At the Range with the Iconic MP5A3

The MP5 is widely considered the best submachine gun ever made, for its reliability, its handling, and it’s closed-bolt delayed-blowback action. It is so widely praised, in fact, that H&K’s efforts to replace it with less expensive polymer submachine guns have largely failed, as their customer simply insist on the MP5.

I have had only a brief bit of experience actually using the MP5 myself, and I wanted to take this opportunity while visiting H&K to fix that. So, does it live up to its reputation?

In a word, yes.

Many thanks to H&K USA for providing me access to this MP5A3, and to Trijicon for graciously providing use of their range!


  1. Given my limited ‘experience’ with this weapon (mostly seeing them in hands of security personnel) I appreciate Ian’s new entry – very impressive. Light, controllable, reliable – what else to ask.

    Not far from subject and in connection with all-American obsession with auto-firing personal weapons, here is fitting video by late Peter Kokalis from 1980s

    Unfortunately Peter passed away 2 years ago

  2. The first question I come up with is: what about heat? So much press about open-bolt systems emphasizes the importance of dispelling heat.

    • 9×19 Parabellum cartridge is smaller than 5,56×45 NATO and 7,62×51 NATO cartridges and in effect result in less heat from one shot. When you want to produce sub-machine gun, open bolt is way to go, so I bet it is more numerous, nonetheless closed-bolt sub-machine guns were produced through history, some examples:
      FNA-B 43 (Republica Sociale Italiana)
      Halcon ML-63 (Argentine)
      Colt 635 (U.S.A.)
      PM-84 GLAUBERYT (Polish People’s Republic) [& derivatives]
      Taurus MT-9 (Brazil) [& derivative]
      PP-2000 (Russian Federation)

  3. The MP5 aka HK54 is actually a diminutive self-loading carbine firing a pistol cartridge. So it really doesn’t fit into the submachine gun category, being a different sort of weapon entirely.

    It is highly accurate, low in recoil, and extremely reliable. It is nearly ideally suited for use by CTW units, especially in hostage situations, where it can be loaded with limited-penetration ammunition.

    Probably the most useful members of the MP5 “family” are the MP5SD suppressed version, and the MP5K short-barrelled variant, specifically the version with the USN trigger group, side-folding stock, and with a sound suppressor attached.

    The thing to remember about all MP5 versions is that they must be fired on single-shot or in short bursts. The 3-shot burst control (as on the USN trigger unit) is a very useful addition to it. Unlike API open-bolt weapons, when you release the trigger, it rams a round into the chamber. If the chamber is hot from prolonged firing, a cook off is a very real possibility. (I’ve seen it happen first hand with the MP5, G3, HK33, and etc.)

    Users’ preference for the MP5 over the later polymer-structured UMP is understandable. Like the G36 rifle, the UMP has a problem with residual firing heat beyond cookoffs. I.e., it tends to melt. Nor does it react well to ambient temperatures in the MidEast, for that matter.

    I personally consider the MP5 inferior to the U.S. M2 .30 Carbine for actual combat use, and frankly most police tactical operations. But for its limited purpose, once you understand what that purpose is and use it accordingly, the MP5 is a useful addition to your armory.



    • “(…)doesn’t fit into the submachine gun category(…)”
      Wait. Let see
      automatic pistol ammunition? YES
      can fire full-auto? YES
      not machine pistol (=automatic pistol form-factor)? YES
      So in my understanding it is sub-machine gun. Also it is MP5 so I am sure it is Maschinenpistole, which to my understanding should be translated as sub-machine gun or I am wrong?
      I don’t seem fact that most other designers of sub-machine gun cared less for accuracy as justifying exemption from this group, as I never meet definition of sub-machine gun requiring it to be in-accurate.

      • German language only knows “Maschinenpistole”. It is used both for submachine guns and machine pistols, and thus covers a wide range of different designs.

        • Machine pistols are called “Schnellfeuerpistole” (fast fire pistol) in German, while a submachine guns is a “Maschinenpistole”.
          In my view, HK simply started this project as applying the G3 basic design to 9 mm Luger firearm, as they did with 5.56 mm to 12.7 mm.
          As mentioned above, it turned out that the MP5 is excellent for police work because it allows precise single shots. In an emergency, it allows full auto. Police at all cost avoid Hollywood style “spray and pray” firefights. The same applies to military units using silenced MP5s. Therefore, cook-offs are a non-issue for MP5 users.

          • Im not informed of recent 21st century nomenclature, but schnellfeuerpistole seems and sounds like term used (only?) in mauser broomhandle era, imo.

