The History and Function of the H&K MP5

The History and Function of the H&K MP5

Most Americans had never heard of Mogadishu before October 1993. In fact, many had never heard of "The Mog" or "Mog" before the release of Ridley Scott's film "Black Hawk Down" in 2001.


Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, is a coastal city located in the country's Banaadir region on the Indian Ocean. The 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, known locally as Day of the Rangers, was part of Operation Gothic Serpent, a multinational attempt to bring stability to the region after a massive civil war. This is the Mogadishu that most Americans know.

For the 86 passengers and four surviving crew of Lufthansa flight 181, "The Mog" was old news by the 1990s. The Boeing 737-200, christened "Landshut," departed as a routine flight from the Mediterranean island of Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt, West Germany on Oct. 13, 1977. Following a midair hijacking, the aircraft made stops in six countries. After five days of confinement and the execution of their pilot, passengers found themselves on a dark runway in Mogadishu awaiting their fate. The hijackers' aim was to exchange the hostages aboard the aircraft for release of 10 Red Army Faction terrorists held in Germany, two Palestinian terrorists held in Turkey and 15 million dollars.

Landshut Entfuehrung Zwischenlandung der "Landshut" in Dubai

The sheer logistics of meeting such a demand had many of the passengers believing they would suffer the same fate of their pilot, Jurgen Schumann. What they experienced next wrote the first pages of the book on modern anti-terrorism tactics.


At 2:07 a.m. local time on Oct. 18, 1977, 30 West German GSG-9 paramilitary commandos armed with Heckler & Koch MP5s simultaneously breached the Boeing 737's forward and amidships doors, shouted for passengers to take cover and proceeded to test their new submachine guns in what could be described as the most one-sided gunfight since the Russians took Berlin in 1945. One German commando, three passengers, and one flight attendant were slightly wounded. All four hijackers were hit, three fatally. The world had a new standard in dealing with terrorism as well as a rather fashionable-looking and highly functional submachine gun.

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The MP5 began in West Germany as the HK-54 as part of Project 64 (denoting the year it began). The project was based on the proven design and function of the HK G3 7.62 NATO battle rifle. The design team of Tilo Moller, Manfred Guhring and Halmut Baureuter worked for two years to create a reliable submachine gun using the same roller-locked, fluted chamber, delayed-blowback action of the parent weapon. Their attention to detail paid off.


Fire control interchangeability of the MP5 and its larger cousins is nearly 99 percent. One must only change the ejector when swapping trigger packs between an MP5 and larger caliber HK rifles. I mention this because there is a significant number of civilian transferable HK trigger packs and auto sears on the NFA registry. Some of these sears are legally "married" to their host weapon. However, many are not and, therefore, can be swapped from the large frame HK G3, to the smaller 5.56 HK-33 and, of course, to the 9mm MP5.

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There are nine models of the standard MP5 with the 8.9 inch barrel, consisting of various stock and fire control configurations, six models of the MP5K ( K stands for Kurz, German for short) which is a 4.5 or 5.8 inch barreled compact PDW version, and eight models of the MP5SD, which features a 5.7 inch ported barrel and integral sound suppressor designed to shoot full-power supersonic 9mm ammo and reduce the velocity to subsonic speeds as gas pressure bleeds off through the barrel ports.

While the original MP5SD used an aluminum suppressor, which contained both old school metallic mesh packing and a modern baffle stack, the newer MPSD-N2 in service with the U.S. Navy uses a Knights Armament Company stainless steel suppressor assembly. More than 80 countries worldwide, plus the Swiss Guard in Vatican City, have at least one variant of the MP5 in their current inventories.

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In late April and early May 1980, Operation Nimrod would again put the MP5 in the global spotlight when six members of the DRFLA, an Arab separatist group from the Khuzestan province of Iran, stormed the Iranian embassy in South Kensington, London. After six days, negotiations had failed to progress and the terrorists executed one of the 21 remaining hostages and threw his body from the building, prompting the immediate deployment of Special Air Service (SAS) commandos to breach and clear the embassy. Rappelling from the rooftop wearing black fatigues, S6 NBC respirators and carrying Heckler & Koch MP5s, between 30 and 35 British commandos made entrance through the embassy's windows, skylights and doors.

The next 17 minutes belonged to the SAS and their MP5s as they succeeded in freeing all but one of the remaining hostages, killing five of the six DRFLA radicals and capturing the sixth. Only one hostage was killed (by terrorists, not the SAS), two wounded and one SAS commando wounded. In what some might call an ironic twist, the Iranian government praised Margaret Thatcher and the SAS for their action and declared that the hostages who died were martyrs for the Islamic Republic of Iran. At the same time, the Iranian government held 52 Americans hostage in Tehran.

