Saturday, April 6, 2013

Czech it Out: The Vz.52 Pistol

I was digging around in the safe the other day, getting ready for a trip to range on a brisk Virginia winter morning. I have most of my handguns in generic, black Plano cases for storage, and they're not labeled, so finding the gun I want can be trial and error. So, I grabbed a gun case that I thought was my Colt 1911 WWI Replica...it felt hefty enough, and it was a full sized pistol case. I opened it to verify and my Vz.52 was staring back at me. I realized that I hadn't shot it in a while. Then, I got to thinking that I've written a bit about the merits of 7.62 x 25mm Tokarev cartridge in the PPS-43, but that I never really talked about any of the pistols that were chambered for this interesting round. Long story short: I left the Colt at home, took the Vz.52 to the range, and when I came home I decided to Czech check this pistol off the list of guns I needed to blog about.


The Czechoslovakian VZ.52 Pistol, commonly known as the CZ-52.

Have I told you how much I miss the Cold War sometimes? I know it sounds strange, but things were simpler back then. You had the good guys (the free world), and the bad guys (everybody else). Oh well. At any rate, the Vz.52's story begins like so many other firearms of its era: in the post-WWII world. Czechoslovakia had a rough time of it during the unpleasantness with the Nazis, actually ceasing to exist as a country. Unfortunately, things didn't get better when the Red Army took Eastern Europe in 1945. It was inevitable that Czechoslovakia would fall under the Iron Curtain, though it took a little longer than expected: The communists seized power in 1948 in a bloodless coup. Though not directly influenced by Soviet Russia, the new communist government would not waste time consolidating its gains and allies.

Czechoslovakia falls. Be wary of any group that promises peace, land, and bread for all: even if they aren't lying, it comes at a heavy price.

The Cold War was in its infancy in 1948, a mere one year before the so-called Year of Shocks, but the Soviets weren't idle. They recognized the need to for communist nations to have standardized weaponry and ammunition in preparation for the inevitable WWIII, even prior to the creation of the Warsaw Pact. Czechoslovakia's sidearm at the time was the Vz.50. Designed by two brothers, Jan and Jaroslav Kratochv√≠l, the Vz.50 was chambered in .32 Auto, and was somewhat of a copy of the Walther PP series of pistols. This meant that it had all of the benefits and drawbacks of that gun: compact, but not particularly powerful. The USSR and its allies had standardized on the powerful 7.62 x 25mm Tokarev as its pistol round, but the straight blowback design of the Vz.50 was unsuitable for such a high pressure cartridge. It was obvious that a new pistol was needed.

The Vz.50. I own the later version known as the Vz.70. It's a decent pistol in its own right.

Romania, Poland, and Hungary had all solved this problem by adopting variants of the excellent Russian Tokarev TT-33 pistol, and it would have been very easy for the Czechoslovaks to do the same. But they wanted something different, something uniquely their own. Firearms manufacturing had long been a source of pride for the country: in fact, some of the finest military weapons ever made have come from Brno, Czechoslovakia. So the Kratochv√≠l brothers once again answered their country's call, and the Vz.52 was born.

Most American firearms enthusiasts know their gun design as the CZ-52, but this is a misnomer. The 'CZ' is an abbreviation for the manufacturer that produced the pistol, Ceska Zbrojovka, but the actual designation given it by the Czechoslovakian military is the Vz.52, or "model of 1952" pistol. The Vz.52 looks like something you'd expect to see in a 1950's science fiction movie. It's a very curvy, streamlined looking weapon, for a very curvy, streamlined time.


Also very curvy and streamlined: Anne Francis, starlet of 1956's sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet.


Anyhow, as I mentioned, the Vz.52 is a hefty slab of metal, weighing in around 34 oz. That's only a quarter of a pound less than the M1911, and equal in weight to the Beretta M9 that's standard issue to US forces today...but heavier than the Soviet TT-33. Compared to its counterparts in both Western and Eastern Europe, the Vz.52 was notably different in both form and function. Whereas the TT-33 used a variation of the tried-and-true Browning 1911 style lock up, and the Walther P1 a falling locking block, the Vz.52 was a completely different animal altogether: its locking system employed a barrel assembly that interfaced with the slide on a set of steel rollers. This provided a very strong lockup, more than enough to handle the pressures generated by the 7.62 x 25mm (in fact, this roller lock system was inspired from that of the famous German MG-42 machine gun, which was chambered in 8mm Mauser). Perhaps it was overkill for a pistol cartridge, but the system worked quite well.

This picture from www.czechpoint-usa.com illustrates the roller locking system.


The locking mechanism wasn't the only noteworthy thing about the Vz.52: it also had a safety decocker. Decockers weren't new, they'd been around for quite some time. However, unlike firearms such as the Walther PP or P1, the Vz.52 could either be decocked, or placed on safe with the hammer back, a la the 1911. The decocker allowed one to safely drop the hammer on a loaded round vs. having to "ride" the hammer down. The unusual part of this was that decockers were traditionally featured on single/double action pistols, but the Vz.52 was single action only. Still, it was a useful feature. In addition to the decocker/safety, the Vz.52 employed a firing pin safety block, meaning that the gun couldn't fire if you dropped it on its muzzle. This is a common safety mechanism today (though of questionable benefit), but it's worth pointing out as something that was a bit ahead of its time.

As opposed to the Soviet TT-33, which didn't even have a safety.

