After World War II the Mauser factory in Oberndorf am Neckar, Germany, was occupied by French forces. The commander in charge of the region ordered destruction of all the facility’s records and much of the machinery previously used for making small arms was disassembled, destroyed or shipped off.
Three engineers, formerly employed by Mauser, resurrected what they could of the company’s assets in 1948 and opened Engineering Office Heckler & Co. The firm produced precision parts for household products, bicycles and large machinery. The next year the company changed its name to Heckler & Koch GmbH.
The trio apparently never lost the passion for creating firearms, though. When West Germany launched a search for small arms to equip its army in 1956 they submitted a sample for consideration. Heckler & Koch’s select-fire G3 battle rifle, chambered in 7.62 NATO, earned the contract in 1959. The gun later served as the basis for the company’s HK21 machine gun, introduced in 1961.
Heckler & Koch thrived for the decades that followed and developed a wide variety of popular firearms, including the MP5 in the mid-1960s. But the re-unification of East and West Germany in 1990 came with dramatic defense budget cuts. The firm strained financially, and the Royal Ordnance division of British Aerospace bought it. Military contracts followed and in 1999 a merger put Heckler & Koch under control of BAE Systems.
Three years later it sold again, but this time to private investors. Throughout the changes, the company has never lost focus on the tradition of precision and innovation that keeps its firearms among the most sought after to this day. One of its latest is the HK416, adopted as the M27 by the U.S. Marine Corps and now serving as the branch’s Infantry Automatic Rifle. The leathernecks don’t hold an exclusive on the firearm, either, because it was carried by the Delta Teams that attacked Osama bin Laden’s compound in 2011.
Heckler & Koch has operations in Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the United States. A recently expanded, state-of-the-art factory is located in Columbus, Ga.
Although the company’s name is an indelible one in military and law enforcement circles, it offers a wide variety of models for civilian enthusiasts. This year, for example, it introduced the VP9SK OR semi-auto pistol at the SHOT Show.