The vz. 54 (also known as CZ 482 or CZ-54) is a semi-automatic pistol designed by two brothers, Jan and Jaroslav Kratochvíl, in the early 1950s for the Czechoslovakian military. Around 500,000 vz. 54’s ("vzor 54" means "model of 1954") were made by Česká Zbrojovka in Strakonice from 1954 to 1960. It replaced the multitude of pistols left over from the war and was exported widely. After 30 years of military service, the vz.54 was eventually replaced in service by the vz. 85, but remains a popular weapon with civilian enthusiasts.
Czechoslovakia ended World War Two in a relatively fortunate position. Although it had suffered severe manpower losses on the Russian Front, it's industry and territory had been neither bombed nor fought-over. The collapse of German power following The Big One and the resulting re-emergence of the countries in Eastern Europe as independent entities placed those countries in a favorable economic position, superior in some ways to the mauled and devastated condition of the nominal victor, Russia. Their recovery was, of course, aided by U.S. Marshall Aid in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Czechoslovakia was in possession of an efficient and effective small arms industry which lead the government to try and exploit this legacy by developing a line of small arms uncompromisingly aimed at the U.S. domestic firearms market. This included a range of hunting rifles and shotguns plus a new handgun, the Model 50.
The Model 50 was first introduced in 1950 and was chambered for the powerful 7.62x25mm Tokarev Magnum cartridge that had previously only been used in submachine guns and machine carbines. This immediately distinguised itself from earlier pistols that were only capable of handling the older, lower-powered 7.62x25mm Tokarev round. The Model 50 is a large pistol by European standards, a full inch longer and deeper than the Tokarev TT-33. It's sleek shape (to reduce the danger of the weapon snagging in clothing when drawn and slender design made it easily concealable. The finish on the Model 50 was very good with the weapon having a high-grade and robust blued finish with combined with varnished wooden hand grip panels selected for high grain contrast and attractive patterns. The weapon was an instant success on the U.S. market and was even adopted by a number of U.S. Government agencies. This lead to a controversy in U.S. small arms circles over the relative virtues of the "small fast" bullet represented by the Tokarev Magnum as opposed to the "large slow" philosophy represented by the M1911A1 and its .45ACP. This (like most firearms disputes) has never really been resolved although the later appearance of body armor used by criminals has highlighted the virtues of the very penetrating Tokarev Magnum cartridge.
Model 50s were very popular in the US during the 1950s and remain so to the present day. They are still common sights on the firing line at most pistol clubs since their long barrel and sight base make them very accurate over effective pistol ranges. The Tokarev Magnum is considered to be equivalent in hitting power to a .357 magnum revolver round. The only problem is that its a very penetrating round and has a habit of going straight through its target to strike whatever is behind it.The Model 50/VZ-52/VZ-54 family is considered by some to be rather awkward to hold, due primarily to its deep (front-to-back) but slim (side-to-side) grip, as well as the high set barrel (over the hand) which exacerbates muzzle flip and torque on the wrist. These poor ergonomics do nothing to improve the comfort of the shooter or the controllability of the gun although these factors appear to be of more concern to European users than American (probably due to the greater familiarity of the latter with powerful handgun cartridges. The family is also well known for its very sharp report and the great amount of muzzle flash it produces although its supporters argue that in a self-defense situation, those features are not necessarily a bad thing. Partisans of the Model 50 consider it a reliable and remarkably powerful weapon. The popularity of the Model 50/VZ-52/VZ-54 in civilian circles is largly due to the fact that, unlike its close rival the Makarov PMv, the Model 50 and its decsendents are designed to handle full power military 7.62x25mm Tokarev Magnum ammunition.
The early 1950s saw the Czechoslovakian Government decide to start replacing the strange mixture of legacy German, U.S. and Russian small arms equipping their armed forces with domestically produced weaponry. One requirement was, of course, a new semi-automatic pistol and, with the Model 50 rolling off the production lines, there was only one viable candidate. The Model 50 was, therefore, adapted for military service under the designation VZ-52. Militarizing the Model 50 meant a reduction in quality, many of the cosmetic features that distinguised the Model 50 were toned down to save costs and ease production. Externally, VZ-52s can be distinguised from Model 50s by their plastic hand grip panels. The blueing of the VZ-52 is substantially inferior to that of the Model 50. A civilian version of the VZ-52 was offered on the commercial market as an "economy" model (the Model 52) but it saw little success, the small reduction in price not compensating for its inferior finish. However, numbers of weapons were sold to various European police forces.
