Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

The annals of small arms designs are filled with near perfect, odd and/or unsuccessful weapons. The Czech tradition of innovative small arms designs began in the early 20th century and continues to this day. In the 1920s, however, there was a semi-automatic rifle that should have received more attention, the ZH-29.

A well-made rifle, the ZH-29 came with a 10 or 20-round detachable magazine. While this is common for modern weapons, by 1929 it was still fairly rare, outside say a handful of larger automatic rifles like the BAR. The detachable magazine wasn't always meant to come out. In combat, the ZH-29 was designed to be reloaded by stripper clips.

Now you're wondering about the title of the article, angled barrel? Yes, when the designers of the ZH-29 brainstormed, they came up with the concept of a side locking/angled barreled rifle.The barrel of the rifle is not centered on the rifle. Looking at it with the fore-stock removed one can see a slight right, off-center orientation. The reason for this was the unusual decision to have the gas operated bolt lock on the left side of the receiver. This meant that the entire right side of the receiver was open and expose over half of the bolt group. While easily prone to fouling, this also meant it was much easier to clean.

When rounds were expended, the magazine could be removed with the bolt remaining to the rear. However, to return the bolt to battery one didn't need to hit a separate bolt release or work the bolt spur. No, the operator pulled the trigger which sent the bolt forward, a very unusual way to release a bolt. And when a new magazine was inserted, the bolt group's reward travel cocked the internal hammer which then could be released by the pull of a trigger. Unusual because it could easily invite operator error that could lead to dangerous negligent discharge.

Chambered in 7.92mm, the ZH-29 never saw widespread European service, but did see contracts for use in China and Ethiopia. Also, the design saw a brief stint in the United States re-chambered for consideration as a new combat rifle.

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Comment by Salim Farhat on July 13, 2014 at 2:38pm

The history of semi-automatics is very interesting. The really weird thing is, with the exception of the Mexican Mandragon rifle, no army in the world had really commissioned or showed interest in semi-auto guns. Semi-auto pistols were made entirely by gunsmiths and gun makers who wanted to experiment and then they offered it to whoever wanted it. Most militaries actually weren't interested in them. The first semi-auto rifles were 100% civilian, ditto for the first semi-auto shotgun (the Browning Auto-5, which was in production from 1902 to 1998!).

The reason why semi-autos were delayed in so many nations is, ironically, due to WW1. Mexico did have their Mandragon rifle in production since 1901 (it was the first of its kind, semi-auto, detachable magazine, the whole shebang), the French were interested, but they found the rifle too sensitive to mud to be good for the trenches. Speaking of which, France did have their eyes on a semi-auto rifle, and it was almost ready for production when WW1, but the pressures of war and the supply shortage meant that production of the gun had to be suspended to make the other badly needed (and established) weapons since they didn't have the time to retool their factories for the new guns.

France did, however, use some American semi-autos for air-to-air combat, I believe the Remington Model 8s were used for that.

Comment by Mark R. Holcomb on March 23, 2013 at 1:38am

What if  this  rifle had  been made as  the following:

A. 6.5mm Mauser caliber.

B. Semiautomatic  only.

C. 25  round box magazine standard.

Might the defenders  of Bataan and  Wake Island have successfully repulsed the Japanese invaders in  1942? Or what  might have happened in  the opening months  of  Operation Barbarossa[1941  German assault on the Soviet  Union]had the German issued this rifle  to  their  infantry? The mind boggles at  the possibilities.

Comment by D.T. McCameron on March 14, 2013 at 6:57pm

Very clever, and internally innovative...but I think they might have tried and applied a bit more of the K.I.S.S method...It's idiosyncrasies would doubtless have limited its use.

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