- Robert E. Petersen Collection
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Walther Free Pistol
Walther Waffenfabrik was founded in 1886 by German firearms designer Carl Walther (1860 - 1915). The Walther family's connection to firearms design and manufacture can be traced to Matthias Conrad Pistor, chief armorer and gunsmith at Kassel Arsenal during the 18th century. Pistor later opened his own manufactory in the German province of Thuringia. This area, rich in both natural resources and industry, became home to such noted companies as both Walther and Sauer. Arms produced in the region were used both in the German states and throughout Europe, with some finding their way to North America, India, and Australia.
In addition, many gunsmiths, craftsmen, and artisans from this region later relocated to eastern Pennsylvania, where they became involved in the production of "Kentucky" long rifles. In 1908, Carl Walther and his eldest son, Fritz designed and manufactured the Model 1, which was the first successful German pocket pistol to chamber the popular 6.35mm/ .25 Colt APC ammunition. This pistol and its successors competed favorably with other notable designs, including the Browning-FN Model 1905 and the Colt .25 ACP.
Father and son later designed and produced successful police and military pistols in 9mm Parabellum and 9mm Kurz/.380 ACP. During the First World War, the company also produced the P-08 Luger pistol for the German armed forces. After Germany's defeat in 1918, arms production was severely restricted by the Treaty of Versailles. Walther turned briefly to the production of optical instruments before returning to arms manufacturing under special permit from the League of Nations. Among the firearms produced during this period were the Model 8 and Model 9 Pocket Pistols, as well as sporting rifles and shotguns. In 1929, the Walther PP became the world's first commercially successful double-action auto pistol. This was followed in 1931 by the smaller PPK.
Both of these pistols found favor with European police departments and, later, with German military officers and members of the Nazi Party. The company also produced the successful Olympic Model .22 pistol, which became the standard among competitive pistol marksmen. By 1936, Walther had produced its one millionth pistol, and was poised to embark on a new era in its history. Having come to power in 1933, Adolf Hitler sought to rebuild Germany's military apparatus. German ordnance officers sought a replacement for the P-08 that was simpler in design and easier to manufacture.
In 1937, Walther introduced the HP, a double-action 9mm Parabellum pistol that was later adopted as the P-38. By the end of the Second World War, over one million P-38s had been produced, many of which were "liberated" by American troops and carried in preference to U.S.-issued sidearms. In fact, the P-38 was so popular that during the Battle of the Bulge, German officers ordered that any captured G.I. with a P-38 in his possession was to be shot! Walther also produced the Gewehr 43 and Kar. 43 gas-operated semi-automatic battle rifles during this period to provide German troops with an equivalent to the American M1 Garand and Soviet Tokarev semi-auto rifles.
As the war progressed, Allied bombs fell in greater numbers on German industry. Amazingly, the Walther plant survived the war intact, and was occupied by American troops in April 1945. By June 1945, Zella-Mehlis, the home of Walther Waffenfabrik, had become a part of the Soviet Occupation Zone, and the Walther factory was dismantled and machinery was moved to the Soviet Union. Fritz Walther escaped to the American Zone, and within a few years had established new factories in Ulm, West Germany. In addition to resuming production of the PP, PPK, and P-38 pistols and sporting rifles, Walther entered into an agreement with the Swiss firearms manufacturer Hammerli to produce the Olympia .22 pistol. In 1993, Walther merged with Umerex Sportwaffen GmbH & Co. KG.