    • Eon – interesting comparison. Having used both the MP5 and M2 carbine, my expereince was that the M2 was not as reliable as the MP5. Sometimes it was the ammuntion, mostly it was the magazine feed.

      • The carbine was designed to work with a 110-grain round-nosed bullet at 1,850 f/s muzzle velocity. There’s a reason that most sporting/police ammunition for the .30 USC, either softpoint or whatever, doesn’t stray too far from this bullet specification.

        The problem with the carbine magazines is that they must not be loaded to their “rated” capacity. The “15-round” works best loaded with only 10 to 12, the “30-round” was originally designed for 25 rounds.

        The same problem occurs with the M16/AR-15 magazines in 5.56. The “20-round” was originally designed for 15 rounds, but somebody early on found out that they could force 20 cartridges into it, so that became the “official” capacity. This by itself probably accounted for a lot of the problems with the early M-16, irrespective of the propellant powder cockup.

        Similarly, the longer magazine (which was in fact the first one designed by Stoner for the “scaled-down AR-10”) was intended for 25 rounds, but yet again, some overenthusiastic type found he could get 30 rounds into it. It was “sold” to the troops in Vietnam as an “improved 30-round” magazine giving them firepower parity with the AK. It to this day only works reliably with no more than 25 rounds in it.

        In fact, very few magazines on automatic small arms have ever worked properly at their “rated” capacities.

        The P.08 8-round magazine works better with only 7 rounds in it.

        The MP38/40 32-round prefers only 28. Ditto the Sten 30-round and the Bren 30-round.

        The Thompson 20-round works better with 18. The 30-round prefers 26. The 50-round “L” drum and 100-round “C” drum at least work correctly with as many as they advertise.

        The 71-round drum of the PPSh-41 works much better with only 60 in it. The 35-round “banana” magazine works much more reliably that the drum does with any load, but it only works right with no more than 30 in it.

        For years, the SAS would gig any trooper caught with more than 10 rounds in the “13-round” magazine of the FN 9mm pistol. Which BTW is what John M. Browning and Dieudonne Saive called it; FN Liege’s marketing department “decided” that it was a 13-round capacity.

        The Beretta M9 and S&W M59 15-round magazines are a lot more reliable with only 12. The MAB PA-15 15-round likes no more than 10.

        The best way to load a pre-Generation 4 Glock 15-round magazine to full capacity is to fit it with the “Plus 2” floorplate raising the rated capacity to 17 rounds, and then only put 15 rounds in it. This is true of 9mms, .40s, and 10mms, all of which I’ve had personal experience with.

        The best way to load a S&W Sigma to its rated capacity is… get something other than a S&W Sigma.

        Even the AK’s 30-rounder prefers no more than 28.

        About the only magazines I’ve had personal experience with that worked correctly at their full “officially rated” capacities are the 7-shot M1911 magazine in .45 and the 20-round BAR magazine in .30-06. Considering that both were Browning designs, I leave you to deduce why this is so.



        • While yo are correct about reduced use of magazine capacity increasing reliability, you are not correct about intentionally wrong nominal magazines capacity. I talk from my own engineering experience from start from early 1980s and on. You have evidently plenty of experience as a user, but no knowledge of engineering behind it.

          Engineers are often pushed around, but they are not dummies – they want to keep their jobs and feed families. There is a HUGE amount of testing at least on military small arms, MORE that any civilian can imagine. They are right from start told for how many rounds mag is supposed to be and that is their aim. This is especially marked problem with handguns because of tightly defined commercial objectives. It is tough world to be in, believe me. I wish everyone here had one day excursion to actual engineering department of a major gun maker.

          • “(…)one day excursion to actual engineering department(…)”
            There is freely available “notebook of gun-tester” by A.A.Malimon but DISCLAIMER: it is in Russian language, so it is sadly of totally no use for anybody not understanding that language:
            It covers few tens years of Soviet fire-arms testing, starting from 1940s and ending at Nikonov Avtomat, although still before it was finalized.

          • Thanks, that’s lots of reading Daweo. I will look at it at least partly, for one because I like to improve my knowledge of Russian language, especially on technical side pertaining to small arms.

            What had been often said about firearm design and engineering is that testing had been at least 1/3 of development process. I like to call it ‘optimisation’. Let’s make no mistake about it, without it no product can leave factory’s door.

        • “(…)Even the AK’s 30-rounder prefers no more than 28.(…)”
          Wait, does this apply to Soviet-made magazines? Wasn’t magazine you examined well worn?
          I am skeptic about that, as I found unlikely that Soviet fire-arms manuals intentionally giving wrong values. Anyway if you wish not to use 100% of capacity as given by manuals, in case of AK you might get RPK banana magazine with official capacity of 40 and put less than that and still more than 30.

