By: Warren Gray
Copyright © 2022
“Though the Scorpion is small, it has an
armored body, and a mighty stinger.”
— From www.tarot.com, 2022.
The Česká zbrojovka (ČZ) Samopalvzor 61 (“submachine gun, model 1961”) or vz. 61 Škorpionis a compact Czechoslovakian machine pistol or submachine gun. Initially, this gun was produced in Uherský Brod between 1961 and 1979; later it was license-produced by Zastava Arms in Yugoslavia (now Serbia) as the M84 Škorpion, from 1984 to 1992. It fires the 7.65x17mmSR Browning Short (.32 ACP) pistol cartridge, which was the standard, service cartridge of the Czechoslovakian security forces in the early 1960s, employing either a 10-round or 20-round, double-column, curved magazine.
The vz. 61 Škorpion was adopted by the Czech security force (the notorious, “State Security” secret police agency, or StB) and by the Czech Army, primarily as a personal sidearm for army staff officers, vehicle drivers, armored vehicle crews, reconnaissance units, and special forces. Although the .32 ACP round is considered quite marginal for defensive purposes in the United States, differing pressure specifications between the U.S. and Europe makes the European loads typically about 15-percent hotter; thus, making the gun more useful. For example, Remington’s 71-grain, metal-case (MC) cartridge averages 905 feet per second, while the Sellier and Bellot (Czech) 73-grain, full-metal-jacket (FMJ) ammo runs at 1,043 feet per second, or 15.25-percent faster, with 36-percent greater muzzle energy!
Because the communist Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, including Czechoslovakia and nonaligned but still-communist Yugoslavia, actively supported international terrorism (particularly the StB), a large quantity of vz. 61s and M84s found its way into the hands of armed, terrorist groups, such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), and the Italian Red Brigades (BR.) In fact, Red Brigade leader Mario Moretti used a 10-round burst from a Czech vz. 61 to murder former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro, age 61, in Rome on May 9, 1978, after Moro survived 55 days in captivity as a kidnapped hostage. The French Gang de Roubaix terrorist group used this weapon in the 1990s, and in 2017, Swedish police discovered that about 50 vz. 61s from Slovakia were still in use among Swedish criminal gangs.
Although never mass-produced, the distinctive Škorpion was manufactured in limited numbers by ČZ in the 1960s, including the vz. 64 model in .380 ACP, the vz. 65 in 9x18mm Makarov, and the vz. 68 in 9x19mm Parabellum (with a straight magazine). In early 1997, ČZ reintroduced the famous (or infamous) Škorpion as the vz. 61E in .32 ACP (with a plastic pistol grip), the vz. 82 in 9x18mm, and the vz. 83 in .380 ACP, with a semiautomatic-only, civilian, ČZ-91S model, available in all three calibers, and a semiautomatic M84A was produced in .380 ACP.
The Škorpion series is fairly light and compact, weighing just 2.87 pounds, with a 4.5-inch barrel, a folding, wire stock, and measuring just 10.6 inches long with the stock folded, or 20.4 inches long with the stock extended. The pistol grip is wooden on the vz. 61, plastic on the vz. 61E, or synthetic on the Zastava M84. It is carried or worn like a traditional pistol: in a leather holster, with a 10-round magazine installed and two 20-rounders carried in a separate pouch.
The vz. 61 is a select-fire, straight-blowback firearm that fires from a closed-bolt position, with an inertial, rate-reducer device inside the pistol grip to lower the cyclic rate of fire to 840 rounds per minute (14 rounds per second), and a telescopic bolt assembly wrapped around part of the barrel to keep the dimensions small. The modest, .32 ACP cartridge produces low recoil, enabling a simple, straight-blowback operating system that includes a lightweight bolt and twin recoil springs. This low recoil makes the weapon accurate, reliable, controllable, and simple to operate. There are open, metal sights that make the effective range approximately from 150 to 500 feet. An estimated 210,000 Škorpions were produced in Czechoslovakia alone by about 1997.
The vz. 61 and M84 have been used by military, paramilitary, and police forces in Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Georgia (mostly police forces), Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberia (M84s), Libya, Mongolia, Mozambique, North Korea (by spies and special forces), Pakistan (police), Serbia, Slovakia, Uganda, and Vietnam. Russian SpetsNaz commandos have also used Škorpions in the past.
