Czech Rifles 1918-1958

By Dan Reynolds and Reine Smith
At the close of World War One, the Imperial Austro Hungarian Empire collapsed.  A state was formed out of Bohemia, Slovakia, Moravia, Ruthenia and the Sudetenland.  It was dominated by the Czechs of Bohemia.  Even before the Empire had formally capitulated, a small arms workshop was set up in a former Imperial Army Artillery Arsenal in Brno, which was in the middle of Moravia, to provide rifles to the new Czechoslovakia.  Progress was made to the point that new Mannlicher rifles of the Imperial Model 1895 in 8x50mm were being made by 1920, 5000 being produced in 1921 and production of the Mannlicher is believed to have continued until about the summer of 1921.. This rifle bares the  receiver mark CS. ST., ZBROJOVKA, BRNO, and was chosen, as many former Imperial rifles of this type were on hand and the facility was rebuilding unserviceable specimens which had been collected.  This was destined to be an interim measure as it was soon decided that the best rifle for the new Czech Army was the Mauser 1898 type.  The great Mauser works at Oberendorf could no longer sell military rifles or pistols to Germany or any  other country as a result of Allied occupation and the peace treaty imposed by the victorious powers of WWI.  The Czech government arranged to buy a complete production line for the Gew 98, parts on hand, and all work in progress.  They also bought the rights to a new pistol design from Mauser which evolved into the series of service pistols used by Czechoslovakia up to WWII and were made at the CZ Strakonice Arsenal.  The tooling was moved from Mauser to the arsenal works at Brno ( pronounced Bear-No ) but there were problems getting set up and into production.  The Czechs thought they were getting a complete technical package, but this was not so, and it took longer than expected to get serial production underway.   The first batch of Mausers was assembled using mostly German parts and may have been out of shop as early as April 1920. A modified design based on the Mauser was considered, but the Model 1922 based on the Gew 98 and using the tangent rear sight of 1916 was put into serial production in 7.92x57mm.  The earlier rifles assembled from German parts had the Lange rear sight.  Both varieties of GEW98 bare the receiver CS. ST. ZBROJOVKA, BRNO and on one I just received, CESKOLOVENSKA ZBROJOVKA BRNO VZ23 and VZ24s were later manufactured and bear the Receiver markings CS.  ZAVODY, NA VYROBU ZBRANI, BRNO and CESKOLOVENSKA ZBROJOVKA BRNO.  There are bayonets for these guns that bare the CSZ marking, which is a further reduction of C.S. ZAVODY which means Czech Slovakia Factory and bayonets that just have a Z in a circle.  Later the markings were changed to the Bohemian lion Crest with CESKOLOVENSKA ZBROJOVKA A.S. BRNO VZ 24 (VZ stands for Model) on the left side rail.  Contract rifles were also marked on the left rail in this manner with the appropriate crest of the country purchasing on the receiver.  Romania, I know had their crest on some, while China, had some with a P prefix on the serial number and were dated 1937 and again Romanian arms were dated 1938-39-40.  These dated rifles were also issued to the Czech Army as some bare the Army acceptance mark which is an E (small Czech lion) and date.  There were some other markings on the VZ24s as well, FABRICA CHECOSLOVACA DE ARMAS SA BRNO( on South American arms),  ZBROJOVKA BRNO A.S. VZ24.  The production on the VZ 24 started in late 1924 or early 25 and lasted until 1942 producing hundreds of thousands of rifles.  In addition to the ones I have already mentioned VZ 24's were made for Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Estonia, Guatemala, Iran (Sun Lion crested),  Lativa, Lithuania, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, El Salvador, Siam/Thailand, Turkey, Uruguay( Known as the M37),Venezuela and Yugoslavia.  I think, contrary to popular belief, that there never were any Japanese contract rifles and that the VZ24s that the Japanese had were captured from the Chinese. They were used to arm some of their troops and were then recaptured by the Chinese at the end of the war.  If I am not mistaken these rifles were captured and issued to 5 divisions of Japanese.  I have also heard that they were issued to the Japanese Navy and have seen a photo with Japanese cadets carrying them. There is also the possibility that they were given to the Japanese by Germany after the 1939 capture of Czechoslovakia.  China made several purchases during the period 1929-39. After Germany took Czechoslovakia the Germans kept shipping until the Japanese protested directly to Hitler. The German military had been close to the Chinese as advisers and favored them.  After the Japs joined the AXIS the official policy cut off China but despite this Germans in the Whermact, Foreign Office and other positions allowed or facilitated shipments. The last one (from FN pre war production) went down the Burma Road in early 1941. The VZ24 was manufactured in 7.92mm, 7X57mm, 7.65X53mm and were known in Romania as the "ZB" rifle.

The Czechs were hard up for cash and would reuse old parts to help fabricate new contract Mausers at times, as well as sell off older pattern Mausers to pay for new VZ24 Mausers for the Czech Army.  Eventually Turkey purchased most of the Model 1922, and VZ23, from the Czech Government.  The M1922 rifles can be found with sights marked in western or the old Farsi type numbers used on the Persian Mausers.  This relationship continued up through 1938.

In addition to the rifles mentioned above ZB supplied several other Mauser designs for export.
1)The Model JC, a reduced weight Vz24 with slimmer barrel and stock. Stock notched for turned down bolt knob.
2)The Model L short rifle, carbine, and short carbine. Short carbine was supplied to Latvia in early 1930's in .303 British to supplement her Pattern 14 and Ross M1910 .303 rifles.
3)Model 98/29 long rifle and carbine supplied to Persia/Iran, marked on the side rail in Farsi.
4)Model 12/33 and 12/34 carbines
5)Model 16/33 carbines
6)Model 33/40 Mountain Carbine manufactured for the Germans during WWII

At the beginning of 1937 ZB opened a second major factory, Plant 2 at Povaska Bystrica to make rifles and bayonets. Production rate at BRNO was 800 rifles a day in early 1938, 400 at Bystrica.

