The first Czechoslovak service pistol, the Praga, was developed by private industry. The first Czech-developed service pistol from the national arsenals, on the other hand, wasn’t really all that Czech-developed. It was designed by Josef Nickl of Mauser-Werke, and, in his honor, was often called the “N” pistol during its long and fraught development. A version very similar to the one that would become a Czech service pistol was put forward in Oberndorf in 1916 as a single-action 9mm Parabellum auto pistol.
This hand-crafted, tool-room prototype is, apart from its 9 mm chambering and size, a ringer for the Czechoslovak vz. 22 in many details, as we’ll see. In 1916 and subsequently, Mauser never put his pistol into production, but they let him pitch it to the Czechoslovak military while he was helping set up a production line for Mauser 98 rifles (which would be, confusingly, the vz. 22 and vz. 24 also!). The Czechoslovak Army tested both 9mm and, at their own insistence, scaled-down 9 mm Short (.380) versions. (This development was taking place, according to Col. Dr. Milan Šada, contemporaneously with the procurement of the Praga pistol in 7.65 mm).
The initial accepted version was the vz. (vzor, model) 22 for the cartridge vz. 22 (the 9mm Browning Short or .380 ACP, for all intents and purposes), and from the very beginning, the Czechoslovak Army had trouble with it. In time, they developed an improved version as the vz. 24. That in turn was developed into a 7.65mm pistol for police and export, the straight-blowback vz. 27. (We’ll use the Czech and Slovak word vzor, the official abbreviation vz., and the English word “model” interchangeably in this article. They all mean exactly the same thing and identify the model by year of adoption. Note that, unlike many nations where, say, Model 24s start appearing in 1925 or 26, Czechoslovak practice often had the guns in production before the year of adoption marked on them!)
One nice thing about Czech and Czechoslovak firearms (inherited from their Austro-Hungarian imperial masters) is that most of the firearms are dated with a proof date (civil weapons) or MOD acceptance date (military ones). Some weapons bear multiple dates, if they were (for instance) accepted by the military, and later proofed for surplus sale.
Model 24s are relatively uncommon, compared to the Model 27 which the Germans kept in high production after the occupation, but the Model 22 is more uncommon yet. Production numbers are estimated at: vz, 27 (and German Pistole Mod. 27), 590,000 (all but about 30,000 of them under the Nazis); vz. 24, 190,000 from 1923-37, possibly -39; vz. 22, about 19,000.
Several common strains in Nickl’s Mauser designs were united in this firearm: a single-action auto pistol with a breech locked by rotating barrel, like an Obregon or some Steyr pistols; and the unusual safety arrangement from the Mauser Model 1910, 1914 and (later) 1934 “pocket” pistols in 6.35 and 7.65mm. The safety has two buttons: One is activated with a sweep of the thumb to put the weapon on safe; the other instantly releases it with a press. Described like that, it sounds awkward, but is quickly learned and intuitive to use.
The overall size, shape and form of the vz. 22 and later CZ 24 and 27 pistols is very reminiscent of the 7.65mm Mausers, also. The side plate is similar. The frame rails are similar; the slide is similarly offset to the right, from the shooter’s perspective (although the barrel is centered on the frame), which is a peculiarity of the Mausers as well. The grips are similar.
Where the Nickl pistol departs from the earlier Mausers (in which the relative contributions of Nickl, the Feederle brothers, and other Mauser engineers are not entirely clear) is that the Mausers are striker-fired, and the CZs are hammer guns.
Prototypes of the Pistole N (for Nickl) were made in 9×19 mm as well as 9×17. The Czechoslovaks preferred the smaller cartridge (also adopted by other European nations, including but not limited to Italy and Hungary) and that was adopted as Naboj vz. 22.
The vz. 22 was manufactured at the Czechoslovak State Arsenal, Brno, and it is a rare Czech pistol to bear Brno markings on its slide. (Production of subsequent models would take place in a satellite factory in Strakonice, and after 1936 in Uhersky Brod, and many later pistols, regardless of where they were made, would be marked as if they had been produced in Prague, the corporate seat).
Changes from the Model 22 to the Model 24 were aimed at increasing reliability, increasing interchangeability of parts, and increasing production speed and lowering production costs. The Czechoslovak Army was bedeviled with reliability issues, and the extensive hand-fitting that makes them fit together beautifully makes them hard to replace parts in.
As mentioned above, the Model 22 is a rare pistol that is actually marked as having been made in Brno. Interwar Czechoslovak leaders had a touching faith in the power of central planning, and tried to run their arms industry on such a basis, reorganizing it several times during the short life of the Republic. They decided that Zbrojovjka Brno specialize in rifles (and, when it picked up Vaclav Holek’s MG design from Praga, light MGs); pistols would be made by Česká Zbrojovka’s factory in Strakonice (although they would often be marked “Praha” or Prague, the locaction of ČZ HQ), and over the years other plants would specialize in other weapons. After World War II some pistols would be marked with ZB trademarks (notably the ex-Dušek Duo pistol, the “Aut. Pistole ‘Z’,” but none of them would actually be made by Zbrojovka Brno.
The vz. 22 wasn’t the greatest pistol ever, but it was an important building block in the nascent Czech arms industry. Survivors, fairly plentiful, are prized today. It’s interesting to speculate what its position in auto pistol history might have been, had it been produced as Nickl originally intended, in the 9×19 mm service cartridge.
(to be added).