Heckler & Koch HK33

Heckler & Koch’s first 5.56×45 rifle, the HK33, was introduced in the late 1960s as a response to the emergence of the new 5.56x45mm round and the introduction of the FN CAL. The HK33 is little more than a scaled down version of HK’s successful 7.62×51 G3. Developed by Tilo Möller, the HK33 used the same roller delayed blowback action and shares most of the G3’s features.

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Left & right views of the HK33 (Matthew Moss)

It has a stamped receiver and uses the same plastic furniture and pistol grip/trigger mechanism housing as the G3. The rifle is 39 inches or 92cm long and is by no means a light weapon, weighing around 4kg or 8.7 lbs. The HK33 feeds from 25, 30 or 40 round proprietary HK magazines.

The rifle came in main two main variants a full length version with a fixed stock, which could be fitted with a collapsing stock, and a shortened K-variant with a shorter barrel. The weapon came with either a safe, semi and full auto or safe, semi, 3-round burst fire control mechanism.

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HK factory brochure showing the variants of the HK33 (Heckler & Koch)

The HK33 was not adopted by the West German Army, however, it did see extensive use with Germany’s federal state and police forces and the Bundeswehr special forces. While it wasn’t adopted at home it was a successful export weapon with dozens of countries purchasing and adopting the rifle. France tested the improved HK33F in the Army 1970s and although it performed well the FAMAS was adopted instead. A production license was sold to Thailand who adopted the HK33, purchasing 40,000 rifles and the license to manufacture 30,000 more. Thailand also developed their own unique bull pup version of the rifle, the Type 11.

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HK33 field stripped (Matthew Moss)

Malaysia also purchased 55,000 HK33s and the Spanish Guardia Civil used them for a time. The manufacturing rights for the HK33 were also sold to Portugal for production at Fabrica Militar de Prata and to Turkey where it remains in production at MKEK.

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A comparison of the HK33’s bolt with the later HK G41 (Matthew Moss)

HK produced the HK33 from 1968 through to the late 1980s. It also provided the basis for the HK53 5.56 ‘submachine gun’ which we have covered previously. It was also the basis of the less successful G41, which we’ve also covered in a full length episode, you can find this here. The similarities with the HK33 are easy to see but the G41 has a number of subtle changes.

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Specifications (from 1985 factory brochure):

Overall Length (with fixed stock): 36in /92cm
Barrel Length: 15.7in / 40cm
Weight: 8.7lbs / 4kg
Action: Roller-delayed blowback
Capacity: 25, 30 or 40-round box magazine
Calibre: 5.56x45mm


Bibliography:

Full Circle: A Treatise on Roller Locking, R. Blake Stevens (2006)

HK33 Factory Brochure, c.1966 (source)

HK33E Factory Brochure, c.1985 (source)

Heckler & Koch G41

In 1981, Heckler & Koch introduced what would be their last infantry rifle that used their tried and tested roller-delayed blowback action, the HK G41. In October 1980, following NATO’s smalls arms and ammunition testing during the late 1970s, a meeting of NATO Armament Directors, agreed to standardise to the 5.56x45mm round favoured by the United States since the mid-1960s. Standardisation Agreement (STANAG) 4172 saw NATO standardise on the Belgian/FN SS109 ball round. At the same time Draft STANAG 4179 proposed adopting US 30-round M16 magazines as the standard 5.56 magazine pattern, while this proposal wasn’t ratified the M16’s magazine became the de facto standard.

At this time Heckler & Koch were engaged in a major engineering project to develop the G11 caseless ammunition-firing individual weapon. Their main offering for the 5.56x45mm rifle market at the time was the HK33, a rechambered version of the 7.62x51mm G3 developed by Tilo Moller, which was introduced in 1965. The HK33, however, used a proprietary HK magazine and was not compatible with the M16’s magazines. In 1977, as the NATO trials began and it became clear that 5.56x45mm would be adopted, HK began to develop what would become the G41. In 1979 with initial development completed HK submitted 18 G41s for testing with the West German Army. It wasn’t until 1981 that HK introduced the G41 onto the market.

