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4K Review: Walther P5 & P5 Compact – the P38 done right

Judging by years of consistently disappointing
Youtube search results, I would say the Walther P5 is something of a forgotten relic in the
Walther catalog. Despite its decent production numbers and a reasonably healthy surplus market
not that long ago, there�s only one good overview video in English and that�s by
firydeth from 7 years ago, and then just a load of brief shooting clips. Meanwhile, the
PPK, PPQ, P22, P38 and even the lowly PK380, have dozens of review videos each. This gun
deserves better. Developed in response to the 1972 terrorist
attack at the Olympic Games in Munich, the gun�s basic design actually stretches back
to 1938 and Walther�s famous P38, and the later P1 and P4. Over 30 years of real world
testing led to the P5�s updated design, which integrated several notable enhancements
while still making use of the P38�s battle-proven falling locking block recoil action. These
functional improvements include a better and more robust DA/SA trigger mechanism, a reinforced
alloy frame for improved durability, a longer enclosed slide for added strength when handling
hot ammo, a redesigned extractor and several internal safety features, as well as some
ergonomic updates like removing the safety from the slide, and enlarged trigger guard
for gloved hands, and streamlined contouring for better holsterability. I wish I could
do a more in-depth hands-on comparison between the P38 and the P5, but honestly�well, even
as a certified Walther FanBoy, I�ve just never really been into the P38. Suffice it
to say though that the relation between the two pistols is a strong one, to the point
that you can even swap mags with a very minor and easy modification. I�ll put a link to
more info on that process below. The P5 was successful in its bid to German
agencies seeking a new single-stack 9mm sidearm and the design was awarded several police
contracts, alongside two of its competitors, the Sig P6 and the H&K P7. The P5 finally
entered production in 1977 and was fielded by police forces across Germany and the Netherlands,
the majority of whom were pleased with Walther�s offering.
In 1986, Walther decided to respond to customer demand for a lightened, more concealable version
for undercover or plainclothes officers and began developing the P5 Compact. The designers
smoothed the edges and corners of the gun and made everything smaller while still keeping
it large enough for durability in rugged use. The Compact model went into production in
late 1987. The company successfully pitched this P5 variant to the British military, who
adopted a phosphate-finished version as the L102A1 and put them into service with various
army units to replace their PPKs. Finding one of these would be cool because it could
have literally been used by a real life James Bond-type guy.
Finally, in 1988, Walther introduced a sporting model, the P5 Lang, which is the model I have
here. I used to have a regular P5 as well, but decided I didn�t really need it after
scoring this unicorn. With only 100 in existence, this long-barreled target variant is certainly
a jewel in my Walther collection. Despite its target pretensions, however, the internals
are identical to any other P5 � only its lengthened sight radius enhances performance
at the range. Virtually all P5s were chambered in 9mm, but
1900 were produced in 30 Luger. Separate kits were also available to allow users to convert
their 9mm P5s to fire 30 Luger. Production of the P5 ended around 1993 after
a total run of 100,000 units over its lifespan. Nearly half of these were made for Dutch police
forces, who issued them until 2013, believe it or not.
So, you may be looking at this P5 Lang wondering � what do you have against the P38 when
that P5 so obviously resembles one? To be honest, besides not being all that interested
in the historical aspects of the P38, I�ve always found its aesthetics to be very rough
and cobbled together, with little cohesion between any of the different parts. This is
especially apparent to me on surplus models with significant finish wear, where the gun�s
actual lines becomes clear and it look like they were pieced together from scrap metal
in Mad Max. The P5, on the other hand, has a much improved
aesthetic, thanks to the streamlined angles of the nose, cleaned up decocker, a hammer
that matches the gun, and a more elegant slide. Even with this longer sport barrel, the P5�s
appearance is more refined and purposeful to my eye. The P5 is just really a great looking
gun, I think. I will admit though that I find the proportions on the Compact to be off the
