While submachine guns may be part of a shrinking niche of firearms, these weapons still have a firm grip on our imaginations, in film and TV, and in the world’s culture. Two of the most famous SMGs of all time are the Heckler and Koch MP5 and the Uzi submachine gun. In some ways, these firearms are very similar. They are both primarily 9mm SMGs, they were both adopted worldwide, and both are part of the great cultural zeitgeist.
Public Enemy provided us with lyrics like ‘My Uzi weighs a ton,” and the MP5 starred in ‘Die Hard,’ a legendary action film. Movies, video games, and music have immortalized the MP5 and Uzi and made them something beyond firearms. Today we are breaking down both firearms and seeing who comes out on top.
When Uziel Gal designed the Uzi in 1954, the most common form of SMG was an open bolt design. World War II saw massive use of SMGs, including guns like the M3, the Thompson, the MP 40, and many others. These were all open bolt designs, and it made sense that the open bolt blowback design was chosen for the Uzi. Mechanically it’s a simpler system, and the new nation of Israel needed weapons and needed to produce them quickly and affordably.
The MP5 uses a more complicated roller delayed blowback system that operates from a closed bolt. The MP5 might not have been the first closed bolt SMG, but it was the most influential. After production began in the early 1960s, the MP5’s system helped make open bolt SMGs obsolete.
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Closed bolt systems are more difficult to produce but ultimately more reliable than an open bolt design. The closed bolt prevents crud from entering the weapon, and the balance doesn’t shift for the first shot and causes potential accuracy issues.
The Uzi’s blowback design works but does create excessive recoil and weight. The MP5’s use of a roller delay added cost to the weapon but reduced recoil and lightened the load, so to speak. Ultimately the closed bolt system delivers a more reliable firearm, and that’s why every SMG is designed since the MP5 uses a closed bolt.
Outside of their operating systems, these guns have some major external differences. The Uzi pioneered the telescoping bolt design, which allowed the magazine to fit inside the pistol grip. This placement allows the Uzi to be shorter than the MP5, with an overall length of 25 inches with a ten-inch barrel. The MP5 is 27.6 inches long overall with an 8.9-inch barrel.
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The MP5 uses a more traditional magazine forward of the pistol grip. This allows the layout to be more akin to a modern rifle than a handgun. Outside of some space-saving, the difference between magazine locations isn’t a big deal. The MP5’s traditional design tends to be easier to use in the prone, but the Uzi design tends to make it easier to use the weapon one-handed.
The Uzi began life in the early 50s, and the MP5 saw life in the early 60s. While ten years made be significant, they are both still products of their time. However, the MP5 has seemingly aged better ergonomically. Neither has a last-round bolt hold-open device, so you know you’re out of ammo when the gun goes click instead of a bang.
With the Uzi, we get a sliding paddle-style release placed at the bottom of the grip. It works well as long as you’re right-handed. The MP5 provides either a magazine release button or an ambidextrous magazine release paddle sitting right behind the magazine. The MP5 provides a much more intuitive option for reloads.
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The safety selector on the Uzi is a sliding tab that works well. Righties can use their thumb to move the safety, and lefties can use their trigger finger. The MP5 uses a selector lever that can be ambidextrous and often is. The lever is actually a hassle to reach while maintaining a firing grip regardless of which hand. While not ambidextrous, the Uzi selector is easy to use with either hand.
The Uzi also has a grip safety, which isn’t a big issue, but it’s one more thing to break and hang up. The pistol grip of the Uzi is massive because it has to accommodate a double-stack, double-feed magazine. It’s like gripping a 2×4 compared to the svelte MP5 grip.
The Uzi’s charging handle is non-reciprocating and ambidextrous because it sits on top of the gun. The MP5 charging handle sits above the barrel and forward of the shooter. It’s really easy to use…as long as you are right-handed.
The MP5 is a more reliable, more accurate, more controllable, and lighter platform that’s ultimately more modular and modern. The Uzi is one of the finest open bolt SMGs ever, but it’s being an open bolt design hinders its capabilities. Ultimately the reason the MP5 still sees so much service in the modern world is because of its accuracy, controllability, and reliability.
The Uzi’s biggest flaw comes from that open bolt design and the downsides to such a design. That’s not to say the MP5 isn’t a dated gun. It’s been surpassed by newer designs for sure, but with the SMG field shrinking, and it’s unlikely a lot of these new guns will ever get the same fame as the MP5.
While both guns served dozens of countries, it’s rare to find an Uzi in a modern military or police force’s use. However, the MP5 sticks around and will likely continue to do so for some time. Heck, even HK can’t seem to replace it with the UMP SMG.