Text and photos by Charles Brown
Until the late 1990s, almost no one in the U.S. had seen hide ‘nor hair of this unusual semiautomatic pistol, whose proper name is Cheska Zbrojovka Vzor 52.
Cheska Zbrojovka translates to Czech Armory and Vzor, which is often said to mean “model” is actually closer to the English words “pattern” or “design” and 52 being 1952, it’s year of adoption. The Czech’s abbreviated it as CZ vz 52 and used it as a standard army issue weapon until about 1982.
The Cheska Zbrojovka name has been used by several Czech business entities including the world famous Skoda Works. CZ Strakonice, a firm best known for building motorcycles, was the producer of the about 200,000 CZ52 pistols from about mid 1952 to the end of 1954.
The CZ52 is a locked breech, single action, short recoil operated, semiautomatic pistol using an 8-round single column removable box magazine inserted into the grip. Its most unusual feature is the cam and roller breech locking system similar to the German MG42 machine gun and HK 91/G3 rifle.
The CZ52 was designed by Jan and Jaroslov Kratochvil to replace the CZ50, a .32 ACP double action pistol based on the Walther Model PP and rightly thought to be a bit underpowered by the Czech Army.
The Czechs were also under pressure from their Soviet overlords to standardize weapons, or at least ammunition, so the CZ52 was designed around the 7.62x25 Tokarev cartridge used by the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact client states in the TT30 and TT33 pistols and various sub-machine guns.
The 7.62x25 Tokarev has a case slightly longer than the 7.63x25 (.30 Mauser) first used on the Borchardt pistol in 1893 and later in the M1896 broom handle Mauser pistols. Firearms chambered for the Tokarev cartridge will usually chamber the Mauser cartridge but high velocity loadings can cause case separations.
Both the Mauser and Tokarev rounds are rimless bottleneck cartridges on the European model of a light weight projectile (86 grains or so) operating at fairly high pressure and velocity (1,400 feet per second give or take). This ballistics set gives excellent penetration but poor stopping power.
Some Soviet client states opted to load the Tokarev cartridge to higher velocity for use in their submachine guns, which created potentially dangerous situations where the more powerful sub-gun ammo could be inadvertently fired in a weaker pistol with the predictable results.
The Brothers Kratochvil certainly could have designed a simpler locking system borrowed from the TT33 or some other pistol but the Czech Army planned on introducing a more powerful loading of the 7.62x25 Tokarev.
The Czech M48 (sometimes called the Czech load) cartridge used the same case and nominal 86/87 grain projectile but raised the muzzle velocity to about 1,640 fps. This allowed them to produce one cartridge for their side arm and sub-guns without worrying about who loaded what cartridge in which weapon.
This loading, closely replicated in Sellier & Bellot 7.62x25 Tokarev in reloadable, non-corrosive Boxer primed commercial ammunition available today, produces a substantial muzzle flash, surprisingly snappy recoil and tosses the extracted empty cases into the next time zone to the shooter’s right: hence the nickname “The Bad Czech.”
All things considered, Jan and Jaroslov were not just sitting around the camp fire sipping kummel; they had the right idea about the roller locked breech.
The CZ52 has a few other interesting features, one of which is a frame mounted three position safety. Engaged when the safety is in the center position, pushed down exposing a red dot on the frame to fire and when pushed up to supposedly safely drop the hammer on a chambered round and then when released returned by a spring to the “safe” position.
A word of caution is in order here; the author would never use the hammer drop feature unless the weapon is pointed in a very safe direction – such as the ground. These pistols are 60 plus years old and a worn de-cocking lever can sometimes allow the firing pin retractor/lock, which retracts the firing pin by cam action instead of a direct return spring, to drive the firing pin forward causing the weapon to fire.
There is a simple test to see if the de-cocker is (at the time of the test) working properly. Remove the magazine, retract the slide and check the chamber, then allow the slide to run forward into battery. Insert a pencil (eraser first) into the muzzle pushing it to the breech face, mark the pencil at the muzzle. Holding the pistol level with the hammer at full cock operate the de-cocker, if the pencil moves, the firing pin is coming out of the breech face. Keep in mind that the test only proves that de-cocking feature worked as designed for the test, it may not the next time it is operated.
