RIA: Ethiopian ZH29 and Czech Experimental Z37

The ZH-29 was an influential early semiautomatic military rifle, although not one that saw any significant adoption. As best I can tell, only two countries purchased them in any quantity: China and Ethiopia. This ZH-29 is an Ethiopian contract example, with an Ethiopian Lion of Judah on the receiver and stock. The other rifle we are looking at today is a further iteration of the ZH-29 that was tested by the Czech military – the Z-37. This rifle shows a few relatively minor alterations from the standard pattern:

  • Rear sight attached at back rather than front
  • Bolt handle changed from round knob to hook
  • Safety moved from trigger guard to rear of receiver
  • Front sight and bayonet lug pinned to barrel and made separate from the gas block
  • Barrel weight increased

In interesting glimpse into the changes requested by the Czech trials board before finally rejecting the design.


  1. Until this video I had no idea there was follow-up to ZH29. Looking at these rifles and as I mentioned previously, I have mixed feelings. One is superb finish, craftsmanship and design avantgarde. The other is inventiveness pulled to point of almost absurdity. The form is well ahead of function here. I am not surprised they did not sell on mass scale.

    Btw, that Ethiopian lion is much more fitting (being African nation) than the Czech national symbol of lion. Many people including myself wonder how that came to place except that lions were popular ‘pets’ of royals in European courts since middle ages. All kinds of eagles are lot easier to explain.

    • re. lions showing up in heraldry … I would guess that the Roman Circus, (the “Venatio” shows specifically), had something to do with it. And then there’s all that “Holly Roman Empire” business. ^__^

  2. Was the heavier barrel for better accuracy or to allow more sustained fire without heat buildup problems, I wonder.

    I doubt the intent was to make it a “machine rifle” like the BAR because of course the Czech Army already had the ZB26. But a squad armed with ZH37s that could provide a decent measure of sustained fire could be a useful backup to the SAW, especially during magazine changes.

    And unlike a Wehrmacht section armed with MPs for the same reason, they wouldn’t be giving away any range advantage. The closest analogue would be a U.S. infantry squad with a BAR plus Garands.



    • Disregarding hypothesis for second, it may be that Cs. infantry squad was not necessarily in disadvantage compared with its direct adversary of the time. Combination od standard Vz.24 rifle and mentioned LMG probably would not set them far apart. Also, the MG42 buzz-saw was not available then. Rest was in training and motivation.

  3. “(…)only two countries purchased them in any quantity: China and Ethiopia(…)
    Справочник по стрелковому оружию иностранных армий (1947) has SELF-LOADING RIFLE ZH-32 in Japanese section; description:
    Self-loading rifle ZH-32 of Czechoslovak firm “Zbrojovka Brno”, model of 1932 year, after series of trials was adopted by Japanese cavalry.
    Construction of ZH-32 is same as ZH-29.
    Basic data:
    Caliber – 7,7 mm
    Length (barrel) – 1140 mm (590 mm)
    Mass of rifle – 4,5 kg
    Nagazine capacity – 5 or 10
    Sight [maximal] distance – 1400 m

    • I’m beginning to think that some chronicler for the United States Marines messed up when he claimed that the Japanese copied the Browning M1918 with a patent date of 1932! What tipped me off was the description of the so-called BAR. The subject had a hinged piston rod and forearm, a feature never used in a Browning design but certainly found in the ZH-29! Said weapons were captured during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. Can anyone get more info about this?

      • That so-called chronicler reminds me of some so-called “expert” who was otherwise a respectable war veteran ( but not able, in a very human way, to distinguish fact from folklore where it mattered for reasons of personal bias, etc. ) who made a superficially convincing presentation at a firearms museum as to why the Japanese Arisaka rifles were grossly inferior to their U.S. counterparts in terms of quality of build. The fact that he was probably making his comparison between a very late-war Arisaka specimen ( when every corner was cut in production and metallurgy as well as build quality went by the wayside due to desperate material shortages ) and a standard production American rifle of good, consistent quality seems never to have occurred to him. In other words, he was comparing apples to oranges, and was thoroughly ignorant of it.

        We all know, of course, that a properly-manufactured Arisaka from the early to intermediate war years is one of the finest bolt-action military rifles ever made, and certainly possessed of what is arguably the strongest action of any bolt-action rifle of its time.

        • The Arisaka blank only training rifles are the ones to blame for the bad press for the Arisaka. Uninformed people firing live ammo in the training version is where the “It’ll blow up in your face/ It’s a complete piece of poorly made junk!” comes from. The rude and crude late war Arisakas were still a very viable weapon.

          • Yet another example that in area of firearms that weapons should be designed in way preventing firing wrong cartridge in it.

          • Very difficult to do comprehensively, since it would mean that making single shot (or multibarrel) guns would become much more limited. Even as far as revolvers are concerned, it would have historically required international co-ordination that didn’t really exist until recently.

          • An excellent and highly-relevant point, Mikawa B, especially about the training rifle misinterpretation. The same exact conclusion was drawn by Tim of the Military Arms Channel ( MAC ) on Full30.com. The last-ditch, late-war Type 99 Arisaka functioned for all intents and purposes to a similar degree compared to a high-end early-production model. The “shortcuts” in design and production were taken in areas where attention to detail, finish and finesse were deemed no longer necessary, right down to a less smooth but nonetheless still reliable bolt action. I suppose one could consider that the “last-ditch” approach was the equivalent of what we would consider a “minimalist” approach nowadays, taken to an extreme degree. However, the basic functionality was not compromised and so the “last-ditch” Arisaka was still a perfectly reliable and accurate weapon.

