Jugoslav Army Weapons
By Robb Krott
Given the recent spate of hostilities in the Balkans and the all too real possibility of the insertion of U.S. military ground forces to the conflict, a review of the small arms currently fielded by the Yugoslav Army seems timely. A little background: the JNA (Jugoslavenska Vojnika - Jugoslav Army), 19 May 1992. At the time under a major reorganization of forces the 63d Parachute Brigade retained its designation (63 Padobranska Brigade), lineage, and mission as the army’s airborne force. The new 72nd Specjalna Brigada of special forces troops was formed in 1993 as the Korpus Specijalnih Jedinica - corps of special units. It is with these units that I have the bulk of my experience, both in fighting against them (Bosina, 1993) and in observing training and operations (Serbia, 1994), so reference will be make to these units specifically as required. The government munitions company, Zavodi Crvena Zastava (Red Flag) - ZCZ, and commonly known as Zastava, has a well known plant at Kragujevac and has produced a number of military weapons (many based on Soviet designs) as well as sporting arms and paramilitary weapons for export only.
Like many eastern European and most third world countries, Jugoslav army officers carry sidearms while in the duty uniform. Standard Issue pistols for the unit are Jagoslav M57 Tokarevs in 7.62 mm, the Model 70 and 70A Tokarevs chambered for 9x19mm Parabellum and Zastava Model 83 .357 Magnum revolvers. The Jugo Tokarevs automatics often sport chrome slides and custom grips. The Model 57 is nearly identical to the Tokarev TT-33 except its magazine can hold an extra round, nine instead of eight. Soviet and Chinese magazines are not interchangeable with M57 as the magazines are too short and the magazine feed lips do not reach the chamber. The M70 Jugo Tokarevs, although designed with the export market in mind, are also in general service with the Jugo Army. The M83 .357 Magnum is a double-action revolver with a 2.5 inch barrel. It will also fire .38 Special ammunition and can be adapted via a special cylinder for fire 9mm Parabellum ammunition. It can be found with a large wood grips complete with finger knurls and a variety of barrel lengths. Also in service, though most commonly as a police sidearm, is the Model 70 7.65 ACP pistol. An eight shot “pocket pistol” it is a single action only, blowback semi-auto pistol. It can also be found as the M70(k) chambered for the .380 caliber/ 9mm Kurz cartridge. Several of the padobrance officers were armed with Czech pistols including the CZ75 and the CZ83.
Tito’s Partisans were armed with Soviet submachineguns, British STENs, and American Thompsons. I saw several PPsh-41s and Thompsons in use in Bosnia in 1993. The PPSh-41 was modified by the Yugoslavs in 1949 and manufactured as the Model 49. Instead of the atypical 71-round drum magazine it incorporated a 35-round detachable box magazine. The Yugoslav M49 also exhibits better finishing and machining than the Soviet PPSh-41. An improved buffer was added and an improved bolt and spring adapted from the Beretta M38A.
The Model 49 was replaced by the Model 56, an MP40 type design. Like the M49 it fired the 7.62x25mm Soviet pistol cartridge. It used a 32 round curved magazine that is nearly identical to the PPS-43 magazine. The Jugo M56 (see SAR, Vol. 2, No. 7 April 99) is a combination of World War II Soviet and German design features. A 9mm version, the M65, was also manufactured. Both weapons are select fire, open bolt design - uninspired but serviceable. Strangely, they both have a bayonet lug. The only conceivable use I can imagine for such a feature is for military policeman who may be guarding prisoners. I did not observe any of these weapons being used by “front line” troops in Bosnia, but did see some in an arms room. Like other obsolete Jugo Army weapons they may be used by other combatants, including Kosovo Liberation Army Guerrillas.
ZCZ Has Also Manufactured the Czech vz/62 “Skorpion” under license. Chambered for .32 ACP this weapon is known as the Model 84. I had an opportunity to examine a Model 84. It is purely a defensive weapon. It had been taken from a captured Yugoslav MIG pilot shot down near Tomislavgrad, Bosnia. Weapons of these types attract much undue attention way out of proportion to their actual tactical effectiveness. I also knew a Croatian Commando officer who carried one as a sidearm in addition to his assault rifle.
The Jugoslavs have also produced a conversion of the M80 assault rifle similar to the AKSU-74 or Krinkov design. With its bottom folding metal stock folded it is only 22.4 inches in length. This submachinegun/assult rifle hybrid is know as the Zastava M85. It is chambered for the 5.56mm NATO round and will accept either 20-round or 30-round magazines. Such a weapon would normally be issued to special operations troops and to armored vehicle and helicopter crews. I have not personally seen these weapons in the field.
Prior to World War II Yugoslavia imported Turkish Mausers and Austrian mannlichers. These were later converted to 7.92 mm Mauser. The Czech 7.92mm Model 24 was also imported and then manufactured in Yugoslavia. After the war Yugoslavia manufactured a copy of the German 98k 7.92mm Mauser as the Model 1948. Large quantities of these 5-round bolt actions were used by all combatants in the Balkans between 1991-1996. While obsolete they are still fielded by police, civilians, and paramilitaries in significant quantities throughout the former Republic of Yugoslavia.
