WEAPONS FINNISH ARMY ALMOST HAD IN WORLD WAR 2, PART 1

 

Rifles and Machineguns

 

This is first page of the "Weapons That the Finnish Army almost had" section. The basic idea for this section is to showcase Finnish pre World War 2 and World War 2 era military weaponry, which for one reason or another never got to mass-production. Most of these weapons reached only prototype stage or at best got manufactured in small field test series. Often the reason was that their design proved less than successful for one reason or another. But they also included some inventions, which had enough potentitial that they might have entered mass-production and proved successful if the events of that would not have impeded it. Included are several weapon designs, whose production was cancelled when the war ended. Hence they often provide interesting material for what-if scenarios. The first two pages of this section concentrate to small arms, while the heavy weapon designs shall showcased in the last two pages.

When Finland gained independence year 1917 the newborn state did not have armaments industry of its own, so it is not really surprising that the beginning was slow. Aimo Lahti became the main Finnish designer for military small arms, whose inventions played key role in equipping Finnish military with small arms. In fact one could say that the development history of Finnish military small arms from 1920's to 1944 was pretty much history of his design work and which of his inventions got introduced to military use depended the apporoval or disapproval of Weapons Design Committee and Ordnance Department, which in some cases made decisions, which with hindsight can be considered questionable. While his first designs appeared already in 1920's Aimo Lahti did his best work in 1930's and due to personal tragedies his development work started going downhill during World War 2. During World War 2 the way the main manufacturing technique used by Finnish industry small arms was also rapidly becoming outdated - milling parts from steel was too slow and expensive making it ineffective manufacturing technique for small arms in wartime production. Maybe the best example to showcase this was development of submachine guns equipped with stamped receivers. German MP-40 had been introduced year 1940, the Soviets had introduced their PPsh-41 in year 1941, but first Finnish submachine gun m/44 were not delivered until year 1945. It is also worth nothing Finnish development work for military equipment did not reach its peak until late in the war - around 1943 - 1944. Hence much of its fruits did not appear until too late. These included easy to mass-produce submachine gun M/44, assault-rifle like AL-43 and 7.62-mm version of MG 42 general purpose machinegun redesigned to use Finnish Army. In addition to these some 4,000 captured Soviet submachineguns were to be modified to 9-mm x 19 Parabellum/Luger calibre and also thousands of captured Tokarev rifles were warehoused expecting repairs and reissuing back to troops. If implemented all these projects they would have made large impact to firepower of Finnish infantry, which at that time was still mainly using bolt-action rifles as individual weapons and relied heavy-weight Maxim machineguns as their machineguns.

Once the Finnish - Soviet Continuation War ended to armistice treaty in September of 1944 all the previously sent orders of armaments, which had not yet entered production, were reconsidered and practically all of them got cancelled. Only very few of the most successful development projects remained active and even fewer remained to be manufactured. On the other hand Finnish industry faced also other problems: Tikkakoski factory (manufacturer of famous Suomi M/31 submachine gun) had been in German ownership and due to terms of armistice treaty it was now moved to Soviet ownership (along all other German owned property on Finnish soil). The new owner of Tikkakoski obviously had no intention of continuing manufacturing of weapons for the recent enemy. However this factory was not the only one impacted by Soviet demands and soon the whole Finnish armaments industry would notice it. Year 1945 Allied Control Commission (lead by the Soviets) ordered all weapons manufacturing to be stopped and banned even repairing of existing military weapons. Not that Finnish industry would have had much free capacity for continuing weapons production either - all possible existing production capacity of metal industry was desperately needed for manufacturing products, which had to be delivered to Soviet Union as war reparations. Tikkakoski factory started manufacturing sewing machines among other things. VKT (State Rifle Factory) was renamed as Valmet Tourula Factories and converted its production to various kinds of machinery. Also as part of Soviet demands Aimo Lahti lost his work and was banned from even visiting his former workplace. He also had to endure threats made by the Soviet representatives of Allied Control Commission. Year 1947 he was transferred to early retirement and was denied passport, so he could not even continue his career abroad. Also other Finnish officers who had taken part in developing weaponry had to face aggressive interrogations of Allied Control Commission. Soviet officers belonging to the Commission demanded to see everything that the Finns had developed and sent blueprints of the best Finnish inventions to Soviet Union. Needless to say Finland did not get any compensation for this one-sided exportation of technology.

Shortly said there is very little reason to doubt that the Soviets in Allied Control Commission did their best to end Finnish weapons development once and for all - and they achieved partial success in this. Paris peace treaty signed 1947 verified the Soviet goals by banning Finland from having armaments industry larger than what was needed for Armed Forces, whose size had been limited in that same treaty. The peace treaty limited size of Finnish Armed Forces to 41,900 men while Finnish Army still had its wartime weapons storaged - enough for arming Armed Forces of several hundred thousand men. Armistice and peace treaties did not have anything for this sort of scenario in which number of existing military weapons exceeded the level of existing troops in such a large margin. Hence this situation basically would have given the Soviets a possibility to halt Finnish armaments development for decades if they would have preferred so. In the worst scenario it would have allowed the Soviets to interpret the situation in such manner that all excess weapons would have needed to be destroyed or acquiring of new more modern weapons would have not been allowed due to this massive existing stockpile. The situation was delicate, since the Soviet view on the matter was not known and publicly asking it might have resulted a disaster. Due to their declaration of War in 1941 the British were the other nationality taking part in Allied Control Commission and early on they could not have been less interested about the whole matter. Irony is that starting of Cold War proved to be Finnish salvation in this regard because the changed the whole situation. Treaty of friendship, co-operation and mutual assistance (YYA-treaty) was originally basically Soviet demand for forming military allience, but the Finns succeeded watering it down significantly in negotiations before it was signed year 1947. Still, according western view this treaty made Finland potential Soviet ally, which sparked the British interest concerning weaponry of Finnish Armed Forces, which had remained warehoused since year 1945. The British demands concerning limiting Finnish weaponry according Paris peace treaty succeeded insulting the Soviets and got them considering if disarming their new potential ally was to their own best interests. The situation remained as it was, until year 1952 the Finns contacted the Soviets, which now proved quite willing to accept peace treaty interpretation, that allowed peace-time warehousing for equipping large Finnish reserves in case of war and allowed also re-starting Finnish development and manufacturing of military weapons.

 

Finnish semi-automatic rifle prototypes:

The whole story of these weapons in Finland started from problems faced with infantry rifle M/27. Once Finnish military had noticed the problems caused by weaknesses of the design and poor quality of materials a committee was established to evaluate the problems and make necessary recommendations for rectifying them. Year 1934 this committee aptly named as Rifle 91/27 Committee suggested developing of semi-automatic rifle for military use. It was easy to see that semi-automatic rifled would have considerably improved firepower of Finnish infantry, buy where to find a suitable rifle design?

Prototype L-36:

PICTURE: Drawing showing L-36 automatic rifle prototype. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (27 KB).

