The Czechs are pretty well known for their firearms designs. With the CZ-75 as the poster child for their firearms industry; it’s pretty safe to say they know what they’re doing over there in the land of the Slavs. After all these years of playing around with their various versions of firearm preeminence I oft wondered, why don’t they have a machine gun? Well, this humble scribe wasn’t doing his research because it turns out they do, and it’s a monster.
Palling around with at the Lucky Gunner shoot with Dave Liddy of the Scout26 blog we found ourselves waiting in line to shoot the mighty Ma Deuce. Problem was the line was longer than a John Bonham drum solo. So we took off for greener pastures and shorter lines when we found a wooden platform with a gun writer ignored machine gun hammering away at any commuter vehicle stupid enough to be parked in the line of fire. It was throwing grease in twenty different directions and smoking something fierce. Looking at the pile of spent cases building at the base of its tripod we immediately noticed it was shooting the formidable 7.62x54r, at a rate of 700 rounds per minute. To say it piqued our interest would be an understatement.
“What kind of gun is that?” we asked as the owner pulled the smoking barrel off the receiver to cool down. “Czech UK 59” he responded with more than a little hint of pride. Researching this weapon later in the day I discovered that the UK Vz.59 was a general purpose light machine gun designed in the 50’s and still in use by Czech forces to this day. With its light barrel with bipod installed it served in a light squad assault weapon role like our modern M249. The other option (the version we shot) featured a heavy barrel with tripod to be used in a medium machine gun role.
“Would you let us shoot it if we linked some rounds?” Dave asked him. The owner looked around at the unopened cases of surplus 7.62x54r sitting around and replied, “Why sure” while handing us some empty links. Dave and I spent the better part of the next 30 minutes feverishly linking rounds together using a Cold War era tool that while troublesome at times, proved to be pretty effective once you got a rhythm going. Sitting there loading rounds repetitively we had plenty of time to ogle the classic sexiness of the Czech MG.
First off you notice the wood. I have in the past touted the warm fuzzy feeling that a wood stock makes me feel and this gun was no exception. Plastic stocks can be harsh, cold and utilitarian whereas a good wood stock makes you feel comfortable and welcomed. This UK 59 was no exception. Following the wood, you had the rest of the metal parts coated in the classically simplistic dark parkerized finish. Like a 50’s era Rat Rod, this thing screamed badass. The sights were your typical folding rear leaf and hooded front post, but let’s be honest, were we really going to use them?
Ogling and linking done; the owner of the beast re-installed the barrel and applied a liberal amount of Break-Free to the breech before closing it up and pulling the starting end of the links through the bolt. First thing you notice is that there is no charging handle. In fact, the grip serves as the charging handle. Push a lever on the left side, engage the trigger and rack it towards the business end before pulling it back with a satisfying click. Now you’re ready to rock ‘n roll.
Crouching in behind the comfortable butt stock, I let her rip. The trigger was much lighter than what I had experienced on other class IIIs that day, but it seemed just about perfect for this gun. With just enough resistance to let you know that very soon you would be loosing a volley of 181gr projectiles down range. Mounted on the tripod, quick accurate bursts were easily attainable although I don’t know if that would have been the case had we been shooting the lightweight bi-podded version. Decent accuracy turned out to be pretty achievable once you got the hang of it. Unfortunately, getting the hang of it took up most of the ammo, but I was able to hit the same relative area of an offending mini-van with some level of accuracy by the time I was done.
Unfortunately, due to its age and overuse throughout the day it tended to not feed correctly every once in a while. While this was an annoyance, it was easily rectified by repeating the charging process that utilized the pistol grip. This is the one glaring flaw I found with this particular weapon system. While the location and action used for clearing any feed issues was ergonomically excellent and allowed you to keep both hands in on the weapon; I couldn’t help but imagine trying to work that function while lying prone in the dirt. What seems like a good idea when it’s mounted on a tripod could easily lead to trouble when you had to cant the weapon forwards to clear a jam while lying on the ground. Having to take your sights off target like that could lead to some unfortunate consequences on the battlefield.
Out of ammo, covered in oil, gunpowder and giddiness, I relinquished control of the smoking weapon back to its owner and thanked him for the privilege. The UK Vz.59 definitely hearkens to a bygone era when status quo for a squad automatic weapon was wood furniture and a don’t screw with me round in the chamber. It’s a far cry from the M249 SAWs and M240Bs we’re used to seeing in the modern battlefield, but it obviously still gets the job done, as long as you find yourself wandering around the woods in an Armáda České republiky uniform. Cheap to feed and a blast to shoot with parts kits going for around $800. I think I may need to raid my daughter’s college fund.
Czech UK Vz.59 (Univerzální kulomet vzor 59) Heavy Barrel
Manufacturer Zbrojovka Vsetín
Barrel Length 25.6in
Action Gas operated; tilting breech block
Rate of Fire 700-800 rounds per minute
Range 100-2000 meters
Sights Folding leaf rear; hooded front post
[Special thanks to Dave Liddy for running the video camera and Lucky Gunner for putting together the event.]