HK 41: “Paramilitary Rifle” for the Bundeswehr

Lot 440 in the September 2019 RIA auction.

The HK41 (designation: “paramilitary rifle”, caliber 7.62x51mm) was the first semiautomatic version of the G3 military rifle. It was made for the Bundeswehr reservist market; a rifle that could be privately owned in Germany but which would duplicate the handling of the G3 for reservists to practice with. It went into production in 1966, with a standard pinned lower and S-E semiautomatic trigger group. To comply with German laws, it would only accept a 5-round magazine and could not mount a bayonet or rifle grenades. In addition to German commercial sale, there was also interest form the US, and rifles were exported there.

In 1968, the Gun Control Act was passed int he US, which enacted stricter rules about what could be imported. In addition, in 1973 German law changed and made the HK41 effectively impossible to own in Germany. This prompted a change in the design, with a new pin-less power introduced to comply with US laws (and along with it a “S-F” semiauto fire control group). This model was imported into the US by SACO in 1974 in small numbers. In 1975 HK USA was formed, and in 1977 production of the HK41 ended, to be replaced with the HK91 designed specifically for export sale to the US and elsewhere. In total, only about 1350 HK41 rifles were made, and only about 400 of them imported into the US.

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28 Comments

  1. The name “paramilitary rifle” is very much misleading. Bundeswehr reservists (we have neither an equvalent to Army Reserve nor National Guard) are civilians. As civilians they could buy the HK41 for their private use. The field manual for shooting training (ZDv 3/12) authorised the use of HK41 by reservists in place of a G3 during special reservist range firings (mostly on the weekend). But not for use in any other military activity.
    Usually it was called “Reservistengewehr” (reservist rifle).

  2. The West German government seems to have followed the principles of the French nobility circa the Hundred Years’ War.

    They got sufficiently mauled by English archery enough times that they considered giving their own peasants the same right as English yeomen, i.e. owning longbows. Then they considered the probability that said peasants might turn on them with said longbows.

    So instead, they hired mercenary crossbowmen from Italy, notably the city of Genoa.

    That didn’t work too well either, notably at Agincourt.

    European governments simply do not tolerate an armed peasantry.

    And “peasantry” is precisely how they think of their “citizens”, even today.

    cheers

    eon

    • I think impulse to create this version of G3 might be much simpler – HK sales department detecting potential market for such weapon – possibly not only inside (Bonn)Germany but also abroad, where self-loading rifles could be owned by civilians.
      Now time for more delicate matter:
      I want also note that in early 1960s Bundeswehr was still very young organization, which was created not without opposition from some NATO members, as explained in this sketch:
      https://warspot.ru/13195-vesyolye-kartinki-warspot-pevets-holodnoy-voyny/images?name=%2F000%2F062%2F493%2Fcontent%2F06-53076edbcc4e20add7695fe5b2041386.jpg
      (in 1954 PMF [sitting in arm-chair] was Prime Minister of France).
      It was created in convoluted historical-political situation: for obvious reason they can not inherit Wehrmacht tradition and it was decided that they will not inherit any tradition – neither Wehrmacht neither Reichswehr, neither Kaiser army. Yet, they, reasoning pragmatically, accepted former Nazi officers and soldiers, even including Waffen-SS – organization found to be responsible for war crimes:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waffen-SS_veterans_in_post-war_Germany#Waffen-SS_and_the_Bundeswehr
      so they created, due to combination of circumstances, they have to created, lets call it “armed forces without history” or who wanted to erase history as written by their ancestors. But that was not possible. Considering that part of Cold War was war for minds, that might caused some problems if time of trial would come.

    • Well, an armed populace worked out just great for Yugoslavia.
      Of course, there’s no way that the bloody ethnic divisions hiding just below the surface of Tito’s patched-together state could also explode Hungary, Germany, France, etc. Unless there were groups promoting the idea of a master race with a traditional birthright to special powers over “alien” races, like lords over subhuman peasants…

  3. It seems like a long shot to expect enough reservists to want to go to the expense and aggravation of owning a handicapped version of their service rifle. I’ve no idea how the Bundeswehr managed access to firearms for ongoing training, but I suspect they had to have some organization/logistics in place.
    Other well regulated militias (e.g. the Swiss Army and the I.D.F.) seem to find ways for this.