Calibre:

7,62 mm x 54 R

Length:

1130 mm

Barrel length:

540 mm

Weight:

About 5 kg

Magazine:

5, non-removable

Country of origin:

Finland

Production status:

Prototype made 1936

At the time Aimo Lahti was the main designer of small arms for Finnish military - and one of his kind, so for obvious reasons he got the tasked to develop this semi-automatic rifle. The official order for this was made in October of 1934 and it took until autumn of 1936 before the first prototype was completed. The way Lahti's designs were usually named, this first prototype was named as L-36. Finnish military proved less than enthusiastic when it came to this prototype - and for a good reason. With benefit of hindsight it is easy to see that the basic concept was well chosen - gas-action rifle with gas-piston. But unfortunately otherwise was rifle was far from practical military weapon. The biggest handicap was magazine, for which Lahti for some weird reason had selected Mannlicher-like design. In other words: The magazine was fixed (non-removable) and it was reloaded with cartridge clips, which were integral part of the magazine, which did not work without them. Somebody might claim that this not such a serious handicap - especially considering that American Garand M1 rifle had also rather similar kind of magazine arrangement and had no real issues. But unfortunately magazine used in automatic rifle L-36 had some notable differences to one used in Garand M1. For one thing the magazine capacity of L-36 was just 5 rounds. Even more serious problem was that it could not be loaded from the top, but instead Lahti had included front part of the magazine a hinge and switch for opening up the magazine for reloading. So, for reloading the soldier was supposed to turn the rifle upside down, open up the magazine, insert cartridge clip of 5 rounds, close magazine cover and arm the rifle by pulling back the lever on top of the rifle - not exactly easy or fast in middle of firefight. The T-shape lever used to arm the rifle was another problem - for some reason Lahti had located it on top of the rifle and made it awkward shape. The rifle also weight about 5 kg, although this might have not been too much of a problem if the rifle would have otherwise been practical and suitable for combat use. Unfortunately L-36 was neither and if compared to its obvious what-if contemporary rival, Soviet AVS-36 select-fire rifle (which weight 4.3-kg and had normal 15-round removable box magazine), it obviously loses on paper. L-36 prototype was not all bad - at least it seems to have been relatively easy to disassemble for basic maintenance. The whole rifle broke to two main parts, one of which contained lower receiver while the another one had upper receiver - and these two parts were locked to each other with single locking pin. Shortly said semi-automatic rifle L-36 was a far cry from effective combat weapon and the design had some serious weaknesses, which were so obvious that the weapon was not apparently even seriously tested. Other factors for this might have been estimated large manufacturing cost for which there was not funding available, lack of possible manufacturing capacity and the distrust towards gas-action weapons that seems to have been still pretty common among senior Finnish officers at the time.

Aimo Lahti's L-39 prototype and SVT-based designs:

Year 1939 Finnish military looked back to the almost forgotten automatic rifle project - and this time also funding needed for the matter would have been available. Aimo Lahti started developing improved rifle design based to his earlier L-36 prototype. The main improvement was replacing the old T-shaped arming lever with more typical kind of rifle bolt handle design, but also sights and bolt mechanism were improved. However it retained the inconvenient Mannlicher-type 5 round magazine. This improved automatic rifle named L-39 never got the possibility of success either. This was due to Finnish - Soviet Winter War, which started in November of 1939. With the war the rather limited Finnish armaments industry had its hands full and had no capacity needed of introducing new automatic rifle to production. Only one prototype of L-39 automatic rifle was ever manufactured. When Winter War ended March of 1940 Finnish military had chance of evaluating the recent experiences - and these did not look favourable to self-loading rifles. For one thing Suomi M/31 submachineguns had proved remarkably useful and effective, so this submachine gun appeared to be very good alternative for automatic rifles. Finnish troops had also captured thousands of Soviet AVS-36 and SVT-38 during Winter War, which covered immediate need for getting more automatic rifles. During interim peace 1940 - 1941 Finnish military tested these two captured automatic rifle models and decided to concentrate SVT-38 design, due to its better reliability and suitability to military use.

More information about tests of SVT-38 made in Sako factory in 1940. These tests made by Sako resulted also development of their owned improved prototype (named TaPaKo after its main designers) - more information about this prototype. Starting of Continuation War stopped development of Finnish SVT-based automatic rifles for duration of the war. This development work did not continue until year 1955. Between 1955 - 1957 both Sako and Valmet (previous VKT) designed new prototypes. Sako prototype was known as m/56, while Valmet prototypes were named koe 56/1 (experiment 56/1) and koe 56/26 (experiment 56/2). None of these three prototypes were officially approved. Soon after this Finnish military turned its attention to assault rifles and lost interest to automatic rifles. Due to this all these automatic rifle development projects ended by year 1958. Ultimately Finnish Armed Forces ended up going directly from bolt-action rifles and Suomi m/31 submachineguns to AK-47 and RK 60/62 assault rifles - without battle rifle type rifle in between the two.

Carl Pelo and his automatic rifle prototypes:

PICTURE: Drawing showing one of Carl Pelo's automatic rifle prototypes. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (26 KB).

Captain Carl Pelo was a Finn, who made short career in Finnish military before resigning from active duty in mid 1920's and becoming engineer. After this he did career in industry (acting among other things as technical manager of Sako factory in early 1930's). While he lacked official status, he had passion for developing small arms for Finnish Army. Unfortunately this passion also presented itself in his behaviour in such ways, which did not exactly help him getting in good graces of (Defence Ministry / Finnish Armed Forces) Ordnance Department, which was responsible for developing and introduction of small arms to military use. Instead of contacting lowly officers of Ordnance Department as person in his situation should have, he preferred directly contacting Marshal Mannerheim or Commander of Finnish Army - even if the ordnance matters of this sort did not really belong to them, thus repeatedly completely disregarding the chain of command. He also repeatedly claimed that some of the weapons (such as Lahti-Saloranta M/26 light machinegun) approved by Finnish Army were based to his inventions, but lost all resulting lawsuits against Ordnance Department concerning the matter. Due to these reasons his relationship with Ordnance Department was downright poor and may at least partially explain, why he never succeeded getting any of his small arms designs approved for use of Finnish military.

