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Czechoslovak Weapons of World War II: part 1: Czechoslovakia was well-armed and fortified before World War II, but appeasers in Britain and France pulled the rug out, making "Munich" a synonym for betrayal.

The Czech and Slovak peoples of central Europe have a long and proud military tradition that stretches back to the religious wars of the 15th century when the Bohemian Hussite infantry, under the leadership of their one-eyed general, Jan Zizka, repeatedly defeated the mounted chivalry of Germany and Austria and laid the foundations of modern Czech nationalism.

While subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire since 1526, the Czechs and Slovaks had maintained their cultural identities. As the most "westernized" of the Slavic peoples, their Austrian rulers considered Czech regiments more reliable than those of other ethnicities, which resulted in many Czech officers attaining high rank.

In the early 20th century, Czech and Slovak nationalists began calling for increased autonomy, if not outright independence, demands that were rejected by Vienna. Nationalist leaders were imprisoned, leading to increasing ethnic tensions within the army.

By the end of the first year of World War I, tens of thousands of Czech and Slovaks serving in the Austro-Hungarian army surrendered to the Allies. Czechoslovak nationalist leaders formed them into several "legions" which fought against the Central Powers on the Eastern, Western and Italian fronts.

With the collapse of Imperial Russia, and the resulting Communist revolution, the 50,000-man Czechoslovak Legion in Russia fought its way eastwards, 5,000 miles, along the Trans-Siberian railroad to the Pacific port of Vladivostok, where they were taken off by Allied vessels and returned to Europe. This Odyssey ranks alongside history's greatest military achievements, and is a tale in itself.

The new nation of Czechoslovakia was established in 1919 and was a merger of the regions of Bohemia, Slovakia, and Carpathian Ruthenia. Among their multi-ethnic population was a large minority of Germans, the Sudetendeutsche, who were to be cause of much trouble in the future.

Many of the members of the Legion became prominent in politics and the military. With the dual threats to their independence from their traditional enemy, the Germans, to their north and the ever threatening Soviet Union to the east, the Czech government created and maintained one of the best equipped, trained and motivated armies on the continent, the Ceskoslovenska armada.

Czech Rifles

The new nation was fortunate in that one of Europe's premier armsmaking facilities, the former Austro-Hungarian artillery workshop at Brno, was located in Bohemia. As part of the peace treaties that ended the war, both Austria and Germany were required to supply Czechoslovakia with reparations, including military weapons and the Brno works, now known as Zbrojovka Brno (ZB), whose first assignment consisted of reconditioning tens of thousands of Mauser Infanteriegewehre 98 and Mannlicher Repetier-Gewehre M.95 for the Czech army. They also received quantities of Fusil d'Infanterie Modele 1907/15 (Berthiers) from France.

In addition, between 1919 and 1921, Brno manufactured approximately 4,000 M.95 Mannlichers and assembled 42,000 Infanteriegewehre 98 from parts supplied by Waffenfabrik Mauser. Recognizing the superiority of the Mauser over the Mannlicher, the Czech army adopted it as the standard weapon and arrangements were made to produce it locally.

The first ZB-built 98 Mauser was the Puska vzor 1898/22, which was little more than the standard Infanteriegewehr 98 long rifle fitted with a simple tangent rear sight. (1) It was adopted by the Czech army in 1924 and large numbers were sold around the world.

But the lessons of World War I had shown that the traditional long, unwieldy infantry rifle was ill suited for modern tactical doctrines. For this reason, most armies began adopting so-called "short rifles" whose barrel length split the difference between the long infantry rifle and the short cavalry carbine.

In 1923, ZB began production of the Kratka Puska vzor 23 which was little more than the vzor 1898/22 fitted with a 21.5-inch barrel. (2) Field use with the Czech army indicated the desirability of a slightly longer barrel and the next year saw the introduction of the Kratka Puska vzor 24, which was to become ZB's most popular, and best known, pre-World War II product.

