Long before Germany took over neighboring Czechoslovakia during the early-going of World War 2 (1939-1945), the Czechs managed a rather strong small arms industry. The design that was to become the famous British BREN (and form the basis of other successful related weapons) was actually based on a local Czech development that began as the "vz. 24". This product held roots in the early 1920s as the new Czech Army sought to fulfill a local Light Machine Gun (LMG) requirement.
Zbrojovka Praga was formed after the end of World War 1 (1914-1918) and an original design was drawn up by Vaclav Holek which led to a period of development that resulted in the aforementioned vz. 24 - the first viable product to emerge from the new company. This weapon featured a top-mounted magazine which fed rifle-caliber cartridges straight down into the action. The return spring was arranged so as to run directly into the butt of the weapon as a recoil reduction measure and a sprung butt-plate would be used to further reduce the forces at play - thus making for a more reliable, controllable weapon albeit one firing at a lower-than-normal rate. The system was powered by a gas-operated system in which a gas tube ran nearly the full-length of the barrel assembly (the barrel sitting over the gas cylinder). The gas tube and piston were both completed in stainless steel to prevent corrosion. A shoulder stock was added during finalization of this design and a drum-type sighting device replaced the original leaf fixture. Finning was given to the barrel assembly to aid the air-cooling nature of the weapon. A pistol grip handle was used to manage the trigger in the usual way while a folding bipod supported the frontal weight of the weapon. A carrying handle was set over the middle of the gun and served a dual-role - transporting the system into action and for quick-changing of an overheated barrel. A conical flash hider at the muzzle rounded out the list of standard features.
The gun was evaluated against several regional competitors and found to be of particular quality and reliability as light machine guns went. The Czech Army took a stock in hand for formal evaluations at which time the Praga concern fell to history. This meant that its manufacture would now be given to the state-run Zbrojovka Brno facility and, once there, the weapon was refined from its vz. 24 form to become the "vz. 26" model for mass production. Issuance to the Czech Army then followed.
The vz. 26 arrived in 1928 and foreign export meant that the gun permeated the inventories of many global players of the time including Brazil, China, and the Japanese Empire. The early guns were chambered for the Czech equivalent of the German 7.9x57mm rifle cartridge - the 7.92mm round - though Brazilian and Chilean guns arrived chambered for the 7x57mm cartridge.
In service, the line was more reliable that its contemporaries and served as light weapons rather well but it suffered when used in heavier-minded roles such as anti-aircraft duty due to the tactical limitations of the sighting device and the 20-round magazine in play. Some were installed as vehicle machine guns in the Czech Army.
By 1939, some 120,000 examples were produced and this meant that they were in large supply when the German take-over of Czechoslovakia by annexation occurred from 1938 to 1939. Of course the weapon was then taken into inventory by the conquering Germans who promptly redesignated it as the MG26(t) - it also helped that the weapons used the same German rifle cartridge.
In British service (as the BREN) it was chambered for the .303 British rifle cartridge. Likewise Chinese Nationalist forces fought with a rechambered version all their own - this in 8x57mm Mauser. The Japanese Empire knew the vz. 26 locally as the "Type 97" and reworked them for service as vehicle guns aboard Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) tanks. Other global variations of the same design ultimately emerged. The vz. 30 came online as an improved form, made longer with several internal modifications to boot - this form went on to have its own successful service life.
The weapon remained in circulation long enough to see combat exposure in the upcoming Korean War (1950-1953) and the Vietnam War (1955-1975) despite them having been technically surpassed by more modern entries - a testament to their sound design and operating function.
Manufacturing Zbrojovka Brno - Czechoslovakia / Military Technical Institute Kragujevac (Zastava) - Serbia
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