By Will Dabbs, MD, American Handgunner
Photos By Chuck Pittman
I have a friend who spent more than a decade as a CAG guy. CAG stands for Combat Applications Group. This week’s official designation is actually “Army Compartmented Elements” or ACE. They change the name from time to time just to keep the world on its toes.
CAG guys call it the Unit. The rest of us typically call it Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, or more theatrically — Delta Force. Alongside Seal Team 6, Delta is the nation’s premiere Tier 1 Special Mission Unit. CAG guys are the finest shooters on the planet. I was a soldier. This guy was a stone cold warrior.
Their standard long gun was the Heckler and Koch 416. Combining all that is righteous and wholesome about Eugene Stoner’s AR15 with the never quit operating system of the HK G36, the HK416 is generally recognized as the most capable assault rifle in the world. That’s the reason Delta uses them.
My buddy did more than half a dozen combat tours. He once told me they would start a tour with a spotless rifle and then shoot on live operations most every night. They might not clean their weapons for weeks or even months. That’s how reliable those 416’s were.
In The Beginning
The German firm of Heckler and Koch rose from the ashes of World War II. Oberndorf, Germany was the location of Waffenfabrik Mauser AG during the war and fell under French control after the capitulation. French forces dismantled the complex and destroyed the manufacturing records.
In 1948, three former Mauser engineers — Edmund Heckler, Theodor Koch and Alex Seidel — salvaged what they could from the rubble of the facility and started a machine and tool plant. This concern was known as the Engineering Office Heckler and Co. From these modest beginnings arose the world’s premiere small arms company.
In 1949 the company officially changed its name to Heckler and Koch GmbH and began manufacturing gauges, sewing machine parts, machine tools and bicycles. In 1956, HK responded to the West German government’s request for a new Infantry rifle with the G3. A roller-locked weapon drawing upon wartime guns like the StG44 and the MG42 as well as the subsequent Spanish CETME, the G3 launched the company along its current path.
HK subsequently brought us the HK33 assault rifle, the MP5 submachine gun and the HK21 belt-fed machinegun. Modern offerings include the G36, the UMP, the aforementioned HK416 and the MP7 Personal Defense Weapon. Their product line spans the spectrum from handguns to automatic grenade launchers as well as most everything in between. HK has a well-earned reputation as the company filling the arms rooms of the world’s premiere special units.
Life Lessons In Machinery
The relationship between humans and their implements of violence is a fascinating thing. An Infantry soldier’s weapon is the single most critical piece of equipment with which he performs his mission. It’s also his life preserver. That weapon becomes, when used for real, his most prized possession. For the Infantry soldier, his, and in today’s brave new world her, life depends upon whether or not that single mechanical contrivance functions reliably and effectively.
Drawing upon an example from my own experience, combat helicopters are immensely complex machines. Tens of thousands of disparate parts interact mechanically to conjure controlled flight. The end result is a vehicle carrying troops safely over hostile terrain, providing maneuver commanders with invaluable tactical information, or raining death upon the heads of our great nation’s enemies — all in the face of some of the most egregious enemy threats.
On one of the particular tactical aircraft I flew, one of those countless disparate parts was capable of being installed backwards. After a phase maintenance overhaul a well-meaning young stud made a mistake and reversed the orientation of the drive link to the rotor head. The aircraft subsequently came apart in flight, and a good friend perished.
There is a parallel in the civilian world. We all like to shoot. Were that not the case you wouldn’t currently be clutching this hallowed tome. However, the reason we turn all this ammo into noise is so if we are actually called upon to do it for real we will be ready. For those critical times when precious lives hang in the balance, you simply cannot afford half measures in your machinery. I may cut corners on my dishwashing detergent, breakfast cereal or mayonnaise. When it comes to my primary defensive firearm, however, I want the best there is. As a result, the handguns I keep close for those times when life really could go sideways typically have HK on the slide.
You Suck & We Hate You
In the interest of full disclosure, I am obviously a fan. Your local firearms emporium is awash in reliable, accurate handguns of various stripes. I’ve run many to most of them, and they are indeed generally cheaper than their HK counterparts. However, we are all entitled to our opinion, and HK iron seems the top of the heap to me.
There is a delightful bit of comic vitriol to be found online concerning the love-hate relationship between HK enthusiasts and the company. Google the above subtitle to check it out. HK weapons are variously described as being over-priced, over-engineered or unavailable. It really is good for a chuckle.
Some of this unvarnished contempt is justified. Germany enjoys some of the most onerous export restrictions in the world, and HK has not exactly bent over backwards to market their wares to American civilian shooters in years past. My first HK pistol was a high-mileage cop-surplus .45ACP USP. The NIB versions cost more than my first car, and this was all I could afford. However, you get what you pay for is more than just a folksy colloquialism. Legit quality always comes at a price.
