By Frank Iannamico
This article is a hands-on test and evaluation of two 7.62x39mm assault rifles fielded by former members of the defunct Warsaw Pact; the Soviet designed AK-47 and the Czechoslovakian designed vz.58. Although at first glance the weapons may appear similar, internally they are completely different. No parts, not even the magazines, are interchangeable. This test was conducted to reveal the strong and weak points of each weapon system. Several experienced shooters were recruited to test both weapons for accuracy and general evaluation.
An original 1963 dated vz.58, and a 1958 dated Polish made PMK were used for the comparison. The Polish PMK is a licensed copy of the Soviet Type 3 milled receiver AK-47. Despite their age both weapons were in near-new condition.
Brief Evolution History of the AK Rifle
The first production AK rifles were produced with receivers fabricated from a sheet metal stamping. At the front of the receiver, was a machined block of steel that served as the barrel trunnion. The trunnion was secured in place by rivets. The inside of the trunnion block was threaded for attaching the barrel to the receiver assembly. The upper edges of the sheet metal receiver were bent inward at a 90-degree angle, providing rails for the bolt carrier to ride on. Two additional bolt guide rails were riveted to the inside of the receiver, just forward of the trigger guard. The double-hook trigger, hammer, and disconnector were a design that was very similar to those used on the later milled receiver AK rifles.
The Second Generation Russian AK
There have been many conflicting accounts as to why the Russians transitioned from the original stamped Type 1 receiver to the milled Type 2. Typically, the Soviets did not divulge a lot of information, especially regarding a design failure. Two of the problems reportedly experienced with Kalashnikov’s Type 1 AK rifle were receiver strength and accuracy. Other accounts report that it was difficult to hold manufacturing tolerances due to warping of the receiver after riveting and heat-treating.
During the 1950s, the only viable solution to the Type 1 receiver problem was to switch to a receiver manufactured by the older method of machining the component from a steel forging. Using this procedure resulted in slower, more expensive production. While the new milled receiver was being designed, and subsequently manufactured, production of the AK rifles with the stamped steel receivers continued at the Izhmash factory until being phased out around 1951, at which time rifle production was switched completely over to the Type 2 forged/milled receiver. The Soviets have sometimes noted that the Type 2 milled receiver weapon was the “new lightweight model,” but in reality its weight was 6.34 ounces (.18kg) heavier than a Type 1.
The forged/milled receiver had distinctive areas machined out of each side just forward of the mode of fire selector lever to reduce its weight. The Type 2 receiver cuts ran parallel with the top of the receiver, while the later Type 3 receiver cuts ran parallel with the bottom of the receiver’s edge. Another way to identify a (fixed stock) Type 2 AK rifle is by the steel extension positioned at the rear of the receiver to attach the wooden buttstock. The back of the receiver was slightly angled rather than straight. The extension was also angled to interface with the receiver. The extension was attached to the receiver by a vertical lug that fit into a T-channel machined into the back of the receiver. The piece was secured to the receiver by a single pin placed laterally through the back of the receiver. The extension had two tangs extending rearward in which to attach the buttstock. The extension allowed the same basic receiver design to be used for both the fixed and folding stock models.
The Third Generation Russian AK
One of the primary problems encountered with the Type 2 AK receiver described above, was the method in which the wooden buttstock was attached with the steel extension block. The design of the stock attachment made it prone to breakage from a lateral force or stress. In 1953, an improved milled receiver was placed into production, the Type 3. The new receiver was redesigned so that the top stock tang was made as an integral part of the receiver; the steel lower tang was made as a separate piece that was securely riveted to the floor of the receiver. The stock was redesigned with a step at the front that fit into a recess at the back of the receiver. Although this required an extensive amount of additional machining, (that the Type 2 was designed to avoid) it was an effective solution to providing a sturdy attachment of the fixed buttstock to the receiver. An additional step to reduce damage or breakage to the stock was to relocate the rear sling swivel from the stock to the side of the receiver.
The AK is a simple, but reliable weapon. The weapon will reliably function with little maintenance in the worst field conditions. However, the AK’s accuracy suffers somewhat because of its design. While not up to Western standards, the accuracy was acceptable to the Soviets whose tactics differed from most of the NATO forces. The weapon was designed to remain serviceable with little maintenance for extended periods in the field. It was also designed to be simple enough that it could be easily field-stripped and operated with minimum training: ideal for conscript armies with a large number of uneducated troops.