Of course, with the success of any weapon system also comes failure.

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In his book "In the Company of Heroes," Chief Warrant Officer (Ret.) Michael Durant talks about his experience with the MP5 in Mogadishu on Oct. 3, 1993. Part of Operation Gothic Serpent, Mike Durant, piloting a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, call sign Super 64, over the Bakara Market district of Mogadishu, came under fire from hostile Somali militia members on the ground. At approximately 4:40 p.m. local time, a 93mm high explosive round fired from a Soviet RPG-7 struck Super 64's tail boom, causing loss of tail rotor control followed by an uncontrolled spinning descent to the city streets below.

Durant, his copilot and two crew chiefs were badly injured. The only immediate rescue team consisted of Delta snipers Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon, both of whom would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor for their selfless actions at the crash site. Immediately following the arrival of Shughart and Gordon, a fierce firefight with Somali militia erupted around the downed Black Hawk. Durant, as a pilot, was issued an MP5K as a personal defense weapon.

His own accounts state that he had to clear malfunctions constantly during the fight. At some point in the battle, he was handed a 5.56mm CAR-15, possibly belonging to Gary Gordon, before both his rescuers and all of his flight crew were killed, and Durant was taken captive.

As a gunsmith, I have done a fair amount of thinking about the malfunctions experienced by Mike Durant at the crash site of Super 64. There is no chance of ever recovering this weapon for inspection; however, we can look at a few factors that could have caused an otherwise reliable weapon to malfunction at the worst possible moment.

My first thought is the stamped and welded sheet metal receiver. A helicopter falling out of the air fast enough to crush spines, break bones and twist up the interior seating and controls could certainly cause a large dent in the MP5K's receiver. Even a moderate dimple in the sheet metal could create a tight spot in the bolt raceway, causing short cycling or full-on bolt bind.

We also have to look at the possibility that this weapon was properly serviced and maintained at the appropriate intervals by a competent armorer, and that the day of Durant's crash was the day that Murphy's Law reared its ugly head and cast the extractor to the breeze, blew a primer out of its pocket into the fire control or bolt raceway, obstructing the normal cycle of operation.

The HK MP5 has been in service since the mid-60s and has seen almost constant action in hot spots around the world since the mid-70s. Its success stories outweigh its failures by huge odds; however, failures like those experienced by Durant in 1993 has led many agencies to look to other platforms. Hecker and Koch still produces the MP5, but it has also introduced the HK UMP as a more modern submachine gun offering. Many US agencies have updated their inventories with the UMP, while the US Secret Service still uses the HK MP5 as their standard 9mm submachine gun to supplement the FN P-90.

For shooters and collectors interested in owning their own MP5, there are a few paths to choose. Real deal full-auto, factory-built and civilian-transferable models are out there and available. However, touching one for less than $20,000 is unlikely. The HK 94, a factory-built, semi-auto only version with a 16" barrel is also available in the $4,000-$5,000 price range. There have also been many MP5 clones produced both stateside and abroad in various price ranges and in varying quality.

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The latest of these, the Zenith Firearms Z-5 made by MKE in Turkey, is priced in the $1500-$2000 range. I recently had a chance to play with the Z-5P, which is similar to the MP5K, only lacking the forward grip and ability to accept a stock. While I found the initial quality, fit and finish to be decent, I was a little dismayed at the multiple denial blocks welded to the inside and outside of the receiver.

While I am sure they need these for import, they will make things difficult for the home builder to manufacture one into an SBR on an ATF Form 1. While they do feature a paddle mag release and accept full-auto HK trigger packs, they will not accept a full-auto bolt carrier, which makes them useless to NFA collectors with registered full-auto trigger packs. At the end of the day, if you want a real HK, buy a real HK. Buy once, cry once.

If one looks closely at any of the operations mentioned here, there are failure points to be found. Weapons can fail, comms can go down; people can simply trip and fall, ruining a perfect plan. Bad things happen to some of the best trained people in the world.

However, within every failure point are small victories. Mike Durant was able to keep his cool and work through the malfunctions of his weapon under extreme duress and serious injury. When I end every article with the quote, "Keep learning and training," it is not just a clever tag line. Revisiting events of the past, whether they be our own or those experienced by others, and honestly evaluating successes and failure points can teach us how to train, how to think better and what we need to learn more about.

There are people in the world who try to erase or rewrite painful moments in history, and there are those who see no shortage of knowledge to be gained from learning about mankind's successes and failures. Or to quote Heckler & Koch: In a world of comprise, some men don't. So, keep learning and training.

Vincent Buckles is the founder and owner of Mesa Kinetic Research LLC in Gonzales, LA.

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