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Croatia’s Scramble for Weapons

Croatia’s Scramble for Weapons

After the Republic of Croatia declared independence from the Yugoslavian State on June 25th, 1991, they expected the same amount of resistance that Slovenia faced during their move for independence. Croatia, however, was severely under equipped to face such a force as the Yugoslavian People’s Army.

Croatia was sanctioned with an arms embargo which barred countries from selling weapons to them. This didn’t stop illegal arms deals from taking place. One firearm that saw plenty of action in both Croatia and Bosnia, which also faced an embargo, were the Romanian AK style rifles. This was the result of some sort of illegal or secret trade deal which many countries took place in. Bosnia, for example, used almost every AK variant available in the world at that time.

Though Croatia was able to get their hands on some weapons through illegal trades, there was a huge boom in local weapons manufacturing, particularly submachine guns due to their simple design. Yugoslavia, being a country that saw some Nazi occupation during World War II, was exposed to many submachine guns of that era. This inspired weapons made by Yugoslavia after the war, and weapons made by Croatia in 1991.

One example of a Croatian made submachine gun was the Pleter 91, inspired by the British Sten Gun of WWII, which Željko Starčević, an engineer, inherited from his grandfather. The firearm was built in a factory in Pleternica, hence the name, by a small team of engineers. Chambered in 9x19mm Parabellum, the firearm featured a basic open-bolt, blowback firing mechanism, which was a popular design dating back to 1918, when the first submachine gun was invented. There were about 4500 produced.

“There is nothing easier than making a machine gun because it takes one spring, half a kilogram of iron, a barrel and that’s it.” - Željko Starčević

Another example of a Croatian submachine gun was the Šokac-1. This firearm was loosely based on the Soviet PPSh-41, another WWII weapon, and designed by Alatnica Barović. This submachine gun also featured a simplistic action and was chambered in 9x19mm Parabellum. There were about 6830 produced.


While both the Pleter 91 and the Šokac-1 were successful and mass produced, many more weapons were designed across Croatia but never moved on from the prototype phase or very few were produced. This was either due to their reliability or issues with production and little information is available about them today. The following are the honorable attempts at arming Croatia.


The ALAR 91, also known as the Stipe Alar 91, was produced in a small workshop with the help of students from a nearby machining school. It was a mechanical copy of the German MP-40 and used its barrel, bolt, magazine and trigger assembly. Only a few were produced.


The Crogar M-91 was produced by S.K.M., a roofing and water pump company, which is still around today. The weapon seemed to resemble the Yugoslavian M56 and while only a few were produced, it was very popular.


The MP Jelen, which translates to ‘deer,’ was a direct copy of the Soviet PPSh-41, only it was cut down to be like a handgun. The firearm was difficult to use and only one example is known to exist today.


The MP Pauser was designed by Srečko Pauser and seemed to resemble the MP-40. It was rejected by the Croatian Department of Defense after a short production run.


The MP TEŽ was produced by the lightbulb factory, Tvornica Električnih Žarulja. It was an obvious copy of the Sten Gun but very crude. Only two were made and it was submitted for military trials but was then rejected.


The Vila Velebita M.P. 91 has very little information on it. It looks like a slightly modified copy of the MP-40 and few were made. It was used in some battles across Croatia and liked by its users. The first one made, with serial number 001, is in the Croatian Police Museum today.


Lastly, the Zagi M-91, made by LIKAWELD, was named after the squirrel mascot of the XIV Summer Universiade, which was held in Zagreb in 1987. Its action resembled the Sten Gun and was unreliable and of poor quality. Later, Bosnian forces copied and produced this weapon and called it the Bosnian Zagi.


The weapons listed above all had to be designed, manufactured and presented only to be rejected or cut short. This was a national effort of the Croatian people to design something which they thought would help defend their homeland. It was not a competition to win a military contract, instead, it was a rush to help their country as best as they could.


By Sanin McKee & Yu Antiques Team