Pelo demonstrated his first semi-automatic rifle prototype already year 1933 by organising a grandiose test-firing event, to which he had invited no less than President of the Republic Svinhufvud, Marshal Mannerheim, Minister of Defence Arvi Oksala and some of the leading generals of Finnish Armed Forces. Pelo had privately ordered the manufacturing of his prototype from Sako, where he was working as technical manager at the time. The prototype presumably used long barrel recoil and it had been chambered to German 7.92 mm x 57 JS ammunition. The self-loading rifle designs that Pelo developed in 1930's and early 1940's seem all have been semiautomatic weapons, which were based to short barrel recoil and had rather small (5 round?) integral magazines. His prototypes were typically chambered to 7.92 mm x 57 JS or 6.5 mm x 55 calibre and since most of his prototypes were manufactured in Sweden they had certain parts (stock rings, trigger guards, bayonet attachments, shape of rifle stock), that either resembled the ones used in German and Swedish Mauser rifles or were recycled from them. Besides two exceptions all other automatic rifle prototypes that Pelo offered to Finnish military seem to have been privately manufactured for him. These two exceptions were two prototypes, which Ordnance Department ordered from VKT (Valtion Kivääritehdas = State Rifle Factory) year 1941. Back then Finnish Army was testing semi-automatic rifles and Pelo had promised 7.62 mm x 54R calibre prototype of his rifle manufactured in Sweden for these tests already in January, but had failed to deliver them. Those two VKT-manufactured prototypes were tested in May of 1941 and further testing was intended, but ultimately decision was made to favour SVT-38 based prototypes. Pelo offered his last automatic rifle prototype manufactured in Sako to Finnish Armed Forces in year 1954, but also this rifle failed in comparison tests against Tokarev SVT-based designs held in spring of that year.

Carl Pelo tried selling his automatic rifle designs also in Sweden and Norway and moved to Sweden before World War 2. Year 1940 he offered his weapon designs to Swedish (Eskilstuna) and Norwegian (Kongsberg) factories, but without success. When Swedish Armed Forces tested semi-automatic rifles year 1941 also his prototypes were among those tested, but lost to Ljungman design, which became automatgevär m/42 (automatic rifle m/42) of Swedish Army. In these Swedish tests the main handicap of Pelo's design seem to have been manufacturing costs, which were considered too high.

 

Machineguns:

Heavy submachinegun AL-43:

PICTURE: AL-43 prototype. Notice how certain parts of the weapon resemble Suomi M/31 submachinegun, which was one of Aimo Lahti's earlier designs. This particular weapon is missing its bipod. Drum magazine used in AL-43 was based to design earlier used in Thomson submachine guns. (Photo taken in Sotamuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (62 KB).

Calibre:

7,62 mm and 9 mm tested (*)

Length:

990 mm

Barrel length:

?

Weight:

5,6 kg

Fire-rate:

about 800/minute

Magazine:

56-round drum magazine

Magazine weight:

2,4 kg fully loaded / 1,3 kg empty

Country of origin:

Finland

Production status:

prototypes 1943 - 1944

Finnish use: Never issued to military use and no mass-production either. This was private venture of Aimo Lahti, which some privately owned factories might have started manufacturing if Continuation War had kept going longer. Only some prototypes made 1943 - 1944.

By definition assault rifle is carbine-size weapon capable select fire (both full- and semiautomatic fire) that uses intermediate cartridge and removable magazines. Finnish authorities received information from several sources concerning German development of first assault rifle like weapons plus the new intermediate cartridge (7.92 mm x 33) around 1942 - 1943. Finnish military did not get interested about the development at that time, but leading Finnish small arms designer Aimo Lahti did. That same year he (on his own accord) started planning a new weapon that used intermediate cartridges of his own design. The first cartridge he designed for this development was 9 mm x 35 and a small amount of ammunition in this calibre was manufactured. The weapon itself was a development based to his most famous design - Suomi M/31 submachinegun. However particularly the weapons bolt mechanism and magazines had to be totally re-designed for this use. While Suomi M/31 was pure blowback recoil-action weapon, while AL-43 used delayed recoil action. The weapon was select-fire - in other words capable both to full automatic and semiautomatic fire. Magazine used with it was development based to drum magazines used in Thompson submachinegun. Bolt action used in AL-43 was such that in recoil only bolt's front-part moves first and other moving parts of the bolt would join it later. This was necessary as like all intermediate cartridges 9 mm x 35 was much more powerful than pistol cartridges (such as 9 mm x 19 Parabellum/Luger), for which M/31 submachinegun had been designed. Selector switch was set to right side of weapon. The resulting weapon weight over 5 kg, so including also bipod to the design made sense. While this weapon that Aimo Lahti designed in year 1943 fits to category of assault rifle, its uncertain if he actually intended to be used it as such. The weapon had many names, Lahti called in first "light machinegun m/AL-43", but later also terms "submachine gun – light machinegun" and "general weapon of infantry" got used with it.

This Lahti's private project and the rigid attitudes among VKT (Valtion Kivääritehdas = State Rifle Factory, the place where Lahti worked developing new weapons for Finnish Military) leadership lead the situation in brink of rift between the two parties involved in December of 1943. Finnish Army Ordnance Department had little interest when it came to AL-43 and VKT was focused in completing already existing orders and repairs of existing weaponry. Hence VKT had no free manufacturing capacity for new weapons - much less for one, which had not been even officially ordered. Lahti had used VKT's resources for getting blueprints and having first prototype manufactured. So, when Lahti went asking a private patent, that would have allowed him to sell the production rights to any domestic manufacturer, which made manager (J. Valjakka) of VKT seriously unhappy. Comments about Lahti spending company time for this privately project of his and misusing VKT resources (including company car) were also raised. Luckily Lahti had good connections to high-ranking officials and thanks to them the things calmed down.

Finnish Armed Forces considered AL-43 already in December of 1943, but adding a new ammunition type for small arms to those already used by infantry was considered unwise at that point (in middle of war). The final unfavourable decision was made by Weapons-HQ of Finnish Army HQ Commander Major General V. Svanström. Even if Army rejected AL-43, Aimo Lahti had no such intention - instead he started looking alternative manufacturer(s) outside the established Finnish small arms manufacturers. He made a deal with Oy Partaterä (Ltd Razor), which started preparing manufacturing of AL-43, which by now had been named as light machinegun 43/L.

Also new intermediate 9 mm x 35 ammunition, which AL-43 used, was tested against existing service ammunition. 13th of October 1943 Malmi bullet penetration was tested in Malmi (Helsinki) by shooting targets made from pine planks. Results showed that from shooting distance of 150 meters the tested weapons on average penetrated:

  • Infantry rifle M/91 (7.62 mm x 54 R) penetrated 15.8-inch of pine planks.
  • Suomi M/31 (9 mm x 19) penetrated 5.2-inch of pine planks.
  • AL-43 (9 mm x 35) penetrated 10.7-inch of pine planks.
  • Source: Original test report. Finnish Military Archives folder T-19053/8. Note: The targets were 120 cm x 120 cm in size, made from fresh pine planks, which had one inch airspace between layers of plank. The average penetration of 9 mm x 35 calibre AL-43 from 100 meters proved to be 13.2 inches and from 300 meters 5.5 inches.

    Year 1944 either Oy Partaterä (Ltd Razor) or Oy Sytytin (Ltd Fuse) manufactured some prototypes of AL-43 for testing, while Oy Ammus (Ltd Ammunition) prepared tools for manufacturing of 56 round magazines for it. All of these three companies were linked to Rafael "Rafu" Lönnstöm, Finnish industrialist who had set up several small factories, which manufactured metal products - many of them ordnance materials. All AL-43 prototypes manufactured at this time seem have been chambered for 9 mm x 35 cartridge, but this was not the only cartridge alternative being considered for this weapon.

