Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cold War Heaters: Polish Tokarev and Czech CZ-52.

With the turn of the 20th Century, self-loading pistols began to see greater acceptance in military and paramilitary forces worldwide. The czar's government in Russia, long dependent on foreign arms designs, turned to the Belgian firm of Fabrique Nationale when seeking a pistol for its gendarmerie, acquiring several thousand FN Browning 1903's.

The FN1903 looked similar to the Colt Pocket Hammerless so familiar to American collectors, but was physically larger, being chambered for a 9mm cartridge. Also used by Sweden and the Ottoman Empire, both of which bordered Russia, the sleek pistol still looks modern today. The czar's pistols sported a frame slotted for a combination shoulder stock/holster, and featured an enclosed hammer.

Later, in the wake of the First World War, Bolshevik forces in Civil War-torn Russia acquired many “Broomhandle” Mausers from a German arms industry desperate for foreign sales to make up for the loss of income caused by the Versailles treaty. The Broomhandles were chambered for the classic “.30 Mauser” cartridge, a high-velocity bottlenecked number more like a carbine cartridge than a normal pistol round.

These two historical facts may go some way to explain why, when the victorious Communists sought a modern self-loader to replace the M1895 revolvers in their progressive socialist armies, the winning design looked an awful lot like an enlarged FN 1903 with a partially-exposed hammer and chambered for a hot-loaded version of the old .30 Mauser round.

The Tokarev TT-33, as the definitive version was labeled, was a short-recoil operated pistol with no manual safety and a magazine released by a thumb-activated button. Among its innovations was the fact that the lockwork was mounted in a chassis that could be removed from the frame in a single unit.

After WWII, as Eastern Europe fell into the Soviet sphere of influence, the Russians pressured their new satrapies to adopt weaponry in common calibers. Most countries tooled up to produce copies of the Tokarev, but the Czechoslovakians, with a sophisticated arms industry of their own, turned out a unique pistol chambered for the Soviet cartridge.

The CZ-52 was also operated on the short-recoil principle, but instead of using the common Browning tilting-barrel method of locking as used on the Tokarev, it used a roller-locking setup similar to that used on the German MG-34 and MG-42 light machine guns of the previous war. Also unlike the Tokarev, it offered an external manual safety which could also function as a decocker. While the Tok had a 1930s deco look to its shape, the CZ's lines had an angular ray-gun look that wouldn't have been out of place in a '50s sci-fi movie.

ABOVE: Cold War Heaters. Polish Radom wz.48 (top) and Czech CZ vz.52 (bottom).

Both pistols became widely available on the American civilian market when the Warsaw Pact had its big Chapter 11 sale in the early 1990s, and their low prices made them popular for shooters and collectors on a budget. Surplus ammunition was widely available, and new-production commercial ammo could be had from sources as disparate as Sellier & Bellot and Winchester on one hand and MagSafe on the other.

The examples in the picture are a basic Czech CZ-52 and a Radom-made Polish wz.48. In fit and finish, there's really no comparison: The CZ is a typical rough-hewn phosphate-finished example while the Radom is an elegant, polished blue. In use, though, the CZ points more naturally for me, since Fedor Tokarev managed to mess with the natural pointing qualities of the Browning design. It also has a better trigger pull (although that's damning by faint praise.) Combine this with the fact that the Polish heater didn't seem to like the S&B ammo used in the tests, as evinced by ragged groupings and a vicious Type III malfunction that required a Leatherman tool to clear, and of these two examples, the Czech is definitely the more practical sidearm.

ABOVE: Leatherman Juice was needed to pry the mangled cartridge case from the grip of the Radom Tokarev. Don't leave home without it.

Also the Czech pistol has a positive safety (it's even right-side-up to American thumbs,) while the Tok's safety is a jury-rigged afterthought which only serves to block the trigger, added to satisfy BATFE requirements mandated by the Gun Control Act of 1968.

RIGHT: Actual high-speed competition shooter with the Czech ray gun.

Both pistols can still be found for prices in the ~$200 range, although the Radom-marked Polish Tok is a sure-fire future collectible compared to the relatively dirt-common CZ. Surplus ammunition can still be found, and the fireballing high-velocity cartridge makes for a fun afternoon at the range. Any collector of Cold War-era arms would be advised to snatch up a copy of one or both while they're still available for reasonable prices.


Chuck Pergiel said...

