In 1952 the Czech military adopted a radically strange new pistol designed by two brothers, Jan and Jaroslav Kratochvil. The vz52 (not to be confused with the vz52 rifle of the same designation that entered Czech service the same year) represented a unique application of the roller-locked action pioneered by the German MG42 machine gun. While HK dabbled in the same thing with their short-lived P9S handgun, the vz52 pistol was otherwise unique.
The vz52 was originally designed to fire the 9mm Parabellum round. After the Soviets crammed the 7.62x25mm cartridge down the throats of the various Warsaw Pact satellite countries, all subsequent vz52 pistols fed this zippy little round. The roller locked action of the vz52 was unusually robust and easily capable of managing the performance of this submachine gun cartridge. The vz52 is also correctly referred to as the CZ52.
The roller locked action of the wartime MG42 belt-fed machinegun was likely so radical because its designers had never before built a firearm. The company that ultimately produced the MG42 had originally built pressed steel lanterns so their engineers approached the project with few preconceptions. After extensive interviews with combat veterans and observations made at Wehrmacht machinegun training courses, these guys retired to their drafting tables and devised arguably the finest light machinegun of the war.
The beating heart of the MG42 was a pair of roller bearings that cammed into recesses cut into the gun’s breech face. By making wide use of industrial steel stampings they designed a gun that was not only rugged and reliable but also inexpensive to produce. By the end of the war the first prototypes of an Infantry rifle chambered for 7.92x33mm and based upon the same mechanism were available for testing.
This StG45 was smuggled into Spain and morphed into the Spanish CETME. This same gun was eventually brought back into post-war Germany and evolved into the G3, HK33, and MP5 families of firearms. Meanwhile, back in Czechoslovakia, the Kratochvil brothers had something smaller in mind.
The vz52 resembles either a shark or an aardvark, depending upon how generous you might feel when hefting it for the first time. The gun is unusually long and not terribly comfortable. The bore axis is exceptionally high, and the grip-to-frame angle fairly oblique. All this conspires to render the gun a bit unpleasant on the range.
The magazine release is located on the heel of the butt after the European fashion, and the trigger is an acceptably crisp single action design. Magazines are fairly tight on the guns I have handled. As a result, magazine changes require a bit of groping and are not terribly fast.
The left-sided safety sports three positions. Down is fire, horizontal is safe, and up is a momentary decocker. It should be noted that the decocker drops the hammer against the internal firing pin block. In some high round count specimens, this mechanism can purportedly become sufficiently worn as to allow the gun to fire when decocked. The hammer is of the rebounding sort so it should not contact the firing pin when the gun is at rest. The firing pin assembly is not terribly robust, so dry-firing is not recommended.
The synthetic grips are held in place with a spring steel clip that affixes from the rear. The sights are too small, but everybody’s sights were too small back then. There is a pivoting lanyard ring located just behind the magazine release on the butt. The recoil spring telescopes around the barrel in the manner of the Walther PPK.
To disassemble the pistol you remove the magazine and clear it. Lower the hammer, pull down on the disassembly catch just ahead of the trigger guard and allow the slide assembly to move forward slightly. It will then pop off the frame. Take a small tool and place it in the hole between the roller bearings. Give the barrel assembly a tug and it will pivot out of the slide.
The truly remarkable bit about the vz52 design is obviously the roller locked action. These rollers perform a similar service as do the same components on an MP5. The slide locks to the rear on the last round fired, but there is no manual slide release. To reload the gun one exchanges magazines and then gives the slide a brief tug to the rear before releasing it to go forward on a fresh round.
The gun was issued in a leather flap holster that included a pouch for a spare magazine. The gun was typically carried operationally with a round in the chamber and the hammer down with the safety off. Putting the pistol into action involved manually cocking the hammer prior to firing. While this seems a bit cumbersome the government-approved manual of arms for our own revered single action Colt 1911 is no less so. When I was first issued a 1911 pistol I was told it was to be carried with the chamber empty and charged on the draw stroke. Condition 1 carry was never a real thing in the Big Army.
Some vz52 pistols are said to have atrociously heavy triggers, but mine is not so bad. Getting the gun loaded and ready to fire is no more a chore than is the case with most combat pistols of this era. However, once the bullets start flying the gun’s sordid ergonomics take their toll.
The high bore axis and oblique grip to frame angle both conspire to manage recoil poorly. The 7.62x25mm cartridge was a prescient design that flirts with armor-piercing capabilities even in its standard ball guise. Milspec ammo typically pushes a small 85 to 88-grain bullet to around 1,600 feet per second. However, it is a submachine gun round and can seem snappy in a handgun as a result. Most GI milsurp ammo is corrosive so detailed cleaning is important.
The flat-shooting Combloc round is kind of cool. However, the vz52 really does not fit the hand terribly well. Magazine changes are an exercise in frustration when compared to more modern designs.
I really came to despise the safety. As the fire position is down I frequently inadvertently engaged the safety with my thumb as the gun came back under recoil. While most of my other gripes are just gripes, this is a showstopper for a proper combat tool.
The vz52 was only produced for two years from 1952 until 1954. During that time around 200,000 copies rolled off the lines. The gun remained in Czech military service until 1982. It has been encountered in the hands of terrorists and various ne’er-do-wells around the globe since then as a result of profligate communist arms proliferation.
Original versions typically sported a gray oxide or parkerized finish, though many guns like mine were arsenal reblued at some point. As the gun’s substandard ergonomics have rendered it obsolete as a modern military pistol, import-marked pistols like this one remain available at reasonable prices at places like GunsAmerica. Despite its several manifest failings, for the serious student of small arms, there is just something innately nifty about running a handgun that uses the same roller locked operating system as an MP5.
Czech vz52 Pistol
Caliber 7.62x25mm Combloc
Weight 2.09 pounds
Barrel Length 4.7 inches
Overall Length 8.3 inches
Action Roller Locked Recoil Operated
Magazine 8-Round Detachable Box
Sights Fixed Rear Notch and Dovetailed Front
Czech vz52 7.62x25mm
Load Group Size (Inches) Velocity (Feet per Second)
Winchester 85-grain FMJ 2.0 1547
Group size is best four of five rounds measured center to center fired from a simple rest at 12 meters. Velocity is the average of three rounds fired across a Caldwell Ballistic Chronograph oriented ten feet from the muzzle.
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