    Around this time Lahti planned also version of AL-43 in chambered for new 7,62 mm x 35 cartridge and some of the earlier made prototypes were converted to this calibre. He continued developing magazine of the weapon producing blueprints for 60 and 70 round magazines. Testing of prototypes continued during the first months of 1944 and mass production was being planned, but ending of Continuation War stopped the project. Once Allied Control Commission had arrived to Finland its leader Andrei Zdanov demanded Lahti to meet him and in this meeting demanded Lahti to hand over all the plans of weapons that he had been planning. Lahti delivered Zdanov blueprints of L-41 general purpose machinegun, but did not reveal existence of AL-43 project. Possibly due to unofficial nature of AL-43 project the Soviets do not seem to have known about it. When Lahti was forced to retirement due to Soviet pressure, this project became basically dead and buried. By late 1950' he developed own his own a further gas-action development based to AL-43 - this gas-action assault rifle development was known as L-51. It remains uncertain if any prototype of L-51 was ever manufactured, but most likely it only ever existed in form of blueprints. Lahti also developed two new intermediate experimental cartridges for L-51: 7.62 mm x 41 and 9 mm x 41. He also ordered small number of these experimental cartridges from Lapua cartridge factory at that time. Finnish Defence Forces Ordnance Department considered L-51 and this new experimental ammunition for possible military use year 1951, but at that time Aimo Lahti was too much ahead of his time for Finnish military, which at the time still considered intermediate cartridge as a passing phenomena. Hence Finnish military decided not to spent any resources for this ammunition or L-51, which ended their development.

    However Aimo Lahti was not only Finn, who became interested the concept of medium cartridge and assault rifle already during World War 2. Also his close colleague inspector Erkki Lilja started developing assault-rifle like weapon in year 1943 and built his own prototype in VKT at that time. Just like Lahti he had no official order of any sort for this. Lilja decided to chamber his weapon for intermediate 9-mm cartridge (9 mm x 40) of his own design. This cartridge looks basically like lengthened version of 9 mm x 19 Parabellum/Luger cartridge. Unfortunately this rifle prototype of his remained incomplete until 1970’s, at which time he completed building the rifle prototype before retiring. During this the weapon went through some modifications which changed its stock and whole appearance considerably. Hence due to these modifications it is quite impossible to determine how much of this weapon originates from World War 2 era and how much is from 1970's.

    When it came to assault rifles and intermediate cartridges the situation have really changed since days of AL-43. Finnish military finally realised the benefits of assault rifle and intermediate cartridge around 1956 - 1957. AK-47 become first assault rifle in use of Finnish army in late 1950’s. Production of Finnish domestic assault rifles RK 60 and RK 62 based to AK-47 design begun in early 1960's. Nowadays assault rifle is the standard personal weapon issued to all Finnish soldiers from private to general. Today Finnish Defence Forces use mainly domestic assault rifles 7,62 RK 62 (7.62-mm assault rifle model 1962) and 7,62 RK 95 (7.62-mm assault rifle model 1995). In addition of these Finnish military acquired 100,000 ex East-German AKM-based assault rifles and similar amount of Chinese Type 56-2 assault rifles in 1990's. Finnish standard cartridge for assault rifles is 7.62 mm x 39, which was selected as such originally along AK-47 in late 1950's.

    Cartridges of AL-43:

    Intermediate cartridges used with AL-43 were designs planned by Aimo Lahti in 1943 - 1944. While the inspiration naturally came from German 7.92 mm x 33 cartridge, these were more than just variations of German cartridge adapted to Finnish standard rifle bullet calibre (7.62-mm as used in 7.62 mm x 54R). Lahti developed two cartridges for this new weapon - first 9 mm x 35 and later 7.62 mm x 35. Both of these cartridges had bottleneck shaped cartridge cases manufactured from shortened cartridge case of 6.5 mm x 55 Swedish (manufactured by VPT in Finland during World War 2) cartridge. As mentioned Lahti developed 9 mm x 35 cartridge in 1943 while 7.62 mm x 35 was developed in 1944. If AL-43 had reached mass-production there is good reason to believe that 7.62 mm x 35 would have been the cartridge of choice. This cartridge might likely have used VPT-designed S-288 bullet.

    Bullets used in Finnish 7.62-mm intermediate cartridges were spitzer-type with full metal jacket (FMJ), while bullets used in 9-mm cartridges were round-nose with full metal jacket (FMJ). Just like with AL-43 there was no official interest or resources available for manufacturing or adapting new intermediate cartridge for military use either. Lahti ended up privately ordering the prototype cartridges needed for tests from VPT (Valtion Patruunatehdas = State Cartridge Factory) and paying them from his own pocket.

    Finnish intermediate cartridges:

    Cartridge:

    Bullet diameter:

    Cartridge

    Cartridge

    Bullet type

    Muzzle

    Length:

    case length:

    and size:

    velocity:

    - For AL-43:

    7.62 mm x 35

    7.83 - 7.87 mm (*)

    50 mm

    34.8 mm

    8 g / 123 gr FMJ

    670 m/sec

    9 mm x 35

    9.00 mm

    46 mm

    34.9 mm

    8 g / 123 gr FMJ

    700 m/sec

    - For L-51:

    7.62 mm x 41

    7.83 mm

    55 mm

    41 mm

    8 g/ 123 gr FMJ

    810 m/sec

    9.00 mm x 41

    9.00 mm

    50 mm

    40.9 mm

    8 g/ 123 gr FMJ

    700 m/sec

    - For comparison:

    7.92 mm x 33

    7.92 mm

    48 mm

    33 mm

    8.1 g / 125 gr FMJ

    685 m/sec

    7.62 mm x 39

    7.85 - 7.90 mm

    56 mm

    38.1 mm

    8 g / 123 gr FMJ

    710 m/sec

    (*) Varies depending source.

    Sources for this table: Article: Aimo Lahden Lyhyet… and Suomalaiset sotilaspatruunat…

    Often with military weapon prototypes the most interesting question is how much potential did they have and how large was their impact to history. In the end AL-43 proved to have basically no effect and so did the intermediate cartridges tested with it. Neither of these effected when and how Finnish military finally adopted assault rifle. In a sense AL-43 was a fall-between of assault rifle and light machinegun, but it did not seem to make any impact in Finnish future decisions concerning light machineguns either. If considered as assault rifle AL-43 was very much crude design - the whole weapon weight too much to be truly convenient personal weapon for infantry soldiers and the large drum magazines were old-fashioned, too large and heavy to be practical. The weapon might have been poor assault rifle, but rather ironically it might have had makings of useful light machinegun and this may have been use Lahti originally envisioned it for. By standards of Second World War AL-43 light machineguns would have still been light weight and the large drum magazines would have fit well to this kind of role. After all most common Finnish used light machineguns Lahti-Saloranta M/26 and Degtjarev M/27 both weight over 9 kg and had magazines of only 20 and 47 rounds. Thanks to intermediate cartridge it likely would have also been quite controllable even when in full-auto mode. When considering needs of Finnish Army (which largely relied to light infantry) during World War 2 the lighter than usual version of light machinegun would have certainly made sense.