    • Polyphemus,
      you are barking up the wrong tree. The HK41 played absolutely no role in Bundeswehr plannings. It was intended to allow those reservists with enough interest in privately shooting a G3-like rifle (like Americans shooting a civilian M16A2 variation) to do so.
      Compared to the vast numbers of G3s made for the Bundeswehr, the HK41 was practically non-existent as a factor of income for HK. Commercially for HK, it was purely a gesture of good will and public relations towards reservists and others interested in firearms.

  4. There were periods when the Austrian Bundesheer contemplated allowing reservists to keep the service rifle within their households like in Switzerland.

    In Sweden, the Home Guard had modified AK4 variants of the G3 rifle kept at home, but with an unusual system in place. The rifle was kept in a disassembled state and with a lock mechanism running down the length of a barrel. There was only a single key, which was kept by the homeguardsman. Should he lose the key, the barrel was destroyed. Woe betide anyone who had the rifle in an assembled state should an investigator or inspector show up. Major no-no.

    In Switzerland, one the only nations in Europe whose armed forces were not the outgrowth of a “palace guard” to further fill out eon’s description of the aristocracy and their prerogatives vis-a-vis the rabble, gentuza, mob, bewildered herd, peasantry, etc. … The service rifle was stored at home, ’tis true but there was a single box of 24 cartridges (enough to load the Schmidt-Rubin precisely four times) that could never be opened unless there was a mobilization. It was thought a sufficient number of cartridges to enable the reservist to fight his way to his mobilization point or barracks where the stores of ammunition were kept. The Swiss recently voted to retain this ancient tradition, but in spite of that, it now seems to be in doubt to the need to conform to the practice of the rest of European national practices.

    Briefly, in the early twentieth century republic, Portugal might have built upon its ancient “Ordenança” militia tradition to have a militia-based rather than palace guard army, but the right wing had the final say, and the Estado Novo put the final touches to the scheme… Although perhaps the 1974 “Revolução dos Cravos” by the MFA somewhat proved a counterweight to a highly politicized military officer system.

    French socialist Jean Jaures wrote about an “Armée Nouvelle” in 1907:
    https://www.marxists.org/archive/jaures/1907/military-service/preface.htm

    Of course, he was assassinated in 1914 by a right-wing nationalist. Since the civil war and the Commune from the defeat and humiliation at the hands of Prussia/Germany in 1871, France tolerated a highly politicized officer corps, one which was manifestly more afraid of eon’s revolting peasants and lower orders than defeat at the hands of the nation’s enemies. As a result, the shock of May-June 1940 and the post-WWII mystical ethno-nationalist scheme to preserve the lost “honeur” of France by doubling down on its colonial empire in Indochine and its “overseas department” in Algeria. From that debacle, of course, came Arab and Berber “overseas Frenchmen” in a much-maligned immigration wave and the internalization of the colons and pied-noirs as well as their extreme bigotry and racism, which has together created the ongoing fracas of the “French jihad” and the concomitant recrudescence of settler-colonial racism among the “Herrenvolk.”

    It might be interesting to look at Germany’s Bundeswehr Reservists and their armament alongside the so-called “mass organizations” of the DDR’s “Nationale Volksarmee” like the Kampfgruppen der Arbieterklasse, no?

    As for Germany: In 1918 the defeated leadership briefly entertained a “levée-en-masse” against the expected Allied 1919 offensive after the breakthrough of the Sigfried Stellung/Hindenburg Line, perhaps at the Rhein? It was almost immediately rejected since it was thought to be arming the workers and peasants at precisely the outbreak of Red revolution and the disintegration of the old Kaiserreich. Of course, in WWII, precisely just such a levee, the Nazi Party militia “Volkssturm” was concocted because of the sheer numbers of “foreign workers” laboring and slaving in the “1,000 year reich” created fears of servile insurrection. Used as the scrapings of the manpower barrel, of course, these Gauleiter-led remnants were fed into the maw of the Western Allies offensives across the Rhine and into the Ruhr, and more conspicuously with Panzerfaüste in hands against Soviet tank armies approaching from the East.

    • Interesting stuff.
      Americans are incapable of understanding the difference between private property and a public trust. Swissmen, as far as I can tell, don’t think of their rifles as private property. Moreover they don’t imagine that these guns exist to be used against their fellow citizens, whether for private or political interests. Yet that is actually the norm in America. You could never make the Swiss system work here, because it wouldn’t be the Swiss system unless racial minorities had equal access to military-grade weapons. As the victims of Cointelpro discovered, that will never be allowed. And we’ve got plenty of private grudges against each other fueling lethal fantasies.