mark a little, with the chopped slide being just a tad too short for the long grip. Now,
do any of my subjective opinions on the P5�s appearance matter? No, but I do think guns
can be beautiful and their visual design can be a really interesting point of discussion.
Finishing on the both the full-size and the compact is excellent, with quality old-world
polished bluing on each model and only faint traces of machining marks here and there.
I will note that police guns tended to have more of a matte finish, which isn�t quite
as special looking. Nonetheless, they are all very nicely fit together, with no looseness
and and confident feeling of solidity as one would expect from a Walther of the era. I
probably wouldn�t say it�s quite as finely finished as the later P88, but in good commercial
condition, the P5 is definitely a gun that my fellow hipster snobs can be proud to own.
By the way, none of them ever came with nickel or chrome finish, so if you see one of those,
it is aftermarket. The P5 family are all built on alloy frames
with single-stack 8-round magazines. While a few of them came with beautiful wood grips,
most were sold with plain black plastic grip panels. I personally tend to put Nill wood
grips on any gun where it�s an option, and I�ve done that with my P5 Lang here. I appreciate
the added palm swell it gives the grip, and plus they just look more upscale and classic.
The regular plastic panels do give the gun a menacing Darth Vader sort of look, however,
which is cool, so I won�t judge anyone for keeping those on their P5. Dutch police models
are notable for having black rubber Hogue grips.
The magazine releases are found on the bottom of the full-size models, in the German tradition.
In many ways this is a nice feature for a holstered police duty weapon, since there�s
no button to be pressed accidentally while seated or moving around. The Compact variants
had their releases moved to the conventional American location behind the trigger guard,
though some rare early models also had a heel release, like this one. The mags are not even
close to drop free and must be pulled out by hand. This obviously isn�t keeping with
the high-speed low-drag trends of 2016, but it was pretty much the norm in the 70s and
was probably not the end of the world for the average German police officer. The magazines
are interchangeable if your Compact has the heel release, by the way, and they have excellent
build quality. A distinctive element of the P5�s controls
and design is this large, flat decocker on the left side. It�s a nice aesthetic upgrade
over the P38�s ungainly lever, and I believe it�s more comfortable to use as well. I
will note that it is not ambidextrous, but it�s still within easy reach of even the
stumpiest circus hands, and has a satisfying and assured engagement with the hammer as
you lower it safely. It sounds weird but it�s really just a pleasure to decock the P5, let
alone shoot it. The piece also serves as a slide stop and
slide release, incidentally, to either hold the slide open or let it come forward.
You might have noticed that there are no external safeties on the P5. Like the P6, this was
intentionally left out to meet the German police request that their new pistol be fast
to put into action with one hand, and fiddling with a safety lever is decidedly slower and
less intuitive than simply pulling a longer double action trigger from a decocked condition
2. The gun is safe to carry this way thanks to a firing pin safety whereby the trigger
itself moves the pin into position for the hammer to strike it. Without a conscious pull
of the trigger, the P5 is completely safe. There�s also a recess in the hammer itself
to make sure it can�t accidentally bump the firing pin.
Overall, I find the gun�s ergonomics and handling to be really well thought out. The
grip on the full-size model has a good shape, made better of course with the wood grips.
Balance on the full-size is excellent, even on this model with the long barrel dangling
out front. The compact likewise has surprisingly good weight distribution, despite its abruptly
stunted slide. The compact�s grip size is, like the rest of the gun, a little smaller
in circumference and depth, and hovers right on the border of being too small for me. The
only real quibble I might have with the P5�s feeling in the hand is that the magazine lip
can rub your little finger if your hands are large enough.
I�ll compare it briefly to the Glock 17 so you can get an idea of the size. You can
see that it�s generally not a large gun, though it is a bit on the thick side, especially
