By Will Dabbs, MD
Hitler's Germany in 1941 was heady with success. The war was going well on all fronts and the German Wehrmacht was rolling across Europe, Asia, and Africa like a juggernaut. Faced with a military buildup unprecedented in the history of the planet, German industry responded with a combination of spectacular Teutonic engineering and frenetic enthusiasm.
For all their depraved politics and hopelessly corrupt morality, the Nazis exhibited a degree of military innovation the ramifications of which are still resonating today. Across the spectrum of battlespace the German war machine transformed the way war was fought. From combat aircraft and U-boats to armored vehicles and small arms the wartime German industrial complex taught the world how to think outside the box. Nowhere was this more typified than in their belt-fed machineguns.
The MG 34 was the world's first truly general-purpose machine gun. Capable of being fired on the move during an assault and serviced in a pinch by a single soldier, the MG 34 was the world's first effort at filling the need for an anti-aircraft weapon, a tripod-mounted crew served support gun, a tank MG, and a man-portable weapon capable of accompanying troops on an assault in a single small arms platform. While it came close to being all those things, the gun hearkened back to an interwar period when building guns out of big blocks of steel was still a luxury a modern military might enjoy. Faced with a demand that hopelessly outstripped supply, German industry went back to the drawing board.
The wartime firm of Johannes Grossfuss Metall Fabrik designed and produced the MG 42 as an eventual successor to the MG 34. Development began in early 1937 and eventually culminated in troop trials in 1941. Before the war ended 400,000 guns were produced. Curiously, Johannes Grossfuss Metall Fabrik had never designed a firearm before. As such, they started literally with a blank page and brought a fresh perspective to the art of gun design that many of their gun-building forebears lacked. The resulting delayed roller blowback action incorporated into a package comprised primarily of sheet metal stampings was both ingenious and ideally suited for mass production. In the MG 42, locking was accomplished by means of a pair of rollers that settled into a corresponding pair of recesses in the breech face. These rollers forced the bolt to remain in battery until chamber pressures had dropped to levels sufficiently benign to facilitate safe extraction. The resulting machine gun was reliable, supremely lethal, and relatively cheap. In the last months of the war German engineers began adapting this recoil system to a shoulder-fired, magazine-fed platform.
As the war wound to a close, the roller-locked assault rifle chambered for the then-revolutionary 7.92x33mm cartridge was in prototype stage. In the disorder and chaos that was post-war Europe the designers of this new weapon took their design to Spain. They subsequently perfected the system and produced the gun as the Spanish CETME battle rifle chambered in 7.62x51mm. In an odd turn of events, the design was then purchased and brought back to Germany where it was tweaked here and there and then mass-produced by Heckler and Koch as the G 3. The G 3 was successfully marketed and sold around the world.
As military technology advanced, the H&K engineers adapted their platform to new missions and applications. The MP 5 represented the basic G 3 action chambered for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge while the HK 33 incorporated the same action chambered in 5.56x45mm. While relatively widely distributed, the HK 33 never quite found the commercial legs as did its larger and smaller brethren.
During the golden years of black rifle collecting in the late seventies and early eighties it was a buyer's market. There were not very many commercial offerings and a relatively small pool of committed American enthusiasts willing to put money on semiautomatic versions of contemporary military small arms. The basic selection at the time consisted of the AR-15 (made at the time solely by Colt), the ArmaLite AR-180, the Israeli Galil, the Steyr AUG, a smattering of Valmet Kalashnikov clones, and the H&K 91, 93, and 94 in .308, .223, and 9mm respectively.
An HK 93 could be picked up in the early eighties for about $600. The import ban under the first President Bush restricted foreign made "assault weapons" and served to drive the prices of these early imports up to a point where it was just not fun to buy and shoot them any more.
Now fast forward twenty-five years and the most amazing thing has happened. A hybrid clone of that very HK 93 is back on the U.S. market and it sports about the same price tag it did a quarter century ago, not even adjusted for inflation.
Century Arms has carved out a niche market by taking de-milled military weapons from overseas stores and resurrecting them on U.S. made receivers. The list of guns of this sort that they offer is long and this author recently had opportunity to pick up one of their HK 93 clones and was very pleasantly surprised at the product.
There have been some legitimate concerns about the quality of domestically produced HK clones from a variety of manufacturers as well as some specific complaints about Century products in the past. While addressing those issues is beyond the scope of this article, rest assured that this author's C93 clone is the cat's pajamas.
The fit and finish are fairly nice. There is a set of markings on the side of the magazine well that looks like it was removed with a Dremel tool and my particular rifle has a tiny aesthetic welding flaw where the sight meets the receiver. There is also an equally esoteric nick in the sheet metal around the ejection port. That having been said, c'mon, I got an HK 93 clone for $600 bucks. So long at it is reliable and effective I'll cut them some slack.
The guts and furniture are original H&K dated in the mid to late seventies and are in nicely serviceable condition with some scant finish wear. The magazine is of the lightweight aluminum forty-round variety and sports an ingenious dual spring design that gives the mag a little extra boost when fully loaded. After more than a thousand rounds I have yet to have a problem with mine.
The icing on the cake is that the rifle comes stock with an original factory full auto bolt carrier. What that means is that you can take this low-end $600 clone rifle, drop in a registered trigger pack, and enjoy some classic full auto sweetness without having to dump more than two grand on a new 5.56mm host. The cyclic rate on full auto is a sedate 600 rounds per minute or so right out of the box.
Accuracy in semiautomatic is about what you would expect. It's based on an assault rifle. It carries a lot of rounds and hits reasonable-sized targets out to reasonable distances. If you want to hit a dime at a hundred meters, invest in a decent bolt action sniper system. If you want to while away an afternoon turning bulk .223 into noise, this is your plaything.
The basic H&K chassis is a generation behind the M4 as regards ergonomics. The sex appeal of jacking the bolt back via the left-sided charging handle for every single magazine change grows tiresome on about the third mag and you have my pity if you have to manage this task for any extended period left-handed. The stock C93 lacks the flapper magazine release but anyone who has managed an AR or M4 does just fine with the same right-sided button on the magazine well. Original magazines are spendy and at times tough to find. However, there are already aftermarket synthetic versions showing up that even sport those nifty locking lugs from the G 36 mags that allow you to hook multiple units together if desired. The U.S. gun market is awash in innovation and a little Google Fu will turn up more ditzels to hang onto your new C93 than any of us might ever seriously need.
The original H&K roller locked rifles are legacy systems these days. The guts are made of steel rather than aluminum or plastic and the practical tactical stuff is a little slower than what you might find with a tricked out M4. However, it is still a very cool black rifle currently available at a very reasonable price. If you are fortunate enough to own a registered sear or trigger pack and you want to add a whole new dimension to your full auto shooting experience without having to hock the car or sell a kidney, then the Century Arms C93 Sporter is the new black rifle toy for you. It is well worth the money.
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