was designated the Pistol L102A1 and was extensively issued to British troops in Ireland for use while in plain clothes or off duty.
While certainly one of Walther’s lesser known pistols the P5 is a well-made, well-designed duty pistol, with comfortable ergonomics – the fiddly magazine catch not withstanding – and the slide and decocker are very smooth to operate. The trigger pull in both the single and double action modes is also pretty good. Overall, around 100,000 pistols were produced before production came to an end in 1993.