     

    7,62 mm light machinegun L-34 "Sampo":

    PICTURE: Drawing showing L-34 light machinegun prototype. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (34 KB).

    Calibre:

    7,62 mm x 54 R

    Length:

    1185 mm

    Barrel length:

    575 mm

    Weight:

    8,1 kg

    Fire-rate:

    600 - 800/minute

    Magazines:

    20-round box magazine and 30-round drum magazine for infantry version, 75-round pan magazine for anti-aircraft version.

    Magazine weight:

    ?

    Country of origin:

    Finland

    Production status:

    Prototypes 1934 - 1935

    Finnish use: Never issued to military use or mass-produced either. Gas-action light machinegun designed by Aimo Lahti for Finnish military. Very promising design, which did not get beyond prototype-stage.

    Weapons Design Committee, which controlled which weapons designs got accepted to use of Finnish Armed Forces at 1930’s simply hated gas-system weapons and were unwilling to accept any. Roots for this prejustice may lie in early Finnish military tests of light machineguns, in which two gas-action weapons (Vickers-Berthier and Colt-Browning) received a lot of minus points for their unreliability. What makes situation interesting however is the fact, that some members of the commission have been suspected possessing personal motives of rather questinable nature in this matter. Memoirs of Aimo Lahti suggest that he suspected some members of particular Committee to have private interests of financial nature when it came to this process of machinegun testing.

    Lahti personally supported gas-action weapons and managed to get a tough deal (more like a bet) with Minister of Defence Arvi Oksala. Lahti had made the hard claim that he could develop a gas-action light machinegun, which would cost little as half of the price of Lahti-Saloranta M/26 and would also be about 40% lighter. Oksala promised 25,000 Finnish marks and a month to Lahti for designing of gas-action light machinegun. The sum of money provided proved to be too little to cover the expenses. But luckily VKT, where Lahti worked, paid the rest and one month proved to long enough for him. The new light machinegun that he came up had bolt system similar to his earlier machinegunner’s machinegun for aircraft use. However unlike machinegunner's machineguns it had also gas-regulator, which allowed adjusting rate of fire. The new L-34 was clearly superior to Lahti-Saloranta M/26 light machinegun, which had entered to mass-production for Finnish military only few years earlier - It was notably lighter, much simpler (only 58 parts compared 118 of Lahti-Saloranta) and cheaper to manufacture. In addition also replacing of its barrel was faster and easier than with Lahti-Saloranta. Estimated production cost for L-34 run around 4,500 FIM (Finnish marks), while per unit cost manufacturing cost for Lahti-Saloranta M/26 was about 10,000 FIM. Whole structural design of this new light machinegun was very simple and reliable. The magazines intended for infantry version were 20-round box magazine and 30-round drum magazine. Reliability-wise L-34 excelled in all tests. During cold-weather testing this machinegun was tested by firing 6,000 rounds as fast as technically possible - the weapon passed the test with flying colours, even the gun barrel did not heat so much, that it would have required to be changed. In warm weather its gun barrel needed to be changed about as frequently as the gun barrel of Lahti-Saloranta. It also showed superior shooting accuracy compared to Lahti-Saloranta M/26 - the size of impact area of its bullets on target proved to be only about half of its competitor. In constant fire durability test (used to test how many shots can be fired before something in the weapon breaks) L-34 light machinegun prototype fired some 34,000 rounds before first problem - which was only a broken extractor. Simply said L-34 had all makings to be one of the best light machineguns available at that time. When equipped with 75-round pan magazines (designed for the version intended mainly as anti-aircraft weapon) it would have also been firepower-wise serious competitor to even best existing light machineguns of the era. End of year 1934 Defence Ministry Ordnance Department was planning of replacing Lahti-Saloranta in production with L-34.

    PICTURE: One of the L-34 light machinegun prototypes minus magazine and bipod. (Photo taken in Metsästysmuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (60 KB).

    That was when leading generals of Finnish Army hit back. Inspector of Infantry General-Major A. S. Heikinheimo made clear that new light machinegun design would not be improvement large enough for Army unless it was belt- of strip-fed. According his own words if the weapon would have been belt- or strip-fed, he would have ordered few dozen immediately. His idea of strip-fed light machinegun was clearly outdated, but the one about belt-fed hit spot in estimating the future development of light machineguns. However, due to this Lahti-Saloranta M/26 remained in production - the last production series of Lahti-Saloranta M/26 was manufactured as late as year 1942. At the same time it also basically ended whole light machinegun L-34 project. Admitted production and training of Finnish military had just been organised for Lahti-Saloranta M/26 and adding a new light machinegun model would have demanded much more work with training and spare-part supply. The manufacturer, which Ministy of Defence had been intending for this weapon was also unusual to say the least - Konepaja (Engineering Works) of Saastamoinen Oy in Kuopio had no previous experience when it came to manufacturing firearms or even their parts and no production capacity for the intended 10,000 - 15,000 weapons. Aimo Lahti seems to have personally suspected that certain high ranking officers and officials had their financial interests involving the matter and these interests effected the matter from the start.

    Still, my opinion is that L-34 for not being accepted to use of Finnish Armed Forces or not even being accepted to further development remains as one of the largest mistakes ever made by Finnish Armed Forces ordnance administration. Considering the rather poor reputation concerning reliability (or lack there of) that Lahti-Saloranta M/26 gained during World War 2 and its other limitations (weight, magazine capacity) L-34 light machinegun would have almost certainly been a much better weapon. Only two prototypes of L-34 were manufactured for Finnish military (both of them in year 1934). In addition to these two VKT manufactured four prototypes for foreign tests (and possible export deals, which they might produce) in 1934 - 1935. These export prototypes were sent to Brazil, Great Britain, Persia, Sweden and Turkey. However no export deals succeeded.

    Around 1954 – 1955 Finnish Defence Forces decided to test if L-34 would still be useful. It was tested against Soviet Degtjarev M/27 and Lahti-Saloranta M/26 with very good results. However, too much time had passed. Pre World War 2 design such as L-34 light machinegun had little chance to effectively compete against new belt-fed general purpose machineguns and light machineguns. The work name of this light machinegun was "Sampo", name of mythic piece of machinery offering prosperity and might to its owner in Finnish national epic Kalevala. Aimo Lahti liked this work name so much that he later used it also with his belt-fed general purpose machinegun L-41, which he developed during World War 2. Two prototypes of L-34/38 were manufactured in year 1938, this was a 7.92 mm x 57 JS caliber export version of L-34 light machinegun. Since L-34/38 failed getting any export orders, only those two prototypes were ever manufactured.

     

    Light machinegun prototypes of Carl Pelo:

    PICTURE: Drawing showing earliest of Pelo's light machinegun prototypes. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (140 KB).

