VZ-61 Skorpion: The Littlest Submachine Gun

By Pascal Thibert

We tested one of the smallest submachine guns in the world, designed and drawn by Czech engineers during the Cold War. It’s a marvel of inventiveness and particularly interesting gunsmith technology. Original and multipurpose, it is compact, lightweight and accurate.

Few articles or books have been devoted to this small Czech submachine gun. And yet, it deserves to be known and tried by the admirers of fine mechanics, by the lovers of modern armory curiosities. Just slide open its top cover to be dazzled by so much ingenuity in its design and by so much care in its manufacture.
For some, it is either a police or terrorist weapon (despite its weak ammunition), for others it is a collector’s weapon; the Skorpion is a curiosity in the world of gunsmiths and manufacturers as its sophistication is great for a handgun and its ingenuity surprises the specialists.

It looks like a small AK-47, with its lower receiver finely machined in the mass, with its auto sear, with its wooden buttstock and with its curved magazines. It has the appeal and smell of a military weapon, but it is not a military weapon. It is not a combat weapon. In fact, the VZ-61 is an essentially defensive weapon, intended for tank crews, helicopter and aircraft pilots, machine operators, police officers, special service officers or commandos.

It is not an assault weapon; its ammunition is too anemic, with only 240 Joules for the 7.65mm Browning against 550 Joules for a 9mm Parabellum. A bulletproof vest designed to stop .357 Mag or .44 Mag will easily protect against these low-energy cartridges.

A versatile pistol for specialized personnel, offering great firepower for saturation fire, as well as the Russian Stechkin, the VZ61 can be dangerous in attacks against individuals without helmets or bulletproof vests. It has been used by several terrorist groups in Europe and Central America: the Red Brigades, the IRA and many others.

Lethality and Reduced Perforation

We tried to compare the compact guns in the same category as the VZ-61, however, it is the only one to chamber the weak 7.65mm Browning. The others are all in 9mm Parabellum.

Our VZ-61 is 270mm long and weighs 1.1kg without a magazine, with a firing rate of 650 to 850 rounds per minute, depending on the ammunition used. The more recent Steyr TMP (Tactical Machine Pistol) measures 282mm and weighs 1.3kg. The IMI Micro UZI SMG is 282mm long and weighs 2.0kg without the magazine. It is both very stirring in automatic shooting and difficult to control.

Other full-automatic pistols derived from semi-automatic pistols have been produced in the last thirty years, after the Mauser C96 Schnellfeuer or the HK VP70, to offer high firepower while remaining very compact. These include the Beretta 93R, 240mm long and weighing 1.1kg; the CZ 75 full-auto, measuring 230mm and 1.2kg on the balance; and the famous and very effective Glock 18 (185mm and 0.70kg). The G18 is probably the best in its category thanks to its lightness, 33-round magazines, optional vents, 9mm Parabellum ammunition, full-auto maneuverability and firing rate of 1,100 rounds per minute.

For the convenience of shoulder firing, the Beretta 93R stands out from the competition. But, for accuracy, the 7.65mm Browning cartridge from a VZ-61 wins. The sport shooter and collector may hesitate between the VZ-61 and some other guns, such as the hard-to-find Beretta 93R or a Glock fitted with the new FAB, CAA RONI, Hera or Austrian IGB stocks. The gun makes a super-efficient and very accurate small rifle, especially with an Aimpoint red dot sight.

Sport shooters will find the Skorpion to be a precise and reliable weapon compared to other products on the market.

Sophisticated Like an Assault Rifle

The VZ-61 was invented in 1960 by the engineer Miroslav Rybar (1924–1970) and manufactured by the Czech firm Ceska Zbrojovka. It went into production in 1962 and 210,000 units were manufactured, not to mention the pistols made under license in Yugoslavia, and then in Serbia, and current Czech copies from Czech Small Arms. The volume of production in former Yugoslavia and Serbia is unknown.

As mentioned above, the manufacture of the Czech pistol is very neat, with a lower receiver machined from a steel block, like the first AK-47 or Galil, but with very thin walls. Many parts are milled from steel blocks (such as parts of the trigger), and the barrel holding trunion is welded into the upper receiver, the barrel is held in place by a cross pin, which is also similar to the AK-47. The double charging handle or “ear cups’ are made of light alloy, as is the cap of the wooden grip.

Because of its caliber, the VZ-61 works with an unlocked bolt. The bolt returns into battery thanks to two thin springs around the guide rods, which are themselves part of the bolt. The bolt is enveloped from above and is blocked in the rear position once the last cartridge is ejected. This is accomplished by a vertical piece secured to the follower in the magazine. A bolt stop, located under the lower receiver, behind the magazine, can be activated to close the bolt forward on the chamber.

The ejection port is located on the top of the upper receiver and propels the cases quite high into the air, especially in automatic fire. The two-head ejector is placed in the middle of the receiver to allow the casings to come out upwards. The charging handle is ambidextrous and protrudes on both sides of the upper receiver for use by the thumb and index finger.

Despite its small size, the VZ-61 was designed the same as a modern assault rifle, with the bolt containing the firing pin and an internal hammer. Its trigger plate is as sophisticated as that of the AK-47 or the M16. It has a selector with three positions (0, 1, 20) and an auto sear mechanism preventing percussion before the bolt is closed, as on modern assault rifles.

The Rate Reducer

The VZ-61 contains a rate reducer designed to maintain a reasonable rate of fire in full-auto. This ingenious reducer comprises a mechanism in the grip of the weapon that acts on a lever, located at the rear of the lower receiver, which itself brakes the bolt by hanging on its rear section without blocking it.