These weapons were used in combat during the Vietnam War (by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces), the Lebanese Civil War, The Troubles in Northern Ireland, internal conflict in Peru, the Yugoslav Wars, and the First Liberian Civil War.
In World War Two, the integrally-suppressed, British Welrod pistol in .32 ACP was the most-silent handgun in the world, with the sound level reduced to just 122.8 decibels, quieter than a CO2 pellet pistol. The comparatively low-powered cartridge lends itself well to sound reduction, and many vz. 61s and M84s have threaded barrels for special forces missions requiring nearly-silent weapons.
Oddly enough, the U.S. Air Force used to own, and frequently test-fire, a vz.61 Škorpion at their Special Operations School at Hurlburt Field, Florida. It was employed in the live-fire portion of their “Dynamics of International Terrorism” course, from which I graduated way back in 1986. For all I know, they may still have it, and still use it.
Currently, Czech Small Arms (CSA) of Jablůnka, in the Czech Republic, is manufacturing semiautomatic Sa vz. 61 “pistols” in .32 ACP, .380 ACP, 9x18mm Makarov, or .22 LR, and probably offers select-fire versions of these same weapons to military and police forces, with or without threaded barrels.
On December 5, 2017, Chris Heuss tested and reviewed the Sa vz. 61 pistol for The Truth About Guns. He wrote that, “This is a very cool gun…There’s no way around it; the Škorpionjust looks sexy in an Eastern-bloc kind of way…solidly made with a level of fit and finish well above its $675 MSRP ($696 in 2020)…Altogether, it looks great and feels solid…Shooting this gun suppressed is a lot of fun. Most .32 ACP is subsonic, so this gun is naturally very quiet…High-quality…Sellier and Bellot is the number-one recommendation for reliable, Škorpion function. I ran hundreds of rounds of S&B through the vz. without a hitch…When loaded properly, the pistol functioned perfectly…Zero (reliability) issues with Euro ammo.
“It shoots even better than it feels, with low recoil that is easy to manage. The recoil impulse is very smooth…trigger pull is short, light, and smooth (about four pounds), with a well-defined break. Follow-up shots are quick and accurate…Overall…it’s tons of fun…reliable, crazy-fun…the Škorpion is just plain cool.”
Adam Borisenko added for Gun Digest on October 29, 2021, that, “The vz. 61 Škorpion: The World’s Favorite Machine Pistol…Unique in both concept and design, the Czech vz. 61 Škorpion machine pistol has won hearts on both sides of the law since its inception…Its relatively high firepower for its concealable and compact nature made it popular with everyone from special military and police units to terrorists and criminals alike around the globe…Every feature of the Škorpion was designed to prioritize compactness…the vz. 61 really is in a class of its own, managing to be only barely larger than a traditional service pistol, while offering similar firepower to an SMG.
“The Škorpion’scompactness…features lend themselves to concealability as well…in a machine pistol…Škorpions remain a very popular choice among organized criminals and terrorists, but also with certain smaller countries’ police and clandestine units…the Škorpion is a design that shines the brightest in its original, select-fire configuration.”
And Pascal Thibert wrote for Small Arms Review in March 2018 that, “We tested one of the smallest submachine guns in the world…a marvel of inventiveness and particularly interesting, gunsmith technology…it is compact, lightweight, and accurate…its ingenuity surprises the specialists…We tested a version produced in 1964…The vz. 61 is a marvel for the sports shooter who likes well-crafted weapons. The accuracy was very good, and the recoil was low; being equivalent to that of a .22 Magnum, it was very controllable. Our target results were approximately 40 to 50mm (1.5 to 2 inches) at 25 meters, thanks to the excellent sights.
“The vz. 61 is a small submachine gun, ultra-compact, and very light…It is solid, particularly accurate…vz. 61 has no equivalent in its design, its size, its weight, its magazines, its buttstock (too short), its disassembly…It really is unique…an excellent weapon for personal defense…And it still serves as a protection gun for many professionals around the world. Having been produced for 56 years (now 61 years) without interruption, and manufactured in five different calibers by two Czech companies, it is evident that the success of the vz. 61 is not about to decline.”
* * *
Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe (including Eastern Europe) and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, and four college degrees, including a Master of Aeronautical Science degree, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.