Czech vz61 Skorpion: History and Mechanics

The Czech vz.61 Skorpion is a rather unusual sort of firearm; a machine pistol designed from scratch instead of being converted from an existing handgun design, and chambered for the seemingly out of place .32ACP (7.65mm Browning) cartridge. It is a weapon which seems awkwardly small as a shoulder-fired submachine gun, and yet equally awkwardly large as a handgun. So what is it?

Well, it is a pretty classic example of a Personal Defense Weapon (PDW). It was originally designed for vehicle and artillery crews, for troops who needed more than a simple handgun, but could not practically tote around a full size rifle. The vz.61 is small enough to be worn in a belt holster, keeping it readily at hand but as unobtrusive as possible. With the stock extended, it is capable of much better accuracy than a handgun, and the combination of fully automatic fire with the light .32 caliber cartridge makes for a high volume of quite controllable fire.

The Skorpion is also a remarkably sophisticated mechanical design, with a very compact hammer fired mechanism and a rate reduced to keep the 20 round magazines from being expended *too* quickly. Thanks to Marstar for letting me examine and shoot their Skorpion!

51 Comments

  1. What is that m14 looking thing behind Ian? It looks like it has an AK-74 magazine in it. Very interesting looking and curious!

  2. “fully automatic fire with the light .32 caliber cartridge makes for a high volume of quite controllable fire”
    Same cartridge (.32 Auto) was used earlier (1955) in Danish made DISA Madsen 7,65mm MP leveret til Portugal
    https://www.arma-dania.dk/public/timeline/_ad_automatvaben_view.php?editid1=27
    sadly only caliber (7,65 mm Browning) and quantity produced (200) are given, there is no information regarding magazine capacity (notice it is straight unlike Skorpion), weight, dimensions or Rate-Of-Fire. Does anybody have these informations?

  3. To supplement Ian’s otherwise accurate description – 7.65x17mm shot was previously not in inventory of Csl. forces; this made it an exception. Other than that police forces, both uniformed and end non-uniformed had vz.61 in their inventory. Some who read my often silly remark may recall event when my cousin used this contraption on raging bull.

    When I first took this thing (while serving as conscript in military) to my hand I thought it was a joke. But by closer study I realize how smart use of metal was included in this lightweight package. And yes, this machine pistol was mostly in hands of specialists – aircrews, reconnaissance and drivers; part of mentioned police.

    • “smart use”
      Ability to fit into strict limits and yet offer something useful (like lowered Rate-Of-Fire) is sign of genius

      “7.65x17mm shot was previously not in inventory of Csl. forces”
      From point of view of supply, better machine pistol/small sub-machine gun was Polish PM-63: http://modernfirearms.net/smg/pl/pm-63-e.html
      as it used Warsaw Pact default handgun cartridge – 9×18, adopted only 2 years after Skorpion, yet showing another proposition for personal defense weapon.

      • BTW: Names of both sub-machine gun might be understand as animal names
        Skorpion is Czech word for Scorpion
        RAK is Polish word for Cancer

      • In a sense 9×18 would have been better pick. But they did not have this round in production yet. First pistol on that round was vz.82, some 20 years after Skorpion.

      • Since I am still, although remotely, part of that culture I can say that from what I learned since and can make comparisons upon, Czech perception of firearm was different than Russian one. This is not to say that they make better products that Russians, not at all; that would be wrong assertion. All I recollect is that Russian weapons were generally perceived as awkward and clumsy (maybe bulky for better term) even crude.

        Czechs just like “finery” in firearms on their own. You can see it in their current pistol and rifle production as well. Different culture design I guess.

        • “Russian weapons were generally perceived as awkward and clumsy (maybe bulky for better term) even crude”
          They were made to work, finish (where it have little importance reliability-wise) was not priority.
          First Soviet approach at 9×18 small sub-machine gun was ТКБ-486
          http://zonwar.ru/pp/TKB-486.html
          designed by Makarov and Stechkin (he joined later) in 1955, with folding magazine, mass 1,3 kg, Rate-Of-Fire 550 mm, overall length 612/380 mm (stock opened/closed)

          • Later in late 1960s/early 1970s there was конкурс “Букет” asking for small suppressed sub-machine gun firing 9×18 cartridge, one of entrants was ПП-71: http://www.megasword.ru/index.php?pg=325 by Е.Ф. Драгунов, others were ТКБ-0104 by Н.М. Афанасьев and ТКБ-0102 by Н.С. Рыжов. None was found sufficient, due to limited effective range of 9×18 cartridge, back then, but first will evolve into KEDR sub-machine gun and second into Kiparis sub-machine gun.

          • Right on, this is it – this sample supports the suggestion I made; it looks just like if made during siege of Leningrad. You point in saying that they are functional and purposeful I valid though; after all Russia knows well what real war looks like.