    Calibre:

    7,62 mm x 54 R / 6.5 mm x 55 (P-28)

    Length:

    1140 mm (year 1925) / 1105 mm (P-28)

    Barrel length:

    555 mm (year 1925) / 550 mm (P-28)

    Weight:

    7,6 kg (year 1925) / 7,0 kg (P-28)

    Fire rate:

    ?

    Magazines:

    ?

    Magazine weight:

    ?

    Country of origin:

    Finland

    Production status:

    Prototypes 1925 and 1926 - 1928

    Finnish use: Never issued to military use or mass-production either. In 1920's Carl Pelo designed several light machinegun prototypes, which he sold to Finnish Army. But these did not prove good enough to get official approval.

    As mentioned Carl Pelo was Finnish engineer with military background and interested developing automatic weapons to Finnish military. What he lacked in official approval he make up with determination and "panache". Pelo offered Finnish military light machinegun of his own design first time already in year 1925. March of that year Defence Ministry Ordnance Department bought two prototypes to him and these were delivered next autumn. These two prototypes were obviously heavily based to Madsen light machinegun and were similarly based to short-barrel recoil principle. While Finnish Army selected Lahti-Saloranta M/26 as its new standard light machinegun in year 1926, this did not stop Pelo from trying to sell his light machinegun designs. Around 1926 - 1928 he designed new version and privately got two prototypes made. Year 1928 he offered these two prototypes to Finnish Army and apparently succeeded selling them. One of these two was chambered for 7.62 mm x 54R cartridge and the other (marked as P-28) for Swedish 6.5 mm x 55. Like the earlier prototypes also these were based to Madsen, but he had introduced few new modifications and succeeded reducing size of the receiver and mechanism inside it. Pelo ordered yet another prototype around year 1929, but the weapon ended up as property of the short-lived Suomen Asetehdas (Finnish Weapons Factory) he had ordered it and seemingly was never offered to Finnish military. This last prototype was in 7.62 mm x 54R calibre and obviously based to earlier P-28 prototype, but it had few quite important new features such as pistol grip and return spring added below barrel.

    How much potential did Pelo's light machineguns have? The first prototypes that Pelo delivered in year 1925 were too heavily based to Madsen light machinegun. Madsen design was both very expensive to manufacture (original Madsen light machinegun cost about 2,500 FIM (Finnish Marks) compared to 1,000 FIM of Lahti-Saloranta M/26) and the design was already starting to look old-fashioned at the time. The later designs may have had bit more potential, but their timing was so unfortunate (with Lahti-Saloranta already officially approved and even building of State Rifle Factory created for manufacturing the machinegun-design had already been started) that they did not stand a chance of getting approved.

     

    7,62 mm general purpose machinegun L-41 "Sampo":

    PICTURE: L-41 "Sampo" general purpose machinegun belonging to field test series. The tripod of this machinegun model was designed specifically for it. Next to the weapon in the floor is opened spare barrel container, inside which are two spare barrels. (Photo taken in Sotamuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (140 KB).

    Calibre:

    7,62 mm x 54 R

    Length:

    1325 mm (early versions) / 1180 mm (late versions)

    Barrel length:

    605 mm (early versions) / 500 mm (late versions)

    Weight:

    14,9 kg

    Fire-rate:

    600 - 1000/minute (adjustable)

    Ammunition belt:

    200-round continuous metal belt m/32, weight 2,6 kg fully loaded and 1,3 kg empty

    Mount:

    Tripod, weight 16 kg

    Country of origin:

    Finland

    Production status:

    Prototypes 1940 - 1942

    Field test series of 30 weapons issued to frontline troops September of 1942, these remained in frontline use until September of 1944.

    Finnish use: Never issued to military use in large scale and no mass-production either. Prototypes were manufactured in 1940 - 1942 and small series issued for field tests to frontline infantry units in year 1942. Weapons belonging to test series remained in combat use in the units that they had been issued until end of Continuation War.

    By World War 2 also Finnish military had came to conclusion that the Maxim machineguns were both very heavy and structurally complicated. The heavy weight made using them in mobile operations difficult, as they were slow to move while the structural complicity increased their unreliability and made them more difficult to use. The machinegun that Aimo Lahti designed to replace old Maxim machineguns was L-41 "Sampo". Roots of this weapon were in gas-action L-34 light machinegun (also called with the same nickname "Sampo"). Lahti had planned it already as general-purpose machinegun of sort - he had designed it suitable both as light machinegun for infantry and machinegunners machinegun for various aircraft. But since Finnish Army turned down L-34 light machinegun and requested belt-fed general-purpose machinegun (instead of magazine fed L-34) - that was what Lahti started to develop. This is visible in L-41 as it has similar bolt system that he had already used in L-34 light machinegun. He also did most of the planning for L-41 already at 1938, but getting the design to prototype-stage took time. Possibly the largest reason for this delay was related to ammunition that Finnish military was suing - designing reliable and belt-fed weapon that uses rimmed ammunition (such as 7.62 mm x 54R used by Finnish military) while keeping the weight reasonable is much more difficult than with weapons using non-rimmed ammunition. The feeding process for rimmed ammunition tends to be more complicated than for non-rimmed. Basically this is because rimmed ammunition usually needs to be first pulled off from belt before it can be fed to cartridge chamber while non-rimmed ammunition can be fed to cartridge chamber directly from ammunition belt.

    First prototype of belt-fed Sampo was finished and tested in year 1940. This first prototype version was not really general purpose machinegun but medium machinegun. It had so-called shovel-grip handle (used in Maxim and Vickers) and used tripod recycled from old Vickers machinegun. However the later version of this prototype had rifle-butt like butt, pistol grip and new tripod designed specially for the weapon. Also bipod allowing use as for light machinegun was included to its equipment. As mentioned the weapon had gas-action with air-cooled barrel. In addition it had adjustable rate of fire and barrel with quick barrel change system. Second prototype was finished at autumn of 1941 and developing of improvements for it continued until March - April of 1942. Finnish military had ordered field test series of 28 weapons at June of 1941, but because of these improvements manufacturing of this test series was not completed until summer of 1942. Manufacturer of both early prototypes and field test series weapons was VKT (Valtion Kivääritehdas = State Rifle Factory). The series that the factory manufactured contained originally 50 weapons, but due to mistakes this lead only parts needed for 26 being completed and even then some of those 26 failed in first series of tests. In those tests the switches of bolt system proved to be faulty because the steel used for manufacturing them was soft, hence once the weapon heated in test firing the bolt jammed. Once the faulty parts had been replaced with new properly heat-treated ones the weapons successfully passed the tests 16th of September 1942 and were issued to Army units for field tests. The total number of machineguns L-41 issued for field tests was 30 weapons. As usual Army Ordnance Department had asked feedback in form of test reports from the units, to which the weapons of field test series were issued.

