James D. Julia: Czech ZK-383 Transferable Submachine Gun

The Czech-made ZK-383 submachine gun is a bit of an oddball in the world of submachine guns. It has several design features typically associated with rifle-caliber light machine guns – an integral bipod and a quick-change barrel. In fact, the ZK-383 was designed to be a hybrid gun, usable as either a standard SMG or in a support role off the bipod.

Another interesting mechanical feature of the ZK-383 is the removable weight in its bolt, which allows the shooter to choose between fast and slow rates of fire by removing the weight or leaving it in place. In my shooting, the slow rate was about 470 rpm and the fast rate was about 750 rpm. Personally, I preferred the slow rate – but both were exceedingly easy to control. The gun is fantastically well made, as one might expect from a pre-war Czech weapon.

This particular ZK-383 is an original transferrable C&R gun, brought back to the US by a veteran after WWII. It is a very early production gun, with a German-marked magazine well but no other German markings, and clearly did not see much abuse during the war.

In all honesty, this is the overall best military submachine gun I think I have ever fired.

60 Comments

  1. I like the Rat tail on the bolt; just like many shotguns. I wonder if this had any influence on the fabled FAL?

    • Look at the MAS38 in 7.65 Long. Its buffer assembly in the stock comb is almost identical to that on the AR-15.

      It just goes to show that there are only so many ways to do a job like that which will actually work.

      cheers

      eon

  2. “The Czech-made ZK-383 submachine gun”
    ZK-383 was if I am not mistaken purely export gun, not used by armed forces of Czechoslovakia – they used CZ Vz. 38 submachine gun

    “usable as either a standard SMG or in a support role off the bipod.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZK-383
    states that:
    The ZK-383 was originally designed to be a squad automatic weapon much like the British Bren and Soviet DP28, despite it shooting a pistol round and not a full sized rifle cartridge
    which would explain bipod and quick change barrel

    “The gun is fantastically well made, as one might expect from a pre-war Czech weapon.”
    Aswell other European 1930s sub-machine guns especially produced for export but not only – like Solothurn S1-100, MAB 38 (Beretta Modello 38), PPD-34, SIG MKMS

    • I believe you are right. Zbrojovka Brno was exporting subguns to various places namely to South America and they were used in war of Chaco.

    • +1!!

      This was easily, hands-down, the most informative piece I’ve ever seen on this SMG. Nikolai O’brynba, in his memoir published in translation as _Red Partisan_ claimed to have had a “Czech submachine gun.” Would that have been this one?

      I’ve read about this SMG, and yet this is the first time, seeing it actually tested (Ian: LOVED the Elmer Fudd laugh! Ha!), where I realized that the magazine is actually canted a degree above horizontal.

      The “link” between the bolt and the return spring was from the Steyr-Solothurn, yes? So this would have been the standard Bulgarian WWII SMG, the only Axis nation not to contribute soldiers to the anti-Soviet effort, but hiving off territory from neighbors Greece, Yugoslavia (Macedonia, parts of Serbia) and Romania. And used by the SS. The Nelson book on submachine guns claims sales to both Brazil and Venezuela.

      I was astounded by the ease of barrel replacement. I wonder if that had any influence on other SMGs? Nelson’s entries for the weapon assert that a police model was developed without the bipod and a simplfied L flip rear sight, and furthermore a post-WWII “H” model with a vertical magazine that could be folded forward like French SMGs.

      • “furthermore a post-WWII “H” model with a vertical magazine that could be folded forward like French SMGs.”
        I bet it was inspired by Hungarian Danuvia 39M sub-machine gun.

        • Ah, yes. Köszönöm/спасибо for the addition. I’m thinking you must be right about the Danuvia’s influence there.

  3. This SMG definitely beats the MP-40 in terms of accuracy and sustainable suppressive fire in a street battle, but it’s likely a pain in the rear to hump around (not as painful as lugging a drum-fed Thompson though).

    Did I mess up?

