Today we have Part 2 of the guest blog from reader Jordan Thompson who we know as Starboard Rower. Let’s now hear the rest of what he has to tell us about the Vz. 35 air rifle.

If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email me at [email protected].

Over to you, Jordan.

Vz. 35 Training Rifle – Part 2

by Jordan Thompson

Vz 35 rifle with bayonet
Vz.35 with mounted Vz. 24 bayonet.  This was the correct bayonet for the training rifle.

Part 1

This report covers:

  • General Impressions
  • Main Components
  • Minor Parts
  • Still a Mystery
  • How the rifle works
  • What did we learn?

In part I, we dug into the history of the Vz.35.

Now let’s take a look at one example of an early Vz.35, and see what the markings on the rifle can tell us about it’s production.

General Impressions

Close inspection of a Vz.35 indicates a surprising number of markings.  We do not typically see this amount of marks on airguns.  In this respect the Vz.35 is more like a firearm.

Main Components

Initial impressions focus on the prominent receiver markings, embossed in white and set against richly-blued metal.  (This being an airgun, it is properly considered a spring tube, rather than a receiver.)

The double-tailed lion crest is a sovereign symbol, followed by the manufacturer name, the model name, and finally the serial number.  These marks are fairly straightforward, and part of the aesthetic appeal of the gun.

1Vz 35 rifle crest
The Czech coat of arms features prominently on the airgun.  Other Czechoslovak rifles of the day had the same crest.

Another major mark is on the side of the hopper, where lead balls are loaded.  This is the army acceptance mark.

Vz 35 rifle cresthopper acceptance mark
The Czech army acceptance mark is on the side of the feed hopper. The mark is written as a letter- the Czech lion-and the number. The letter indicates the factory, the lion is the Czechoslovokian national crest and the number indicates the year.

  Only two factories are known to have produced the Vz.35 air rifle — Brno (indicated by the letter E) and Strakonice (letter J). Brno was the larger plant, already set up for powder-burning rifle production. Strakonice was the smaller plant, although it is notable that it was the source of the winning air rifle design as discussed in Part I. Interestingly, Strakonice was producing bicycles, motorcycles, and a machine gun for planes at the time they began production of the Vz.35. They did not produce conventional rifles.

In this example we have J, then a lion, followed by 35, indicating acceptance at the Strakonice plant in 1935.  This gun is therefore from the first-year of production.

Minor Parts

The story becomes more interesting as we look at smaller parts on the rifle. We can see a pattern where parts were pulled from existing firearm inventory. We can also see that some parts significantly predate the assembled air rifle.

Vz 35 rifle rear band
In the rear band we see E lion 34. That would be the Brno arsenal in 1934.

Vz 35 rifle front band
The front band has a similar E lion 34.  The crosspin hole has partly obliterated the E, which is common on smaller parts. Both bands indicate Brno manufacture, and 1934 production.  Both therefore predate the Vz.35.

The fact that these parts are stamped at all, is interesting. One possible theory is that they are army-accepted Vz.24 rifle parts, pulled from existing depot inventory. The Brno factory could have easily supplied Strakonice with such parts, as they were assembling Vz.24 firearms at the time. This was a common practice at the time and it saved the government money that was not spent on duplicate inventory.

[Editor’s note: The M1 Carbine project mandated parts swapping like this. The government correctly reasoned that if all parts made by different manufacturers for a certain model firearm could interchange, those guns would be far easier to maintain. It is the reason that 1917 Winchester/Enfield rifles were not sent to the European theater in World War I (Winchester’s parts were mot made to the approved specification) and is the reason the Irwin Pederson company was never able to produce an M1 Carbine that was accepted by the Army in World War II.]

Older Still

Looking further, we can see a stylized “ZP” on the bayonet lug. This is a maker’s mark for Zbrojovka Praha, a short-lived company in Prague that went out of business in 1921. This part therefore predates the gun by at least 14 years. Zbrojovka Praha was known for reworking Austrian Mannlicher-pattern bayonet blades.

Vz 35 rifle bayonet lug
Note the stylized “ZP” maker mark on the bayonet lug.

The buttplate has two marks.  First is an E circle-lion.  This is an older-style Czechoslovak Army acceptance mark, which was phased out in 1925 in favor of a different style.  It is accompanied by a separate crown – C.

Vz 35 rifle buttplate
Buttplate is German in origin, likely from World War I era production.

Vz 35 rifle buttplate detail
By the early 1920s, this part of what became Germany was in Czechoslovak possession. A Czech acceptance stamp has been added to the buttplate, above the original markings.

The crown – C on the buttplate indicates an even older age. It is an imperial inspection mark from Weimar Germany. It is found on MP-18 German submachineguns manufactured by Theodor Bergmann Abteilung Waffenbaul Suhl. These were manufactured from only 1918 to 1920, and have a buttplate and crown – C marking identical to what we see here on the Vz.35 airgun.  (The MP-18’s receiver also has this same mark.)  It is notable that these were the world’s first submachineguns used in combat.

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Still a Mystery

More marks remain. But at this juncture, their significance eludes me. The front sight post has a prominent styled crown – 300 – C.M. The underside of the wood stock is marked with a stylized Z.

Vz 35 rifle stock
This mark on the Vz. 35 stock is unknown at this time.

How the rifle works

The Vz. 35 fires a 4.4mm lead ball that’s gravity-fed through a hopper on top of the action. You saw the closed hopper already, but here is a look at it when it’s open and loaded. When the rifle (yes, the barrel is rifled) is cocked by pulling back on the bolt handle, a long rod on the nose of the piston moves back, allowing one ball to fall from the hopper into the tube just ahead of the rod. The drawing that reader Kevin shared with us last Friday clearly shows this.

Vz 35 rifle hopper loaded
The 4.4mm lead balls fall into the action from a hopper by gravity.

A word to the wise, the bolt on this rifle is hard to pull back. The mainspring that occupies a small space inside the action is very powerful. And the rifle fires with a strong jolt.

Vz 35 rifle cocked
Rocking the bolt back like this cocks the powerful mainspring.

What did we learn?

The Czechs appear to have made a fine, durable airgun under expedient circumstances. Where they could, they pulled from existing firearm inventory for at least some small parts. A few parts only slightly predate the 1935 airgun, while others go back at least as far as 1920. That is a big gap.

Where did these parts come from? We can speculate on a few sources.

Remember the war reparations Czechoslovakia received from 1918? One possibility is that the oldest parts on the airgun may originate from those stocks, or other parts used to service the WWI rifles. Those included Mannlichers of all patterns from Austria and Hungary. The M95 was the most common. Reparations also included a smaller amount of Mauser 98 patterned rifles and parts from Germany. I would put the buttplate in this category.

Another possibility is that some minor parts are simply obsolete Czechoslovak production of Mauser pattern rifles of the interwar period. They include Mauser-Jelen Short Rifles (1919-1922), the Model 1898/22 (1921-1930), the Model 23 and 23A (1923), the Model 16/33 Carbine (1933), and the Model 12/33 (1933). I would put the bayonet lug in this category.

Or perhaps some minor parts, such as the bands, came from current rifle production lines? That could only be one. The famous Vz.24 itself, produced from 1924 – 1938.  The very gun the Vz.35 sought to emulate.

Rarely does an airgun offer such a lesson in history!