Heckler and Koch MP5: A world’s most famous submachine gun

Eric Sof

Heckler and Koch MP5 is one of the most famous submachine guns ever produced. Since World War II, the German concern of Heckler and Koch has become one of Europe’s largest and most critical small-arms manufacturers. Its success has been based soundly on the production of its HK G3 rifle, which was a standard NATO weapon and is still in use worldwide. In the 1960s, the company used the Heckler and Koch G3 as a basis on which to produce the Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine gun.

Rifle-based design

The MP5 was designed to fire the standard 9-mm X 19 Parabellum cartridge. Although this is a relatively low-powered pistol rounds, the HK MP5 uses the same roller and inclined ramp locking mechanism as the G3, which fires a full-power rifle round. The complexity of the system is more than offset by its increased safety.

Unlike other machine pistols, the MP5 fires from a closed bolt- the breach block is in the forward position when the trigger is pulled, so there is no forward-moving mass to disturb the aim. This makes the HK MP5 much more accurate than other submachine guns. The resemblance to the Heckler & Koch G3 is maintained by using many G3 components on the HK MP5.

Nationella insatsstyrkan (National Task Force) Sweden
Sweden’s Nationella insatsstyrkan (National Task Force) operators brandishing theirs Heckler and Koch MP5s (Photo: Sweden Police)

The MP5 was chambered in 9mm, and everybody has been trying to underpower 9mm in the last decade. 9mm Luger, even without a hollow point, has killed more people than smallpox. It has been issued to more of the world’s armies and police forces than any pistol cartridge ever. Being peppered with three rounds from an MP5 is normally fatal.

9mm is the most combat-tested pistol cartridge in history, and it has some high speed behind it. With hollow point ammo, it makes about a .48 hole. Bigger than a .45 ACP, which is a very nasty pistol cartridge.

Like 5.56, the only people who believe it is underpowered have never seen someone shot with one. People hit with 9mm Luger generally lay down, and if they don’t receive immediate medical care, they die. Keep in mind that only 40 percent of handgun injuries are fatal, but someone shot with a 9mm usually will stop doing whatever it is that got them shot. A three-round burst from a small rifle like an MP5 will probably kill the victim quickly.

Variants

Used by military and law enforcement units in more than 50 nations, the HK MP5 is firmly established as the world’s pre-eminent submachine gun. Over 120 variants of the HK MP5 are available to address the broadest range of tactical requirements. The weapon’s unique modular design and optional buttstocks, forearms, sight mounts, and other accessories give the Heckler and Koch MP5 extraordinary flexibility to meet almost any mission.

The main versions of the MP5 include the HK MP5A with a fixed buttstock and the HK MP5A3 with a sliding metal strut stock. The HK MP5A4 and the HK MP5A5 are weapons with a three-round burst fire capability.

Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine gun with a silencer attached HK MP5
Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine gun with a silencer attached (Photo: WikiGuns)

The HK MP5SD is a silenced weapon used in special or anti-terrorist warfare. The removable sound suppressor is integrated into the design and conforms to an unsuppressed weapon’s average length and profile. The MP5SD uses a stainless steel sound suppressor as an integral aluminum or optional wet technology. Unlike most silenced weapons, it does not require subsonic ammunition for effective sound reduction.

Concealed carry SMGs

The HK MP5K was introduced by special units, where weapon concealment is often essential. It is an abridged version of the basic Heckler and Koch MP5, only 325 mm extended and recognizable by a small foregrip under the almost non-existent muzzle. The MP5KA1 is a particular version of this variant with no protrusions so that it can be carried under clothing or in a unique holster.

The HK MP5N or ‘Navy’ model is made for U.S. Navy SEALs. Fully ‘marinated’ for operations in seawater, it comes standard with an ambidextrous trigger group and threaded barrel.

Navy SEALs training with MP5 submachine guns in the late 1990s.
Navy SEALs trained with Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine guns in the late 1990s. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Despite its complexity, the Heckler and Koch MP5 have proved an excellent and reliable submachine gun. Its first users were West German police agencies and border guards, and soon numbers were purchased by Swiss police and the Netherlands armed forces. Law-enforcement officers widely use single fire variants in crowded public areas such as airports.

However, since the British SAS adopted the HK MP5, it has become the weapon of choice for Special Forces worldwide. The MP5 is inherently accurate because it fires from a closed bolt, and pinpoint accuracy is an essential requirement of any weapon used in a hostage rescue, where innocent lives are at risk.

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HK MP5 in conventional warfare

The Heckler and Koch MP5 have become obsolete in conventional warfare. In a day and age where most combatants shoot at each other from anywhere between 200 and 500 yards away and would be wearing body armor and ballistic helmets, there are more suitable options out there for personnel that would generally be carrying a submachine gun.

The Heckler and Koch MP5 was state of the art in 1966 and took the world by storm. That was also 52 years ago. There are more modern designs on the market, but each person’s application is different, and different solutions may work in some places where they don’t work in others. The MP5 is still the best solution for some people, for various reasons, but it is not the best for everybody.

In a tight, urban environment with civilians about and a typical terrorist (or several) with boomstick but no armor, the MP5 would be one of my top contenders. Still, in conventional warfare, the MP5s days are sadly over. Most users who loved MP5 have made the transition to the HK MP7.

Technical specifications: Heckler and Koch MP5

Manufacturer: Heckler & Koch GmbH, D-7238 Oberndorf/Neckar, Germany
Designed: 1964–1966
Service: 1966-present
Type: roller-delayed blowback closed bolt
Caliber:  9 mm (0.354 in) Parabellum
Barrel: 225 mm
Weight (empty): 2.97 kg (6lb 8 oz)
Effective firing range:
  • 200 m (656 ft) (MP5A2, MP5A3, MP5A4, MP5A5)
  • 100 m (328 ft) (MP5K, MP5KA1, MP5KA4, MP5KA5, MP5K-PDW)
Rate of fire: 800 rounds per minute
Magazine capacity: 15, 30, or 40 round detachable box magazine and 100-round Beta C-Mag drum magazine

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