British Government 1936 ZGB33 .303 Prototype Bren Gun
Used in the 1936 Troop Trials (one of 80)
King George V Proof Stamped (pre 1935)
It is not very offen that a real piece of British Military history turns up and one that paved the way for the Mark 1 Bren light machine gun.
This is a story about two Light machine guns not one, it all starts with the Vickers-Berthier machine gun.
In 1925 Vickers-Armstrongs Limited purchased licence rights of the Berthier Model 1922 for production in their Crayford factory in North Kent which during WW1 was the main manufacturing plant for the Vickers (light) machine gun.
The Vickers-Berthier was adopted by the British Indian Army in 1929 who had total independence from the British Army in procurement. A production line for the Vickers–Berthier Light Machine-Gun Mk 3 (later the Mk3*) was established by Vickers at the British Army Rifle Factory, Ishapore.
The British Indian Army were very happy with their purchase. Vickers-Berthier was used extensively duing WW2 against the Japanese Imperial Army in Burma with great success and is still in second line service with the India Army today.
The 1932 British Government Light Machine gun Trials
During the British Army trials of several light machine guns which began in early1932, the Vickers–Berthier was in direct competition with the Czechoslovak VZ26 and the Vickers was seen as the favourite. Unfortunately the Vickers just missed being selected
by the smallest margin, the committee instead selected its rival the Czechoslovak VZ26.
The background to the 1932 light machine Trials program
In 1930, the British War Office moved to select a successor to the Lewis gun, which had served as Great Britain’s standard light machine gun since World War I. Although the Lewis gun had performed well, it was difficult to operate and maintain and it lacked a changeable barrel.
The War Office considered the
Browning Automatic Rifle
French FM 24/29
As the Vickers-Berthier was already in service with the British Indian Army and in current production at their Crayford factory in North Kent, the War Office highly favoured the Vickers. Also it came highly recomended by British Indian Army Headquarters based in New Delhi, India.
The British military attache in Prague, however, reported to the War Office that Czechoslovakia had recently demonstrated a remarkable light machine gun, the ZB26, which prompted the British to pay £135 to acquire a gun and 10,000 rounds of 7.92mm ammunition and this gun was entered into the trials for assessment
The British Army was so impressed with the ZB26 and expressed interest as long as the gun could be made to function with the British standard .303in rimmed cartridge.
In 1931 the design team modified a ZB30 gun to use the British .303 ammunition, fed by a distinctive curved magazine.
In 1932, Vaclav Holek returned to England with a ZGB32 for trials, this gun's gas port moved 9.65 inches closer to the chamber to reduce cordite fouling. Slight modifications resulted in the ZGB33 and ZGB34 models, with a reduction in weight of about 1.0 kg (2.2 lb).
In August 1934, the ZGB34 was tested in competition with the Vickers-Berthier and Madsen guns where it proved conclusively to be the superior gun.
British authorities arranged with CZ to manufacture the gun under licence at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock. Drawings to British tolerances were prepared by January 1935
After the Light machine gun trials the British Army adopted the now called ZGB33
in late1934, the Czechoslovak factory was asked to provide 80 light machine guns for British troop trials after further modifications requested by Enfield. These were sent to Enfield Factory from the Czechoslovak Brno Factory in early 1936.
Unfortunately the 80 modified ZGB33 were not modifed at all as requested by the Enfield engineers and turned up at the Enfield factory in there original ZGB33 Troop trial configuration, these were rejected by the Enfield factory and were put into storage were they stayed until early 1940.
The Czechoslovak factory sent a second batch and these did have all the requested modifications (ZGB34) and these look the same as the early Dove Tails Mark 1 Bren guns we know today other than the Factory stamp.
The first 200 British made Bren guns rolled off the production line at the Enfield lock Factory, Enfield on January 1938, and formally entered service Aug. 4, 1938.
But what happened to the 80 TroopTrials ZBG33's light machine guns stored at the Enfield Factory in 1936 ?
The Irish Problem
In mid 1939 the British Empire was at war with Nazi Germany but there was a looming problem, that problem was Southern Ireland. The big concern by the British War Department was that then neutral Southern Ireland may be helping the Germans, this was not unfounded as German U Boats had been seen unloading goods in Southern Ireland.
In a book by the authors Günter Gellmann in 1997 and Jak Mallmann-Showell the chapter on dropping operations by U-boats for German agents in Eire
The decision was made in 1940 by Churchill to keep the Irish happy, this was to supply 1,000 Bren Guns to the Irish Army (just before Dunkirk) , then just a few months later the BEF in France were being overrun by very mobile German Army, the British Army left 28,000 Brens guns on the beaches at Dunkirk.
It is estimated that the Germans recovered 200 tons of scrap metal from Dunkirk alone and this was sent back into German war production.
By that time all 80 ZGB33 had been shipped to Southern Ireland as well as 920 other 1937 and 1938 Bren guns.
In 1991 the Irish State was clearing out its old stock of .303 Bren guns and 303 rifles supplied by the British years before and hidden in that clear out was this ZGB33.
This is a real gem of a find
We have kept to the narrative as this is a massive subject
ZGB33 Serial number 169 common numbered
Unique swivel attachment to Prototype
Left is 1936 ZGB33 Trials
round cocking handel
Right is 1938 Dove tail Mk1
angled cocking handel
Unique to the Prototype ZGB33
Anti Aircraft attachment on Butt
Lovely view of a very rare Prototype 1936 ZGB33 .303
Original condition not been messed with
This 1936 British Troop Trials ZGB33 come out of a collection of very rare Bren Guns light machine guns. Sympathetically deactivated to UK Spec this is 100% original condition and is common numbered. More than likely from the original 1933 trials program itself.
UK Spec Dry firing and strippable
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