    PICTURE: Closer look of actual weapon L-41 "Sampo". This is the same individual weapon as in photo above. Notice bipod. Even if this weapon looks quite compact in this photo in reality it is exactly the same length as Lahti-Saloranta M/26 light machinegun. (Photo taken in Sotamuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (66 KB).

    Units of Finnish Army to whom the field test series L-41 machineguns had been issued delivered their test reports in February of 1943 and they were mainly positive. The field tests had revealed numerous problems, but nothing that could not be fixed. Basically the troops considered L-41 good weapon in offensive use, but not particularly good when used in static defensive battle. This was not terribly surprising, as static defensive use was exactly the use in which Maxim machineguns excelled. Main problems they revealed included:

  • Reliability problems with mixed/older ammunition (but worked great with new Finnish standard issue ammunition loaded with 200-grain D-166 bullets).
  • As certain parts heated up during shooting they got stuck which made quickly replacing barrel and also carrying the weapon difficult. (Due to too tight manufacturing tolerances + heat treatment problems?)
  • Tripod was not easy to put into fire position, anti-aircraft tripod was not sturdy enough.
  • Structural weaknesses in recoil-spring and bolt parts.
  • The total number of L-41 machineguns ever manufactured was only about 33 - 35 weapons and as mentioned 30 of these were issued to units of Finnish Army for field tests in September of 1942. Originally the intention had been for the field test series machineguns to be returned after field tests around February - March 1943, but as the troops liked them a new decision was made and they were allowed to keep the machineguns. Those 30 machineguns remained in use of the units that they had been issued for tests until the particular units were demobilised after ending of Continuation War. When needed VKT even delivered the particular units spare parts to keep the machineguns working.

    Unfortunately this lengthened field use also showed why sending weapons that are still under development to field tests is always risky - the Soviets captured one of these machineguns in Poventsa sector from troops of Infantry Regiment 12 in July of 1943. The exact place where this happened was Pirunsaari base in Viena/Stalin's channel (on northern tip of Lake Onega). However these is no indication that the Soviets would have used the design in their own small-arms projects. After Second World War L-41 machineguns remained warehoused until late 1950’s. At that time Finnish Armed Forces decided what kind of weaponry infantry needed to have and general purpose machinegun was not among them, so L-41 were declared obsolete. Five of the machineguns were spared for museum use while the rest were scrapped. Finnish military decided to favour squad automatic weapon like weapons instead - belt-fed light machinegun using same 7.62 mm x 39 ammunition as assault rifles. These machineguns were Soviet 7.62 KvKk 54 (RPD) and Finnish 7.62 KvKk 62. While tripod prototypes were tested with prototypes of 7.62 KvKk 62 (called 7.62 KvK 60) none was included to equipment of this machinegun. Also old Maxim machineguns remained first in use. Finnish Defence Forces did not really have general purpose machineguns until Soviet/Russian PKM machineguns were adopted to large-scale use in 1990’s.

    PICTURE: Another look of the same individual L-41 "Sampo". This photo gives good idea about structure of the tripod. Lahti-Saloranta M/26 light machinegun. (Photo taken in Sotamuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (61 KB).

    But what stopped the L-41 project to test series stage in 1943? The reason was a really tough competitor - German MG 42 general purpose machinegun. When the possibility of getting 7.62 mm x 54R calibre version of MG 42 appeared in 1943 Finnish military decided to concentrate all efforts to this instead of continuing developing development of L-41. In a way the decision made sense - L-41 still required further development before it could have been introduced to mass-production, while MG 42 was already tested and proven design. Who knows how long it would have taken before mass-production of L-41 could have been started. The amount of delay from first prototype to mass-production can have monumental effects during war - and Finland was in middle of total war at the time. But still ultimately the decision made in late 1943 to concentrate Finnish variation of MG 42 instead of L-41 can also be good sample, why selecting the good item instead of going for the best possible one sometimes would be wise.

    Would general purpose machinegun L-41 been a good weapon and how much would introducing it to use in numbers have effected? As usual replying the question is not easy. At least early on the plans seems to have been to acquire L-41 as replacement of much heavier and far less mobile medium machineguns (basically 7.62-mm Maxim), so these make the natural reference point. When compared to Maxim the improvement in mobility would have been so considerable (the difference in weight for weapon + tripod combination was over 20 kg). This increased mobility would have allowed machineguns to be moved notably faster and easier from one place to another, so machineguns would have been more often where they were needed. Reliability-wise L-41 was still unfinished design in its field-tests form, but it certainly had potential. In defensive warfare beating the capability of water-cooled Maxim, which could just keep going belt after belt, would have been practically impossible for any air-cooled machinegun. So Maxim was was very difficult to beat in static defensive role. From financial viewpoint L-41 was much more favourable weapon. Its estimated production costs would have been about one forth of what Maxim M/32-33 cost. When compared to (magazine-fed) light machineguns used by Finnish Army at the time it was indeed so much heavier, that its suitability for light machinegun role would have been much more questionable.

     

    7.62 mm general purpose machinegun MG 42:

    PICTURE: Finnish 7.62 mm x 54R calibre version of MG 42 general purpose machinegun on Finnish-designed tripod. Basically this tripod combined upper part of German MG 42 tripod to lower part of Soviet DS-39. The prototype-nature of this tripod is rather obvious - the part taken from German tripod of MG 42 is still painted with German dunkelgelb yellow. (Photo taken in Sotamuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (89 KB).

    Calibre:

    7,62 mm x 54 R

    Length:

    1219 mm

    Barrel length:

    533 mm

    Weight:

    11,7 kg (with bipod)

    Fire-rate:

    1050/minute

    Ammunition belt:

    250-round (?) continuous metal belt (*)

    Mount:

    Tripod, weight 16,6 kg

    Country of origin:

    Finland / Germany

    Production status:

    Prototype 1943

    (*) The Finnish 7.62 mm x 54R ammunition belt of similar number of cartridges took more room than the original German belt. Because of this original German belt cans of 50- and 250-rounds could not be used with Finnish belts containing similar number of cartridges. If the project would have succeeded reaching mass-production level presumably Finnish military would have either needed to manufacture new belt cans or introduce ammunition-belts in small number of rounds.

