SAMOPAL vz. 58: A rifle that looks like an Soviet AK-47 but it is not

SAMOPAL vz. 58 at shooting range
SAMOPAL vz. 58 at shooting range (Photo: Czech Army)

The SAMOPAL Vz. 58 is a service weapon of the Czech Army. Although there is a superficial resemblance to the Kalashnikov AK-47, Vz. 58 is a totally different weapon, designed and built-in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia, two countries) and owing nothing to Russian design.

The 7,62 mm SAMOPAL vzor 58 is developed during the Cold War and it is a rare rifle that has been in constant service for more than 50 years (since its adoption in 1958).

Introduction

With low production costs in comparison with rifles of a similar specification, the Vz. 58 was standard issue for the Czech army for many years. In its original form, it was even of a different caliber to the rest of the Warsaw Pact countries, but this was thought too much of a deviationist measure, and it was rechambered to fire the standard Soviet 7.62 mm short cartridge.

The American M16 shares more in common from a design standpoint with an AK-47 than the Vz. 58 does. To dismiss the Vz. 58 as just another satellite state AK clone is factually untrue and a poor representation of this very unique rifle.

SAMOPAL vz. 58 assault rifle chambered in 7.62 x 39 mm Soviet
SAMOPAL vz. 58 (vzor 58) assault rifle chambered in 7.62 x 39 mm Soviet (Photo: XY)

Design

The rifle is gas-operated using a chrome-plated short-stroke piston; this strikes the bolt carrier a sharp blow, sufficient to send it backward. After a short free travel, the breech lock is freed from engagement with the receiver, and the bolt is withdrawn from the chamber by the movement of the carrier.

The locking of the breech is done by a hinged plate beneath the carrier which closely resembles the locking system used on the Walther P38 automatic pistol. Firing is done by a hollow hammer tube that lies in the bolt and is propelled by a spring; when released by the sear, the hammer flies forward and strikes a floating firing pin. It is cocked by being caught by the sear during the recoil movement; indeed, if the firing pin was attached, the whole assembly would be called a striker.

SAMOPAL Vzor 58 diagram
SAMOPAL vz. 58 (Vzor 58) diagram (Photo: XY)

The stock and fore-end of the rifle are of wood-powder-reinforced plastic material, with a polished finish, and the metalwork is blued or phosphate. The receiver is machined from the solid and has a sheet steel cover. The rear sight is a tangent V-notch mounted on a steel block welded to the receiver and acting as a gas piston rod guide. The foresight is a post with protective ears, set well above the muzzle.

The rifle is light and robust, with a degree of internal finish which is sufficient for the job in hand, but without excessive frills. It is a highly satisfactory military rifle, and the folding-butt variation appears to be used in place of submachine guns in the Czech Army.

What is the difference between vz. 58 and AK-47?

Compared to a comparable AK-47, Vz. 58’s are significantly smaller and weigh 1kg less, as well as being more accurate and easier to reload. Vzor 58’s are also one of only a few rifles that are actually more reliable than an AK, as its extreme simplicity and large ejection port make stoppages almost impossible.

Variants

The SAMOPAL vz. 58 was produced in three military variants: the standard Vz. 58 P (Pěchotní or “infantry”) model with a fixed buttstock, the vz. 58 V (Výsadkový—”airborne”), featuring a side-folding metal shoulder stock, and the vz. 58 Pi (Pěchotní s infračerveným zaměřovačem—”infantry with infrared sight”), which includes a night sight and a detachable folding bipod, and a large conical flash suppressor.

Users

It has been exported to over 20 countries in 4 variants and over 920,000 have been produced. They are still in front-line use in many countries and are often seen alongside other Warsaw Pact weapons such as the AK-47/AKM and its derivatives.

Much like the AK-47, Vz. 58’s were literally thrown to anyone who didn’t like the U.S., including Vietnam, Nigeria, and Cuba. The Vzor 58 saw combat during the Vietnam War alongside the AK-47. Fun fact: the sniper from Full Metal Jacket is using a Vz. 58. Those rifles have been in use on both sides of the war in Afghanistan, both as weapons procured by the Taliban and by Czech and Slovak coalition troops, among other Coalition users. It has also seen use in the Libyan Civil War and other world conflicts.

Members of the Czech Army patroling in Kosovo as part of KFOR mission. Soldiers are armed with vz. 58 assault rifles
Members of the Czech Army patrolling in Kosovo as part of KFOR mission (Photo: KFOR)

Technical specifications: Vz. 58

Manufacturer:Ceska Zbrojovka, Uhersky Brod, Czech Republic
Designed:the mid-1950s
Service:1959-present
Type:gas-operated, selective fire
Caliber: 7.62 x 39mm Soviet
Barrel:15.78 in (401 mm)
Weight (empty):6.92 lbs (3.14 kg)
Effective firing range:100–800 m sight adjustments
Rate of fire:800 rounds per minute
Magazine capacity:30 rounds
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