What Happened to the HK P9 & P9S? By: Travis Pike

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Heckler and Koch have long been known for their innovation in the firearms world.

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HK P9S in 9mm (Photo: Wikipedia)

In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, they were popping off with new and exciting guns seemingly all the time. Some of their most legendary, like the HK G11, the P7, and MP5, came to be during this era.

One firearm series that often gets ignored and forgotten about is the HK P9 and the P9S. This handgun fell between the rather innovative but somewhat atrocious HK VP70 and the beloved HK P7 series.

HK P9S (Bottom), HK P7 (Left), and the HK VP70 (Top) — (Photo: u/retep4891)

The P9 hit the market in 1969 and was produced until 1973. The P9 was a single-action-only weapon made in relatively small numbers. There seems to be some debate about how many, but estimates place it between 450 and 550 units.

In 1973 the P9S came to be and saw production up until 1995.

Table of Contents


Just Rolling Rolling Rolling

Many people know HK for the MP5 and the famed roller-delayed blowback operation. They used that same roller-delayed operation on their rifles, notably the G3.

HK decided to take that mechanism, shrink it, and cram it into a pistol.

The MP5 was HK’s first gun to use its innovative roller-delayed blowback design.

Roller-delayed blowback seemed to be the theme HK was chasing at the time. The P9S features that system, along with a polygonal rifled fixed barrel and a polymer buffer where the guide rod would usually sit.

The P9 utilizes a stamped metal frame, much like the MP5. The gun uses plastic grips and a very odd trigger guard attachment that runs the length of the front strap of the grip.

The P9S trigger guard/front strap. (Photo: picclick)

Stamping steel into a round trigger guard might’ve been tricky. Germany also gets cold, and the idea might have to make it easier to swap to a longer trigger guard for gloved use. However, that’s just my theory.

While the P9 proved durable, controllable, and reliable, the P9S offered more flexibility. The DA/SA design of the P9S gave shooters that long double-action pull for the first shot and a lighter single action for subsequent shots.

An HK P9S chambered in .45 ACP. (Photo: HKpro u/Vmon)

The Cocker – Decocker

The P9S used a hammer concealed inside the slide, so manually cocking the hammer is impossible, right? HK found a way around this by equipping the gun with a decocker that also functions as a cocker — oh, it was also the slide release.

At first glance, the P9S appears to be hammerless, but you can see the tip of the hammer near the rear of the frame, and the cutout in the rear of the slide (top right) for the hammer to travel. (Photo: Smallarmsreview)

Shooters could press the device down to cock the pistol into single-action mode. Decocking involved a rather unsafe by modern standards approach where shooters pushed the decocker downward and pulled the trigger.

Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons has an excellent look at the odd mechanisms of the P9S.

The weapon uses a single-stack magazine that holds nine rounds of 9mm or seven rounds of .45 ACP. In true European fashion, the magazine release is a heel type that promotes magazine retention but slows the reload process.

In the Field

West Germany adopted the P9S for their elite GSG 9 police unit. It was also adopted by Japan and the United States Navy SEALs.

A photo of a German GSG9 unit sporting HK P9S pistols, circa the late 1970s. (Photo: TeufelshundTactical)

One of the benefits of almost any blowback design is a fixed barrel. Fixed barrels help with accuracy, but they also make suppressor use easy. Special Operations like the SEAL teams prioritized suppressed weapons, and the P9S was just right.

A fixed barrel isn’t affected by the weight of a suppressor like a short recoil weapon. This means no booster is needed for reliable suppressed operation, which drew the SEALs in like a moth to a flame.

HK P9S sporting an AAC Ti-Rant 9mm suppressor. (Photo: moto4moto4)

In service, the P9 and P9S proved to be capable weapons. They were robust, reliable, and accurate. The delayed blowback system was neat and effective. So where did it go?

Final Thoughts

By 1978 the P9S was showing its weaknesses. The single stack magazine was nothing to brag about, and heel magazine releases were so World War II. Duty pistols were changing.

HK also had the P7 series, which proved to be popular and capable pistols, quickly outshining the P9S and P9. The P7 was popular enough for HK to produce the P7M13, which introduced a double-stack magazine and brought the company more in line with the standards of the time.

HK P9S GS3 Competition
Pictured above is the HK P9S Sport Group 3 Competition model as shown with match barrel weight, adjustable sights, and wooden competition grip. (Photo: Gunauction)

The P9S and P9 aged out of usefulness, with newer designs coming from Beretta, S&W, and other competitors. It couldn’t keep up, and HK quietly retired the weapon.

The P9 was pretty innovative for the time but remains relatively forgotten by most people who aren’t HK fans.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below. Interested in other roller-delayed guns? Take a look at our article on the 10 Best Roller-Delayed Subguns and Rifles.