The VZ-52 was still a very expensive weapon for military use so an "improved" (actually simpler and cruder) version of the VZ-52 was developed to become the authorized Czech Army hand gun as the VZ-54. VZ-54s have a gray parkerized finish rather than blued, the plastic hand grip plates are held on with a metal spring clip rather than a pair of butt screws, and the weapon is issued with fixed rather than adjustable sights. From an operating point of view, the most significant difference between the VZ-54 and the Model 50 is the deletion of the thumb-operated lever to release the slide (though an aftermarket slide release lever for CZ-54s is available and returns the CZ-54 to Model 50 standard in this respect). In recent years, the replacement of the VZ-54 by the VZ-85 has lead to large numbers of the older weapon being sold as military surplus in the U.S. and a minor industry has grown up, taking these weapons and refinishing them to the higher standards of the Model 50.
There is also a machine carbine version of the VZ-54, the VZ-55, that has a shoulder stock and an extended magazine. This weapon is capable of selective fire although it is virtually uncontrollable when fired in full automatic. The VZ-55 was only made in very limited numbers and now very much a collectors item.
The vz. 54 pistol is a roller-locked short recoil-operated, detachable box magazine-fed, single-action, semi-automatic pistol firing the 7.62x25mm cartridge, weighing approximately 2lb. Military and Police models feature either a parkerized finish or a gray oxide coating, and civilian models in blue, although some Czech Government vz. 54s have been arsenal refinished blue. This was done to a number of pistols that were factory refurbished in the 1970s. Officially refurbished guns are usually marked as such with the date and arsenal that undertook the work.
Operating controls of the vz. 52 consist of a single-action trigger, an external hammer, a magazine catch located at the heel of the grip frame, and a combination de-cock/safety lever located on the left side of the receiver behind the left grip panel. The manual safety blocks movement of the sear, preventing the hammer from releasing and so firing a round. A second safety in the form of a spring-loaded firing pin block prevents the pistol from firing unless the trigger is pulled to the rear, rendering the pistol "drop safe". Because the sear must overcome the additional spring pressure of the firing pin block, an unusually heavy trigger pull results, often in the range of 8-10 pounds. The hammer is of the rebounding type, meaning that it does not contact the firing pin while in its uncocked position and cannot do so unless the trigger is pulled, another safety feature.
When a full magazine is inserted, the slide is retracted then released, cocking the hammer and collecting a cartridge from the magazine and inserting it into the chamber. Rotating the safety lever fully downward, exposing a red dot between the receiver and hammer pivot pin, renders the pistol ready to fire. Rotating the safety lever upward, covering the red dot, engages the sear block (allowing "cocked and locked" carry), and rotating the safety lever fully upward decocks the hammer by releasing the sear and intercepting the hammer's rotation. This allows safe carry of the pistol with a round in the chamber. The hammer must then be cocked manually and the safety disengaged before a round can be fired. As the trigger is pulled in this state, the trigger bar rotates the sear, a lug on the sear disengages the firing pin safety located directly above it, and the opposite side of the sear releases the hammer. The hammer impacts the firing pin, the firing pin impacts the primer of the cartridge and the shot is fired.
The Model 50 utilizes a fairly uncommon short recoil operating system in which a pair of vertical rollers are used to lock the barrel and slide together, via a cam block. This is similar to the system used in the MG 42 machine gun which itself hearkens back to a Polish patent of the 1930s. It results in an unusually strong lockup which allowed the Czechs to use the very powerful Tokarev Magnum ammunition with its higher pressure levels (and therefore, higher velocity and energy) than comparable pistol ammunition manufactured in other East European countries.
While in battery, the recoil spring, positioned coaxially around the barrel, provides the pressure necessary to lock the barrel and slide together via the rollers. When a shot is fired, the barrel and slide recoil together while the cam block is held stationary by a lug in the receiver. After traveling rearward a short distance (about 0.16" or 4mm), the rollers are allowed to disengage from the slide via recesses in the cam block. At this point, the slide is free to continue rearward, cocking the hammer, extracting the spent case from the barrel's chamber and ejecting it clear of the pistol. After reaching the end of its stroke, the slide is returned to battery by the compressed recoil spring, again collecting a fresh cartridge from the magazine and inserting it into the chamber along the way.
When the magazine is empty, its follower presses against a catch, holding the slide open. The magazine catch is located at the heel of the pistol grip, in the common European position. It is pulled toward the backstrap, releasing the magazine from its well. A potential problem arises in that there is now minimal pressure on the magazine spring and the magazine catch is also under constant pressure from the mainspring, forcing it into contact with the rear of the magazine. This means that magazines do not drop free and occasionally take a few seconds to remove from the pistol. Releasing the slide catch is done by removing the empty magazine (or inserting a loaded one), retracting the slide and releasing it.