Shooting the HK G41: Like an HK33 But Worse

We took a look at the history and mechanics of the G41 yesterday; now it’s time to actually try it out on the range…

It, ah, did not go so well. But I did get to see a cool new malfunction I had never seen before! In fairness to HK, this was a demo gun that has been used and abused. On the other hand, nothing else form the Grey Room that we shot on this trip had any malfunctions at all. In my opinion, the G41 really is the exception that proves the rule of H&K’s overall excellent engineering.

Many thanks to H&K USA for giving me access to the G41 rifles in their Grey Room for this video, and to Trijicon for loaning us use of their Virginia range!



  1. Used and abused? No wonder. No gun should do that if in mint condition. What the heck happened to that G41? Did someone smash it into a tree? But you’re right, every successful firm does have its mess-up moments.

  2. Aside from the less-than-perfect reliability – all of that effort to make the thing handle like an M-16, but they put the magazine release on the left side?

  3. “G41”
    There is saying nomen est omen and this look to be case (if number could be called nomen) – note that during 2nd World War II III Reich deployed weapon known as G.41(M)
    Although 7,9×57 self-loading rifle, there are more similarities that just name:
    G.41(M) was product of Mauser and G41 was product of HK (for unaware about history of Germany(Boon) – HK was created by Alex Seidel, Theodor Koch and Edmund Heckler – which earlier worked for Mauser Werke)
    Both failed to meet expectations – G.41(M) reliability-wise and G41 market-wise
    Both were encumbered by earlier default German army rifles – G.41(M) by Mauser 98 [which it attempted to emulate to some degree] and G3 [principle of operation]
    Both were heavy when compared to then default equivalents of other nations – G.41(M) mass was 5,02 kg empty – for comparison M1 Garand [using more powerful cartridge] was 4,32 kg heavy and Czechoslovak ZH-29 was 4,5 kg not to mention SVT-40 which was just 3,85 kg heavy.
    Both were finally abandoned in favor of more promising designs.

  4. the G41 was manufactured at the Royal Small Arms factory in the UK. I think that this was done to make exporting easier

  5. I wonder which is most troublesome for the average drafted soldier, the HK G41, the M14, the original M16 without a cleaning kit, the SA-80, the AN-94, or of all things, a BM-59 Mark 3 with pistol grip…

    • There are no more “drafted” soldiers; we talked about it before. Just professionals. True, first they are recruits lured in by lowered drinking age, promise of fast track citizenship process for family members and other perks – they start as novices. But given intensity of training thy soon pick it up.

    • “BM-59 Mark 3 with pistol grip”
      This weapon was made for mountain troops and parachutist, I wouldn’t except average drafted soldier there.

      • Depending on the regiment, some actually were made of drafted soldiers.
        Including those which were deployed abroad in Lebanon and Somalia.

        • To answer Cherndog’s query about the worst premiere or roll-out, emphatically, it was the M16 since the conscripts/draftees were in a shooting war… None of the other rifles mentioned were being given to soldiers who’d trained on a different rifle (uh, “platform” if you prefer), the M14 or even the M1 Garand. Then they go to a combat zone… Are issued the M16 and told a bunch of exaggerated hyperbolic claims about it, given ammunition that will cause it to malfunction in the worst ways, sent into combat against peasant soldiers who are highly indoctrinated and equipped with simple, robust, Russian pattern weapons–for the most part anyway–and then “boxed up and shipped home.” Not to mention that the tactical deployment of said conscript soldiers, again after the hyperbolic overselling of the promise of “technowar,” is to essentially go slogging through the mire of rice fields and jungles as *bait.* Should the enemy attack, then air power, artillery support, etc. etc. would devastate the Commies… Only they’d not oblige as often as planners hoped… And meanwhile the “bait” could run over well-laid land mines, booby traps, and ambushes.

    • When all is said and done, the Kalashnikov may be the single best military rifle ever made. At least it works.



