The MP-5 was the go to submachine gun of the cold war. It was a Hollywood chick magnet and the sex symbol of a generation. Where it came from and where it went is a twisted tale of terrorism and ballistics.
This story begins as Nazi Germany ends, the team with the prettiest uniforms lost, due in no small part to their sophisticated weapons which they could not mass produce. In 1949 Heckler & Koch (the Germans pronounce it Heckler and Cock. They never did figure out why Americans find that funny) was founded by engineers Edmund Heckler, Theodor Koch, and Alex Seidel formerly of the Mauser rifle company. I never could find out why Seidel didn’t get his name on the sign. H&K made machine tools, sewing machine parts, and gauges and dreamed of the day they would again make guns.
After Germany’s World War Two development of the original Assault Rifle, the StG44 and the more advanced StG45, various German engineers continued refining the concept in France and Spain. In 1956, H&K sold the Spanish model B CETME design to the Bundeswehr (German Federal Army). They called it the G-3. During the 1960’s in an interesting reverse of the way the StG44 concept started as a submachine gun and became the first assault rifle, H&K took the G-3, chambered it in 9mm and shrunk it into a submachine gun, warts and all.
In the 60’s almost all sub-guns fired from the open bolt. This means that the bolt stayed open and when the trigger was pulled, the bolt slammed forward shifting the weight and making precision fire difficult. The MAC-10, Uzi,Sten gun, MP38 and the M-3 Grease Gun all fired from the open bolt.
The birth of modern counter terrorist units coincided with the MP-5’s development. It was reliable and fired precisely from the closed bolt. America’s Delta Force started with the M-3 and quickly figured out they were unsuited for hostage rescue. After the British SAS had their pictures go around the world holding MP-5s at the Iranian Embassy, it became a legend.
Let’s talk about ergonomics. Why is the original MP-5 impossible to use left-handed? In the German Army, it was forbidden to shoot left-handed. Why is the selector/safety impossible to manipulate with the right hand? The “master grip” of the right hand should never shift. You use the left hand to reach over the gun and manipulate the selector. You put it on auto when you cross the border and put it on safe after the enemy’s capital is captured.
The original MP-5 had a fixed stock. This stock sloped down to put the sights at eye level. This was a solid easy-to-shoot design. Later came a collapsible stock. This stock was designed to shoot in a rifle stance. It is long and when it is extended into its single length, it wobbles. The collapsible stock is higher than the fixed stock. A cheek weld is difficult and to put your eye behind the sights requires you to fold your face around the stock. When you shoot it, you get the sensation of being hit in the face with a piece of rebar.
The MP-5 SD (SD = Schalldämpfer, German for “sound suppressor”) is quiet with a CDI (Chicks Dig It) factor off the scale. There is, however, an ugly secret. In 1989, you could find these low signature babies in the arms rooms of every elite unit in America.
On December 20th, 1989, all of that changed.
During the early hours of Operation Just Cause in Panama, some of these units shot PEOPLE with these guns. You see, the barrel on the MP-5 SD is short and it has holes in it. It takes most 9mm rounds below the speed of sound. This is why it is quiet. This is why it is non-lethal. Shooting paper, it makes terrifying rips and tears.
While it is no longer the gun of choice on the battlefield, the MP-5 is a piece of history and a very reliable 9mm platform.
(Featured image courtesy of militaryfactory.com)