By: Friedrich Seiltgen
Since its beginning in post-war Germany in 1948, Heckler & Koch has gone through good times, bad times, and scandals.
Born at the end of WWII, H&K rose from the ashes of the Mauser factory in Oberndorf am Neckar in the French sector to become a giant in the weapons industry. The factory was dismantled, and all design paperwork, blueprints, etc. were destroyed by French occupation forces. Three Mauser engineers, Edmund Heckler, Theodor Koch, and Alex Seidel together salvaged what they could from the Mauser Factory and formed what would become H&K. Initially, the trio designed and manufactured bicycles, machine tools, and precision parts. They got their first shot at building weapons again in 1956 when the reformed German army could arm up again, and the Bundeswehr needed a new battle rifle.
The first rifle created by the team in conjunction with the Spanish arms manufacturer CETME was the G3 or Gewehr-3. The original CETME rifle was designed by German engineer Ludwig Vorgrimler. The H&K motto is “No Compromises,” and the founders illustrated their dedication to detail when they were awarded the contract; production began in 1959.
Chambered in 7.62 X 51 NATO, the G3 is one robust, reliable rifle,that has seen service around the globe. The G3 and its semi-automatic version, the HK 91, are made primarily with plastic furniture, stamped receivers, a hammer forged barrel, and use the Roller-Delayed Blowback operating system.
Initial production models had a problem with fired cases sticking in the chamber. The problem was solved by adding flutes in the chamber. This allowed gases to free up the cartridge, enabling easier extraction. Take a look at a case ejected, and you’ll see the marks on the case as well as a dent from the round striking the ejection port. A case buffer is a must on this rifle! The recoil is harsh, and if firing a full auto burst, you better “lean in and hang on.”
The G3 is the basis for several variants, including the belt fed HK21 light machine gun with quick change barrel, the MSG-90, and last but not least, the PSG1 (Prazisionsschuztengewehr) Sniper rifle. The PSG 1 was created in response to the Munich Olympics massacre, as was the anti-terrorist Unit GSG9, because the West German police did not have anything that could reliably reach out and touch someone at long distances. One G3 variant had a collapsible stock for Fallschirmjaeger (airborne) units. The original stock was beloved, but the stock was changed to allow it to be set on the ground when using the G3 to launch grenades. Firing the G3 with the gen 2 collapsible stock was so punishing that German soldiers called it the “Fleisch Klopfer,” or “Meat Tenderizer”!
The rifle has an atrocious 12-pound trigger pull, but remember what this rifle was designed for. This problem can be remedied by installing a PSG1 trigger pack with a 4.5-pound trigger pull.
The Bundeswehr used the G3 for more than 50 years, until its replacement by the HK G36 rifle system, but there are hundreds of thousands of G3s still stored in reserve.
As an armorer, I found the G36 to be an excellent addition to the HK lineup. Placed into Bundeswehr service in 1997, the G36 used a short stroke, piston-rotating bolt operating system instead of roller delayed blowback.
The 416 is essentially an M4 copy that uses the HK proprietary short stroke gas piston operating system. It has many international users as well as the U.S. Marines, FBI HRT, Delta Force, and was the weapon used to kill Osama bin Laden.
P7M8: The P7 was produced from 1978 to 2008. The “squeeze cocker” had a unique gas-delayed blowback operating system that used gas pressure from the fired round to retard the rearward motion of the slide. The P7 had a cocking lever built into the grip that must be squeezed before the trigger can be pulled. In 1983, the P7M8 entered service with the New Jersey State Police. The NJSP decided to trade in their wheel guns for a semi-auto after a trooper was murdered during a 1981 shootout because he was outgunned.
In 2000, the NJSP retired the P7, claiming the pistols were wearing out, and a trooper was killed during a shootout when the trooper’s P7 jammed, and the suspect killed him before he could clear the malfunction. On the other hand, there are documented episodes where officers have been saved because a criminal disarmed them, but was unfamiliar with the cocking lever and was unable to fire the weapon!
