What to Know About Heckler & Koch
Almost 70 years ago, Heckler & Koch (H&K) focused solely on engineering parts for sewing machines, household appliances and bicycles.
The company transitioned and diversified, however, and the metallic hum of sewing machines quickly transitioned into the familiar staccato of ammunition feeding through their now varied line of pistols, machine pistols, assault rifles, precision rifles, machine guns and 40mm systems. The German giant now serves militaries, civilians and law enforcement around the world, but before investing in them there are a few basic things to know.
The History of Heckler & Koch
The history of Heckler & Koch is intimately attached to Germany before and after the Second World War, notably starting as a business when the country was briefly under an armament ban imposed by the Allies. Rewinding a bit, H&K had roots in a factory with 133 workers in a Black Forest village. This factory was established in 1812 in Oberndorf, Germany after Friedrich I of Wurttemberg signed a document to open a royal weapons factory, according to H&K documents. More than half a century later in 1867, two men, Wilhelm and Paul Mauser, created a breechloader bolt system and developed the German infantry weapon M71 in 1871.
That royal weapon factory came to be known as Waffenfabrik Mauser AG in 1897 and later engineered an improved infantry weapon, the model 98. Its production ramped up over the next few decades, but the company’s demise came at the hands of French occupying forces in 1945.
Four years later In 1949, three German engineers from Mauser started H&K. Edmund Heckler, Theodor Koch and Alex Seidel had salvaged what they could from the ruins of what was once the royal weapons factory, and then bided their time. Yes, they produced parts for home appliances and bicycles, but the trio’s firm was one of the few producing weapons and parts for police, German federal border police and Ally troops occupying the country. The armament ban dropped and the Bundeswehr, the Federal Republic of Germany’s unified armed forces, was established in 1955. H&K focused solely on firearms afterward.
By 1959, they were awarded a supply contract for the Bundeswehr and the G3 infantry rifle was born for German hands from the Spanish CETME, and since conceived, in all its variations, it has found a home butted against soldiers’ shoulders in dozens of countries across the world. Millions have been manufactured and it’s touted as the second most widely used assault rifle of all time, behind the Russian Kalashnikov, according to media reports.
Throughout the ‘60s, H&K designed and produced the mega-popular 9mm Machinenpistole 5 (MP5), with several model variations created since then, and developed polygonal profile barrels. These outperformed “lands-and-grooves barrels” in that the polygonal barrels locked gas behind the projectile, thereby increasing bullet velocity.
The company was also looking heavily into handgun design at this time, introducing the delayed-locked roller bolt system into what came to be known as the P9S. It was adopted by military units. After the P9S came a revolutionary plastic composite - polymer - used in the VP70, which other companies wouldn’t come to produce in handgun models for about another 15 years. A common misconception is that GLOCK was the first company to do this.
By no means an original concept, the Federal Republic of Germany requested caseless ammunition, which had previously been produced with minor success during WWII shortages in resources. The conclusion of the Cold War inhibited its production, although H&K successfully tested the ammunition on the G11 and Advanced Combat Rifle.
In the late ‘70s, along with fast and accurate production of the HK P7, advancing development in so many types and models of firearms forced the company to divide into two areas: 1. hunting and sports weapons, 2. police and defense weapons. The HK P7, for reference, was the last striker fired HK before the VP pistol line was introduced in 2014.
The VP70 was the first striker-fired, polymer handgun ever in production.
Heckler & Koch at the Turn of the Century
Today, HK Sidearms provides firearms for the general public, selling through specialized dealers, and Heckler & Koch GmbH primarily serves law enforcement and militaries. H&K introduced the Universal Self-loading Pistol (USP) in 1993, and its legacy has endured to modern day. This was considered the company’s first handgun directly made for an American market.
Around that same time, the Mark 23 was developed for the U.S Special Operations Command. Many of its features paralleled those that were engineered for the USP. H&K signed a new contract with the Bundeswehr in 1995 to produce pistols for the Army, Air Force and Navy. These P8 models were similar to the USP, but had lands and grooves rifling instead of the pioneered polygonal profile. Two years later in ‘97, the USP compact, with its full-hand grip, was introduced to the line and was incorporated into many federal agencies.
Amid all this production, H&K changed hands in 1991 to the Royal Ordnance, owned by British Aerospace, and in 2002 to private owners Andreas Heeschen and Keith Halsey.
After several years of not being involved in offensive conflict, German soldiers took the 5.56mm lightweight assault rifle G36, produced by H&K, into the NATO war on Yugoslavia in Kosovo. It was the first time the German military had been involved in conflict since WWII.
Fast forward to 2013, the German government had restricted weapons exported to areas of conflict, which drastically impacted H&K’s sales in the Middle East, causing the company to lose sales and divert attention to the American market. Building on that, the German Defense Ministry released a critical report in 2015 analyzing the inaccuracy of the company’s G36 assault rifle when overheating, putting the company’s motto “No compromise” to the test.
According to the report, the firearm’s ability to hit targets fell to 30 percent when the surrounding temperature reached 86 degrees Fahrenheit or when overheating, but a state court ruled in 2016 the G36 had no errors that conflicted with the government contract and as it stands the German military uses about 167,000 G36 assault rifles.
