REVIEW/RETROSPECT: HK MP5 Submachine Gun

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Dr. Dabbs shares some trigger time on the 1980s Apex Predator! READ MORE!

mp5 british flag

by Will Dabbs MD

At 19:23 hours on May 5, 1980, around thirty-five British Special Air Service operators initiated a simultaneous breach of the Iranian Embassy at Princes Gate in London. Inside, six terrorists had held twenty hostages for nearly a week. They had previously released five of their prisoners. Earlier that day the terrorists had murdered Abbas Lavasani, the Iranian embassy’s chief press officer. This event ultimately unleashed the SAS.

The SAS killed five of the six terrorists. The sixth spent twenty-seven years in a British prison. The terrorists murdered one hostage during the assault. The entire operation took place on live international television. The black fatigues worn by the SAS assaulters along with the German MP5 submachine guns they carried created an iconic image that has shaped counter-terrorist operations up until the present day.

nimrod raid
Operation Nimrod raid photos I found online.

nimrod raid

The Origins of a Legend
The Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine gun began as an evolution of the roller-locked G3 rifle in 1964 and entered service with German security forces in 1966. The recoil-driven, roller-locked design was adapted from the revolutionary German MG42 belt fed machinegun that faced the Allies through much of the Second World War.

The MP5 fired from a locked breech, and was both mechanically elegant and unusually complex. Detective John McClane used one to put paid to a bunch of German ne’er-do-wells in the action movie classic Die Hard. US Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces used the guns for real. HK sold untold thousands of copies to American Law Enforcement agencies. In the process the MP5 developed an almost supernatural reputation. With the benefit of hindsight, however, was this reputation fully justified?

Practical Magic
The MP5 sports an undeniably smooth action. However, the gun is markedly more complicated than buzz guns like the Uzi or MPL. Complicated typically means more stuff to break.

I’m not God’s Gift to Small Arms by any stretch, but I have squeezed my share of triggers. I drank the Kool-Aide and stretched the budget to make an MP5 mine. My gun began life as an exquisite Zenith Z-5RS pistol.

mp5
The Zenith Z-5RS comes as a pistol. However, add a bit of onerous federal paperwork to register the gun as a short-barreled rifle, and a factory sliding stock drops right in place. The resulting weapon is the genuine spitting image of the factory MP5 submachine gun.

The Zenith roller-locked guns are produced in Turkey on HK-licensed machinery. The result is the closest thing to a factory HK MP5 SMG to be had on the American market. The welds, workmanship, and finish on my copy rival the German originals. Additionally, unlike the original semiauto HK94, the Zenith Z-5 includes a flapper magazine release, a three-lug barrel, and a two-pin fire control group. Nothing else on the market comes so close to the original HK military specs.

The trigger is long and mushy, but you really want a long mushy trigger on a close quarters utility gun. The MP5 is still an exceptionally capable weapon at reasonable ranges. Recoil is non-existent, and the closed bolt, locked breech design is innately accurate. The rotating drum diopter sight is the sort of contrivance you either love or hate. Personally, I would prefer a simple peep.
Switching the happy switch over to the Truly Joyful position produces full auto fire at around 800 rounds per minute. Despite the MP5’s many incontrovertible attributes, this is a bit spunky for my tastes. The end result is superb shot density dropping multiple bullets on target in a short period. However, the gun still demands attention to technique for truly precise control. I personally find that I can group a bit tighter with the UZI, Swedish K, or Walther MPL despite the relative crudeness of these designs.

mp5 fire control group
The unique aspect of the Zenith Z-5RS is the fact that the fire control group mounts with a pair of standard HK pushpins just like the originals. There is still the shelf inside to preclude attachment of a full auto trigger group but the extra pin makes the gun look and act exactly like the originals.

Swapping out magazines on the MP5 involves locking the bolt manually to the rear, swapping out mags, and slapping the charging handle down to get the gun running again. While this maneuver earns you a few cool points, it is cumbersome in practice. The UZI is a bit faster. Additionally, while my Zenith gun has been unflinchingly reliable through years of regular use, I have had a few failures on other MP5s in the past. The roller retaining plates on early guns in particular seem a weak spot. I have personally broken two.

mp5 sights
The MP5 front sight is fully hooded. The workmanship on my Zenith gun is simply superb throughout.

Ruminations
The HK MP5 is a fine close-quarters tool. In the hands of a disciplined, seasoned shooter it will drop its bursts into a salad plate at appropriate ranges. However, I would assert that at least some of the MP5s near-supernatural reputation is perhaps a bit over-hyped. As said, the MP5 is slow to reload and runs a bit fast. The modest weight and compact dimensions are admittedly nice, and the gun looks just cool as can be. Despite all that, I still shoot just a little bit better with an UZI.

carrying mp5
The MP5 carries easily, runs fast, and looks cool. However, I shoot a bit better with some simpler SMGs.
mp5 accuracy
At 20 meters over open sights the Zenith Z-5 is deadly accurate. This scope alignment target from Thompson Target flashes when struck to demonstrate hits clearly. The Z-5 delivered precision fire at CQB ranges with all ammo tested. Velocities ranged from 1034 (Winchester 147gr) to 1254 (SIG 124gr).

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ZENITH

 

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2 thoughts on “REVIEW/RETROSPECT: HK MP5 Submachine Gun”

  1. MP-5s are nice little guns. I had to carry one on occasion when on close protection assignment in Iraq. The main drawback with them is that they shoot a 9mm pistol round which is fine under many circumstances, but not all that effective once the range widens a bit. Still, reliable, concealable in the right clothes, accurate and fun to shoot.

  2. I think this article ignores the obvious and most important flaw of the MP5, and that is its cartridge. The 5.56 is vastly superior for close quarters, in fact it is nearly ideal at room distance. Where the 5.56 falls short is long range, but that’s what the .308 is for.

    If I’m going bigger than a handgun, I’ll take a small rifle cartridge every time.

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