H&K’s Middle Child: The HK33 and HK53 in 5.56mm

Introduced in 1968, the HK33 was Heckler & Koch’s adaptation of their roller-delay operating system to the 5.56mm / .223 Remington cartridge. In addition to the standard full-length rifle (with a 15.35 inch barrel) a shorter version was made as the HK33K (with a collapsing stock and 12.4 inch barrel) as well as a “submachine gun” variant, the HK53 (with an 8.3 inch barrel). While it was never adopted by a first-tier global military, substantial numbers were purchased by a number of smaller forces, including Malaysia, Brazil, and Thailand.


  1. Some 7,000 were purchased by the UK Armed force, 30% HK33 and 70% HK53. They used by all forms of UKSF, EOD teams, UK Nuclear Weapons escort and guard services, Army Aviation aircrew and RAF helicopter aircrews, and military police close protection teams. With a variety of Odds and Sods using them also.

    • I remember reading that 53s were used by the 14 Int Det in Northern Ireland, for example, in the book The Operators (excellent book about that group if you’ve not read it, BTW).

      • They were also commonly used by British Army RMP close protection teams up until fairly recently when they were replaced by the C8 Diemaco.

        I had my hands on one when I was still serving, was an older type with the SEF grip and G3esque flash hider, though some had the later prong type fitted.

        Very handy little rifle though surprisingly heavy for its size.

  2. In Brazil the guards at our local airbase carried these. IIRC it was only the Airforce (FAB) that used them.

  3. An excellent review by Ian!
    I was surprised by so early beginning for HK33 rifle design; that might have been in step with M16, the earliest versions. Surprisingly or not I believe also Turkey adopted HK33 and it serves there to this day.

    • Indeed. They also manufactured it. Civilianized versions can be found in the US under the Zenith brand name.

      • “They also manufactured it”(C)

        They did…
        I am familiar with the Turkish MP5 (Zenit).
        It looks like the original only in the pictures.
        Even more capricious, less reliable and brittle than the prototype.
        And my friend said that he immediately remembered the Pakistani G3.
        The same trash. LOL

  4. Ecuador fielded a bunch of HK33s. Some other Latin American naval and police forces also.

    The only HK53s I’ve ever seen “in the wild” so-to-speak were in Mexico.

    • Yup, you are right. Mexico has extensive collection of small arms, almost s large as Peru. Ian should make trip there, after they clear skies.

  5. We had a few rare ones (H&K 53s) in DEA. I carried it for a couple of years until they, and all our Colt SMGs, were replaced/phased out by M4A1s and then the Rock River LAR-15s.

  6. When with the UN in Liberia, the State Department from the US constantly sent visiting diplomats and others to Monrovia, the capital. Depending upon what mob of drugged up loonies was in control of the area on a week by week basis, it could be very dangerous. The State Dept would send very good close protection teams in from their Diplomatic Security Service, these blokes were really high quality (they used to brag that they were the Z Team, sent in after the CIA had sent their A Team in to sort the problems that they had caused ), and very much tactically aware.

    The visitors used to come in in ancient USAF T-43 navigation trainers (could carry 24-32 passengers as a additional load. and a eight man team was extant with them. Always carrying six HK53, and two scoped HK 33, as well as HK 40mm GL, and SIG pistols. Which they told us were specific for such teams into very dangerous areas (such as Somalia and the then Zaire).

    They were very much on a par with USAF Special Tactics Teams that rotated through Monrovia, and the USMC FAST Platoon’s that rotated through the Embassy. Who really were superior to the SEAL or USSF teams that came through. These two organisations were very good, and highly disciplined, and most importantly consistently reliable.

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