An Overview of the Heckler & Koch G3

Recently I’ve looked at the FN FAL as an option for anyone who wants a good general purpose rifle, but for whatever reason doesn’t like the AR platform. I’m not a fan of the 5.56mm round at all, so the appeal of a highly reliable 7.62 alternative is obvious. The FAL isn’t the only heavy calibre rifle on the market by a long way, though. Another popular choice is its main rival among NATO battle rifles – the Heckler & Koch G3.

The G3 has a complicated history. It began as the Sturmgewehr 45(M), an experimental assault rifle in 7.92x33mm Kurz, developed in the last days of the Third Reich. After the war, its designers continued work on the project; first in France and then with CETME in Spain. There, the design was refined and developed into the 7.62mm NATO CETME Model B. The newly formed West German Army bought an improved version of the rifle, built under licence by Heckler & Koch, in 1959 and named it the Gewehr 3.

Since then, the G3 has been license-built in many countries, including Turkey, Portugal and Pakistan and, while it never became as popular as the generally superior FAL, it can still be found almost anywhere in the world. Ex-military G3s almost never make it to the USA but there is a civilian semiautomatic-only variant, the HK91, and various US-made clones. The clones are usually built on tooling acquired from license producers, so are pretty much identical to original HK weapons.

G3As a survival rifle the HK has a lot going for it. The ergonomics aren’t quite up to the FAL’s standard; the main problem is the cocking handle, which is mounted well forward on the left side of the handguard. The safety catch is well placed though, and can be easily operated with the thumb of the trigger hand – a lot of rifles have an ambidextrous safety, too. It’s also a reliable weapon and the few possible stoppages are all quickly cleared. Unlike most battle or assault rifles, it’s not gas operated; instead it’s a delayed blowback system with locking rollers in the trunnion, a rearward extension of the barrel.

This means only the trunnion needs to be built to take firing stresses, so the one-piece receiver can be a simple sheet steel stamping. This does make it less robust than a FAL or M1A, but unless you plan on using it as a hammer or running your truck over it that shouldn’t be an issue. One thing to say is that the HK91 – or any other roller-locked H&K weapon – gets absolutely filthy during firing. A lot of gas vents into the receiver, and while there’s no reliability issue with that, expect to clean out plenty of carbon.

The standard fixed-stock G3/HK91 is about four inches shorter than other NATO battle rifles thanks to its 17.4-inch barrel, but still a lot longer than an M4 clone. If you want a more compact weapon, look at having the barrel cut down to 16 inches – you can go to 12.4 inches if you don’t mind the SBR paperwork – and fit the H&K collapsible stock. What you’ll have then is a semiauto version of the military G3KA4, a favourite of British Special Forces; it gives 7.62mm firepower in a package six inches longer than an MP5. Collapse the stock and it’s an inch shorter than an M4 – but packs 20 full-bore rounds.

Because the cocking handle is part of the handguard assembly, it’s not easy to fit a rail system to a G3-type rifle, but there’s a wide range of mounts available if you want to fit an optical sight, and it’s not hard to mount lasers or tactical lights on them. If you can get a military handguard it also has the hardware to fit a folding bipod.

A G3 or clone isn’t quite as reliable as a FAL or as accurate as an M1A, but it’s still an excellent and dependable weapon. Like any rifle it’s massively overpowered for home defense, but for general use or in a SHTF situation it’s a great choice – and usually a lot cheaper than its rivals.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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1 thought on “An Overview of the Heckler & Koch G3

  1. Good to see a dedicated post on this battle rifle which has been around for nearly 50 years but is completely overshadowed by the M16 and Kalashnikov. Everyone recognizes an MP5, which uses the same layout as the G3 in a smaller package – but they generally won’t know the name of the big HK rifle!

    While the M16 and M4 are prized trophy weapons for Daesh (ISIS) in Iraq/Syria, the same cannot be said about the G3 in Pakistan for its domestic Taliban movement. Whenever you see footage of the Pak Taliban, the militants are almost never seen with Pak Army weapons like the G3 and MG3 – even though you’ll expect guerrillas to take ANY firearm they can lay their hands on.

    I asked a knowledgeable source who was a guest speaker at RUSI (the defense think tank) about why this was the case. He said that the Taliban has never captured enough Army weapons (like the G3) to appear in significant numbers; also the Pak Army would not allow huge quantities of weapons to fall into enemy hands like the Iraqis in Mosul 2014.

    Another individual at the same event supported this assertion by mentioning that the AK and PKM are already available in large quantities to the Taliban, while their lighter weight makes them far more suitable than the big German made weapons used by the Pak Army.

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