      • Interesting points all.
        Time was, admittedly when the U.S. was a very restricted franchise “Herrenvolk democracy” with women, people of color, and the poor excluded from the political process, that the militia duty was taken very seriously and as an important social/political obligation. Men subject to militia duty had to supply their own private property in the public trust, supplying themselves with cartridge box, suitable sword, hatchet, bayonet or whatever, and a fowler or musket. At that time the nation was leery of a large, standing army as a passel of hirelings and mercenaries, the potential instruments of tyranny in an undemocraticaly-minded ruler’s command. The militia system–such as it was–had many problems. The “mere Irish” or “Irishry” unit in Massachusetts was disbanded by angry “know nothing” so-called “nativists.” In the South, it existed as a slave patteroller system and anti-Indian armed force. In the 1830s one sees the Black Hawk War in the “old Northwest,” the “Texas Revolution” with plenty of U.S. volunteers flocking in, the “Seminole War” and the wholesale displacement of the Tsalagi/Cherokee along the “trail of tears” and the kindred removals/ethnic cleansings from the Ohio valley.

        In the United States, plenty of people thought firearms were the first and last resort in various disputes, including labor strikes, challenging the hiring of replacement labor, etc. Note well that U.S. intervention was frequent and usually decisive and of the “private armies” or “militias” those of the unions were typically disbanded while the labor-relations experts of “private detective agencies” were almost always backed and reinforced.

        There were ample cases of racial “minorities” being disarmed of course, including notorious cases like Hamburg, South Carolina: https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/hamburg-massacre-1876/

        Remember that in the Cointelpro days the NRA was vehemently against the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, witness Reagan as governor of California. In Washington State, the very idea that the local chapter of the Panthers was headed to Olympia brandishing firearms like Sacramento led to a very swift repudiation of, erm, “open carry avant la lettre?” and slapping down that exercise. So much for the 2nd Amendment, eh?

  5. Dave,
    any former Bundeswehr soldier honorably discharged automatically became a reservist (I am talking of cold war conscription). Some were assigned to active or periodically activated units. But these were full-fledged Bundeswehr units as far as equipment and integration into command structure are concerned. In other words: The reservists would bring Bundeswehr to its full wartime strength. Reservists were no militia or paramilitary organisation.

    Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse in GDR were organized totally outside the military of the GDR. Their only reason of existence was thwarting any attempt of repeating the 1953 uprising of the workers. They were recruited only half-voluntarily from the personnel of large industrial complexes. Training was under the pretext of defending the factories against armed attack. Regarding armament and training level, a comparison to Volkssturm comes to mind. They were equipped to gun down protesting workers and peasants in the name of the Workers and Peasants Party, but not much more.

    • I see. Danke sehr/ Thank you for the clarification and explanation!
      The only other Marxist-Leninist state I was familiar with has conscription, a standing army, and reservists. In addition, it has various so-called “mass organizations” many of which are as paramilitary as your description of the KdA.

      I understand the argument about differentiating between reservists and the misnomer in this case of “paramilitary.” To my mind, a paramilitary or quasi-military in a European context is something like, say, the Spanish Guardia Civil, which formerly was housed in barracks and exercised a police-type role a bit like the French Gendarmerie, or maybe even the Austrian Gendarmerie, before it was disbanded in favor of a “national police” agency. Incidentally, Spain has both a “Policía nacional” and the Guardia Civil…
      Again, thanks.

    • I like the last sentence. Bravo!

      We had very much same thing; it was called People’s Militia. They were intended to defend Central Politburo in case of uprising. In early 90s they were disbanded and as a result I was able to buy one of their (smartly) exported rifles.

        • This rifle looks like refurbished or original production vz.52/57. I suspect it was not issued. In the same manner I received vz.52 pistol. They make for good souvenirs.

    • OK, it’s clear you don’t understand how the US reserves and National Guard is organized. Because how you describe the Bundeswehr reserve system is pretty much the same as the US handles the National Guard and federal reserves, in broad strokes.

