PHP MV-9: The First Croatian Pistol (Both Models)

Croatian engineer Marko Vukovic first developed his P38-based pistol in the late 1980s for the Yugoslav Peoples’ Army. It was left unadopted at that time, but when Croatia declared independence in 1991 the gun found a new life. The newly formed Croatian armed forces needed quite a lot of small arms. Vukovic brought his pistol design back off the shelf and presented it to the Croatian authorities. They were enthusiastic, and it was adopted as the PHP (“Prvi Hrvatski Pistolj” – First Croatian Pistol) MV-9 and put into production in 1992. This was both a practical win – a reasonably good handgun for the Army, produced domestically, and also a moral victory in showing logistical independence from the old Yugoslavia.

The design was improved in 1994 with a shorter (4 inch / 100mm) barrel and simplified disassembly. A total of approximately 5,000 early pattern and 11,000 late pattern PHP pistols were made, with production ending in 1995. For Vukovic’s company IM Metal, the PHP was a valuable introduction into firearms mass production. They would take the lessons learned here and use them to develop the HS-95 pistol, as well as the VHS series of rifles.

Many thanks to HS Produkt for giving me the opportunity to visit and film some of their early prototypes! Not all companies are willing to share their less-successful early designs, but developing good guns can only happen by trying and often failing at first.


  1. P38 clone…

    With a difference that…

    Lock recesses at both side in the slide being closed at the uppersides… Not seen from the top…

    A good point for slide durability… Seeming the slide breakage away longer time than P38 and F92… But… lessening the locking surface resulting more stress over the slide and lock piece…


  2. P38 the “best” pistol in the world? What year was it they concluded that? I suspect it was just liking of German pistols based on memory from WW2.

    If to depart from Browning tilting barrel the best other option is go to with rotary barrel. Old vz.24 modified for 9mm Para would be a possibility. Sooner or later every maker ends with tilting barrel anyway. All those swing links end up with too wide slide and sloppy rattling assembly.

    • When this pistol was developed, the Beretta 92FS had just been adopted as the the M9 pistol. So for Vukovic was following a trend at the time, one could say. Now, more than 30 years later we can see that he probably was not right, but that is the benefit of hindsight.

      • I would not take anything from Vukovich’s ability to design an ‘independent’ product, but as we both know, all was invented long time ago. Why to sweat it? If they feel so warmly about Germans (Danke Deutschland), just buy a license from HK and way you go.

        • “(…)If they feel so warmly about Germans (Danke Deutschland), just buy a license from HK and way you go.”
          But did they have cash for that? If not deriving own automatic pistol from P38 might be attractive so you could have German-like automatic pistol without paying, as to my understanding patents related to P38 already expired by then.

          • But did they have cash for that?

            Cash comes from loans. If country’s regime is politically favorable, no problem. You pay back as you go; perhaps forever.

        • Except that in such time, germans would be the last to sell them “licence” for any type of gun. Btw. what licence means, you setting up all the tools and factories, or them ?
          Because if its latter, its a shitty affair, as UN gratitously put arms embargo on all exYugo states. Returning to my first sentence…

    • I’ve read that about the P-38 in a number of places. While the design was, for its time innovative, I’ve never understood the claim it was “best.” The double action feature was innovative in a super-neato secret decoder ring kind of way. It scarcely rendered SA autos obsolete. The muzzle end of the P-38 is light and despite the sort-of ergonomic grip, the piece points poorly. The Hi-Power beats it in ammo capacity and balance. While what I just said is to a degree subjective, that is just the point: “best” for who and for what purpose?

      • I had P38 once in my hand and shot a coupe of rounds out of it; not impressed. Double action trigger pull was terrible. Neither I was impressed with somewhat better M92/ M9 which I also shot, took apart and studied in detail. There is a good reason Beretta came up with a new pistol.

        All the new plasticky stuff is for most part boring. I like the steel framed guns of the past more. I am actually more of a revolver fan, although they too have their limitations.

        • If I should name a pistol of distant past I like and continue to be impressed with it is Savage 1907. That is a slick design; truly innovative in terms of both design and manufacturing techniques.

          There was apparently one French derivation of it in 7.65 Long with large capacity magazine. Good pistol overall. That is what Vukovich was supposed to copy/ convert to 9mm Para. Oh well.

          • “(…)There was apparently one French derivation of it in 7.65 Long with large capacity magazine. (…)”
            Have you any drawing or photo of said weapon?

            It was dawn of automatic pistols, when various ideas were tested. Without proven and widely accepted designs to copy innovation was must.

    • To be fair, not only did IM Metal copy the P-38, so did Beretta and the US Army, among others, adopted it. Not a bad run for the Walther bbl lock.

  3. Gaston Glocks first patent is a kind of extra spring that assists a SA/DA pistols first DA Shot to have the same pull weight as the subsequent shots. It’s a pretty “meh” concept. But from there Glock took the idea further and invented the super simple sheet metal sear system that made the Glock so famous and economical.

    • The best inventions are often the simplest and cheapest ones, and at the same time, its sometimes very hard to make something simple, as paradox it sounds, its easy to overcomplicate it.
      For example, had the VP70 this kind of DA/SA system, instead of that heavy DAO, it would have maybe beaten the Glock 10 years earlier.

  4. Distinction of short and long barrel version is correct, shorter being officially called Compact, (which is funny, its nowhere near what market knows as compact)
    But with a fact that majority of ALL of them are made as complicated spring fished-out version,
    the one where its easier is last version/mod. made only in small numbers.

    Also what is not mentioned, vast majority of PHPs were not used as service pistols, but as a presents/awards to active or retired military and police personel, most often with stamped recipient name and unit dedication above slide serrations (you see here how top is big and flat).

  5. The Croats went with a dusted-off P-38, but the Yugo choice which trumped this pistol was also a German-inspired (actually Swiss-German-inspired) pistol, the SIG Sauer P226, called the Crvena Zastava CZ-99 (do not mix Yugo CZ with Czech CZ). Seeing both the prototype MV and the production model, I really do not wonder why they have chosen it over this overcomplicated (just look at the disassy/reassy sequence) boomstick. But fortunately Vukovich also took his lesson, and his next pistol, the HS-95 > HS-2000 > Springfield XD was a really good one, despite of the Glock-copy label. It is about as Glocky, as MV-9 was Waltherian, but for the ignorant bunch who never took a look ‘under the hood’ external likeness is enough to throw labels.

    • If Vukovic made something like CZ-99 by himself and they from CZ made nothing, they still would have not chosen it, as he was not a serbian designer, so its more ethno-politics of the time, to the story of whats a better design.

      Funny thing is, HS-95 is very much Sig / C.Zastava inspired. It was a good design,
      but HS2000 was/is a stellar design which propelled them in being 2nd biggest pistol factory in the world, not only now, but for last 15 years.
      Crvena zastava makes and solds a number of cz-99s pistols in a whole year, as it is made (xd) in one day in Karlovac.

      It important to remember; nothing of it would have been, if it wasnt for initial PHP contract!

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