New Jersey replaced their P7s with the S&W99, which quickly turned into a disaster. More on that later. What did New Jersey do with all the retired P7s, you ask? They melted them down of course! Take a look at what a P7 brings in today’s market. New Jersey lost out on millions of dollars in resale money! But hey, it’s only yourmoney…
The USP came into service in 1993. It was to be a replacement for the P7 series and would be H&K’s first polymer framed pistol. The USP went into service with the Bundeswehr as the P8 and is the basis for the Mk 23 Mod 0 SOCOM pistol with suppressor.
The MP5 was designed in the 60s by the West German firearms manufacturer Heckler & Koch as a counter to the UZI. It is one of the most successful submachinegun designs in history. It is produced in several countries under license, as well as unlicensed production by China. With more than 100 variations to cover various tactical requirements, the Heckler & Koch MP5 is the workhorse of SWAT Teams worldwide. H&K uses the same stamped receiver and roller delayed blowback operating system for the MP5 9mm as used by the German Bundeswehr G3 machinegun and its semi-auto civilian version, the HK91 chambered in .308.
The MP5 was later chambered in .40 caliber & 10 mm by request of the U.S. Navy. The larger calibers created some problems for the MP, as it was designed with the 9mm in mind, but it was purchased by police departments that went along with the .40 caliber craze.
The MP5 gained its notoriety during Operation Nimrod. The raid on the Iranian embassy in London was shown on live TV. During the assault on the embassy, the MP5 was spotted in the hands of the British Special Air Service operators. Following Nimrod, sales of the MP5 exploded as every SWAT team had to have them. The MP5 is also a well-known film star, and the public would be exposed to the MP5 on the silver screen during the 80s. The MP5 showed up in scores of movies, from Lethal Weapon, to Predator and my favorite – Die Hard!
While assigned to the Orlando police department, I was a weapons armorer on five different firearms systems, and the MP5 was my favorite. I was sent to the H&K US Headquarters, which was then located in Sterling, Virginia for a week-long armorer school. Some variants were difficult, to say the least. The MP5 with a burst group trigger was a challenge to take apart and reassemble. We were told by the instructors that HK used steel from a certain area of France for its hammer forged barrels, as it was stronger than steel from other areas due to its composition. While there, I was fortunate to see the HK Grey Room: a collection of HK firearms from the past as well as prototypes for guns never put into production – including the G11, a real assault rifle that used caseless ammunition designed by Dynamit Nobel. The G11 was cancelled after the fall of the wall and collapse of the Soviet Empire. The room also contained four G3s set up in a quad mount as an anti-aircraft gun for the Shah of Iran. Due to the Shah’s overthrow, it was never delivered.
Our department had mostly MP5-A2 models, but we also had suppressed models, as well as the MP5K -PDW (Personal Defense Weapon). With its short barrel and folding stock, it could be placed inside a specially designed briefcase and fired from inside the case by using the trigger assembly under the carrying handle.
In 1998, H&K developed the successor to the MP5, the UMP45 chambered in .45 caliber. Due to its polymer construction, it is lighter than the MP5, and the cyclic rate was lowered due to the increased recoil.
In 2001 the HK MP7 went into production. The MP7 was designed to meet NATO requirements with a 4.6 X 30mm cartridge. Its a competitor to the FN P90 chambered in 5.7 X 28mm. These rounds can penetrate the standard bullet resistant vest worn by law enforcement. This round, along with the FN Five-Seven pistol, was used by U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood during his Islamic terrorism shooting.
The H&K SP-5 was introduced December 2019, just in time for Christmas and the 2020 SHOT Show. The verdict is in, and it’s a hit! Billed as a semiautomatic sporting version of the legendary MP-5, the SP5 is designated a “pistol” and features the MP5 “Navy” barrel with threaded tri-lug adapter, fluted chamber, and paddle magazine release. Although the SP5 was created for U.S. shooters, the gun is built in HK’s main factory in Oberndorf am Neckar in Germany. This ensures the same quality as the MP5, as it is built on the same line by the same technicians who have built the famous MP5 Sub Gun for years. HK’s press release states, “The new SP5 will make all those generic MP5 copies out there look like nothing more than gun store consolation prizes.”