for a single-stack holding only 8 rounds. In our world of subcompact polymer 9mms, it
may not be the most ideal choice for concealed carry, but it could be done without too much
trouble if you wanted. The P5 Compact would certainly be even easier to carry, but the
grip would probably still print a bit. The slide serrations are ample on both sizes,
and with the unique non-tilting barrel design and top tier build quality, racking it is
gloriously smooth. Much like a well-tuned Beretta 92, which uses the same basic system,
the slide racks like it�s on ice. Only the Pardini GT9 and Sig P210 are smoother in my
experience. This lever here is for field stripping the
gun, which I�ll demonstrate now to show you that falling locking block mechanism I
keep referencing. The process could hardly be simpler � you just remove the magazine,
pull the slide back a little bit to align a divot in the slide with the lever on the
frame, flip the lever down and pull the slide off. There you can see the dual recoil springs
in the frame, which by itself is pretty cool in my opinion, and the locking block that
attaches to the barrel and keeps the barrel and slide locked together as a unit until
chamber pressure begins to dissipate. As in the Beretta 92, the slide and barrel recoil
together for a short distance until this block here drops down. This frees the slide to keep
travelling rearward while the barrel stays in one place, ready for the next round to
be chambered and to repeat the process. Here you can see the slide rails go the entire
length of the frame, which of course helps contribute to greater accuracy and more consistent
lockup. So here is how the smaller P5 Compact compares
internally, and it�s really about the same inside and uses the same basic mechanisms.
The Compact appears to be dimensionally very similar to the full-size model, right down
to the take down lever�s position in the frame. Many of the parts look to the naked
eye like they�d be interchangeable, and I know you can actually put the Compact�s
slide onto the full-size frame. I doubt it would shoot like this, but who knows. If it
weren�t for the frame jutting out and giving it a weird underbite, I think this would be
a really awesome looking mid-sized P5 variant. Reassembly is the reverse of disassembly and
is pretty straightforward. Shooting these P5s is truly a delight. The
full-size model predates the widespread adoption of 3-dot sight pictures and used a two-dot
arrangement that is actually pretty easy to see, with a big white circle up front that
you position directly above a single white mark in the back, like some modern aftermarket
sites popular today. The Compacts of the late 80s and early 90s had a more familiar 3-dot
arrangement, which is similarly easy to use. Sights on both are only windage adjustable.
Accuracy in all variants is excellent for me. The long sight radius on the Lang model
gives you a bit of an edge, of course, but even my original full-size model with the
shorter 3.5� barrel was quite easy to shoot well. It�s a very smooth gun to shoot, which
is noticeable and due probably in part to the linear motion of the barrel. The alloy-framed
pistol isn�t overly heavy at 29.9oz 848, but recoil is still very manageable and the
main takeaway for me is the smoothness. Very pleasant at the range.
The Compact is a dense gun, being a markedly smaller than the full-size but still weighing
27.2 ounces or 771 grams, which helps make it an extremely soft shooting small 9mm. Accuracy
is also superb even with the shorter sight radius. Which one do I like shooting more?
It�s honestly tough to say, but I�d probably go with the full-size, just because the larger
frame fills my hand better. The triggers on both are fantastic. The double
action pull on each is just ridiculously smooth and even, on par with many good revolver triggers.
With this and the P88, Walther�s trigger game was really on point in the 80s. It�s
not super light at maybe 10-12 pounds or so, but the smoothness of the pull makes up for
it easily. The SA pull has a tiny bit of creep before dropping the hammer as it raises the
firing pin, but the actual break is nice, and about 5 pounds. Overtravel is reduced
by a screw on the backs of the triggers. Is it a match grade single-action trigger? No,
not quite, but it is still great for a duty gun and easily stacks up to the class-leading
P226 in terms of general smoothness and shootability. I will note that due to the Compact�s reduced
grip size, the break is a little close and with my larger hands feels a bit constricted.
An interesting quirk at the range worth mentioning is that fired brass ejects to the LEFT side
