The MP5 is not dead yet

We in the combat-American minority community tend to think of the MP5 as something passé: H&K blew the chance to sell millions of the things to the US military when they resolutely refused to re-engineer it for .45. Instead — during the Because you suck, and we hate you period explained here — making a 10mm version for black-clad Federal ninjutsu teams exclusively. That was one of the more boneheaded moves in the history of firearms marketing: FBI and ATF have about 5000 Special Agents each; the Army could have bought many times that number of .45 versions. The FBI, at least, still uses the 10mm MP5 lightly. The ATF’s best day with the gun was fatally backshooting one of their own agents with it through a wall at Waco.

H&K's most common MP5 variant, the MP5A3.

H&K’s historically common MP5 variant in SOF world, the MP5A3.

Meanwhile, SOF discovered the limitations of the MP5, with which they’d been deeply in love. The weapon did not have the simplicity and durability of a STEN gun or M3 grease gun. But the principal problem was the limitation of the MP five to a pistol cartridge. It didn’t matter what pistol cartridge were talking about: it was a short range proposition, great for door kicking, but when the occasional longer shot came up the MP5, like any submachinegun, couldn’t deliver the goods. The parabolic trajectory of the 9 mm around, let alone something like the .45 that we wanted but they never built, meant that you were out of business at 200 yards. The high quality and accuracy of the MP5 with its locked breech was the only reason you were still in business at 200 yards.

This all came to ahead in Grenada in 1983. It was a win for the USA, but it was an ugly win. Navy A6 aircraft bombed an 82nd Airborne Division position. The Rangers transported hundreds of tons of ammunition to the island, including every single 90 mm round in the inventory, which the Air Force then would not let them re-embark on the aircraft: so it wound up being blown in place. reporters, steeped in the anti-military ethos of the 1960s, were running all over the island looking for American atrocities that didn’t happen. So they latched onto the fact that some paratroopers “liberated” the Cuban Ambassador’s Mercedes for local transportation, and demanded those guys be prosecuted for a “war crime.” And the SEALs, and their MP5s, had a bunch of problems.

The SEALs’ problems are recounted generally online by the SEAL/UDT museum. One SEAL element and their rubber boats never assembled with their teammates, and those four SEALs remain missing to this day. But while the operation was still on, our friends in ARSOF HQ at Fort Bragg were already hearing complaints from frogmen whose MP5s had been outranged in the fight. Apart from the four men of ST6 lost at sea, none of the engaged SEALs died (a number were wounded, and decorated for valor). They were around, they were vocal, and everyone in the community heard the bark of these SEALs.

By the invasion of Panama in 1989, while there were still MP5s in the arms rooms, the hot ticket for all-round use was a short rifle that Colt called the M16 Carbine. The first ones were M16A1s with the sliding stock and short gas system of the old XM177 series, and a 14.5″ barrel. (The longer barrel, same as the rifle from the gas port forward, gave the short gun a similar pressure curve to the rifle, and increased reliability and durability over the Vietnam era CAR-15, at the cost of not looking quite as cool). The Navy, in fact, wound up leading the charge to replace both long rifles and short SMGs with an intermediate-sized, more capable carbine.

When the Oberndorf metalsmiths came out with a new submachine gun, the largely polymer UMP, the reaction in American special operations circles was a shrug: that ship had sailed. This time, they even made it in .45, but it was too late. 20 years earlier, they could have sold 300,000 .45 MP5s to the US Army. We’d be surprised if they sold 300 UMPs to the SOF world.

So we always assumed that the MP5 had gone out of production along with the rest of the roller-locked generation of H&K weapons. Imagine our surprise when we learnt it not only hasn’t, but has recently been upgraded.

MP5MLI- HK official

The gun was of course subject to many improvements in its life cycle. (Digging in some old boxes that hadn’t been cracked since the 1980s, we found evidence of that: straight and curved MP5 magazines in an old Rhodesian-style pouch). But HK is calling the new version the “Mid Life  Improvement,” which may not be entirely honest (isn’t it more of a “last gasp?”) but works as a portmanteau for holding all the current improvements:

  • Pickatinny rail on the receiver. The rail is proprietary, quick-detachable, and is claimed to return to zero. This is officially called the QRTR: Quick Release Top Rail.
  • More rails, left right and underneath the modular slimline forearm. These rails are detachable with a tool.
  • The stock is now a three-position one. The old stocks were either in or out and so not ideal for use with body armor. A small change (and one some units had made with a file!) but a welcome one.
  • Polymer parts in a new brownish color, including the trigger housing, the butt, and even the cocking handle knob.
  • A new finish which is claimed to provide better durability, and infrared-observation protection, compared to previous finishes. It has a distinctive color, RAL 8000 (RAL is a European color-matching firm like Pantone in the USA). The Germans call in a brown/green (braungrün) and in some photos, it does look like sort of a brown/green — almost like a World War II Olive drab, maybe a little more brown than that. But in HK’s official images, like the one leading this article, it’s much lighter, like a mustard brown. Better yet — the tank modelers say RAL 8000 is the color used by the Deutsche Afrika Corps in 1942. The guys who have test driven the gun call it “babyshit brown.” (Hey, we report, you decide). Anodizing, powder coating, and ceracote-type finishes being what they are, MP5 MLIs and G28 DMR rifles (also being shipped in RAL 8000) often are color-mismatched from part to part.

HK MP5 MLIThe HK system, of course, was always designed to be modular in the first place. Because of its compactness and caliber the MP5 offered less interchange with the full-size rifles and MGs than they had with each other, but people forget how radical the idea of knocking out two pins and going from a sliding, compact stock to a full-size stock with a good cheek weld was, back in the 1970s. You could honestly say that these guns were modular before modular was cool. 

It’s a pity that HK can’t export the HK 94 to the USA, but as a German company they’re in a hell of a jam between restrictive American import laws, and restrictive German export laws, and the two sets of laws are restrictive in different ways.

Hat tip: Bag Full of Guns, which probably got it from somewhere else, but that photo site is where we found it.

6 thoughts on “The MP5 is not dead yet

  1. Aesop

    Meh.

    As you noted, “that ship has sailed”.

    Turns out “because you suck, and we hate you” works both ways. Who knew?
    (Evidently, nobody in Oberndorf.)

  2. Joe

    I’ve always wondered if it was true that the stamped receivers were prone to denting which would put the gun out of commission.

    That being said, I’ve had a chance to shoot a MP5 and can see why they were so popular. I found it to be very controllable in full auto fire. No problem to pop off 2 or 3 round bursts either. The biggest downside was that I learned the rumors about needing guerrilla fingers to operate the selector switch were very true.

    1. Hognose Post author

      The stamped receiver of the MP5 is pretty thick. I knew a guy who destroyed an Uzi, but it was in a rucksack that burned in from 13,000 feet. Most stamped guns are pretty sturdy…. I’ve seen bad (as in flexible) knockoff AKs (including bad builds by Americans from parts kits) and the AK receiver stock is only 1mm, but the most critical dimensions are established by the machined trunnion.

      The MG42 is largely stamped, and it’s hell for strong, like a truck axle.

      1. Joe

        I had a suspicion it was an internet rumor but I figured why not ask someone who actually seen them put through some hard use.

  3. Bill K

    That was one of the more boneheaded moves in the history of firearms marketing: FBI and ATF have about 5000 Special Agents each; the Army could have bought many times that number of .45 versions.

    I’m asking way outside my area of expertise, but merely examining the logic of your statement, could it have been that H&K were simply ahead of their time? It seems that FBI & ATF are growth industries in these here United Serfdoms, not so much the Army these days, ja? /sarc

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