I’ll just say it upfront: the Walther P5 is one of the finest service pistols I’ve ever had the pleasure to shoot. Elegant and almost futuristic-looking, the P5 is one of the most unique firearms in terms of its looks, functionality, and features.
Trust me when I say that it’s one of the softest shooting pistols you’ll ever fire if you get the opportunity to (which I hope you do). The P5 is also nearly forgotten and scarcely a footnote even in the firearms world.
While it’s easy to think of the P5 as a collector’s pistol today, it’s important to remember that Walther built this gun as a duty service pistol for law enforcement use.
It’s also important to remember that the P5 was designed and produced in a different era when firearms philosophy was a bit different than it is today. So, while the P5 may seem ‘obsolete’ by today’s standards, keep in mind that it’s a 1970s/1980s duty pistol.
In this Walther P5 review, you’ll see why I’ve come to love the P5. It’s very ergonomic, fits my hands well, shoots nicely, and has been completely reliable. Let’s dive a bit more into what this pistol is all about.
Development of the P5
After the Second World War, Western Germany continued to primarily use the Walther P38 pistol for military and police use. The P38 is an excellent pistol and also far more influential than most people may release; the Beretta 92FS, for instance, takes a lot of internal and external design cues from the P38.
In the late 1950s, Walther made some modifications to the P38. The updated P38 was referred to as the P1, with the P1’s biggest difference being the lighter aluminum frame vs. the steel frame of the P38. The P1 was adopted into service into countless West German law enforcement units.
The P38/P1 pistol would also be the standard issue pistol for the German Bundeswehr all the way up until 2004 when it would be phased out in favor of the HK USP. That’s a story for a different day, but the fact that the P38 lasted for so long as the standard issue German military pistols speaks volumes as to its quality and reliability.
Anyway, back to the West German law enforcement. While the P1 was the most popular police pistol at that time, police forces were also utilizing a variety of smaller pistols chambered in .32 ACP as well, such as the Walther PPK and the Mauser HSc, among others.
By the 1970s, West Germany decided it was time to adopt a new and more modernized service pistol. It was decided that the new pistol would be compact, have no manual external safety so it could be brought into action quickly, and chambered in 9mm. It was to replace the P1 and the variety of underpowered .32 pistols that were in wide use.
Three pistols ended up being selected: the Walther P5, the SIG Sauer P6 (P225), and the HK P7.
The P5 was produced as a modernized P38/P1 in 1977. Walther had tried submitting a shortened version of the P38 initially, called the P38K, but it was rejected on the grounds that the contours of the slide did not permit smooth drawing and reupholstering.
True to form as the P38, the P5 has a short-recoil operation system with locking lugs that don’t allow the barrel to tilt back like in most conventional pistols. Theoretically at least, this should yield to superior accuracy.
Walther also removed the safety from the P38 and moved the decocker down to the frame, which also served as the slide release. They also eliminated the open-slide design of the P38 and shrouded over most of the barrel with the slide. As with the P38 as well, the P5 ejects its spent shell casings to the left rather than the right. The P5 also sports dual recoil springs along the full-length slide rails. The trigger guard was enlarged over the P38 to permit the operator to use the pistol with gloves.
Adoption of the P5
The P5 passed the police trials it was run through and was adopted by several police departments in Germany. It was not quite as successful as the SIG Sauer P6, largely due to the P6’s lower cost.
The P5’s greatest success was found in the Netherlands, where it became the standard issue service pistol of Dutch police until 2013. The Portuguese and British militaries adopted the pistol in limited units, the latter of whom adopted the P5C (compact variant).
Mainstream production of the P5 ended in 1993, but Walther continued to produce the P5 in limited numbers up until the year 2000. This was also the year when they officially ceased production of the P38/P1 and P88 Compact, which were also being produced in limited runs up to that point.
The year 2000 essentially marked the end of Walther producing metal-framed guns and heralded the age of their polymer-framed guns that was started by the P99 in 1996.
The P99 is another excellent gun from Walther, and I’ve done a review on it separately.
Features of the P5
The P5 is unique because it features a host of features you won’t find on very many other guns.
For instance, the pistol operates using side-mounted recoil springs on the side of the frame. Since there is no guide rod and recoil spring under the barrel, this gives the P5 its overall slimmer profile, which in some ways mimics the shape of the Walther PPK.
The P5 also features a tilted firing pin, which means the firing pin is not aligned with the hammer. Instead, the pin tilts in a downward position into a pocket just outside of the hammer, which makes the gun drop safe and also ensures it will not fire when the decocker is engaged to return the pistol to double action. The firing pin will only lift up when the trigger has been pulled.
The P5’s barrel also does not tilt back, employing the use of locking lugs to keep the barrel parallel to the frame.
When the gun is fired, the slide and barrel move back together until a locking block moves away. This stops the barrel from moving back further, but the slide will retreat back further until a round is ejected before returning to chamber a new round.
This is the exact same mechanism that you’ll find on the Beretta 92. Not only does it lead to greater accuracy, it also makes racking the slide back extremely smooth.
Perhaps the biggest visual difference with the P5 is the ejection port located on the left side of the frame rather than the slide. This was a carryover from the P38/P1.
Shooting the P5 Walther
I absolutely love the P5.
The shape of the grip is very ergonomic for my hands, and the decocker/slide release is very easy to access and operate. Racking the slide is very smooth, much like the Beretta 92, due to the similarities in their design.
Where the P5 truly excels is at the range. It’s a very soft shooter with little recoil, and keeping the sights on target while shooting is easy. You’ll just have to shoot the P5 to see what I mean. It’s one of the most pleasant shooting guns I’ve ever shot.
I will admit the European-style heel magazine release takes some getting used to. Even though it’s slower to reload than the push-button-style magazine releases we use today, the idea at the time was that the heel-magazine release made it easier to retain your magazine while reloading. Keep in mind, the P5 was produced at a time where firearms philosophy was a bit different than today.
Conclusion: Walther P5 Review
The P5 may not be Walther’s most well-known pistol, as it’s usually overshadowed by the P38/P1 that preceded it and the P99 that came after it.
Nonetheless, Walther did a lot of things right with this gun. Even if you’re not a Walther collector, thanks to its easy shootability and fine ergonomics the P5 is a gun worth owning.