Most Americans are unfamiliar with Brno firearms, which have been made in what is now the Czech Republic since 1918. Before 1918, the Brno plant was an arsenal in city of Brno within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In keeping with the Treaty of Versailles, the arsenal was dissolved in 1918 at the close of World War I, however, the plant was converted to an arms factory known as Československá zbrojovka to manufacture Mannlicher and Mauser rifles in the newly-formed Czechoslovakia.
With the Treaty of Versailles, Germany and brands such as Mauser were prohibited from making military arms. In 1920, Brno purchased tooling and surplus firearms from Mauser-Oberndorf and began building and rebuilding Mauser 98 rifles. Soon after, Brno also acquired tooling and know-how to produce Mannlicher rifles from Steyr Arms in Austria and manufactured about 5,500.
The Brno Mauser was designated the vz. 98/22, the latter two digits indicating the year (1922) it was adopted. It wasn’t pressed into the military ranks for long, however, as it was replaced by the vz. 24 and discontinued in 1930.
Historians have noted that few vz. 98/22 Mausers were ever circulated by the Czechoslovakian military and that the majority were sold to Iran and Turkey. The lighter and shorter vz. 24 was developed in 1924 and featured a 23-inch barrel but retained the Mauser’s straight bolt. The vz. 24 is considered to be the first Brno design, which was produced until 1942 with a total nearing 800,000 rifles.
Before World War II, the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield, England, worked with Brno to quickly develop the legendary BREN gun, “BREN” being an acronym for “Brno-Enfield.” Employed by the British throughout World War II, the light machine gun with its distinctive top-feed magazine continued to serve Her Majesty until 1992.
Also following World War II, the factory was nationalized and became known as Zbrojovka Brno. It was subject to socialist rule until 1989, but most of its firearms production was redirected to sporting arms that garnered a reputation for being dependable and rugged. These rifles made their way throughout Europe and became popular throughout Africa.
The Brno factory was privatized in 1990 following the end of the Warsaw Pact. On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia separated into the Czech Republic and Slovakia as they are known today. In 2008,
Česká zbrojovka (CZ) a.s. Uherský Brod acquired Zbrojovka Brno and continued making high-grade single shot and double rifles, combination guns, as well as over/under shotguns for competition and hunting. Though most of us are familiar with CZ firearms, many have never heard of the Brno name due to the small numbers of firearms in U.S. circulation.
In Africa, Brno is better known and enjoys an enviable reputation. Last May, I had the opportunity to examine and evaluate a cute and well-worn Brno #2 bolt-action .22 rimfire owned by Professional Hunter (PH) Louw Lotter of Jamy Traut Safaris (jamyhunts.com) in Namibia. The rifle was a 1970- to 1980s-vintage magazine-fed design that accepts CZ 452 magazines and features a Schnabel stock, 25-inch barrel and dual-extractor bolt. Ammunition was scarce, but Lotter let me use it on an afternoon squirrel hunt where I managed to take one on the run from about 30 yards. What a treat.
The Brno brand is not spoken “Bruno,” as most refer to it, but correctly referred to as “Berno.” Though combination guns, double rifles, surplus Mausers, Mannlichers, vz. 24 and the vz. 58 can demand a premium, Brno smallbores are sometimes imported as surplus and are quite affordable. In fact, I found a number of Brno #2 bolt guns like the one I used for sale at $250 — less magazine — through J&G Sales (jgsales.com). What a steal.