Last Gasp of the ZB26: Czech vz 52/57 LMG

Czechoslovakia adopted the 7.62x45mm cartridge after World War Two, introducing both a vz.52 rifle and vz.52 light machine gun using the round. It was about 200 fps faster than the Soviet standard 7.62x39mm. It was marginally more effective in the LMG, but not so much that the Czechs put up a big fight to keep it, and changed over to the 39mm round in 1957. At that time, they converted both the rifles and light machine guns to the new round with the designation vz. 52/57. The rifle would be quickly replaced by the much superior vz.58, but the LMG would stick around for a while.

The vz.52/57 machine gun is the last production iteration of Holek’s original ZB 26 light machine gun. This design was tremendously successful, with the ZB 26 and slightly improved ZB 30 doped by many nations. It was also the basis for the .303 British conversion that became the Bren. Scaled down to intermediate cartridges, it was used by the Czechs in this form and also copied by the Finns as the KvKK-62.

The vz.52/57 is one a rather small group of guns which can be fed from either belts (50 round here) or box magazines (25 rounds). It is also one of a small group which use the pistol grip as the charging handle. Despite not seeing more widespread us, it is mechanically a very interesting and claver design.

Thanks to the Institute of Military Technology for giving me the opportunity to bring this 52/57 on camera for you!

38 Comments

  1. Adjustable gas block on this gun; could it not adjusted up or down to accommodate magazines vs. belts, precursor to the Negev?

  2. Funny thing is that I have not seen this gun until my arrival to this continent. Standard MG during my compulsory service was UK59 which I am well familiar with.

    One impression I had while handling it was that it feels “wiggly” due to loosely connected subassemblies. I cannot say I like or dislike it since I did not fire a shot out of it. It certainly is thought out thru due to military’s requirements of the period. In some sense it demonstrates pros and cons of extensive modularity demand. Designers carry the brunt of task as a result.

    • Oh, I forgot. I did not like bipod location so close to receiver. My taste for LMG bipod location is as forward as possible (much like SA80/85). But I also understand that this element was result of tactical doctrine of the time.

  3. My brigade captured or acquired one of these back in 2006 in Iraq. The Brigade CSM had it displayed in the Brigade conference room on Camp Striker. This was the only one I have ever seen in the wild. I wonder how it got to Iraq…

    • I do too. I thought Iraq had licence produced PKM. What it indicates though that there were dealings between governments of both countries beyond public knowledge.

      • This article in Russian http://www.dogswar.ru/strelkovoe-oryjie/pylemety/5820-pylemet-vz52-i-vz5.html states that due to standardization among WarPact members [at 7,62×39 cartridge] part of Vz. 52 machine gun was re-barreled and [another part was exported (…) Re-barreled ones served yet for some time and the most of them was exported.
        Sadly no recipients are given, nonetheless fact original caliber were also exported, hints that whoever was second side, was probably more interested with getting machine guns fast or getting any machine gun, than guaranteeing long-term access to proper ammunition.

        • Cuba got the 7.62x45mm models. My links to the documents are held up… Eventually they might appear (I hope).

      • My guess is that the Vz 52/57 machine guns came in with the Vz 58 rifles. I think this was after General Qasim took over in 1958-63. I wish I would have taken a picture of it…

        • Didn’t Syria get some Czechoslovak arms during the “United Arab Republic” era of quasi-Union with Egypt?

          • Arms in general sense yes, but not small arms AFAIK. There were Tatra all-wheel air-cooled trucks and training jets L29 delivered to Iraq, among other varied hardware.

    • Iraq had an insane selection of small arms going–The 101st Airborne had an entire 20′ container filled with all the “interesting” weapons it found over the course of two tours. Most intriguing ones I saw were a new-in-box M1919A6, a FAMAS, and a horde of AK variants, some of which I swear I’d never heard of, before.

      That’s what happens when you have a tin-pot despot with a fascination for weapons running the place. Everyone who wanted to make nice with Saddam brought him guns as gifts, and the stuff that was found laying around would make baby Jesus cry. There was a gorgeous Mannlicher-stocked Steyr that was engraved presentation grade like you’ve only seen presented to heads of state, and I can’t even begin to describe the state it was found in. Mind-boggling that someone would do that to such a gorgeous weapon.

