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Vz. 35 Training Rifle: Part 1

Today we have Part 1 of a guest blog from reader Jordan Thompson who we all know as Starboard Rower. We talked at the airgun show in Arkansas a few weeks ago and I realized from what he told me that he had done some research on his air rifle and gathered facts I had never heard. This should be interesting

If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email me at blogger@pyramydair.com

Take it away, Jordan.

Vz. 35 Training Rifle – Part 1

by Jordan Thompson

Vz 35 rifle
The Vz. 35.

History of airguns

This report includes:

  • The Vz.35 is a fine airgun
  • A Military Trainer
  • Origins
  • The Threat of War
  • Airguns in Production
  • Two Patterns
  • World War II Begins
  • Summary

The Vz.35 is a fine airgun

Today we will look at the history of the Vz.35 air rifle, and see what stories it can tell us.

B.B. Pelletier has previously written about the Vz.35 and its sibling, the Vz.47. If you missed that post, take a look. It gives an overview of the airguns’ physical characteristics and operation. That alone makes the Vz.35 an interesting airgun, and worthy of much discussion.

Still, little has been written on this model. Today I will share some research into it’s history.

A Military Trainer

The Vz.35 is a Czechoslovakian military trainer from the 1930s. It was commissioned by the Army in a time of great need.

The trainer emulates the standard Czechoslovak Vz.24 battle rifle. Nearly one million Vz.24 firearms were made beginning in 1924. They are frequently cited as one of the finest Mauser-patterned military bolt-action rifles.

By comparison, relatively few Vz.35 airguns were produced. Total production figures are unknown, but serial numbers in the high 27,000’s have been observed.

Origins

To fully appreciate the origins of this airgun, we need to understand the geopolitics of the day. Our story begins in 1918. Czechoslovakia was formed at the end of World War I from the ashes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The victorious Allies rewarded the Czech and Slovak peoples (hereinafter referred to as CS) with not only political recognition, but also with war reparations. Austria ceded 100,000 Mauser and Mannlicher rifles to the newly formed CS Army. From Germany, Mauser itself provided plans, factory tooling, and parts for 42,000 Gewehr 98 pattern rifles.

These seeded the growth of the new CS Army. Greater still was the CS armaments industry itself. Their factories and manufacturing quality were among the best of the day. Česká Zbrojovka (“Czech Arms Factory”) made rifles and other armaments, and would eventually make the Vz.35 air rifle as well.

The Threat of War

The new republic was never quite at ease. On October 24, 1921 — almost exactly 100 years ago — Czechoslovakia first mobilized for war with Hungary. More threats would arise, including one that would prove fatal. In the 1930’s Adolf Hitler became Chancellor in neighboring Germany. He made open demands for territorial concessions containing ethnic Germans. This included the Sudetenland of Western Czechoslovakia.

VZ 35 soldiers
These infantrymen were on parade before President Benes, who promises to defend his polyglot nation from any invasion. From the Associated Press, March 23, 1938.

Czechoslovakia prepared defenses. In the rush to train more troops, the VTLU (“Military Technical and Aviation Institute”) recognized they were wearing out rifle bores. This was both from the sheer volume of training, but also from the corrosive primers of the day. In December of 1934, the VTLU solicited proposals for a new training rifle. The technical specification called specifically for an air rifle, one that would closely emulate the standard Vz.24 battle rifle.

Build a Custom Airgun

Airguns in Production

The winning design came from the noted small arms designer František Myška. Myška was lead designer at Česká Zbrojovka’s factory in the town of Strakonice.

The new training rifle was designated the vzor 35, or “model of 1935.”  Between 1935 and 1938, 9,843 of these air rifles would be produced for the Czechoslovak Army.

A small amount were also offered for commerical sale, including to schools and national organizations.  However, the unusually high cost at 540 Krouna per rifle meant that sales outside the Army commission were few.  Only 601 air rifles are known to be sold outside the Army, though perhaps more did make it out.

Two Patterns

There were two versions of the air rifle. Most were the training pattern, seen here. The second version was a sporterized model. The sporterized model is shorter in length with a different stock profile, no upper handguard, and omits the bayonet lug and sling swivels. The action is otherwise the same as we see here.