    • “Did I mess up?”
      Don’t overlook that ZK-383 was more expensive in production than MP.40, because of technology used (ZK-383 – machining, typical for 1930s European sub-machine gun, MP40 – stamping).
      Also I want to point that in 1930s almost none though about sub-machine as during WW2 – as cheap, light, simple weapon, able to spray enemy with bullets. No one bother about production cost as long as big quantity was not needed – see for example Swiss MP41 sub-machine gun:
      http://world.guns.ru/smg/switch/w-f-lmg-pist-41-44-e.html
      which use (totally unnecessary) Furrer toggle. Finally Suomi sub-machine gun version was mass produced, because it was cheaper than Furrer design.
      Also notice 1930s European sub-machine guns aesthetics – most are either MP 18 look-a-like or rifle look-a-like (Schmeisser MK.36,III submachine gun, SIG MKMO, Danuvia 39M)

  4. It is interesting that the charging handle is on the left side behind the magazine well, which is the opposite side to most SMGs, especially if they are magazine fed on the left. Also the magazine is slightly canted upwards, which I am sure was done for a reason, but what? Does it perhaps help an assistant gunner to place a new magazine in the well?

    • The canted magazine would aid in feeding I would suppose. The charging handle on left side is probably there for charging the weapon with the supporting hand that would be my guess.

  5. Of course the Czechs made the BRNO with the top feed magazines, didn’t know they had their own STEN variant with a side feed; which came first?

    • Apart from being a straight blowback submachine guns chambered for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge, the ZK-383 and the Sten had nothing in common.

      • Also, side-feeding magazines were quite common on first-generation SMGs, going back to the Bergmann Muskete with the Trommelmagazin 08. The idea being to make it easier to fire from a fire step over a trench parapet, or from the prone, without getting shot in the head in the process.

        Also, putting most of the controls on the left side with the magazine meant that the gun could be “run” with the shooting hand firmly in place in the firing grip. This came in handy if you were surprised while reloading, clearing a dud or jam, etc.

        One of the few exceptions was the Bergmann Model 1934/35, which had the magazine on the right. Why, nobody seems to know.

        cheers

        eon

        • I’ve seen it suggested that the theory behind the Bergmann Model 1934/35 was that the supporting left hand could remain in place, while the presumably more dexterous right hand handled reloading, mode selection, and shooting. I’m not sure any of these designers did actual ergonomic studies of which was more effective in practice, but Bergmann’s approach seems to have been the least popular.

          • “actual ergonomic studies”
            Notice that this Bergmann would be manually cycled as Mauser rifle, which made sense considering that most user know how to do it.
            Also in 1930s almost no-one was sure how sub-machine gun should look like and its purpose. Polish MORS sub-machine gun which purpose was… anyone know?
            It has quick(in theory)-change barrel but magazine holds only 25 rounds, if they want high practical Rate-Of-Fire why they didn’t use high-capacity magazine?
            It has pneumatically lowered rate-of-fire, why they don’t use heavier bolt/longer bolt travel/lever-delayed mechanism remain totally unclear to me – pneumatic device need to be machined to very tight tolerances and thereof is more expensive and prone to jamming due to dirt that lever. It would probably stop to work after some usage of gun due to worn. Also so far I know no-one other produced pneumatic-delayed sub-machine gun
            Vertical grip is not only grip but also monopod housing, which usefulness is questionable for me, I can understand giving bipod but monopod? What if you cant weapon? Also foot of monopod looks to be too small for me, wouldn’t it sink into soft terrain (this weapon is over 4kg heavy even without magazine)?

