The Crew-Served Handgun


The HK MK 23 is part of the standard loadout for
the well-dressed 1990s-vintage Navy SEAL.

Back in the 1990s, the U.S. Special Operations Command set out to rewrite the book on combat handguns. The failure of the FBI’s 9mm loadings to stop two homicidal lunatics during the Miami-Dade County shootout was fresh on everyone’s minds. Meanwhile, SOCOM was busy transforming Close Quarters Battle into the rarefied art form it is today. Along the way, somebody decided we needed a kind of arithmetic mean between a typical combat pistol and a pistol-caliber submachine gun. The result was the Heckler & Koch MK 23.

The MK 23 is an absolute monster of a pistol. With the Knights Armament sound suppressor and Insight Technologies Laser Aiming Module installed, the weapon is 16.5″ long and tips the scales at 5 lbs. The resulting package weighs more than a typical brick (no kidding, a brick weighs 4.3 lbs.) and is not concealable underneath anything less substantial than a burqa. However, I have nonetheless coveted one of these things ever since I was a young buck. Something about this enormous gun is just plain cool.

The HK MK 23 is unique among the pantheon of modern combat
handguns. The pictures don’t do it justice, this thing is enormous.

Hunting Monsters

Radislav Zaric was an inveterate butcher. One of the principal architects of the Srebrenica Massacre, Zaric had overseen the extermination of some 8,000 POWs during the Bosnian War. He referred to himself as the “Serbian Adolf Hitler” and acknowledged his life’s calling was the eradication of Muslims. Zaric was eventually convicted in absentia of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague. That made him Operation Razorback’s problem.

Operation Razorback was a joint CIA-Department of Defense unit. Using advanced SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) and HUMINT (Human Intelligence) assets, Task Force planners ultimately isolated Zaric inside a run-down flat in Serb-dominated Bijeljina. Under cover of darkness, a strike team consisting of Navy SEALs supported by a platoon of U.S. Army Rangers infiltrated Zaric’s neighborhood.

The Rangers deployed to the four corners surrounding Zaric’s modest apartment block and secured the roads both in and out. At the same time, the SEAL assault element quietly cut the padlock securing the service entrance and made their approach. Night vision goggles turned darkness into daylight. The team wielded a variety of weapons ranging from HK MP5 submachineguns up to an M60E4 belt-fed beast. The point man, however, just carried a pistol.

However, this wasn’t just any pistol. The man’s HK MK 23 was massive, powerful, and quiet. Sporting a custom sound suppressor and an IR laser designator, the weapon was both maneuverable and lethal. In the tight, filthy confines of Radislav Zaric’s pigsty of a dwelling, the MK 23 was most at home.

Trouble first came in the form of a snoozing guard with a local M70 version of the Kalashnikov sitting across his lap. The big man startled when the point man entered the dimly lit room and then reflexively raised his AK. The SEAL put him down with a quick, quiet double tap.

Once they were stacked outside Zaric’s bedroom, the demo man touched off a ribbon charge that blew the door out of its frame. Zaric was in zip ties before his mistress knew anything was amiss. Ten days later, he was standing in the dock at the Hague to answer for his genocide. For the SEALs of Task Force Razorback, it was another day, another monster.

The HK MK 23 is legit huge. The Desert Eagle
certainly doesn’t look large in comparison.

There is a reason the world’s finest counter-terror units pack
their arms rooms with HK iron. HK just makes superlative firearms.


The above narrative could be accurately described as historical fiction, but that’s roughly when the MK 23 first saw action. Initially deployed in 1991, the MK 23 was designed from the outset to be indestructible. The gun is waterproof and corrosion-resistant. Its match-grade, polygonally rifled barrel is expected to produce 2″ groups at 25 meters. The safety and magazine release are reproduced on both sides of the gun. The MK 23 feeds any kind of .45 ACP ammunition through 12-round box magazines.

The Offensive Handgun Weapon System competition came down to HK and Colt. The Colt offering was an amalgam of several designs, but it fell out of the running early on. The resulting HK gun endured the most grueling selection process ever contrived for a military sidearm.

The standard was at least 2,000 Mean Rounds Between Failure (MRBF). The MK 23 averaged 6,027. One example reached 15,122. Three test pistols were fired for 30,000 rounds apiece and still grouped within 2.5″ at 25 meters. The only component that required replacement was the rubber O-ring around the barrel. The guns were tested in temperature extremes ranging from minus 25 degrees F up to 140 degrees F in sand, mud, ice and snow. The initial order was for 1,950 copies at $1,186 each. All the MK 23 pistols were produced in Germany.

The MK 23 was just a part of the OHWS. Knights Armament built a proprietary sound suppressor, while Insight Technologies made the Laser Aiming Module (LAM). The AN/PEQ-6 LAM was available with either a visible or IR laser dot.

Soon after Uncle Sam received his MK 23 pistols, HK began offering them to us mere mortals. The differences between the GI and civilian versions of the gun are esoteric at best. The finish is a little different, as are the slide markings. HK imported 500 copies with an FDE frame. Will Smith used one of these guns in the movie I am Legend.

The SilencerCo Omega 45K sound suppressor is no-maintenance and essentially indestructible.

When fired off of a simple rest at 12 meters,
the HK MK 23 is monotonously accurate.


It’s tough to overstate how huge this thing is. It’s like Desert Eagle massive. Despite its ample geometry, the gun still feels quite nice. I fitted this one with a SilencerCo Omega 45K sound suppressor. The Omega 45K is sealed, welded, and maintenance-free. As the .45 ACP round is naturally subsonic, the superb SilencerCo Omega 45K suppressor preserves your hearing and facilitates communication despite the chaos.

The controls on the MK 23 are conventional with a twist. The extra switch on the left side of the gun is a manual decocker that lowers the hammer safely over a loaded chamber. The double-action trigger is very long, heavy, and thick, though smooth. The single-action version is positively ethereal. HK can build a beautiful trigger. The bilateral manual thumb safety lets you carry the gun in Condition 1 if desired.

I have big monkey mitts, and the MK 23 fits me nicely. Small-statured shooters might find it a bit much. The hulking dimensions and prodigious mass make the MK 23 one of the most comfortable .45 ACP handguns I have ever fired. Accuracy potential is just as described, thanks in large part to a curious rubber O-ring interface between the slide and barrel. At across-the-room ranges, the MK 23 is indeed a precision instrument.

The extra switch on the left side of the frame is a manual decocker.

The oversized trigger guard accommodates gloves.


With an MSRP of $2,639, the MK 23 is not the pistol you will toss into your tackle box as you’re heading out to the john boat to drown crickets. However, for use as a truck gun or home defense arm, the MK 23 has all that 1990s-era sweet SOCOM Navy SEAL cred. The MK 23 is indeed more maneuverable than an SMG and more controllable than a lesser pistol. It also shoots unnaturally straight and hits like a semi-truck downrange. The MK 23 was good enough for the U.S. Navy SEALs. It is a jewel in any rarefied tactical gun collection today.

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