Com Bloc Curiosity: The CZ-52 Service Pistol
By David Tong
It is safe to say that the old adage, “simpler is better” certainly applies to the firearms designs of the former Warsaw Pact nations. During WW II, the Russians fielded a limited number of designs of small arms. None of these were very innovative in design, although they did pioneer the use of metal stamping to facilitate the huge quantities of individual weapons necessary for The Great Patriotic War.
Handguns have primarily been badges of rank for most nations and surely this was the view in Eastern Europe. While a suitable large caliber pistol might suffice to save one’s life in an emergency situation, mostly it serves to fight your way to a long arm (all credit to Clint Smith) or, in the brutality of WW II, to execute political dissidents or prisoners. The eastern bloc mostly used the Tokarev TT-30 and TT-33 that are nothing more than copies of Browning tilt-lock designs in caliber 7.62X25mm, which itself does not differ much from the parent 7.63mm Mauser “Broomhandle” round of the late 19th Century.
It was the Czech history of small arms development that allowed the subject of this article, the CZ-52, to be designed and built. CZ, as everyone should know today, still supplies the now democratic nation with their service pistol, the CZ-75. For the hunter and sportsman, CZ offers a range of workmanlike Mauser 98 type rifles in a variety of action lengths, semi-automatic pistols, and bolt action rimfire rifles.
The CZ-52 is a fairly radical departure for an eastern bloc country, given the lessons of WW II. First, while the Soviet’s own Pistolet Makarova, or Makarov, is a Walther PP in most design characteristics, the 52 is an all steel, fully machined from forgings pistol that uses a variation of the so-called “Stecke” lock, a German development first seen in the infamous MG-42 machine gun. The Germans continue to use the system in the HK family of military rifles and submachine guns, including the 7.62X51mm NATO G3 and the 9x19mm MP-5.
Utilizing a bolt head and a cam system to extend and retract two cylindrical roller bearings from their slide mortises to provide a “locking” mechanism for high-pressure rounds, it requires precise machining and heat treatment and can be considered a “delayed blowback” system.
After WWII and the capture of many German arms designers, and no doubt the capture of many thousands of MG-42s, the Czech government gave CZ the go ahead to create a pistol using this operating system. They also kept the 7.62X25mm round, which is quite hot (roughly 1600 fps with an 85 grain FMJ bullet) and requires a pistol with a locked breech. There is some commentary regarding the continued use of this round, as it is a better penetrator than fight stopper (compared to the 9mm Makarov cartridge), to better deal with both cover as well as the NATO deployment of early body armor.
The action works thusly: Upon firing, a cam piece at the rear of the barrel is pushed forward by a tang located on the top of the frame and this allows the barrel rollers to retract from their recesses on both sides of the slide adjacent to the chamber. The barrel does recoil a short distance in a straight line, unlike a Tokarev or a 1911, thus this is a variation of the Stecke lock, which uses a fixed barrel in nearly all cases.
The pistol is also different in several other ways. Despite the movement toward trigger cocking or “double action” first shots, the CZ firm built this pistol as a single action only weapon, but with a twist. It is probably the only single action whose safety lever also incorporates a “decocker” for the external hammer, along with a firing pin lock. This safety is located on the port side of the frame and pivots from the front rather than the rear. It works in the conventional manner, down for “fire” and up for “safe,” and pushing up beyond safe activates the decocker. The hammer is, in theory, allowed to fall onto its intercept notch and it is a rebounding design in that after the hammer is decocked, it retracts about 1/8”. However, I recommend that you not rely on the decocker, as either the intercept notch or the firing pin plunger block can fail, causing an accidental discharge. I am not sure whether it will happen on your pistol, but if you lower the hammer with your thumb, it surely will not.
The pistol is field stripped for cleaning by merely pulling down a spring loaded catch located at the forward root of the trigger guard, quite similar to the Glock of the 1980s. The plastic “bakelite” horizontally grooved brown stocks are not retained by conventional screws, but by a simple U-shaped spring steel clip that slides on from the rear of the grip.
The single column, eight-round magazines are steel stampings and I believe they and the magazine catch are the only stamped parts on the entire pistol, which of course differs greatly from the Communist norm. They are retained by the usual heel clip catch and the CZ-52 has a nifty little hinged wire lanyard loop located immediately behind the catch, which can come in handy in military use to retain ones sidearm on the battlefield.
