Two Czech 6.35mm Pistols
by Ed Buffaloe
I would like to acknowledge up front that the primary source for this article is the book Know your Czechoslovakian Pistols, by R. J. Berger--it is an invaluable reference.
The history of Czech arms manufacturing is as convoluted as that of Czech history itself. In most cases, various arms companies were founded by an individual or individuals, changed hands often, underwent nationalization at some point, and were later decentralized and/or privatized. In this article I’m concerned with two Czech pistols, the DUO (which was manufactured under several other names) and the CZ Model 1945, but first a little explanation about the various Czech arms factories is necessary.
Many weapons manufactured in Czechoslovakia or the Czech Republic are referred to as CZ. CZ has long been the abbreviation used for Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, and also has become generic nomenclature for Czech arms makers whose names are often difficult to pronounce.
Zbrojovka Brno, or “Weapon Factory of Brno,” took the name Czechoslovak Zbrojovka, or “Czechoslovak Weapon Factory,” in 1919. The building they located in had earlier been an artillery repair shop for the Austro-Hungarians, at a time when the Czech nation, also known as Bohemia, was an Austrian province. Starting in 1921, this factory in Brno made Gewehr 98 Mauser action rifles, and produced two early pistols. For the first year they assembled parts made in Germany (Mauser was forbidden to make military weapons in this period), and during 1922 began full production of the Czech Mauser (M98/22). In 1926 they bought the assets of Praga Zbrojovka (Prague Weapon Factory), whose trademark was a “Z” in a rifled bore.
Ceska Zbrojovka, or “Bohemian Weapon Factory,” was formed in 1922 from a merger of the Jihoceska Zbrojvka (South Bohemian Weapon Factory), originally in Pilsen, with the Hubertus Factory in the town of Strakonice. This is the factory that originated the now-famous CZ trademark, and for many years was the sole supplier of pistols to the Czech military. This CZ factory has been regularly confused over the years with the above-mentioned Czechoslovak Zbrojovka in Brno because their initials are both CZ, but the Brno factory was primarily a rifle and machine gun facility, whereas the Strakonice factory made pistols exclusively. In 1936 a new factory was completed at Uhersky Brod (further from the German border than Strakonice). The Czeska Zbrojovka - Uhersky Brod company is often referred to by its initials CZUB.
During the communist era, from 1947 to 1991, both Czechoslovak Zbrojovka and Ceska Zbrojovka became government controlled arms manufacturers. The Strakonice factory manufactured motorcycles and heavy equipment during this period, but resumed small arms production after the fall of the communist regime. Late in 2003 Zbrojovka Brno went bankrupt and halted production in 2006. Their assets were purchased by a Czech investment group in 2007, but as yet they have not resumed manufacturing.
Early Czech 6.35mm Pistols
The Praha pistol (model 21) was designed by Vaclav Holek and manufactured by Praga Zbrojovka in 1921 and 1922. The upper front portion of the slide was milled so that it could be pulled back by the trigger finger and, as the slide moved to the rear, the folding trigger was lowered into firing position. This pistol was not successful commercially and probably fewer than 8,000 were made.
The Little Tom pistols were designed by Alois Tomiska and patented in 1908 and 1910. The rights were sold to Wiener Waffenfabrik of Vienna, Austria, where the guns were made between 1919 and 1925 in quantities of approximately 17,000-28,000 (some estimates are as high as 50,000). Tomiska produced the Little Tom briefly in Pilsen, probably after 1925, with a total production run of just over 2000. The Czech made version is quite scarce. The Little Tom was produced in both 6.35mm (.25 caliber) and 7.65mm (.32 caliber), the .25 being much more common. The guns could be fired double action on the first shot, and single action thereafter, but required a long trigger stroke whether fired double or single action, as the trigger did not retract when the hammer was cocked.
