Recreating The British SAS MP5
Sub-Gun With A Zenith MKE-5RS
By Will Dabbs, MD
Photos: Sarah Dabbs
In the aftermath of the overthrow of the Shah of Iran by forces loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, six disaffected Iranians protesting the new theocratic government stormed the Iranian embassy at Princes Gate in London, England, April 30, 1980, seizing 26 hostages. The terrorists were members of the Democratic Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Arabistan (DRFLA) led by one Oan Ali Mohammed. Inspired by the ongoing US hostage crisis in Teheran, these terrorists’ demands included free passage from Britain for themselves as well as the release of 91 political prisoners held in Khuzestan.
The world was a very different place in 1980 and few nations maintained effective standing counter-terror forces. However, a gleaming exception was Great Britain’s Special Air Service. Initially notified of the crisis by an SAS member detached to the London police as a dog handler, the leadership of the SAS activated commandos from the Regiment’s B Squadron to begin contingency planning. Given the high profile and very public nature of the target, press from around the world encamped around the embassy and began broadcasting.
Britain’s policies toward terrorism included an institutionalized refusal to capitulate to demands, but they still preferred not to intervene militarily unless lives were threatened. By the 6th day of the crisis the terrorists had released a token number of hostages but grew increasingly frustrated. Abbas Lavasani was the Chief Iranian Press Officer for the embassy and a pro-Khomeini zealot. Survivors later reported he had persistently antagonized his captors on subjects both religious and political. When negotiations seemed at an impasse the terrorists shot Lavasani and threw his body out of the embassy. In response to his murder Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher authorized the use of force to resolve the crisis and the SAS executed Operation Nimrod.
The SAS made good use of the time immediately following the takeover by implanting discreet cameras and microphones to gather intelligence in the embassy building. They had also performed a site reconnaissance on the roof of the embassy and emplaced rope anchors to prepare for a possible assault. Additionally, SAS personnel surreptitiously removed bricks from the wall in the adjoining Ethiopian embassy in anticipation of a breach.
The building was 5-stories tall with 51 separate rooms. Hostages were segregated by gender and heavily guarded. Police Constable Trevor Lock was taken hostage in the initial assault yet successfully concealed his .38 revolver throughout the ordeal.
Magazine changes on the Z-5 are a bit slower than those on your M4 but not by much. Lock the
bolt manually to the rear on an empty magazine, replace the mag, and slap the charging handle
to drop the bolt and chamber a round. The non-reciprocating charging handle (below) is easily
accessed on the left front of the gun.
Who Dares Wins
At 19:23 hours on day 6 around 35 SAS operators initiated a simultaneous breach of the building. Assault teams blew windows, doors and walls as well as rappelled down from the roof to enter through upper story windows. SAS assaulters were all armed with HK MP5 9mm submachine guns as well as Browning Hi-Power handguns. The SAS lacked sufficient standard MP5’s to arm all the assault teams so several of the operators carried stubby MP5K models while two carried suppressed MP5SD versions. The operators’ characteristic black fatigues and full-face respirators were intentionally crafted to look menacing and otherworldly to the terrorists.
One of the assaulters abseiling down from the roof became entangled in his rappel rope and was badly burned when drapes set alight by CS gas and stun grenades billowed flames out of a nearby window. Fellow team members cut him loose and he resumed the assault despite his injuries. As another SAS team member swung through a window, the terrorist leader Oan Mohammed raised his weapon to fire.
Trevor Lock, the police constable still held among the hostages, drew his hidden revolver and grappled with the terrorist commander. When the SAS man detached his ropes and oriented his MP5, he shouted for Constable Lock to roll clear and shot the terrorist with a full 30-round magazine on fully automatic, killing him instantly. Constable Lock was subsequently recognized at the highest levels of the British government for his remarkable bravery during the siege and assault.
At the sound of gunfire the two terrorists holding the main group of hostages on the second floor opened fire, killing one and wounding another. When they heard the sounds of the approaching SAS troops they threw down their weapons and attempted to surrender. The first SAS team to enter the room pressed them both against a wall and killed them outright with bursts from their MP5’s.
One terrorist attempting to blend with the hostages being led out of the building suddenly brandished a Soviet hand grenade. A nearby SAS trooper butt-stroked the terrorist in the neck with his German submachine gun, knocking him clear of the escaping hostages. A nearby SAS soldier then emptied a full magazine into the man.
One terrorist survived the assault by successfully mingling with the hostages. An SAS operator identified the man in the outside yard and dragged him back into the building with the ostensible intent of killing him. Cooler heads prevailed and the lone surviving terrorist subsequently spent 27 years in a British prison.