The pistol has a 4.7”, carbon steel blued barrel, while the balance of the pistol appears to be finished in some kind of Parkerizing. Sights are your usual period tiny thumbnail slightly ramped Patridge front post machined integrally with the slide and an equally hard to see dovetailed (drift adjustable) rear blade. There is an external slide stop that locks the slide to the rear upon firing the last round, but there is no thumb piece to press down to complete a fast reload, as is usually found on most Western service pistols.
I find the exterior finish of the pistol to be adequate for its purpose. There was no attempt made to remove what appear to be surface ground machine marks on the slide, yet there are no real sharp corners to cut one’s fingers, either. The interior of the pistol is likewise a dichotomy, the interior of the slide and its locking recesses are quite smoothly machined, while the frame is fairly rough looking.
When the trigger is pressed, an internal trigger bar trips the sear. In addition, a small lever pivots upward to depress the firing pin lock to allow the hammer to strike the thusly freed firing pin, hit the primer and set off the round.
The CZ is also one of only a handful of service pistols that utilize a frame sideplate on its right rear side to retain internal parts, primarily the fire control parts including the hammer, safety lever, sear, ejector and so on. Another curiosity is that the frame’s magazine well extends at the bottom of the grip on the left side only; the magazine well on the right bottom is actually the inside bottom of the plastic grip.
The CZ factory built something approaching one quarter million of these pistols between 1952 and 1954. It served the Czech armed services until their adoption of the Model 1982 in 9X18mm Makarov caliber in 1983.
While I had never fired a 7.62X25mm pistol before, I had shot the very similar Mauser round, which launches an 86 grain pill at some 1,450fps. Since the barrel is retained in the slide and is a precisely machined cylindrical fit, the pistol shoots very well. I had no trouble keeping a magazine load in less than an inch, hand held, at ten yards, despite the tiny sights and a slightly creepy, six pound trigger. The ammunition I used is Bulgarian surplus, which is Berdan and corrosively primed, and it is HOT. I do not own a chronograph, but have read from several sources that it might be subgun ammo clocking over 1,600 fps even in the pistol-length barrel.
The trigger also has a little “kick back,” something your index finger feels during longer shooting strings. I also find the safety a bit uncomfortable and slow to use despite its 1911-like location, because the lever piece that one’s thumb must presses down on to take the pistol to fire is small, sharply grooved and you cannot comfortably shoot the pistol with your thumb high over the lever.
I don’t expect to shoot the pistol much, having bought it as a historical and intellectual curiosity. One ammunition manufacturer loads the 85 grain Hornady XTP bullet to about 1,800 fps, which isn’t far from what a U.S. M1 Carbine is delivering.
Fitting an 18.5 pound recoil spring to replace the stock 14 pound spring helps slow down the slide velocity and slightly reduces felt recoil. More importantly, it ensures that the chamber pressure will have dropped sufficiently to allow safe opening of the ejection port to prevent the possibility of bulged or cracked cases causing an injury. Keep in mind that while the bottlenecked Tokarev cartridge feeds very reliably, some of the surplus ammunition available on the market now is known to have poor quality brass of insufficient ductility and they sometimes split along the case body behind the base of the shoulder due to brittleness (or possibly an oversized chamber).
Century Arms International (C.A.I.) is the prime importer of CZ-52 pistols in the U.S. and one can find them retailing for well under $200, usually with a leather holster, spare magazine and steel cleaning rod in very-good-plus condition. There are some limited aftermarket components available, including new U.S. made locking rollers and firing pins of superior alloy steel and heat treatment, as both parts may fail with extended use.
There have been some reports of 1952 Bulgarian-manufactured ammo exceeding 55,000 psi mean average pressure, which similar to high intensity RIFLE cartridges, and showing the aforementioned case splits. Use an ammonia-based cleaner to neutralize the corrosive primers immediately after returning from the range, as the barrel will quickly be damaged if left unattended.
I think that one could enjoy shooting pests, targets and varmints with the pistol, as it is quite accurate, so long as one tests it thoroughly to ensure that it shoots to point of aim. I am a bit less certain about its use as a defensive pistol because of the over-penetration liability issue.
Muzzle blast and flash are tremendous, so one should take enough time to master shooting something that sounds like a magnum caliber revolver. Recoil is sharp and the nearly 90 degree grip angle isn’t really comfortable. Without a Hogue slip-on rubber grip, it is also quite slippery as well. Finally, the frame shape itself is “old school” in that the trigger guard and backstrap position your hand much lower than current pistols, thus increasing bore center height and muzzle flip on recoil.
In summary, the CZ-52 is an interesting postwar product from the minds of our former adversaries. It can offer lots of shooting fun and is inexpensive to purchase and feed.
Copyright 2008 by David Tong. All rights reserved.