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hammer-dropping safety of the P.38 has been replaced
by a frame-mounted dual-purpose control lever that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
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
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
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