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Vz.52

Semi-automatic rifle

Vz.52 rifle

The Vz.52 offered Eastern Bloc nations an alternative to the more common SKS and AK-47

 
 
Country of origin Czechoslovakia
Entered service 1952
Caliber 7.62x45 mm
Weight (unloaded) 4.14 kg
Weight (loaded) 4.44 kg
Length 1 015 mm
Barrel length 520 mm
Muzzle velocity 760 m/s
Practical rate of fire 25 rpm
Magazine capacity 10 rounds
Sighting range 900 m
Range of effective fire 650 m

 

   The Vz.52 is a Czechoslovakian semi-automatic rifle developed in the late 1940s and fielded by that nation during the 1950s. It is a very similar rifle to the Soviet Union's Simonov SKS, in that not only are they comparable in form and function, but also in that both ultimately served only as short-lived stopgaps until assault rifles became available. It nonetheless remains in service with several nations and non-state groups, and still makes regular appearances in combat zones around the world.

   The Czechoslovakian Army took an interest in self-loading rifles and intermediate-power cartridges during World War 2, a combination of which was seen as a possible replacement for the obsolete Mauser Vh.24 rifle chambered in 7.92x57 mm Mauser. The Czechoslovakian armed forces had previous experience in acquisition of self-loading rifles with the Zh-29 (which had not been produced in sufficient quantity to fully replace the Vh.24, despite having been in continuous production for a decade) in the 1930s, though its production was shut-down in 1938 when Germany occupied Czechoslovakia.

   Though ultimately, wasn't until after the war that serious developmental efforts took place. A new rimless 7.62x45 mm cartridge was developed for this task, and in 1947, designs were submitted to the Czechoslovakian Army for a selection of firearms chambered in the new round. One of these was a self-loading rifle designed by two brothers, Jan and Jaroslav Kratochvíl, who had also designed a number of other firearms for the Czechoslovakian armed forces (which included what would become the Vz.52 pistol, which is otherwise an unrelated design to the rifle with the same designation).

   As post-war reconstruction took a higher priority in Czechoslovakia, development of the new rifle and cartridge proceeded slowly, and it wasn't until 1952 that both were finally in service with the Czechoslovakian Army. Though for all the time and effort put into developing the Vz.52 rifle and the 7.62x45 mm round, both were surprisingly short-lived in service with Czechoslovakia.

   The layout and general appearance of the Vz.52 are very similar to that of an SKS, but with a lot more "bulk" to its proportions. The furniture is straight-through and wooden, with an unventilated upper handguard that wraps tightly around the barrel, with a steel bracket to the rear. A small indentation on either side of the foregrip ensures an easier grip on the rifle, while a longer groove in the foregrip on the right side accommodates the bayonet when not in use. The trigger group has a complex shape, with the safety located on its front edge, and the magazine release is located ahead of the trigger group. The receiver is tall, with a pronounced Browning Stop, and the charging handle is located on the right side. A steel barrel cover extends forward from the front of the upper handguard to the front of the lower foregrip, and tapers-down in front. The rear sight is located on the front end of the receiver, just in front of the action, while the forward sight is bracketed directly onto the barrel just behind the muzzle.

   The furniture is made of either beech or walnut, both with a distinctive yellow-brown staining, while the metallic portions of the Vz.52 are made of forged steel with a blued finish. The buttstock is hollowed with a cell containing the weapon's cleaning kit, which is accessible by removing the detachable metal cap that covers the buttplate. The detachable magazines are made of aluminum. Rifles produced at the Povaska Bystrica factory from 1952-56 were stamped “SHE”, while rifles produced at the Uhersky Brod factory from 1952-57 were stamped “AYM”.

   The Vz.52 and Vz.52/57 are naturally very difficult to visually distinguish, and it is almost impossible to tell them apart at a glance. However, there are tell-tale details that distinguish them. For example, the Vz.52 has a parkerized finish, a shallow slope on the underside of the magazine, and no barrel crosspin in the forward receiver, while the metal on the Vz.52/57 is painted black, the slope of the underside of the magazine is noticeably steep, and a crosspin was added to the front of the receiver. The magazine itself may not be a reliable indicator however, as they are interchangeable, and Vz.52 magazines are sometimes used in the Vz.52/57 (see below).

   The Vz.52 is gas-operated, with a tilting breechblock action and a long-stroke gas piston. It is not a selective-fire weapon, and can only fire one round with each pull of the trigger. Unusually for a self-loading rifle, the Vz.52 ejects brass to the left, rather than the right.

   When the last round is fired, a bolt hold-open device locks the action in it's open position, allowing the Vz.52's magazine to be charged while still loaded into the rifle. This is accomplished either by hand with loose rounds, or using 5-round stripper clips. A groove on the front of the receiver cover guides stripper clips into the correct position for reloading. The magazine itself may also be quickly replaced, if a spare charged with ammunition is on-hand.

   The magazines for the Vz.52 and Vz.52/57 are extremely similar in design, and are actually partly interchangeable; a Vz.52 magazine may be charged with 7.62x39 mm rounds and loaded into a Vz.52/57, though it has been noted that the Vz.52's magazine will not feed as efficiently into the Vz.52/57 as the magazine actually designed for the latter rifle. It is also possible to load a Vz.52 magazine charged with 7.62x45 mm rounds into the Vz.52/57, or either of the two magazines charged with 7.62x39 mm rounds into the Vz.52, but it goes without saying that the wrong rounds for the given rifle will not chamber.

