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Meet the vz. 58 7.62x39mm: I Carried this Rifle in Iraq

Vz. 58 7.62x39mm
Vz. 58 7.62x39mm

When one thinks of the 7.62x39mm rifle cartridge, chances are the first country that person associates with the round is the Soviet Union.   And understandably so, thanks to the Soviet-designed AK-47 (Автомат Калашникова/Avtomat Kalashnikova) assault rifle and the SKS (Самозарядный карабин системы Симонова/Samozaryadny Karabin sistemy Simonova) semiauto carbine, since these were the first such guns in the caliber. That said, the former Czechoslovakia also designed and built a good-quality rifle in 7.62x39mm. Say hello to the vz. 58 AKA Sa vz. 58.

(DISCLAIMER: Please don’t ask me why “vz.” is written in lower case whilst “CZ” as in the CZ-75 is written in ALL-CAPS; you’ll have to ask a Czech language expert about that.) 

Vz-58 Early History and Specifications

 A very handy source of information on the rifle comes courtesy of gun writer Will Dabs in an August 2018 article for Guns America Digest titled “The Czech vz. 58 – Improving Upon the Most Reliable Combat Rifle in the World”:

“It was in 1958 that the Czechs released their newest assault rifle, the vz. 58 — short for 7.62 samopal vzor 58. This literally translates to ‘7.62mm submachine gun model 1958.’ The new gun was intended to replace vz. 52 rifles as well as several submachine guns in Czech service. While the vz.58 resembles the AK-47, it is an entirely different design…The vz. 58 is remarkably lightweight. At 6.4 pounds the gun is nearly a pound and a half lighter than the AK-47. This puts the vz. 58 at the same weight as an M16…The operating system uses a gas tappet design like the M1 Carbine. The bolt locks using a tilting block system…The locking system on the vz. 58 is similar to that of the Walther P38 and later Beretta 92. A pivoting locking piece engages recesses machined in the receiver to keep everything together when firing.”

Other specifications include a barrel length of 15.4 inches, an overall length of 33.3 inches (if you happen to obtain a folding-stock version, it comes down to 25 inches when folded), and a height of 10 inches. Standard magazine is staggered detachable 30-round box magazine. Cyclic rate of fire in full-auto mode is 800 rounds per minute, with a muzzle velocity of 2,313 feet per second, muzzle energy of 1,988 Joules, an effective firing range of 800 meters, and a maximum firing range of 2,800 meters.

Approximately 920,000 vz. 58s were built between 1958 and 1984. The rifle served as the standard service rifle of the armies of both Warsaw Pact Czechoslovakia and the freedom-loving post-Cold War Army of the Czech Republic from 1959 to 2011. The rifle has seen usage in at least 20 other countries, including Iraq (more on this shortly) and Ukraine, the latter thanks to a donation of 5,000 of these weapons from the Czech Ministry of Defense to their Ukrainian counterparts back in February 2022. 

Personal Shooting Impressions

The vz. 58 was my initial issue weapon during my last Iraq contract assignment at Balad Airbase from April 2015 to December 2018 (though eventually the powers that be made us swap our ‘58s for AK-47s, presumably so we’d have commonality of weaponry with the Iraqi Air Force security forces troops that we were training & mentoring). We only had a limited ammo budget (in the middle of a freakin’ war zone, mind you), but I got enough trigger time and shot it sufficiently well to earn the kudos of our senior firearms instructor, a retired South African Defence Forces sergeant major who does not dole out such praise lightly.

The .vz 58s that I fired functioned flawlessly, and I was positively impressed by their compactness and portability compared with an AK-47 or an M16A2.

My Vriende se Skietindrukke (My Friends’ Shooting Impressions)          

I decided to also pick the brains of a couple of friends and comrades-in-arms from that Balad contracting gig and get their impressions of the vz (“Vee-Zed,” as they pronounce it). First, I pinged my boet (that’s Afrikaans for “bud”) PJC Dovey RD, a retired South African infantry officer (“RD” stands for “Reserve Distinction,” awarded for 20+ years of distinguished service in the South African National Defence Force Reserves) who is also the author of sci-fi/action-adventure novel “War Brothers” and the soon-to-be-published nonfiction book ”Advice to Partisans.” Here’s what John (as his friends and professional acquaintances call him) has to say about the rifle:

“It is a brilliant rifle, supremely accurate and well-engineered. The only major downside is the clumsy and complicated working parts, which make it difficult to field-strip and maintain.”

My only nitpick about John’s comments is that, in my opinion, the vz. 58 still has fewer small parts and is easier to field-strip and (especially) reassemble than the goshdarn M16/AR-15/M4 series. (Let the hate mail commence for that comment!) In fact, the field-strip procedure reminds me a lot of the SKS, which was the first long gun that I ever owned.

Next, I hit up Jaco Bothma, a former Warrant Officer with 16 years of service in the South African Police Service (SAPS) to get his twee sent se waarde (that’s Afrikaans for “two cents’ worth”): “Light and accurate weapon but not a durable weapon in my eyes. But opinion varies.”

Dankie (“Thanks”) for those perspectives, John and Jaco!

Want Your Own?

Semiauto-only “Vee-Zeds” are listed on the Atlantic Firearms website at a price range of $1,460.00 – $1,649.00 USD, and on the CZ-USA website at a price range of $970.00 to $990.00 USD.

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Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).