Book Review: Die MP5 ‒ Eine Waffe für Generationen

Manfred Kersten (author), dwj Verlag, 2015


The famous MP5 submachine gun produced by Heckler & Koch has so far not been the centre of much scholarly discussion. Frank James’ The MP5 Submachine Gun (Polynesian Productions, 1996) is two decades old and has been out of print for some time. Leroy Thompson’s The MP5 Submachine Gun (Osprey, 2014) is more recent, but intended primarily for laymen. Die Maschinenpistole 5 ‒ Technik & Taktik (“The MP5 ‒ Technology and Tactics”) by Axel Männich and Markus Stappen (Verlag für Polizeiwissenschaft, 2009) is a slim volume mainly concerned with the weapon’s application in police service, as is the similar Practical Guide to the Operational Use of the MP5 (Erik Lawrence Publications, 2015) by Erik Lawrence. In short, it is high time for a new book about the MP5, and it is commendable that Manfred Kersten has tackled the task in his new German-language book, Die MP5 ‒ Eine Waffe für Generationen (“The MP5 ‒ A Weapon for Generations”). Kersten is one of the authors of the big black book, Heckler & Koch (Weispfennig, 1999), as well as of many other works about German firearms. Unfortunately, his new book is not convincing.

Kersten begins by outlining the MP5’s development history, depicting various prototypes like the HK9, MP64, and HK54. He then covers the official adoption by the West German forces, comparing the MP5 with the MP1 (Beretta Mod 38/42), MP2 (IMI Uzi), and MP3/MP4 (Walther MPL and MPK). Kersten describes the gun’s functioning, using patent and manufacturer drawings. The main part of the book covers the most important models and variants. He concludes by describing some of the many accessories available for the gun. Unfortunately, there are numerous detail issues:

Kersten cannot convincingly explain the step from the MP5 ‒ the “MP5A0”, so to speak ‒ to the MP5A2 and MP5A3. Just like many Anglo-American sources, he claims that the missing link between the MP5 and the MPA2 is an unsuccessful “MP5A1”, which lacks the shoulder stock just like the actually existing MP5SD1. However, he admits that the materials of the H&K GmbH nowhere list such an “MP5A1”. This echoes Frank James’ book, in which James concedes that the moniker “MP5A1” for the stockless MP5 is in fact an unofficial, retroactive designation invented by the US subsidiary HK Inc. in the 1980s. This could mean that there really is no such thing as an official “MP5A1”. However, what then is the difference between the MP5 and the MP5A2 and MP5A3? The marketing materials of H&K from between 1966 and 1969 list only the MP5, with fixed or retractable stock. The designations MP5A2 and MP5A3 seem to appear for the first time in 1970, for example in catalogue Li 1-70/900. Is it not more likely that, similar to the relationship between the G3 and G3A1, the MP5 is the original version with fixed stock, while the MP5A1 is an early model with retractable stock? The MP5A2 and MP5A3 would then be improved versions of the MP5 and MP5A1, respectively. Exactly this is claimed by Daniel Musgrave and Thomas Nelson in The World’s Machine Pistols and Submachine Guns (Ironside, 1980). However, Musgrave/Nelson do not explain how exactly the MP5/MP5A1 and MP5A2/MP5A3 are supposed to differ. Most of the known substantial improvements concerning the trigger, action, ejection port, chamber, and receiver were implemented in the years 1971 to 1973, and thus post-date the introduction of the MP5A2/MP5A3 designations. Notably, these improvements also did not lead to any change in nomenclature. In other words, the explanation by Musgrave/Nelson is not very likely. A third possibility would be an internal error that occurred at H&K GmbH. The original promotional material from 1966 lists under Ausführungen (“variants”): Abb.2 Waffe mit fester Schulterstütze (“fig.2, weapon with fixed shoulder stock”) and Abb.3 Waffe mit einschiebbarer Schulterstütze (“fig.3, weapon with retractable shoulder stock”). In short-hand this might have become MP5A2 and MP5A3, meaning that there never was a real MP5 (= “MP5A0”) and also no “MP5A1”. The question remains unanswered in this book, Kersten adopting the Anglo-American explanation without second thought despite this already having been proven to be erroneous.

