David against Goliath: Submachine Guns of Croatia’s War of Independence
By Michael Heidler

Even before the death of the long-time President Josip Broz Tito on May 4, 1980, the structure of the Yugoslavian state had shown signs of disintegration. Earlier efforts to achieve autonomy were partly oppressed by force, but partly the states could also wrest concessions of the federal government. In the wake of the upheavals in Eastern Europe, the pressure to hold free elections also grew in Yugoslavia. This was the case in 1990. In a vote of May 1991, 94.7 % voted for a secession of the "Socialist Republic of Croatia" from the former "Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." The subsequent declaration of independence was not accepted by Serbia, since the proportion of the Serbian population in Croatia was almost 12 %. These people targeted a "Republic of Serbian Krajina" separate from Croatia.

The first bloody skirmishes took part at the beginning of the year, but their severity increased. A civil war lasting over several years flared up between Croatian government forces and the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serb paramilitary organizations (guerrillas). In view of the unrest in other countries and the confusing situation of war with expulsion and ethnical cleansing, the international community of states imposed an arms embargo throughout the former Yugoslavia. The inferior Croatian Army (Hrvatska Vojska), established on September 26, of police and National Guard (police reservist), was cut off from the access to modern firearms. Many depots and factories were suddenly located in "enemy territory." All the more captured weapons of the JNA and smuggled weapons from third countries, as well as relics from the Second World War were desired. Since these sources were not sufficient for a complete armament, the Croats had no other choice than to help themselves as soon as possible. Improvised firearms and mines dominated the early stages of the struggle for an independent Croatia.

In these turbulent times various submachine guns were created. In the absence of appropriate equipment, machinery and tools, they were mostly made in an "antiquated" manner of production: machined from solid material instead of the use of stamped sheet metal parts. Although this method is time consuming, it can be performed in small workshops with simple machines. Mostly the parts were then transported to a larger workshop for assembly into complete weapons. Depending on the size, experience and machinery of the respective workshop, the weapons were different in appearance. But the often crude appearance did not diminish the reliability in service. The experience of the Croatian police and army with these weapons was very positive.

The first submachine gun made in Croatia was the Agram (German/Austrian for Zagreb, capital of Croatia). The weapon fires from the open bolt and is partly a copy of the TEC-9 from Interdynamic/Intratec. It was developed and produced by Mirko Vugrek in his company in Novi Golubovec in the north of Zagreb. The first test pieces were finished in late 1990 and in the following year production was launched. With the "Agram 2000" an improved model was created in 1992 after the gun had been revised by Mirko Vugrek’s son Ivan. This model could also be equipped with a silencer. The perforated fore-grip was designed by Mr. Deglin, a restorer of antique furniture. The double-row stick magazines hold 20 or 32 cartridges. The Agram was in the final selection of the new standard weapon of the army in 1992 together with the MP ERO, but lost because of bad political connections to the army leadership. As compensation, Mr. Vugrek's factory was declared a repair shop for all police weapons. With a weight of only 1.8 kg, its handy size and sturdy construction, the Agram is ideal for close quarter combat in urban areas. This fact was also recognized by criminals – and thus the Agram was spread among drug dealers and street gangs in Europe. The notorious Mafia don Zlatko Bagaric died in a hail of bullets from an Agram in Zagreb in 1998. And in spite of the struggle of the British police against the smugglers' "Croatian Connection," many victims of gang warfare are caused by Agrams. Mirko Vugrek passed away in 2006 in the age of 80 due to a heart attack that he suffered shortly after he was arrested by the police for weapons smuggling.

In 1991 at least five more new SMG models were used on the Croatian side: Pleter, Sokac, Jelen, Vila Velebita and Crogar. Other models such as the Pauser and TEŽ did not get beyond test stage. Most weapons bear little innovative elements and show a representative sample of proven designs. However, they have fulfilled their purpose more than satisfactorily.

The Pleter M 91 got its name from its place of manufacture, the city Pleternica in the Slavonia region of Croatia. Assembly point was the resident company OROPLET. The design is strongly influenced by the Belgian MP Vigneron M1, but the bolt and barrel locking nut are of the Sten gun design. Front and rear sights are firmly welded and can not be adjusted. The double row magazines (25 and 32 rounds) are in turn a copy of the Uzi magazine, so that the magazines are interchangeable. Some weapons were later converted for use with Swedish drum magazines (SMG Carl Gustaf M/45) and Finnish Suomi drums. Only full-auto fire is possible. A reinforcement of the magazine well ensures that the shooter can use it as a front grip without having to fear feeding troubles. Instead of the barrel locking nut, two versions of silencers can be screwed on. The model is then called "Pleter M 91 Prigušen" (= silenced). The long version encloses the normal barrel until the muzzle, while the short version is only little longer than the standard barrel locking nut. It can only be used in combination with a shorter barrel.

A technically somewhat simpler weapon was the MP Šokac (named after a Croatian dialect). It is a copy of the Russian PPSh 41 from the Second World War, but the caliber was changed to 9mm. The milled receiver can be opened by pressing a button on its back. The upper receiver holds the bolt that was cribbed from the PPSh 41. The bolt is completely identical with the Russian pattern including the buffer made of pressed material and the safety on the cocking handle. In front of the trigger frame the PPSh 41-typical slide-type fire selector is located (full auto and single shot). The frequently encountered folding buttstock is copied from the Czech submachine gun SA vz. 25. The straight magazine holds 25 rounds. The first test took place on August 15, 1991. From then on several variations were produced, depending on the manufacturer using various available materials with short or long barrels or with flash suppressor. The "luxurious" model with plastic panelling was given the suffix "P 1" and the version with silencer "P 1 S". The main producer of MP Šokac was Ðuro Ðakovic in Slavonskli Brod.