      • You might be right, for time being anyway.
        Koncern Kalashnikov has new generation of rifle type of arms under development. This has new architecture, away from sheet metal receiver and awkward fire-mode switch. There is pic-rail on top as a standard.

      • No. Flatly, no.

        The AK was the best military rifle that the Soviets ever adopted. That does not make it the “best ever made” for all time and all users.

        People keep focusing on the gadget aspect of small arms, and totally neglect the reality that includes the interaction between the gadget, the software, and the men using both.

        Weapon must be in accordance with doctrine; doctrine and weapon must be in accordance with tactics and operational art. It is entirely possible to have a perfect weapon for one set of those factors, and have that same weapon be totally unfit for purpose under another.

        There’s also the factor of “who are we issuing this thing to?”. One set of users might find something the ideal weapon, and another would find it impossible to keep running at all.

        Examples of this abound; Switzerland’s Stg-57 is a good example. It was intended to be an LMG-biased individual weapon (why the hell they wanted to call it a Sturmgewehr, I’ll never know…) intended for fighting the operational fight they foresaw coming after they withdrew from the Swiss lowlands into the mountain fastnesses. As such, it’s a really good example of an individual weapon being designed in accordance with tactics and operational intent, along with the Swiss manpower characteristics.

        Now, consider the situation if the Swiss were to have decided to implement those tactics and operational plans, while arming themselves with an AK. Doesn’t work, does it? Likewise, had the Soviet Union decided that what it really needed was an uber-LMG like the StG-57, and kept to its motorized rifle tactics and operational intent…? Not so much.

        Do you see what I’m getting at, here? Horses for courses… What’s a magnificent implement of war under one set of supporting conditions is not necessarily worth a damn under others. You cannot say that there is any such thing as the “…single best military rifle ever made.” Such things simply don’t exist–There are weapons that are very well suited to purpose, but they are not automatically going to suit other purposes, or be adaptable to other situations and uses.

        I’d say that the AK is a very good weapon for what the Soviets intended it for, and leave it at that. Different doctrine, different operational intent, and you’re going to wish you had something else. Weapons are not intrinsically superior–This isn’t how it works. Thinking along those lines is inherently delusional and just plain wrong.

        • Current Stg90 aka SIG550, is it not essentially AK in tuxedo?

          Speaking of “doctrines” – what is it about? It looks to me heavy on science which does not exist. During my time in military the rifle ‘doctrine’ was as follows: go to prone, load your gun, take aim and squeeze trigger. Is it any different in U.S./Nato militaries?

          • The Swiss changed their doctrine, operational intent, and strategy about the time they went to the StG90. Where before the idea was to abandon the lowland built-up areas and lure the enemy into the mountains where the Swiss mountain infantry would attrit them to destruction with long-range fires, the StG90 was designed to support the new intent of defending the lowlands.

            As to your second paragraph, there’s a corollary here between that old saying about professionals studying logistics and amateurs studying strategy. When you start discussing things like “Is this the best rifle…?”, you have to go past the mere mechanical aspects and start asking about how you mean to use it: In other words, doctrine. Doctrine is probably best defined as being the set of agreed-upon actions and behaviors across a military force, which have to be set up clearly and unequivocally before taking that force to war. Doctrine is what tells you what to expect from your peers on your left and right flank, and what tells them to expect from you. Doctrine exists at that intersection of strategy, tactics, training, and the potential of your military force–If you are a mostly light-infantry army, it does not make a terrible lot of sense to adopt the doctrine of another army which is mostly based on mechanized heavy infantry operations from vehicles.

            Think of doctrine like being the same sort of thing that tells a football team player what to expect from his teammates. If the teams doctrine is to always pass the ball forward, then that’s what he’s going to do and what he’s going to expect from the rest of the team–So, he’ll position himself to be ready to take the ball and send it forward when the guys behind him get control of it. Doctrine tells him what to expect–And, without that, it’s going to be chaos every time they take the field, because nobody knows what the rest of the team is going to do.