   The sights consist of a hooded front blade and a v-notched rear tangent. The rear sight is adjustable for between 100 m and 900 m, in 100 m increments.

   The bayonet is knife-shaped and built into the weapon itself, and folds laterally into a groove in the side of the foregrip when not in use. Unlike the bayonet on the SKS, it is easily removed for maintenance.

   Intense pressure from the Soviet Union for the Czechoslovakian Army to adopt the more common 7.62x39 mm round resulted in the Vz.52 being re-chambered for it, with the resulting Vz.52/57 variant finally entering service in 1957. Though despite the modification into the Vz.52/57 configuration, it didn't last much longer in service, as the Vz.58 assault rifle developed as its replacement was fielded the very next year. By the end of 1959, the Vz.52 series was fully withdrawn from frontline service, with reserve units gradually relinquishing their own rifles over the following years. Most of the Vz.52s (including large stocks of rifles still chambered in 7.62x45 mm) were donated or sold-off to nations and militant groups allied with or sympathetic to the Eastern Block, where they soldiered-on for many years.

   One of the most enthusiastic buyers of the Vz.52 was Cuba, who purchased a very large number of them when the Communist government came to power. Cuba acquired the original Vz.52, in 7.62x45 mm, as well as the 7.62x39 mm Vz.52/57. Exactly how many Vz.52s were imported by Cuba is unclear, though a possible indication is Fidel Castro's order of 400 000 spare magazines from Czechoslovakia in 1961.

   Cuban troops made extensive use of the Vz.52 in combat (or provided these rifles to combatants) during numerous conflicts; for example, the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961, the 1960-65 Congo Crisis, the Bolivia Insurgency, the Yom Kippur War, the Ogaden War, the Angolan Civil War, the US Invasion of Grenada, the South African Border War, and the Nicaraguan Civil War. The Vz.52 has also been one of the main firearms of the Cuban MTT militia ("Milicias de Tropas Territoriales", meaning "Territorial Troops Militia") since their establishment in 1980.

   Despite its simple operation and relative obscurity, Vz.52s have made numerous appearances on the battlefield. This includes conflict as widely chronologically spaced as the Vietnam War, the Ogaden War, the Invasion of Grenada, the Soviet-Afghan War, the Somali Civil War, and ongoing conflicts such as the Afghan War, and the Syrian Civil War.

   Though nowhere near as widespread as the competing SKS, the Vz.52 has turned up in some rather interesting locations. Its known operators include Cuba, Czechoslovakia (later passed-down to the Czech Republic and Slovakia), Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Syria, and Yemen. The Vz.52 has also been given in large quantities to non-state militants around the world, and is particularly common among such groups in Africa.

   The Vz.52 has been retired from front-line service in Czech Republic and Slovakia, though it is still employed as a ceremonial rifle in these nations. For example, Vz.52s with chrome plating and dark wood furniture are the official longarm of the Prague Castle Guard.

   There is also a growing civilian market for surplus Vz.52s as well, illustrated by the fact that the Shotgun News magazine advertised a chamber adaptor for the Vz.52 in the early 1990s, which would allow it to fire the 7.62x39 mm round like the Vz.52/57 (however, such adaptors were tried before on other rifles, and failed --- see the M1 Garand article for a prominent example). Interestingly, many Vz.52s on North American civilian market were "bring back" weapons that were captured by US troops in Grenada, and legally transported back to the US.

   The Vz.52's days on the battlefield are numbered though, as relatively few were produced, spare parts are becoming scarce, 7.62x45 mm ammunition has always been scarce, many were never produced or remanufactured in the Vz.52/57 configuration, and they are enormously outnumbered by the more recognizable SKS. How long it will remain in service remains to be seen.

 

Variants

 

   Vz.52: Original production model, chambered in the Czechoslovakian 7.62x45 mm cartridge.

   Vz.52/57: Vz.52 re-chambered for the Soviet 7.62x39 mm M43 cartridge. These replaced the Vz.52 in production, and very large quantities of existing Vz.52s were converted to Vz.52/57 standard.

 

Related Weapons

 

   StG-44: This German weapon was effectively the first operational assault rifle. It's operating method was incorporated into the Vz.52.

   M1 Garand: The Springfield Armory M1 Garand was one of the first successful semi-automatic battle rifles, and a number of its design elements were incorporated directly into the Vz.52.

   Vz.58: Czechoslovakian assault rifle similar to the AK-47 in layout, but having an operating method closer to that of the StG-44 and Vz.52. It gradually replaced the Vz.52 rifle in operational service.

   SKS: Competing Soviet battle rifle with many similar attributes. However, it has a fixed magazine, and uses a tilting bolt mechanism in its operation, rather than a tilting breechblock.

   There are also a pistol and a light machine gun with the designation "Vz.52", which also hail from Czechoslovakia; they are designated as such because they also entered service in 1952, and are otherwise unrelated to the Vz. 52 rifle.

 

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