February 26, 2019
By Leroy Thompson
The H&K VP70 offers some interesting variations on traditional machine pistols. For one thing, a semi-auto version was marketed at the same times as the machine pistol version and preceded Glock in offering a polymer-framed, high-magazine capacity 9x19mm pistol. Reportedly to eliminate the use of the VP70 on full auto without the stock affixed, it could only be fired in burst mode with the stock attached. With the stock affixed, the VP70 may be fired in three-shot bursts. The selector switch is located on the stock rather than the pistol. H&K engineers felt that hit probability remained high with three-shot bursts but declined rapidly when fired in longer bursts.
Unlike many SMGs of the same generation, the VP70 fires from a closed bolt. To fire the first round a heavy pull on the trigger cocks and releases the striker. When fired in burst mode, holding the trigger back fires three shots. The semi-auto pistol version functions as a traditional striker-fired pistol.
The VP70 stock is actually quite cleverly designed. It is much more comfortable than the skeleton stocks used on machine pistols such as the Beretta 93R and even than holster stocks such as those on the Mauser Schnellfeuer or the Stechkin. The stock is also designed to allow versatility in carry position. A plate that may be positioned across the chest with a shoulder strap allows attachment of the stock in the best tactical position. If needed, when the pistol is holstered, the stock may be detached, the pistol drawn, and affixed to the VP70 to engage. Or, if immediate engagement is necessary, the pistol may be used in semi-auto mode.
In the USA, virtually all VP70s sold were the semi-auto pistol version, which soon gained a reputation for its horrendous DA pull. As it was introduced more than a decade before the Glock, there was quite a bit of resistance to its polymer frame, though at least a few users did like the 18-round magazine capacity.
To conform to Italy’s gun laws, about 400 VP70s were produced in 9x21 IMI caliber, as civilians were not allowed to own “military caliber” handguns. These same legal gymnastics resulted in Browning High-Powers in .30 Luger caliber and Colt 1911A1s in 9x23mm Steyr being sold in Italy. However, since Italy did not have an SBR (Short-Barreled Rifle) law such as that of the USA, stocked VP70s that did not include the selector were legal.
As the VP70’s designation indicates, it was introduced in 1970, though design had begun a couple of years earlier. Note, some sources state that actual sales did not begin until 1972. It appears that it was the VP70M machine pistol that was first offered in the early 1970s. The commercial VP70Z — “Z” for Zivil, semi-auto pistol version was first marketed in 1979. Although the heavy DA only/striker fired trigger pull acted as a safety, for the VP70Z version a cross bolt safety was added to the lower trigger guard. This safety also became optional on the VP70M. Because it was originally intended for military sales, the VP70 was designed for a service life of at least 30,000 rounds.
In one guise or another, the VP70 was manufactured for 15–20 years, production ceasing in 1989 — once again sources vary as some state that production ceased in 1986. “VP” indicates “Volkspistole” (people’s pistol). Initially various “Volks” weapons had been created for inexpensive, fast production to arm German “Volksstrum” in the final days of World War II. The VP70 evolved from this concept. The version with the stock allowing burst fire was actually designated the VP70M “M” for “Militär.”
As previously mentioned, the VP70 semi-auto pistol is renowned for its horrible trigger pull, perhaps the worst I’ve ever encountered. Unlike current striker-fired pistols in which the striker is “pre-loaded” by allowing the spring to be partially compressed, the VP70 requires complete compression of the spring on each trigger pull. I seem to remember that there was a “Target” version of the VP70 civilian pistol that was sold with a longer slide and target sights, but I never saw one so I don’t know if it had an improved trigger pull.
Another noteworthy feature of the VP70 is its very deep rifling. Theoretically, this was intended to reduce pressure by allowing gases to bleed past the bullet as it moved down the barrel. Based on reports from those who have chronographed loads fired in the VP70, the deeper rifling also lowers muzzle velocity by 100 fps or more.
This loss of velocity may have contributed to the dismal showing of the VP70 at Eglin AFB during early stages of the Joint Services Small Arms Program Trials, as the 9x19mm ammo used in the trials was not loaded as hot as that normally used in European 9x19mm pistols. Possibly, the VP70’s loss of velocity magnified the problems, which resulted in a failure of 137 out of 771 rounds to load during reliability testing. Also considered disadvantages were the heavy trigger pull and the thick slide. It appears that the VP70M may have been tested as I have seen references to the stock being “wobbly.” After the dismal showing of the VP70, H&K entered the P7 in what became the XM9 trials that resulted in adoption of the Beretta M9.
The VP70 achieved virtually no sales to foreign governments, though Morocco, Paraguay, and Portugal purchased limited numbers. Interestingly, the Paraguayans purchased the “Z” semi-auto handgun version. Numbers purchased appear to have been small and may have been for specialized police units rather than for military units.
I found it interesting in looking over articles and postings about the VP70M that many mentioned it as a pistol for VIP protection. Based on my own experience in that field, I would answer those speculations with a small “yes” and a large “NO.” Machine pistols have seen use with those on close protection details but only in limited numbers. In general, the fact that a holster stock or other type of stock has to be affixed to effectively use the machine pistol to any effect as an SMG weighs against its effectiveness. Normally, an automatic weapon is used to break an ambush or cover an evacuation under fire, both situations in which bringing the weapon into action quickly is imperative. There is not time to fumble with affixing the stock.