      • There are numerous VZ52 carbines with Arabic numerals or markings painted on the stock from Egypt–and possibly Syria too–during the period of the so-called UAR/ United Arab Republic, 1958-1961… As a result, these weapons, along with the Swedish-engineered Ljungman “Hakim” 7.92x57mm self-loading rifles and the odd “Rashid” 7.62x39mm self-loader turned up as booty after the 6-Day War in 1967. It should stand to reason that the CSSR supplied Nasser with the LMGs to go with, no? Wouldn’t take much for arms to then be dispersed more widely, even to Mesopotamia….

  4. Combat use in Cuba during the revolutionary state’s consolidation of power–used by the MNR along with the VZ52 she self-loading rifle and 9mm Czech SMG. Also some Soviet PPSh41 Shpagin SMGs. The FAR at the time had FALs. Bay of Pigs and the so-called “lucha contra bandidos” in the Escambray until 1965. Some of these may have gone to Angola when the Cuban state responded to the U.S. CIA’s “IAFEATURE” and South Africa’s “Savannah” operations. Certainly 12k VZ52 rifles went to the MPLA/FAPLA in 1975.

    https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/115138
    “Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPCz) Politburo Resolution (with enclosures) on Arms Transfers to Cuba, September 1959,” September, 1959, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Central State Archive, Prague, Archive of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, fund 02-2, Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, 1958-1962, Vol. 259 and 343, point 29, page 19. Obtained and translated for the National Security Archive. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/115138

    “Report of the Czechoslovak Politburo Regarding Military Assistance to the Cuban Government, 16 May 1960, and CPCz Politburo Resolution, 17 May 1960,” May 17, 1960, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, National Archives, Prague, Czech Republic. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/115140

    “Report to Czechoslovak Communist Party Central Committee (CPCz CC) on Consideration of Cuban Arms Requests,” January, 1961, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Czech National Archives, Prague. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/115186

    “Record of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (CPCz) Politburo regarding Cuban Requests for Arms and Ammunition, 6 April 1961, with Attached Resolution on Same Subject,” April 18, 1961, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, National Archive, Archive of the CC CPCz, (Prague) https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/115189

    “Czechoslovak Intelligence Reports Correspondence with Czechoslovak Embassy, Havana, Regarding Purported Assassination Plot against Fidel Castro and Coup Plot against Cuban Government,” April 30, 1961, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Central State Archive, Prague. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/115191

    Here’s some of the documents of arms transfers from CSSR to Cuba 1959-1962

    • From the 17 May doc: “This shipment, valued at about 50 million Kčs CIF, will include 10,000 Czechoslovak 9mm guns, 500 light and 250 heavy machine guns, 100,000 hand grenades and 40 million cartridges. ”

      So those are vz. 48a and 48b (sa 23 wood butt and sa 25 folding butt 9mm SMGs)
      The VZ52 LMG analyzed and disassembled here in the video, and the
      ZB-53 LMG in 7.92x57mm belt-fed with a tripod (HMG). There were also copies of Soviet weapons, notably the quad-DShK AA guns.

  5. “(…)ZB(…)”
    Interestingly Zbrojovka Brno was engaged in development of tiny machine gun ZK 423-II, see photos: http://www.vhu.cz/exhibit/maly-kulomet-zk-423/
    yet during German occupation, it was using 7,92×33 Kurz cartridge and feed with belt (capacity: 50), if I understand correctly enough some blueprints survived war, so I am wondering if it was not “spark” which started development which finally ended in vz. 52 (and its cartridge)? Anyway, ZK 423-II means that Czechoslovak designer (Josef Koucký) gained experience in developing intermediate cartridge machine gun relatively early.

    • Okay, that thing is really cool; still not quite as cool as the belt-fed LAD concept in 7.62×25 (just imagine a squadron of dudes paradropping in while holding down their triggers for full minutes at a time, lol) but that thing looks downright handy. They say it weighs 10lbs, and that’s with olde school wood furniture & steel everythings. Looks like more of a belt-fed AK than something Holek-derived

  6. Also interestingly, to me at least, is that the CZ 515 and CZ 522 prototypes designed by Jir I Cermak of Ceska Zbrojovka used the dual trigger–top for single shots, bottom for full auto.

    The ZB 530 prototype used a top loading magazine and in-line layout with off-set sights like the LMG VZ52.

  7. The Finnish KvKK 62 borrowed some features from this Czech LMG

    See the bolt assembly, the safety and charging function, recoil spring and how it is removed.

  8. Such a better execution of the SAW concept than the RPD or M249…if only they’d taken another look at this with modern design & production techniques, and basically scaled a UK59 back down to an intermediate cartridge. x54r is just a little bit much for a gun as light as the UK59 (it’s much better as a mounted gun) but in x39 or even 5.56, a gun like the 52/57 would be light & compact like a Negev, perfect for an ‘assault’ role. The top-mounted magazine makes a lot more sense for a gun in this role as well.