The ferocity with which the SAS secured the building shocked the world and the inevitable publicity surrounding the event gave the normally secretive unit a great deal more notoriety than they desired. A subsequent inquiry over the execution of the unarmed terrorists ruled the killings justifiable homicide. This operation was later characterized as one of the most seminal events in the history of Britain and the tools, tactics, weapons and equipment used during Operation Nimrod went on to shape counter-terror units around the world. The Iran-Iraq war began 5 months later and the political goals of the DRFLA were largely forgotten.
The semi-auto trigger group is HK standard and marked 0-1.
Trigger pull is the same long mushy pull characterizing all HK combat weapons, but this
intentional aspect of the design keeps the gun safe while rendering splendid combat accuracy.
The unique aspect of the Zenith Z-5RS is the fact the fire control group mounts with a pair of
standard HK push pins just like the originals. There is still the shelf inside to preclude
attachment of a full auto trigger group, but the extra pin makes the gun look exactly like
Gun As Legend
The Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine gun began as an evolution of the roller-locked G3 rifle in 1964 and the gun entered service with German security forces in 1966. The recoil-driven, roller-locked design was adapted from the revolutionary MG42 belt-fed machinegun that armed Nazi combat formations throughout most of the Second World War. Where the contemporary Israeli Uzi was simple, open-bolt and built like a farm implement, the MP5 was mechanically elegant, fired from a locked breech and remarkably complex. The result was a soft-recoiling weapon smooth in operation, unusually accurate and effective.
US politics conspired to keep the MP5 out of the hands of most American civilian shooters. HK imported semi-automatic versions of the gun in modest quantities but an executive order under Bush the First banned further importation. The machinegun ban of 1986 ensured only a small number of the original HK guns were legally converted to fully automatic. These original pre-ban transferable MP5’s cost as must as a nice car nowadays.
The MP5 featured prominently in a number of Hollywood blockbusters, most notably the first Die Hard, and the gun saw wide use by US Army Special Forces, Rangers and Navy SEALs. The well-publicized SAS operation in London sold literally thousands of the guns to American law enforcement agencies. Until recently, however, American civilian shooters were essentially out of luck if they wanted a factory-correct new MP5 of their own.
At 20 meters over open sights the Zenith Z-5 is deadly accurate. This scope alignment
target from Thompson Target splashes when struck to demonstrate hits clearly. The Z-5
delivers precision fire at CQB ranges with all ammo tested.
Several small shops produce essentially hand-built copies of the MP5 out of surplus parts, many of which are salvaged from LE guns. Quality on these clones ranges from decent to garbage with everything in between. However, Zenith Firearms now imports brand new roller-locked guns from Turkey built on HK-licensed machinery that meet original factory specifications in 9mm, .223, and .308. Zenith Z-5 guns are factory new, top-quality semi-automatic MP5’s.
There are rifle versions with 16-inch barrels and buttstocks as well as pistol variants sporting standard 8.9-inch barrels and buttcaps. They also produce shorter pistol versions of the stubby MP5K model including such accurate details as the rear receiver reinforcing plates found on the originals. With a full-sized Zenith Z-5RS pistol as a starting point, mix in an onerous bit of government paperwork and a drop-in sliding stock and you have essentially the same gun the SAS used to liberate Princes Gate.
The only thing cooler than a street-legal MP5 is the same gun sporting a
sound suppressor. Will’s Gemtech G-Core GM-9 threaded in place painlessly.
To legally build a short-barreled rifle you download a BATF Form 1 from the ATF website, fill it out in duplicate, get fingerprinted at your local Law Enforcement agency, and add an utterly ludicrous self-attestation of your US citizenship. Add a check for $200 and then try to think about something else for the several months it inevitably takes to process the paperwork. Once the form comes back approved you get your local trophy shop to engrave your name and address in some discreet spot on the gun, slap on your collapsible stock, and hit the range.
The Z-5RS is a literally perfect rendition of the original MP5 and it also includes a sturdy removable Picatinny optics rail. The gun comes with three 30-round magazines and a factory sling. The HK sling requires an engineering degree to decipher but is remarkably effective. The barrel includes an HK-standard 3-lug suppressor mount and is also threaded 1/2×28.
Most semi-auto MP5 clones attach their fire control groups via a shelf precluding the inclusion of original full auto fire control groups. The Z-5RS, by contrast, includes the obligatory shelf but the FCG affixes via a pair of factory-original push pins. This may seem a small thing but the end result is a spitting image of the original gun. The Z-5 also includes a small steel block to prevent the addition of a factory full-auto bolt carrier.
Magazine changes on the MP5-series guns are a bit slower than your M4 but pack some extra cool points. When the gun runs dry you lock the bolt to the rear, swap magazines and slap the bolt handle down to close the bolt. The process is a wee bit cumbersome but looks awesome.
Original FBI MP5’s were typically issued with semi-auto trigger groups and the compact footprint of the gun combined with the soft-recoiling 9mm cartridge and roller-locked operating system make for a tactical platform that sets the gold standard for work at bad breath ranges. With 30 rounds onboard the Z-5 handles corners like a fine Italian sports car and kicks like a .22 rifle. Running the gun really does demonstrate why the SAS, the planet’s premier counter-terror organization with access to any firearm in the world, opted for the little 9mm subgun for room-clearing duties.