Even closer to the original is the MP Jelen (English: deer). It originated from original Russian PPSh 41, which remained in the Yugoslav Army as a gift after World War Two. Only the barrel and the barrel jacket were shortened significantly and the wooden stock was replaced by a pistol grip because the weapon was primarily intended for close quarter combat. The caliber was retained in 7.62 x 25mm and also the Russian 71-round drum magazines could be used. Two weapons were tested in caliber 9mm, but proved a failure. The MP Jelen was developed in the workshops of gunsmith Zdenko Sever and Branko Ignac Koncic in Turopolje. Still today their brand is a deer with five employees, formerly employed in hunting and sporting arms business, who looked after the MP-production from 1991 to 1994. Besides, they also made sniper rifles in caliber .50 BMG, multi-barrel grenade launchers and hand grenades.

The same caliber (7.62 x 25) was also used for the MP Crogar M 91 developed in 1991. The weapon has a fire selector with three positions (safe, single shot and full auto). Their curved magazine holds 32 rounds. Drums were not used. The Crogar M 91, however, did not progress beyond the experimental stage and only a few pieces were made in Garešnica at S.K.M., a factory for water pumps and valves.

Similarly, the careers of three other submachine guns ended after only a small series. The MP TEŽ was developed on the initiative of the crisis committee at Tvornica Elektricnih Žarulja, a factory for illuminants in Zagreb. The project was led by the engineer Igor Mikulcic. After only one month the draft was finished in September 1991. The construction equals the British MP Sterling. Two weapons (serial numbers L-0002 and L-0003) went to a trial at the Department of Defense. But because of various shortcomings, they failed and any further development was stopped. The MP Pauser came from the private workshop of the engineer Srecko Pauzar in Osijek. Only a few pieces were manufactured and delivered to the Department of Defense for testing in spring 1992. Due to many failures and other problems, the model was rejected. Also, the improved version "SP-1" never went in production. A small series was created in early 1992 of the MP Alar. The designer, S. Alar from Chorvatsko, devised a tubular receiver with screwed-in barrel and removable end cap. For safety the cocking handle could be hook into a cut-out in the receiver, as with the German MP 38. The magazines with two longitudinal grooves are cribbed without modifications from the German MP 40. In 1992, the MP 91 "Vila Velebita" in caliber 9mm was developed and produced. This gun is described in Small Arms Review Vol. 16, No. 2 in detail.

After several start-up difficulties the Croatian arms production came to life more and more. The designs were of high quality and reliability. Among the high-quality weapons the Zagi, ERO and Alka are to be mentioned.

The MP Zagi M 91 was developed in 1991 at the Prva Hrvatska Tvornica Oruzja (First Croatian Factory of Weapons), in short "PHTO." It was located in the center of Zagreb and resulted from the purchase of the weapons company Likaweld. Their common owner, Vladimir Trputec, received assistance in the construction by the already known Mirko Vugrek (MP Agram). Serial production began in the spring of 1992. The weapon was named "Zagi," like the mascot of the sports event "Universijada," which took place in Zagreb in 1987. Technically the weapon is based on the British Sten gun and the magazine was copied from the German MP 40. The shape of the buttstock is very uncomfortable for the shooter. Due to the lack of a suitable safety, a drop from 20 cm height can result in an unintended discharge. Some Zagis were equipped with silencers (Zagi-S). Despite careful production, the gun often jammed in combat and so production ceased in late 1992.

One of the best weapons of the Croatian fighters was the MP ERO. It is a complete copy of the Israeli Uzi. All components are interchangeable and Uzi magazines can be used. Optionally, there was a silencer to screw on the thread of the barrel locking nut. The ERO was developed in 1992 by ARMA in Zagreb. Thanks to the good relations of company owner Ivan Glavaš to the Army leadership, the ERO was introduced as their primary weapon in the same year. In 2000, a downsized model named "mini-ERO" followed. The ERO came to infamous renown in recent years especially in the UK, after larger quantities were smuggled into the country. Just last year, customs seized a refrigerated truck with 30 pieces of the so-called "Croatian Uzi" on board, including some hand grenades and silencers.

The last of the Croatian developments the went into serial production during the war was the MP Alka M 93. For their development the MP Skorpion was used as an example. The company Industrija Metalnih Proizvoda in the town of Ozalj, in short known as "IMP," produced the submachine gun from 1993 beyond the end of the war. Marko Vukovic, who founded the company together with Ivan Žabcic in 1990, fought in the Civil War himself and was wounded twice. Following the success of their self-loading pistol HS2000, the company split in "HS Product" (weapons production) and "IM Metal" (fire extinguishers). The former is one of the most important military manufacturers in Croatia today.

Similar careers are not unusual for Croatia. Many workshops and technical talented people have been involved in the manufacture and repair of weapons during their struggle for freedom. More than a few found their future in this branch of industry. Currently over 20,000 people are employed in the defense industry. Nearly everything is produced in their own country, little imported but all the more exported. "Thanks" to the embargo, the Croatians had to learn to take care of themselves – and they do so even today.

Click here to download the overview of Croatian SMGs in a PDF format.

(A special thanks to Miroslav Kavur of "Kavur N&M" and Željko Jamicic, head of the Police Museum in Zagreb. Other Croatian weapons can be found on the museum's website at www.mup.hr/main.aspx?id=1120)

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (January 2013)
and was posted online on December 14, 2012


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