            On the battlefield, doctrine is what tells you to do in specific circumstances, by policy and standard procedure. Because other elements around you need to know that stuff, in order for them to account for you and your actions. Whether or not you ever knew it as a rifleman in a unit, doctrine permeated everything you did or were trained on. You didn’t need to know what it was, you just had to react as you’d been trained, and listen to those who were aware of what doctrine said about doing things.

            The weapons themselves are fun things to study, but they’re relatively simple and not all that complicated. The subtleties of how they are used, however…? Far more interesting and complex, to my mind–And, those subtleties are influenced by the possibilities inherent to the designs themselves. Look, for example, the disastrous French experience with the original Montigny Mitrailluese–Here was a potentially war-winning weapon, developed in secret and entirely new to the battlefield. It should have had a large impact on the Franco-Prussian War, and yet… It did not. Why? It boils down to doctrine; nobody had any idea how to use the damn things, advanced as they were. Proper doctrine for the Mitrailluese would have told the commanders how to best employ it, what the limitations were, and all the rest. Of course, none of that was available, so the whole enterprise failed miserably in combat.

            If you think of this in terms of computers, the weapons are the hardware, doctrine is the firmware, and the software is the commander’s operational intent and strategy. In terms of an orchestra, the instruments are the weapons, the players the soldiers, the music is the doctrine, and the conductor is the commander.

            Even if you never knew you were using doctrine, if you wore a uniform and underwent training, you were.

        • This might surprise you, but I agree with you. The AK is the best rifle ever designed, assuming that you’ll be ;

          1. Giving it to conscripts with at best moderate, or more likely relatively rudimentary training;

          2. Fighting according to Soviet doctrines based on mass and sustained firescreens;

          3. Dealing with adverse climatic conditions ranging from arctic to desert (all of which were found within the old USSR itself);


          4. Accept that any target beyond 400 meters is to be engaged by support weapons firing either full-bore rifle rounds, dedicated HMG ammunition, or else artillery from mortars on up. (Yes, mortars count as arty, even little ones.)

          Of course, that pretty much is the doctrine of most armies, that evolved through the 20th Century. Whether or not it is the only correct doctrine, or even just a reaction to societal changes that made it difficult to “acquire” good soldiers in the classic sense (ranging from Roman legionaries to British Territorials) is certainly a legitimate subject for debate. Which, to the best of my knowledge, has never really been gone into by the people who should have, i.e., the ones who formed armies.

          Among other things, it can be debated that the Swiss change from “hold the highlands” to “fight in the valleys” might have been motivated by their concluding that the original doctrine might not be workable. While it would certainly allow the Swiss to inflict horrendous damage on an invader, it wouldn’t necessarily preserve Switzerland as an independent nation.

          After all, the Greek resistance held their highlands from 1940 to 1945, but it took the Allied forces invading to actually run the Axis out. (And that was followed by a nasty civil war.) The Swiss might feel that they can’t count on being “rescued”, or else that potential “rescuers” might be as bad as potential “invaders”- or even worse. (Who really wants to be “rescued” by the EU?)

          Yes, weapon design follows doctrine, not the other way around. The trouble starts when you realize that the other guy isn’t interested in playing by your rules.

          As such, the “perfect military weapon” does not exist, and probably never will. And designs based on theory, as well as those based on “experience” , often end up going in different directions, any or all of which prove to be invalid when the balloon goes up again.

          It might be said that under the prevailing doctrines, the original AK is the best (or maybe least worst) of an undistinguished lot.