Interestingly, the Army did not request only the training pattern. We can see Army orders for sporters. In fact, they grow as a proportion of sales in later years of production. For example, an order for 500 units dated November 25, 1937 requested both configurations: 400 training, and 100 sporter. Later, another order for 3,000 units dated August 17, 1938 was for 1,500 training, and 1,500 sporter. It may be that as the economy strained to prepare for war, the sporter version was simpler and cheaper to produce.

Vz 35 rifle accessories
Original accessories.  The Vz.24 bayonet, scabbard, and period cleaning rod.

Vz 35 rifle mounted bayonet
The bayonet locks securely in place.  Note the upturned blade, typical of Czech and Austro-Hungarian army doctrine.

World War II Begins

CS Army contracts for the Vz.35 were relatively short-lived, and went unfulfilled. Czechoslovakia lost the Sudetenland in the Munich Agreement of 1938, and with it, perimeter fortifications. Germany helped herself to the remainder of the country by the following year, acquiring Czechoslovak armaments without a fight.

Interestingly, the Germans thought enough of the Vz.35 to continue production into the early 1940’s. Many were exported to Berlin for the Reichsarbeitsdienst or “German Labor Force”.

Vz.35’s produced under occupation are fairly easy to recognize. They omitted the large CS Lion crest and CS Army acceptance stamps, and typically have serial numbers above 10,000.

Summary

That’s it for today. Next time we will take a look at markings on an early-production Vz.35, and see what stories it can tell us.

61 thoughts on “Vz. 35 Training Rifle: Part 1”

  1. J.T.

    Seems like an interesting airgun. I wish you had linked to the earlier articles where B.B. mentioned the Vz 35. All that practice and Czechoslovakia rolled over, hardly firing a shot in 1939.
    As GF1 askes, how does it shoot?

    -Y

    • Yogi,

      The shot cycle is heavy! Retracting the bolt requires some arm strength. One tends to shoulder the gun, and while supporting it with the off-hand, crank the bolt back, becoming a human vice. Like all shooters in WWI, the bolt handle orientation makes this gun right-handed. 🙂

      The trigger is also heavy. Though the bore is rifled, this gun is not particularly accurate. At least not by modern standards. The VTLU specifications called for sights that could be adjusted to 10, 15, and 30 meters. Based on my experience, reasonable groups are possible at 10 and 15. But 30 is a stretch!

      Muzzle velocity averaged 419 ft/sec on my gun, last time I shot it. That is a little slow, I believe. I suspect I have a small mount of compressed air leakage, due to a hopper seal that has degraded with time. (You’ll see it Monday.) An easy fix.

      Shots go off with a solid “thump”. This is not a calm, quiet airgun.

      StarboardRower

        • There is an original army manual! I have yet to get my hands on one. Top of my wishlist.

          In 2019, there was a reprint of 200 manuals, by a Czech publisher. 30 to 40 pages long. But I was too late! Found it after it had old out. I’m attaching a pic of the cover.

          If any has one or would be willing to sell it, I’d love to hear from you. 😉

          StarboardRower

  2. SR,

    That is a awesome cool air rifle. Part of my addiction to these old gals is the stories behind them. I also like that these old gals are so well made.

    I used to have a collection of WWI bayonets. A lot of thought went into the design of that bayonet. The “natural” stroke for a bayonet is forward, up and back.

    Some mighty fine firearms and air arms have come from that part of Europe.

    • RidgeRunner,

      Until I had this airgun, I did not realize the differences in bayonet doctrine. The Czechs agree – out, up, and back.

      By comparison, the Germans (and most others of the day) instructed raising the rifle, and striking forward and down. The opposite. Interesting.

      StarboardRower

      • SR,

        Then there are the spike bayonets. The French had a spike bayonet for the Label rifle. It was really quite long.

        The Brits initially had a quite long bladed bayonet which was almost a short sword. The U.S. adopted it for a bit. The Brits eventually went with a small spike bayonet for their SMLE.