The AKS rifle is the under-folding stock model with the forged/milled Type 3 receiver. The rear of the receiver of the AKS was designed differently than the fixed stock model to accommodate the pivot mechanism of its underfolding stock. The stock strut arms were machined from bar stock.
The Type 1 stamped and Type 2 milled AK receivers were only manufactured in Russia, whereas the Type 3 became the licensed model and most common milled receiver AK in Russia and other manufacturing countries. An updated stamped receiver reappeared in 1959 with the introduction of the Soviet AKM rifle.
The Czech vz.58
The vz.58 was not well known in the United States until a few years ago when the part sets, less receiver, were offered by a number of surplus dealers. The parts were dirt cheap, because at that time there were no U.S. made receivers available, and no parts would fit on any AK or AKM. This situation began to change when Ohio Ordnance introduced their vz.2000; a semiautomatic version of the vz.58. Soon semiautomatic receivers began to be produced by a number of companies. In addition to the receivers, complete semiautomatic vz.58 rifles began to be imported.
There were a limited number of original select-fire post-May vz.58 dealer samples imported by Class III Supply in Hermitage, Pennsylvania a few years ago, and there are at least a few pre-May vz.58 rifles in the registry, and perhaps four Amnesty registered ones.
A Brief History of the vz.58 Assault Rifle
Despite Czechoslovakia being a member of the Warsaw Pact, the country did not always follow the trend of most other Pact member nations by adopting Soviet small arms designs. Instead they developed their own unique weapons. When the Warsaw Pact was organized after World War II, virtually all of the members adopted the Soviet designed 7.62x39mm SKS rifle in one form or another, except for Czechoslovakia. The Czechs developed and adopted their own semiautomatic rifle designated as the vz.52. Not only was the rifle completely different from the SKS, it was chambered for a unique proprietary cartridge, the Czech M52, 7.62x45mm round.
In January of 1955 under the leadership of Czech engineer Jiri Cermak, Czechoslovakia embarked on a program to design and develop their own unique select-fire assault rifle, based on an earlier weapon designed by Emanuel Holek in 1953. Originally, the new weapon was to be chambered for the Czech 7.62x45mm cartridge, but because of political pressure to conform with other members of the Warsaw Pact, the weapon was designed for the 7.62x39mm round. The resulting weapon designated the Samopal vzor 58 was developed, tested and subsequently adopted in 1958. The famous Ceska zbrojovka (CZ) plant, located in the town of Uhersky Brod, manufactured the rifle. The select-fire rifle outwardly bore some resemblance to the AK rifle, but internally it was completely different. In addition to the standard fixed stock model, a folding stock variant and a model fitted with a night vision scope were produced. All vz.58 receivers were marked with the year of manufacture.
Approximately 920,000 vz.58 rifles were manufactured before production ended in 1984. Quantities of the Czech vz.58 rifles were procured by Cyprus, Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea, Libya, Mozambique, Somalia, Tanzania, Cuba and Guatemala. The weapons also appeared in the enemy’s hands during the Vietnam War. More recently, the vz.58 has been encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Model Variations of the vz.58 Rifle
The Samopal vz.58P: The 7.62x39mm vz.58P rifle, the suffix letter P representing “Pechotni” or infantry rifle, is the standard fixed stock model.
The Samopal vz.58V: A right-side-folding metal stock version was subsequently introduced designated as the vz.58V, the suffix V representing “Vysadkovy” or airborne, was developed for issue to troops requiring a more compact weapon.
The vz.58 in the Movies
The vz.58 has appeared in several movies, although in many cases it wasn’t immediately recognized by viewers. One appearance was in the 1987 film Full Metal Jacket. Wielding the vz.58 was the female Vietnamese sniper found hiding in a building. Another popular movie was Behind Enemy Lines (2001) in which most of the bad guys carried vz.58 rifles. Other films in which the vz.58 appeared were Octopussy and Lord of War.
AK: The AK’s 16.34-inch chromium-lined barrel is rifled with four-grooves, right hand twist, one turn in 9.25-inches. The flat muzzle nut has left-hand threads. The gas port is drilled at an angle, which simplifies cleaning.
vz.58: The chromium-lined barrel is 15.35-inches in length and has four-grooves, right hand twist with one turn in 9.4-inches. The barrel is fitted with a flat muzzle nut similar to that of the AK, but has right-hand threads.