The Fox 6.35mm pistol was also designed and made by Alois Tomiska in Pilsen and Strakonice, Czechoslovakia, starting around 1919. The early pistol had a folding trigger (like the Velodogs) and no trigger guard. After the formation of the Ceska Zbrojovka company in 1922, the Fox was redesigned to have a conventional trigger and trigger guard, and was renamed the CZ model 1922 (vz 1922) which should not be confused with the vz 22 pistol made by Zbrojovka Brno in 9mm Kurz in the same time period. The vz 1922 was the first pistol to carry the now-famous CZ trademark. The vz 1922 was produced until 1928, with a total production run of approximately 11,000.
The vz 36 was a 6.35mm pistol produced by Ceska Zbrojovka from 1936 to 1940. It was designed by Frantisek Myska as a replacement for the vz 1922, but shows the strong influence of Alois Tomiska as well, particularly in that it was, like the Little Tom, a double-action only design. (The Little Tom preceded the Walther PP by a decade--the Walther was double action only on the first shot.) The vz 36 was produced both with and without a small safety lever above the trigger. Total production is not known precisely, but was probably around 12,000.
The Perla pistol was manufactured by Frantisek Dusek sometime in the 1938-1939 period, and is quite scarce. There is scant mention of the Perla in any book, but a reader finally sent me a photograph of one. To my eyes, the gun is nearly identical to the Walther Model 9, right down to the manual safety lever. (Hogg and Weeks state that the Perla was based on the Walther Model 9. R.J. Berger states that it closely resembled the German Lilliput of August Menz (which was similar to the Walther). Ezell states it was based on the 1910 Browning.) The slide is marked only “AUTOMAT. PISTOLE «PERLA» 6,35”, and the grips “Perla 6,35,” with no maker’s name, but the format of the markings is identical to that of Dusek’s Jaga and DUO.
The Slavia pistol was made by Antonin Vilímec in the Bohemian town of Kdyne in the period between 1921 and 1935. Sometime in 1935 Vilímec’s factory was absorbed by Posumavska Zbrojovka Kohout & Spol. (PZK), which was also located in Kdyne. Existing stores of the Slavia pistol were sold to the J. Masny arms dealer in Pilsen. PZK continued to manufacture the Slavia under the name of MARS. In 1937 the MARS was produced in .32 caliber also, and appears to be a copy of the 1910 Browning.
VZ is an abbreviation of vzor, which is Czech for “model.” In 1945 the vz 36 was redesigned by Jan Kratochvil to make it easier (hence cheaper) to manufacture and became the model 1945 or vz 45. The safety lever which had sometimes appeared on the vz 36 was eliminated (though a few early model 1945s were manufactured with a safety lever). The changes included the addition of a side plate to simplify assembly and a magazine safety. The vz 36 had a connector from the trigger to the hammer that ran on the left side of the magazine, whereas the vz 45 has a Browning style stirrup-shaped connector that runs on both sides of the magazine.
The overall design of the receiver, slide, guide rod, and recoil spring are very similar to the earlier Browning .25 design. The barrel mount is also like the Browning, with a single lug that rotates into a slot in the frame. The trigger pivots on a pin.
Disassembly is similar to the Browning. Remove the magazine and make sure the chamber is empty. Draw the slide back about 1 centimeter and rotate the barrel clockwise a quarter-turn. Remove the barrel and slide forward off the receiver. Other than the guide rod and recoil spring, there are no small parts that come loose.
The vz 45 holds 8 rounds in the magazine and has a simple groove down the top of the slide for sighting. Its great merits are its simplicity and reliability. It is easy to disassemble and care for. I have fired many rounds through my vz 45 with no failures to feed or failures to eject. It is remarkably accurate despite its primitive sighting groove and double action only trigger.
The only weakness I’ve found in the vz 45 is a brittle firing pin (like its younger cousin the vz 52). This gun should never be dry fired.
