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THE HECKLER & KOCH MP-5 SUBMACHINE GUN
A Legend in ti's own time!

First appearing way back in the middle 70s with the commercial designator, "HK54", Heckler & Koch's famous 9mm SMG has indeed come a long way. Subsequently adopted by the German military and police establishment as the "Maschinenpistole 5" (MP5), it has since seen widespread adoption and resulting worldwide proliferation.

Its rapid increase in notoriety was further boosted by the British Special Air Service (SAS), who used it in their famous Iranian Embassy raid. It was an event widely captured on film, showing black-clad, MP5-armed SAS troopers storming the embassy building. As a result, the MP5 has since experienced a wave of popularity that has yet to subside.

First, what is the MP5? Is it really, as its designator indicates, a machine pistol? No, it is not. The designator "Maschinenpistole"(MP) evolved from ruses used by the Germans in both World War I and II to mislead Allied intelligence agents who were attempting to gather data on German small arms development projects. In fact, it was also used with great success to mask the creation and development of the first assault rifle -- the MP, later to become the StG, 44!

Even today, the designator is used with weapons that are obviously not submachine guns, the "Maschinepistole, HK53," for example. This particular arm is a scaled down version of the G3 service rifle and is chambered for the 5.56x45mm (.223 Remington) cartridge. If anything, the Model 53 is a true assault rifle, meeting all the classic German criteria perfectly. In contrast, the MP5 meets all but one of the classic criteria for SMGs.

Technically, because it fires from a closed, locked breech instead of utilizing the unlocked, open-bolt concept of most SMGs, the MP5 is thus a sort of "machine carbine," rather than a true submachine gun. However, its diminutive size in comparison to either assault or battle rifles and the fact that it fires a pistol cartridge place in more the SMG category than any other.

In fact, that it fires from a closed bolt was intentional, a design feature that eliminates the "lurch" felt with a conventional fires-from-an-open-bolt SMG when the trigger is pressed. From a practical standpoint, this allows easier and more accurate use of the weapon with no training other than that which is required for shooting a standard HK rifle. Critics of the closed-bolt concept often point out that increased residual heat buildup results from this concept and causes "cookoffs." However, real-world experience has shown this hazard to be far less formidable than at first anticipated.

From W.H.B. Smith's SMALL ARMS OF THE WORLD (Stackpole Books, PO Box 1831, Harrisburg, PA 17105), updated and re-edited by Edward Ezell:

  • "The HK54 is the submachine gun version of the G3 rifle. It is as the G3, a delayed blowback operated weapon that fires from a closed bolt. There is a theory that delayed blowback operated submachine guns have less vibration and rise than blowback operated submachine guns. On the other hand, they are more complex and usually more expensive.
    A finer degree of accuracy can be obtained with a gun that fires from a closed bolt, since the only disturbing influence on 'hold' is the forward movement of a light hammer and/or firing pin as opposed to the forward movement of a heavy bolt. The 'lock time' (the period from trigger/sear release to ignition of primer) is also less on a weapon that fires from a closed bolt than on a weapon that fires from an open bolt; the other side of the coin in this case, however, is the cookoff' problem. Automatic fire heats up a weapon rather rapidly, and a point is reached when the temperature of the chamber will cause cartridges to function spontaneously."

MILITARY SMALL ARMS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY (DBI Books, One Northfield Plaza, Northfield, IL 60093), by Ian Hogg and John Weeks, also makes this observation:

  • "The MP5 is derived -- by way of the HK54 -- from the successful roller locked delayed blowback operation, thus permitting it to fire from a closed bolt with a considerable improvement in accuracy."


By virtue of nearly two decades of field experience with the MP5, I concur entirely with the observations made in both of these prestigious publications. The "cookoff" problem is more theoretical than practical and the gun is , indeed, easier to shoot well under stress than a typical open-bolt operated SMG.

Additional versions of the basic MP5 (the so-called "A2" model) included a retractable stocked model (MP5A3), a sound-suppressed type with either "A2" or A3" stock configuration (MP5 A2 or A3 "SD"), a stockless, pistol-grip equipped "mini" model known as the MP5 "K" (Kurz -- short) and, lately, a version identical to the MP5K, but with a folding buttstock, known as the "Personal Defense Weapon." All versions utilize either a 15- or 30-rd. detachable box magazine, feature a dual button, a 3-position (SAFE-SEMI-AUTO) or, lately, 4-position, 3-rd. burst control (SAFE-SEMI-BURST-AUTO) selector switch, button and lever magazine release and protected adjustable sights.

The MP5 "SD" model features an integral barrel suppressor and produces noise levels approximately the same as a light hand clap when fired in the semi-automatic mode. When fired in the fully-automatic setting, it is slightly louder, due to bolt reciprocation, but still very quiet, especially in comparison to suppressed SMGs that fire from an open bolt.

Within the last couple of years, the MP5 has also been chambered via special order to the FBI for the powerful 10mm auto cartridges and recurrent rumors of its chambering for the rapidly-proliferating .40 S&W continually surface. Officially, the 9mmP MP5 is intended to be a 100 meter weapon, but a skilled operator can easily obtain hits on normal-sized silhouette targets out to a full 200 meters and beyond. However, critics of the 9mm parabellum cartridge point out that this exceeds any real or imagined manstopping capability of the 9mm by a considerable margin. The .40 S&W, especially with a 155-grain bullet, could minimize this limitation and if used in its original full-powered version, the 10mm auto cartridge might well eliminate it entirely.

Concerns about the stopping power deficiencies of the 9mmP have existed for over nine decades and have been re-enforced by the fact that a noticeable number of SWAT teams who formerly used 9mm MP5's have since changed to the more powerful 5.56mm HK53. When questioned about the reasons for the switch, they all advise that they've had too many Failures To Stop with the 9mmP, even with the increased ballistic performance of the 9mmP from the MP5's longer barrel and the use of JHP bullets.

On the other hand, some of the most famous teams, such as LAPD-SWAT, continue to use their MP5s with quite satisfactory effects, perhaps due to the fact that their training doctrine dictates two quick 2-shot bursts into a single target, therefore maximizing trauma to the central nervous system prior to its involuntary shutdown. The teams who have switched to the 5.56mm HK53 do not use this concept. Moreover, the SAS, U.S. Navy SEALs and DELTA all continue to use their 9mmP MP5s without major complaint, so perhaps the problem is more training, rather than real-world, oriented.

Some say that the MP5 is a bit complex for a SMG and that it could be more simple without loss of mission-efficiency and they're probably right. Still, let's not forget that the MP5's operation concept was selected on the basis that, at least in theory, it provided smoother, less vibration-prone, operation, thereby increasing practical accuracy. I agree with this idea, although I found many years ago that proper technique has more effect on such things than most people realize.

In conclusion, the Heckler & Koch MP5 is without question a legend in its own time. It is now a virtual "must have" for any special-ops team and has achieved worldwide proliferation. It has without question proven its mettle in both the military and police arena and is fully deserving of legendary status. As such, it joins the all-time Greats -- the German MP40 and Thompson -- and will continue in service for many decades to come.

 

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