The history of the manufacture of automatic pistols in Czechoslovakia dates back to 19181919, at which time three factories started producing such arms. These three were:
1. Ceskoslovenske zavody na vyrobu zbrani, Brno (Czechoslovak weapon factories, Brno). This name was changed later to Ceskoslovenska Zbrojovka, akc. spol. under which name the plant operated until the German occupation when it was changed to Brünner Waffenfabrik, A.G., Brünn.
2. Jihoceska Zbrojovka, s.s no., located in Pilsen (Plzen in Czech). The name of this firm was later changed to Jihoceska Zbrojovka, a.s. and still later, when the firm was joined with „Hubertus," the name was again changed to Ceska Zbrojovka, a.s. Plants for the manufacture of pistols were established in Prague and in Strakonice.
3. Zbrojovka Praga, located in Prague. This firm went out of business in 1926.
The development and operations of these firms will now be considered in some detail.
On March 1, 1919, the original Czech Government arsenal for the production of small arms was established in what had been an artillery production plant, at Brno (Moravia ), Czechoslovakia. This arsenal was given the name Ceskoslovenske zavody na vyrobu zbram, Brno. First produced was the Mannlicher Model 95 short rifle, followed soon thereafter by their initial production of hand grenades of which some 300,000 had been produced by 1922. In 1922, or shortly thereafter, Engineer Josef Nickl from the Mauser Werke at Oberndorf directed the installation of machinery in the Brno factory for the production of the Mauser Mod. 24 rifle, for which arm drawings and specifications were also supplied. Not long thereafter the VZ 26 (i.e., Mod. 26) light machine gun went into production. A large part of the machine gun production was delivered under contract to Persia, Turkey, and Mexico. In 1930 some 20,000 Model 26 machine guns were delivered to the Rumanian Government; and technicians and engineers were sent from Brno to set up a plant in Rumania to manufacture this arm. This gun has been used in 24 different countries.
The first automatic pistol made specifically for military use was developed at Brno from a pistol originating at the Mauser plant. This pistol, which became known as Pistole 9 mm. N, was designed by the Mauser engineer Nickl in 1916. The story is that the Mauser firm was not greatly impressed with this design but had to give it more attention than they felt it deserved because of the influence of the designer. The system was basically a rotating barrel scheme placed on the existing Mauser pocket pistol design of frame and firing system, but with the addition of an external hammer and a different method of assembly. Very few specimens were actually made at the Mauser plant, but a few do exist, having been made experimentally from 1916 on. They will be found to be marked MAUSER WERKE A.G. OBERNDORF, a.N. PIST. KAL 9 M/M. It is stated that the Mauser firm licensed the Nickl design to the Czech army, through an Austrian dummy corporation, in about 1921. The pistol was first made at Brno for service use. These pistols will be found to be marked „9 mm. N Cs. St. zbrojovka, Brno."
In 1923 the production of pistols was moved to Ceska Zbrojovka in Prague, and by 1932 economic and other factors caused a partial shut down of the Brno factory. Activities were revived, however, by taking on heavy industry as well as small arms manufacture, and it became necessary to change the factory from its status as a Government owned arsenal to a stock company under the name Ceskoslovenska Zbrojovka, akc. spol. The Government, however, retained a controlling interest; the balance of the stock being spread among the subsidiary companies, with an arrangement whereby employees could purchase a share after five years of service.
In the period 1934-35 England expressed an interest in the Bren and Besa machine guns. An order was placed for 200 Bren guns and arrangements were made for Czech technicians to go to England with working drawings for both the Bren and Besa machine guns. These men and the drawings left Czechoslovakia just before Hitler invaded that country on March 15, 1939. The Brno plant was seized by the Germans and was operated by them throughout the period of occupation under the name Brünner Waffenfabrik, A.G. Brünn, and was given the code designation „bb." Many types of small arms were produced in these years.
At the close of World War II when the Germans left Czechoslovakia, the old name Ceskoslovenska Zbrojovka, akc. spol. was restored; but when the country was nationalized by the Communists in 1948 the name was again changed to Ceskaslovenska Zbrojovka-Narodni Podnik (Narodni Podnik means National Enterprize).
In 1919 a second large plant for the manufacture of automatic pistols came into being. Architect Karel Bubla persuaded some financially able people, most of whom were also interested in the Skoda Works in Pilsen, to raise the necessary capital to start the production of small arms in order to eliminate (or reduce) the imports of such weapons from Austria, Belgium, and Germany. The newly formed company „of limited liability" (as the name suggests) was called Jihoceska Zbrojovka, s.s r.o., and was supervised by the „Agricultural Industrial Bank."
First to be produced was the 6.35 mm. Fox semiautomatic pistol, designed by Alois Tomiska. This first pistol was essentially a hand-produced item until 1923 when standardized mass production methods were adopted.
In 1922 the Czech Ministry of National Defense (Ministerstvo narodni obrany) appointed a commission to study the ability of this firm to mass produce weapons with interchangeable parts. In 1923 this commission reported favorably and the Government moved the production of the official service' pistol to Ceska Zbrojovka, a.s., the new name for this firm after it was combined with the Hubertus firm. Pistols were made at both Prague and Strakonice. Thus this firm, CZ as it became generally known, became the largest maker of pistols in Czechoslovakia.
In 1923 CZ absorbed another company and entered the field of bicycle production, and in 1924 the manufacture of motor cycles began. Still later the firm produced a Czech version of the Lewis and Vickers machine gun, a new Czech aircraft machine gun (Models 28 and 30), flare pistols, and air rifles. In 1938 this plant started the first Czech submachine gun production. During World War Il large quantities of the Czech Pistole Mod. 27 were made, also parts for the German MG 34 and 42 and parts for Walther P-38 pistols, cannons, etc.
Pistols made at Prague will have various markings such as: CESKA ZBROJOVKA A.S. V PRAZE, CESKA ZBROJOVKA AS V PRAZE, CESKA ZBROJOVKA AKC. SPOL PRAZE, all of which mean the same, the abbreviations „A.S.," „AS," and „AKC" all standing for „Akciova spolecnost," which is roughly equivalent to the German „A.G.," the Swedish „A.B.," the Spanish „S.A.," and the English „Ltd." The letter V in Czech means „in;" V PRAZE therefore means „in Prague."
From 1939 to 1941, pistols made at Prague under German supervision were marked BÖHMISCHE WAFFENFABRIK A.G. IN PRAG on the top of the slide, and from 1941 to 1945, when the German occupation ended, the pistols were marked with the letters „fnh," the German code letters for this plant.
The firm known as Zbrojovka Praga (Arsenal Praga) dates back to 1918, when construction of a factory was started by A. Nowotny, who had previously owned and run a gun shop. By the end of 1918 machinery had been installed. Nowotny had been able to interest some very able designers, said to have included the Holek brothers, Frantisek Myska, and K. Krnka. Some of these men were engaged in the design of machine guns, and prototypes of such were made. The automatic pistols made by this firm will be discussed a bit later.
Unfortunately this firm did not prosper and it was taken over by the Prumyslova Banka (Industrial Bank) in 1926, and the factory was closed down.
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