The latest HK combat pistol does not represent groundbreaking new technology. The HK Volkspistole is rather simply a perfected amalgam of proven engineering concepts. Volkspistole is German for “People’s Pistol.” After decades of listening to American gun nerds gripe about “HK doesn’t really make anything for civilian shooters” — they finally built a gun for us.
The operating system has as its genesis the inimitable Browning Hi-Power. The last of John Moses Browning’s many revolutionary pistol designs, the Hi-Power, was finalized by a Belgian engineer named Dieudonne Saive after the great man’s death. Between them, they created what appeared to be the ultimate manifestation of the combat handgun. Now nearly a century later, this same short-recoil tilting-lock linkless operating system drives most everything. Whether your autoloading pistol has FN, HK, Springfield, S&W, or Glock etched into the frame, it’s John Moses’ short-recoil system derived from the Hi-Power driving the train.
HK’s take on this time-tested design includes a proprietary flat cross-section captive recoil spring, a cold-hammer-forged polygonally-rifled barrel and a reinforced polyamide frame equipped with a Picatinny rail. The slide release and magazine catch are perfectly replicated on both sides of the gun, and the enlarged, heavy-duty extractor doubles as a loaded chamber indicator. The rear portion of the slide sports unique patented appendages called “cocking supports” facilitating manipulation when rushed or sweaty. These delightful little ears do not interfere with holstering and are removable should you tire of them.
Three different backstraps combine with six different side panels to contrive an imminently customizable grip. Swapping grip components requires a small punch and maybe five minutes. You can adjust which part of your finger contacts the trigger and thicken one half of the grip while thinning the other. Lots of guns have interchangeable backstraps. Nobody else even comes close to this.
The trigger is HK’s inspired take on the striker-fired system made universally familiar by Gaston Glock. The gun’s only external safety consists of a blade imbedded within the trigger face. The trigger incorporates a 5.4-pound break along with a total travel of less than a quarter inch and just a smidge of creep. The return is only 0.1″. HK calls it their “precise pull” system. The end result is the fastest striker-fired trigger in the industry.
The Inner Teenaged Girl
For those of us who might also like to color coordinate our defensive weaponry, the Volkspistole now comes with a frame nicely rendered in Flat Dark Earth. It’s not camouflage exactly. However, there’s just something about that dichromatic dissonance which stirs the soul.
HK also added a 9mm threaded barrel version called the VP9 Tactical for the battalions of American shooters now in possession of sound suppressors. The barrel is threaded with 13.5×1 Left Hand metric European threads and doesn’t use an O-ring for seating. As most American 9mm cans use 1/2×28 threads, you might need a new mount for your suppressor. Most suppressor manufacturers produce them.
Michael Holley, HK-USA Vice President for Commercial Sales and Marketing, opines, “Adding color frame models and VP’s with threaded barrels is our response to the many customer requests we received on this phenomenal handgun.”
Here’s a nifty fashion tip: Find a buddy who wants a Volkspistole — 9mm or .40 makes no difference. Between the two of you pick up one in black and one in FDE then exchange the grip panels and prepare to be the coolest kid on the playground. Once I mixed and matched between my black VP9 and FDE VP40 I was rocking the world’s sexiest discordant two-tone thundersticks. I know it’s childish. Don’t hate.
Pick Your Poison
Modern expanding bullets perform like a champ in Georg Luger’s centenarian 9mm chambering. So much so the FBI is now transitioning from the .40 S&W to the 9mm. What’s old is new again, it seems. The smaller caliber makes for cheaper training. Less recoil also equals better accuracy.
However, if you are a knuckle-dragger like me and still think bigger is better, HK has you covered with both. The double column magazine on the VP9 carries 15 rounds. The box on the VP40 packs 13.
The 9mm voodoo notwithstanding, I’ve seen bad guys ventilated by both these calibers on my doctoring side of the house. Invariably, the unfortunate rapscallions receiving the .40-caliber slugs always seemed to fare more poorly, faster.
In our testing, accuracy was perfectly acceptable with either option. The 9mm is easier on the wrists, but the .40 S&W is hardly abusive. I ran some of everything through these two HK pistols and naturally had no stoppages. The day a NIB HK firearm doesn’t run reliably will be the day I vote Democrat.
The 9mm VP9 ventilated the top array while the .40 S&W printed the bottom.
So, What’ll It Be?
HK guns are indeed typically more expensive than those of their competitors. However, the HK “People’s Gun” is designed for the common man and, as such, is not out of line price-wise with other high-end striker-fired iron. These new VP guns embody plenty of chic Heckler and Koch Euro-cool in a package easily customizable to your particular anatomy all without breaking the bank.
The 9mm is indeed a bit more comfortable. The .40 also comes at a two-round penalty in capacity. However, should you tote a spare magazine the argument could be made if your problems require more than 27 rounds at a sitting you should find some different problems.
My new VP40 with its psychedelic two-tone FDE frame and 13 Winchester hollowpoints currently resides in the nightstand beside the bed. The title of apex predator in the Dabbs family arsenal is a coveted position. I can think of no better endorsement.