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The Walther Model 4

by Ed Buffaloe

The Walther Company was founded in 1886 by Carl Walther in the town of Zella St. Blasii, Thuringia, a traditional metalworking and weapon-making area in Central Germany.  (The town was renamed Zella-Mehlis after 1919.)  The company manufactured rifles and shotguns that were hand fitted, and quickly gained a reputation for superior quality that has remained associated with the Walther name to this day.  Three of Carl’s five sons, Fritz, Georg, and Hans Erich, took over the family business after the death of their father in 1915.

In late 1899, the first 7.65mm Browning (.32 A.C.P.) pistol was manufactured by Fabrique Nationale of Belgium, and became known as the Model 1900.  Though the Bergmann, Mannlicher, and Mauser pistols preceded it, they were primarily military pistols.  The 1900 FN Browning was the first commercially successful “pocket” self-loading pistol.  In 1906, FN began production of a 6.35mm Browning (.25 A.C.P.) pistol, which was the first true “vest pocket” semi-automatic pistol.  These two guns gained worldwide attention, and almost everyone in the firearms industry began to design pistols for the two cartridges, hoping to cash in on the success and popularity of the Browning guns and cartridges.

 

By 1908, Carl and his son Fritz had produced prototypes of both a .32 and a .25 caliber pistol.  According to some sources, the .32 was designated the Venus-Pistole and had its recoil spring mounted over the barrel, like the 1900 Browning.  The .32 Venus-Pistole was never produced.  I suspect (and this is pure speculation) that by the time Walther was ready to tool up for the Venus-Pistole the 1910 Browning had made its appearance and the 1900 Browning and guns like it had already begun to seem a bit retro by comparison.  In any case, the Walther Company began manufacturing its first .25 caliber pistol in 1910, later christened the Model 1.  The Model 1 was slightly smaller and lighter than the 1906 FN Browning, but was similar in design, with the recoil spring beneath the barrel and a spring-loaded striker.  However, the Walther copied the configuration of the 1900 Mannlicher, with a fixed barrel, the extractor on top of the gun, and the slide cut away in the front to reveal the barrel.  Beautifully made and with excellent fitment, the Walther was an instant success, with sales of just over 30,000 by 1915.

The Model 1 was followed by the Model 2 and Model 3, which were simplified in design, used a hammer instead of a striker, and had the recoil spring around the barrel.  This last feature may have been influenced by the design of the 1907 Dreyse and/or 1910 Browning.  The Model 3, in .32 caliber, actually appeared first in 1913, probably because the company was still selling their existing stock of the Model 1.  The Model 2, in .25 caliber, appeared in 1914.  The Model 2 was approximately a quarter-inch shorter than the 1906 Browning vest pocket, and more than three ounces lighter.  The Model 3 was an inch shorter than the 1910 Browning, three ounces lighter, and held one less round.  The Model 3 was only about 2mm longer than the 1908 Pieper Bayard, held one more round, and was  more ergonomic in design.

Walther Model 4 Left SideBut World War I required a handgun more suitable for military use, and the Walther Company designed the Model 4 as quickly as possible by simply enlarging the Model 3, giving it a larger grip, longer barrel, better sights, and a greater magazine capacity.  They were rewarded with an order from the Prussian government in May of 1915 for 250,000 Model 4’s.  Some might wonder why a .32 caliber handgun was ordered for military use, when the primary service weapon was the much more powerful Luger 9mm P08 Parabellum pistol.  Personally, I suspect that the P08 Parabellum, while powerful and accurate, was finicky about dirt and residue and, being complex to field-strip, was hard to maintain in the trench-warfare environment of World War I.  The Walther, while underpowered, was reliable and easy to maintain.  Once it was adopted, it rapidly gained the confidence of the soldiers who used it.  By the end of World War I--thanks to its government contract--Walther was the largest pistol manufacturer in Germany.

The Model 4 is a relatively simple handgun of blowback design, with a fixed barrel, an external extractor, and a concealed hammer.  Its most unusual feature is that (like its predecessor the Model 3) its extractor and ejection port are on the left.  The barrel acts as a guide for the concentric recoil spring, which is held in place by a bayonette-type lug that covers the front of the barrel, and by a sleeve at the rear which also serves to cover the spring.  When the slide moves rearward, it forces the trigger bar down, disconnecting it from the sear.  The safety is a rotating thumb lever that positively locks the cocked hammer.  Most safeties have a checkered thumb-grip circle, but a few have circular grooves.  There is a screw on the backstrap of the grip that regulates the tension of the flat hammer spring.  The gun is slim and elegant, well-balanced, fits

 

the hand very nicely, and points instinctively.  It is also reasonably accurate.