By 1938 the German tooling was worn out.  Czech engineers and technicians designed and built a modern production line with all new Czech produced tooling and gauges.  In a series of joint ventures with Yugoslavia, Romania, and Iran, they sold these countries this technology along with their technical expertize.  The Yugo plant came on line first, then the Romanian plant.  The Iranian plant did not become fully operational until after WW2.  Just as I did for a while, people think that the M24 that Yugoslavia produced is the same as the VZ24, but the Yugo M24 is actually a copy of the FN24 intermediate action, that they produced at the Military Technical Institute on FN machinery until they received the Czech tooling.  The FN design was modified by Yugoslav ordnance engineers to incorporate the full cartridge base support feature on the M10C bolt head and also to allow the safety switch to be applied with the bolt uncocked.  It has also been stated that the WZ29 from Poland is a copy of the VZ24 but again, not so.  ZB did rework some of the WZ29s that were meant for the Zionists in Palestine but were instead sent to Spain during their Civil war and these were marked with a circle Z on some parts leading to the wrong conclusion.  Up until 1938 most Czech reserves were still armed with M95 Mannlichers and when the Czech Army was disbanded in 1939, it gave Germany 762, 000 Vz24 along with 986, 000 Vz24 bayonets.

During WWII the ZB arsenal was renamed by the Germans, Waffen Werke Brunn , and produced the Kar98K coded with dot and swp.

Complete rifles based on the very late war Karabiner 98K Kreigsmodell Mauser with winter trigger guard were produced for the Czech Army in the post war period,  marked CESKOSLOVENSKA ZBROJOVKA, A.S. BRNO.  Mainly the Czechoslovakian Army was armed with weapons supplied by the WW2 Allies and seized German weapons, as well as ex-Czech weapons previously seized by Germany after 1938.  The new arms industry was occupied mainly in the reworking of booty weapons while making spare parts for older Czech weapons.  Foreign contracts for rifles in the postwar era were few due to vast stocks of weapons produced during the war.  The biggest contract was for Israel during 1948 and 1949.  East Germany and Bolivia were among the few other customers interested in Czech made rifles in the period 1950-51.

A design by Josef and Frantisek Kouchy appeared after the war and was designated the ZK420.  The trigger group is similar to the M1 and the CZ52, firing the large caliber 7.92x57.  This rifle appeared in the ZB catalog and was tested by Denmark, UK, Sweden, Ethiopia, Egypt, Israel and Switzerland but was never adopted by anyone.  The Czech Army was going to adopt this design in the late 1940's, but after the communist take over 1n 1948 this was canceled and the the Czechs developed other designs chambered for a new 7.5mm short round less powerful than the 7.62x39mm . This round was criticized by the Soviet "big brothers" attached to the new "People's Army" and the 7.62x45mm round, more powerful than the 7.62x39mm, was developed for the new rifle contenders in 1949-50.  In 1949 the ZK420 design, existing examples, parts and tooling was sold to Israel. The Design competed against the Johnson, K43, SAFN and Garand in tests during 1950-51 in Israel.

In 1950 arms production was put on a war footing and increased 400% as Russia ordered preparation for the expected war with the West.  After this, small arms exports dwindled to non Communist countries.  Stalin had given permission for the Czechs to adopt "national conception" designs after the excellent show trials put on to purge the Party in 1950-51 and
it was recognized that a semi-automatic rifle was needed to rearm the Army.  Several designs were developed in various calibers.  The CZ493 of 1949 led to the improved CZ502 which in final form was adopted as the VZ52 in 7.62x45mm in 1952.  It was designed by J. Kratochvil at Ceska Zbrojovka, N.P. in Strakonice and was put into production at Povaska Bystrica, code "SHE", where it was made from 1952 to 1956 and at Uhersky Brod, code "AYM", from 1952 to 1957.  With Soviet approval it was exported to Egypt, Syria and Cuba.  At a later date, Cuba supplied some of their rifles to Grenada and to some African groups.  The Union of Egypt and Syria in 1958 into the United Arab Republic led to Egypt sending many of its VZ52 to Syria, which are found to be marked UAR.

After Stalin's death and the formation of the Warsaw Pact, Moscow ordered the adoption of the 7.62x39mm Soviet cartridge.  The new modified VZ52/57 in 7.62x39mm was made only at Uhersky Brod, code "AYM", although some "SHE" rifles were converted to 7.62x39mm.  The Soviet Army was never happy with the VZ52.  They tested it against the SKS 7.62x39mm carbine and found it inferior.

It was stated that the VZ52 was inferior to the SKS as it was too complicated, being harder to strip, clean, handle and maintain.

The Czech Palace Guard at Prague Castle still use the VZ52 or VZ52/57 as a ceremonial rifle.

In 1958 an assault rifle was designed and produced by Ceskoslovenskia Zbrojovka Strakonice to replace the VZ52/57 and is the VZ58.  The weapon looks very similiar to the AK47, the concept is the same, but the internal parts are quite different.  The gun was produce in three stock varieties Wood, Plastic, and metal folding and is still in use in Czechoslovakia today.  Very few original VZ58's are in collectors hands in the U.S.A.