The Walther MPL

Stamped-Steel Cold War Wonder
; .

The Walther MPL is an underappreciated gem. Inexpensive to produce and reliable,
the modest rate of fire and low bore axis make it unusually controllable.

In the 1970s West Berlin stood 100 miles inside communist-controlled territory, a tragically flawed testament to post-World War II geopolitical acrimony. The Berlin Brigade was a token NATO force billeted in this surrounded, beleaguered city. Their mission was not so much their combat effectiveness as it was what they represented. Attacking the Berlin Brigade was tantamount to attacking the United States. However, chances are things would not have ended well for these isolated grunts had the Cold War suddenly turned hot.

Operating in the shadows in West Berlin was a small contingent of Special Forces soldiers known as Detachment A. Theirs was the archetypal Green Beret mission. Should the balloon go up and Warsaw Pact forces roll over West Berlin like a juggernaut, Detachment A troops would melt into the population to foment a covert underground war. To pull this off, these iron-willed studs had a 10,000-weapon stash of military firearms hidden for distribution to would-be partisans. Thank the Good Lord it never came to pass.

There were never more than about a hundred Special Forces operators assigned to Detachment A. Given the unique nature of their mission they were authorized some comparably unique weapons. One of those unique firearms was the Walther MP submachine gun.


There are always comparisons between the HK MP5 (above) and the Walther MPL.
Both guns weigh about the same and have similar geometry but the MPL is a much
simpler design.

The Vagaries Of Fate

The HK MP5 got all the serious press, but it was an iffy thing. The Walther MP was used by West German police during the 1972 Munich Massacre of Israeli athletes by Palestinian Black September terrorists. It was also carried by U.S. Army Delta Force operators during Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue the American hostages held in Iran in 1979. By contrast, the British SAS wielded MP5s in 1980 as they successfully stormed the Iranian embassy at Princes Gate in London live on international television.

Munich was a massacre and Eagle Claw came up dry, while the SAS Operation Nimrod was lyrically successful. As a result, everybody with a badge wanted an MP5 in the trunk of his squad car and the Walther MP died a natural death. However, with the benefit of hindsight and a lot of trigger time on both weapons, I’m not so sure the best gun won.


Unlike the MP5, the barrel on the MPL is easily replaceable in the field without tools.

The Walther MP

Walther produced the MP in West Germany from 1963 until 1985. MP stands for Maschinenpistole or “Machine Pistol” after the wartime German nomenclature for submachine guns. The MP came in broad flavors.

The MPL (“Lang”) sported a 10.2" barrel and 29.4" overall length with the stock deployed. The MPK (“Kurz”) featured a stubbier 6.8" tube and a 25.9" overall length. Both guns cycled at a sedate 550 rounds per minute.

The MP was built predominantly of pressed steel components welded in place. The side-folding stock was formed out of steel tubing and encased in a rubber coating. The bilateral fire selector was located underneath the thumb and operated a bit differently from our familiar M4. Safe is pointing backwards. The first 90-degree position is full auto, while rotating the lever through 180 degrees places the gun on semi.


The fire selector rotates through 180 degrees like an M4 but the
semi and full auto positions are reversed.

Takedown is simple and straightforward without tools but the gun’s design is fairly unconventional. The MP fires from the open bolt via advanced primer ignition, but the bolt is relatively small and lightweight. However, there is a fairly massive counterweight rigidly affixed to the top of the bolt reciprocating inside the tubular portion of the receiver. It is this counterweight keeping the rate of fire so dawdling.

The gun’s sights are also eccentric. On the top of the sight assembly is a forward notch and a pressed steel rear triangle. While effective, this setup is obviously backwards from most conventional military arms. There is also a tiny peep sight arranged underneath this wide battle sight featuring its own front post. This peep sight is suitable for precise work at a relatively long distance. In the days before glass optics, this reflected the state of the art in mechanical SMG sights.

The sling swivels are left-side only, and the barrel shroud is amply ventilated. The magazine release is a thumb lever located behind the magazine well philosophically similar to the AK-47. The magwell is flared for easy access even in the dark. The non-reciprocating charging handle is located on the front left aspect of the weapon in the manner of an MP5.


Most of the Walther MPL, including the trigger and fire controls, is formed
from inexpensive pressed steel components.

Left-handed shooters must reach across the weapon.

How Does She Run?

The Walther MPL is my personal favorite submachine gun. The ergonomics complement the human form nicely, and the controls are well-engineered and handy. Additionally, the slow rate of fire lends itself to easy burst control without profligate ammunition expenditure. The wire stock is not the most comfortable ever designed but it is stable, rigid, and easily deployed in a rush.
There will be inevitable comparisons to the HK MP5. Call me a heretic if you wish but the MP5 always seemed a bit overly complex to me, kind of like driving nails with some complicated mechanical contraption when a good old-fashioned hammer might do just as well. Additionally, at 700 rounds per minute the rate of fire of the MP5 is just a bit spunky for my tastes. An experienced operator can indeed write his name with the thing but I find the Walther gun to be a bit more forgiving.

The open bolt design does offer a tiny little jar every time you touch it off, but this effect is minimal with attention to technique. Running both guns side by side I shoot about the same with each while enjoying the MPL a bit more — and my magazines last longer as well.

Had fate intervened these various operations might have gone a different way — it might have been the overly complex MP5 going the way of the dodo while the pressed steel Walther endured. Regardless, the Walther MPL remains a simply superb Cold War-era subgun.

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