CZ38 – The Czech Ugly Ducking

The CZ vz.38 pistol was developed by the CZ factory as a replacement for Czechoslovakia’s vz.24 pistols. It was formally accepted by the Czech Army in June of 1938, and 41,000 were ordered from the factory. Tooling and production setup took close to a year, and the German military occupied the country just 4 days after testing of the first pre-production batch of pistols. However, the German authorities decided that CZ should complete to pistol production anyway, and took possession of the guns themselves for use by the Wehrmacht, Reich Labor Service, Luftwaffe, and other services at the Pistole 39(t).
The initial order of 41,000 was completed by the end of 1939 with serial numbers from 250,000 through 291,000 and accepted by the Czech military on behalf of the Germans – so these pistols will not have waffenamt marks. Two additional batches were made – 3000 guns for the Luftwaffe (numbered 240,000-242,000) and 1000 for export, probably to Bulgarian (with B-prefix serial numbers 291,000-292,000).
Mechanically, the vz.38 is a simple blowback automatic pistol chambered for the .380 cartridge, aka 9mm Browning or 9x17mm. It is a rather awkward looking gun, and a double action only trigger. It does have a quite unique and very simple disassembly procedure though!


  1. “Wehrmacht, Reich Labor Service, Luftwaffe, and other services”
    I must say so: Luftwaffe was part of Wehrmacht, that its Wehrmacht has three main parts: Heer (land forces), Luftwaffe (air force, also responsible for AA guns) and Kriegsmarine (Navy).

    “does have a quite unique and very simple disassembly procedure though”
    Thus it was nicknamed louskáček (nutcracker)

    “rather awkward looking gun”
    Also, considering it fires 9×17 Kurz (.380 Auto) cartridge it is heavy at 980 g (unloaded, all data from Modern Firearms), that is more than TT (854 g unloaded) or Walther P38 (840 g unloaded). .380 version of FN Model 1910/22 offered same capacity (8) having smaller mass (~700 g unloaded)

      • That is good looking pistol with barrel to frame connection similar as Browning 1910.

        It is also interesting to read about discontent in parliamentary armament committee with Nickl’s pistol (probably had to do with pricing). In connection with this according to that information, A.Tomiska was relieved from his position with Praga factory in middle of 1923, after which he founded his own company. He never attempted an army pistol after that afaik.

          • I cannot tell for sure, but I believe Browning was first. How ideas were conveyed/ shared those days would, by itself be an exciting subject. The means of communication were rather sparse and everyone presumably clinged to their ‘secrets’.

          • ” means of communication were rather sparse and everyone presumably clinged to their ‘secrets’.”
            If it was patented, then if Tomiškův armádní model would be developed to production phase and produced, FN Herstal could sue for that.

  2. “(numbered 240,000-242,000)” Small typo there Ian. Need to edit that to 243,000. Great review of a true forgotten weapon. That looks like a very soldier proof pistol though of course nothing it totally soldier proof.

      • Less than a dozen moving parts if you include the magazine and catch, less than half-a-dozen springs, double-action only, straight blowback. In many ways, a pistol half a century or more ahead of its time.

        Given a polymer frame, better ergonomics and a double-column magazine, it would probably sell well today.



        • Tip-up barrels and double-action triggers are good for those who can’t rack slides very well. The first trigger pull on the CZ 38 would be similar to pulling the trigger on a double-action pocket revolver in some ways.

        • I had similar drift, but it did not occur to me to formulate it as well as you did. If you look at current U.S. service pistol, it is not far apart minus the plastic grip and large capacity magazine, as you mentioned.

  3. “1000 for export, probably to Bulgarian”
    VHU PRAHA has 9×19 Parabellum version of that weapon:
    number of it is 300001, however it report existence of second example (300002) which if I understand correctly current status is fate unknown. It creation was spawned by Romanian forces, which want to have common handgun sub-machine gun cartridge. If I understand correctly it is (unlike 9×17 version) short-recoil.

    • This is new and surprising information to me. They say that this version was of locked breech and in order to lock/ unlock, the barrel was rotating. This part does not surprise me that much since it would be carry-over from vv.24, but what amazes me how this added mechanism was incorporated is such small space.

      • To judge from the thickened slide up top and forward, it almost certainly uses the rotating-barrel lock of the vz.22, the locked-breech predecessor of the vz.24.

        It was locked-breech in spite of being in 9 x 17SR Browning because the original prototype, designed by Josef Nickl, was in 9 x 19mm. his feature was deleted o the vz.24 because it was unneeded and made the pistol cheaper to manufacture. So using the vz.22 locking system in this 9 x 19mm prototype makes perfect sense.

        Incidentally the odd-looking lever on the left rear of the frame is a manual safety. Supposedly, the Bulgarian contract version had this safety, due to being a single/double-action type. So the best guess is that this prototype had both fire modes, as well.



        • My memory is kind of vague in this respect (and not ambitious enough to do momentary search) but in past I always thought of vz.38 pistol as single/ double. Maybe the sample Ian had shown was the DAO version of former.

          • I looked it up and available material is showing the vz.38 was conceived as DAO right from start. Thus what Ian has shown is fully representable sample.

  4. Another well researched historical piece; congratulation!

    I had one time (left it behind, unfortunately) book on development of Czech armaments in First republic. One of items which took my attention was how Ceska zbrojovka was ‘gouging’ Ministry of defence when acquiring vz.24 pistols. They were at start-up of production enormously expensive and to alleviate their ‘guilt’ people at Zbrojovka tried to rationalize production of Nickel design pistol as much as possible.