The first modern post-war military rifle produced in Yugoslavia was the M59 rifle, a copy of the Soviet SKS carbine. A derivative of the M59 is the M59/66A1. Manufactured by Zastava it differs from the SKS/M59 design only by the addition of a grenade launcher. The muzzle mounted spigot grenade launcher increases the barrel length to 24.39 inches (620mm). Like the SKS there is a folding blade bayonet, but the increased length of the barrel due to the grenade launcher reduces the protruding length of the bayonet. A folding ladder sight is mounted at the rifle foresight. It flips down when not in use. Large numbers of these weapons are still in use and may be carried by auxillary police, paramilitaries, and militia.
The current standard issue assault rifle is the M70B- which is nearly identical to the Soviet 7.62mm AKM (Kalshnikov) and the M70AB2 which is the folding stock version (AKMS). These weapons replace the Model 64 assault rifles which used a 20-round magazine and featured a bolt stop. Like the M59-66A1 both rifles are equipped with a 22mm grenade-launcher which is screwed on to the muzzle. There is also a detachable muzzle brake compensator (known to some as the tromblone - trombone). The ladder sight is connected to the end of the gas cylinder and the gas regulator, laying flat on the gas cylinder when folded down. When lifted to the vertical for use with the grenade launcher it blocks the gas cylinder, directing all gases to the muzzle for launching for grenade. Later models have replaced the wood furniture with black nylon / plastic handguards, pistol grips and stocks.
While the assault rifles are all chambered for a Soviet M43 7.62 x39mm cartridge, Yugoslavia’s sniper rifle is in 7.92x 57mm Mauser. The M76 Sniper rifle Poluautomatska Snaiperska Puska is very similar to the Kalashnikov series of rifles, using the same basic firing mechanism, action, receiver and gas cylinder design. It is larger with an empty weight of 9.26 pounds (4.20kg) compared to the 8.15 pounds (3.7kg) of the M70 rifles. It loads a 10-round detachable box magazine. Additionally a telescopic sight, the ON M76 (Opticki nisan) similar in design to the Soviet PSO-1 is mounted on the receiver. The M76 can also mount a passive night sight (Pasivni nisa) - the PN 5x80, similar to the U.S. Army PVS-4 in appearance.
Note: The paratroopers of the 63rd Padobranska Brigada are also equipped with quantities of the 5.56mm R-4 assault rifles, the South African copy of the Israel Galil. A large shipment of these weapons was seized by the paratroopers at Zagreb’s Zadar airport during the fighting there in 1991 when a planeload of smuggled munitions was found. While I observed these weapons in use in November 1994, I doubt any are still fielded due to standardization requirements and lack of ammunition resupply. But this may be debated as several variants of the M70 in 5.56mm have been produced by ZCZ for export. Yugoslavia manufactures .223 ammo for export and quantities could be in government stocks.
Following World War II Tito’s forces were equipped with thousands of MG-42 machineguns captured from the Germans. The Yugoslavs promptly copied the Mauser-werke AG design and manufactured it as the M53 “Sarac.” Chambered for the Original 7.92 x 57mm Mauser cartridge (unlike the Bundeswehr’s Rheinmetall GmbH Variant which fires the 7.62x51mm NATO/ .308 round) it continues to see service as a general-purpose workhorse as it was for the Wehrmacht. Large numbers were used by all combatants in the Balkan Wars 1991-1996. The M53 was largely supplanted in 1985 with the M84, Yugoslavia’s Version of the Soviet PKM. A medium general purpose machinegun, is chambered for the workhorse 7.62x54R cartridge. In this design Kalashnikov mimics his AK operating system in the PK (the PKM is an improved, lightened version) and he literally turned it upside down and added an innovative feed mechanism. The weapon incorporates Kalashnikov’s rotating bolt, the Czech Vz52 belt drive, Goryunov’s quick-change barrel and cartridge feed mechanism, and the DP trigger. Zavodi Crvena Zastava copied the design but minor modifications added about two pounds to the original design, topping the weapon out at twenty-two pounds.
The Yugoslavs previously used the Model 64A and the model 64B light machine guns (7.62z39mm), essentially Yugoslav M64 assault rifles with heavy finned barrels and light bipods. These were both supplanted by M72 Mitrajez squad automatic weapons like the M64, a Jugoslav variant of the Soviet RPK. The M72B1 has a fixed wood stock while the M72AB1 has a under-folding metal stock. Both Weapons use the standard 30-rd Kalashnikov magazine as well as a 75 round drum magazine.
While there was at least one 7.92mm ZB30J machinegun in use in my HVO infantry battalion in Bosnia in 1993 (Peter Kokalis trained its gunner) such obsolete pre-World War II weapons, the few that still exist, would be pressed into service only by irregular troop formations. I also had three soviet 7.62mm Degtyarev machine guns in my unit, which we used. They later disappeared from the arms room and were rumored to have been sold on the black market to Kosovar buyers. This was in 1993. I doubt if very many of these old weapons survived the war in Bosnia.
The Jugoslav Army has large numbers of its own small arms and significant stockpiles of ammunition. While NATO bombing may have disrupted its manufacturing process, its soldiers are already well-supplied with infantry weapons. Let’s hope they are not used against American soldiers.
Editor’s Note: CPT Rob Knott, USAR joined the Croatian Army (HV) as a commando officer in early 1992, and was awarded the Zahvalnica medal. In 1993 he was assigned as the training officer (S-3) for a Croat-Bosnia Defence Force (HVO) infantry brigade where he also led a special reconnaissance unit of “international volunteers.” In 1994 he visited his former enemies in Belgrade and Nis and maintains contacts with several 63d Parachute Brigade officers.
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