This is the first in a series of installments focused on the history of the roller-delayed platform.
Following World War II, there was one clear superpower, the United States. In short order, the Soviet Union would rise to superpower status mostly as a result of pillaging occupied Eastern Europe to rebuild its devastated infrastructure, and its successful testing of an atomic bomb. The United States embraced its nuclear power in the post war world, initially thinking that its unique ability (for a few short years) to wield devastating nuclear power, and war weariness in general guaranteed its dominance and security. However, by 1950 the Korean War, and colonial wars across the planet once again demonstrated the persistence, if not the utility of limited wars, and proxy wars for the superpowers.
In an environment initially obsessed with ultra-high technology such as intercontinental bombers and increasingly powerful nuclear weapons, the United States placed generally low priority on small arms development. Although the U.S. Army had been interested in the possibility of a high velocity .22 caliber infantry rifle during World War II, and the M1 Garand had been modified with a box style magazine during the war for experimental purposes, the Garand soldiered on to be produced by H&R and International Harvester in the years following World War II. While the production methods did improve, and the Garands produced in the 1950s are regarded as slightly better in quality, they were otherwise the same standard rifle issued during World War II.
The diminutive M1 Carbine did however get a significant update toward the very end of World War II, becoming the select fire M2 Carbine. Other than the select fire modification, and the addition of a bayonet lug, an extended 30 round magazine of often questionable reliability, and some superfluous muzzle attachments, the M2 was the M1 Carbine which hurled an often very ineffective cartridge at a much higher rate of fire. The M1 Carbine in the guise of the M3 was, however, the first effective night vision equipped weapon in U.S. service.
The BAR, the 1919, and the M2 HMG also remained in service. Even the 1917 stayed in service in some capacity. While the tripod mounted 1919 and M2 were still very effective, the BAR and the 1917 were by Korea beginning to show their age. Even the 1919 was looking long in the tooth compared to the MG34 and MG42 against which it competed during World War II. Other than the 1919A6 which was about as ergonomic as a steel shelled life preserver filled with lead shot, the US had produced little to compete with the impressive German GPMGs by the mid 1950s.
In the handgun arena, the 1911A1 and Model 10, mostly in the guise of the Victory Model soldiered on. The Thompson was still in inventory, but the M3 Grease Gun began to predominate. In short, the United States began to fall behind in a category in which it should have done well. Further, it held back its allies as well. Innovative designs such as the EM2 were completely shelved, and the FN FAL which was supposed to be chambered in an intermediate cartridge was stretched and pushed to its limit as the US finally adopted the box magazine fed M14 in 7.62 NATO and forced an innovative and aggressive small arms industry to conform to its whims, at least for a while.
It was common practice in the late nineteenth century for cowboys to carry a rifle and a pistol chambered in the same caliber. This made sense from a practical point of view: if your rifle and your pistol used the same type of ammunition, then you only had to carry that type, and your preparation for contingencies was simplified. Further, provided that type was centerfire pistol ammunition, the cost of your preparation was reduced, since centerfire rifle ammunition has historically been more material intensive and more difficult to manufacture.
The twenty-first century American finds him or herself in a much more complex environment. Self-defense is a trickier proposition now, with legal wrangling frequently making what should be an unambiguously legitimate activity as much about publicity and perception as it is about thwarting criminal aggression. Since around 2000, defensive carbine concepts, usually taking the form of an M4-type weapon chambered in 5.56 NATO, have become popular. There are problems with the 5.56 NATO cartridge, however.
In the first place, the 5.56 NATO cartridge needlessly carries for hundreds of meters beyond the very short engagement distances typically encountered in self-defense situations. Additionally, 5.56 NATO is more expensive than the most popular NATO pistol cartridge. New production, brass cased, 124 grain 9mm NATO can be purchased for about $0.16 per round, and its tactical/duty-round equivalent (JHP) can be obtained for less than $0.21. Compare that to $0.275 per round for low-cost 5.56 NATO, and $0.64 at a minimum for match ammunition in this caliber. And with law enforcement, federal agencies, and the military either sticking to, adopting, or in many cases re-adopting 9mm NATO, it will most likely become even less expensive than it is in today’s already competitive market.
Among the ballistic and physical-property advantages of 9mm NATO is its excellent response to sound-suppression, thereby reducing the footprint and impact of training, casual shooting, and pest/varmint elimination on private property. Additionally, most 5.56 carbines are larger, bulkier, and unwieldier than their 9mm counterparts, requiring more space to store and employ. And not surprisingly, they are also heavier, occasioning increased target acquisition times and slower cadences of fire.