        Probably the most interesting type of bayonet I have seen and likely the deadliest is the tube type. It is a steel tube with one end knurled for gripping with mounting lugs and the business end has a shallow angle cut. When thrust forward and pulled back, it acts like a cookie cutter and makes a big, round hole which does not close up easily. I have seen a modern version of this for the AR type rifles. It screws on in place of the muzzle brake and is supposedly used to flatten tires.

    • RR,

      You might like this pic.

      Top is a vz.24 pattern bayonet, same as in the blog post above. 1935 production by the Czechs. “Correct” for our airgun here.

      Bottom is a M95 pattern bayonet. Originally made by Steyr in Austria, then later reworked by the Czechs in Prague in either 1920 or 1921.

      Both upturned blades. And both are contemporary to each other, in the Czech depot system at the same time. But interesting to me is the size difference. The M95 just seems small. Especially the handle. (And the larger bayonet is the “short” version!)

      StarboardRower

      • SR,

        The earlier bayonets are longer. During WW1, some of the bayonets started to be made shorter. It saved steel, made them easier to handle in close quarters and it was not necessary to go all the way through someone to kill them.

  3. Jordan,
    Being half Czechoslovak, I appreciate the history section of this report as much as the technical content…well done! Thank you. 🙂
    Looking forward to the rest of this series,
    dave

  4. Very interesting and enjoyable report. Yogi, beg to respectfully differ with you about Czechoslovakia “rolling over” for the nazis. The Czechs were quite willing to fight in the fall of 1938 to defend the Sudetenland. Their army, though small, was capable, well-trained and motivated to defend their country. Their equipment – including locally-produced armor – was of good qua.lity and design, in many cases superior to what the Germans had at the time. There were also fairly extensive border fortifications which would have proved a tough nut to crack for the 1938 Wehrmacht. In fact, there was a faction in the German military which feared invading Czechoslovakia would be a disaster and this faction, headed by Generals Beck and Oster were trying to organize a coup to overthrow Hitler in the event of such an invasion.
    http://valkyrie-plot.com/1938.html

    Unfortunately, thanks to the spineless Chamberlain and Daladier, who sold out the Czechs at the Munich conference, Adolf was handed the Sudetenland without firing a shot. This only gave Britain and France 11 more months of peace, after which they faced a more formidable enemy, better equipped – a lot of the good Czech-made equipment incorporated into the Wehrmacht’s inventory – and convinced the Reich would easily roll over the opposition. Indeed, Germany ALMOST pulled it off.

    • FawltyManuel,

      I agree. The Czechs did not roll over.

      By 1935, Germany was subsidizing secessionist movements in the Sudetenland, where about 3.5 million ethnic Germans lived under the Czechoslovak flag. They secretly funded – I think – about 7 Million Krouna that year. This was so secret that not even the German foreign minister in Prague knew about it.

      As rebellion grew, the Czechs moved to control and defend. Their army was among the most modern in the world.

      The Czechs just had no allies in the end. Even Poland and Hungary had territorial claims on CS… and they too shared a border with CS. Looking at a map, the country was long and skinny. Geography and the political map worked against them.

      Rushed treaties with France and Russia yielded nothing.

      The fact that the Czechs weren’t even invited to the Munich Conference in 1938 says it all. They were left out to dry.

      StarboardRower

    • The Munich conference also gave the English time to prepare. The UK’s air defenses would not have lasted 5 minutes under Luftwaffe attack in 1938-9. They had run air raid drills in 1936-8 and failed miserable. Germany walked into Czechoslovakia and removed all the Jews from Praha. I agree however than Chamberlin did sacrifice the Sudetenland.

      -Y

      PS the Czechs did not want their beautiful capitol bombed to the ground.

  5. Still beg to differ; the Luftwaffe of 1938 did not yet have the needed number of aircraft, trained crews and resources to take on the RAF, the French Armee De l’air and even the small Czech air force simultaneously. Certainly there would have been no possibility of retaliatory attacks on British soil at that time. Personally, believe any attack on Czechoslovakia would have stalled after initial success and led to a general European war which Germany would have lost, as the sane and sober German generals feared. However, pushing back against Hitler would have required gutsy leadership and determination, something sorely lacking on the British and French side. The Czechs, on the other hand, were ready for the fight until the rug was pulled from under them by their “allies.”