The SP5 is the fourth attempt at making a Semiautomatic MP5. The HK94 was a MP5 type carbine with a 16” barrel. I’m still kicking myself for not buying one that I saw at a gun show for $750. Other attempts at an MP5 pistol were the SP-89, and in 2016 the SP5K. All these versions were a bit awkward and lacked the features of the real deal MP5.
The SP5 comes with an elastic type sling mounted to the rear of the receiver. This enables the shooter to use the SAS sling method to shoot. This method is credited to the British SAS (Special Air Service) as seen used in the raid on the Iranian embassy in London. SAS operators are seen entering the building with MP5s without stocks and a big Maglite flashlight mounted on top. Don’t laugh, this was high speed-low drag stuff for its time! Combine this with wearing a bulky gas mask, which prevents a proper cheek weld, and you get the SAS method. Basically, the technique requires the operator to connect to the sling and push the gun out forward. This creates tension on the sling and helps stabilize the gun for more accurate shooting. I have used this method for qualifying on the MP5 while assigned to the Orlando Police Airport Division, and it works!
The SP-5 is another quality product from HK. The $2,799 price, however, is out of order in my opinion. The MP5 has been produced for many years, and the production cost is nowhere near this, but the laws of supply and demand apply. HK products are expensive, and their resale value makes them a good investment. Currently, the SP5 is hard to obtain. HK has other priorities, and the SP5 is on back-order already. That’s not stopping hardcore HK fans who are paying north of $3,500 for the gun if they can get one!
Problems & Situations
Due to the fall of the Berlin Wall, as well as the collapse of the USSR, politicians around the world were excited about the so-called “peace dividend.” H&K was sold to British Aerospace Royal Ordnance Systems In 1991. During this time, HK kept busy designing and producing the G36 rifle and the P8 pistol. In 2002, H&K was sold to private investors. In 2004, H&K struck paydirt with a contract award from the U.S. Department of Homeland security, which ordered 65,000 pistols!
Heckler & Koch was also known for its in-house training division. Headed by John Meyer, the HK training division was second to none. In 2006, the Blackwater Security Group entered into a contract to provide training for H&K. After a news report that Blackwater used H&K weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan, the German government stepped in. German Green Party politician Hans Christian Stroebele was outraged, stating, “It is scandalous and unacceptable that a German arms company cooperates with such a lawless mercenary troop.” Blackwater and H&K parted ways in 2008.
In 2011, H&K was accused of illegal arms sales to Mexico. Two H&K employees were found to have used fake permits to export 4,700 rifles to Mexico. These rifles were used to fire on protestors, and the resulting scandal ultimately ended in a conviction of the employees, as well as a 3.7 million Euro fine for H&K.
In 2015, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, now European Union President, announced that the G36 would be phased out of service due to alleged overheating problems. The problem with that decision is that German soldiers aren’t complaining about the rifle. There are claims that Von der Leyen has an axe to grind with H&K and is lying about the G36. I personally see this as more likely. The search for a new rifle began without input from normal sources. The new requirements include a maximum weight of 3.6 kilos. None of the possible replacements can achieve this weight limit and meet the specification for penetration.
HK has some problems with solvency. In 2018, an audit by KPMG showed money problems. In February 2019, HK was fined 3.7 million Euros ($4.2 million dollars) by a German court for illegal rifle sales to Mexico. In Mid-2019, HK technicians at the Columbus, Georgia plant took a pay cut to help. If HK needs money, I have an idea: start building more guns we want! How about a semi-auto MP-7 pistol?
I hope H&K can get everything under control. They produce a high-quality lineup of weapons, and by the looks of things in the USA, we’re gonna need them!
That’s all for now folks! Please keep sending in your questions, tips, and article Ideas. We want to hear from you! And as always – “Let’s Be Careful Out There”
Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, First Aid, Active Shooter Response, and Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations in Florida. His writing has appeared in The Counter Terrorist Magazine, Homeland Security Today and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org