The British L66A1

A .22LR Combat Pistol?
14

The Walther PP in .22LR was designated the L66A1 by the British MOD. This is one of the
very few cases wherein a .22LR handgun was issued by a major military as a defensive weapon.

In the 1970s Northern Ireland was a tinderbox. The ongoing ethno-nationalist conflagration was called simply “The Troubles,” and it ultimately claimed more than 3,500 lives. In my little corner of the Deep South the primary conflict between Protestants and Catholics orbits around who will snag the best parking places at the local restaurants after church. In the mid-’70s in Northern Ireland, however, the antipathy ran much deeper.

The details are beyond the scope of today’s treatise. Suffice it to say the Provisional Irish Republican Army shot people and blew things up, while the British Army also shot people and blew things up. Along the way the fight attracted some eclectic firearms.

WWII-surplus weapons like this Webley revolver, Mills bomb and Lee-Enfield No. 4 rifle
often saw service early on during the Troubles.

M1928 Thompsons were common in England after WWII. As a result many of the old
choppers found their way into Northern Ireland.

The Iron

The standard Infantry weapon used by the British Army at the time was the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle (SLR). An Anglicized version of the venerable FN FAL rifle chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO, the L1A1 was overly bulky for close quarters work but projected a great deal of authority downrange. Images of British soldiers patrolling the streets of Belfast with their L1A1 rifles at port arms were a recurrent part of the nightly news when I was a kid.

The IRA got their weapons from some motley sources. WWII-surplus arms like Lee-Enfield rifles and Thompson submachine guns were not uncommon early on. Muammar Ghaddafi was a fan, so Kalashnikov rifles and RPGs arrived thereafter. The cause also had its adherents on this side of the pond, so AR15 and AR180 rifles made it to the paramilitary wing of the IRA.

The Troubles was the only armed conflict wherein the Armalite AR180 saw significant action. Those close to the fighting called it the “Widowmaker” as a result. One of the strangest weapons used in the war, however, doesn’t really seem like a combat implement at all.

A .22 Rimfire. Really?

In 1974 the Royal Army Ordnance Corps ordered some 3,200 PP pistols chambered in .22LR directly from Walther. These weapons bore no distinctive British marks and were proofed at the West German proofhouse at Koblenz. Some of the weapons had a lanyard loop, while others did not. The official claim was they were intended for use as deep cover defensive weapons by members of the Ulster Defence Regiment.

The British Ministry of Defence designated this peculiar little gun the L66A1 and even assigned it a NATO stock number. Many to most of the weapons saw fairly hard use and underwent an FTR (Factory Through Repair) process. This rebuild included replacing the firing pins, stamping the slide with a “P” to document this fact, and refinishing the slides and frames.

The refinishing treatment involved coating the slide and frame in Suncorite. Suncorite is a black lacquer finish utilizing chemicals renowned for their simply breathtaking capacity to foment cancer. As this stuff is about as toxic as Plutonium, it’s banned in the United States.

The L66A1 was withdrawn in the 1980s, and the guns were repackaged and sold commercially in both the U.S. and Europe. Interarms imported about 1,500 copies into the U.S. in the mid-1990s. The guns were sold with a pair of magazines in a mismatched original box and are still available on gun auction sites from time to time today.

The Walther PP ultimately spawned a robust family of handguns. (L-R) A pre-war PP in .22LR,
a pre-war PPK in .32ACP and a current-production PPK/S in .380ACP.

The Walther PP Origin Story

Carl Walther debuted his trim little Polizei Pistole in 1929. The PP was a blowback-operated semiautomatic handgun feeding from a single column box magazine. The design used the Browning-inspired mechanism wherein the recoil spring telescoped around the barrel. Versions have been produced in .22LR, .25ACP, .32ACP, .380ACP and 9x18mm Ultra.

While the PP has seen widespread distribution, the smaller PPK (Kriminalmodell) got the most press. After a British firearms expert named Geoffrey Boothroyd posted a letter to Ian Fleming asserting James Bond’s .25-caliber Beretta 418 might be a bit effeminate for the world’s most awesome MI6 agent, the two men put their heads together and dropped a Walther PPK into 007’s holster. The PPK and subsequently slightly modified PPK/S are produced in Arkansas today and still sell well.

The most revolutionary aspect of the PP design was its revolver-style double action/single action trigger. While the PPs’ double action trigger is heavier than Aunt Edna’s fruitcake, the single action version remains fairly comfortable. This trigger design allowed the trim little guns to be carried safely with a round in the chamber. Variations on this trigger found their way into the Walther P38, Beretta M9, the SIG P226 and many other popular combat handguns.

The PP-series guns feature a pushbutton magazine release on the left behind the trigger and a hammer-drop safety mounted on the left aspect of the slide. There is a mechanical loaded-chamber indicator protruding out the back of the slide when the weapon is hot. The sights are lyrically small but there is a neat series of wavy lines cut into the top of the slide to minimize glare.

The Walther PP introduced the Double Action/Single Action trigger as well as the hammer
drop safety to the world of autoloading handguns.

Denouement

The official party line claims these compact concealable rimfire pistols were intended as off-duty protection weapons and close quarters personal defense tools. However, the .32ACP version of the Walther PP, designated the L47A1, was also an issue weapon within the MOD at the same time, and it projected a bit more horsepower downrange. There are those who suspect these guns were assassination tools. The truth was likely lost when the Troubles thankfully ended in a cease fire in 1998.

Regardless of their original intended purpose, the Walther PP in .22LR is just cute as a button. The L66A1 isn’t the pistol I would drop into my pocket for a trek across a spooky parking lot, but it remains simply great fun on the range. For close-in defense against rampaging aluminum beverage cans, it’s the absolute perfect tool.

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