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WA2000: The Bullpup Sniper Rifle with a Past

With only 176 in existence, the the WA2000 tells a story of Innovation in the wake of tragedy.

Early on September 5, 1972, a group of Palestinian terrorists stormed the Olympic village, killing two Israeli athletes and taking nine hostages. This group, known as Black September, demanded the release of 230 Arab prisoners and two German terrorists. The massacre escalated at the Munich airport, resulting in all nine hostages, five terrorists, and one German police officer dead.

As happens after many tragedies and in times of war, people and governments seek to find a solution to prevent future tragedies after the fact. While some turn to limitations on guns, others turn to more efficient firearms. After the attack during the Summer Olympics, the German government looked to find a new type of firearm that could be used in the event of a tragedy like that. They turned to Walther — a well-known and prominent Waffenfabrik (weapon factory) — who developed the WA2000.

Now, if you’re thinking you’ve never heard of this firearm, you wouldn’t be alone; only 176 were made and very few remain, especially in the United States. But this rifle found its own cult following due to its ingenuity and the allure of a hefty price tag.

Walther WA2000
Photo Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company.

Histories of Technology Converge

The WA2000 is a semi-automatic bullpup sniper rifle developed by Carl Walther GmbH Sportwaffen company in the 1980s. It was chambered primarily in .300 Winchester Magnum, but was also made in 7.62x51mm NATO and 7.5x55mm Swiss. It operated from a close bolt with seven locking lugs. This gas-operated gun was a repeater, taking a six-round detachable magazine — although a 10-round variation existed, but wasn’t used. There are many traits here that make it unique in terms of concept ­— it’s essentially two technologies mashed together to make a pretty ingenious firearm. 

The Bullpup

Ah, the bullpup, everyone’s favorite quintessential British weirdo. If you’re not familiar with the bullpup, it’s essentially a firearm where the action sits behind the trigger. This concept, while not seen often in firearms history, wasn’t exactly new when it was first devised. Several single-shot back-action percussion firearms, like the Henry Deringer, both predate or exist around the invention of the formal bullpup. The bullpup as a repeating concept was conceived by William Joseph Curtis in 1866. Since then, it was used in bolt-action technology in 1901 with the Thorneycroft carbine and made its way into semi-automatics by 1918 in France. This design continued to be perfected during World War II. Designer Stefan Janson is probably the most prolific of the bullpup inventors. He worked on several and created the cult classic, EM2. My colleague at the Royal Armouries, Jonathan Ferguson, has traced references to the term bullpup to the 1930s. According to those references, bullpup was an abbreviation bulldog puppy and used as a colloquialism since the 19th century. And in my favorite quote, it’s essentially a descriptor, meaning something that was “squat, ugly, but still aggressive and powerful.”You can see more about these on RECOILtv’s Forgotten Weapons channel, in an interview that Ian McCollum conducts with Ferguson.

walther WA2000
Photo Curtesy of Carl Walther GmbH.

The Sniper Rifle 

The other merging of technological history with the WA2000 is the evolution of the sniper rifle. The concept of an accurate weapon to be used for specialized purpose on the battlefield isn’t new. Long rifles were used during the American Revolution. During the Crimean War of the 1850s, optics began appearing on the battlefield. By the Civil War, the Union utilized Sharps Berdan Rifles and the Confederacy, Whitworth Rifles for sniper-like tactics. During WWI and beyond, the Springfield 1903 could be modified for precision sniper use. Actually, the bolt action has a long history of appearing as a sniper rifle — with the 1903 even being used up through the Korean Conflict. Even the M2 machine gun was famously equipped with a scope and utilized as a sniper rifle.

These two technologies have their own long histories, but they came together in the aftermath of tragedy to make the WA2000. But why? One positive feature of the bullpup was the fact that it could allow for an easier to manipulate firearm. The action behind the trigger meant the firearm could have a full barrel length  (increasing the projectile’s velocity), while reducing the overall length for better maneuverability. The WA-2000 also utilized a quickly detachable scope for distance and sniper use. It had both a single or two-stage triggers with a press weight of between 2.6 and 3.1 pounds. 

walther WA2000
Photo Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company.

All in all, the WA2000 was seemingly a perfect “sturm” of technologies. The semi-automatic gas operation allowed for faster yet more controlled rates of fire. The bullpup allowed for the firearm to get the best of rifle technology without the hassle of extreme length. And the sniper component gave the ability to have a precision rifle up close or at a distance in a time of an emergency. While the WA-2000 was adopted by some German Police Units, it was never adopted across the board. Have you heard the expression, “Jack of all trades; master of none?” It would seem the military did. The WA-2000 was a good firearm and design, but it wasn’t considered robust enough for true sniper rifle use. Furthermore, with a baseline price tag of between $9,000 and $12,000, let’s all be real, no government was shelling out that kind of money for one firearm. The WA-2000 ultimately went where many idealistic technologies that don’t work out in the real world go … Hollywood. The WA-2000, like so many firearms — especially Walthers — before it, appeared in the James Bond series, both on film and in the video games. 

The Perfect Sturm

The WA2000 is a really cool-looking gun. It combines several features of popular guns throughout history, and I’m admittedly massively jealous I’ve never seen one IRL. However, I always get frustrated looking back at history at why we as a society are so reactionary with development and innovation. Why is it only in the wake of tragedy that we see inroads to new technologies that could’ve aided in a better outcome? And why is it that as soon as we come up with something, we so easily throw away the concept until another day. You’d think we’d learn at some point that there’ll always be a next time and maybe we don’t have to scramble and reinvent the wheel every time. 

Walther WA2000 Bullpup Sniper Rifle

Caliber: .300 Win Mag, 7.5x55mm Swiss, and 7.62x51mm
Capacity: 6-round detachable box magazine
Length: About 35 inches
Action: Gas operated
Weight (Unloaded): About 16 pounds

More Historic Firearms on RECOIL

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