The Best of the Blowbacks: Mauser HSc and the Heckler & Koch Model 4
Mauser’s HSc (top) and Heckler & Koch’s Model 4 (bottom) share many of the same design features, mainly because they also shared a designer, although there were several decades between the two pistols’ developments.
In the April 2022 issue of Shooting Illustrated, this column looked at my all-time favorite carry gun, the Colt Model M or 1903/1908. This month we look at my favorite European semi-automatic, the Mauser HSc and its cousin, the Heckler & Koch Model 4.
Although Hugo Borchardt is widely credited with introducing the world to the semi-automatic pistol—called self-loading pistol at the time—with his C93 in 1893, that pistol was eclipsed by the C96 “Broomhandle” of Paul Mauser. Only 3,000 of Borchardt’s C93s were made during the model’s 10 years of production. Mauser’s pistol was produced from 1896 to 1937 and had more than one million manufactured and hundreds of thousands more copied by unlicensed makers. It wasn’t long before firearm luminaries such as John Moses Browning, Georg Luger and Fritz Walther were designing and producing semi-automatics for personal defense.
By the 1930s, Germany had two powerhouses competing for the commercial handgun market: Walther and Mauser. Mauser had drawn first blood with its C96, but that was not considered a personal-protection weapon at the time—it was mostly sold for military use. Fritz Walther started designing and marketing .32 ACP pistols in 1908, and Mauser started with the .25 ACP Model 1910 and upgraded it to .32 caliber in 1914.
Walther introduced the PP in 1929 and the PPK in 1931, and seemed to have a dominant position, as Mauser’s only contribution during that timeframe was an updated version of the Model 1914 called the Model 1934. But, just as World War II was beginning to rage across Europe in 1939, Mauser introduced the HSc in .32 ACP, perhaps the sleekest and finest of all of the European semi-autos of the age.
The Mauser HSc was a simple double-action, blowback design with a partially concealed hammer. It had dignified lines and held a natural point-of-aim that makes it one of the handsomest handguns designed in the post-percussion-pistol era. The Mauser HSc is so named as Mauser’s Hahn Selbstspanner (self-cocking hammer) and the small “c” indicated that it was the third variant or production model.
More than 300,000 of the stunningly beautiful HSc models were produced during its short production run between 1940 and 1945. Contracts with the German Army, Navy and police units accounted for most of the production, with a smaller number available for commercial sales. Following the war, the French military, using Mauser machinery from Oberndorf, produced some 14,000 additional HScs, and the Norwegian military acquired a few thousand, marked them with its crest and used them for years after the war.
I’ve always liked the lines of the HSc over those of the PP and PPK and had thoroughly wished Ian Fleming had felt similarly when he wrote about his master spy, James Bond. But alas, Fleming gave Bond a Walther PP and he has used one ever since. (Although in 1983’s “Never Say Never Again,” 007 uses a silenced HSc while testing it in Q’s indoor gun range.)
Both the Mauser HSc and Walther’s PP and PPK were manufactured by their post-war, reorganized companies and imported into the U.S. via Interarms, and saw widespread appreciation by the American gun-buying public for decades.
A few years ago, Heckler & Koch-USA CEO Francisco Hidalgo gave me the opportunity to visit the company’s famous “Grey Room” in Oberndorf, Germany. He gave NRA Publications Executive Director Doug Hamlin and me a tour of HK’s museum collection and the history behind the company. Located on a hill just above the old Mauser factory, the Grey Room housed all of HK’s treasures, including the first handgun that it produced in 1967, the HK 4 or Model 4.I was immediately drawn to its sheer beauty that gave me the same feeling that I had when I first laid eyes on an HSc.
Now, I must confess that my primary interest in firearms used to abruptly end with anything produced after V-J Day. I was happy to be in Oberndorf for the first time, but I secretly wished there was a Mauser museum comparable to HK’s Grey Room to visit. Hidalgo was quick to fill me in on some background history that I am ashamed to admit I didn’t know the first thing about before I had arrived.
The story of HK and its Model 4 began in 1949, when HK was formed by three former Mauser engineers. We all know HK stands for Heckler & Koch, but there were three founding partners—the third was Alex Seidel. He had joined former colleagues Edmund Heckler and Theodor Koch to form HK as an equal partner. While Seidel’s name isn’t reflected in the corporate logo, he was nonetheless one of its most valued assets. Famed for the design and development of the G3 rifle in 1959, HK was given permission from the West German government to produce handguns in 1967. The reason the HK Model 4 bears so many similarities to the Mauser HSc is that Seidel designed them both—almost 30 years apart.
The HK 4 is innovative in that it was available in four chamberings: .22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP and .380 ACP, each interchangeable with the same slide and frame. You could buy all four barrels and magazines and just switch them with the same slide/frame or just buy the one caliber that suited you best. In excess of 50,000 were produced by HK between 1967 and the end of production in 1984. Harrington & Richardson imported many of these models for sale to the U.S. market.
So, as Paul Harvey used to say, now you know the rest of the story. Seidel outlived his more famous firearm manufacturing partners by decades and his contributions to both Mauser and Heckler & Koch live on. His name might not be as well-known as those of his contemporaries, but we certainly know his inventions.
Article by PHILIP SCHREIER, SENIOR CURATOR, NRA MUSEUMS