The Czech ZH29 is a meticulously made example of early semiautomatic rifle design. Made in the era before WWII when great care was taken in making arms, the only stamped parts on it are the buttplate, mag body, and mag floorplate – everything else is a machined part. Unfortunately, this carried over into the rifle’s price, which helps explain its limited commercial success. It was offered for sale in 7.92, 7.62, 7, and 6.5mm cartridges, but the only significant contract was from Ethiopia (Abyssinia, as it was known at the time).
The ZH29 had several unusual features, even by today’s standards. The bolt locked into the left side of the receiver, as opposed to the top or symmetrically into both sides. The barrel was fixed slightly out of square with the receiver, though it is not immediately obvious with the continuous shroud over it. However, you can see that the rear sight is offset to one side, while the front sight is centered on the barrel.
The magazine catch was another interesting but expensive feature. Like most magazines of the time, the ZH29 mag locked in place with a front lip and rear catch. However, the front lip was held in place by two spring-loaded pieces, so new magazines could be pushed straight into the magazine well, instead of the typical “nose in, rock back” motion normal for mags with rear catches.
The bolt holdopen was also unusual – it was integrated into the hammer mechanism. The magazine follower would block the bolt from closing after the last shot was fired, and the hammer would lock into a cutout on the bottom of the bolt. Once a new magazine was inserted, the bolt would be released by pulling the trigger. A second pull would fire a shot.
So aside from my description here, we have several other resources on the ZH29 for you. First is an original English-language manual on the rifle from 1930:
(1930) ZH29 Manual (English)
The English is not quite perfect, which is interesting. We also have an old magazine article which does an excellent job describing the ZH29 with text and diagrams. It’s unfortunately incomplete (I’m missing the last page or two), but very worthwhile anyway:
“Guns” article on the ZH29 (English)
Lastly, we have a series of Aberdeen Proving Grounds photos of a ZH29 in .276 Pedersen from July 1929, which you can see on the ZH29 rifle page of the Vault.
As I own a ZH29 this posting is a great resource for me… “Thank you.”
Unit cost, it seems, was a major factor in the lack of success of the ZH29, despite the Czechs’ attempts to sell it in some markets already well used to their Mauser bolt-action rifles. A small batch was manufactured in 7×57, which seems to indicate an interest in probing Latin American military markets (but not Spain, I suppose, as one of the state-owned arsenals was busy developing a semiautomatic rifle – I have some indication that it was shown to foreign visitors in order to probe possible export potential, as the conservative Spanish military wasn’t much interested in such an ammuntion “waster”).