            For anyone who might be interested, you can go to http://www.full30.com, then click on MAC ( the Military Arms Channel ) and search for “Japanese Last Ditch WWII Rifles, Are They Safe To Shoot?”.

            It is also interesting how MAC agrees with what we now know to be hard fact — that the Arisaka action was easily one of the strongest and finest Mauser-type actions ever made, complete with superior quality metallurgy.

        • “finest bolt-action military rifles ever made, and certainly possessed of what is arguably the strongest action of any bolt-action rifle of its time.”
          Well, so far I know ARISAKA action is descendant of MAUSER action, which is praised high.

          • I’m quite aware of the Arisaka’s lineage in the Mauser action. The point I was making was that the Arisaka’s designers took the Mauser action and improved or over-engineered it to make it possibly the strongest bolt-action of its time.

        • “We all know, of course, that a properly-manufactured Arisaka from the early to intermediate war years is one of the finest bolt-action military rifles ever made, and certainly possessed of what is arguably the strongest action of any bolt-action rifle of its time”.

          Indeed, Earl. I would add that Arisakas, even prewar production examples, were always produced as purely militar grade rifles, without the refinements and high end fit and finish found on some prewar Mauser type rifles made for export in Belgium, Germany and Czechoslovakia.

  4. The ZH-29 has a block of aluminium stuck on the barrel, I assume as a heat sink. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this anywhere else, excluding the AR-10 (sort of… steel-lined aluminium barrel). Aluminium has a much higher heat capacity than steel – nearly double, so each ounce of aluminium added should reduce the total weight by almost an ounce in total.

    Is there some obvious reason I’ve missed as to how this is a bad thing? I guess the AR-10 may have taken it too far, but surely there is a happy medium?

    • “…reduce the total weight by almost an ounce in total.”

      That’s one way of looking at it. The other is that aluminum is 2.5x stronger (in tensile) than steel at the same weight. It is clear winner if used properly. The only potential issue I see with aluminum is that it is not as easy to weld (depending on grade).

      • Aluminum is also freakishly expensive to refine, if you remember that a chemical catalyst must be used to extract aluminum from its ore. And there are several types of aluminum alloy, some of which are very strong but sadly prone to corrosion if not well maintained! Did I flub this?

        • Grades 6061 and later 7075 are pretty well common place. You can keep them safe from corrosion by anodising. This is frequently accompanied by dying to obtain desired colour. On functional surfaces this is often followed by “fry film lubricant” treatment. I used once 7075-T6 to build my own motorcycle pegs and after 5 years of use they did not show sign of corrosion, neither fatigue.

          One trick with using this process is to estimate by how much holes become smaller and external features bigger. It works out to couple of tenses of inch.

          • “It works out to couple tenses of inch” : Which tense — past, present or future? 🙂

            Just teasing a little, I like the bit about the fish fry too 🙂

            As always, it’s great to read your input, Denny. Hope all is well with you and yours, and that you’re having a wonderful summer!

          • Yeah, I tend to skip the word or misspell here and there and I hope people decipher it right way. I hope anyway.

            Thank you for you thought about my well being. Much appreciate it and wishing well to you too!

    • “Aluminium has a much higher heat capacity than steel – nearly double”
      And also Thermal Conductivity: http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/thermal-conductivity-metals-d_858.html
      give 118 for Aluminum, pure and 31 for Carbon Steel, max 0.5% C and 21 for Carbon Steel, max 1.5% C and 7-26 for Stainless Steel and 34 for Wrought Carbon Steel (in our case more = better material)
      Interestingly there are materials even better than Aluminum in this area – Gold, pure which is 182, Copper, pure which is 223 and Silver, pure which is 235. So, if you totally don’t care about price, you might use silver for heat removing 🙂

      • Good reminder Daweo.

        Well, this heat absorption comes at price – volume expansion. It seem to work well on AR type rifles but it is not natural marriage (with steel action). Besides those two materials do not slide on each other well. It’s amazing it works – up to point.

      • Actually model of Harley-Davidson racing motorcycles did use an aluminum-silver alloy for the cylinders and heads for the first few years it was made. That would be the 1972 XR-750, but I don’t remember what year they quit using it.

        Once when talking to the HD engineer who designed the engine I asked him about it. He gave me the phone number of the company that found a non-silver containing alloy to replace it. When I called them a guy there gave all the details about both alloys and what year it had been that the change was made. I was mainly interested in the replace alloy, more or less forget the details of the silver alloy.

        Also, the a British racing motorcycle in the 1950s or 60s used a silver aluminum alloy. Off hand I don’t remember what company or model it was. Phil Irving wrote about it in an article about picking motorcycle cylinder head and cylinder alloys. He that the silver % was high enough(25% comes to mind) that metal removed during machining was carefully all saved and sold as silver scarp.

  5. Hi, Denny :

    Definitely no reflection here on the use of the English language on your part — as I said, just teasing a little :). I certainly have never had any problems understanding exactly what you are getting at, and I don’t think anyone else has either — which says a lot about your ability to express your opinion clearly and concisely.

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