Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The vz 52 rifle: Handy hybrid.

When the new nation of Czechoslovakia was born after the end of WWI, they received two important gifts from the vanquished nations. From the Austro-Hungarian war machine came the Imperial arsenal at Brno, which became the new Czech State Arsenal in 1919. From the defeated Germans came the tooling and licenses to build Mauser rifles. Given something to build and a place to build it, the industrious Czechs wasted no time in setting up an arms industry that was competitive with any in the world. Of course, this prize asset made their much larger neighbor to the north eye them greedily, and the Czech arms industry was one of the plums with which the Germans walked away from the table at Munich.

vz 52 rifle. Photo by Oleg Volk.

Like most factories in occupied Europe, the Czech factories spent the first part of the war turning out arms for their German occupiers and the last part getting bombed flat by the Western Allies. Compared to the utter devastation in Germany, Italy, and Poland, however, the Czechs were in remarkably good shape after the war, and quickly set about re-equipping their army with modern weapons, including a brand new self-loading rifle: The vz 52 (vz being the abbreviation for “vzor”; Czech for “type” or “model”.) The Czech arms industry had a tradition of quality and innovation, and the vz 52 was no exception. Designed using experiences gathered during WWII, it was a rifle that spanned two eras: Its full-length wood stock, intricately machined steel receiver, and semi-automatic operation wouldn't have been out of place in the 1930s, while its intermediate cartridge and detachable box magazine looked towards the future.

LEFT: Detail of receiver and magazine. Photo by Oleg Volk.

The trigger mechanism and safety are nearly identical to that of the American Garand, while the gas system utilizes a short-stroke annular piston derived from that of Germany's Walther self-loading rifles. The bolt is a tipping design, much like the contemporary Belgian and Russian autoloading rifles, but utilises lugs at the front of the bolt, rather than at the rear. Other features included a side-folding knife bayonet and unique double buttplates, with the outer one being a replaceable thin steel shell that protects the inner one from damage. The proprietary Czech cartridge, 7.62x45mm, is roughly the ballistic equivalent to the Soviet 7.62x39mm M43 round. The whole package makes for a handy little carbine, slightly smaller than the Russian SKS, and a fair bit handier in the bargain.

RIGHT: Side-folding knife bayonet. Photo by Oleg Volk.

Interestingly, the rifle was released as part of a whole suite of new infantry weapons in the early '50s by the Czechs, who hoped to get foreign currency in exchange. The weapons included an innovative pistol that used a roller-locking short recoil action to tame the potent 7.62x25mm Tokarev round, a general-purpose machine gun that was simply a belt-fed update of the proven Bren gun (another famous Czech design), and an innovative submachine gun featuring a bolt that telescoped around the breech and a magazine well integral with the pistol grip: both novel features that made for a compact weapon, and both features that would be cheerfully plagiarized by Uziel Gal when he "designed" his famous Uzi.

With this cornucopia of small-arms technical excellence poured at their feet, it is somehow unsurprising that the Soviets ignored it, and instead forced their own far cruder designs on the nascent Warsaw Pact. Meanwhile, most of the Czech weapons faded into undeserved obscurity, with sales slumping since both superpowers were essentially giving guns away to third-world nations who promised to be on their team. As a result, vz 52’s have turned up in the oddest corners of the world, flotsam and jetsam of the global arms market; they’ve been encountered in the hands of terrorists in Lebanon and Cuban “advisors” in Grenada.

The CZ52 pistol is well-known to American shooters, having been imported in droves over the last five years or more. Its companion rifle is a little less recognizable, and many of those coming in recently have been barely shootable junkers. Most of the rifles have been painted with an ugly black substance bearing a remarkable resemblance to pickup truck bed liner, and these seem to run for $100 or maybe a little less, but a nice clean one could fall into the $200-$300 range. Loaded factory 7.62x45 ammunition for the vz 52 is scarce; the only source I could find online was Buffalo Arms. Unfortunately, their brass is known for splitting case necks, so for properly annealed, reloadable 7.62x45 brass, the source is Gewehr 98 of the blog Neural Misfires. His brass is correctly annealed and reports have casings lasting through ten reloadings or more.


George said...


Your ability to blend historical information along coverage of the weapon is outstanding. These articles of yours are more than just a look at little known firearms.

Being a S&W fan, of course I didn't know anything about this rifle. Thanks for introducing me to it.


Tam said...

Thank you!

Spread the linky love around the net. The thing that makes me happiest is knowing that other people read this and find it useful. :)

SpeakerTweaker said...

This is seriously good stuff, Tam.

On a related note, I (through inheritance) own a CZ-52 pistol. I am fairly certain it was imported some time ago. I'd love to send you some detail pics if you wouldn't mind taking the time to look them over and tell me a bit!

Drop me a line at morpheus6879 at hotmail dot com and let me know where to send 'em. I also have a Mozin M44 I'd like a more discerning eye to see.


Carteach said...

Exellent read! I appreciate the work that goes into these.

Thank you.

Assrot said...

I'm an avid C&R gun collector myself. I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy this site very much. Keep up the great work. As for the vz 52, I'll probably add one to my collection once I run across one in good shape. It appears to be alot like the SKS rifles. I have a Yugoslavian and a Chinese SKS. Both are damn good guns.


Anonymous said...

For those who are interested in handloading - Besides RCBS($134), CH4D has dies - still somewhat pricey at $101.45

Anonymous said...

No problem - for real oddballs, CH4D tends to have the widest selection, and lowest prices.

Anonymous said...

Me like. I have only seen one or two, though...any idea who carries them and what kinds of prices are out there??

Don M said...

Minor point: Czechoslovakia had existed before WWII, being taken apart by Nazi Germany and Poland. As such it was not really a new nation, but rather an old nation reassembled more or less as per antebellum.

Tam said...


"Minor point: Czechoslovakia had existed before WWII"

That's why I said "When the new nation of Czechoslovakia was born after the end of WWI".

Czechoslovakia was created from parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First Great Unpleasantness.

Don M said...

Boy is my face red!

Thanks for the correction, as well as the rest of the article. I used to be able to read.

Humility. I guess I better get used to it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tam,
it's my first look in for a long time and the collection is just getting better and better...

ps, I think the Czechs plagarized JMB's slide for the SMG bolt telescoping over the barrel, I'm just assuming that Browning was the original inventor though


Mattexian said...

That ugly, spray-on truck liner was what turned me off to getting one several years ago, when they were dirt-cheap (that, and the complete lack of ammo). Now, I'm looking for a decent Vz-24, especially one with a good, intact crest.