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A Brief History of the MP5 Submachine Gun

By: Friedrich Seiltgen

The Heckler & Koch MP5 is one of the most successful submachinegun designs in history, and with more than 100 variations available to cover various tactical requirements, the MP5 is the workhorse of SWAT teams worldwide.

Counter to the UZI
The MP5 was designed in the 1960s by the West German firearms manufacturer Heckler & Koch as a counter to the UZI. It is produced in several countries under license, and China produces an unlicensed version.

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. As someone who has shot both calibers, I can tell you the difference in recoil is significant. Firing the G3 with the optional collapsible stock was so punishing that German soldiers called it the “Fleisch Klopfer,” or Meat Tenderizer!

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. Some police departments adopted it nonetheless during the .40 caliber craze.

Gaining Notoriety
The MP5 gained its notoriety during Operation Nimrod, a raid on the Iranian embassy in London that was broadcast 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 1980s. The MP5 showed up in scores of movies during this decade, from Lethal Weapon, to Predator, and my favorite – Die Hard!

Several Variations
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 U.S, headquarters in Sterling, Virginia for a week-long armorer school. Some variants of the gun presented a challenge.

The MP5 with a burst group trigger was difficult 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, because, due to its composition, it was stronger than steel from other areas. While there, I was fortunate to see the HK Gray 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.

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. It’s 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.

If you get a chance to fire an MP5, do it! In the Orlando tourist area, there are several gun ranges where you can rent an MP5. You’ll be addicted after the first full auto burst. While the rental isn’t expensive, at 800 rounds per minute, bring your wallet for the ammo!

If traveling in Europe, you will see police patrolling the airports and streets armed with an MP5. Although the German police have been slowly replacing the MP5 with the MP7, don’t worry. Like all great designs, the MP5 isn’t going anywhere soon.

Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He currently conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, First Aid, and Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations in Florida. Contact him at polizei22@msn.com.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons: By Lance Corpoal Daniel R. Lowndes - http://www.usmc.mil; exact source (ID 187), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3757591

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.