The vzor 24 used a standard 98-type receiver with a straight bolt handle and five round charger loaded magazine. It had sling swivels on both the bottom and side of the stock allowing it to be used by infantry and mounted troops.

The 7,92mm naboj vzor 23 was identical to the German 7.9mm Patrone S (7.9x57 Mauser) and consisted of a rimless, bottlenecked case 57mm long topped with a 154-grain FMJ, spitzer bullet that was propelled to a muzzle velocity of 2930 fps.

The vzor 24 was released on the international market and many thousands were purchased by Bolivia, Brazil, China, Columbia, Guatemala, Latvia, Lithuania, Persia, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, Turkey, Venezuela and Yugoslavia, among others.

In 1930, ZB began production of a carbine version that was adopted by the Czech army as the Kratka Puska vzor 33, for the Czech police and army. (3)

In 1934, the Czech army adopted the German designed 7,9mm Patrone sS (schweres Spitzgeschoss--"heavy pointed bullet") as the 7,92mm naboj vzor 34. It used the same case as the vzor 23 but was loaded with a 198-grain FMJ, boattail, spitzer bullet moving at 2575 fps. Its greater sectional density and aerodynamic shape provided increased range and superior accuracy.

From 1928 to 1940, Czechoslovakia was divided into the four "lands" Bohemia, Moravia-Silesia, Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia. Bohemia, Slovakia, and Ruthenia each had local assemblies that adjusted laws and regulations of the central government to local needs.

Minorities were assured special protection: in districts where they constituted 20% of the population, minority groups could use their native language in schools, newspapers and dealings with the government. Beginning in 1926, the Sudetendeutsche also participated in the government.

Czechoslovakia had a very centralized political structure dominated by the Czechs, which resulted in increasing nationalism among the non-Czech nationalities, and several parties and movements were formed with the aim of political autonomy.

With the support of the Nazi Germany, the Sudetendeutsche Partei (SdP) was organized and began agitating for greater autonomy. The SdP won 68% of the Sudeten vote in the 1935 parliamentary elections, making it one of the strongest political parties in Czechoslovakia.

In September 1938, on orders from Adolf Hitler, the Sudetendeutsche Freikorps was formed. A paramilitary organization, it was financed, trained and equipped by the Germans and became increasingly involved in terrorist activities.

Hitler annexed neighboring Austria in March 1938. Encouraged by the pan-Germanism espoused by the Third Reich, the SdP agitated for complete autonomy. Hitler's government made a series of demands on the Czechs, which were refused.

The situation in the Sudetenland deteriorated. Small-scale clashes between SdP followers and Czech police and border forces became increasingly common, resulting in the regular army being called in to restore order. Nazi propaganda accused the Czechs of atrocities on "innocent" Germans.

On May 20, 1938 the Czech government ordered partial mobilization and moved units to the border. The Sudetendeutsche Freikorps took control of some regions, attacking Czech police and soldiers and kidnapped over 2,000 anti-fascist Czechs, who were transported to Nazi Germany.

Czech Handguns

After achieving independence in 1919, the Ceskoslovenska armada was armed with an assortment of Austrian, French, German and Russian handguns, including, among others, the Steyr M.12 and Roth-Sauer M.8 pistols and M.98 Gasser revolver; Mauser Selbstaladepistole C/96; P08 Parabellum pistol; Revol'ver Sistemy Nagana obr. 1895g; and Revolver d'Ordonnance Modele 1892.

In 1919, the Jihoceska Zbrojovka (South Bohemian Arms Factory) merged with the Hubertus Engineering firm to form the Ceska Zbrojovka (CZ) and began producing semiauto pistols for the local market. CZ was also involved in producing Mauser rifles for the Czech army, but in 1923 the factory was relocated in Strakonice.

With the notable exception of the Pistole vzor 24 pistol (see below) CZ focused on contracts for pistols for the Czech military and police from 1924-1938 while production at ZB concentrated on the vzor 24 Mauser for the Czech military and export.