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Left and right profile views of the G41 (Matthew Moss)

While continuing to use the same roller delayed blowback operating system as the G3, HK33 and MP5, the G41 embodied a number of improvements. While still using a stamped metal receiver it utilised 1mm thick high tensile steel rather than the 1.2mm thick steel used by the HK33. This helped to lighten the receiver. The new rifle also used a lighter bolt assembly, paired with a new recoil spring which comprised of five wound strands around a central coil, rather than a single coil, which had a longer stroke. This acted to lower the felt recoil. The G41, however, had a higher rate of fire at around 850 rounds per minute compared to the 750 rounds per minute of the HK33.  Some of the G41’s bolt geometries were reworked and a new extractor was added.

The G41’s lower receiver was redesigned to allow the rifle to feed from STANAG magazines rather than HK’s earlier proprietary magazines. The cocking lever and forward assist were taken from the HK21A1 (XM262) general purpose machine gun, developed for the US SAW trials.

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HK G41 (top) and HK33 (bottom) field stripped (Matthew Moss)

It also had a new more triangular polymer foregrip and added a plastic dust cover to the ejection port, a NATO pattern optics mount (meeting STANAG 2324) replaced HK’s claw-mount system, and a spring-loaded folding carrying handle near the centre of balance was added. Importantly it also added a last round hold open device and a bolt release catch, on the left side of the lower receiver.

The usual thumb serrations on the side of the bolt, for pushing the bolt home, were replaced by a prominent forward assist, similar to that found on the M16A1 and other HK weapons such as the HK21 light machine gun and the PSG-1 sniper rifle. HK sales literature described it as a ‘low noise’ forward assist and the manual describes the “quiet cocking of the weapon” – essentially riding the cocking handle back into battery and then pushing the forward assist to lock the action, the system is not as ‘low noise’ as advertised.

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Right side of the G41, note the addition of a forward assist and dust cover (Matthew Moss)

Another important feature of the rifle was the inclusion of a three-round burst setting alongside semi and fully automatic. The G41 could mount a standard G3 bayonet, fit an M16 bipod and had a flash hider designed to enable it to fire NATO standard rifle grenades. The 40mm HK79 under barrel grenade launcher could also be mounted to all variants of the G41, simply swapping it out for the polymer forend. HK referred to this set up as the G41-TGS or ‘Tactical Group Support system’.

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Spread from a 1985 HK promotional product brochure showing the various G41 configurations (HK)

The G41 came in a number of variants with designations A1 to A3. The base rifle had a fixed buttstock and its rifling had 1 turn in 7 inches with a right-hand twist, in a 18.9 inch barrel. The A1 had a 1 in 12” twist barrel and fixed buttstock. The A2 had a collapsing, single position stock and 1 in 7” inch twist rifling, while the A3 had 1 in 12” inch twist rifling. The 1 in 7” rifling was optimised for the new SS109, while the 1 in 12” optimised for the US M193 round. There was also a shortened G41K model which had a collapsing stock and a 15 inch barrel available with both rifling types.

One of the main issues with the G41 was its weight. Despite efforts to lighten the sheet metal receiver, it weighed more than its predecessor the HK33. According to measurement data compiled by researcher Nathaniel F, unloaded the G41 weighs in at 4.31kgs or 9.5 lbs, this is a full pound heavier than the HK33. A contemporary M16A2 weighed 3.39kg or 7.5 lbs while the Spanish CETME L, a similar stamped receiver rifle chambered in 5.56×45, weighed 3.72kg or 8.2 lbs. The rifle eventually adopted by the Bundeswehr, the HK G36, weighed 3.13kg or 7.3 lbs.  The G41K with its collapsing steel stock wasn’t much lighter, weighing 4.3kg or 9.5 lbs, according to HK sales literature. Another potential issue may have been reliability with the move to the STANAG magazine rather than the optimised proprietary HK magazines may have introduced some issues.

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The bolts of the HK G41 (top) and HK33 (bottom), note the redesigned extractor, forward assist serrations on the bolt carrier and the G41’s thicker but shorter recoil spring (Matthew Moss)

Following NATO’s decision the early 1980s saw a large number of countries looking to replace their ageing 7.62x51mm battle rifles. Sweden began to look for a 5.56x45mm rifle to replace its licensed version of the G3, the Ak4, in the late 1970s. HK could initially only offer the HK33 but the G41, tested later, was also rejected by the Swedes in favour of FN’s FNC. Italy sought to replace the BM59 with a more modern rifle and HK entered into an agreement with Luigi Franchi which saw them offer both the original HK configuration and the develop their own, slightly modified version, the Franchi mod. 641, but the Beretta AR70/90 was selected. Similarly, in 1984 Spain decided to adopt the indigenously developed CETME L. In 1986 the HK G41 was also submitted to the Irish Army’s trials to replace the FN FAL, it was beaten by the Steyr AUG. Initially West Germany had hoped to procure up to 20,000 HK G11 rifles per year, with a total of 224,000 in service by 2003.