My Model 4 is one of the third variant, manufactured just after the war.  There is absolutely no play in the fitment of the slide and receiver.  The gun tends to shoot a bit high at ten yards, but is spot-on at 25 to 50 yards.  The trigger pull is rather heavy and the gun has considerable recoil.  Recoil causes the trigger guard to batter my trigger finger, making it sore after a couple of magazines, so I prefer to shoot the gun with a glove on.  Nevertheless, the grip fits my hand perfectly and it points better than any gun except the Remington Model 51.  The slide does not stay back on the last round, and there is no provision for locking it open.  The gun lacks a magazine safety and may be fired without a magazine.  The thumb safety is rather clumsy to disengage.  Like the ever-popular Brownings, the Walther’s virtues were its simplicity, reliability, accuracy, and quality of manufacture.  True sophistication would come later.

In the 15 years of its manufacture, there were four major variations of the Model 4.  The dates and serial numbers given below are approximate and subject to revision, pending new information.

First Variant (Very Early World War I production.)

  • Sometimes referred to as the transitional model or Model 3/4.
  • Approximate serial number range:  29,000 - 34,085*
    EarlySlideSerrations

    First Variant
    Slide Serrations

  • Left side of slide marked (in capitals) “SELBSTLADE-PISTOLE CAL. 7,65. WALTHER’S-PATENT” on one line above the Walther banner.
  • On the earliest pistols, the right side of the slide was blank.  Later pistols had (in capitals) “CARL WALTHER WAFFENFABRIK ZELLA ST.BLASII” on one line.  Some pistols were marked “Made in Germany.”
  • 12 triangular cut vertical slide serrations up to serial number 34,000, after which 7 angled square-cut serrations.
  • Safety lever has circular grooves.
  • Partially exposed trigger-bar on left side of receiver.
  • Top of slide rounded.
  • No rear sight, but had a groove along the top of the slide.
  • Triangular or ramped front sight.
  • Release for the slide extension/front recoil spring bushing on right front of slide, similar to the Model 3.
  • Front portion of frame is squared off.
  • Dull blue finish (likely rust blue).

Early Second Variant (World War I production.)

  • Approximate serial number range:  35,000 - 45,055*
    MiddleSlideSerrations1

    Early Second Variant
    Slide Serrations

  • Left side of slide marked (in capitals) “SELBSTLADE-PISTOLE CAL. 7,65. WALTHER’S-PATENT” on one line above the Walther banner.
  • Right side of slide marked (in capitals) “CARL WALTHER WAFFENFABRIK ZELLA ST.BLASII” on one line, or in rare cases blank.
  • 7 angled square-cut slide serrations.
  • Safety lever has circular grooves.
  • Partially exposed trigger-bar on left side of receiver.
  • Top of slide still rounded.
  • No rear sight, but had a groove along the top of the slide.
  • Most front sights were hemispherical, but a few were triangular.
  • Most have no disassembly release catch.  A few very early guns still retain the catch.
  • Guns with no disassembly release catch have front portion of frame beveled at the bottom.

Late Second Variant (Late war and post-war production, 1916?-1919?)

  • Approximate serial number range:  50,014 - 222,524*
    MiddleSlideSerrations2

    Late Second Variant
    Slide Serrations

  • Left side of slide marked (in capitals) “SELBSTLADE-PISTOLE CAL. 7,65  WALTHER’S-PATENT” on one line above the Walther banner.
  • Early right side of slide marked “Carl Walther WAFFENFABRIK Zella St.Bl”.  Middle period have right side of slide marked “Carl Walther WAFFENFABRIK Zella St.Blasii”.   Most guns have right side of slide marked (in capitals) “CARL WALTHER WAFFENFABRIK ZELLA ST.BLASII” on one line, or in rare cases blank, or for very late second variant guns “WAFFENFABRIK WALTHER ZELLA-MEHLIS”.
  • 7 angled square-cut slide serrations.
  • Safety lever checkered (though I have noted at least one gun in this range with circular grooves).
  • Partially exposed trigger-bar on left side of receiver.
  • Top of slide flattened to allow for rear sight.  (Early guns, through at least serial number 67614, continue to have the rounded slide with no rear sight.)
  • Drift adjustable raised rear sight in a dovetail mount.
  • Both hemispherical and triangular front sights.
  • No disassembly release catch.