Zenith’s Z-5 platform (Sport, RS, P, and K) is built on an operating system and to design specifications that have been time tested and proven over decades of hard use by elite forces worldwide. The Z-5 is supremely reliable, easy to shoot, and quick to employ. Recoil is minimal, and modern accessories such as rails, optics, and lights are easily adaptable. The iconic three lug mount featured on the Z-5 Sport, Z-5RS, and Z-5P allows for quick fixing of a variety of effective modern suppressors. Collapsible, fixed, and folding stocks are available, enabling mission-specific configurations that give consideration to length of pull, portability, and concealability. Finally, that the Z-5 is chambered identically to your handgun, in the cost effective and controllable, yet proven-lethal 9mm NATO round means you stand to benefit from diminished logistical and budgetary footprints.
Sometimes looking back for good ideas is forward thinking.
The MP5 originated as Heckler and Koch’s Project 65. It was created as a roller delayed blowback evolutionary descendant of the revolutionary MG42, which featured the first mass produced roller lock mechanisms and stamped metal firearms technology. There were a number of successful submachineguns already on the market, with the Uzi being the most ubiquitous and consistently the MP5’s greatest competitor until the mid-1990s. By the late 1990s new SMG/PDW technology, combined in the US with a move toward ever-shorter M16/M4 configurations, fostered a decline in conventional SMG use. However, by that time the MP5 was already an icon.
The MP5 won its first customers by 1966 and it caught on quickly with military, police, and security services. However, the Uzi largely overshadowed the MP5 until 1980. The world changed quickly in the latter half of the 1970s. Social, economic, political, and even religious paradigms shifted noticeably. The US recovered from Vietnam and shifted to a conventional warfighting focus marked successively by strategies of Active Defense and Air-Land Battle, both of which evolved from studies of the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union immersed itself in the Afghan quagmire, while increasing spending to try and outmatch a revitalized NATO. Terrorism as we know it today also bloomed in the 1970s.
The Iranian Embassy Siege in London brought this terrorism home not only to the UK, but to Europe and the West in 1980. The British response to the Siege, Operation Nimrod, and specifically a few famous photographs of the SAS storming the embassy armed with the then lesser-known MP5, vaulted the system into the limelight. A few MP5s in the hands of very skilled SAS operators arguably made the MP5 an instant success.
Following Operation Nimrod, everybody in the West wanted the MP5. Virtually every special operations unit adopted it in one form or another. In the United States, the MP5 became a staple of units such as the Navy Seals, MEUSOC, and Delta Force, in addition to most police SWAT teams. Licensee factories in places like Turkey, Mexico, France, Great Britain, and even Iran produced the MP5.
Special needs and requirements led HK to develop variants such as the integrally suppressed MP5SD, and the MP5K (an early commitment to the PDW concept, and a positive influence on their later development). Additionally, HK reacted positively to special requirements from end users, resulting in such variants as the MP5/40 and the MP5N, designed specifically at the behest of the US Navy.
The MP5 played a role in combat operations around the world from the early 1980s onward, and it earned a stellar reputation for accuracy and reliability. Its mostly positive geometry and ergonomics earned it accolades such as ‘the gun that shoots itself’. The MP5 is not only still in active service, but it is still in active production, although production in Germany has been greatly curtailed in favor of a newer generation of PDWs such as the MP7. In the United States in particular, a lack of spare parts and overall support for the MP5, coupled with a rise in the popularity of the M4 platform, led to a decline in MP5 use by military units and law enforcement agencies.
Yet the MP5 has plenty of life left in it. Its bombproof roller delayed action and excellent accuracy provide arguably the best 9mm NATO subgun platform still in active service. The MP5 is also a sweetheart of the movie industry, having claimed the starring role in various military themed movies, and in such box office hits as such Die Hard and The Matrix.
In the civilian community the MP5 and its variants, whether semi-auto or full auto, have always had a solid fan base. Transferable full auto MP5s on the US civilian market regularly trade for north of $25,000.00. While not an economical gun for all, it is a ‘bucket list’ gun for many. The market for licensed reproductions and clones remains strong, although even in its semi-automatic configuration it is an upper tier firearm with a considerable price tag.
If you have a chance, take the time to beg, borrow, rent, or buy an MP5 and try it for yourself. Beware, however: there are so many experienced shooters out there, who know how well the MP5 performs, that you will not be able to get away with saying “It’s the gun’s fault!” if you do not shoot it well.