        • “Bergmann Model 1934/35, which had the magazine on the right. Why, nobody seems to know.”
          See Furrer W+F 1919 – another example of sub-machine gun with magazine sticking right
          Source:
          http://zonwar.ru/pp/WF-1919.html
          HISTORY:
          Produced in 1919-1921, 92 examples produced, pressed into Swiss service in May 1940, due to shortage of sub-machine guns. In May 1940 Swiss Army pressed 296 sub-machine gun including W+F 1919, aswell Polish MORS sub-machine guns [my note: how they got it (in 1939 Switzerland has no border with Poland)? how many?]. 69 W+F 1919 were scrapped 1962. Only few still exist today.
          TECHNICAL DESCRIPTION:
          Sub-machine gun work on same principle as Swiss Pistole 1900 (Parabellum) automatic pistol [my note: it is just rotated 90 degree along bore axis, see 2nd photo from top], it has booster at barrel muzzle. Magazine is box, 2-column, holding 50 rounds (7.65 Parabellum). Can fire in single or full mode, cyclic Rate-Of-Fire is 1380 rpm, has bolt-hold-open device, bolt go into closed position after magazine is removed. Adjustable sights (100-500m), sight radius 390mm, length of rifled part of barrel 250mm.
          Furrer also design twin-barreled version for use in aviation
          SPECIFICATION:
          Cartridge: 7,65×22
          Length: 790mm
          barrel Length: 270mm
          Weight (without cartridges): 4,78kg
          Rifling: 4 grooves, right-hand
          Magazine capacity: 50
          Muzzle velocity: 350m/s
          Rate-Of-Fire: 1380rpm
          Effective range: 150m
          My personal opinion: So far I know it is most steam-punk looking actually produced sub-machine gun

          • “My personal opinion: So far I know it is most steam-punk looking actually produced sub-machine gun”

            Good lord! I should say so! 😉

  6. As I understand it, the ZK-383 was actually originally designed for police use.

    Rather like the Spanish “Destroyer” bolt-action carbines chambered for the 9 x 23mm Bergmann-Bayard/Largo pistol round, the idea was that police didn’t need a full-powered rifle-caliber weapon for most duties, and in fact in municipal policing it was too dangerous for bystanders.

    But a weapon firing pistol ammunition with greater accuracy (the bolt-action) could serve as a sharpshooter’s weapon. Similarly, an SMG with the features seen on the ZK-383 could act as a support weapon, providing cover fire etc. without the risk of overpenetration common with a “full-grown” LMG.

    Keep in mind that at the time, European police agencies were still thinking in terms of situations like the “Siege of Sidney Street” in London in 1911;

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Sidney_Street

    Not to mention the French police’s rather long-drawn out campaign against the Bonnot Gang;

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonnot_Gang

    The latter included two sieges ended by the police calling in army sappers to dynamite the “illegalists”.

    Seen in this light, an SMG-cum-SAW could have been considered a less extreme alternative to measures just short of calling up mortars. And significantly safer for innocents who happened to live next door to the intended targets.

    cheers

    eon

    • Well put. Cops can’t afford to make collateral damage while dealing with holed up crooks. I understand that most criminals don’t have access to military strength weapons so unless you’re willing to give police officers armored cars and light tanks along with general purpose machine guns, having the ZK-383 and perhaps a short rifle chambered for 8×57 IS as support should suffice… Or am I wrong?

      • Finnish police uses the MP5 as a “support” weapon, although only in semi-auto, much in the same way as shotguns are used in the US. Full auto weapons like assault rifles are reserved to the Rapid Response Unit (i.e. SWAT in American police nomenclature). Using full auto fire is considered too precarious for ordinary policemen.

    • Don’t project pre 1914 British conditions into continental Europe.

      And especially do not project pre 1914 conditions into the inter war period – anywhere.

      The Bolsheviks were gradually extending their influence in what had been Russia

      There had been short lived socialist enclaves in Hungary, and in several German cities (Hitler took part in one of them).

      And though Otto Bauer had been talked out of a staging a socialist coup d’etat in Vienna, his social democrat thugs were as well armed or better armed than the post Versailles treaty, Austrian army, and were not shy about parading those arms through the streets of Vienna.

      It was the attempt by the Italian socialists to stage a general strike (and seize power) that lead to Mussolini’s thugs keeping the trains running on time.

      The inter war period was far from peaceful.

      In many towns and cities around inter war Europe, the police were either the thugs of the local politicians (’twas ever thus) or a covert army, where national armies were prohibited by Versailles.

      A police SMG could have hoped for a decent sales to anyone who had money to pay, that didn’t half its value every five minutes…

      • The Bonnot Gang was in France, not Britain. And the anarchist terror movement was fundamentally a Continental phenomenon that spread first to England and then the U.S. See The Dynamite Club by John Merriman;

        http://www.amazon.com/The-Dynamite-Club-Fin-Si%C3%A8cle/dp/0618555986

        Also The Bonnot Gang by Richard Parry;

        https://libcom.org/files/Richard%20Parry%20-%20The%20Bonnot%20Gang.pdf

        The Siege of Sidney Street was just one engagement in a very long war.

        cheers

        eon

      • “thugs.” Pot, kettle=black.