Note:  In this period of World War I, Walther was unable to produce enough pistols on their own, so they licensed Immanuel Meffert of Suhl, a well known manufacturer of hunting and sporting guns, to make the pistols.  Meffert was also unable to produce enough pistols, so they subcontracted with a number of other firms.  Guns made under license by other firms were usually marked on the left side trigger guard bow.  Many of these guns have the serial number stamped on the left side of the slide.  Some of Meffert’s pistols are stamped on the left side of the slide “Imman. Meffert, Suhl”.  Known markings are as follows:

    Anchor - Heinrich Krieghoff
    AS - August Schuler, Suhl
    G - H.M. Gering, Heidersbach
    GM - Gebruder Merkel, Suhl (intertwined GM in a shield)
    GR - Gebruder Rempt, Suhl
    M or IM - Immanuel Meffert, Suhl
    LateSlideSerrations

    Third & Fourth Variant
    Slide Serrations

Third Variant (Post-war production, 1922?-1923?.)

  • Approximate serial number range:  229,572 - 261,451.*
  • Left side of slide marked (in capitals) “WALTHER’S-PATENT CAL. 7,65” on one line above the Walther banner.  Some may be marked only “PATENT CAL.7,65”.
  • Right side of slide marked (in capitals) “WAFFENFABRIK WALTHER ZELLA- MEHLIS” on one line.
  • 16 fine triangular-cut slide serrations angled forward.
  • Sefety lever checkered.
  • Internal trigger bar.
  • No disassembly release catch.
  • Drift adjustable raised rear sight in a dovetail mount.
  • Retract slide
    Remove bushing
    Lift up front of slide
    Remove slide
    Triangular front sight.

Fourth Variant (Limited production, 1924-1929, just prior to introduction of the PP.) 

  • Approximate serial number range:  252,258 - 266,000 and 480,000 to
    500,000.*
  • The same as Third Variant, except:
    • Left side of slide marked (in lower case italic) “Walther Patent Cal. 7,65” on one line above the Walther banner.
    • Right side of slide marked (in lower case italic) “Waffenfabrik Walther Zella-Mehlis (Thür.)” on one line.
    • High polish blue finish.

Note:  There is definitely some crossover in serial number ranges between the 3rd and 4th variant.

Disassembly

  1. Remove the magazine.
  2. Draw the slide back to make sure the chamber is empty and to cock the hammer.
  3. Press in on the barrel bushing, turn it counterclockwise (as you face the front of the gun), and draw it carefully off the end of the barrel under pressure from the recoil spring.  (For the earliest variant, with a hand on the front of the gun to catch the barrel bushing, press down on the latch on the right front side of the slide.)
  4. Remove the recoil spring and sleeve by twisting them off the barrel.
  5. Pull the slide all the way to the rear, lifting the front of the slide slightly to get it all the way back, then lift the rear of the slide up and off the rails and pull the slide forward and off the barrel.
  6. Do not pull the trigger with the gun disassembled, as it could damage the lockwork.  If the grips are removed from the early models with the external trigger bar, the trigger bar may fall out.

Reassembly is the reverse of disassembly.  There is a little trick to getting the slide back on the receiver, but it is best learned by experience.  With the slide pulled all the way to the rear, press down on the rear of the slide and push toward the front.

Considering its age, the Walther Model 4 generally holds up very well.  J.B. Wood reports that sometimes the hammer spring tension screw on the backstrap will come loose, causing misfires due to light primer strikes.  This is easily remedied by tightening the screw.  I had the front sight on mine fly off the gun during firing.  I bought a bar magnet with a long handle at Home Depot and recovered the sight--it had landed in the dirt behind me.

I would appreciate hearing from owners of Model 4 pistols.  Send me photographs and/or descriptions of your guns along with serial number information.  I will try to make the information given here more accurate.
 

 

1910 Browning

Walther Model 4

Cartridge

7.65mm / .32 ACP

7.65mm / .32 ACP

Magazine Capacity

7 rounds

8 rounds

Overall Length

6 inches / 153mm

5.94 inches / 151mm

Overall Height

3.91 inches / 99.4mm

4.05 inches / 102.9mm

Grip Depth at Base

1.67 inches / 42.4mm

1.62 inches / 41.2mm

Barrel Length

3.44 inches / 87.5mm

3.46 inches / 88mm

Slide Width

.8 inches / 20.3mm

.8 inches / 20.5mm

Weight Empty

19.6 ounces / 554.8g

18.42 ounces / 521.2g

 

References

German Handguns, by Ian V. Hogg.  Greenhill, London:  2001.
Pistols of World War I, by Robert J. Adamek.  Pentagon Publishing, Pittsburg: 2001.
Troubleshooting Your Handgun, by J.B. Wood.  Follett, Chicago: 1978.
The Walther Handgun Story, by Gene Gangarosa, Jr.  Stoeger Publishing, Wayne, NJ:  1999.
Walther Pistols, by W.H.B. Smith.  Stackpole, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania:  1946.
Walther Pistols, Models 1 - P99, by Dieter H. Marschall.  Ucross, Los Alamos, NM:  2000.
 

Copyright 2007-2011 by Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.

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