The Z-5 ate everything I could find to feed it. Standard roundnose ball, cheap steel-cased blasting bullets and high-end hollowpoint social rounds of a variety of flavors all ran without a hiccup. It can be tough to find a submachine gun that will feed hollowpoints reliably but the Z-5 didn’t mind a bit.
I threaded my workhorse Gemtech GM9 G-Core sound suppressor onto the barrel and amped up the cool factor even further. The G-Core is nominally a pistol can and includes a Nielsen device for reliable function on a handgun but runs like a scalded ape on the Z-5. A Nielsen device is also known as a Linear Inertial Decoupler, and is necessary to ensure reliable function on a Browning-inspired recoil-operated handgun. When affixed to the snout of the Z5 the Nielsen device remains harmlessly superfluous. The can is also full-auto rated and weighs about nothing.
The Z-5 is remarkably accurate for a pistol-caliber gun and I could easily keep my rounds on a standard silhouette out to a football field with minimal effort. With some decent glass I could consistently nail headshots at the same ranges. The exercise is simply great fun and I can think of no more enjoyable way to kill a lazy Saturday afternoon than to hit the range with my new Z-5 SBR and a bucket load of blasting ammo.
The Zenith Z-5RS includes an 8.9-inch barrel incorporating both an HK-standard tri-lug mount
as well as standard 1/2×28 threads. The GM-9 G-Core sound suppressor from Gemtech is full-auto
rated and includes a Nielsen device for reliable service on a handgun. While this feature is
unnecessary on a fixed-barrel weapon like an MP5 it does make the can remarkably versatile.
The Zenith Z-5RS comes as a pistol but add a bit of onerous federal paperwork and a factory
sliding stock drops right in place.The resulting gun is the genuine spitting image
of a factory MP5 submachine gun.
It really doesn’t take a lot of talent to conjure a factory-reliable MP5 out of a top-quality Zenith Arms Z-5 chassis. The resulting semi-auto subgun might not make you as awesome as the SAS operators at Princes Gate or as cool as Bruce Willis in Die Hard, but it will defend your home against ne’er-do-wells and show you a reliably good time at the range. Thanks to the good folks at Zenith Firearms, we American shooters finally get to own a proper MP5.
P.O. Box 140618
Boise, ID 83714
3651 Apache St NW
Uniontown, OH 44685
The British Special Air Service set the world standard for counter-terror operations
during Operation Nimrod in 1980. Their audacity and élan as a fighting unit are reflected
in their motto “Who Dares Wins” which graces their unique unit badge.
The Armchair Quarterback and Operation Nimrod
I discovered a few surprising things as I was researching this article. It is commonly known the British SAS served as the template for the American Combat Applications Group or Delta Force, and the SAS influence can still be seen in both the organization and mindset of this most elite Tier 1 counterterror unit even today. However, much has changed in the 36 years since B Squadron of the SAS took down Princes Gate.
For starters, the SAS operators who undertook Operation Nimrod were utterly ruthless. In the case of two of the five terrorists killed during this operation, they were discovered unarmed with their hands upraised amidst a crowd of hostages they had just fired upon moments before. Apparently without any real fanfare the SAS assaulters threw both of these unarmed terrorists against a handy wall and killed them outright. The world was shocked a bit by this and there was indeed a subsequent enquiry but the shooters in question were ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing. I have to wonder if our own sensitivities today would tolerate such a performance even though the terrorists in question still had fresh blood on their hands.
Secondly, in at least two of the five engagements resulting in the deaths of terrorists, they were killed with a single continuous 30-round burst from an MP5. Considering this equates out to just a hair over 2 seconds’ worth of full-auto fire at the MP5’s published 750 rounds per minute, it is easy to see how this could unfold during such a furious and dynamic exchange. The MP5 is a notoriously smooth and controllable submachine gun but apparently (to the SAS at least), overkill is not a bad thing.
The Princes Gate operation earned for the UK some justified tactical prestige and shaped the Law enforcement and military special operations landscape of the world to this present day. Nothing really seems to say, “Don’t screw with me, dude,” in a geopolitical sense like black-clad ninja warriors blasting their way into a hardened embassy compound and executing a group of terrorists live on international television. Such stuff earned for Margaret Thatcher the respectful sobriquet “The Iron Lady” and the SAS along with their archetypal German submachine guns a well-deserved reputation as the world’s apex predators.
10950 Rockfish Valley Highway, Suite C
Afton, VA 22920
Action: Roller-locked, delayed blowback
Barrel Length: 8.9 inches
Overall Length: 25.75 inches
Weight (Empty): 6.15 pounds
Sights: Rear drum for elevation & windage, front protected post
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