In 1919, the Mauser factory sent an engineer, Josef Nickl, to ZB to install the equipment and train Czech workers to produce the aforementioned Mauser rifles.' Shortly after World War I had begun, Nickl had designed a pistol that utilized a rotating barrel system to lock the breech. Mauser had produced some prototypes, but wartime demands led to the design being shelved.

The Czechs were looking for a standard pistol for their armed forces and police, and Nickl presented the pistol he had designed at Mauser. Known as the Modell 1916/22, it was chambered for a proprietary 9mm Nickl cartridge.

The Czechs found Nickl's design interesting and prototypes in 9mm Parabellum and 9mm Nickl were manufactured at ZB, but trials in 1920 indicated the need for further development. The approximately 2,700 trials pistols produced, known as the Armadni Pistole vzor 22, were issued to the Ceska Cetnictvo (Gendarmerie). (4)

The Czech Ministry of National Defense requested a similar pistol, but wanted it chambered for the 9mm Browning Short (a.k.a. .380 ACP) which in Czechoslovak service became known as the 9mm pistolvy naboj vzor 22.

In 1923, the new CZ factory in Strakonice received a request from the government to redesign the vzor 22 and with help from ZB's production managers and engineers, set about "improving" the pistol. After a number of modifications, both major and minor, the pistol was adopted by the army and the Ceska Cetnictvo in August 1925 as the Armadni Pistole raze 9mm vzor 24.

The Czech government made inquiries to CZ about a simpler (a.k.a. "less expensive") 7,65mm pistol for issue to the Statni policie (State Police) and Mestska policie (municipal police). In 1926, CZ assigned the task of reengineering the vz. 24 to Frantisek Myska, who in quick order presented a pistol, that was approved for issue as the Automaticka pistole raze 7,65 mm vzor 27.

Since the 7,65mm cartridge did not require a locked breech, the vz. 27 was a straight blowback design. Production began in late 1927 and numbers were sold to various Czechoslovak police and security agencies.

In April 1936, the Czech Military Technical Aviation Institute approached CZ about a new service pistol. Among the features they desired were simplicity, ruggedness, a double-action trigger mechanism and wanted it chambered for the standard 9mm pistolvy naboj vzor 22.

Myska had been working on a new design that utilized a double-action only trigger mechanism based upon a pistol designed by Alois Tomiska in 1931. (6) A test lot of pistols were delivered for trials in January 1938 and were found acceptable. With specter of war with Nazi Germany hanging over them, in June 1938 the Ministry of Defense placed an order with CZ for 41,000 pistols that received the designation Automaticke Pistole vzor 38.

Production began at CZ in late 1938, but it appears that only a few hundred pistols were delivered to the Czech army, although a large quantity of components were completed before the country was invaded by the German Wehrmacht on March 15, 1939.

Negotiations between the Czechs and Germans collapsed, and Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht to prepare to invade Czechoslovakia. With war clouds gathering, in September 1938 representatives of Great Britain, Italy, France and Germany met in Munich to try and to avoid another European war. It should be noted that the Czechs were not asked to attend the meeting.

Over Czech protests, the resulting Munich Agreement gave Germany control of those regions of the country occupied by the Sudetendeutsche. Czechoslovakia was informed by Britain and France that it could either resist Nazi Germany alone or submit to the annexations. Realizing the hopelessness of fighting the Nazis alone, the Czech government agreed to abide.

The settlement gave Germany control of the Sudetenland starting October 10th, and de facto control over the rest of Czechoslovakia as long as Hitler promised to go no further. On September 30th, upon his return to Britain, Chamberlain declared that the agreement insured "peace in our time."

On October 5th, Czech Presient Edvard Benes, realizing that German annexation of Czechoslovakia was a fait accompli, resigned and left the country. Following the outbreak of World War II, he formed a Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London.

