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. The Walther Company began manufacturing its first .25 caliber pistol in 1910 or possibly 1911, 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.
But 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
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.)
Early Second Variant (World War I production.)
Late Second Variant (Late war and post-war production, 1916?-1919?)
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
S&H - Schmidt & Haberman
Third Variant (Post-war production, 1922?-1923?.)
Fourth Variant (Limited production, 1924-1929, just prior to introduction of the PP.)
Note: There is definitely some crossover in serial number ranges between the 3rd and 4th variant.
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.
Copyright 2007-2011 by Ed Buffaloe. All rights reserved.