  4. A UMP actually warped at the agency I worked at.
    As Hackathorn said, the MP5 is the epitome of a sub-gun, but with the advent of the M4 carbine, it is pretty much relegated to certain police applications. I liked using the one I was issued, but preferred the fixed stock over the collapsible one.

    • As stated before with cops (or security guards), the goal is to incapacitate any hostile subject if he doesn’t cooperate. Incapacitation of the subject should emphatically NOT involve turning the area and objects/people surrounding said subject into honeycomb! Otherwise we will have one nearly-disintegrated man accompanied by lots of other dead/wounded people and lots of property damage to say nothing of post-traumatic-stress-disorder inflicted upon any survivors of the incident.

      Joke statement about imaginary history, obviously from Hollywood: In the past, when rural police or gendarmeries were given military grade rifles and bayonets, the usual result of trying to attack a policeman head-on was one dead/horribly-mutilated anarchist, with the latter used as bayonet practice in public for all to see. I’m pretty sure the sight of a pincushion-bayoneting execution would dissuade the faint-of-heart from joining any terror group!

    • Maybe we are in new trend, designing and making plastic guns that function ok for some time, but in 10-20 years turn to junk (or in 2-3 years of usage- heat warping!), not to mention the lies about 1000 jahriges, reic, khm, plastic which is BS, so it could happen that plastic gun would die earlier than classic steel one eaten by rust.
      With steel you know it will not change in 50 years, but with plastic you do not, will if it will suddenly become so brittle its dangerous to handle, or will uv sunlight destroy it.

  5. Now that is a firearm I really have rented at a range in Las Vegas, Nevada!
    Good to witness Ian’s appraisal.

    Way back in the 1980s the DoJ FBI had a self-loading only pistol-caliber carbine variant with a fixed stock that could be used by special agents as one or another “trunk gun.” U.S. civilians were limited by the NFA to barrels at 16-in. or longer, since this eminently practical set up would be a SBR.

    The armed police in the UK for quite some time had the HK Hochler MP5SF in this here A3 variant. Again, entirely dispensing with the full-auto capability. It was thus a self-loading carbine with a 15-rd. or 30-rd. magazine, an EOTech red dot holosight, and a collapsing mag for compactness inside the cramped interiors of police vehicles racing to the scene. “Good cop/Bad cop”: The negotiator good cop has a taser weapon to stun and disable, the armed bad cop has the MP5SF and is ready to deliver lethal fire should it prove necessary in a life-threatening crisis situation. Can’t say that the model is not an astute one for police operations.

    Some U.S. Police departments issued MP5s where the “giggle switch” required a very deliberate and even unwieldy operation by the user… Liability. Preference for aimed, deliberate, self-loading fire. Watch some experts who know the reset point of their chosen self-loader, and one might think they had full auto…

    For a time the St. Louis, MO PD had Beretta 9mm pistols and Cx4 carbines that used the same magazines, much to the great displeasure and near-mutiny of many of the officers… The chief largely dismissed claims for more powerful pistols and patrol carbines for a time. Certainly the trigger pull is so bad as to be deleterious to better accuracy with the unloved and unlovely Cx4, now no longer manufactured.
    I note that the FBI has moved back to 9mm thanks to improved bullet and ammunition construction, and that this is being replicated by any number of law enforcement agencies…

  6. If there is a take home point here, it is that the MP5 was designed and distributed at the very twilight of the age of submachine guns, and is regarded by most who have used them (myself included) as pretty much the last word is the “what would be a perfect SMG?” question.

    Practically every major police organization in the world, which has had the funds and access to purchase them, has done so, and never looked back.

    The question of the MP5 as a military issue SMG is moot; there really are no significant military issue SMGs any more, nor has there been the need among the major powers for “total war” economy driven “good enough, thank you” SMGs such as the STEN or M3. My suspicion is that, like the Reising, a basically good closed bolt design, with tight tolerances and precision components, might not fare so well in the real mudholes of combat as the STEN or M3 would, and did.

    The MP5 might be an icon, and deservedly so. If it is, it is exceptional for being such a useful one.

    • Also, I want to note that MP5 is (more-or-less) scaled-down G3, such approach was novel at that time, as before that sub-machine guns and rifles were generally totally separate and different designs. Later similar sub-machine guns appeared also for another automatic rifles (see Colt Model 635 for example), which often are closed-bolt design (as “originals”) and make easy transition for operators between sub-machine gun and automatic rifle (and reversely).

  7. damn you got the life! this site/channel started with such humble beginnings and has grown into a full blown index! LOVE IT IAN!

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