On March 14, 1939, with the encouragement of Hitler, Slovakia declared its independence and alliance with Nazi Germany. The next day the new Czech president, Emil Hacha, was told by Hitler that the Wehrmacht would enter the Czech lands and Germany would visit massive destruction on the cities and infrastructure of the country if they met any resistance. Hacha submitted and the Wehrmacht crossed the border that same day. Hitler went to Czechoslovakia on March 16th and proclaimed the German protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Czech Light Machine Guns

The post-independence Ceskoslovenska armada used a variety of light machine guns, among these were the German MG08/15, French Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1915 ("Chauchat") and Austrian and German Madsens. In 1923 they purchased additional Madsens in 7,92mm naboj vzor 23 from the Dansk Rekyl Riffel Syndikat in Denmark.

Finding the Madsen lacking, and wanting a weapon of native design, trials were instituted in the early 1920s and an air-cooled, belt fed design from CZ was declared the winner. The government decided to transfer machine gun production to ZB, where the engineers, and brothers, Vaclav and Emmanuel Holek abandoned the belt feed in favor of a top-mounted box magazine and the resulting weapon was adopted and manufacture commenced at the ZB factory in late 1926. (7)

The finalized version, the Lehky Kulomet vzor 26, was a selective-fire weapon that fired from an open bolt, featured a finned, quick detachable barrel, and could be fired from a bipod or mounted on a tripod. (8)

As with ZB and CZ's other products, the Lehky Kulomet vzor 26 proved popular and saw wide use by countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

As was their practice in most occupied countries, the Germans continued production of handguns, rifles and machine guns at CZ and ZB, which received the Germanic names Bohmische Waffenfabrik AG and Brunner Waffenfabrik AG. Large numbers of vzor 24 and vzor 33 Mausers were taken directly into Wehrmacht and Waffen SS service as the 7,92mm Gewehre 24(t) and 33(t).

As production continued, the vzor 24 was modified until it was identical to the German Karabiner 98k. The vzor 33 proved popular with German Gebirgsjager (mountain troops) and a modified version was adopted as the Gewehr 33/40.

Large numbers of the Pistole vzor 27 and vzor 38 were issued as the 7,65 Pistole 27(t) and 9mm Pistole 39(t), while many captured vzor 24s were also utilized as the 9mm Pistole 24(t). Production of the Pistole 27(t) continued during the German occupation and into the postwar years.

The Lehky Kulomet vzor 26 proved especially useful, and popular, with German troops. Production continued--as the 7,92mm Maschinengewehr 26(t)--until the Brno area was liberated by the Red Army.

In Part II of this report, we will examine the foreign small arms used by Czech troops fighting under British, French and Soviet command during World War II.

(1) Translation: Puska--Rifle

(2) Translation: Kratka Puaka--Short Rifle

(3) Also known as the vzor 16-33.

(4) Armadni Pistole = Army Pistol

(5) Translation: Army Pistol caliber 9mm Model 24.

(6) www2.rediscov.com/spring/VFPCGI.exe?IDCFile=/spring/DETAILS IDC SPECIFIC=13916,DATABASE=objects

(7) This transfer reportedly led to a series of legal challenges by CZ which held up the development and adoption of the vzor 26.

(8) Translation: Light Machine Gun Model 26.

Caption: Czech troops mobilize in 1938. Czechoslovakia had one of the most modern defense industries, a motivated army, favorable natural terrain and strong fortifications.

Caption: German generals had sleepless nights about Czech fortifications, and considered deposing Hitler rather than attacking them. In the end, they didn't have to.

Caption: The new Czechoslovak army was originally equipped with Infanteriegewehr 98s received as reparations from Germany. Many were assembled from parts by Zbrojovka Brno.

