Poland’s Battle Rifle: the wz.38M at James D Julia

Had it not been for the German and Russian invasions in 1939, Poland might have entered the 1940s with a very modern semiauto infantry battle rifle – the wz.38M. Designed by Josef Maroszek (notably also the designer of the wz.35 Ur antitank rifle), the wz.38M is a simple and efficient rifle which includes elements from the BAR as well as several Czech firearms.

It is a gas operated action with a Browning/Petter locking system, in which the bolt tilts up and down, locking against a cut in the top of the receiver. It disassembles into 4 components (plus one pin) in moments – really quite impressive for its time – and even still very good by today’s standards.

In total, just 55 of the rifles were made as an experimental trials batch, delivered to the Polish Army in 1939. Archival records of the weapon end at that point, as the German and Russian occupation ended Polish arms development. Only 5 examples are known to survive today, with two in Poland, one in Germany, and two in the United States.



    • Hasn’t it been pretty obvious that German logistics would have a nightmare supplying parts for another nonstandard small arm? The clerks had enough enough trouble dealing with Czech weapons and vehicles, whose parts were not compatible with German weapons, even if they shared ammunition and/or fuel. “Oh yes, let’s just add more problems to an already overwhelming mess.” And stupid Nazi pride forbade adopting weapons from “inferior races.”

      Did I mess up?

      • “And stupid Nazi pride forbade adopting weapons from “inferior races.””
        Quite ironically SS (which members believes to be superior race) has been equipped with Czechoslovak made (and designed) weapons, that is Untermensch weapons (for example ZK-383 sub-machine gun)

      • “And stupid Nazi pride forbade adopting weapons from “inferior races.””
        But they produced and use Pistole 35(p) even after are pre-war parts were consumed. Though this weapon was already in mass production when occupation started.

      • The SS was well known for commandeering every weapon they got ahold of, up to and including Russian armor and artillery. There are countless Eastern Front pics showing SS and Heer soldiers with Russian weapons, particularly the PPSh and I’ve seen photos of them using Russian Maxims as well. They didn’t seem to care much for the Mosin rifle though, or at least it doesn’t show up in photos I’ve seen although I did once see a pic of an excavated dug out bunker that had Mosin rifles used as flooring…. Captured weapon stocks were also issued to police forces in occupied areas and to rear echelon troops as well. So long as the weapons were serviceable and there were sufficient ammunition stocks to make it worthwhile they would put them to use.

      • The Germans adopted plenty of weapons from occupied countries. Even tanks. They made extensive use of the Czech tank LT vz. 38. Designated the 38t by the Germans. So yes, you messed up.

      • Forget this “inferior race” thing; it’s largely propaganda. There might have been some extremes, like in any other new movement, but on balance Germans had good use of Czech (Slovakia separated and created own state)industrial potential and quality workforce. As Daweo said, SS-waffen had base for their small arms R&D in Brno.

        • It has nothing to do with Rassenpolitik. Second-tier formations got captured weapons. Sometimes you see guys using captured weapons in first-tier units because they think they’re better; for example the dozens of PPSh and PPS photos. The W-SS units did not get first pick of ordnance until 1943-44; simple as.

    • “Why the occupation did not produce the rifles?”
      Technical documentation might be destroyed or hidden. Also, at that time, German don’t accepted hole-in-barrel gas-operated rifles (see G41(M)).

  1. That “zero” is maybe an “O”, not “0”, so a letter not a digit. I don’t know Polish specifically; google translate says open = “odkryty” which is about the same in other Slavic languages.
    The “Z” stands for “zamkniety” (says google translate), i.e., closed or locked, also similar to other Slavic languages.

  2. That’s a beautifully designed and beautifully​made rifle.

    Savage 1892 and 99 as another use for the locking system?

  3. The 1970s-era FN Browning Automatic (sporting) Rifle is externally quite a bit like this one;


    I’m wondering how similar they are internally, since both seem to have been broadly based on the BAR machine rifle at least in part.

    If the war hadn’t come along, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a commercial/sporting version of this, in 7.9 x 57 or even .30-06, show up in the Stoeger “Shooter’s Bible” around 1941-42.



    • “commercial/sporting version of this, in 7.9 x 57 or even .30-06, show up in the Stoeger “Shooter’s Bible” around 1941-42”
      I found this highly dubious, firstly .30-06 is longer and I don’t know whatever there were space available left in this design, secondly it was purely military development, maybe when production would start examples which fail to pass some test, but deemed safe would be sold, but again it would be 7.9×57 only. Also I don’t see reason why Polish manufacturer would have to chamber their rifle in such exotic cartridge (from their point-of-view) as .30-06, as their did not exist country which used this cartridge as default and would be interested in importing rifles.