    On this background it is easy to understand why MoD showed interest in something more suitable and cheaper. I personally consider this pistol, despite its ungainly appearance, something close to masterpiece. Thanks to Ian I was able, for the first time, to see internals and must say that I am impressed with excellent conduct of the mechanism. I believe it was work of Fr.Myska, one of famous Czech designers along with Koucky brothers, M.Kratochvil and many others.

    • “On this background it is easy to understand why MoD showed interest in something more suitable and cheaper.”
      What is interesting is that vz. 38 had big influence on Czech automatic pistol designer in immediate post war era see photos:
      From top to down:
      7,62×25 version (notice grip shape, caused by big length of that cartridge)
      9×19 version (different from version I linked photos earlier) which was improved and thus become:
      ČZ 47 which was improved and thus become
      ČZ 471 (different disassembly, lost hinge) which was improved and thus become
      ČZ 481 (has two-column magazine giving capacity 14 and is SA/DA – notice visible hammer)

      • I agree…. the final vz.52 was not the best solution IMO. I happen to own a sample and every time I pick it up it feels awkward – just too deep grip. Some years back I was in discussion with one very knowledgeable man in old country’s forum and his view was that adoption of TT33 would have been a better choice. I agreed with him.

        Thanks for very informative page. It shows vz.38 in 7.62×25 version – very impressive. This indicates that the frame was sufficiently proportioned (hence the weight) to handle such powerful round.

  5. This is a design of Frantisek Mouse who is the designer of another well known CZ pistol, Model 36 that more simplified version of which is Model 45 in 6.35mm. CZ38 is also called as “Nut Craker” through the resembance in barrel tip up form.

    Though looking simple, its action holds intriqued features like disconnector, slip safety and rear slide guides. A very well designed and made pistol of famous Czech gun design philosophy.

    • “Frantisek Mouse”
      According to my knowledge “CZ pistol, Model 36” automatic pistol was designed by František Myška.

    • Make it “Frank Littlemouse” and it would sound very timely; Americanism of society is currently in advanced stage 🙂

      There is also additional sear holding hammer away from primer before trigger is pulled.

        • Nothing to fret about Strongarm. It certainly does not bother me a bit.

          To learn names of foreigners is challenge for everyone. Ian too is doing his best, although he got me once with his interpretation of name L.Stange, designer of FG42 (he made it sound as French). It is easy for me since I am from area where German was lingua franca for centuries 🙂

    • The last pistol designed by František Miška, in 1937, who had formerly worked with Josef Nickl, the engineer at the Czechoslovakian Arms Factory, Ltd., Brno, on the design of the vz.24 pistol.

  6. That pistol almost looks like it could have been the inspiration for the artistic “F” in the logo.

    The slide serrations look a lot like those on the Remington 51 380 Type 1 except there are only 8 of them instead of 9.

    • More nitpicking I’m afraid and I apologize in advance:

      .380 ACP should be 9mm (Browning) Short in metric. There is no cartridge called just 9mm Browning, although originally that name was used for the 9mm Browning Long (9×20mmSR), which was introduced five years prior to the .380 ACP.

      Now, it is true that some people in Europe do call the 9×17mm 9mm Browning, because the 9mm Browning Long is an obscure historical cartridge. More common and more correct is to abbreviate by leaving out the word “Browning” and simply call it 9mm Short (or Kurz, Court, Corto). Official CIP name is “9 mm Browning court”, probably because it was introduced to Europe through French-speaking Belgium by FN. In practice, outside the “big five” language areas, either Short or Kurz is more commonly used than the Romance language words.

      • “.380 ACP should be 9mm (Browning) Short in metric. There is no cartridge called just 9mm Browning, although originally that name was used for the 9mm Browning Long (9×20mmSR), which was introduced five years prior to the .380 ACP.”
        There also exist .38 Auto (9x23mm SR) which also could be named 9 mm and Browning.
        In case of vz. 38 automatic pistol, if we want to be exact: it fired 9mm vz.22
        with somewhat bigger muzzle velocity than then popular 9×17 mm loading (giving 300 m/s vs 265…270 m/s)

        • Yes, but .38 ACP was never commercially marketed in Europe, except very briefly in the UK, nor adopted by any European military. Therefore, it does not have a metric name at all, just like 9mm Browning Long does not have a name in inches.

        • It could be an eccentric Czech notation: modern CZ83s in .380 that were exported here are marked “Cal. 9 Browning” on the s(l)ide.

          • Markings on guns are notoriously imprecise… It is not uncommon on old guns to have just the caliber without spesific marking about the actual cartridge they are chambered in.

  7. They may have been influenced by Lou Reed’s The Gun 🙂

    “The man has a gun
    He knows how to use it
    Nine millimeter Browning
    Let’s see what he can do… “

  8. I acquired a waffenmarked CZ38 in a pawnshop a few years back. Can’t remember what I sold it for, but I paid 125.00 for it. Best find ever for me in a pawnshop.

  9. Bought a 38 that was waffenamt proof marked on barrel and slide. Paid 150 dollars, sold for almost 900. Wish I’d kept it.

  10. Shot mine today. Fun to shoot actually.

    Mine was a WW2 bring back, the soldier who brought it back was my dad’s best friend and gave it to my dad when he got home.

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