By Jean Huon
Czechoslovakia was born in 1918 from the dislocation from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Between the two world wars, the country developed a military industry which was one of the most important manufacturers of light weapons. Its production was mainly centered on semiautomatic pistols and Mauser rifles which have, with those of F.N., flooded the world from 1924 to 1938.
It is necessary to also note the creation of several semiautomatic rifles: ZH 29, VZ 38, ZK 381 and ZK 391, manufactured in small quantities for special troops or for testing by many foreign armed forces. The largest success of the Czechs probably resulted from the adoption of the ZB 30 light machine gun by the British Army, which then produced it under license under the name of Bren.
The occupation of the country by the troops of the Third Reich silenced the creativity of the local engineers. Very quickly the industry had to adapt to the needs of Germany and they produced large quantities of K 98 k rifles and MG 34 light machine guns as well as a multitude of parts for others weapons (P 38 pistol, guns for aircraft, etc…)
After the war, research shows that they continued to manufacture the same weapons as before. They were intended for the new Czech army and export (Israel and Pakistan). Parallel to this official manufacture, they continued to produce the same models with German marks… in order to make them pass for authentic surplus of war. Several boats transporting such “new surplus” were intercepted by the French Navy off the Algerian coasts between 1954 and 1960.
The first semiautomatic rifles of the new generation, such as the ZK 420, ZK 425, ZK 472, ZK 481, CZ 493 and CZ 502 appear in Czechoslovakia in 1946 firing conventional ammunition. They were presented without great success in many countries. At the same time, intermediate 7.5×55 and 7.5×45 ammunition is developed.
In 1948 the country is placed under a Communist regime and the military material must be aligned to that of the troops of the Warsaw Pact; though they were successful in keeping an independence in this area for a few years.
First, they introduced in 1949 two 9mm Parabellum submachine guns: VZ 23 and VZ 25. These weapons were modified in 1952 for the use of 7.62mm Tokarev ammunition and became the VZ 24 and VZ 26.
In 1952, new materials were introduced in the Czech Army: a pistol, a semiautomatic rifle and a light machine gun. If the pistol aligned its ammunition with that of the Soviet big brother, it is not the same for the two other models. One cartridge created for them was 7.62x45mm. It is an intermediate cartridge that combines the characteristics of the experimental ammunition 7.5x45mm (ball, length of case) and that of the Soviet cartridge (diameter of the body of case).
Things remained in this state of affairs until 1957. After this date, the Czechs were forced by the Soviets to align themselves with the other troops of the Warsaw Pact. They succeeded in keeping their specific armament, but adopted the 7.62x39mm. Rifles and machine guns were consequently modified and are indicated under year VZ 52/57. These rifles had little time in service because the following year it was replaced by an assault rifle of national design designated the VZ 58.
The VZ 52 was manufactured by Ceska Zbrojovka Narodni Podnik in Strakonice, located 100 km in the south-west of Praha. Its design resulted from the combination of several systems:
- the rear end of the bolt tilts downward when locked in firing position, as the Swedish AG 42,
- gas port like the Mkb 42 (W), by sleeve in the middle of the gun, a rod moves back on a short distance and unlocks the bolt,
- trigger guard like the Garand M 1.
The stock is made of tinted whitewood. On the left side of the stock rather close to the handle is a notch with a lug intended for the attaching of a sling. The butt plate is made of stamped sheet metal. The handguard is composed of two elements: a front part made of sheet metal with longitudinal grooves and a rear part made of wood.
The receiver is made of milled steel and receives the bolt and a top cover. The barrel is screwed on at the front part of the receiver and is bored 7.62mm, with four right groves; one turn in 520 mm. At the middle of the barrel several gas ports permits the gases to move a sleeve that slides around the barrel and pushes a semi-circular rod that unlocks the bolt. The barrel ends in a small tapped end with a knurled thread protector. Once removed, this end is used to attach a blank firing device.
The bolt is made of a carrier with the cocking lever at the right. The recoil spring is long and uses a guide rod. A sheet metal cover cap is placed at the rear part of the receiver.
The trigger mechanism is similar to that of M1 Garand consisting of a dismountable block with articulated trigger guard, internal hammer and axial safety with longitudinal displacement. Pushed backwards it prohibits firing.
The weapon uses a ten-round box magazine introduced into the receiver from the bottom. One can refill the magazine while still in the weapon by means of two five cartridges clips. After shooting the last shot, the bolt is retained opened in the rear position.
The rear sight is a conventional ladder sight graduated up to 1,000 meters. The front sight is protected by a hood. A collapsible bayonet is installed permanently at the end of rifle. The double edged blade measures 27 cm (10.6 inches) and folds back in the horizontal plane on the right face of the barrel. All the metal parts of the weapon receive a black Parkerized finish.
Remove the magazine and visually check the chamber to clear the weapon. Close the bolt and push the safety on. Push forward the bolt cover and remove it (be careful about the recoil spring). Remove the recoil spring and rod. Move the bolt rearward until it is on its dismounting notch, turn it to down and remove. Take off the mobile head. Push down the trigger guard and push it forward to remove. Push the two side locks of the hand guard and remove. Take off the rear locking screw and unscrew the main screw that retains the frame on the stock. Push the sleeve which retains the barrel on the bayonet rest (use a plastic mallet). Take off barrel and frame and remove the rod. Reassembly is carried out in the reverse order.
- Plug for blank firing.
- Cleaning kit placed in the stock, the butt plate can be dismounted by pushing its lock. It contains a three-part rod, a barrel brush, an oil can and a rag for protection for the bolt.
Five years later, the VZ 52 was replaced by the VZ 52/57 chambered for the Soviet cartridge 7.62×39. This gun is identical in all respects to its predecessor except the magazine is smaller.
Some original VZ 52s were given to “brother countries,” particularly Cuba and Viet-Nam. These rifles could be found a few years later in various countries of the world in the hands of communist organisations in Angola, Nicaragua and in other countries in Africa, Asia or Latin America…
The VZ 52/57 could be built new or result from a modification of the original rifle. In this case, traces of welding can be seen under the lower face of the frame.
These rifles were quickly replaced in their country of origin by a locally developed assault rifle: the VZ 58. Only a few were kept for honour guard. The presidential guard uses a rifle VZ 52/57 with brown plastic stock, all the metal parts are chrome plated and the bayonet is longer: 33.5 cm (13.2 inches) instead of 27 cm (10.6 inches).
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V13N8 (May 2010)|