The MG 37(T), originally called the ZB-53 and designated by Czechoslovakia as TK vz. 37, was a Czech support weapon used by infantry and in fortifications. However, it is most notable for its use within Czech tanks, including the LT-35 and LT-38 along with their German modifications, derivatives and variants


The ZB-53 was a belt-fed, gas operated, air-cooled machine-gun designed for multipurpose utilities. It took 225-round ammunition belts made of non-disintegrating steel, which are fed in from the right-side.[1]

The weapon fired around 500 rounds per minute on the default mode, and 800 rounds per minute on fast mode. It could fire for 5 consecutive minutes before the barrel had to be exchanged due to damage from the heat.

The trigger was a round button on the lower rear of the weapon, in between the dual hand grips. The button was pressed into the weapon to fire. The grips themselves could be pivoted vertically upward against the weapon for storage, or adjusted horizontally to about 45o. [2] A flat radial projection came out from the lowest part of the trigger button, which could be turned like a knob to select the machine gun's fire mode: single shot, automatic, or safe mode.

The weapon was cocked by pressing down on a release lever, sliding the entire trigger housing forward, then jerking it back.[3]

AA 37t

A ZB-53 with the anti-air ring-style sights.

The ZB-53's rear sights were a standard adjustable type, but some models of the weapon featured ring-shaped anti-air sights, or telescopic ones.

The infantry version of the weapon was equipped with a tripod from one of several designs. These tripods could be adjusted by height to adapt to a prone, sitting, or standing position.


Three main variants of the machine gun exist.

  • Infantry Version: This standard version was equipped with a tripod and used by standard ground units.
  • Bunker Version: This version was designed for installation in fortification and case-mates. It had a heavier barrel and was marked with the letter "O" for "Opevnění", "fortification" or "bunker" in Czech.[4]
  • Vehicular Version: This variant was stripped down for installation in armored vehicles. It was marked with letters "ÚV" for "Útočnou Vozbu", meaning "tank equipment" in Czech.[5]

Other Versions

  • BESA Machine Gun: The BESA was a license-built copy of the ZB-53 produced in Great Britain for use in tanks. Eventually, the BESA was modified to fire 15mm rounds as opposed to the standard 7.92mm.


Romanian 37t

Romanian soldiers with a ZB-53

The ZB-53 was first produced in Czechoslovakia as a replacement for the old World War I-era Schwarzlose machine gun. It was developed and tested in 1936, and adopted by the Czech army in 1937. It was designated TK vz. 37 (short for "Těžký Kulomet verze 1937" or "Heavy Machinegun version 1937" in English) in Czechoslovakian service.

The weapon was exported into numerous countries, including Romania, China, Yugoslavia and a handful in the Middle East. The Chinese forces made ample use of the ZB-53 in the Second Sino-Japanese War.

In 1938, the ratification of the Munich Agreement meant that the Czech arsenal now belonged to Germany. Along with the famous re-designation of the LT-38 to Panzer 38(T), many other Czech vehicles and weapons were introduced into the Wehrmacht with the "(T)" suffix for "tschechisch" (German for: "Czech"). This included the TK vz. 37, which was now addressed as the MG 37(T).

The MG 37(T) saw some scarce combat use with German units, and was usually reserved for training purposes. It was used mostly on the 38(T) series of tanks, including the Marder III and Grille, in an anti-infantry role.

Soldiers of SS Kampfgruppe Nord training with an MG 37(T)

Czech bunkers that already had 37(T) machine guns installed were left intact and used by German forces.

Production of the MG 37(T) was slowed to a stop in 1942 when most factories began focusing on indigenous German designs like the MG 34 or the new MG 42. Another few batches were still manufactured for the Waffen-SS, who used the machine gun much more than the other branches of the German military.[6]

7th SS Volunteer Prinz Eugen Division troops with an MG 37(t)

Members of the 7th SS Volunteer Division Prinz Eugen fielding an MG 37(T).

Eventually the MG 37(T) was phased out of use in favor of modern weapons, and the tanks that bared it were phased out in favor of newer tanks.

Post-War, the ZB-53 was produced again by the now reinstated Czechoslovakia, and was used by the military into the early 1960s.


  3. Československá armáda, pilíř obranny státu z let 1932-1939

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