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Bond's Walther PPK goes digital: A civilized gun updated

'A ladies' gun ... and not for very nice ladies, at that'

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'Smith and Wesson ineffective against flamethrower'

Duly chastened, Fleming created a Major Boothroyd, secret service firearms expert (an early incarnation of Q) who advises M that 007 should carry something a bit more masculine. The Walther Polizei Pistole Kriminal (PPK) - a smaller and more concealable version of the PP patrolman's weapon, designed for use by plainclothes detectives and the like - was the chosen gun. Bond carried it for the rest of the Fleming books and all the films until recent times (Sean Connery surrenders a Beretta in exchange for his new PPK at the beginning of Dr No, in accordance with the book.)

Ah, I see you have the new Walther ... that'll never catch on

However Bond gives up his Beretta only under protest - he evidently wouldn't carry a PPK by choice - and it's clear that he doesn't accept Boothroyd's supposedly superior firearms expertise. He had also previously been in the habit of keeping a long-barrelled Colt .45 revolver of unspecified type (perhaps a Colt New Service model in .45ACP) in his car for longer-range firefights, but Boothroyd compels him to switch to a Smith and Wesson Centennial Airweight for such tasks, again against his own judgement.

"Smith and Wesson ineffective against flamethrower", Bond grumpily informs M at the conclusion of Dr No, and he seems to win his point against Q Branch on the matter of heavier pistols as the Centennial isn't heard of again.

Despite Bond's dislike of it, the PPK became an almost inextricable part of the 007 image, like the Aston Martin (though in fact Bond preferred a Bentley in the earlier novels) and the vodka martini. This has always been a mild point of distress for many gun fanciers as really one could perfectly well apply Boothroyd's criticism to the little PPK as well as the Beretta.

This is actually a matter of fact rather than taste in certain milieux. Among the British secret undercover operatives perhaps most closely related to the real-world Double O section - the unit once known as "14 Int" or "the Det(s)", now as the Special Reconnaissance Regiment - the PPK has genuinely been issued at times: but for most operatives, only ever as a backup hideout weapon for carry in ankle holsters and the like. A few 14 Int operators are known to have carried the PPK as their primary pistol, but only because they were physically too small to handle a full-size 9mm service weapon and/or conceal it effectively about their person ... this, because they were women. The PPK as a primary weapon really is a ladies' gun, in real life. And - these being deadly hardcase 14 Int operatives - not exactly "nice ladies", at that.

It's not for Princess Anne. Is she a 'nice lady'?

All that said, the PPK was deemed suitable as a main weapon for the police bodyguards protecting the royal family in the 1970s. That is, it was until 1974 when a copper's PPK jammed while he was trying to prevent Princess Anne being kidnapped, leading the royal close-protection plods to switch to other weapons. This event caused John Gardner, the author recruited by the Bond-brand empire to replace Fleming, to assume that the secret branches of government would also have proscribed the little Walther and thus that Bond would have been ordered to change weapons once again.

In the post-Fleming books, Gardner and his successors have equipped 007 with various different pistols over the years: but the public never warmed to any of them and the movie people, probably wisely, largely ignored them in favour of the PPK - this being all the more justifiable as 14 Int and such people didn't, in reality, join the cops and retire the little Walther in 1974 as Gardner assumed they had.

What the real Double Os are (probably) carrying these days

The fact remained, however, that the small and rather underpowered PPK really would have been an unlikely choice for an undercover service to be issuing to its assassins (certainly its reasonably large male assassins) as a primary handgun into the 1990s. Fashions and technology have changed, and modern professionals would see the PPK as unacceptably deficient in punch and - particularly - in ammo capacity. In the end the movie folk yielded and Bond switched to the more powerful Walther P99 during Tomorrow Never Dies, cadging one from a secret weapons dump belonging to the Chinese secret service - of all people. Since then the P99 has seemed to be Bond's standard weapon until Quantum of Solace, in which he uses a bewildering array of different pistols - but appears on occasion to have been issued a PPK once again.

Now in Skyfall we gather that Q Branch have definitely reverted to the PPK: apparently the slightly bigger PPK/S, which holds one more cartridge than the original 1930s design. In Bond's case the Walther has also been furnished with a Judge Dredd style fingerprint lock that means only 007 can fire it (though Q Branch apparently haven't gone so far as to make Bond's weapon explode on attempted unauthorised use, as Justice Department Lawgivers do). The PPK/S still isn't big enough to shoot any cartridges more powerful than the rather feeble short 9mm, however, and it can't hold very many either - just seven rounds in the magazine plus one up the spout.

The fact is that any normally-sized operative of Her Majesty's real-world Double O section (and there really is an organisation not completely unlike it - see our accompanying piece) would seldom carry a PPK except as a hideout backup weapon. Indeed, real-world covert operators will not restrict themselves to pistols at all if the option is there to bring heavier stuff: small submachineguns or even short collapsing-stock assault carbines are often carried under jackets or coats if trouble is expected. Car weapons go well beyond Fleming and Boothroyd's rather restrained revolvers to include full-power 7.62mm-NATO choices such as the Heckler and Koch G3KA4, light belt-fed Minimi machine-guns, 12-bore shotguns loaded with solid slugs etc.

Even while packing all this other stuff, real-world covert operators do routinely carry pistols too. But when they do, the handgun will normally be a full-fat 9mm job holding plenty of cartridges (probably high-pressure loads to help cope with body armour): usually a Sig-Sauer P226 or 228 these days in the case of the real British Double-Os, unless they have moved on to something else. Some Americans favour weapons using classic .45 ammo, but in these modern days its poor penetration would generally count against it - though it does have the advantage of being subsonic and thus feasibly silenced*.

But 007 has always had a healthy disregard for practicalities and indeed for technology in general - consider his disdainful attitude to Q and his offerings. Bond is all about design icons and branding: and although he tends to make the brand more than the brand makes him, once he's made it he's often stuck with it. There was some attempt to sprinkle some 007 pixie dust onto the P99 (a limited-edition "MI-6" version was issued by Walther) but it never acquired the iconic status that the years have conferred on the PPK, and the film-makers have evidently decided not to fight that inertia any longer.

So for James Bond 007, the Walther PPK will probably always be the right choice - and gun dorks may as well just relax and go with it. ®

*As are the 7.65mm/.32ACP and the 9mm-short/.380ACP, the rounds that Bond might be firing from his PPK. Though actually attaching a suppressor (silencer) to a PPK would require special modifications, doubtless taken care of by Q Branch.

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