Still Rollin': Heckler & Koch's SP5 Pistol

posted on January 18, 2021

The Heckler & Koch SP5 pistol is a semi-automatic-only version of the MP5—the go-to submachine gun for military and law enforcement special operations teams in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. 

No firearm bridges the gap between reality and fantasy quite like the Heckler & Koch MP5. In 1980, when SAS operators stormed the Iranian Embassy in London in front of a live television audience, MP5s topped with flashlights at the ready became front-page news. And the gun nearly overshadowed the actors carrying it in the classic ’80s action flicks “Die Hard” and “Commando.” Then it was introduced to a new generation with appearances in video games such as “Rainbow Six” and “Call of Duty,” and in the hands of police and security forces in the U.S. and Europe as part of the war on terror.

H&K's SP5 Pistols
The SP5 pistol is the second semi-automatic version of the fullsize MP5 imported into the United States by H&K. Shown are an original, early MP5A3 submachine gun (top), compared to a 1980s import HK94 rifle (middle) and the recently introduced SP5 pistol (bottom).

There’s no better time to be in the civilian market for semi-automatic-only MP5 firearms than now, with at least half a dozen manufacturers, both foreign and domestic, offering their takes on the classic gun. The most recent example comes from the its originator itself, H&K, which has expanded its line of 9 mm roller-delayed-blowback firearms with the introduction of the SP5 pistol.

Developed in 1964 as a scaled-down, 9 mm Luger, submachine gun version of H&K’s successful G3 7.62x51 mm NATO battle rifle, the Maschinenpistole 5, or MP5, quickly became the darling of special operations units around the world, from the German GSG 9 to U.S. Navy SEALs. After two decades of domination, however, things began to change. The guys in the black ski masks were moving to short-barreled carbines in 5.56 mm. Submachine guns were irrelevant on the modern battlefield, the thinking went, especially Cold War relics with stamped metal receivers. But someone forgot to tell the MP5. Despite newer designs on the market, it kept a toehold in military and law enforcement special operations as a compact, accurate and light-recoiling arm that lent itself well to suppression. It held out as the lone survivor of H&K’s roller-delayed lineup, which at one point ranged from handguns to belt-fed, general-purpose machine guns and ultra-precision sniping rifles.

The SP5 uses H&K’s proven roller-delayed-blowback action, the carrier and bolt shown here (above) with rollers extended.

After a 12-year hiatus on importing MP5-style semi-automatics into the United States, in 2016 HK-USA announced that it would be offering a semi-automatic pistol version of the MP5K compact submachine gun called the SP5K. Based on the popularity of this pistol, it followed up with a pistol version of the fullsize MP5, called the SP5.

The difference between the SP5K and the SP5 is more than just barrel length; though built on the same basic architecture, the K (kurz is German for short) H&K models not only have a shorter barrel, but also a shortened receiver and bolt carrier. They are designed to be fired without a stock, and even from the concealment of a specially designed briefcase.

The SP5 has an overall length 4" greater than the SP5K. It uses an 8.66" “Navy”-type barrel that features both the traditional MP5 three-lug suppressor-attachment system, as well as 1/2x28 TPI muzzle threads hidden under a protector. The SF (single fire or semi-automatic) FBI-style pictogram-marked (“one bullet” or “no bullets”) trigger housing of the SP5 features both a symmetrical grip and extended, bilateral safety selectors. The pistol’s fore-end is of the wide, “tropical” style. And, of course, it features the classic H&K roller-delayed-blowback action, a system whose history and technical features I explained in detail in a feature within these pages titled “Roller Delayed Revival” (May 2017, p. 74).

Like the SP5K, the SP5 comes equipped with a receiver end cap that has a sling swivel designed to be used in conjunction with the supplied single-point bungee sling. The sling functions as a shooting aid, providing stabilizing tension as the shooter pushes the gun away from the body, a system H&K uses on its other stockless products, such as the MP5K and HK169 grenade launcher.