The Vz.52 was fed by an eight round detachable magazine with a heel release, like the Pistolet Makarova and P1 pistols. This is something you don't see in military firearms anymore. The rationale was that push-button magazine releases could be activated by mistake, causing a soldier to unknowingly drop his magazine. Without a magazine, the pistol was useless. The heel release system ensures this can't happen, but it considerably slows down the reload process, as it requires both hands to change a magazine. Both the Vz.50 and TT-33 had push-button magazine releases...go figure.

The Czechoslovaks issued the Vz.52 to both their police and military forces, where it served quietly until the 1980s, after which they were sold as surplus. When the Vz.52 was first imported into the United States in the late 1990's, some of them had been factory refurbished (denoted by a blued finish vs. a gray Parkerizing), but a great number of them were in excellent to unissued original condition. Like many Cold War weapons, most Vz.52s saw little use, and in fact, more than a few just sat in storage. According to what I've read, those unissued pistols that were stored were carefully inspected and checked for function every few years. My pistol, purchased a couple of years back from www.czechpoint-usa.com, was advertised as one of these unissued pistols. It came wrapped in plastic with a new holster, cleaning rod, a single magazine, and a lanyard.

My Vz.52 from www.czechpoint-usa.com, minus the lanyard. Where did I put that darn thing?

Honestly, the Vz.52 is not my favorite gun to shoot. The first thing you feel is the wide, but thin grip. It's certainly not the most ergonomic design in the world, and I find that the grip angle causes me to naturally shoot low with the pistol. The military-grade sights are serviceable, similar to those on the M1911, though the wider rear notch makes target acquisition a bit faster. The trigger takes getting used to. For a single action, it's fairly heavy and a touch gritty, mostly due to the design of the firing pin safety block. Yeah, I have a hard time shooting the Vz.52 accurately. It's one of those guns that really makes me focus on my technique, and that's not a bad thing: guns that are easy to shoot give one a false sense of confidence. Oh, and when you do pull the trigger...ha. You're rewarded with a loud boom and a large gout of flame from the muzzle. This thing is a fire-breather. GLOCK shooters to your left and right will ask you what you've got, and then they will ask if they can shoot it. Let them. Because secretly, GLOCK owners want to shoot real guns like real men do. And we should encourage that.

"My gun is all purple and stuff, and made of plastic! Like, wow. Also, I like unicorns!"

There's been a lot written about the strength (or lack thereof) of the Vz.52, and I won't go into that here. Suffice to say, if you shoot it with factory ammunition or properly reloaded ammo, you won't have any problems. There used to be quite a bit of surplus ammo on the market, with the Romanian stuff being very good in particular, but it has since dried up. Remember, this gun served for decades...you treat it right, it'll do its part. As for guys who try to blow stuff up to prove a point: may Allah bring you bedbugs and warts. If you want to blow up a gun on purpose, please email me instead: I will make you a counter-offer.

As I mentioned, I don't shoot my Vz.52 often, but it's a valued part of my Cold War gun collection, and it's one of those guns I'll never sell. Czechoslovakia produced around 250,000 of these pistols from 1952-1954. This puts the Vz.52 into the "not rare, but not really common either" category. If you have the opportunity to pick one up, I recommend doing so. They can still be had in nice shape in the $300 range, and that's a small price to pay for a piece of history.

Also, it really annoys this woman. Good side benefit.

14 comments:

  1. Great post mate! Always enjoy reading your blog, its got a nice mix of charachter and fact. Completely agree about those poor creatures who shoot glocks, giving them a real gun to shoot may show them the light ; )

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    1. Thanks. Yeah, it's not so much that I hate GLOCKs, I just find them to be incredibly boring appliance pistols. They're the Toyota Camry of the firearms world: utilitarian and ubiquitous. It'd be nice if more of the black pistol/black rifle crowd would broaden their horizons.

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  2. Vrock:

    Never knew the CZ/Vz difference and was truly wondering why you called a CZ52 a Vz.52. Now I know. Nice writeup and I just might have to find one (unless Dad's arsenal already includes one; at the rate he buys things I can't keep up).

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  3. Are you SURE that last photo is a woman?

    I call it another in a long line of skanks from the Left Coast. But that's just me.

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    1. Heh. I don't claim to have personal knowledge one way or the other. :)

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    2. Ew. The idea of having personal knowledge caused a shudder across the land. OTOH that guy has received billions of taxpayer dollars through his wife's legislative activities, so I suppose some might consider that compensation.

      But not me.

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  4. I've had a CZ52 and don't want another - the trigger slapping my finger at every shot made it unpleasant to shoot. Prefer a Tokarev any day.

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  5. I own four they are great for hunting wild pigs in Texas

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  6. Sidenote: CZ50 wasnt military pistol but predominantly a police/public servant and civil one.
    And original vz.52 cartrige was 9mm luger, just as with vz.75/sa23 SMG, it was rechambered but 9mm guns/barells are still there, although rather rare.

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  7. Haha, loved the Glick pic. I've been looking for a cz52 in Canada for a while, but they've pricey when they pop up.

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  8. How many cz52s were made in a 9mm version?

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    1. To my limited knowledge, none. Though, you used to be able to buy aftermarket 9mm barrels for the CZ.52.

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  10. They have stopped importing milsurp ammo for these guns, yes there are ways to cut down other cases and there are companies making ammo for these, but the old milsurp was cheap. I hope that our current administration will re allow importation of milsurp ammo in this caliber so I can buy at $.10 a round again. I will then build a rifle that uses the same ammo and maybe the same mag.

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