    • Basically, we’re thinking suppressive fire on a belt, and then “GET OUT THERE AND GET THEM” and switching to magazine feed. Belts are a bit difficult to load on the sprint. Yes, I’m just joking.

      • Yeah, but with the ability to immediately take cover & transition back to belt-fed LMG, in order to suppress while riflemen maneuver/call in strikes, or to break contact. But can pop in mags to maintain a lower fire-tempo while still keeping up with the riflemen otherwise.

        • Also, if this gun is anything like the UK59, it’s at least the easiest belt-fed to load up on the run. With a solidly-latching assault belt box, pull-tab insertion, and push-through links, it’s not *that* different from a box magazine manual of arms (at least until you have to clear a malfunction, which probably still isn’t all that different from a box in the case of this gun)

    • vz.59 is harsh recoiling due the direct feed. PKM is even lighter and has much softer recoil, due the fact it dumps energy during recoil and needs only enough spring pressure to reliably lock, while vz.59 needs more, to reliably strip cartridge from a belt. That results in vz.59 having both more noticable “kick” and return stroke “forward kick”.
      Friend recently tried Polish direct-feed 7.62×51 PKM version (UKM2000), it is noticeably sharper recoiling, despite weighing more than original pull-push PKM in 7.62x54R.
      On the other hand, Bulgarian pull-push 7.62x51mm PKM feels practically the same as original.

  9. Before the BESAL prototype project was abandoned entirely, the last prototypes used the pistol grip and trigger group housing as the charging handle for the LMG too.

  10. Great video that brought back some memories from Iraq. I was working a DoD security contract for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Southern Iraq in the summer of 2004. We were using captured Iraqi weapons as the State Dept. hadn’t granted weapon import licenses yet to PMCs (other than the Ambassador’s detail). One of the team leaders I worked with had a VZ 52/57 that he kept with him in his vehicle (no idea where he got it). Cool LMG that was pretty handy and fairly soft recoiling. Served us well until we were able to get our M249s in country. Thanks for bringing this old girl back to light….brought a smile to my face!

  11. After sifting thru some technical thoughts it occurred to me, that the type of belt feed on this MG was rather unique and pioneering technology. When you look closely and I wish Ian left his camera moving slower, there is on side of bolt carrier unusual cam surface interacting with feed pawl. In terms of kinematics, for pawl’s roller to work properly and sustain thousands of cycles, the cam surface has to engage it in square contact (much like wheel of the car). All previous MGs feed was around 2-D (in plane level) groove cams or sprockets/ cogs.

    If I am correct this was actually first time this type of motion transfer appeared on MG feed, maybe with exception of some German aircraft cannons. The PK closely timewise followed; UK59 and eventually Negev have same thing on them.

    Now, the question: how this can be made with pre-CNC technology? As far as my recollection based on my own studies from 60s and 70s goes, I know that hydraulic tracer is one possibility. But still, to create a model/pattern (likely hand made) you have to produce desired quadratic warped surface on it. Not as easy as it looks at first glance.

    • This gun was the forerunner of the UK59, which had the same mechanism (“beckoning finger belt feed” as I refer to it, lol). The PKM borrowed this extremely compact arrangement for its feed system, and the Negev likely from the PK. It allows for an extremely short top-cover (since the ‘long’ cam section is now on the already-long bolt carrier the receiver layout requires) and uses mostly pivoting parts. Much more compact, reliable, and long-lived in my estimation.

      My UK receiver shows the cam surfaces aren’t the prettiest things in the world; they did a couple passes with some sort of side-cutting Woodruff Key type tool down the side of the carrier that don’t line up perfectly (I think like a rough clearing pass, followed by the finished cam surface), while rotating the carrier with some sort of tracer-mechanism. Afterward the carrier was thoroughly polished & chrome plated, so the surface ends up being pretty slippery. Most likely they figured out the roller position at the start & end of travel, and did a simple helical interpolation between them. They probably had a stud on the rotary fixture holding the carrier ride along a slot cut in a guide plate, turning it precisely as it passed by the cutter –that’d be the most obvious way to tool up this sort of multi-axis feature in the pre-CNC era. It’s no more difficult than the cam slot in an AR18 type gun, really, it’s just made with the side of the tool vs. the end, and doesn’t break through into an interior void.

      • Sounds reasonable; you seem to have machinist’s background. I like to see this kind of people here. I lived my active years in engineering/ manufacturing myself – it’s my field and way of thinking.

