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Photo by Christoph von Forstner

HK VP-70, the vintage PDW

Kristóf Nagy gives us a look at the Heckler & Koch VP-70, the pistol that paved the way for polymer and striker-fired pistols decades ago.

With the new Heckler & Koch VP 9 entering the market in the last weeks we tend to forget that it was this German company who paved the way for polymer framed and striker fired pistols decades ago with a design that seems to be more or less forgotten today. The name of this unusual firearm is VP-70.

In 1972 the German gun magazine DWJ featured a lengthy article about a new HK pistol. Obviously written by an insider or employee of the large gun manufacturer based in Oberndorf, a small town in what was the southern part of then West Germany, the information that was revealed sounded very promising. A brand new, double action only heavy duty, polymer framed pistol with an exceptionally large magazine capacity for its time. More than 40-years later we look back at the story of this exotic firearm and try to find answers why it never really became a commercial success.

The first time I saw the VP-70 I mistook it for a blown up HK P9, with a different trigger guard. A closer inspection of the firearm revealed some unique improvements over its famous smaller brother. The VP-70 seems to be ahead of its time with well thought out ergonomics. There is just one simple crossblock safety that is well placed behind the trigger and the deep finger groves make the grip very comfortable and secure despite the lack of texturing on the surface. By gripping the pistol one will instantly realize that the weight of the VP-70 is definitely not on the light side at 820g unloaded. But think again. This is a firearm that was designed in the late 1960s and compared to the steel framed pistols of its time it is pretty lightweight. The reason for the extra weight is revealed on closer inspection. The VP-70 is a blowback design that has no mechanical locking of the breech. It relies on the weight of the slide and the strength of the recoil spring to delay the opening of the breech until the projectile has left the barrel. This is nothing exotic in itself since the Walther PPK or the Makarov pistols work the same way, but you will not see this very often in a fullsize 9x19mm service pistol that is for sure!

Photo by Christoph von Forstner

Operating the VP-70 requires muscle. It starts with holding it; racking the slide to chamber a round will also require strength to overcome the powerful recoil spring, although there is no hammer that needs to be cocked since the VP-70 has a spring loaded striker. But, pulling the trigger is when the real exercise begins. The 4500g double action only trigger needs practices and some familiarization time. This also applies to the sights, where the front sight is wider than the rear sight. The shooter has to place a notch in the front post in between the two elements of the rear sight. Picking up a proper sight picture in diffuse light becomes a challenge with the VP-70. The hefty trigger pull is easily explained when the firearm is dismantled. To do so, one just pulls down the dismantling lever in front of the trigger guard and the slide can be pulled of forward from the fixed barrel and that’s it. You should not bother with the rest without expert guidance. The first glimpse inside the frame reveals two trigger bars instead of one. This feature is one of the sources for the hefty trigger pull but can be reduced by the use of some lubricants. The fixed barrel setup should provide a high amount of precision theoretically, but the already mentioned trigger pull and sights are not really helping with accuracy. There is also no slide lock that might confuse some shooters in the beginning. Another interesting feature of the VP-70 is the 18-round, double column magazine. Again, this was designed more than a decade before the Glock pistol! This high round capacity is well suited to the intended purpose of the firearm. It was constructed to provide air and vehicle crews a very compact weapon with a lot of firepower. The first real Personal Defense Weapon (PDW) was born.

Photo by Christoph von Forstner

To a achieve a high rate of fire that is still controllable, the designers from Heckler & Koch borrowed the idea of a solid holster that doubles as a shoulder stock from the Mauser C96 pistol. The stock not only improves accuracy it also houses a selector switch that can be toggled between a semi-auto and a 3-round burst function that comes at an amazing rate of 2000 rounds a minute. Despite the high rate and the stock it is quite a challenge to keep all three rounds on an IPSC target from farther away than 10-meters. This might be one of the reasons why the VP-70 never scored a real commercial success. It was never fielded with the German Federal Armed Forces although it was intended for them. The German Army stuck to the UZI submachine gun that provided a higher magazine capacity and the ability to engage targets even beyond 100-meters easily and without being significantly bulkier than the VP-70.

Photo by Christoph von Forstner

The Heckler & Koch VP-70 was modified for the civilian market and was marketed as a semi-auto only with moderate success, so that production ceased in 1989. Today these guns are becoming more and more sought after as collectibles and the full-automatic military models are even more rare. Although nearly forgotten, the VP-70 was the first polymer framed pistol to be manufactured, ever, and with its other interesting features it deserves its own chapter in the history book of innovative firearms.

Visit Heckler & Koch online at In the United States visit and find HK on Facebook at

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