In 1970 the gun’s outward appearance was changed and it became the CZ 70 (not to be confused with the updated Model 50, also called the CZ 70, which was a PPK clone), but was mechanically identical to the vz 45. In 1992 the gun was redesigned again, given a magazine release behind the trigger and a futuristic grip, and is now sold as the vz 92. Unfortunately, due to the Gun Control Act of 1968, the gun can no longer be imported into the U.S., as it is too small. The modern successors to the CZ Model 45 are the Seecamp .25 and .32, the North American Arms .32 and .380, and the Kel-Tec P-32 and P-3AT. A near copy of the Model 45 was made for about three years by Intratec and called the Protec .25.
Frantisek Dusek, born in 1876, established himself as a gunsmith in the town of Opocno in 1908. Interestingly, he refused to manufacture weapons or parts for the Austro-Hungarians during World War I, and he likewise refused to coöperate with the Nazi occupation during World War II. After World War I, he made rifles, shotguns, air rifles, and gunsmith supplies. He bought some unfinished pistols from the Praga Zbrojovka company when it went out of business in 1926, and finished and sold them under the Praga name. Then he began to import Spanish pistols under the trade names Singer and Ydeal. Around 1934 or 1935 he probably began to manufacture barrels for the Mars pistols made by the Posumavska Factory, and by 1935 he was selling .25 caliber Mars pistols with the Mars name removed and the slides marked ‘Automat Pistole “DUO”,’ which was an abbreviation of “Dusek, Opocno.”
Finally, in 1937, Dusek began to manufacture a .25 caliber pistol (a copy of the MARS, which in turn was nearly identical to the Slavia) based on the Browning design, but with no grip safety. Due to the Spanish Civil War, he was no longer able to import Spanish-made pistols, but because his customers were familiar with the trade names used by the Spanish, Dusek’s first pistols bore the name Singer, and later Ydeal. However, by 1938, he was using the name DUO.
Some of the DUOs sold in Germany were marked with the distributor’s name, Eblen. Some pistols from the 1939/40 period were marked JAGA on the slide and grips, probably also for sale in Germany. When Dusek refused to coöperate with the Nazis during World War II, they took over his factory and proceded to produce over 110,000 DUO pistols. The DUO was also very popular with the Germans and was sold to the public at large through various sporting goods stores. After the war, under the Soviets, production of the DUO continued until 1948 when the factory was nationalized. After nationalization, production was moved to Ceska Zbrojovka in Uhersky Brod and the pistol was marked “Z” and carried the old trademark of Praga Zbrojovka and Czechoslovak Zbrojovka, thus contributing to the ongoing confusion about what is or is not a “CZ” pistol.
From the first, Dusek’s pistols were very well made. His production standards were higher than those of the Spanish manufacturers whose pistols he imported, and his pistols were more expensive as well. The DUO is a single action pistol virtually identical to the original Browning-designed Colt .25 hammerless vest-pocket model, which was introduced in 1908, and to which a magazine safety disconnector was added in 1917. The DUO eliminated the grip safety but retained the magazine disconnector. Like the Colt, it is a true hammerless pistol. The DUO has a groove down the top of the pistol, like the Colt and the CZ 45, but no other sights. (The Colt actually has minimalist sights in the groove.)
To disassemble the DUO, make sure the gun is not loaded, then insert the magazine and pull the trigger. Do not disassemble with the action cocked. Remove the magazine. Pull the slide back about a centimeter, rotate the safety back to engage the cut in the slide, then rotate the barrel clockwise a quarter-turn. Release the safety and pull the slide forward off the receiver. The recoil spring and guide rod can be removed, as well as the firing pin with its spring and guide rod. The safety on the DUO prevents the sear from being lowered to release the striker, and is also be used to lock the slide open for disassembly.
The DUO holds 6 rounds in its magazine. I find it to be very reliable and quite accurate. The quality standards do not appear to have changed when production was moved to Uhersky Brod. My “Z” pistol has the same quality of manufacture and the same reliability as the earlier DUO.