Czechoslovakia was "reborn" following World War 2 but fell under the Soviet sphere of influence through the post-war Warsaw Pact Treaty. Like other satellite nations, the Czechoslovakian military was therefore stocked with Soviet-originated weapons including tanks, vehicles and aircraft. However, the Czech peoples have always held a propensity to produce some of the finest small arms and artillery systems in the world, even including a light machine gun design that heavily influenced the war-winning British BREN of World War 2 fame.
As part of the Warsaw Pact, it soon became apparent that a standardization of logistical components be met among its members and this included favoring the 7.62x39mm Soviet cartridge. This represented something of a departure of the Czechs for, as recently as 1952, the Army had settled on the 7.62x45mm vz. 52 cartridge. Regardless, a switch had to be made to keep its Soviet overseers content and this prompted work in 1956 on a new automatic rifle chambered for the Soviet round. While the weapon showcased an appearance akin to the famous AK-47, it would become a wholly unique Czech design offering as the "vz. 58". The weapon was adopted for service in the Czech Army in 1958.
Outwardly, the vz. 58 featured a rectangular receiver with finely contoured lines which, internally, housed all of the primary internal working components. The fire selector, ejection port and charging handle were all set to the right side of the body, favoring right-handed shooters. The gas cylinder was fitted over the barrel and both assemblies were partially shrouded under a two-piece furniture covering. The barrel protruded ahead of the weapon and was capped by a forward sight at the muzzle. The stock was affixed to the rear of the receiver while the pistol grip was underslung in the usual way near the trigger unit. The trigger was given a rectangular wire ring which made it suitable for use by a gloved hand. The magazine feed was set ahead of the trigger group and a magazine release/catch was visible between the two. Magazines consisted of a curved detachable box magazine holding 30 rounds of 7.62x39mm ammunition in a staggered, two-column arrangement. The rear sight was set ahead of the receiver. A bayonet could be affixed under the barrel for close-quarters combat. The weapon weighed 6.4lbs and sported an overall length of 33 inches. A folding bipod is optional (attached at the barrel portion aft of the front sight) for the sustained fire role.
To the casual observer, the vz. 58 could appear as an AK-47 clone though it remained a different beast internally. While utilizing a gas-operation, the vz. 58 made use of tilting bolt with a falling breechblock as opposed to the AK-47's rotating bolt function. Dimensionally, the weapons are approximately the same though the Czech model tended to use a slightly shorter barrel. While early forms utilized wood furniture, this eventually gave way to a wood fiber finish and (later) plastic fittings. The trigger was also of a more simplified pattern when compared to the Soviet AK-47.
The vz. 58 series initially appeared in the vz. 58P fixed stock version and the vz. 58V metal folding stock variant. The latter served confined spaces well and could be issued to vehicle crews and paratroopers as well as special forces units. The vz. 58Pi was introduced with mounting supports for specialized night work. As such, the weapon was issued with the NSP-2 series night scope, a flash hider, collapsible bipod and full fixed stock. The vz. 58 was then released in several civilian-minded guises that included the CZH 203 Sport, the CZ 858 Tactical and the FSN Series. All were semi-automatic fire only for obvious reasons and demilitarized where required. A civilian carbine form - the VZ-58 Sporter Series - became available in 5.56x45mm NATO or 7.62x39mm Russian chambered forms.
Several experimental models are known, one even configured as a "bullpup" assault rifle in which the firing action and magazine feed are located in an enlarged stock behind the pistol grip. Other versions evaluated the vz. 58 body with the 5.56x45mm NATO, 7.62x51mm NATO and 9x19 Parabellum cartridges. Still others trialed various barrel assemblies to help broaden the tactical reach of the weapon system.
Users of the vz. 58 series of automatic weapons include Afghanistan, Cuba, Czech Republic, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Libya and Slovakia among others. To date, some 920,000 examples have been produced with manufacture spanning 1959 to 1984. With the exception of the civilian VZ.58 Sporter Series, all vz. 58 units were produced by Ceska Zbrojovka out of the Brno facility. The concern is still in operation today, having been founded in 1936. Czechoslovakia itself has since been dissolved (peacefully) into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic (this occurring on January 1st, 1993).