Introduced in 1968, the HK33 was Heckler & Koch’s adaptation of their roller-delay operating system to the 5.56mm / .223 Remington cartridge.
In addition to the standard full-length rifle (with a 15.35 inch barrel), a shorter version was made as the HK33K (with a collapsing stock and 12.4 inch barrel). HK also made a “submachine gun” variant, the HK53 (with an 8.3 inch barrel).
The HK33 is overshadowed by its big brother the G3, and although it was not officially adopted by the Bundeswehr, it did see quite a bit of use with German federal and state police forces, UK armed police, the SAS and SBS, Danish and German special forces, and also nearly became the new rifle of the French Army in the 1970s, and was also adopted by dozens of other countries. It was also licensed to several countries for local manufacture: including; Thailand – which bought 40,000 rifles and the rights to manufacture 30,000 more – Portugal, and Turkey – which has manufactured thousands of the rifle in various variations at the state-owned MKEK corporation. In the US the rifle was also popular in the 1970s and ’80s in its civilian form as the HK93.
The HK33 and 53 have always been one of my personal favorites, and I’ve always thought that the only things HK should have done to improve the platforms’ popularity and useability would have been to add a last-round, bolt-hold-open device, and to provide an ambidextrous fire selector as well.
In the video below, Ian from Forgotten Weapons gets up close and personal with a representative sample of the family.