        Don’t think Bolshevik influence was “gradual” after 1918…
        Münich Soviet crushed by Imperial army veterans and Freikorps, lots of political violence in Berlin, Hamburg, the Ruhr, etc.

        And what of Vienna in 1934, hmm? Let alone 1938.

        Poor old quaint and bygone pre-1914 Europe:
        Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck helps put down the Chinese “Boxers United in Righteousness” following the admonition of his Kaiser to be as the “Huns under Atilla.”
        In Namibia, he helps von Trota wipe out the Herreros in 1904.
        By 1907 he applies his unsullied Prussian sense of professionalism and decorum in wiping out the Mai-mai rebellion–I mean these people just couldn’t be forced to pay their taxes as assessed in Berlin. Did I say “people?” Not so much. 1/4 million dead in that little pre-1914 “mision civilisatrice.”
        1914-1918: Valiantly leads his ragtag band of loyal-as-the-finest-hunting-dog Askaris against the vicious Allies who wouldn’t abide by the gentleman’s agreement that whites shouldn’t fight other whites in the colonies lest the colonials get certain “ideas.”
        1919: Caps off the military career shooting workers in Hamburg with the Reichswehr, but then gets kicked out after supporting the Stahlhelm Kapp Putsch in 1920.

        At least he told ol’ Adolf Schickelgruber to go **** himself, although one of his surviving sons said he as not so polite.

    • The Spanish destroyer carbine, Ian should do a review of it. It used to be a common surplus item in the 90’s. Sarco had 50rd mags for them that would also work with Spanish c96’s with modification.

  7. Gorgeous shape, with some interesting ideas. The bolt tail allowing a smaller diameter mainspring to sit in the bottom of the barrel tube… nice bipod design too. Does make me wonder what it could have evolved into, belt fed in 7.63 Mauser/7.62 Tokarev perhaps.

    • In my opinion, a belt-fed gun chambered for a pistol caliber (even as powerful the 7.62 Tokarev) does not make much sense. Even with a bipod it would still be limited to an effective range of about 250 meters.

      • Those characteristics would make it perfect for certain kinds of close quarters combat such as jungle warfare, though.

        • Rifle calibers have a hard enough time traveling through thick vegetation without deflecting. A handgun cartridge would be horrendous.

          • Well, are soldiers expected to do “one-shot stops” on enemies hiding behind trees or are they told to use suppressive fire while another group goes around to let them have it in the unmentionables?

          • True — but SMG’s such as the Sterling and the Owen have still proven themselves pretty effective in jungle warfare.

          • Yes, as individual soldier’s weapons with detachable box magazines, but not as support weapons with belt feed. Nobody is questioning the usefulness of SMGs in close quarters combat. It has been proved numerous times, not just in jungles, but also in the temperate and arctic forest of WW2 Europe from Yugoslavia to northern Finland, and of course in the cities of WW2 Eastern Front (more so than in the West, since the there were more SMGs present).

            However, for a general support weapon a pistol cartridge is just too limiting in range and belt feed is not necessary or even desirable or practical for a personal weapon.

      • I wonder if .30 carbine characteristics would fit better for this kind of role…

        Since I heard from every part that US support doctrine consisted more into suppressive fire than actual hits on targets, that could have been lighter and cheaper to make noise on the field.

      • “belt-fed gun chambered for a pistol caliber (even as powerful the 7.62 Tokarev)”
        Soviet crafted and tested such gun – LAD machine gun (пулемёт ЛАД, 1942-43)
        http://raigap.livejournal.com/163939.html
        Blow-back weapon, weight: 5,56kg, length: 970mm, cartridge: 7,62×25, feeding: 100-round belt, Rate-Of-Fire: 600rpm, only full-auto fire.
        Tests (against sub-machine guns) results were positive, it was not produced because more powerful (7.62×39) was in development, but experience gained was used in creation of РПД-44 machine gun.

        • That’s a really heavy beast for something firing a pistol cartridge… But admittedly much lighter than the DPM. So perhaps the idea had some merit, but since it was never adopted that remains debatable.