Caption: The Kratka PuSka vzor 24 was the standard rifle of the Czech army from 1924 through 1939. (sources: Bolt Action Military Rifles--Mowbray Publishers)

Caption: The Kratka Puska vzor 24 was also produced with turned down bolt handles for issue to mounted troops, (courtesy Hermann Historica Auctioneers, Munich)

Caption: The Kratka Puska vzor 33 was a short, handy 7.92x57mm bolt-action carbine developed by CZ for police service, (courtesy C&Rsenal, http://candrsenal.com)

Caption: Plenty of Mannlicher M.95 rifles were still floating around in 1938, and many found their way to the German-backed troublemakers of the Sudeten Freikorps.

Caption: The Czech army and police used the Armadni Pistole raze 9mm vzor 24, an unnecessarily complicated rotating-barrel pistol chambered for the .380 ACP.

Caption: Members of the Prague city police were armed with the Armadni Pistole raze 7,65mm vzor 27, a simplified blowback-operated .380. (courtesy Leszek Erenfeicht)

Caption: The Lehky Kulomet vzor 26 was the standard light machine gun of the Czech army and was sold in large numbers to armies around the world, especially in China.

Caption: The Automaticke Pistole vzor 38 was adopted shortly before Czechoslovakia was annexed by Nazi Germany, and relatively few were made. Note the DAO trigger.

Caption: The Wehrmacht entering Sudentenland. The joy would be short-lived, as Czech reprisals in 1945 were severe, and the Germans were ejected from their homes.
SPECIFICATIONS

KRATKA PUSKA VZOR 24

       Caliber:   7,92mm naboj vzor 23
Overall Length:   43.3 inches
 Barrel Length:   23.3 inches
        Weight:   9.2 pounds
      Magazine:   Five rounds, charger loaded
        Sights:   Front--Inverted V-blade
                  Rear--V-notch adjustable by tangent
                  from 300 to 2000 meters
      Bayonet:    Knife style with 12-inch blade

SPECIFICATIONS

KRATKA PUSKA VZOR 33

Caliber:           7,92mm naboj vzor 23
Overall Length:    39.2 inches
Barrel Length:     19.3 inches
Weight:            7.7 pounds
Magazine:          Five rounds, charger loaded
Sights:            Front--Inverted V-blade
                   Bear--V-notch adjustable by
                   tangent from 100-to 1000 meters
Bayonet:           Knife style with 9-inch blade

SPECIFICATIONS

ARMADNI PISTOLE RAZE 9MM VZOR 24 (5)

Caliber:           9mm pistolvy naboj vzor 22
Overall Length:    6.0 inches
Barrel Length:     3.55 inches
Weight:            24 ounces
Magazine:          8 rounds
Sights:            Front--Blade
                   .Rear--V-notch
Grips:             Checkered wood or plastic

SPECIFICATIONS

LEHKY KULOMET VZOR 26

Caliber:           7,92mm naboj vzor 23
Overall Length:    45.3 inches
Barrel Length:     26.5 inches
Weight:            23.1 lbs.
Magazine:          20- & 30-round detachable box
Sights:            Front--Inverted V-blade
                   Rear--V-notch adjustable by dial
                   from 200 to 1500 meters
Rate of fire:      500 rpm

SPECIFICATIONS AUTOMATICKA

PISTOLE RAZE 7,65 MM VZOR 27

Caliber            7,65mm pistolvy naboj vzor 27
Overall Length:    6.25 inches
Barrel Length:     3.9 inches
Weight:            27 ounces
Magazine:          8 rounds
Sights:            Front--Blade
                   Rear--V-notch
Grips:             Checkered wood or plastic

SPECIFICATIONS

AUTOMATICKE PISTOLE VZOR 38

Caliber:           9mm pistolvy naboj vzor 22
Overall Length:    8.1 inches
Barrel Length:     4.75 inches
Weight:            32.5 ounces
Magazine:          8 rounds
Sights:            Front--Blade
                   Rear--V-notch
Grips:             Plastic
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Author:Scarlata, Paul
Publication:Firearms News
Geographic Code:4EXSV
Date:Aug 1, 2017
Words:3149
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