In the past century, the hard-working industrialized heart of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire has been a powerhouse when it comes to firearms development.
This week the Central European countries of the Czech Republic and Slovakia are celebrating the centennial of their shared independence that was officially proclaimed in Prague on Oct. 28, 1918.
“We have always been a nation of hard-working, smart and creative people,” said Andrej Babiš, prime minister of the Czech Republic, on the occasion of the nation’s 100th birthday. “Already as part of Austria-Hungary, we were the industrial heart of the empire. But it was only the establishment of a separate state that gave our potential the chance for full expression. Our country is not as big as Germany, Italy or Poland, but we know how to get our bearings quickly and how to come up with new, fresh solutions.”
While Babiš was talking about the country as a whole, it should be noted that his remarks could very well be applied when it comes to Czechoslovak-designed and produced firearms. Even before the split with the Austrian Kaiser, the region was home to the storied Waffenwerke Skoda arms plant which supplied artillery, heavy guns (including the vaunted M.11 siege mortars that pulverized many believed impregnable fortresses in WWI) and ammunition to a large swath of Europe. Then came other plants and other guns.
Here are 10 that rise to the top.
Just after independence, Zbrojovka Brno was formed from the ashes of Skoda’s arms making works and started rebuilding old surplus German Mauser Gewehr 98 rifles, which became the vz. 98/22 rifle. By 1924, they had moved to production of a new weapon developed from that warhorse, dubbed the vz. 24 rifle were almost everything the later German K98k would be but came more than a decade before it. Not only did it become the standard rifle of the Czechoslovak Army, but Brno also won contracts to sell the weapon abroad to countries ranging from Lithuania to Iran and Bolivia.
ZB vz. 26
Designed by Václav Holek with some help of his brother Emmanuel and others, Brno’s vz. 26 was the answer to a quest for the Czech military’s new light machine gun in the 1920s. Just over 21-pounds in weight, the air-cooled, selective-fire LMG was fed from a distinctive top-mounted magazine and more than two dozen countries around the world adopted it and it is still in use in some Third World countries. Several similar guns such as the Japanese Nambu Type 96/99 and the British Bren were a direct evolution.
Developed by firearms wonk Frantisek Myska in the 1920s as a toned down vz.22/24 (a cute little semi-auto chambered in .380ACP), the vz.27 was pretty successful for the Czechs and something like 500,000 of these nine-shot beauties were made between 1927 and when production stopped in 1951. The Germans even liked them so much during their WWII-occupation of Czechoslovakia that they adopted them as the P.27(t) for their own use. These guns went on to have an interesting story during the Cold War, where they became a “hit” with the spy vs. spy crowd.
The Czech vz. 61 Skorpion was a handy micro sub gun designed in 1959 to equip border guards who needed a compact arm and to produce a personal defense weapon that could be issued to support troops who didn’t need a full-size rifle. The result was a handful that allowed .32ACP rounds to rip out at 850-rounds per minute, making it something of the Warsaw Pact’s version of the MAC-10. Later models, the Vz. 68 (chambered in 9×19mm Parabellum) the Vz. 65 (9×18mm Makarov) and the Vz.64 (chambered in .380 ACP ) used the same design as the standard Skorpion with the exception that barrels and actions are chambered for the larger cartridges. Of course, the newer generation of Scorpion Evo 3s pays homage to these classics.
The CZ Model 25
Dubbed the Sa vz. 23/s4/25/26 depending on its incarnation, this SMG came in either 7.62x25mm Tok or 9mm and was super popular wherever coups and insurgents were brewing throughout the 1960s and 70s. Long service on both sides in Africa led to the cloning of the gun in both Rhodesia and South Africa while the styling was mimicked by the J&R M-68/Linda Carbine in the States. Speaking of clones, this burp gun used a telescoping bolt first, putting it ahead of the Israeli UZI and other designs.
Brothers Jan and Jaroslav Kratochvíl had earlier designed a .32 ACP eight-shot pistol known as the vz. 50 for the Czech police. The vz. 50 was nearly identical to the Walther PP without the warm, international reception. Just two years after its adoption, the Czech military sent the brothers Kratochvíl back to the drawing board to come up with something bigger and better. Chambered in spicy 7.62×25, the Colt 1911-sized handgun proved popular over 30 years of military service to the Czechs and, with over 200,000 made, are just as well-liked on the military surplus market.
The Czech Vz. 58, which only sort of looks like the Kalash, which it shares a caliber with, while under the hood it is all proudly Prague. Czechoslovakia went their own way in the 1950s and, rather than adopt the Soviet AKM, opted instead for the homegrown Vzor 58 in the same caliber. The standard issue rifle for the Czech military for most of the second half of the 20th Century, almost a million Vz.58s were made by 1984 and the falling breechblock striker-fired Cold War standard is totally different from what Moscow had to offer.
Designed by the brothers Koucký in 1975 for CZ, this double-stack was the best thing to happen to 9mm combat handguns since the Browning Hi-Power. Sold widely for export and cloned extensively, the CZ 75 has been popular in a myriad of variants ever since including the competition and compact versions, the polymer-framed P-07, RAMI CZ 2075, and even a full-auto model. However, the Cold War-era B Model is among the most popular with collectors. Just ask Hickok45.
While companies currently in the Czech Republic get a lot of love, Slovakia’s powerhouse pistol maker Grand Power has a lot of neat offerings out there to include their K100 and P1 series pistols as well as, more recently, the Stribog and Q1S series.
Prague-based Laugo Arms has been generating lots of buzz with the prospect that their Alien 9mm pistol will be headed to market. The unique-looking handgun, which bears a strong resemblance to the Xenomorph endoparasitoid extraterrestrial species in Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, has been hinted at by Laugo all summer across their social media but little solid information is out there on it other than they hope to get it to the U.S. market in 2019.
If the past 100 years is an example, we can’t wait to see what the next 100 brings.
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