      We’ve been using a Total Army concept for decades now, and those Guard and Reserve units are part of that Total Army. They aren’t really militia (well, the National Guard is, in their state role, and they are classified as the “organized” militia in their federal role when not activated… but that’s as much about allowing them legal flexibility to support operations inside the United States that the active military is prohibited under most circumstances). Individuals in the federal reserves who aren’t in the National Guard are members of the unorganized militia only so far as they would be anyway if they weren’t in the reserves.

      In fact, after Vietnam Congress mandated force structures so that it is effectively impossible for the US Army to go to a major war without bringing the “Weekend Warriors” along. The Air Force cannot conduct even peacetime active duty operations without using the Air National Guard and Reserves. Entire brigades of active duty divisions are in the National Guard (“round out brigades”) as part of the normal TO&E force structure. Etc., etc. In the US model, the federal reserve forces and the National Guard are full fledged soldiers and units… just not full-time.

      Oh, and by the way, something most people (including a surprising number of veterans) are not aware of. We, too, *automatically* move individuals into the reserves when they finish their obligated term of service. See, every enlistment contract is for eight years — the difference between the time you are obligated to serve as a member of an organized unit (active duty, reserves, or National Guard), and the end of the eight year term, is filled with automatic membership in the Inactive ready reserve, and while you are not subject to showing up to drill and so forth, you *are* subject to involuntarily recall to duty. (And you may choose to be an active reservist either by joining a “part time” unit, or just applying for duty days. Some guys do this just for points toward retirement — their retirement pay is pro-rated by counting each point as 1 day, and dividing that career total by 360 to figure out the equivalent number of years it’s counted for pay purposes, and they have to have a minimum of 20 “good years” – years they earned 50 or more points – to qualify at all.)

  6. Yes the so-called Wieger= Wiesa–where the secret Kalashnikow facility was located–and Ger for zee Germans. Hence Wieger. Thing is, it was in 5.56mm for export. Almost got contracts to sell it in Perú and in India. The India contract would have made for a major coup for the DDR’s Qualität industry!

    Personally, had I had some sort of job during the Anschluß, erm, I mean to say unification process, I’d have adopted the Wieger as the new-fangled service rifle of the Bundeswehr instead of the G36, which would have been exported. Thus the factory in Wiesa wouldn’t have had to completely shut down, there’d have been jobs, and Oberndorf could continue to export all of their various hardware, heck, even the HK41!

    Slated for export does not mean exported, however…

    Incidentally, in 1970-71 in Szczecin, Gdynia, and Gdansk when labor trouble resulted in just such a massacre of workers in the erstwhile “workers’ state” with about 50 killed by the so-called “Peoples Army” and the so-called “Citizens Militia.” I have it that shaved-headed fresh half-trained conscripts from southern Poland were dispatched with sleep deprivation and hysteric invective against the suspicious “pro-Nazi” people in ex-German cities like Stettin and formerly mixed Polish and German cities like Danzig/Gdansk helping literal Germans invading the country… A bit of indoctrination, and the youngsters will do just about anything the regime desires I suppose.

    https://libcom.org/history/1970-71-uprising-poland

    My sense is that terms like “paramilitary” in Germany evoke proscribed gangs and groups like the 1973-1980 “Wehrsportsgruppe Hoffmann” and kindred phenomena in Operation Gladio Nato nations… nicht war?

    • Those years 70-71 and follow up developments in terms of creating Solidarnos’c’/ Solidarity were echoed in our country in form of temporary food rationing (limited volume purchases). People were going nuts, buying foodstuffs out of shelfs in heaps. Luckily, it settled down soon. I heard Soviet units stationed in Poland were on standby.

      Btw. speaking of DDR made AK74s, what happened to them? Were they sold off to third word? As it may be, they would be ready fix for G36 wows since they were of exceptionally good quality. They are easy to tell by skeletonised stock.

      • Some of the DDR’s Luftstreitskräfte MiG29 fighter aircraft were sold at rock-bottom prices to Poland… One hopes it smoothed over the bad press when Helmut Kohl waffled a bit when questioned about the Oder-Neiße Linie as the border between unified BRD Germany and Poland…

        As for the weapons, well, the MPi72s with folding stocks und so weiter were sold to Finland at reasonable prices. Apparently the Finns thought to off-load them after reassessing the numbers of reservists and conscripts who might use them, but Finns tell me they are still in storage there…

        The KS Simonoff Karabin 7,62x39mm carbines were either sent to sub-Saharan Africa during the later wars of National Liberation (think Portuguese Africa, where the Wessis backed Portugal to the bitter end…) or were destroyed after the wall came down. Schade!/Shame. A rare variant indeed!