AK: The gas system is the impingement design, with the piston-rod assembly being a separate part, threaded and pinned to the bolt carrier. The piston end is concave, as is the end of the gas piston housing. This provides an initial chamber volume. The gas piston housing tube is ribbed for rigidity with gas bleed holes.
vz.58: The vz.58 rifle is also gas operated using a short-stroke piston design, with the gas piston independent from the bolt carrier. When the weapon is fired, the spring-loaded gas piston delivers a short, stiff tap to the bolt carrier driving it rearward. The short-stroke system reduces the weight of the reciprocating parts, thus theoretically improving full-automatic accuracy and reducing felt recoil. The design also keeps carbon fouling away from the internal components of the weapon.
AK: The front sight is a hooded post. The elevation can be adjusted by using the combination tool provided in the tool kit. The front sight can also be adjusted for windage, but this is generally performed by an armorer. The rear sight is the conventional V-notch tangent leaf notch adjustable out to a range of 800 meters. The sight radius is approximately 15-inches.
vz.58: There are at least three variations of the front sights; the earliest models have sight protector ears that are open at the top, and a flat base behind the sight tower. The second variation has open ears, but the back of sight base has lightening cuts. The third variation has the lightening cuts at the base but the protector ears are closed at the top, but with a hole to facilitate front sight elevation adjustments. The tangent rear sight is similar to that used on the AK rifle, calibrated out to 800 meters in 100-meter increments, with a 300-meter battle sight position marked with a letter U. The sight radius is 14 inches.
AK: One design feature contributing to the AK rifle’s reliability is the highly favorable mass ratio (5:1) between the bolt carrier and bolt. The bolt and bolt carrier design provides sufficient rearward force for extracting spent cartridges from the dirtiest of weapons. The extraction force of the AK can be easily observed from its violent extraction of spent cases when fired. The breech mechanism consists of a rotating bolt, actuated by a reciprocating bolt carrier. An internal cam is machined in the forward section of the bolt carrier, and rotates the bolt during the locking and unlocking phases of the cycle. Two locking lugs are positioned at the front of the bolt and are diametrically opposed. The lock cam lug is mounted on the outside periphery of one of the bolt lugs, increasing the moment arm for a favorable cam force leverage. A slender cylindrical section of the bolt body is supported in the bolt carrier. The bolt also contains a free-floating firing pin and an extremely simple cylindrical extractor. A single drive spring, mounted on a telescoping guide rod (early production), drives the bolt carrier assembly in counter-recoil. The guide rod base also functions as a cover latch.
vz.58: The vz.58 locking system incorporates a pivoting lock piece to secure the bolt assembly to the receiver. The bolt and pivoting lock fits under the bolt carrier. After a rearward movement of approximately 22mm, the bolt carrier pivots the locking piece up from its recesses inside the receiver walls, unlocking the bolt, which on its rearward travel extracts and ejects the spent cartridge case. At the end of its rearward motion, the bolt carrier is thrust forward by the recoil spring. Upon its forward movement, the bolt strips a fresh round from the magazine. The bolt stops after chambering the cartridge and engaging the breech face, while the bolt carrier continues forward until the locking piece swings downward and locks into the milled recesses of the receiver.
AK: The Type 3 AK has a forged/milled steel receiver with relatively few complex milling cuts. The barrel is threaded into the receiver.
vz.58: The vz.58 rifle has a forged/milled steel receiver. The same receiver is used for the fixed and folding stock models. The barrel is pressed and pinned to the receiver.
Fire Control Group
AK: The AK uses a conventional hammer and sear design. The combination hammer-trigger spring is a wrapped multi-strand design for strength and reliability. The fire control components are held in place and rotate on steel axis pins placed laterally through the sides of the receiver. The pins are secured in place by the long trip sear spring, which rested in grooves located on the left end of the axis pins. Three sears are used in the mechanism with a double claw hammer for the primary and secondary sears, and a single (hammer hub) sear notch for the full-auto trip lever, which is actuated by a machined surface on the bolt carrier.
vz.58: The vz.58 does not use a conventional hammer; instead it utilizes a striker-fired design. The striker has a lug that interacts with a pair of sears, which are used to hold the striker in the cocked position. The trigger mechanism consists of two sears mounted side by side with one located slightly forward of the other. The auto sear on the right side is connected to a sear trip actuated by the bolt carrier. Unless the bolt is fully forward and locked into battery, the trip holds up the right-hand sear and the striker is held back. The left-hand sear works in concert with a disconnector for semiautomatic operation. There are two springs, one for the striker and another for the bolt carrier.
