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JAPANESE-CZECH LIGHT MACHINE GUNS
A Japanese copy of the Czechoslovakian Light Machine Gun ZBvz26 in 6.5mm caliber, serial number 1001.  This model produced in the Hoten Zoheisho K.K, [Mukden Arsenal], Mukden Manchuria while under Japanese occupation during World War II.  There are both similarities and differences when comparing it to the Czech and Chinese manufactured weapons.  NOTE the CURVED cartridge magazine which would eventually become the pattern for the Japanese Type 96/99 series of light machine guns.


The reputation and use of the Czechoslovakian ZBvs26/30 light machine guns by China from the 1920’s through World War II has been covered in some detail by documented evidence along with production capabilities in expanded efforts during their wars with Japan.  Little is recorded however after the 1930’s invasion by the Japanese and capture of ordnance facilities in both China and Manchuria of the continuing production of the Czech light machine guns.  From the past there has been only speculation of the Japanese manufacturing their own copies of the vs26 gun.  The following presents an accounting on the matter.

The Czechoslovakian ZBvs26/30 series of light machine guns produced in the 1920’s were one of the most efficient and popular of its decade. It began at the Prague Armory in Vrsovice, Czechoslovakia in 1922 with a vision of two brothers, Emmanuel and Vaclav Holek. Starting with an original design concept by Rudolf Jelan, within a year samples of the prototypes were ready for preliminary testing.  It included features of the then current and tried machine gun mechanisms from several known inventors such as Browning and Hotchkiss.  By 1924 an improved design included changing from a cartridge belt feed to a magazine feed and was tested before the Czechoslovakia Ministry of National Defense.  Identified as the army’s new hand-held machine gun, it was titled ‘Praga vz 24’. More improvements were needed in the metallurgical make up and when finally resolved, it was accepted for production at the Brno Arsenal.  The final model would be was designated, in short term, as ‘ZBvs26’.  Use of a new cartridge design in 7.92x57mm rimless configuration and based on a German development for their machine guns, required additional changes.  The final version was designated as ‘ZBvs30’.

Based on acceptance by the Czechoslovakian government for production, and with some 18,000 delivered by 1932, the company extended their marketing of the weapon on a worldwide basis.  Strategy on reputation paid off in dividends.  A reliable and effective automatic weapon with proven concepts, some 24 countries around the world purchased the Czech weapon series and manufacturing contracts were consummated with four separate countries including China.   By 1938, the company produced over 120,000 of the vz26/30 guns.

In the eastern Asian countries the reputation of the ZBvz26 light machine gun influenced China’s Nationalist Party Government who had ordered 5,000 of the weapons in the late 1920’s.  Although they were producing their own copy of the vz26 by 1927, they entered into a formal contract with the Czech company in 1929.

The Chinese Taiyuan Arsenal in the Shansi Province was a major producer of both the ZBvz26 light machine guns and Thompson submachine guns.  With its capture by the Japanese in 1939, the Thompson weapon manufacture was discontinued, however, the vz26 gun production continued but in the Japanese 6.5mm caliber cartridge instead of the 7.92mm.  Although several arsenals and private ordnance companies throughout China were producing the Czech automatic weapons, little is documented on the continued production after Japanese occupation.

The amount of the Japanese version of vz26/30 weapons manufactured is unknown for reason that those quantities were produced in captured territories and used on their eastern front against the Chinese and Russians.  The Manchurian company, Mukden Arsenal Company Limited [Hoten Zoheisho Kabushiki Kaisha] did produce Japanese design copies of the Czech weapons along with other major Japanese ordnance as the Type 3 and Type 92 Heavy Machine Guns, and Types 11, 96, and 99 Light Machine Guns.
 
The photos in this document are of a Mukden produced weapon and its accessories.  There are no inscriptions or markings on the weapon other than the serial number.  The caliber is of Japanese 6.5mm with cartridges fed from a curved-style magazine. This feature was continued for the series type 96/99 weapons due to the demand of their cartridge design.  Cartridge magazines are serial numbered to match the gun and hyphenated to quantity number of issued spares. Its Barrel length of 23.75 inches and overall length of 45.75 inches is within size fractions of the original Czech and Chinese weapons. Stainless steel materials are absent from the specimen, however some parts are brass.  The gas regulator assembly for the gas vent control is fixed and not the flexible type.  The finish on certain parts appear to be from a sulfurous motor oil mixture while other parts are painted in a black configuration. The front sight, although hooded, does not have the horizontal movement feature for windage adjustment.
 
The Japanese had a certain policy about identification of foreign weapons which they copied, [pirated], without license or permission to manufacture.  They did not designate an official title to the weapon such as type or model or use any form of dating procedure.  Also absent from the guns were service inspection marks which might identify arsenals or coded private firms.  This was the case in several automatic weapons including the Czech ZBvz26 series of light machine guns.  They did however identify the gun source either by origin of country or the foreign manufacture. In certain cases where existing Kanji characters were insufficient to identify the source, combinations or abbreviations were used.  In this instance the Kanji character chi was abbreviation for Czechoslovakia.
 

From a close inspection of the Japanese copy of the Czech vz26 series automatic weapon one can conclude by comparison its influence on the birthing of the Japanese Type 96 light machine gun series.




 
 
 
Japanese copy for the Czech ZBvz26 Light Machine Gun.  The right magazine fits Japanese Type 96 lmg.  Both are of 30 round capacities for 6.5mm ammunition.


 
 
 
 Magazine, magazine loader for the ZBvz26 Japanese copied weapon and samples of Japanese 6.5mm cartridge.

REFERENCES:  This works is adopted from the soon to be published book: DRAGONS OF FIRE by william m.p. EASTERLY

 
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