Heckler & Koch P7M8 9x19mm Pistol

By David Tong

Heckler & Koch P7M8 9x19mm Pistol

In the aftermath of the Munich Olympic tragedy, the German police forces decided that they finally needed to retire the complex and fragile P38 pistol. Walther, Heckler & Koch and SIG-Sauer, among others rose, to the occasion and developed new semi-automatic service pistols.

SIG-Sauer contributed the P6, known in this country commercially as the P-228, Walther brought out their P5, which was a modernized P-38 with an enclosed barrel, combination slide stop and decocking lever, while H&K came up with the PSP (Police Self-loading Pistol), later known as the P7. As usual, H&K, known even more for different and innovative designs that Walther, came up with what is, in my opinion, possibly the best compact service pistol ever made.


  • Type: semi-auto, single-action service pistol
  • Operating system: Recoil operated, retarded inertia slide
  • Caliber: 9mm Luger (9x19mm)
  • Cartridge capacity: 8+1
  • Overall length: 6.73 inches
  • Overall height: 5.9 inches
  • Barrel length: 4.13 inches
  • Sights: Patridge type w/three white dot inserts
  • Sight radius: 5.83 inches
  • Width: 1.1 inches
  • Weight: 28 ounces
  • Finish: Satin blue or nickel
  • Grips: Plastic
  • Country of Origin: Germany
  • 2003 MSRP: $1,472.00

Nearly a century earlier, the German military and police were equipped with a 9x19mm caliber, striker-fired, single column magazine pistol of unusual design and operation generally known as the Luger in the US, but as the Parabellum P-08 in Germany.

In the 1970s, H&K went to work on the design of another pistol of entirely different design, but similar idiosyncrasy, which became the P7. The new pistol dispensed with a manual safety, decocking lever and external slide release. Instead, there was a spring-loaded, sheet metal cocking lever that served as the front strap of the grip. This part served all three functions.

After a loaded magazine has been inserted with the slide open, depressing this lever ("squeeze cocking") closes the slide and loads the chamber. The striker protrudes from the rear of the slide indicating it is ready to fire and the extractor protrudes slightly from the right side of the slide to indicate a loaded chamber. About seven pounds of force is required to compress the squeeze cocking lever, but only 1.5 pounds is necessary to hold it closed.

Hold the squeeze cocking lever in and the P7M8 has a relatively clean, single-action trigger with about a 4.5 pound pull. One can continue firing until the gun is empty, or release pressure on the front strap to de-cock the pistol and make it completely safe.

This squeeze cocking operation may seem odd at first, but it quickly becomes natural, at least to me. The P7M8's all steel construction increases weight, reducing recoil. It has the absolute lowest bore axis of any handgun with which I am familiar, so muzzle rise between shots is as minimal as any handgun probably permits, due to this geometry. Accurate and very fast repeat shots are possible.

The operating system is a unique, gas-delayed blowback action. There is a small hole just ahead of the chamber and, as the bullet passes it, a small amount of gas helps prevent the rearward travel of a striated piston that is pinned to the slide. This provides that the pressures drop to a safe level before the empty case is forcibly ejected. It is ingenious, mechanically simple and requires few parts.

The barrel is fixed, which typically enhances accuracy compared to a Browning tilting barrel mechanism. It features polygonal rifling to minimize the accumulation of residue.

The P7 was one of the first pistols to employ both front and rear dovetailed sights, which allows easy sight replacement. Not only did H&K use white plastic inserts, rather than the usual fragile white paint, on the stock sights, these inserts are the same diameter as Trijicon night sight inserts. No sight replacement is required to upgrade to tritium night sights and the point of impact and aim remain constant.

Another rather unique feature, in a pistol full of them, is the offset magazine well, compared to the 72-degree grip angle found on the Model 1911 and many other pistols. The magazine inserts into the slightly beveled grip bottom almost vertically and helps make feeding nearly flawless. Indeed, famous firearms writer and law officer Massad Ayoob once used a P7M8 as a range pistol for people taking his classes. If I recall correctly, he wrote that this pistol fired over 4,500 rounds without failure with only an occasional drop of oil to keep it running. (However, the system could be finicky. A P7M8 owned by a friend jammed regularly, for no apparent reason. -Editor)

The original P7 had a European style heel clip magazine release. This release was better than the usual "press to the rear and manually extract the magazine heel clip." On the P7, you push the clip and the magazine drops out without requiring manually extraction.

After complaints from potential clients, the company replaced the heel clip with bilateral magazine release levers on the frame sides. This new magazine release was fully ambidextrous, consisting of two small sheet metal tabs at the rear base of the trigger guard. When pressed downward, the high quality, eight shot magazine is ejected from the pistol with alacrity and the design is all but immune to accidental magazine dumps when handling or holstering.

Other improvements include a lengthened trigger guard for easier use when wearing gloves. A plastic heat shield was added under the internal gas tube to control heat on the trigger finger during longer firing strings.

The cold hammer forged, polygonally-rifled barrel uses a trick from the Company's military rifle; it has a fluted chamber. This allows gas pressure to float the empty case out of the chamber. It works so well that the extractor only exists on these pistols in order to make the ejection pattern more consistent.

Field stripping the P7M8 for cleaning is exceptionally easy. Remove the magazine and check to ensure the chamber is empty. With the slide either closed or open (it does not matter), depress the small spring loaded button on the left rear of the frame, lift the rear of the slide up and slide it forward off the barrel. When you remove the recoil spring from around the barrel (optional), you are left with only two parts in your hand. Reassemble in reverse order, except the button does not need to be depressed.

As usual, the US H&K distributor priced the P7M8 very high. This and the unusual manual-of-arms stopped many civilian buyers from owning one. The New Jersey State Police were among the relatively few departments that adopted the P7M8. The LA County Sheriff's Department allowed its Special Enforcement Bureau personnel on-duty, as well as line deputies off-duty, to carry P7s into the mid-1990s. The P7 was offered from approximately 1986-2003.

I have owned two H&K P7M8 pistols over the years and would love to have another one. I like its relatively compact overall size, controllable recoil impulse and four inch barrel. It is usable, easily carried and capable. I routinely obtained two inch or smaller five shot groups, hand-held, at 25 yards with nearly every type of ammo available at the time.

Like the Luger, the Heckler & Koch P7M8 is a unique pistol. There is nothing else like it.

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