All the same, companies like Sig Sauer and Rheinmetall vied for the new contract in early 2017 to replace the approximately 167,000 models by 2019, with H&K submitting a bid to hold onto its storied history since the 1960s with the Bundeswehr.
The HK433 would be its replacement, according to media reports.
To improve the company’s cash position, H&K had focused on its range of pistols to appeal to the American civilian market. Recently in January 2017, the company released a report that it would increase its operations in Columbus, Georgia and consolidate its New Hampshire operations to this location.
H&K Firearms Line
Given that Heckler & Koch is widely trusted, despite the previously mentioned government report, their weapons are tested and engineered to not only be versatile, but also reliable. But, what they offer depends on the branch of the company.
- Five categories of pistols: the P8, USP, P30, SFP9 and SFP9-2 — all with variations.
- Three categories of submachine guns: the MP5, UMP and MP7A1 — two of which have variations.
- Five categories of assault rifles: HK433, G36, HK415 A5 and HK417 — three with variations
- Two categories of machine guns: MGF/MGFE, MG5
- Two categories of precision rifles: G28, MSG90 AS
- Five categories of 40mm systems (grenade launchers): AG36, GLM, HK169, HK269 and GMG
Though, their sporting section will typically be more accessible to civilians.
- Sporting, Full size and compact pistols:
- SFP9 (with compact, long-slide and SD models)
- SFP9-2 (maritime and optical ready)
- HK45 (compact, tactical and compact tactical)
- P30 (with long-slide, SD and SK “SubKompact” options)
- VP line (VP9, VP40, VP tactical, VP FDE, VP Grey and soon the VP9 SK and VP9 OD Green)
- USP (with variations taking the form of compact, tactical, Mark 23 and P8 models), and the commercial semi-automatic version of the MP5K
- the SP5K
- Four sport models:
- USP Expert
- USP Elite
- USP Tactical
- USP Custom Sport
- Five civilian rifles:
- HK242 S SAR
- MR223A3 - 11”
- MR308 A3 - 13”
- MR308 A3-28-16.5”
The pistols have gained a reputation as reliable concealed carry options for everyday carry.
Heckler & Koch Pistols For Concealed Carry
Heckler & Koch pistols are often celebrated for the quality of engineering that goes into their various models.
Although there are definitely different options (see above), here are a few popular considerations for H&K concealed carry pistols.
- HK VP9: At 9 mm, this handgun’s trigger has a light take-up with a single-action break and a short positive reset. Its pre-travel pull is consistent, not increasing in weight. Its grips on the backstrap and side panels may be switched out for multiple ergonomic dimensions. It features a MIL-STD-1913 (Picatinny) rail. Right and left handed shooters can easily activate the slide release on both sides of the frame, as well as access the magazine release. For some, it may seem too bulky for concealed carry, at 7.34 inches long, 5.41 inches in height and 1.32 inches in width. There will be a double stack 9 mm subcompact model released soon.
- HK P30: At 9 mm and .40 S&W, this recent model has the same ambidextrous magazine release and slide release. These have a double-action/single-action trigger with a serrated decocking button on the rear, and a MIL-STD-1913 (Picatinny) rail for attachments. It also has the previously mentioned polygonal bore profile. The P30 is 7.12 inches in length, 5.43 inches high and 1.37 inches wide. The P30SK subcompact model, which only comes in 9mm and doesn’t include the ambidextrous magazine and slide releases, is 6.42 inches long, 4.57 inches high and 1.37 inches wide.
- HK P2000: This model, available in 9 mm and .40 S&W, borrows many of the successful characteristics of the successful HK USP compact. It’s available in the double-action/single-action trigger mode and the Law Enforcement Modification, which is a cocked striker component with a consistent level of trigger pull with a double-action hammer system, first seen in the 2001 HK USP compact LEM models. This allows the trigger pull to be around 6.18-8.5 pounds because the hammer is pre-cocked whenever the slide moves backward. There are mounting rails, ambidextrous magazine and dual slide release levers, and the grip can be modified to fit the owner’s hand. The P2000 is 6.85 inches long, 5.07 inches high and 1.37 inches wide. The P2000SK subcompact is more concealable, but the LEM trigger system has an increased trigger pull of 7.3-8.5 pounds of pressure. Most of the same form factors are transferred to the subcompact model and it runs in the same calibers. It’s 6.4 inches long, 4.55 inches high and 1.37 inches wide.
- HK USP compact: Chambered in .40 S&W, .45 AUTO and 9 mm, the USP compact features a narrow full-hand grip instead of the “two-finger grip” frame. The reduced slide length from the full frame USP is managed by a flat compression spring in the captive recoil spring assembly. With a flared recurve trigger guard and ambidextrous magazine release lever, it comes with universal mounting grooves for accessories. It’s 6.81 inches long, 5 inches high and 1.38 inches wide in 9 mm and .40 S&W. In .45 AUTO, 7.09 inches long, 5.04 inches high and 1.38 inches wide.
H&K Pistol Holsters
About The Author
Jake Smith (@notjakesmith) is a copywriter and photographer based in the pacific northwest. He graduated from the University of Idaho with degrees in public relations and apparel.