            Just want to mention this: I follow on late developments at Koncern Kalashnikov. They seem to forge ahead with number of new pistol designs. I must say that I admire them when comes to technical merits. However, I cannot say same when comes to appearance. Their finishes still have lots to be desired. You cannot PHOSPHATE a pistol which is for civilian sales in peacetime. You will not even scratch the face of world market with this.

          • Hi Denny,

            I too have been following with interest the latest developments at Koncern Kalashnikov. Is the pistol you mention the PL-15?

    • One should never dismiss the personal defense weapon as some silly accessory for shooting range morons. The intended serious use was always at point blank range against something totally unexpected (so long as it’s not a bull or a wild boar). And besides, one cannot be expected to tote a full length rifle inside a police car! What’s your opinion on the use of something like the AG-043 as a PDW?

      • “AG-043 as a PDW”
        AG-043 was one of entrants in Конкурс «Модерн» (lasting from 1973 to 1978) which ask for weapon for tank crews e.t.c with following parameters:
        – selective fire mode (single/auto)
        – mass no greater than 2,2 kg
        – length no more than 750 mm (stock opened) and no more than 450 mm (stock closed)
        – sights scaled to 500 m
        Finally AKS-74U was chosen

        • “AG-043”
          Also notice that this was last weapon designed by С.Г.Симонов.
          This is same man, which designed AVS-36, PTRS-41 and SKS-45, he also worked later, but without such big success as mentioned weapons:
          http://www.dogswar.ru/oryjeinaia-ekzotika/strelkovoe-oryjie/5874-eksperimentalnoe-ory.html
          Notice that he was born in 1894, which mean he was 79 years old when конкурс «Модерн» was launched (older than others competitors), nonetheless his AG-043 full-filled all requirements (mass: 2,1 kg length (stock closed/open: 42 cm / 68 cm) and ever over-performed in area of accuracy at short and medium distances. In fact competitors of that competition were well aware that AKS-74U is most probable choice, as sharing many common parts with already produced avtomat, thus already known (or translating literally tamed) manufacturing technology could be used.

  4. As perhaps another addition worth of mentioning – Vz.61 was thru licensed production adopted by Yugoslav forces and even retained its name (pronounced ‘Shkorpion’). It is possible (my loose speculation) that thru this channel it propagated into the world scene.

    • A later version built in Yugoslavia was chambered for 9 x 19mm. It showed up frequently in the Bosnian War, usually in the hands of police units. Mainly due to the rate-reducer in the butt, it was actually fairly controllable in auto fire in short bursts.

      BTW, the idea of that rate reducer, if not the exact mechanism, was first used on the Royal MM31 “Broomhandle” clone machine pistol made in Spain. It had a rate reducer working on a flywheel principle in the pistol’s butt.

      Another method is an “air lock” at the rear of the boltway, that holds the bolt back for a fraction of a second in every cycle. The Finnish Suomi M1931 and Japanese Type II (1942) SMGs used this method.

      cheers

      eon

      • Actually, M84 was 7,65 (32 AUTO) version. Zastava never made Skorpion in any other caliber.Pistol itself was very popular among soldiers as war trophy or status symbol. But as a general military weapon it was pretty useless. Only reconnaissance groups really used them because Scorpions are easy for suppression. And yes, criminals were crazy about them. In Serbia, most of criminal executions were done with this little machine pistol during 1990’s and latter.

          • The EVO III appears to be a more traditional SMG with a longer barrel and higher capacity magazines. Consequently, it’s also much heavier than the vz. 61. Cyclic rate of fire is very high, so it appears that it’s intended to be used primarily in semi-auto or 3-round burst mode. My guess is that it’s supposed to appeal to the same buyers as the H&K UMP (i.e. LE organizations which don’t want to pay the steep price of the MP5).

          • Very good you mentioned this, although it is quite new and separate product. It started by one Slovak man thru his private initiative, later was adopted by CZUB and he ended up hired as a consultant. One certain way to success!

      • “Another method is an “air lock” at the rear of the boltway, that holds the bolt back for a fraction of a second in every cycle. The Finnish Suomi M1931 and Japanese Type II (1942) SMGs used this method.”
        I am wondering what would be cyclic Rate-of-Fire for full-auto version of long-recoil-operated .32 Frommer Stop automatic pistol?

  5. Those awkward wooden holster/stock things don’t inspire much confidence. They look as if they’d be much too bulky for use in vehicles, and not that likely to be used in emergencies.

    I think that at least some Stechkins were (re)issued with wire stocks. Building such a stock into a leather holster might be even better.

  6. I find very interesting the vertical style of the rate reducer, compared to older systems, like ratchets and weights inside the handle of Astra “broomhandle” lookalikes.
    Much simpler looking.

  7. Some sources state that the Skorpion was not really intended as a military PDW at all, but for export (under Russian auspices) to “revolutionary groups” in the West.

    Seen through such a “reality filter”, the .32 ACP chambering makes sense, as that caliber was easily available throughout the West, even in countries like France that prohibited heavier calibers for civilian sale.