  8. It does look very Brno

    The tangent rear sight is very reminiscent of the sights on a Brno.22 RF rifle. Similarly the concentric circles on the cross bolt and the whole pattern of the machining and finishing.

    A beautiful late example of a first generation SMG. Made to the same standard as an interest Brno Mauser.

    Arguably the Suomi was the first of the second generation designs.

    With the stamped and welded stuff forming the third generation

  9. Beautiful gun. They don’t make it like that any more, I cant stand to look at the plastic infected sh*t today.

    Did you maybe measured weight of the bolt, with and without attachment in center?

    • Well, the ZK-383 is freakishly expensive for a pistol caliber weapon. And its unique combat niche has been taken by GMPGs and rifle caliber SAWs now that rifle ammunition isn’t that expensive for a nation-state’s budget. The only place for such a beautiful and well made weapon like the ZK-383 and the Steyr-Solothurn MP-34 by extension today would be the police station (more specifically with a SWAT unit). In such a case, the wooden stocks would get replaced with plastic or metal stocks unless you go for laminated wooden stocks.

      Only in Italy could you find entire combat units armed with the Beretta MAB-38, which was expensive compared to the MP-40 but apparently better in overall combat performance, able to effectively hold off rifle-toting enemies at about 200 meters (well, what did you expect when the Italians used the Cartuccia 9mm M38, an overpowered version of 9×19 Parabellum?). According to elite Axis units, partisans, and Allied forces (especially the British), the Beretta was often preferred over the MP-40 and the Sten due to its reliable nature and combat durability as opposed to the latter two being easier to produce (and the suppressed version of the Sten is better for assassination missions). So despite the price tag, it appears everyone wanted the MAB-38. Making it cheaper seems to have been a good idea but that approach also made it look like the not-so-great MP-41… Or did I mess up again?

      • Well, the MP-38/42 was basically just the base MP-38 minus the more fiddly bits like the ventilated barrel jacket, stamped instead of machined trigger guard, etc., a shorter forestock, and a slightly-shorter barrel with a built-in compensator (a couple of angled cuts milled into the top of the muzzle).

        It might not have been as Ferrari-looking as the original, but it would still get the job done out to 200 meters. Which is really all you can ask of any SMG.

        Not to mention weighing 7.2 lbs vs. 9.25, and thus being a darn sight easier to lug around all day.

        cheers

        eon

        • There was also the intermediate MAB 38A, which was in fact the first model officially adopted by the Italian Royal Army in December 1941. The differences to the original were elimination of the bayonet mount and changing the compensator to the supposedly more effective four angled cut type (the original did have a compensator with two horizontal slots). From mid-1942 on the rear tangent sight was replaced by a fixed 200m sight. The MAB 38A was the most common SMG of the Italian Army prior to September 8 1943 surrender and Mussolini’s downfall, since production of the MAB 38/42 started only in 1943. The base model was officially used only by some police units like the Carabinieri and the PAI (colonial police). Some examples used originally by the latter may have found their way to army infantry units in North Africa.

  10. ZK-383 (local nickname “Zorka”, a female name, and play on ZK designation) was very popular among Yugoslav partisans in WW2 even if it was a bit rare. It was often designated as “laki puskomitraljez” – “light light machinegun” or maybe “light SAW” would be more appropriate translation…

    It, like few other popular weapons (ZB LMG, Beretta SMG) even had own “song”:
    “Moj se automat zove Zorka, Svabe* ce da koka” – “My SMG is named Zorka, it is gonna kill Germans*” *Substitute with Bulgarians/Italians/whoever.

    Beretta SMG was “Moj se automat zove Bereta, tudje majke po grobljima seta” – “My SMG is named Beretta, sends enemies mothers to visit cemeteries”

    ZB LMGs “Moj se mitraljez zove Brno, mnoge majke zavio u crno” – “My machinegun is named Brno, put a black veil on a lot of mothers”

    Carcano “Moja je puska Talijanka, Svabi grob sprema” – “My rifle is Italian, prepares grave for Germans”

    Crude and rude, but quite appropriate for a no mercy fighting in Balkans during WW2.

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