The SP5 marks two firsts for H&K. It is the first pistol the company has offered based on the fullsize MP5. When a semi-automatic version of the MP5 was introduced in 1983, it was the HK94, a 16"-barreled rifle. Following the import ban imposed on the rifle in 1989, HK-USA introduced the SP89, a semi-automatic pistol based on the normally stockless MP5K. This model was sold until 1994. In 2016 came the SP5K, a pistol again based on the compact version of the MP5.

The SP5 is based on the original, fullsize MP5 submachine gun, with its longer barrel and receiver. Will there ever be a 16"-barreled, semi-automatic rifle version of the MP5 offered by H&K? Unlikely, as such a product cannot be imported directly to the United States—it must be assembled here from a combination of American and foreign-made parts. The SP5 and SP5K’s status as pistols allows them to be imported complete from Germany. They roll off the same assembly line as the MP5 submachine guns.

Receiver markings on the SP5 pistol include German proofmarks, as the pistol rolls off the same assembly line in Oberndorf, Germany, where H&K makes its famous MP5 submachine guns. The rear drum-type sight of the SP5 pistol mates up to a classic H&K hooded front post sight.

The other “first,” and the biggest news with the SP5, is that tiny flap of metal sticking out behind the magazine well. Changes required in the early 1970s by the ATF to ensure that a full-automatic trigger housing couldn’t be pinned onto a semi-automatic rifle meant that the front takedown pin mount had to be eliminated, and along with it, the paddle magazine release. The HK 90-series semi-automatics, such as the HK94 and the later SP5K, had only the right-side button release. Not only does a paddle-type magazine release give the SP5 that proper MP5 aesthetic, it is ambidextrous, allowing for that one-handed swap of your operator-required dual-clamped magazines.

The configuration of the SP5 lends itself to the addition of an MP5-style fixed or sliding stock to create a short-barreled rifle (SBR). The result is as close as the average civilian can get to the semi-automatic-only MP5s that are often seen in the hands of European police officers or American FBI agents. Converting a firearm, such as the SP5, into an SBR obviously requires compliance with the provisions of the National Firearms Act, which stipulates registration and a $200 tax stamp before the modifications can take place. And because it is imported, the SP5 adds the additional requirement of compliance with 18 USC 922(r), which means a certain number of American-made parts must be substituted for its German ones. Speaking of which, gone are the days of waiting weeks for MP5 exotica to arrive in the mail from Europe. A thriving culture of American MP5 builders means that you can get nearly any part for MP5-style firearms made in the good ‘ole U.S. of A. And when it comes to accessories, queue all the usual suspects. SureFire still makes its classic handguard with a built-in light, and companies such as Midwest Industries, Samson and Dakota Tactical offer handguards with the provision for mounting accessories; remember, though, that the SP5 and SP5K are still pistols, so avoid any type of vertical grip. Franklin Armory even makes a binary trigger for MP5-type firearms. In 2019, accessories giant Magpul announced that it was jumping into the MP5 market with the introduction of a trigger housing featuring a built-in MOE-style grip, an extended selector lever and an SL handguard (see sidebar, p. 40), but, unfortunately, no $20 MP5 PMAGs.

Roller-delayed-blowback designs, like those in the Heckler & Koch family, use a fluted chamber. The flutes allow gas to flow around the cartridge case to aid in extraction.

The SP5 comes supplied with either a 10- or 30-round magazine, depending on the politics of your locale. Fifteen-round factory magazines are also available. With an MSRP of $80 a pop, they ain’t cheap, but the aftermarket comes to the rescue with metal and polymer magazines in 10- to 40-round capacities, available in the $35 to $50 range (in addition to 50- and 100-round drums).

There are arm brace options aplenty, for those wanting to add one to an SP5. Aftermarket receiver end caps come threaded for an AR-15 buffer tube, adapting the SP5 to the myriad of braces designed for AR pistols. For traditionalists, SB Tactical makes its HKPDW brace that mimics the original MP5A3 sliding stock, along with its SBT5A side-folding brace. In testing we used the HKPDW brace; it not only complements the SP5’s aesthetic, but also provides a third point of contact while shooting.

