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HK MP5: I Fired This PowerfulSubmachine Gun (Here Is My Experience)

MP5. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Though it may not have the name recognition amongst Hollywood action-adventure films that the Israeli-made Uzi submachine gun does, the German-designed Heckler & Koch (HK) MP5 submachine gun (SMG) has certainly made its fair share of cinematic appearances.

Just two examples are Charlie Sheen – in his pre-“Bi-Winning!” days – and his onscreen comrades in the 1990 film Navy SEALS, and Bruce Willis and his terrorist adversaries alike – okay, they’re more like bank robbers if you really wanna nitpick – in the original Die Hard (which is of course the ultimate Christmas movie).

But Hollywood hokum aside, what’s even more impressive is the real-world credentials of the MP5 subgun. It’s arguably the single most popular submachine gun amongst military and police units – especially counterterrorist units – in the world, having been adopted by over 40 nations. Let’s take a look.

Hier Kommen die Heckler

The HK MP5 was first introduced in 1965 by the then-West German – now just plain German of course – company Heckler & Koch GmbH, headquartered in Oberndorf am Neckar in the state of Baden-Württemberg; the company’s American subsidiary is located in Columbus, Georgia.

Most SMGs made before the MP5, such as the “Tommy Gun,” M3 “Grease Gun,” and the aforementioned Uzi, employed a open-bolt system that could be mass-produced at lesser expense whilst still maintaining reliability due to the simplicity of the mechanism; the downside is that open-bolt operation produces more felt recoil which in turn causes more controllability issues during fully-automatic fire due to the bolt slamming back & forth. The MP5, by contrast, not only employs a closed bolt which allows for greater recoil control during full-auto fire, but also the delayed roller block system used by HK’s G3 rifle. Thanks to Teutonic engineering, the closed-bolt MP5’s reliability meets or exceeds that of its open-bolt competitors; with the downside being greater expense due to the production costs that go into that extra degree of engineering.

The manufacturer claims that there are over 120 variants of the MP5. The basic original MP5  comes with a standard-sized 30-round magazine and cyclic rate of fire of 800 rounds per minute. weighing around 5.5 pounds and sporting a length of 27 inches with a fixed stock; with collapsible-stock models such as the MP5-A3 that was used by the Navy SEALs, retracted length is around 21.69 inches, and the weight is 6.45 pounds. Another version that proved popular with the Navy SEALs – SEAL Team 6 founding commander Richard “Demo Dick” Marcinko (R.I.P.) sang its praises in several of his Rogue Warrior novels – and the U.S. Secret Service was the MP5K-PDW (Personal Defense Weapon), which is amazingly compact at a mere 14.53 inches in length.

The majority of MP5s chambered for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge. However, the company produced a 10mm version called the MP5/10 for the benefit of the FBI’s Hostage Response Team (HRT) to provide the Bureau with commonality of caliber with their Smith & Wesson Model 1076 handguns. The FBI eventually did away with the 10mm pistol, of course, but that’s a different story.

Long story short, the HK MP5 has earned a superb reputation in the past 57 years for accuracy, dependability, and user-friendliness. In his 1988 book The Rescuers: The World’s Top Anti-Terrorist Units, subject matter expert Leroy Thompson rated the MP5 as the best SMG in the world.

Field-Proven Terrorist-Killer

The two most famous real-world combat usages of the MP5 were in the hands of two elite European counterterror units: then-West Germany’s GSG-9 (Grenzschutzgruppe Neun, which literally translates to “Border Guard Group Nine”) and Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS).

It was GSG-9, under the command of then-Oberst (Colonel) – later Brigadegeneral (Brigadier General) – Ulrich “Ricky” Wegener, who gave the MP5 its first “blooding” in Operation Feuerzauber (“Fire Magic) on an airport tarmac in Mogadishu, Somalia on 18 October 1977 (yes, that means that 45th anniversary of the operation takes places this month), using it as the primary weapon to rescue 86 hostages aboard Lufthansa Flight 181, who were being held captive by four terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Final tally: three “tangos” killed and the fourth wounded and captured, in exchange for four good guys – one commando and four hostages – slightly wounded.

But it was the SAS – whose motto is “Who Dares, Wins” – that truly cemented the worldwide reputation of the MP5, via Operation Nimrod on 5 May 1980. Six Iranian gunmen who dubbed themselves the “Democratic Revolutionary Front for Arabistan” seized the Iranian Embassy in the swanky Princes Gate section of London and took 26 hostages. Long story short: after a six-day siege, in went the MP5-toting SAS troopers to perform the rescue, with five tangos killed and the sixth captured; two hostages were killed –one prior to the assault and one during — whilst two others hostages were wounded along with one SAS commando.

Personal Shooting Impressions

I only had the pleasure of shooting a full-auto HK MP5 once, that being way back in January 1992 at The Gun Store (gee, such an original and creative name, huh) near the Las Vegas Strip; I only fired 50 rounds through the thing – I was only 16 years old at the time and on a teenager’s budget — starting off by taking two or three shots in semiautomatic mode for familiarization before flipping the fire selector switch to “rock ‘n’ roll” mode (so to speak); even with a magazine swap-out, the ammo burned through way too quickly, But it damn sure was fun while it lasted; that aforementioned closed-bolt operation definitely made for a smooth-shooting weapon, enabling me to easily keep my bursts within the torso of the target (the range had a very strict policy of no head shots on full-auto out of fear of the ceiling getting blasted).

For civilian shooters who either can’t afford a full-auto MP5 and/or don’t want to deal with the hassle of the BATFE Class III License, there are the somewhat less pricey semiauto-only alternatives such as the SP89 “pistol” (i.e. sans shoulder stock)  and the SP5K-PDW.

Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  In his spare time, he enjoys (besides shooting, obviously) dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports.

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).