Lot #508
Lot #510

Lot 509: Engraved WWII Walther PP Pistol Captured at the Factory

Auction Location: Rock Island, IL

Auction Date: September 10, 2021

Lot 509: Engraved WWII Walther PP Pistol Captured at the Factory

Auction Location: Rock Island, IL

Auction Date: September 10, 2021

Estimated Price: $90,000 - $140,000
Price Realized:

Historic Presentation Engraved World War II Walther PP Semi-Automatic Pistol Documented as a GI Capture Straight from the Walther Factory in Zella-Mehlis, and Attributed as Being Made for General Gotthard Heinrici, Eastern Front Commander and One of the Final Defenders of Berlin

Manufacturer: Walther
Model: PP
Type: Pistol
Gauge: 7.65 mm auto
Barrel: 3 3/4 inch round
Finish: in the white
Grip: original
Stock:
Item Views: 5951
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 351
Class: Curio & Relic Handgun
Bore Condition: Shiny - Very little wear
Description:

At the center of the history of this lot is a signed affidavit from John F. DeCaire, Senior of Grafton, Massachusetts, notarized in 2001 and bundled with two pictures of himself with this pistol and another mentioned in the affidavit. As a young man DeCaire was a member of the 181st Infantry Regiment of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, later moving to the HQ Company, 359th Infantry Regiment, 90th Infantry Division (aka the Tough 'Ombres) for action in Europe. He hit Utah Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and fought with the Division across Europe. While he does not recount his exact activities, the 90th was highly active in France, helping close off the Falaise Pocket, fighting in the Ardennes Forest, piercing the Siegfried Line, crossing the Rhine, liberating the Flossenburg Concentration Camp, and punching their way clear through to Czechoslovakia. This campaign would include a short stint occupying Zella-Mehlis (spelled "Zeller-Mehlis" in DeCaire's narrative), where DeCaire was the First Sergeant of a security company tasked with securing Walther's main plant. Among other events he described, DeCaire's unit secured two full boxcars of "burp gun" SMGs, and performed security while the Army Corps of Engineers stripped the building of machinery before the area was handed over to the Red Army. Additionally, while most of the factory workers made themselves scarce when the place fell into American hands, DeCaire was able to find one of the factory engravers, who in turn led his unit to an office containing multiple high-end Walther pistols in for work. DeCaire claimed two as war trophies, with the pistol in this lot called out by both serial number and identifying features. After leaving Zella-Mehlis, DeCaire spent a few months on occupation duty in Czechoslovakia before returning home to civilian life. Also included with the affidavit is a set of research notes regarding the two most prominent decorations on the pistol; a rendering of the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords on the left side of the grip, and the initials "GH" on the right side. In the top three German decorations of World War II, it was granted for what can only be described as chronic and consistent valor in the face of the enemy; while American medals are individually awarded, the Iron Cross/Knight's Cross was treated as a sequence, and barring exceptional action would need to be earned in order from the Iron Cross Second Class on up. 160 men received this level of Knight's Cross, only one of which has the initials "GH" (a few "HG"s are on the list, but the arrangement of the initials in this case is reasonably clear). That individual is Gotthard Fedor August Heinrici, Generaloberst in the Heer. Born in 1886 and hailing from Prussian nobility, he joined the army as an Infantry Cadet in 1905. During World War One he saw action in the invasion of Belgium, 1st Masurian Lakes, Lodz, and Verdun, as well as serving on the General Staff. Staying in service through the Weimar Era and into Hitler's Third Reich, he would be among the participants in the breeching of the Maginot Line during the Invasion of France, and then spend most of the rest of the war on the Eastern Front, fighting at Bialystok-Minsk, Kiev, outside Moscow, and throughout the long, slow collapse of the situation on theat front. While he distinguished himself in the sort of ugly, inglorious war that typified the Eastern Front, he often found himself fighting his bosses as well as the enemy; while Heinrici fully understood the idea that holding land is not a virtue on it's own, Hitler and in turn his top guys were married to the idea of not giving the Soviets back a single inch of soil unless they paid for it in blood by the gallon. While decorated and lauded for his feats in fending off the Reds, he was also criticized for not treating every given trench like his