Color me happy.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

Don't forget the auxiliary fire on the CZ52... you know, the one that fires a second projectile off to the right ~90 degrees. Low energy, minimal penetration but a definite harassing fire, and also will make a distracting noise when the cartridge makes impact at speed 20' thataway... CZ52 shooter on the attack: *bam* (bad guy takes note) *whizz-pop of cartridge smacking something* (oh crap, there's two of them!)

Mattexian said...

Re: CZ-52 in a 50's sci-fi movie; the new Battlestar Gallactica series did have one in a couple of episodes.

I had read before that the CZ's decocker/safety was a US after-mod (the decocker part anyway), which is why you sometimes hear of ADs when folks are handling one. That's one of the main reasons I carry my CZ-82 as my main "traveling gun". I like both of them, both fit my hands well, I joke that I must have Czech hands.

Tam said...

"I had read before that the CZ's decocker/safety was a US after-mod (the decocker part anyway)"

Nope, that was original equipment. Don't trust the decocker, though.

Caleb said...

My most clear memory of the CZ52 is standing there thinking "jesus, when is this gun going to go off, I've been pulling this trigger for two straight weeks nowBLAM".

Michael in CT said...

I really like my CZ-52, enough so that I've replaced the stock firing pin with the Harrington aftermarket one, which cuts the trigger pull almost in half and had a machinst friend remove some of the excess metal where the trigger meets the frame so it points better.

Overload in Colorado said...

So, as near carbine ammo, it's hot? How's the recoil? Accuracy?

Cybrludite said...

A bit of further info on the decocker, namely why was such a thing included on a single-action pistol? The CZ-52 was originally going to be a double-action, but the powers that were changed their minds on that after the safety was already designed. No one bothered to remove the decocking feature when the gun was redesigned to be a single-action.

Wolfwood said...

The Winchester and S&B ammo (which I think are the same thing) go at 1610fps with 85-grain bullets; I'm told, but haven't seen the data, that the Prvi Partizan does the same. In any case, I didn't notice a difference between the Winchester and Prvi Partizan.

The recoil in my CZ-52 was very, very manageable. I'd say it was about on the level of .380acp, but with less flip. I liked it a lot.

Tam said...


"A bit of further info on the decocker, namely why was such a thing included on a single-action pistol?"

A decocker may not be such a bad idea on a single-action service pistol designed for use by minimally competent troops. Witness the Radom ViS 35: The decocker is there to keep Cpl. Jablonski from shooting himself or his horsie if he has to reholster after expending half a magazine.

Anonymous said...

"...I've been pulling this trigger for two straight weeks nowBLAM".

'Course there's no physical reason why the 52's trigger can't be made to work a little more like the one in your race gun. -- Lyle

Assrot said...

I have a few CZ-52s and a couple of TT-33s.

For my big hands, I find the TT-33 a much more comfortable gun to shoot. As for reliability, one gun is as good as the other to me if they are kept reasonably clean.

The TT-33 is hands down the more accurate pistol at < 25 yards.

I converted one of the CZ-52s to 9x19. I put some decent after-market grips on it and a set of ghost ring sights all courtesy of the now defunct

The 9x19 is a sweet shooter. It's easy on the hands after a couple hundred rounds of that old surplus 7.62x25.

I'd say one gun is as good as the other for all intents and purposes. I do agree with Tam that the TT-33 will probably be a collector one day while the CZ-52 is about as collectible as the M1895s.

They are both especially fun to shoot at dusk when you can see the muzzle flash. I think they put out more fire than my .50AE Desert Eagle.

Nylarthotep said...

I've got both though my TT-33 I thought was Russian. I can't recall off the top of my head. And I believe it has an after market safety.

I made the mistake of buying some of that vintage ammo when I bought both guns. I was very perplexed that I couldn't hit a target at 20 feet. A friend of mine gave me some modern ammo and that made all the difference. Though I still have a large pile of crap ammo that is good for making noise and nothing else.

Since I enjoyed the CZ-52 and TT-33 so much I also bought a Tokagypt. That's a lot of fun as well, though not quite as big on the ear ringing.

Keith said...

I'm not sure of the dates for the development period for the TT33.

I had suspected that the hand de-mountable firing mechanism was a Petter invention (i've copies of all his patents stashed somewhere).

So if any historian of commie guns has the dates Tokarev was working on the design, we can compare dates.

cmblake6 said...

What Michael in Ct said. I had some decent sights, firing pin, trigger guard undercut, and I've been known to carry this thing! I AM still looking for a decent safety for condition 1 carry, or will have one built.