Because it is a pistol, the SP5’s rear drum sight features the open notches of the original MP5K, intended for a pistol’s arm-length eye relief, rather than the “diopter” aperture of the shoulder-mounted MP5. The sight is fully adjustable for windage and elevation with the supplied tool, and it mates up with a classic hooded post front sight.

Like the MP5, the SP5 has no built-in provision for optics mounting, but two options exist. One is a clamp-on Picatinny rail mount, such as the one H&K supplies on the SP5K pistol. The second is the traditional H&K-style quick-detach “claw mount” optics base, which locks onto the receiver. As H&K does not supply the SP5 with the optics rail that comes on the SP5K, I used an original claw mount, which I topped with a red-dot sight, for my range testing.

On the range, fantasy, myth and nostalgia take a back seat to the pure pleasure of firing a roller-delayed H&K firearm. For those used to shooting straight-blowback-operated guns, the firing impulse of the SP5 is best described as “smooth,” and just like its MP5 siblings, the SP5 is reliable and accurate. From 115-gr. range loads to premium self-defense cartridges, the SP5 functioned flawlessly in my testing, the latter printing five-shot groups at just over an inch at 25 yds. Attaching a suppressor via the barrel’s threaded muzzle did not affect reliability when used with both supersonic and subsonic ammunition.

H&K's SP5 Pistol shooting results

No, the MP5 is not going away. Heckler & Koch has stepped up its MP5 game by offering for the first time an authentic, German-made replica of the fullsize MP5 in pistol form, complete with a paddle magazine release. The move was a success, judged by the swiftness of H&K’s follow-up. Before the empty brass could cool the company announced a PDW version of the existing SP5K pistol, which gains the SP5’s threaded muzzle and paddle magazine release.

Like a crocodile, whose compact and rugged efficiency allowed it to survive while the bigger dinosaurs died off, the smallest member of H&K’s roller-delayed family rolls on.

H&K's SP5 Pistol specs

Magpul accesories

Magpul Goes Maschinenpistole
Known far and wide for its AR-15 accessories and magazines, Magpul Industries has dipped its toes into the MP5 market with a line of accessories for both the iconic submachine gun and semi-automatic MP5-type handguns and rifles. The products include handguards, an enhanced selector lever and a grip module (a part referred to by H&K enthusiasts as the “trigger housing”).

The Mapgul MP5 SL handguard ($50) follows the standard Magpul style with a handstop at the front and M-Lok slots positioned down the sides and bottom. They are offered in both a long version for the MP5, HK94, SP5 and other fullsize MP5-type firearms, as well as a short version for the MP5K, SP89, SP5K and other compact models.

The Magpul MP5 SL Grip Module ($60) features an MOE-style grip with a removable grip core and “bullet” pictogram selector position markings. The Grip Module is only compatible with semi-automatic and converted full-automatic H&K-type firearms that use a ledge or “shelf”-type front trigger housing mount on the receiver, and is designed to work with trigger units that utilize a single-sided safety selector, such as the “SEF”-type commonly used on MP5 clones and pre-ban H&K firearms. It can be adapted to MP5 clones that feature a Navy-style bilateral selector lever trigger housing (like the SP5) by using a non-bilateral selector trigger unit. The SL Grip Module is also compatible with HK91/G3- and HK93/HK33-type firearms.

The Magpul ESK Enhanced Selector Lever ($50) can be installed in four different configurations, including single-sided or bilateral selector levers in either standard or extended versions, giving the option for ambidextrous controls on formerly left-side-selector-only MP5-type firearms.

Magpul MP5 accessories are currently available in any color you want, as long as it’s black, but knowing the company, expect more accessories, colors and compatibility in the future. And, of course, Magpul is still offering its original, namesake magazine assist devices for 9 mm submachine gun-type magazines, like those used on the MP5. For more information about these accessories, including an explanation of compatibility and instructions on how to install them, view the video “Installing Magpul MP5 Accessories” at


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