AK: The buttstock and handguards were originally made of hardwood, but was changed to laminated wood during later production. The fixed stock is secured by two tangs and wood screws.
vz.58: Furniture on early production models was wood, later replaced with wood impregnated plastic. The metal side folding stock vz.58V model has a single “I beam” style strut, with a stamped steel buttplate welded at its rear. Both the fixed and folding stocks are attached to the receiver by a single bolt.
AK: The 30-round steel magazine contains a number of highly desirable design features. The extremely rugged magazine lips are most favorable for extended field use. The magazine follower does not have to be critically balanced between the ammunition stack and the follower spring. No matter where one bears down on the follower, the follower moves in the magazine smoothly. The spring design therefore can be simple oval coils, free of stress concentrations, and free from binding along the magazine ribs. The curved magazine tube is made of heavy gauge spot-welded construction with critical areas, such as the feed lips and catches being machined. The magazine follower is a stamping, with a long skirt to control tipping, by its close fit with the inside wall of the magazine. Later, when the stamped receiver AKM was adopted, plastic magazines were introduced to reduce weight.
vz.58: The magazine has a 30-round capacity and is made from a thin aluminum alloy. At the top of the magazine is a substantial collar made of extruded aluminum that forms the feed lips and locking lugs. The cartridge follower is made of steel. The vz.58 magazine weighs approximately one-half that of a standard steel AK magazine.
AK: The mode of fire selector of the AK has long been an item of criticism for making noise when moved from safe to fire. However, this perceived flaw seems to be over exaggerated. A more viable complaint would be that it is not very ergonomic and requires the operator to take his hand away from the trigger. Top is safe, middle full-auto, bottom semiautomatic. Selector position markings vary by country of manufacture.
vz.58: The vz.58’s selector is located on the right side of the receiver, and can be manipulated by the operator’s thumb while keeping his finger close to the trigger. It would have been more accessible on the left side of the receiver. Positions: 1 is semiautomatic, 30 full automatic; the lever at a 6 o’clock position is safe.
AK: The automatic cyclic rate of the AK is 650 rounds per minute.
vz.58: The automatic cyclic rate of the vz.58 is faster than the AK at 800 rounds per minute.
AK: The Polish AK weighed 10.06-pounds with a loaded steel thirty-round magazine.
vz.58: With a fully loaded 30-round magazine the test vz.58 weighed 8.1 pounds.
AK: 35 inches
vz.58: 33.3 inches
Accuracy (Average of Three Shooters)
Firing the AK at 100 yards, groups averaged 4.2 inches. On full auto at a distance of 15 yards the weapon was capable of placing an average of 20 shots into a B-27 silhouette target.
Firing the vz.58 100 yards, groups averaged 3.1 inches. On full auto at a distance of 15 yards the weapon would average 27 shots into a B-27 silhouette target.
- The steel magazine is more rugged than the vz’s aluminum magazine.
- Although not as accurate as the vz.58, the AK is more reliable.
- The slower full-auto cyclic rate gives the weapon a “choppy” feel.
- The milled receiver AK is much heavier than the vz.58.
- There is no last shot bolt-hold open feature.
- The AK is slightly easier to field strip.
- The (fixed stock) AK has a maintenance kit stored inside the stock. The kit contains a combination tool, bore brush and a cleaning patch jag. The combination tool provides a screwdriver blade, punch and two wrenches. A cleaning rod is stored under the barrel.
- The upper handguard of the vz gets very hot during extended full-auto operation.
- The vz.58 is much lighter and feels “handier.”
- The vz.58’s faster cyclic rate gives it a smoother feel, and thus is more accurate in full-auto fire.
- The trigger guard design makes access to magazine release lever difficult for left handed shooters.
- After extended firing the vz.58’s trigger sometimes fails to reset. Spraying the inside of the receiver with Gun Scrubber to clean out accumulated power residue solved the problem. Fire control group seems to be “fragile” and sensitive to powder residue, dust or sand.
- A potential and serious problem is the weapon can be assembled without the locking piece on the bolt. Firing the rifle without the lock in place would present a very dangerous situation.
- Despite having a milled receiver, the loaded weight of the vz.58 is much less than the AK.
- The weapon has a bolt hold-open feature that is engaged when the last round is fired from the magazine.
- The fixed and folding stocks are interchangeable. However, the fixed stock is much better for controlling the weapon in full automatic fire.
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