    (In France at the time, a 7.65mm Walther PP was defined as a personal defense pistol and was licensable; the same pistol in 9mm Short/.380 ACP was defined as “War Material” and could not be owned by a civilian. Source- Michel Josserand.)

    With the folding stock (or even minus it) plus a sound suppressor, the Skorpion was a compact weapon well suited to clandestine operations. Or even less than clandestine ones, like the PLO’s “hobby” of doing drive-by shootings in Paris with two guys on a motor scooter, the one in front driving, the one in back “aborting” the victim with a burst of 7.65mm “retroactive birth control”.

    One expert, Eliot R. Brown, once commented that the idea of the Skorpion as a military vehicle crew PDW made sense, until you considered the sheer number manufactured, which was enough to pretty much fill up every armored vehicle in the Czech army plus a few allied ones.

    It’s probably not a coincidence that the Vz61 became the best-known product of the Czech arms industry from the 1960s on, while the Vz58 assault rifle and Vz52 pistol remained rather obscure and unknown in the West until the 1990s. It may have even outsold the excellent CZ83 7.65mm Browning personal defense pistol.

    Well, if you count being handed out free to “sympathetic groups” as “sales”.

    cheers

    eon

    • As I cannot tell for sure, my inclination based on “group psychology” of the time is that the vz.61 was NOT intended for foreign sales. For sure there was not a ‘terrorist distribution centre somewhere south of Prague’. No such a thing, ever.

      I believe that reason for unusual production quantity was use by police force and People’s militia (equivalent of national guard, basically armed wing of Com-party).

      • “I believe that reason for unusual production quantity”
        Also, some of produced would be probably stored in warehouses, just in case of World War III, which at that time was seriously considered possibility.
        Additionally 7,65 mm Browning (.32 Auto) cartridge was earlier used by Czechoslovak forces – see VZOR 50: http://modernfirearms.net/handguns/hg/chex/cz-50-cz-70-e.html
        which was probably best fit for small sub-machine gun, as 9×18 was not produced there and in thats time, when others available cartridge like 9×19 or 7,62×25 would result in more bulk.

        • I believe the vz. 50 was used only by the police and not by the army. Denny commented earlier that .32 ACP was NOT used by the Czechoslovakian military at the of the introduction of the vz. 61.

          • Correct reminder Euroweasel.

            Also truth is and my experience during service period supports it that higher ranking officers (typically from major up) did not want to carry ‘clumsy and bulky’ vz.52 (…boomerang comes back) and by switching to lighter carry they put on display their dominant position. Apparently this basically police/civilian arm was free for them to purchase.

            I apologize for some typos I made in recent posts; I try to fire them off quick so my thought does not get stuck. 🙂

        • These pistols were standard sidearm of uniformed police offices. They acquired popular name “svachina” (meaning ‘light lunch’) wor its compact size and light weight. Technically speaking, they were loose interpretation of Walther PPK with main exception being location of safety.

          I happen to own or rather ‘hold I possession’ one specimen as a keepsake. Funny fact is that is nearly harmless pistol was considered in Canada as “prohibited” for ‘unfortunate combination’ of small caliber and short barrel length.

      • On politically-propagandistic note which seem to set in with some gun interested people especially in U.S.A, I want to bring up some important fact.

        Lets not forget, the so called “communism” and with that factor connected ideological leanings after short period of time after takeover in 1948 in Czechoslovakia had in truth rather dull teeth. That country was during most of time relatively best off and its reputation with rest of Europe soared high. Its leadership (and yes it evolved quite dramatically in time) was definitely not keen to damage this status in long term. Therefore I DO NOT believe in any Czech/ Slovak government sanctioned actions toward illicit arms sales abroad. If there were sales they were strictly on government to government basis – supported by proper documentation and international money and goods transfers.

        I am not an apologist for previous regime, but just want to clear vison of those affected by reading of plenty of (questionable) fiction.

        • “illicit arms sales abroad”
          Also, for that purpose, sub-machine gun should be “sanitized” i.e. any markings on it should be omitted, like serial number or producer, possibly with exception of caliber (cartridge) or even more extreme might be used – putting fake inscriptions, like on so-called R9-ARMS sub-machine gun: http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2015/08/11/mystery-9mm-machine-pistol-seized-europe/

          “If there were sales they were strictly on government to government basis”
          Thus such sub-machine guns could go flow into illegal market, after receiving government got destabilized or bribed.

          • I think you understand well the possibilities after “all-legal transfer”. How else otherwise it was possible that vz.23 SMGs ended up in hands of Rhodesian racist dictatorship; arch-enemies of international socialism? It does not need lot of fantasy to figure it out, does it?! Who is the notorious dealer with firearms, worldwide?

            Can Czechs be blamed for that? Can they be blamed that some “freedom-fighter” aka terrorist used weapon with CZ on it to fulfill their objective? Not so difficult to answer isn’t it? Besides, that notion of subjugation to Soviet interests in every detail is outright stupid. If that was the case why would they show up with such military might in 1968?

            Precisely because they DID NOT trust Czechs, that’s why.

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