The other interesting and odd looking feature is the grips, made of a reddish brown Bakelite material, being retained by a spring steel clip rather than the usual screws. The grips are brittle and can be easily broken trying to remove the clip so don’t bother. You will likely never need to remove the grips for normal cleaning.
Unlike some European designs there is ample room for a gloved finger between the back of the trigger guard and the trigger.
The CZ52 can be field stripped for normal cleaning without the use of tools.
Like most contemporary pistols, the sights are small and it is difficult to get a decent sight picture. The rear sight is drift adjustable for windage.
The magazine catch is located on the heel of the butt in European fashion and is powered by the coil mainspring on the hammer strut. The design and location of the catch prevents the magazine from dropping free, it must be withdrawn with by hand. The magazines have a removable floor plate and a plastic follower.
The CZ52 has a slide hold-open feature, which is activated after the magazine is emptied. Replacing of the empty magazine with a full one or just to close the slide requires pulling the slide rearward and allowing it to run forward. There is no magazine safety and this firearm can be fired with the magazine removed.
The design, while interesting because of the roller locking system, has a couple of defects. The safety system only locks the trigger and if the weapon is dropped with a round in the chamber an unintended discharge is a real possibility. Another potential problem is the decision to cast the firing pin and the design of the firing pin lock/retractor. This pistol should not be dry fired as over-travel stress caused by the body of the firing pin striking the inside of the slide with no cartridge primer to arrest forward movement will snap off the tip of the pin in short order.
This is bad enough but if the tip of the broken pin jams in the breech face with a loaded magazine the weapon will go full auto when the slide is runs forward into battery.
It is also possible to assemble the firing pin and retractor/lock with the firing pin protruding from the breech face, which will also cause the pistol to empty the magazine. Recoil will be uncontrollable and extremely dangerous.
Some of the rollers were not properly heat treated and eventually get out of round causing the barrel to slide past the roller lock under recoil pressure and wear the barrel.
If owners intend on doing much firing with this pistol, the firing pin should be replaced with one of several machined and properly tempered replacement pins available from the usual parts sources. Having a set of hardened rollers available for replacement isn’t a bad idea either.
Harrington Products of Lafayette, IN makes a re-designed machined and hardened replacement firing pin with a return spring to assist in firing pin retraction and other performance enhancing aftermarket parts for the CZ52.
At one time 9mm Luger (9x19) barrels were offered for sale to convert the CZ52 into something using less expensive and more easily obtained ammunition. Results were mixed depending on ammunition, individual magazines and firearms.
The 9mm ammunition will fit in the magazine, but because it is considerably shorter than the 7.62x25 Tokarev, some shooters experienced feeding problems.
While the Soviets were beating up the Czechs in the early 1950s about using common ammunition, they were developing yet another pistol and cartridge.
The Makarov pistol and the 9mm Makarov (9x18) cartridge under development since the late 1930s went into Soviet production about the time the Czechs went into CZ52 production.
The best features of the double action Makarov design is that it has few parts (27) and uses one of the most powerful 9mm cartridge useable in a blowback operated semi-auto pistol.
Finally in 1982 the Czechs, likely being prodded by the Soviets yet again, went into production of the CZ82, the “not so bad Czech” using the Warsaw Pact standard 9mm Makarov cartridge in yet another blowback operated, double action design.
As the CZ82 replaced the CZ52, the ever frugal Czechs ran all the retirees back through an arsenal rebuild replacing worn parts, especially barrels, and refinishing them with various shades of phosphate ranging from nearly black to a sort of haze grey, a few got a flat blue finish.
The retirees got long term preservation and along with refurbished armorer’s kits and spare parts sat in storage until the Soviet Union imploded in 1991.
The Czechs, after shedding the Soviet yoke and needing some hard currency to finance their new found freedom, sold off the entire hoard; most of which ended up in the U.S. as Curio and Relic firearms selling at bargain prices.
The CZ52 is not only an unusual design but for the most part a robust pistol that, given proper care and careful attention to its proclivities, will provide a unique shooting experience.
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