Do you think little European 6.35 mm (.25 ACP) pocket pistols are boring? Hold on while we take you on a tour through the politics of 20th Century Mitteleuropa, with our host being this unassuming .25.
Czech Duo, stripped and in fairly rough shape.
Same gun, reverse. Proofed in 1941.
The Duo was designed by a man with a name that resonates in Czech history – František Dušek. That is not because the 20th Century firearms entrepreneur is famous in the Czechlands, but because he shares a name with one of the great composers of the race, the underrated Baroque-period master František Xaver Dušek, who lived in the 18th Century. Both men often see their names Germanized to Franz (Xavier) Dusek or Duschek. The Czech pronunciation is DOO-shek.
Dušek’s business started as a small gunsmith’s shop and grew into a factory in Opočno, in northeastern Bohemia near the Moravian border.
Most every place in the Czechlands has a name in Czech and a name in German, that usually differ mostly in spelling and in pronunciation details. The more notable cities have an English name, or the German name tends to be used in English. For example, Prague is the English name for the city the Czechs (and the Slovaks, during the federal period) call Praha, and the Germans and Austrians call Prag. Opočno (pronounced OH-poach-no) is one of three small towns with the name in the Czech Republic today, and comes across into German as Opotschno. (Most common English usage is the Czech name without the háček or diacritical mark over the “c,” thus, “Opocno.”)
This Duo shows the quality of finish of these firearms. It’s a wartime gun, produced and proofed in 1944.
František Dušek was born in 1876 and apprenticed as a gunsmith with a firm named Hojny. Berger also says he traveled “abroad,” which suggests Germany, for manufacturing and design experience (his Czech home being at the time part of the Habsburg Empire). Long before World War I he had hung out his own shingle in Opočno.
Berger describes the growth of his firm warmly:
Old Dusek brochures gave a founding date of 1905, which is probably the year he left his apprenticeship to start on his own.
Dusek worked hard and long, as only the owner can do. He put back all profits into the business, expanding at every opportunity. Dusek was anti-military during World War I refused to make weapons or components for the Austro-Hungarian government. At that time Czechoslovakia had not yet become a country.
After World War I, Czechoslovakia became an independent country, and by the mid 1920s Dusek’s products including rifles, shotguns, air rifles and gunsmithing supplies. Dušek struggled for independence by making everything possible at his factory, not depending on outside sources. In 1925, the workforce was 36 production workers and six administrative workers.1
Along with Dušek’s own work, he did an excellent business remarketing pocket pistols from Spain. These were marked with a variety of names including Ydeal, and were sold in the Czechoslovak Republic and throughout Eastern and Central Europe. The Spanish supply dried up in the 1930s, and so Dušek designed his own pistol and began producing it. In the interim, he acquired some pistols from the Mars concern and changed the markings to call them DUOs, his own trademark — the name standing for DUšek, Opočno. Duo-marked Mars pistols are rare and are different in some design features from factory Duos. (The Mars itself is descended from the PZK and the Slavia, and features a loaded chamber indicator that the Duo does not).
Number 120305 was produced in 1945, not long before the factory was overrun.
This is an interesting pistol because of its place and time, not really because of its design. If you look at it, you see an ordinary European .25 pocket pistol of the sort produced in great numbers and great variety between the Alpha of John Browning and FN popularizing the small auto pistol in 1900 or so, and the Omega of postwar Europe shambling down the path of gun prohibition after World War II. Indeed, it looks like a close copy of the Browning-designed FN Model 1906 pocket pistol.
The Duo is not a true copy. The parts don’t interchange. But designer and factory owner František Dušek was inspired by the Browning-designed FN 1906 .25 in his design of the DUO. This design may have been inspired indirectly by the Browning, through the Mars/Slavia or through the Spanish eyeball copies of the Browning that Dušek imported before the Spanish Civil War cut off his supply. So you could say, in a way, that the Duo was “born in the Spanish Civil War,” but that locution might have offended old Dušek. A pacifist, he not only refused to make arms for the Austro-Hungarian Royal and Imperial Army in World War I, and likewise refused to collaborate with the Nazis when they occupied Czechoslovakia. The pistol remained in production; the Nazis simply ousted Dušek and effectively nationalized his plant.
During the Duo’s long life it has been produced in seven different countries2 — several of them without the factory moving an inch — with at least ten different marking variations. The Czech-made Duos we have seen, several dozen (wish we’d been recording serials then!) are invariably of high quality; even when the quality deteriorated during the later years of the Nazi occupation they were better guns than the Spanish ones Dušek has been selling.
The guns were a success for Dušek. They shipped from Opočno throughout Europe and the world. By 1938, his factory was the largest private gun manufacturing plant in the entire Czechoslovak Republic, as the other big names (ZB, CZ-UB) were national arsenals. But the CSR itself was on borrowed time. Throughout 1938, Nazi aggression and international spinelessness led to the dismantling of the Czechoslovak Republic piecemeal. First, they lost the border area, what the German speakers called the Sudetenland in the Munich Agreement. Then, a few months later, the Third Reich occupied the rest of Bohemia and Moravia, and placed Slovakia under the control of quislings.