of the gun, not to the right like virtually all other semi-auto pistols. This is a bit
of a moneysaving holdover from the P38, made more noticeable by the closed off slide and
ejection port. Please remember this fact if you�re shopping for one, because I�ve
seen ads before where the seller tries to tell you that his P5 is a rare �left eject�
model. Nobody seems to know for sure why the P5 was designed to eject to the left, but
some theorize that it�s to allow right handed shooters to more easily see and clear a jam
and get the gun back into action. Try it yourself some time: it�s easier to tip a pistol in
your right hand to the left than awkwardly to the right to dump a bad round, and you
also have better visibility of what�s going on.
As far as reliability, while I haven�t shot any of mine extensively, probably 500 rounds
through each, I have had no issues to mention. They are said to feed most hollowpoints as
reliably as full-metal jackets, so no worries there from a defensive point of view. There
have been infrequent reports, however, of the aluminum frames cracking after many thousands
of rounds, especially hot European NATO-spec 9mm. I believe this is a rare occurrence,
as in order to pass German testing the gun had to fire 10,000 rounds without breakages.
Nevertheless, this is something that has always plagued alloy framed guns and Walthers in
particular. Apparently the cracks tend to happen somewhere around the takedown lever.
As such, I wouldn�t recommend shooting a lot of +P through your P5.
Another thing to be careful with is the flat backstrap on the P5 Compact. If it is plastic,
use only gentle solvents when cleaning your gun. Some came with aluminum backstraps which
should be a bit more resilient to chemicals. Prices on the P5s have been up the past few
years, particularly on the Compacts. A scarce pistol with only 6500 ever being made worldwide,
they tend to sell for $2000 or more at auction nowadays. The more common full-size P5s don�t
get that high, though, and can still be found somewhat affordably. For a while, surplus
German police models marked BMI were pretty easily available for under $500. That supply
has dried up, however, and you�re usually looking at maybe $6-700 for a surplus P5 with
some wear on the finish. The nicer commercial P5s are closer to the $1000 mark, depending
on any boxes or paperwork you find with them. So, who should buy the retro P5 in the 21st
century? I would say that if you want to think of yourself
as a Walther fan, but only own something like a PPQ or S&W-built PPK or P22, the P5 is a
great place to start getting into vintage Walthers that are still practical and fun
to shoot while representing the best of a bygone era, when quality and innovation were
still paramount. They are cheaper and in some ways a little more approachable than P88s,
I think, and are likely more rugged and reliable thanks to their battle-tested P38 DNA.
Strange as it may sound, I also think Sig fans should give a hard look into the full-size
P5. They have similar controls and both have great DA/SA triggers, but the P5 may actually
have an edge in shooting characteristics thanks to the lower bore axis and non-tilting barrel
design. Basically, if you�re a P226 or P225 lover, I bet you�ll love the P5.
Honestly, if not for the low capacity and lack of parts availability, I would genuinely
recommend a good condition P5 to be someone�s one and only gun. The heel-mounted mag release
and 8+1 capacity limit mean it�s not going to replace your Glock or M&P for tactical
training classes, but for virtually anyone else who just wants a quality, reliable 9mm
for range and defensive use and that isn�t one of the usual suspects every gun forum
hivemind will tell you to get, I think the P5 is a winner that really needs a few more
minutes of fame on Youtube. So, those are my thoughts on the outstanding
but ignored Walther P5 and P5 Compact. For a look into the future here, I�m thinking
of doing either the Medusa revolver or Mateba MTR8 as my next review videos, and I�m going
to do a thorough review on Walther�s excellent P88 family soon, so please stayed tuned for
that, and as always, thanks for watching. PS, and I know I�ll get some comment about
my pronunciation of Walther, so I�ll explain. The correct way to say this German company�s
name is Valta, but being that pedantic just makes you sound like a pretentious dbag. To
my ears, though Walttthhher is just so wrong, like hearing someone saying tortilla or halapeenyo
at a Mexican restaurant. So, I split the difference and at least say the th part correctly. Say
it however you want, but that�s how I�m gonna roll.