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HK’s G11 and G41 (Matthew Moss)

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent reunification of Germany saw Federal budgets stretched and the G11 programme was subsequently abandoned entirely. The Bundeswehr still needed a suitable rifle to replace the G3 and in the 1990s sought a lighter weight rifle. HK felt their HK50 project, in development since the mid-1970s was a better bet than the heavier G41, and following Bundeswehr trials the G36 was subsequently adopted in 1997. Sadly, I have not been able to get a hold of any of the trials reports from the nations that tested the G41, so can not say with certainty why the countries mentioned above rejected HK’s rifle.

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Graphic from HK’s manual for the G41 (HK)

From photographs of members of the Turkish Gendarmerie special operations group training at the Foça Commando School, dating from the early 2010s, it appears that Turkey either purchased a number of G41s or Turkey’s state-owned defence manufacturer, MKEK, produced an unknown number under license.At some point in the 1980s the British Army also tested a small number G41s with serial numbers #11131, #11832 and #11833 remaining in UK collections.

Denmark’s elite Jaegerkorpset and Froemandskorpset used the G41 for a time and Argentina’s special forces, including the Grupo de Operaciones Especiales, have also been photographed with both HK G41s and G41A2(collapsing stock) fitted with the TGS package comprising of the HK79 under barrel grenade launcher.

Argentine commandos with HK G41
Argentina’s Grupo de Operaciones Especiales on parade with G41s and the G41-TGS, grenade launcher package (source)

The G41 represents the last evolution of HK’s infantry rifles using the roller delayed blowback action. It comes from a period when HK were developing what they hoped would be the next generation of small arms technology and with the collapse of the G11 programme and the lack of interest in the G41 the company faced financial uncertainty throughout the early 1990s. HK’s move away from the roller delayed blowback action to a more conventional gas operated rotating bolt system, combined with lightweight polymers, in the G36 proved to be more successful than the ill-fated G41.

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Specifications (standard G41 rifle model):

Length: 39in (99cm)
Weight (unloaded): 4.31kgs or 9.5 lbs
Barrel Length (not including flash hider): 17.7in (45cm)
Action: Roller-delayed blowback
Calibre: 5.56x45mm
Feed: 30 round STANAG magazines
Cyclic Rate: ~850rpm


Bibliography:

The World’s Assault Rifles, G.P. Johnston & T.B. Nelson, (2016)

Die G11 Story, W. Story, (1993)

Full Circle: A Treatise on Roller Locking, R. Blake Stevens (2006)

The 5.56 Timeline, D. Watters, (source)

1985 HK Brochure on the G41 Series (via SAR Archive)

HK G41 Owner’s Manual (via SAR Archive)


Our thanks to the collection that holds this rifle for their kind permission to examine and film it. Please do not reproduce photographs taken by Matthew Moss without permission or credit. ©The Armourer’s Bench, 2019.

The CETME AMELI Light Machine Gun

The CETME AMELI was developed by Spain’s state-owned small arms institute, Centro de Estudios Técnicos de Materiales Especiales or CETME. It was an attempt to develop a light machine gun chambered in 5.56x45mm. Its name, AMELI, is an acronym for ‘Ametralladora ligera’ – simply Spanish for light machine gun.

Development of the AMELI began in 1974 under the supervision of Colonel José María Jiménez Alfaro (who would later become the director of CETME). The Ameli was officially unveiled in 1981 and after undergoing exhaustive military trials was adopted into service in 1982 as the standard squad-level support weapon of the Spanish Army under the designation MG 82. It was manufactured by the Santa Bárbara National Company (now General Dynamics Santa Bárbara Sistemas) at the La Coruña factory.

