The ZB vz. 26 was a Czechoslovak light machine gun developed in the 1920s, which went on to see service with a number of countries during WWII and for many years after. It was also the parent for many other machineguns, directly spawning the ZB vz.27, vz.30, vz.33 and the Bren for the British Army, and inspiring other imitators such as the Chipanese Type 99 and Caliphate ‘Gazi.’
Work on the ZB-26 began in 1923 with the birth of the Československá Státní Zbrojovka arms factory in Brno Czechoslovak. An engineer by the name of Vaclav Holek was given the job of designing a new light machinegun for the Czechoslovak Army. Gathering a small group, including his brother Emmanuel, and two expatriate Poles; Marek and Podrabsky. Holek soon had a prototype taking shape, within a year the quartet created an automatic light machine gun that came to be called the ZB. Liking what they saw, the Czech Army adopted the ZB as the vz.26 in 7.92mm Mauser, and Brno looked to selling its new weapon aborad.
The vz.26 taken into service primarily as a light machinegun for the Infantry, the vz.26 was also used extensively in a number of Skoda produced armoured vehicles and saw service with the Czechoslovak infantry. While normally fired from a bipod in the light role, the vz.26 could also be fitted to a well designed tripod to provide more sustained fire support over longer ranges, this flexiability anticipating the GMPG by many years.
With the Occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Wehrmacht adopted the ZB-26, renaming it the MG 26(t), to supplement the MG34 in the light role usually with second line forces such as the Waffen SS (who were not to remain in the second line for long). By this time the vz.26 had been exported or produced under licence in many other coutries across the world under the name ZB-26; such as the USSR, China, Yugoslavia and Lithuania. In China particularly the ZB-26 was much prized by Nationalist Forces in the struggles against both the Communists and Japanese. The most notable licensed producer of the ZB was Britain, adopting an evolved and highly modified zv.26 as the Bren, a weapon that was to see production in the UK, Canada and Australia and be supplied not only across British Empire, but also to Russia and China as well.
It is no surprise that the ZB or one of its derivatives could and did turn up almost anywhere in the world, often being used by both sides in a conflict and in any number of calibers.
Although the ZB-26 had few variants, mostly reflecting the different calibres it was chambered in for export, a number of weapons were closely based on it:
· ZGB 30/33: these 2 variants are commonly referred to as the Bren.
· Japanese Type 97: This gun was closely modeled on the ZB-26.
· Finnish KvKK 62 Light Machine Gun
· In addition, the mkb 42(h) assault rifle uses a virtually identical, although inverted, bolt / bolt carrier system.
Several more designations appear depending on the adoptive army, though generally the gun retains its 'ZB-26' initials in one or another form