During the Cold War, Czechoslovakia stood apart from some of its Warsaw Pact partners by developing its own small arms. This included the Sa vz. 23, a “no-frills” submachine gun that was ahead of its time for its telescoping bolt design and the Vz. 58 assault rifle, which by some accounts was superior to the Soviet Union’s AK-47.
Another innovative weapon was an early attempt to develop a Personal Defense Weapon or PDW and while the Soviet’s APS “Stechkin” and Polish wz.63 arrived around the same time, the Czech-made vz. 61 Škorpion (Scorpion) machine pistol was generally regarded to be the best in the class in part because of its compact size, but also the design, accuracy and the cartridge it was originally chambered for when it was introduced.
It was developed in 1959 by Miroslav Rybář (1924–1970) and produced under the official designation Samopal vzor 61 (submachine gun model 1961) by the Česká zbrojovka arms factory in Uherský Brod (CZUB) from 1961 to 1979. Originally developed for use with security forces, the weapon was also used by the Czechoslovak Army as a personal sidearm for army staff, vehicle drivers, armored vehicle personnel and notably Special Forces.
The Škorpion was developed as a hammer-fired, blowback operated firearm that fired from a closed bolt, which made it far more accurate than comparable open-bolt firearms of the era. The vz. 61 fed from either ten- or twenty-round magazines that were mounted just in front of the trigger guard. It featured a telescoping bolt assembly that wraps around much of the barrel and that accounted for much of the gun's overall compactness.
The weapon was originally chambered in the .32 ACP (7.65mm Browning) cartridge, which was the standard handgun caliber in Czechoslovakia at the time of the weapon's development. Later versions were chambered for a variety of rounds including the 9x17 Browning (.389 ACP), 9x18 Makarov and 9x19-millimeter Parabellum (NATO).
The original vz. 61 Škorpion had a rate of fire of around 850 rounds per minute, while the later versions chambered in 9x18 Makarov cartridge increased the rate of fire to about 900 rounds per minute. The effective range of all versions was around 50 to 150 meters.
About two hundred thousand of the military/security force versions were produced from 1961 to 1971, and the weapon saw limited use in the Vietnam War and the Lebanese Civil War while some were also used in “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, while the versions produced in Yugoslavia under license during the Cold War were used in the Yugoslav Civil Wars of the 1990s.
Since the end of the Cold War a semi-automatic commercial version of the vz. 61 Škorpion was released and it was imported into the United States by Czechpoint, Inc. of Knoxville, Tennessee.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.