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Early NA or standard model AMELI (Royal Armouries)

The initial model was the NA variant, or Standard Model. This is the model that closely resembles the MG-42 with its conical flash hider. The Spanish military, however, wanted a lighter gun and the NB variant was designed, this is easily identified by the straight flash hider that is now integral with the barrel and not part of the barrel shroud.  The NB model reduced the unloaded weight from the original 7.24 Kg (16 lbs) to 5.4 Kg (12 lbs). However, this weight reduction and the use of materials of lower cost than the original trialled guns caused reliability issues with the AMELI in service. Both variants had a rotating rear disk sight, graduated from 300 to 1,000 metres, and a folding front sight. A mounting block for a British SUSAT optic was later added to the top cover.

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Detail view of the AMELI’s receiver from a factory brochure, also featuring the transparent belt boxes which did not go into service (source)

Parts breakages and stoppages plagued the AMELI in service and gunners had to take great care of their weapons to keep them serviceable. One issue was that the stamped forward barrel shroud was a press fit over the receiver and held in place by steel ‘barbs’. Rough handling and downward pressure on the bipod during manoeuvres and firing caused the shroud to deflect, this caused accuracy and functionality issues. To alleviate these problems the Spanish Marines went so far as to TIG weld the forward barrel shroud to the receiver, this fixed most of those issues.

The AMELI’s shape resembles the MG42 machine gun but the similarities are external only. While the MG42 uses the short recoil, roller locked system (where the barrel and bolt recoil together a short distance before separating), the AMELI employs a roller-delayed blowback action with a fixed barrel and a fluted chamber. This system was also used in the CETME Model A, B, C and L rifles, as well as in the HK G3 rifle, the HK 33 rifle and the HK MP5 submachine guns. Similarities with the CETME Model C and Model L rifles are limited to the commonality of the takedown pins and no other parts contrary to popular myth!

Centrefire automatic machine gun - CETME Ameli (about 1982)
Later NB variant of the AMELI – note also the different pistol grip profile, more similar to a CETME L rifle’s (Royal Armouries)

Both AMELI models have similar rates of firing of around 1,000 rounds per minute. The AMELI used the same feeding system used in the MG42, it had a cross bolt safety located at the rear of the top of the pistol grip and a quick change barrel system. To remove the barrel you pull the two sides of the barrel latch, which is built into the rear sight assembly, rotate the handle clockwise until the gate in the side of the barrel shroud opens and then pull the barrel back out of the gun. The front of the barrel is secured by a round ball detent which clicks into the front of the barrel shroud.

CETME also developed a top feeding magazine adaptor system, perhaps inspired by the contemporary FN Minimi’s ability to feed from magazines as well as a bolt. The Bren-like adaptor allows a STANAG magazine to be loaded in upside down into the action. To fit the adaptor the gun’s top cover and feed tray had to be removed. To deal with the magazine housing now obscuring the front sight the adaptor had a new set of sights – one at the rear and a new ‘front’ sight built into the side of the magazine housing, a little like the Australian F1 submachine gun. This short sight radius isn’t too practical for a light machine gun.

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A still from the video showing the top feed magazine adaptor’s sights, note they’re offset to the right and the protected front sight is built into the magazine housing (Vic Tuff)

The AMELI was sold to only a few operators apart from the Spanish Military, the Mexican Army and the Malaysian PASKAL Naval Special Forces have used the AMELI but the current status with those operators is unknown. In Spanish service the Ameli has almost entirely been withdrawn from service, being replaced with the Heckler & Koch MG4 5.56x45mm LMG. This is partly due to reliability issues and the original guns being worn out and with spares and new guns no longer available as the original manufacturer ceased manufacture in 2013 and went out of business.

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Mexican Marines with an NA model AMELI (source)

The AMELI is an interesting machine gun that should have had more success than it did. It was sadly a victim of government cost cutting which much like the British SA80 undermined the quality of the finished product. The story of the AMELI also reminds me of the ArmaLite AR10 produced by Artilleries Inrichtingen in the Netherlands, in so much as the AMELI was produced in very limited numbers (around 3-4,000 guns), in various models and variants with no clear defined history as to why aspects of the design were changed. Evidence of this was seen when a very good contact of mine bought up all remaining inventory from the CETME factory some years ago including around 30 Ameli’s. Apparently there were variations between every one they bought!

