Vz.24 – Romanian contract rifle

This is a presentation of the vz.24 rifle, and more specifically a Romanian contract vz.24, known in Romania as the ZB rifle. It was the main rifle of the Romanian infantry during the second world war.

The ZB moniker comes from the manufacturer: Zbrojovka Brno. Zbrojovka means arsenal and Brno is a city from Czechoslovakia, now in the czech republic. Zbrojovka Brno was established in 1918, at the end of the first world war, when the Austro-Hungarian artillery workshops in Brno came into the property of the newly formed state, as war reparations. 

In the first few years, the company produced and repaired gewehr 98 mauser rifles. In 1922 it started producing an updated model, the 98/22 long rifle. In 1923 ZB produced a new model, a short rifle, the vz.23 and vz.23A, and finally settled on the vz.24 pattern in 1924.

Vz comes from the czech word vzor, which means model.

Vz.24 is inspired from the Karabiner98AZ, a short rifle version of the gewehr98 produced during the first world war. It was observed that the long rifles, like the gewehr98, were too heavy and too cumbersome in the trench warfare, so most of the armies in the world started to adopt short rifles. 

The vz.24 was among the first ones available on the market and it enjoyed great success. A lot of states ordered the rifle from ZB in order to equip their armies. 

The czech army acquired around 750.000, Romania 445.640, USSR ordered 40.000 that were shipped to Spain to the republican faction, Bolivia got 101.000, Brasil 15.000, Lithuania 15.000, Yugoslavia 40.000 and more. After the factory was taken over by the germans when czechoslovakia was invaded in 1939, ZB produced 250.000 more rifles that were used by the wehrmacht under the name G.24(t). After 1942 ZB stopped producing the vz.24 and started producing the Kar98k model.

The czech made vz.24 rifles are considered among the best mauser rifles. The production quality was high and the majority of the pieces were produced before the war, when the quality control was enforced.

The vz.24 looks a lot like the Karabiner 98 kurz, the standard infantry rifle of the german army in the second world war. A lot of people think that the vz.24 is a copy of the kar98k but it’s the other way around. Vz.24 appeared in 1924 while the kar98k appeared in 1935 – more than 10 years later. They are almost identical in functionality and a lot of parts are interchangeable.

From a distance the best way to tell them apart is by the hump – on the vz24 the upper handguard extends behind the rear sight while on the kar98 it stops in front of the rear sight. From closer, there are other differences visible: the upper handguard extends forward only until the second metal ring on the kar98 while on the vz24 it extends all the way to the first ring. The stock has a sling cut on the kar98 but on the vz24 there is no hole. The bolt lever is bent on the kar98 and straight on the vz24. There are more subtle differences.

The vz.24 is a bolt action rifle. It was produced in multiple calibers: 7mm Mauser, 8mm Mauser, 7.65 Argentinian. Barrel length is 59cm and the rifle length is 1.1m without the bayonet. Weight is 4.4 kg. It uses iron sights with the rear sight adjustable from 300 to 2000 meters.

The romanian contract rifles were standard model – meaning that no modifications to the main pattern were done for romania. The caliber is 7.92. The CIP designation for the cartridge is 8x57IS but the colloquial name is 8mm Mauser. The IS in the name stands for: I is for infantry and S for spitzer – meaning pointed. There is another variant of this cartridge named 8×57 IRS where R comes from Rimmed. Some brands replace the IS for JS, but the cartridge is the same.

In the beginning of the 1930s, the romanian army wanted to standardize its infantry weapon. The czech vz.24 was chosen. An influence on this decision was that the Copsa Mica-Cugir arsenal was partially owned by the czech company Skoda. There was even a corruption scandal related to this decision. 

The first deliveries were made in 1938 and by 1943 445.640 rifles were delivered according to some sources. Other sources indicate a number around 700.000 delivered rifles.

The gun was used by all romanian first line units for the whole duration of the second world war and even after the war. Following the adoption of the AK as the standard weapon of the romanian military, the ZB rifle was relegated to training units, the patriotic guard, student training programmes and armed guardians watching strategic objectives.

After the 1989 romanian revolution, the majority of romanian vz.24 rifles were sold as surplus on the US market. I don;t think any were left in Romania as they are very hard to find here.

This is a romanian contract vz.24. All rifles belonging to this contract have a specific serial number consisting of 2 letters prefix followed by a maximum 5 digit number. In the 2 letter prefix, the second letter is always a capital R. The first letter in the prefix started at A and went all the way to Y. The serial number is imprinted on the left side of the chamber ring. It is also marked on the barrel beneath the wood and on the left side of the stock.

Another specific marking is the CM proofmark. CM comes from Copsa Mica. It can have multiple graphic representations. It can be found somewhere on the chamber ring and on the stock, behind the pistol grip.

The third specific marking is the crest in the middle of the chamber ring. Almost all romanian rifle have this crest, but not all. The crest represents king Carol The Second’s cipher until 1940 and king Michael’s cipher afterwards.

But on most ZB rifles, this crest has been ground off – completely or partially. This operation was done by the army, after the monarchy was abolished and the communists took control of the country.

This rifle is in the E block and has the remnants of the king Carol crest, so I estimate that it was built in 1939.

The 80 years since then are visible on the rifle. The bluing is gone from all exposed metal parts but under the wood it is intact. The wood furniture is very dark from years of oiling and it’s full of dents and scratches. 

The functioning is typical of a Mauser action – an action that is still produced today for hunting rifles. To open the action, pull up the bolt lever. By doing this, the gun is armed already as this is a cock-on-open action. You can see the striker being armed in the back. Then pull on the bolt to extract the tube from the chamber and eject it.

The feeding is done from the top, either one-by-one or with a stripper clip – using this clip guide. The internal magazine contains 5 cartridges. 

Then push the bolt forward to feed a cartridge in the chamber and finally push the bolt lever down to close the action.

The safety is this flag looking lever at the back. It has 3 positions. To the left is the fire position. Up is the first safe position when the trigger is blocked but the bolt can still be operated. To the right is the second safe position when both the trigger and the bolt are blocked.

To remove the bolt, pull on this lever on the left of the action and then pull the bolt out. To put the bolt back in, just push it through – no other action needed.

The sights are pretty small. The front sight has an A shape and the rear  sight has a V shape. On the front sight there is a sight protector fixed with a screw. The front sight can be adjusted in windage using this tool. The rear sight can be adjusted in elevation by pressing the side buttons and then sliding them front or back.

In the front there is the bayonet lug and the cleaning rod. When mounting the bayonet, the cleaning rod fits in a hole especially made in the bayonet’s handle. The cleaning rod is too short for the barrel length. 2 rods can be screwed together end-to-end to achieve the required length.

The sling can be mounted on the side in the cavalry style or underneath in the infantry style. The rifle has both sets of sling hooks.

The romanian vz.24, the ZB rifle, is an important part of the romanian military history. Most of the old men in the country have seen it or heard of it, but the younger generations are not familiar with it.

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