        Oh yeah, shooting is fun, but first you have to how to make it work 🙂

  12. MINFAR, _Manual básico del miliciano de tropas territoriales (MTT)_ (Havana: Editorial Orbe, 1981), p. 172:

    Ametralladora liviana modelo 52
    Calibre 7,62mm, de fabricación checa. Su alcance efectivo es de 800m. Se alimenta por un carador tipo curvo con capacidad para 25 cartuchos o una cinta con capacidad para 100 cartuchos y su cadencia de fuego en ráfagas es de 80 disparos por minoto, figuar 140. … (The “figure 140) displays the LMG with a much, much larger belt fed from a larger, rectangular ammunition can than the one Ian shows us… Next to the LMG with a belt inserted is a large box, which I assume is filled with 25-round magazines. The LMG shares the page with the Soviet DP and RPD…

    • Effective to 800m… that must be with original 7.62×45 Czech, not M43 Soviet ammo. I recall in my early youth seeing soldiers with vz.52 rifles for same cartridge. I was crazy keen to put my hand on it.

      • “(…)7.62×45 Czech, not M43 Soviet ammo(…)”
        This need some explanation: 7,62×39 cartridge from very beginning was designed to be able to attack effectively target up to distance of 1000 m, in sense of retaining enough kinetic energy. Naturally it is very low probable of scoring hit against individual target intentionally, but it must be keep in mind that machine guns could be used to fire-at-area (area denial) well beyond reach of single shots.

        Cartridge used in this weapon, according to https://naboje.org/node/45 launched 8,35 g at 770 m/s that is heavier bullet at bigger velocity than 7,62×39 common cartridge. Interestingly it seems that in Czechoslovakia intermediate cartridge program give tangible results as early as 1946, see photos:
        https://naboje.org/node/740
        It has smaller case capacity than what we know as vz.52, but before they get final result there was also 7,5×45 Z 47 cartridge – bit smaller caliber, see photos:
        https://naboje.org/node/750

        • Is M43 good to 100m? No, not realistic. On my vz.52/57 rifle the sight is to 1km, but this is an illusion. Probably carry-over from vz.52, on military’s demand.

          From my occasional shooting this caliber thru my sporting CZ carbine I do not even attempt to shoot at more than 200 yards. This is from bench rest – most ideal conditions imaginable. My favored distance is 100 yards, just not to embarrass myself 🙂

          During my service we shot at 100 and 200m using sa.58 with folding stock. As I hazily recollect my results were about 2x worse than what I can do with CZ sporting/ hunting carbine. And no, I am not that good at it, average at best. So was most of draftees.

          • “at more than 200 yards.(…)most of draftees”
            П (“battle setting”) of sight of SKS is equivalent to 365 m and is destined to allow scoring torso hits up to that distance.

      • “(…)rifles for same cartridge(…)”
        Fact that Czechoslovak used their own (not-7,62×39) cartridge in weapons introduced in 1952 need some explanation. Although Soviet Union introduced 9×18 and 7,62×39 cartridges for their service near end of Great War Patriotic, they were kept as secret against other countries – both WEST-aligned and COMBLOC – to mid of 1950s, when they (together with weapons) were presented to COMBLOC members – note that before that they were NOT informed about even existence of them and therefore invested in development of weapons for 7,62×25 mm, which was already in progress of being phased out of service in Soviet Union. See for example Polish wz. 43/52 (PPS-43 with wooden stock) xor Czechoslovak vz. 52 (automatic pistol) xor Hungarian Kucher K1 sub-machine gun.

        • Secrecy from Soviet side might be good explanation. Also, Czechs did some preparation work in secrecy during the war before they introduced 7.62 Czech. Actually, its projectile is very similar to that of 7.92x33mm.

  13. The reason the VZ52, BESAL and BESA all used the pistol grip as the charging handle was because they shared a common ancestor, the ZB53 medium machine gun. The BESA is a minimally modified ZB53 for use in British tanks, of course. The emergency BESAL was designed to use as many BESA parts as possible to get it able to be put into production as fast as possible if needed(I was told that “BESAL” was a combination of “BESA” and “L”ight but I can’t vouch for this. When they developed the VZ52, the Czechs adopted the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and kept this method of charging (and one again, it allowed tooling already in place to be used)

    • Thanks! As originally designed the BESAL had a reciprocating bolt handle, but quickly went to the pistol grip as charging handle form. Also, initially the design called for using the extra barrel of the Bren gun, but eventually it went to a barrel where only the interior surfaces were finished.

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