        I must confess that in the early 1990s I was in Hamburg when the port authorities decided to take a look under a tarp of a “tractor” being shipped to Israel and discovered a ZSU-23 self-propelled quad 23mm AA gun! So while not, say, the Ukraine or the Russian CS situation, it wasn’t too far off I’d guess. The DDR M56 Stahlhelm showed up literally everywhere. Turkey bought a bunch, many went to Nicaragua under the Sandinistas, others went to the FAPLA/MPLA in Angola, where many were used by South African SADF artillery units, you-name-it. As for the AK74s… I suspect many if not most must have been destroyed along with the KS SKS carbines etc.
        The only things left in the ex-DDR that were not scrapped included the “Ampelmännchen” crossing walk icon with his Homburg hat–found to be safer and more visible than the Wessi version–and the AK74 bayonet that can be used as a wire cutters… These were adopted as the bayonet for the G36!

    • Ironically, it was United Worker’s Party which was in power in Poland at the time, pitting “workers against workers” as J.Peelen said earlier. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_United_Workers%27_Party

      Curiously and uniquely in WP countries, there was sort of compromise worked out afterwards in which Gomulka was relieved and new Polish government was created headed by gen. Jeruselski. That was first real step to upcoming big change.

      • “(…)gen. Jeruselski(…)”
        Unless it is intentional show of disdain: Jaruzelski. What might be quite perplexing for high-ranking member of PZPR, he was:
        (…)was born(…)into a family of Polish gentry(…)He was the son of Wanda (née Zaremba) and Władysław Mieczysław Jaruzelski, a Czech-educated agronomist and volunteered soldier who fought in the war against Soviet Russia in 1920(…) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wojciech_Jaruzelski
        It must be noted that presence of Soviet forces on territory of Polish People Republic
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Group_of_Forces
        was seen by citizens of second, as at least lack of trust if not outright occupation.
        After all forces of foreign (even if formally allied) take existing town for themselves and are outside Polish People Republic jurisdiction?
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borne_Sulinowo
        As side note, keep in mind that in 1938 Moscow ordered disbanding of Komunistyczna Partia Polski with invitation of its prominent members to Soviet Union – the ones which responded to this call were sentenced to death or labor camps.

        • As you know, I am bit inaccurate with names/type designations time by time and appreciate your corrections.

          It may look like undue diversion by some, but I consider as worthwhile to rehash some historical connections, time by time. Sometimes it is said that “everything connects with anything”, but I do not wish to take it so literally 🙂

          • “(…)connect(…)”
            There is connection!
            Said action against members of Polish Communist Party in late 1930s, limited possible choices of Secretary for Polish state after 1945.

            “(…)which Gomulka was relieved(…)”
            Well, in fact W. Gomułka was secretary-general in 1945…1948, after that was replaced by (ultra-stalinist) Bolesław Bierut – who died after hearing Khrushchev secret speech (although some speculated that someone helped him, most probably that is not case, his health was already weak before that trip, but 1950s procedures in Poland dictated to NOT publish medical report regarding high-ranking party members) and in turn of fate – W. Gomułka – become well suited for new situation as being more pragmatic and victim of his forerunner.
            https://www.britannica.com/biography/Wladyslaw-Gomulka

    • In fact small numbers of the Wieger rifles were actually used by the Bundeswehr during the 1990ies. Not only for testing, but also issued to the Fernspäher (long range recce), Fallschirmjäger B-Kompanien (airborne recce/comando units for the LLDiv), the Kampfschwimmer and a few other select units. Also for foreign weapons training as 556 was easier to source.

      Of course in the transisional time of integrating the NVA into the Bundeswehr all of the old equipment was used as well. There are still a few pieces of that in Bundeswehr inventory and being issued. Wool blankets and such items.

  7. I believe SACO continued importing HK rifles past 1975. I have two 1978(HI) date coded 91’s that are stamped SACO.FYI. Also the push button mag release was not a redesign as the G3 was designed with both the paddle and the button as a backup. Eliminating the front pin got rid of the paddle by design leaving only the button.

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