          • Right now I am quite confused about our discussion direction, but I want to add 2 general remarks:
            1) AK, as most Soviet-made fire-arms, was crafted in order to meet certain technical-tactical requirements, it had many competitors, from which it was chosen, via extensive testing, as best suited. There existed many competitors, but others closest in ranking were ТКБ-415 by A.A.Bulkin and КБП-410 by A.A.Dementyev. Bulkin one provided bit better accuracy when firing without rest and was similar in terms of field strip, but details were more prone to wear (shorter parts service life). Thus AK was chosen. I heard many rumors surrounding AK development, but never met one saying that this choice was error.
            2) AK was developed in second part of 1940s, if you want to compare it with newer patterns, you should not overlook that.

  6. Looking at this and more recent developments, it appears that H&K finds itself increasingly between rock and hard place. Project failures, export restrictions, negative PR politics, financing wows, to name few. But, it is not just named factory, whole military rifles business seems to be in decline. Or, is my assessment flawed? Any optimism left?

    • “Any optimism left?”
      Did not Armée de Terre chosen HK 416 as default weapon? Though I do not know how many examples they ordered?

      • They chose it because their vaunted FAMAS, a retarded-blowback type, proved to be less durable than anticipated. The 40,000 or so they built in the early 1980s have worn to the point of being unsafe already.

        The 416 was chosen mainly due to being available. The fact that it is apparently the new standard rifle for all German forces (army and police both) may have been a factor as well, due to the recent political rapprochement between Merkel and Macron. (Which is sort of like a bromance between Bismarck and Napoleon III, when you think about it, with all that implies.)



        • “….rapprochement between Merkel and Macron.”
          Yeah, that’s good one. They are both on their way out. Besides, there is no love in business dealings; just mutual convenience.

        • “less durable than anticipated”?

          You’re going to have to show me where the French thought they were building Pyramids, to last thousands of years, with the FAMAS. Nothing I’ve seen about the development of that rifle expected the lifespan of that system to be anything more than what it is. And, even if they’d bought something more “durable”, back in the 1980s, anything then on the market would now be approaching the end of its service life, no matter what.

          This is another fallacy that people keep falling into: You are not ever going to design, procure, issue and then that’s going to be it, forever–Weapons wear out, and systems have finite lifetimes. Hell, even manufacture techniques don’t last forever–You talk to the guys who have to keep building M16s to a 1950s Technical Data Package, and they have nothing good to say about that. FN production guy I once talked to told me that if the US Army would allow FN to do it, they’d have cut production costs by half on the M16, and improved the product to boot. Little details like the button-broach barrels and the like, you know? All that stuff is basically industrial archaeology, these days.

          Weapons and their designs have finite lifespans. You’re not making bespoke Japanese katanas that will last forever, hanging on the wall of some shrine in Japan. These are industrial implements, and they wear out. It’s about like thinking you are going to buy one car in your life, during your early twenties, and then drive that thing until you’re dead. Ain’t happening.

          Weapons and their supporting technologies are like flowers; they bloom, they flourish, they die. Who the hell could profitably build Mauser 98k rifles, these days? Let alone any of the other turn-of-the-19th-Century weapons we all love Ian showing us? Good God, if you were to take a Broomhandle 96 to someone like FN today, and ask for a few thousand of them? LOL… FN would probably call the nice people in white jackets to come get you, when the meeting was over.

          FAMAS did what it was supposed to. The French made only one mistake, the one you’re making: Thinking that that was the last ever rifle they’d have to procure. And, now, the French small arms industry is basically toast, so they’re buying warmed-over designs from their German counterparts, who are only slightly better off. Once the German Left is done killing HK, the Germans will be doing what everyone else in Europe is doing–Purchasing their industrial requirements somewhere else. Probably China.

          • I don’t think the AdT thought they would never need another rifle after FAMAS. In 1990, GIAT cannily acquired FN Herstal with an eye to manufacturing the next French infantry arm ‘domestically’. Times change, though, and in 1997 FNH was sold back to the Belgians and France was left entirely without small-arms manufacture after the St. Étienne plant shut down for good shortly thereafter.