I’ve tried most of the machine pistols that have been available over the last 40 years and have found that in most cases I would prefer a high capacity semi-auto pistol that allows me to draw and immediately engage. Of the machine pistols I have used, the two that I consider to have the most applicability for close protection are the Beretta M93R and the Russian Stechkin APS, especially the latter. As with the VP70M, the 93R fires in three shot bursts. Instead of a holster stock, it has a folding skeleton stock that may be attached to the base of the grip. The 93R has two features, though, that make it marginally more effective than the VP70M: its cyclic rate is “only” 1100 RPM and it has a folding vertical fore grip, both of which allow some control for close-range 3-round bursts even without the stock affixed. The Stechkin is much more usable without its holster stock. It chambers the 9x18mm Makarov round, which has less recoil than the 9x19mm, and its cyclic rate is only 750 RPM. Leaning well into the APS without stock, I have emptied the magazine firing short bursts at 10 yards and kept all 20 rounds from the magazine on a man-sized target.
Today, the FN P90 or HK MP5K offers a far more effective ambush breaker than any machine pistol, yet can be brought into action immediately. At the time it was introduced, the VP70M may have been marketed in some parts of the world, especially Latin America for use by VIP drivers, but it was never a good choice for close protection.
In the case of most machine pistols, they can be fired without affixing the shoulder stock, albeit not that effectively. I have found that the Stechkin APS and the Glock 18 may be used fairly effectively to 10–15 yards by leaning into them and firing short bursts. In the case of the VP70, the selector is in the shoulder stock and until it is attached the VP70 is a high capacity pistol with a very stiff trigger pull — very stiff! Not only that, but the stiff recoil spring makes it hard to pull the VP70’s slide all the way to the rear to chamber a round. When it was introduced, the VP70’s high capacity 18-round magazine and polymer frame differentiated it dramatically from other pistols available, but for most it didn’t have much appeal as a semi-auto combat pistol. Also seeming somewhat archaic today, the VP70 has a bottom magazine release and no hold open device.
Although the VP70’s stock does incorporate a holster, carrying it on the hip is not especially practical, as the attachment points on the stock are exposed to damage; the locking button for the stock and the selector switch are also exposed and likely to catch. A keyway in the stock is designed to affix to a plate on a harness, which can be worn in various ways. A friend and I once spent an entertaining 15 or 20 minutes trying to figure out how the system works and which of the possible configurations we found most effective: NONE! In defense of the VP70’s harness system, though, I have to admit that I can only figure out how to work about half the tactical slings I try! One other point related to the stock: I’ve tested the VP70 during vehicle counter ambush scenarios and found that getting it attached in a hurry is problematical. The selector has to be set on “1” and lugs on the stock carefully fitted into the slots on the rear of the pistol. Even when performing the operation while at the bench on a range, care must be taken to fit the stock and pistol together.
I’d fired the VP70 a few times previous to doing this article, but wanted to shoot it quite a bit in preparation for writing this piece. I decided to test it as a semi-auto pistol as well as a machine pistol. I fired groups with three types of 9x19mm ammo at 25-yards from a standing rest in semi-auto. Due to the very heavy trigger pull, the groups were “disappointing.” The best was still only 5" for 5-shots. The VP70 performed better when I fired it in semi-auto with the stock affixed at 50-yards. The presence of the stock mitigated the heavy trigger pull to some extent, and I actually fired a tighter 5-shot group than at 25-yards. The innovative, channeled front sight does aid in acquiring a target with the VP70.
I knew from past experience with the VP70 that muzzle rise was such that shooting it well in 3-shot burst mode past 10–12 yards would be difficult; at least for me it would. I set up a Son of a Gun green man silhouette at 10 yards and engaged it by firing 7, 3-shots bursts. Aware that the VP70’s muzzle would rise due to the high cyclic rate (reportedly 2200 RPM, though I have also seen it given as 1800 RPM), I aimed just above the crotch for the first round of each burst. Of 21 rounds fired, 19 impacted within the silhouette’s torso, neck, or head. The other 2 impacted just to the side of the head of the target.
I normally evaluate machine pistols as vehicle counter ambush weapons, as that is how I have often seen them used. As a result, I also did some firing at plates using a vehicle for cover. One real positive of the VP70 is that it is a handy weapon with stock affixed for use from behind a wheel well. During any fast moving tactical scenario with the VP70, however, great care must be taken because of the high cyclic rate and the short barrel that the support hand is kept well away from the muzzle.
One real point in the VP70’s favor was its reliability. I fired at least 50 rounds in semi-auto and almost 100 rounds in full auto fire without a single malfunction, other than a couple of failures to feed the first round when I did not fully retract the slide. As I mentioned earlier, the recoil spring is very heavy.
The VP70 is an interesting weapon that is illustrative of a dead-end technology. With PDWs such as the FN P90 or compact SMGs such as the HK MP5K available, there would be little use for the VP70 today. Among the various machine pistols that I have tried, I would rate the VP70 with the Czech Skorpion as the most useless. But, the next time I get a chance to shoot one, I will. H&K VP70 SPECIFICATIONS
Operating System: Blowback, Striker-fired, Closed Bolt, with 3-Shot Burst Mode
Overall Length: 8" (Without Stock), 21.5" (With Stock Attached)
Barrel Length: 4.6”
Weight: 29 oz. (unloaded)
Magazine Capacity: 18 rounds
Sights: Rear: Notch, Front: Ramp with Notch
Cyclic Rate: 2,200 RPM
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