Another disappointment are the illustrations. Most of the detailed views of the guns are satisfactory, although there might have been more of these. Several have been amateurishly photo-shopped and provided with new backgrounds. The photos showing the MP5 and its variants in action are more problematic. Many have been sourced from the internet, which is not a problem per se, but this does give the impression that many have been seen elsewhere before. Some illustrations have been provided with more or less witty captions. However, most of them lack any captions whatsoever, leaving you wondering who or what is depicted and when and where. Some of the captions that are present are flat-out wrong.

The internet seems to have been a primary source for Kersten. He notes that the French army supposedly ordered 35,000 MP5-F submachine guns, but admits that this is an unchecked rumour from the internet. Considering that he mentions his cooperation with H&K in his dedication, he might have checked this tidbit with the producer or even the French military.

There are also other weird claims: He describes an “MP5KA4 1. Version” that is very obviously the normal MP5K. He then lists an “MP5KA4 2. Version”, which is not an H&K model but the unlicensed SMG-PK of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF), which looks similar to the MP5K but is slightly longer. Kersten is unsure about this, which begs the question why he listed it at all, and with the wrong designation, to boot. He then goes on to describe the MP5KA4 as the “MP5KA5 1. Version”. His “MP5KA5 2. Version” is really the SMG-PK2 by POF. This time he omits a cautionary remark altogether. The actual MP5KA5 by H&K is missing.

Kersten seems to think that the stockless “MP5A1” as well as the MP5SD1 and MP5SD4 have no raison d’être. He cannot imagine their use and speculates that they were designed for installation in vehicles. Somewhat surprisingly, he does not make similar conjectures about the stockless MP5K-series. After all, it is possible to use either series effectively without stock, especially with a tight sling and an appropriate shooting stance. The stockless MP5SD4 has been a favourite tool of the Australian SASR for some time.

In addition to the main H&K models, Kersten uses surprisingly many pages for some of the guns cobbled together due the unique situation on the American civilian machine gun market. Why remains a mystery, since at the same time he omits a number of models that have been actually produced or developed by H&K, such as the HK54A1, MP5KA5, MP5KA7 and MP5KA7A. Related weapons such as the HK53-series and the SMG I and MP2000 would also have been appropriate to include.

Unfortunately, he also does not feature the various licensees and serious copycats. After all, there are quite a few interesting variants, for example the Kongsberg MP5A2N from Norway, the MP5SD3 modified by W+F in Switzerland, the already-mentioned POF SMG-PK from Pakistan, the NR08 from China, the Tondar from Iran, etc.

A major disappointment is the purely technical approach of the author. You get absolutely no information about production figures or buyers, not to speak about the gun’s chequered usage history: Its silhouette was misappropriated for the logo of the RAF terror group in 1971. The MP5 was omnipresent in the hands of West German police during the 1970s and 1980s. It became a television icon in the hands of the British SAS in London in 1980 and subsequently entered the arsenals of all relevant anti-terror and special operations units during the 1980s. In 1985, 100 MP5Ks were illegally transferred to East Germany via England. During the 1990s, the MP5 began to be replaced by assault carbines in rifle calibres. Today, it is still king of the submachine gun class despite that having been pronounced dead several times already. A book covering the use and users of this famous weapon still needs to be written.

Physically, the book is a full-colour hardcover with 258 pages. The quality of the paper and many of the illustrations is adequate, but only barely so if one considers the steep price of €72. Unfortunately, Kersten’s book seems to have received no proper editorial attention or even a spell-check. There are numerous mistakes including incomplete sentences, incorrect punctuation, logical errors, incorrect terminology, and many completely wrong translations from English to German.

Ultimately, Die MP5 ‒ Eine Waffe für Generationen is a disappointment, at least if you have prior knowledge of the MP5. However, apparently it is intended to be the first volume in a series of books about the submachine guns by H&K. Perhaps the odd problem is dealt with in a follow-up work.