100 thoughts on “4K Review: Walther P5 & P5 Compact – the P38 done right

  1. I know some things about the use of the P5 by the Dutch police. The low number of rounds wasn't much of a factor at the time it was introduced since Dutch police are far less likely to have to fire their weapon than for example American officers do. Most of the shots that were/are fired are warning shots. Retaining mags isn't really a factor because of that, typically officers only carried a single spare mag for a total of 16 rounds.

    One of the main reasons for finally replacing it with the P99Q NL besides the weapons in inventory being largely worn out was a reported tendency to fire a round when the weapon was in the holster and the holster was struck with enough force, or when the weapon fell on the ground. Another big issue was the size of the grip. For male officers it was generally considered too narrow while for women and officers with an immigrant background it was too big with no options offered to make them to fit better. Officers ended up using rubber bands to customize the grips. Also the 9mm rounds used when the weapon was first introduced differ from those used more recently, and it caused an increase in malfunctions.

    Not a bad weapon, but it was in use for longer than it should have been and so the weapon designed to be used by a virtually all-male force firing relatively weak 9mm cartridges wasn't everyone's favorite because over time pretty much all of the variables besides the weapon itself changed.

  2. Waaay too expensive for that mediocre 9mm piece of shit! Especially when you can get a p38 for a quarter of the price and its pretty much the same damn thing…

  3. Day 526: still no sign of the potato, our efforts in rewatching his videos to find any hidden messages have been fruitless, many of my fellow viewers have given up hope of the potatoes return but I still am holding out for that day for it’s shall be glorious.

  4. Great Video! BTW – What's the rationale in design for the P1 / P5 & P38 to eject shells to the left instead of the right?

  5. Where have you been? Have you grown into a full on sack of lazy potatoes?
    No but really, I’d like to see some more of your interesting pistol reviews. They are always interesting. Thanks.

  6. Sure wish you'd start making videos again. Not only do you review the most interesting guns, but I think your presentation is the best on YouTube. In any case, I hope things are going well for you.

  7. What happened to our beloved Hipster Potatoe? I want to see more of your barely imported South african handguns, your 10mm HK USP, and more!

  8. Don't know if you are aware of this but someone has re-uploaded a whole bunch of your videos; Paul Perkins,

  9. +LifeSizePotato
    so I know you haven't posted for a while but I was watching your mateba video and was looking at gunbroker and thought you might like this so i'am posting it on your most recent video

  10. Hey. Just a heads up- some jagweed is steeling your videos.

  11. The P5 Compact is my #2 top unicorn gun — being that I'm in California and it's not on the roster, I'm going to have to wait until 2030 or so for them to gain C & R status or be lucky enough to find one in my area that someone can sell to me as a PPT.

  12. I definitely need to try it out. I am left-handed so the ejection port placement would work perfectly for me.

  13. nice gun buddy 🙂 i like Walther Firearms if i choose to go with a Compact Pocket .9mm Pistol i would go with this one 😀

  14. I had to go pull my P5 compact and full size to see how smooth they were. They are fairly smooth, I guess my first feeling of a smooth action was an HK P9s and then the Sphinx AT series, AT is like butter and the P9 is very smooth.

  15. Personally I like the aesthetic of the P38, mainly because it has that precise, sharp, presentable look that is attributed to Nazi Germany in everything from their flag, the uniforms, and to the weapons. It was basically made to go with the perfectly polished leather gloves and the immaculately presented uniform of an Obersturmführer, and the classic "Show me your papers, Bitte," line from basically every 1960s WW2 action flick ever.

  16. Okay, gun YouTubers, switch your cameras to MANUAL FOCUS, set the aperture (iris) to f/8, and think about your audience. If you have too much out of focus footage, reshoot!

  17. that lang version looks like someone casually stuck a tube on the gun.. probably practical as a gun, just..the aesthetics, not for me..

  18. I hope potato did not point the gun at himself while filming his last video when assuming it is not loaded. His signature move and he always argue with YouTube comment that he is sure it is not loaded. May be he will learn not to point gun at the direction of himself even if he is sure it's unloaded.

  19. Unfortunately, life's circumstances forced the potato to sell his gun collection. He no longer has anything to talk about.

  20. Does anyone know how to get in touch with LifeSizePotate? I have rather tall request for the man in regards to the Mateba 6 Unica, but I am hoping he's at least willing to hear me out. I visited his MatebaFan website, but for some reason I can't use his email link. If anyone knows a way to reach him I would very much appreciate it, or if LifeSizePotato responds to this comment it would be equally appreciated.

  21. Hello there! P5 is my favourite pistol. I have 8 examples in my collection, including a P5 Lang (long barrel) with serial number #023 – just two away from yours!

  22. Did you know that someone else is uploading your videos? channel here (

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