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Specifications (from CETME brochure):

Length: 97cm (38.2 inches)
Weight (unloaded):  NG: 6.7kg (14.8 lbs) NB: 5.2kg (11.5 lbs)
Barrel Length: 40cm (15.8 inches)
Action: Roller-delayed blowback
Calibre: 5.56x45mm
Feed: 100 or 200 round belts
Cyclic Rate: 900-1,250 rpm


Bibliography:

CETME AMELI Operator’s Manual, Small Arms Review Archive, (source)

CETME AMELI Early Factory Brochure (Spanish), Small Arms Review Archive, (source)

CETME AMELI Factory Brochure – including both models (English), Small Arms Review Archive, (source)

CETME AMELI Factory Flyer (Spanish), Small Arms Review Archive, (source)

 

Heckler & Koch HK53

In 1968 Heckler & Koch launched the HK33, chambered in 5.56x45mm, to compete with Colt’s AR-15/M16. The HK33, and later HK53, used the same roller-delayed blowback action developed for the G3 in the mid 1950s. However, few major contracts were forthcoming with the German military opting to continue using the 7.62x51mm G3.

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Heckler & Koch HK53 (with ‘navy’ lower reciever) brochure c.1987 (source)

Due to the modularity of the HK33′s design users could replace the butt of the standard rifle with a collapsible telescopic metal stock. H&K also subsequently designed a carbine version of the full-length HK33, the HK33K with a telescopic metal stock and 12.7 inch barrel. In the mid-1970s H&K began development an even shorter version. The result was essentially an intermediate calibre submachine gun similar to the Colt Commando and the Soviet AKS-74U. H&K designated this new weapon the HK53, it used the same telescopic stock as the HK33K and MP5 and a cut down 11 inch barrel, the HK53 also utilised a polymer forearm similar to the MP5s.

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Contemporary promotional photos dating from 1985 (source)

Like the HK33, the HK53 fed from 25, 30 or 40 round box magazines. The weapon weighed just over 3kg (7lb), almost a 1 kg less than its parent rifle the HK33. Unlike the HK33, the HK53 has a four prong flash hider. A number of police forces and militaries adopted the HK53 for a variety of roles. Special forces units around the world including the British SAS, Royal Military Police Close Protection Unit and Royal Marines, designated the L101A1 in British service, who typically used it during close protection duties and operations involving close quarter battle.

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Contemporary promotional photo dating from 1985 (source)

As shown in various MoD Equipment Failure Reports dating from the early 1990s the HK53’s in British service suffered from repeated damage and failure of the carbines’ locking rollers. This issue arose when using a number of different ammunition types including brass cased blank ammunition (H&K recommend the use of their proprietary blank cartridges). Following a meeting between the Army Technical Support Agency’s Directorate of Engineering and H&K a new design for the locking pieces were developed. These changes “increased the roll of blowback force during the unlocking phase… in turn this will reduce the mean energy of the recoiling mass of breech block and carrier” this was intended to reduce bolt bounce. The Royal Military Police Close Protection Unit’s L101A1’s were also fitted with a new two stage buffer within a fixed stock. In British service the L101 was replaced by the L22A2 carbine and the L119A1 (C8 Carbine).

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HK53, stock collapsed, (Matthew Moss)

Due to its short length the HK53 also found itself pressed into the port-firing weapon role. Designated the HK53 MICV in this role the foregrip and stock was removed and a specially designed endcap and a spent case bag could be attachment. During its service life the HK53 went through a series of changes to furniture mouldings, buttstock types and fire selector options. It remained in production into the early 2000s, when Heckler & Koch replaced the HK33 and HK53 with the G36 and G36K.

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Technical Specifications (from 1987 H&K brochure):

Length (with stock extended): 76.5cm (30in)
Weight (collapsible stock, unloaded): 3.35kg (7.4lb)
Barrel Length: 22.5cm (8.5in)
Action: Roller delayed blowback
Calibre: 5.56x45mm
Feed: 25, 30, or 40-round box magazine
Cyclic Rate: approx. 700 rpm


Bibliography:

The World’s Assault Rifles, G.P. Johnston & T.B. Nelson, (2010)

Heckler & Koch HK33 & HK53 manual (source)

HK53 factory colour brochure, 1987, (via Small Arms Review Reference Library)

Itemised list of L101A1’s which suffered damaged locking rollers, MoD Equipment Failure Report, 15 Nov. 1994, (via Small Arms Review Reference Library)

Army Technical Support Agency report on receiver damage to HK53 and G3 rifles, 1996,(via Small Arms Review Reference Library)


Please do not reproduce photographs taken by Matthew Moss without permission or credit. ©The Armourer’s Bench 2018.