Disassembly is easy for cleaning of the bolt, barrel and receiver. After pulling the locking pin from the upper, the upper assembly is pulled forward and the VZ-61 opens in half. The cocking points are removed, and the bolt assembly comes out at the back with its two attached recovery springs.

The barrel, bolt, firing pin, extractor and the inside of the upper are then accessible. That being said, to separate the lower receiver from the upper it is necessary to use a pin punch on the retainer of the main pin connecting the two parts. This operation is not really easy to achieve, but it is useful if you want to carefully clean the upper and its recesses around the barrel. The whole weapon can be dismantled easily with a pin punch, including the collapsible stock whose support slides transversely.

We tested a version produced in 1964, delivered with its three magazines of 10 and 20 rounds, its leather cases for the pistol and 20-round magazines, its strap and its maintenance kit, like the standard military packages.

The weapon’s operation is reliable and regular, provided that it is well cleaned and maintained and that the ammunition is chosen carefully. Cartridges with insufficient energy will cause ejection problems with incomplete recoil of the bolt assembly. The 7.65mm cartridge is small, so it must be perfect, clean and well charged to ensure flawless operation. Therefore, we consider that the VZ-61 is not a combat weapon; it is not sufficiently powerful or reliable to face up to complicated situations, with violent shocks, dusty or sandy atmospheres.

Excellent Accuracy

Light and comfortable in the hand, the VZ-61 is a marvel for the sports shooter who likes well-crafted weapons. The first versions with bluing as a finish were worked with care and have a beautiful appearance. The VZ-61 is pleasing to aim, with its old-fashioned style and very narrow but clear rear sight. Ditto for the front sight—it is very thin but clearly visible. With the very short stock deployed, it is challenging, but possible, to aim with the buttstock stuck on the shoulder. The VZ-61 was probably designed for automatic shooting by blocking on the arm or by pressing it into the abdomen.

At the shooting range, we aimed as with a pistol, with both hands, and with an open or closed stock. The accuracy was very good, and the recoil was low; being equivalent to that of a .22 Magnum, it was very controllable. Our target results were approximately 40–50mm at 25 meters, thanks to the excellent sights. The VZ-61 is lightweight and can easily be held with both hands for marksmanship or combat. It does not tire the shooter even with a free arm.

Locking on the ears of the front sight, the open buttstock allows shooting from the shoulder, similar to a rifle. But this 265-millimeter stock is very short and places the eyes of the shooter very close to the sight, which makes the position very uncomfortable. The eyes are 300mm from the rise, which is very little.

Unique by its Design, Drawing and Operation

The VZ-61 is a small submachine gun, ultra-compact and very light—barely heavier than a 1911. It is solid, particularly accurate and technically very interesting. Our conclusion is that the VZ-61 has no equivalent in its design, its size, its weight, its magazines, its buttstock (too short), its disassembly, its rate reducer. It really is unique, and we love it for that. It makes an excellent weapon for personal defense, but also for sport shooting. And it still serves as a protection gun for many professionals around the world.

Shortly after the VZ-61 in 7.65mm caliber was released, CZ produced some prototypes chambered for more powerful ammunition, including the VZ-64 in 9mm Short (.380 Auto or 9x17mm) caliber, the VZ-65 in 9mm Makarov (9x18mm), the production gun Samopal VZ-82 in 9mm Makarov and even the VZ-68 in 9mm Parabellum. CZ has also released a semi-automatic version called the VZ-91. Today, CZ still manufactures its pistol, but only the semi-automatic (VZ-61 S) version.

The Yugoslav manufacturer Zastava Arms, now Serbian, produces licensed versions in 7.65mm (M61), 9mm Short (M84) and a semi-automatic version (M85). Next to CZ’s current range, another Czech company called Czech Small Arms manufactures the SA VZ-61 semi-automatic pistol in 7.65mm, .380 Auto, 9mm Makarov, .22LR and even in 9mm PAK (blank).

Having been produced for 56 years without interruption and manufactured in five different calibers by two Czech companies, it is evident that the success of the VZ-61 is not about to decline.

MODEL: VZ-61 Skorpion
MANUFACTURER: CZ - ?eská zbrojovka Uherský Brod
WEBSITE: www.cz-usa.com and www.czub.cz
OTHER WEBSITE: www.csa.co.cz
OPERATION: Semi-automatic and automatic with unlocked bolt,auto sear for automatic fire with closed bolt only
SELECTOR: Three positions (0, 1, 20)
SAFETIES: Manual bolt stop, open bolt at the end of the magazine, bolt locked rearwards and trigger locked if the selector is on 0
TRIGGER: 1.2–1.8 kg
CALIBER: 7.65x17mm Browning or .32 ACP
SPEED AND ENERGY: 320m/s and 240 Joules
MAGAZINES: 10 or 20 cartridges
GROOVES: 6 grooves right in 350mm
DIMENSIONS: 270 x 152 x 43mm
RATE OF FIRE: 650 to 850 rounds/minute according to ammunition
RATE OF FIRE IN SEMI-AUTO: 35 rounds/minute
TOTAL WEIGHT: 1.1kg (without magazine), 1.36kg (with 20-round magazine)
REAR SIGHT: 75m and 150m adjustment by tilting sheet
FRONT SIGHT: Height adjustable
MATERIALS: Steel upper and lower receiver, barrel and bolt, lower machined in the mass, upper made of sheet steel; steel stock, wood grip or polymer; blued or painted steel parts
ACCESSORIES: Pistol delivered with a 10-round magazine and two 20-round magazines, a leather pouch for two 20-round magazines, a leather holster for the pistol, a safety strap and a complete cleaning kit in a pouch

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N3 (March 2018)
and was posted online on February 9, 2018


Comments have not been generated for this article.