      • 30-06 isn’t very much longer overall, the biggest obvious difference is the length to the shoulder of the cartridge. It seems this rifle could easily be made as a 30-06 but it would require a whole new barrel and at the least a new magazine follower if not a new mag. It may also require a bit of tweaking to the gas port and mass of the op rod, but those are beyond me.
        What I think eon was getting at though is that this rifle, if it had gone into full production would likely have developed a civilian following and a demand for a sport version, and if that had happened a model intended for US import would most likely have been in 30-06

        • Actually, at the time, .300 Savage (the ancestor of the .308 Winchester) was still popular over here. Since it’s shorter than the 7.9 (in metric terms it’s a 7.62 x 48mm) it would have fit the Wz.38M action with no difficulty. Power-wise, it wasn’t that far below the .30-06 or 7.9, either.

          .30 Remington (7.62 x 52mm) would have been another possibility.

          Note that the adjustable gas system could no doubt have easily been modified for such cartridges simply by replacing the 7.9 x 57 “plug” with one contoured at the end to allow for their variances in gas pressure and burning curve.



          • “Actually, at the time, .300 Savage (the ancestor of the .308 Winchester) was still popular over here.”
            What about 7×57 Mauser? It is close dimension-wise, but I don’t know whatever it was or not available in 1940s in US.

          • Daweo,

            “What about 7×57 Mauser? It is close dimension-wise, but I don’t know whatever it was or not available in 1940s in US.”

            I have a Remington-UMC ammunition catalog from 1896 that lists two loadings for the 7mm Mauser: a FMJ and a soft-point 175gr. bullet. Although it was available, in the 40s the .270 Winchester was the most popular cartridge in this category in the U.S.

    • eon,

      Other than their gas operation, the Browning BAR sporting rifle is nothing like the Browning BAR machine-rifle or this wz.38M. The Browning BAR sporting rifle of the late 1960s was designed by a large team at the FN Browning factory in Belgium and uses a multi-lugged rotating bolt for lockup. Tipping-bolt semi-autos are notorious for their poor accuracy so a design like this wz.38M would probably never be popular in a hunting rifle.

        • From the linked page:

          “Few SVT-40 were also manufactured in the sniper variant, equipped with scope mounts and telescopic sights, but accuracy was not sufficient, so only about 50 000 sniper SVT-40 were manufactured, and these were supplemented by the Mosin-Nagant sniper rifles.”

          My point exactly. Tipping bolt self loaders are notoriously inaccurate.

          • Good observation. Any idea what effects the accuracy in tilting bolt construction. Sudden vertical change of bolt mass when the bullet still running in the barrel?…

          • Strongarm: In short, yes. On the SVT-38 and SVT-40 the issue was vertical dispersion. There were issues with getting the optic mount to sit stably on the receiver and there were issues with vertical dispersion and repeatability and so in 1942 they switched the official standard back to “best of the litter” M1891/30 Nagant rifles; it wasn’t a “supplemented” thing so much as a “replaced with” thing. The SVT-40 sniper rifles were only made for a very limited time, but 50K is nothing to sneeze at in terms of overall production.

  4. That is a very nice looking rifle, and I have to wonder how it would have developed had it had a chance. I really like the elegant simplicity of the design and I’ll bet it would translate to a great sporting/hunting gun

  5. Cool design, i like how you can actually see the bolt moving as you pull the charging handle. looks like the design could still be made in a number of chamberings, 300 blk, 6.8 spc3, 30 carbine, 10mm auto etc.

  6. In Polish literature wz. 38M is mentioned with codename “Turniej” (tournament)
    There was two versions of this prototype rifle. Example exhibited in Muzeum Wojska Polskiego (Polish Army Museum) in Warsaw has two pins connecting receiver and lower assembly. Second pin is placed just behind magazine. Serial number of this rifle is 1027. Link to image:


    Letters Z and O most probably mean “Zabezpieczony” (safe) and “Odbezpieczony” (I don’t know english word – it’s opposite to “safe” but used almost exlusively with firearms and grenades).

    There is one report about combat use of 38M from memories of Józef Maroszek:
    During evacuation of Instytut Techniczny Uzbrojenia (Technical Institute of Armament)
    train with employees and materials has been attacked by two german planes. Maroszek opened fire to one of them, using “his” rifle. Plane was forced to land with heavy wounded pilot. It seems like anecdote but who knows…

    • Linguistically I would guess it’s “behind the safety mechanism” and “without the safety mechanism,” very broadly. Your description of “without safe” is perfect given how Slavic languages work.

      • Polish is my native language and my english is far from being perfect. I tried to show idea behind this words

  7. It’s a very elegant design with details like the single takedown pin and the bolt locking into the stripper clip guide. If there was demand it looks like it could easily be made for any number of rimless cartridges in the Mauser or .300 Savage/.308 Winchester families.
    Another thought on the gas plug markings is that each number might be a very coarse adjustment based on a full turn before indexing. Extra points for locking the gas plug by sliding the flats against the gas block.

  8. I think this is not a ‘Zero’.
    It is a letter ‘O’
    = Odbezpieczony (ready to fire).

    ‘Z’ = zabezpieczony (safe; will not fire)

    • …ooops (sorry; Bartek has already said that, but my conclusion was drawn independently to his)

      Have we both been trained back in Old Good Ludowe Wojsko Polskie?

  9. That’s likely not a “ZERO”, it is more likely an “O”, for FIRE in Polish, which is “ogień. Whoa!

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