    Tell you who learned the necessary lessons about relying on patently-unreliable allies: the Finns. That’s why they fought like a people possessed when the Russians attacked them in 1939. As a result, they kept their independence.

    Will say this blog leads to some very interesting discussions. That’s why it is one of FM’s daily-must-reads.

    • FM,

      I find WWII history fascinating. For me, that is part of the appeal of this airgun.

      I agree with your assessment of the Czechs (and Finns) wholeheartedly. I think one of the great questions of the war is what would have happened if Czechoslovakia had the chance to fight.

      In 1938 as the Sudeten crisis deepened, the Czechs mobilized the population, enlisting 1 million people in the first day. Wow! That sounds like a country ready and willing to fight. I find this video to be a good description of the situation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGZkPA_sCO4

      The UK and France (and the US) were war-averse and pacifist in 1938. Certainly, they benefitted from more time to prepare. But it took seeing Germany’s intentions to motivate and mobilize the Allies. In fact, even Hitler was uncertain how the Brits and French would react. German units were under orders to withdraw if they met French resistance when they first reoccupied the demilitarized zone on the French border.

      Many Czechs and Slovaks would escape to join Allied forces as airmen and soldiers. Sadly, the same cannot be said of their weapons. Most would be used on the Eastern front by German and Romanian troops.

      StarboardRower

    • FM like Darkside – FM think Darkside also tempts him to get compressor in the future. Hand pump helps FM stay fit to enjoy airguns longer, including “sproingers.” Life good. FM thank GF1 for enabling him into temptation.

      • FM
        Good glad FM is happy.

        And yep I know the temptation that comes along with the darkside. Once you get a compressor then the other temptation comes with what could be the next pcp gun. But is that really a bad thing? 🙂

        All I can say is happy air gun shoot’n whatever powerplant you use. 🙂

      • FM,

        For the longest time I used a hand pump. It was not until I bought my HM1000X in .357 did I buy a compressor and a tank. Those big bores are air hogs.

        Of course you could always do it the way they did in the “old days”. They would have one of their servants pump it up for them.

        • Hand pump is good enough – no servants around here, everything is self-serve, as it should be. Have had to go easy the last couple weeks or so since had some minor skin surgery on top of right shoulder which required stitches. The doc said “don’t do anything strenuous with that arm and shoulder, don’t want you coming back here with popped stitches.” That includes hand-pumping…chomping at the bit a little bit here.

          • FM,

            Unless you go with the larger calibers, a hand pump is fine. I have two of them. I do not know what you have, but I would recommend a Hill pump. The quality is there and they are supposedly easily rebuildable. I do not know as mine is still working fine. Mine is a MK3. I think they are up to MK5 now.

            I know there will be others who will try to talk you into buying a compressor, but I myself would recommend staying with the hand pump as long as you can.

  6. I have noticed that everyone blames Neville Chamberlain for being “spineless”. The truth of the matter is he is what the Brits wanted at that time. When the world went up in flames, they elected Winston Churchill. When it was all over, they dumped him.

    We do the same thing. How do you think we ended up with Carter? We were tired of war.

    Be careful what you ask for, you just may get it.

  7. I read your shooting impressions in the comments and my impressions are similar. This is one tuff trigger for sure and to me may be one of the issues with accuracy? I do wonder if the accuracy of this rifle is much better than you have experienced? I think the crucial issue to accuracy is the round ball ammo. As you say the barrel is rifled but it takes the right ammo to contact those grooves? The rifle is 4.45 cal. Most balls used tend be the more available German 4.4. round ball ammo which is typically not very well made. I have only found one pellet ball that is 4.45 and that was made by H&N. Quality ammo but not made any more. I bought some new old stock. This summer I will take out my two VZ35’s and see how good they can be. I still thing the limiting factor is the trigger?

    • 45flint,

      I agree. The trigger pull is so heavy, it is going to impede accuracy. It may be good for training (safety). But it’s no match trigger!

      I’d love to hear how your tests go. Keep us posted! I’ll also be doing a accuracy test in my next writeup. So it will be a good comparison. (Although, my shooting skills leave much to be desired)!

      Do you have a chronograph? How is the velocity?

      StarboardRower

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