There are times when being a gun writer really pays off, one of those times is when your friend calls and asks if you want to go with him to the range to shoot a piece of living history in the form of a captured German ZB-37 machine gun. The ZB-37 was originally produced in Czechoslovakia by Zbrojovka Brno as the ZB-53 for the Czechoslovokian Military but once they fell under Nazi control the German’s took a liking to the 46 pound fire breather and took possession of them and dubbing them the MG37.
The captured machine guns were often rebranded by the Wehrmarcht with the classic German eagle and pressed into service in the Balkans and in other areas of the Eastern Front. The fact that the Czechs were nice enough to produce their machine gun in 8mm Mauser just like the German’s other machine guns made supplying the guns with ammunition easy. The choice of caliber was the only thing that the German MG40 and MG42 had in common with the MG37/ZB-37. Lets take a deeper look into this largely forgotten piece of World War II history that I was fortunate enough to experience.
Specifications of ZB-37 Machine Gun
Country of Origin: Czechoslovakia
Number Produced: 60,000+
Caliber: 8mm Mauser (7.92 mm x 57 mm)
Weight: 46 lbs
Barrel Length: 29.0″
Overall Length: 43.5″
Feed System: 250 round belt
Rate of Fire: 500-800 rounds per minute
Mounting System: tripod or vehicle mounted
Theater of Operations: Eastern Front
Operational Life: 1935-Late 1950’s
Shooting the Beast
Shooting the ZB-37 is an awesome but awkward experience for someone who isn’t use to shooting heavy machine guns that are ordinarily vehicle mounted. I have some experience with other machine guns like the Soviet designed DP-28, PKM, and RPD so I’m not inexperienced but all of those machine guns had traditional trigger systems. The ZB-37 features an odd push button style trigger that actually allows the shooter to fire the machine gun in fully automatic and single shot modes. The particular version that we got a chance to explore was mounted on what might be the worlds most unfriendly tripod. The horizontal traverse of the set up was stiff and limited, it is 80-year-old technology so I just accepted it as part of the nostalgia of gun and accessories.
Loading the 250 round belt was done with the help of an interesting gadget that Arctic Arms owner James Foley had acquired for this particular machine gun. The Czechs came up with a great system that allows an operator to dump loose rounds into a hopper that sorts and feeds the rounds two at a time into the belt. All the operator has to do is dump rounds in the hopper and crank the manual loading/sorting lever in a circle and the loader takes care of the rest of the process.
Once we loaded up a few belts of surplus 8mm Mauser we sat down to actually put rounds through this relic of the pre World War II Czechoslovakian Army. Feeding the belt into the ZB-37 was pretty straight forward like most belt fed machine guns I had previous experience with, but cocking the ZB-37 was a bit different. On the ZB-37 unlike any other machine guns I had ever seen the twin grips and trigger located on the back of the machine gun actually slide under neath the main receiver and engage the enormous bolt to cycle the action. If you watch in the video you can see my friend and owner of the ZB-37 James Foley firing the gun and get an idea of how the housing slides under the receiver.
Getting behind this beast you feel like you are stepping back in time, nothing on this machine gun is small, light or easily adjustable. I tested the lateral movement on the vintage 1930’s tripod and it was difficult to slide even after it was oiled, but once it began to move it loosened right up. I wasn’t sure what to make of the trigger on the ZB-37 but once you push it down there is zero doubt that the gun operates just as they intended it to. The button easily pushes in using just one thumb and the rather slow cyclic rate of the ZB-37 makes it easier to control than I expected. The fact it weighs 46 lbs without the gigantic tripod might also be a factor.
In the interest of time and honestly not having to set up batches of targets, we did not test the ZB-37 out to any great distances. The goal of our range session was to document the machine gun and to test the overall operations of the weapon. This weapon featured a recently repaired receiver so ensuring the repairs were correctly done was the actual goal for the guns owner.
We were able to run several hundred rounds of the old surplus 8mm Mauser ammunition through the machine gun with relatively few stoppages and that brought a smile to my face. This particular machine gun isn’t one that is seen often at local ranges and is even rare by machine gun collector standards. The ZB-37 has some eye-catching features aside from the tripod. The machine gun has a finned shroud that fits over the barrel to help with cooling and makes the ZB-37 look very similar to the Japanese Type 92 Heavy machine Gun. That combined with the previously mentioned unique firing controls, that actually fold straight up for transport and relatively rareness of the ZB-37 an instant hit at the range.
James told me until the last few years rounds like the 8mm Mauser were cheap and readily available but unfortunately those trends have not held up. Hoarders and other collectors of other guns that utilize the same 8mm Mauser round have eliminated surplus ammunition stockpiles that were once plentiful and affordable. This combination has unfortunately made range time with similar machine guns both expensive and more infrequent.
The ZB-37 is a machine gun with an odd history and legacy. Once called on by Czechoslovakia to defend its borders, it was pressed into service by the very Army that it was meant to defend the Czechs from. The ZB-37 machine gun went to serve Germany and it’s Divisions of Nazi sympathizers during Operation Barbarossa in Russian and the Ukraine, and Operations Weiss & Operations Landstrum against the Soviet lead Partisans under the direction of Josep Tito, the eventual President of Yugoslavia.
We hope you enjoyed this quick look and video of a very unique machine gun in the ZB-37. I personally always love seeing old guns that were built and served their nations during times of conflict. The opportunity to observe, handle and shoot pieces of history is one of the reason I first got into the gun writing business. We will hopefully be working with James Foley and Arctic Arms to bring you a summer full of reviews and looks at many varieties of rare and unique firearms. Is there something that you want to see reviewed in particular this summer ? Drop us a line in the comments section and let us know and we can try to make it happen.