By Chris Upchurch, Suarez International Director of Marketing
In some ways the HK33 is the forgotten middle child of the HK family. While it doesn’t have the same level of recognition as the G3 or the MP5, this relatively unheralded rifle has a long history of service around the world.
With the rise of the 5.56x45mm round in the 1960s, Heckler & Koch designed a rifle around the new cartridge. The HK33 drew heavily from the design of the successful G3 battle rifle, scaled down for the smaller round. It uses the same roller delayed blowback action and some parts are interchangeable between the two designs.
The original HK33 was followed by the HK33K, which sports a slightly shorter barrel. This led to the more radically redesigned HK53, with the barrel cut down to 8 inches. The ’53 sports many features from the MP5 submachine gun. Indeed, it’s practically the same size as the MP5 and it packs a lot more firepower.
The German Army never adopted the HK33 (they stayed with the G3 until it was replaced by the 5.56mm G36 in the 1990s). It did see adoption as the standard service rifle in a variety of armies, including Thailand, Malaysia, and Chile.
Where the HK33 really found its niche was with special operations forces around the world. The SEALs fielded imported HK33s under the designation T223 in Vietnam. It was favored for its 40 round magazines (at a time when only 20 rounders were available for the M16) and greater reliability. As one SEAL put it, “It was a lot easier to clean and maintain than the M16 and worked well in the jungle environment. While other men of the platoon would be just starting to clean their weapons after an op, I would already be done and moving on to something else.”
The HK53 also saw service in the UK with the Special Air Service and Special Boat Service. Its adoption no doubt aided by its commonality with the MP5. It saw extensive service in Northern Ireland with the SAS and SBS., as well as 14 Int. a covert surveillance unit. It was particularly prized for its handiness when operating inside vehicles. In his book Immediate Action, Andy McNab describes a running car chase/gun battle with HK53 armed SAS troopers pursuing a van of IRA gunmen. The HK53 continues in British service today, particularly in dignatary protection roles.
Some police agencies in the U.S. adopted the HK53 for their SWAT teams, particularly during the 1990s when the increasing prevalence of body armor led many of them to transition away from 9mm submachine guns to .223 rifles. Again the HK53 had the advantage of having the same manual of arms as the familiar MP5.
Although somewhat in the shadow of its better know siblings, the HK33 series has seen wide service under some very demanding conditions. This is definitely a true fighting rifle along the lines of the AK.
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