In the gun factories, only the rollmarks changed (and, perhaps, some of the customers). Many Czech guns were already being marked in German for export, so it was no big deal. The pistols continued to be proofed and proofmarked to Czech standard.
The German occupation Duos were made in several marking variations, including specialty versions for specific German retailers. (This last was a continuation of prewar practice). Other makers would make their own mark on the slide, frame or trigger guard.
This is a 1942 Duo from Nolle’s collection.
There were several common holsters used with these pistols, similar to the hardshell and softshell types known by P.38 and Luger collectors. The gun tended to be used by senior and rear-echelon military and police officers, both in the Czech military and the Wehrmacht, more as a symbol of command than as any kind of a defensive pistol. As armaments go, a .25 is the original “better than nothing” firearm, with less energy than a .22 LR round, and until long after the war, only roundnose lead and roundnose FMJ were the only loads available. What they lack in firepower, though, they make up for in simplicity and reliability.
After the war, Dušek resumed production in Opočno, and postwar guns returned fully to prewar quality. He would be ousted a second time when the Communists took over Czechoslovakia and nationalized and rationalized the gun industry. All handgun manufacture was to be centralized, and after a short further run, the tooling at Opočno was packed up.
That wasn’t the end of the Duo, though… it stayed in production, with, normal business for the Duo, new rollmarks. The factory was now a Národní Podník, “national enterprise.” Soon all handgun production shifted to the Uhersky Brod factory, and the gun was now a “Z” with the old Zbrojovka Brno trademark, the letter Z in a circle that is, on close examination, a rifled barrel, taking the place of DUO on the grips.
This is a “Z” pistol made in the CZ-UB plant in 1949.
Most of the Duos and Zs that were imported into the United States came in as wartime bringbacks (wartime and prewar Duos) or were imported during a brief period when Czechoslovak firearms were imported (1948-52 or so). Post-1968, they are not importable because of the Sporting Test the United States adopted from a 1938 Nazi gun law, with further restrictions by the American admirer of Nazi policing who wrote the bill, Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut.
Despite the many marking variations of the Duo, which might also be called a Z, Singer, JAGA, or Ideal, or bear the marks of a German sporting-goods store, the only substantial change before 1970 was brief availability of a longer barrel in 1938-39 or so. This longer (190mm) barrel changed the class of licensure of the firearm in the Czechoslovak Republic, and became moot when German laws supplanted Czechoslovak after the Munich Accord. (These long-barreled Duos are extremely rare in the USA; Berger describes them, but we’ve never seen one, and we suspect he never had, either; he’s working of a catalog description). Even the transfer of manufacture and trademark from Opočno as a Duo to Uhersky Brod as a “Z”, did not materially change the pistols.
Berger published photographs of Dušek’s home and the somewhat run-down original plant in Opočno, long since converted to other uses, taken in 1981.3
In 1970, the Z was redesigned to slightly modernize its shape and it was renamed Pistole Vz 70, not to be confused with the CZ Pistole VZ 70, a .32 caliber police pistol.
For all versions, disassembly for field-stripping is identical to the common M1906/1908 Browning/Colt hammerless .25.
Duos and Zs are well-made, usually well-finished guns (if not to FN standards; toolmarks are not completely polished off the frame sides, for instance). Even the occupation guns are usually safe to fire, although an example with shortened firing pin that will not engage a primer has been observed, perhaps evidence of wartime sabotage by a Czech or foreign forced laborer. The firing pin is somewhat vulnerable to failure and, unlike most center-fire guns, this pistol should not be dry-fired. (Nor should the unrelated Little Tom and CZ 36/45/92 pocket pistols).
- Berger, p. 77.
- The countries were: the Czechoslovak Republic (1918-38); the rump Czecho-Slovak 2nd Republic (minus the Sudetenland, Carpathian Ruthenia, and parts of Silesia and Slovakia), 1938-39; the Reichsprotektorat Böhmen u. Mähren, 1939-45; the 3rd Czechoslovak Republic (1945-48); the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (1948-90); the 4th Czechoslovak Republic (1990-93) and the post-Velvet-Divorce Czech Republic (1993-).
- Berger, p. 82.
Multiple typographic errors, one historical error in footnote 2, and a missing sentence have been corrected. See the comments for details.
Berger, R.J. Know Your Czechoslovakian Pistols. Chino Valley, AZ: Blacksmith Corporation, 1989.
Buffaloe, Ed. “Two Czech 6.35mm Pistols”. UnblinkingEye.com, n.d. Retrieved from: http://unblinkingeye.com/Guns/2CZ25s/2cz25s.html
”Kirby the OG.” OG’s Curio and Relic Page: Czechoslovakian Firearms. Formerly at: http://www.geocities.com/kirbytheog/czech.html now defunct. Retrieved from:
“Nolle”. Nolle’s Guns: Czech Pistols. Retrieved from: http://www.nollesguns.be/Czech_pistols.htm (Flemish language).