last, losing a command in 1943 after not going full scorched earth on Smolensk and being put on temporary forced retirement in 1944 for arguing for a large scale pullback of Army Group Center. He earned the Swords to go with his Knight's Cross after this incident for his leadership in the Battle of Dukla Pass; originally planning to run through the Pass in 5 days and link up with the anti-German Slovak National Uprising, the Soviets were instead held up for an entire month, which in turn had dire consequences for the Uprising. His final command would be Army Group Vistula, charged with holding the Soviets at the final set of proper defenses between them and Berlin proper. While Heinrici distinguished himself again in the resulting Battle of the Seelow Heights, the bottom line was that the war was all over but the crying; Nazi Germany no longer had the men or the material to deal with what was happening on the Eastern and Western Fronts. Relieved of command after Army Group Vistula attempted to re-establish themselves further west, Heinrici was accused of trying to abandon Hitler and ordered to report to Berlin. While originally planning on following the order, one of his men pointed out the very real danger that he would get the same treatment Rommel got if he went; instead he opted to head to Ploen, and ended the war in British hands. Spending time at the Island Farm site as well as a brief stint in an American camp, he was released in 1948. In civilian life, he would participate in the formation of the Operational History (German) Section of the United States Army Center of Military History; while this organization would be responsible for documenting and codifying many of the lessons learned during World War II, it was also a major expositor of the "Clean Wehrmacht" narrative. Both ethically and politically, he was a mixed bag, not committing to the worst side of things (avoided pure scorched earth tactics, never joining the Party itself), but not clean either (accepting the worst 'anti-partisan' actions in his back lines as "preventative terror", seeking out a special blood certificate from Hitler himself so his children wouldn't be persecuted for documented Jewish ancestry), like many of his peers in the upper ranks of the Wehrmacht. Historically, he never achieved the fame of Rommel or the notoriety of Hitler's inner circle; instead of the "Desert Fox" racking up grand tactical achievements in France and Northern Europe, he was "Giftzwerg" (literally "Poisonous Dwarf", figuratively "Nasty Little Man") putting in the work in one of the ugliest meat grinders of the 20th century. The exact circumstances of this pistol's creation are unknown, but the timing of his receipt of the Swords (March 1945) and the closure of the War itself could have left enough time for the pistol to be ordered (either by himself or a well-wisher) but not completed before the curtain fell. Aside from the "in the white" finish and the lack of acceptance proofs, the core features of this pistol are typical for Walther's work of the period, with a set of fixed sights, standard marking on the left side of the slide, a 60 degree safety, and the matching hand-scribed serial number inside the slide. The engraving is sharply executed and well in line with documented Walther presentation pistols, with finely cut oak leaf and acorn motifs on many surfaces, plus bead, checkerboard, and geometric accents on some components. A few of the small components have a plated finish. As noted, the smooth grip panels have the carved Knight's Cross on the left and "GH" on the right, set into oval panels with textured black filler in the backgrounds. The included magazine is properly marked, with a matching white plastic extension base. Both the pistol and magazine fit in a Walther factory pattern presentation case, with a red leatherette exterior and a white velvet inner lining with "WALTHER/PP" in gold print inside the lid; while not explicitly noted in DeCaire's letter, it can be seen in the photos of him with the two described pistols.

Rating Definition:

Exceptionally fine, showing some minor spotting and a few small areas of brown patina on the original bright in-the-white metal, along with a few mild handling marks. The left grip panel shows some chipping and cracking in the vicinity of the safety lever, with both sides showing some flaking of the background material, with an attractive grain pattern and aged color. The case is rough, with the latch hardware absent and a number of scuffs and tears. Mechanically excellent. An attractive display of Walther craftsmanship, liberated directly from the factory itself with solid provenance and an interesting connection to one of the historic World War II big players on the Eastern Front.



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