      • That may be a life-wheel for H&K, for time being. Another force to reckon with are German “peaceniks” (as absurd as it may sound). I have seen their project in which they, with all seriousness proposed to pile a huge tombstone of concrete on top of H&K factory, much like that in Chernobyl.

      • I do not want to beat the empty straw, but you know what HK416 is – beefed up (and lot heavier) AR15 with grafted on Tokarev’s gas piston.
        What HK did by adopting this route is to say: “look, we have nothing of our own in store, so take this instead”.

        Also, look what U.S. Marine pay for their M27 aka HK416
        about 2.5 times as much as for M4 carbine.

        • “grafted”
          Ah, I did not detected that you was querying SOLELY for original-home-grown weapons of H&K. I am not keeping track of all current contracts, but aren’t UMP9 (MP5-replacement) and MP7 (FN P90 competitor) reasonably successful?

          • I cannot answer in terms of commercial success (look at wiki page it will indicate who are users), but on technical merits alone I consider UMP9 to be a success. Sure, they have competition, as is always the case – in form of Skorpion EvoIII.

  7. The example g41 was probably in good order, but it appears that it was provided with the hk steel stanag magazine for this demo. Those have a sordid history of causing feed malfunctions due to the mag spring weakening after a bit of use.

    • I agree. I had the opportunity to fire the g41 many years ago using standard GI 20 and 30 round mags. It ran flawlessly

  8. Some “upgrade” in caliber, for those who are interested (optional).

    French have recently tested new 140mm tank cannon mounted on Leclerc. This is a substantial upgrade over 120mm which is standard with Nato. It also challenges very potent 125mm gun installed on Armata (mv = 1980 m/sec!)

    Furthermore, both France and Germany are planning to develop jointly new tank equipped with this weapon. Please note , not Nato but two mentioned countries; you can picture political implications. There is some time talk about “European army”.

    • “Armata”
      Keep calm, if need arise, this tank can be up-gunned with 152-mm caliber 2А83
      and it is not slouch in terms of muzzle velocity – 1980 m/s and penetration – 1024 mm of armour. This gun was developed for T-95, which never materialized in quantity. Barrel length is 7200 mm. Shell not only has high muzzle velocity, but also good velocity retention – at 2 km distance it had velocity of 1900 m/s. This gun can also fire HE shells, cluster-HEAT shells and thermobaric shells. It can fire guided missiles aswell.

    • The mega-caliber tank guns aren’t likely to succeed. The decrease in ability to stow the things in the tank, as well as handling issues? Those problems are not trivial, at all. The solutions are going to require a lot of things that aren’t going to be acceptable, and the 120mm still has some room for growth.

      I think the 120mm is going to be the max we see on general issue, until the exotic crap like rail guns comes in. People keep focusing on the AT aspect, when the reality is that tanks fire more rounds at things like enemy positions and personnel in light armor than anything else. If you’re in a tank-on-tank fight, then you’ve suffered a failure in planning. The enemy tanks ought not be where yours are, deep in his rear.

  9. With tanks the design does not scale linearly. At some point the shell plus charge weight means another loader or loading mechanism. Ammunition stowage and recoil all push the design to a larger turret. Taller means higher silhouette higher center gravity resulting in reducing survivability. Increase the turret ring (diameter) means a bigger chassis. Increasing the weight means a bigger engine, enhanced suspension, and reduced fuel economy. Then you have to keep in mind if a bigger vehicle can cross bridges, go through tunnels, or even go the same places

    • I think the Germans discovered by the end of World War II that the practical upper weight limit for a tank is 60 to 70 tons. Lethality has increased with better fire control systems and some munitions improvements. Propulsion improvements have made some incremental progress. In the tank “iron triangle” (lethality, mobility, and survivability), it has been survivability leg that has not kept up.
      A similar thing has happened with infantry weapons. IMHO, the infantry problem is one of mobility as overwhelming problem has been the increase in weight that a dismounted infantry soldier has to carry.

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