    Concept-wise this German general purpose machinegun was based to earlier MG 34 machinegun and like MG 34 also it was belt-fed air-cooled general purpose machinegun. However from technical and manufacturing point of it marked considerable progress and proved much more suitable for mass-production. Large percentage of parts used in MG 42 were stamped and punched, when the basic structure was also quite simple this considerably reduced production cost, time needed for manufacturing and amount of materials. Not only were MG 42 excellent machineguns manufacturing-wise, but they also proved to be exceptionally useful, reliable and robust weapon in battlefields of World War 2. The bolt mechanism, which was based to roller locking bolt, may have been originally based to design patented by Edward Stecke. But the actual work of planning this for MG 42 was done in Metall- and Lackierfabrik Paul Johannes Grossfuss AG. This machinegun was capable only to automatic fire and relied to short recoil principle. Only real handicap (if considered as such) was its very high rate of fire - cyclic rate was usually about 1,200 rounds/minute. Rate of fire this high overheated the barrel frequently and overheating would have worn them out quite rapidly, so frequent barrel swaps were necessary during combat. But as quick-changing method of barrel used in MG 42 was extremely well designed (likely based to design earlier used in Italian Breda) and allowed replacing barrel in only few seconds, this was not a serious flaw. The high rate of fire gave it also rather unusual barrel report (sound) - which has often been described resembling ripping of cloth. Due to this sound US soldiers called MG 42 with nicknames "Hitler's Buzzsaw" and while another commonly used nickname "Spandau" was presumably based to markings of Maxim MG 08 machineguns

    captured during World War 1. During World War 2 some 415,000 were manufactured for German Armed Forces. That time the numerous manufacturers included: Mauser Werke AG, Gustloff Werke, Grossfuss, Magnet, Steyr-Daimler-Puch, Eickhorn, Waffenwerke Brunn, Guss Stahlwerke, Saschisce Gusstahlwerke, Mercedes-Buromaschinenwerke, Frankel und Vienbann, Deutch Kuhl Kr.masch. and others. German military used MG 42 in many roles, including light machinegun (with bipod only), heavy machinegun (with tripod) and anti-aircraft weapon. It proved to be one of the most successful machineguns ever and have seen plenty of use also after World War 2. New versions based to MG 42 were developed after the war and manufactured in number of countries. These include German MG 42/53 (also known as MG1), Swiss MG-51, Yugoslavian model 53, German MG3 (manufactured also in several other countries, these include Iran, Italy, Pakistan, Spain and Turkey). Even today these numerous machineguns based to MG 42 remain in use world-wide and also original MG 42 are still encountered in military use in some regions.

    Like all competent Armed Forces everywhere Finnish Armed Forces observes development of new military equipment abroad. In 1930's the Finns had noted introduction of new belt-fed MG-34 machineguns to German use. April of 1943 the Germans offered to deliver five MG 42 machineguns for testing. These five weapons were delivered in July of 1943. For some reason they arrived without tripods. Both tripods and optical sights belonging to these five weapons arrived in October of the same year. Three of the machineguns were issued to Finnish Army units in different parts of the frontline for field tests the other two remained in home front. Also these two were put to good use as Ordnance Department of Finnish Armed Forces GHQ and VKT (Valtion Kivääritehdas = State Rifle Factory) tried to determine if this machinegun could be modified to 7.62 mm x 54R cartridge, which was standard ammunition for Finnish frontline infantry. While the Germans had designed MG 42 for their own standard military cartridge (7.92 mm x 57 JS), this was not among ammunition types issued to Finnish frontline infantry and Finnish military had no intention of further burdening frontline infantry with new ammunition type. The modification for 7.62 mm x 54R ammunition was possible, but not an easy one. As to be expected the rim of this cartridge proved a major problem. Rimmed ammunition (like 7.62 mm x 54R) needs usually much more complicated feeding mechanism than non-rimmed ammunition, (like 7.92 mm x 57 JS for which the Germans had designed MG 42). Aimo Lahti succeeded to making this by designing a new feeding mechanism, modified bolt and his brother Aarno Lahti developed new kind of ammunition belt made from steel for 7.62 x 54R caliber MG 42. The ammunition belt that the designed was unusual as it allowed rimmed ammunition to be fed forward though its belt loops.

    By 8th of September 1943 VKT (State Rifle Factory) had the plans of the modifications ready. With these basic modifications MG 42 would work with Finnish 7.62 mm x 54R ammunition. Modified parts required included:

  • Complete new receiver cover and lower part of feeding mechanism.
  • New gun barrel.
  • New bolt head.
  • Rear sight tangent (needed if ammunition has notable ballistic difference compared to original).
  • Ammunition belts with new kind of belt links.
  • Estimated prices mentioned in offer sent by VKT to Army Ordnance Department 11th of November 1943:

  • 7.62 mm MG 42 machinegun without tripod:
  • Price with order of 5,000 weapons: 5,400 Finnish marks per weapon.
  • Price with with order of 10,000 weapons: 4,360 Finnish marks per weapon.
  • Belt links for ammunition belts: 0.90 Finnish marks / belt link.
  • The offer did not include spare parts or belt drums.

    Finnish Army units to which the three unmodified German-supplied MG 42 been issued for field tests filed their reports in October of 1943. The reports proved to be exceptionally positive. Until that happened Finnish military had kept Finnish "Sampo" L-41 general purpose machinegun project in back burner, but now the situation changed. Finnish L-41 project was stopped in favour of 7.62-mm MG 42 project, which now become unquestioned priority, so VKT continued its work and successfully modified the MG 42 delivered to it earlier for 7.62 mm x 54R ammunition. Only detail, that the Finns very decisively unhappy with MG 42 was its original tripod. Original German tripod for MG 42 considered to be too complicated and not stable enough. In fact there were even suspicion that the instability of the tripod might have been intentional detail for adding dispersion - the MG 42 machinegun itself proved less accurate than Maxim M/32-33, but accuracy-wise still perfectly acceptable considering the differences of weight and rate of fire. Anyway the Finns decided to develop a new tripod, which would be structurally simpler, but would provide more stable platform for the weapon. The Finnish tripod design combined upper part of original German tripod with lower part of Soviet DS-39 machinegun tripod. For this use the tripod of DS-39 had been rotated in such a way, that it had one of its three legs facing onward and two legs on both sides of the soldier shooting with the weapon. By end of December 1943 both this prototype and the first ammunition belts for it were ready for testing. The modification proved a success - the test results achieved with this prototype were extremely favourable. While the weapon itself proved good, the Finnish-designed tripod still proved less than satisfactory - it was found to be too high and caused some muzzle climb during test firing. So VKT decided to develop slightly improved tripod version with lower centre of gravity and modified attachment point for the machinegun. Finnish Army was planning to replace Maxim medium machineguns used in machinegun companies of infantry units with its own version of MG 42. According plans made by Weapons HQ of Finnish Army General Headquarters December 1943 this would have required total of 2,576 machineguns. As this plan suggested also adding two 7.62-mm MG 42 machineguns to equipment of each rifle company, which would have required further 1,168 machinegun, the total number needed for the plan was 3,744 machineguns. Marshal Mannerheim approved acquiring of those 3,744 machineguns in 29th of December 1943 and two days later Major General Svanström (Head of Weapons HQ in Finnish Army GHQ) issued orders for starting the process of acquiring parts needed for manufacturing them.

    PICTURE: MG 42 general purpose machinegun cut open for presentation. (Photo taken in Sotamuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (49 KB).

    Finnish Armed Forces was ready to place on order for the first batch of its 7.62-mm MG 42 machinegun and also VKT had the prototype tested and ready for mass-production, but this proved far more difficult than anticipated. Rather ironically German modern and cost-effective manufacturing methods proved difficult for Finnish industry. Many of the main parts of MG 42 (such as receiver) were stamped and/or punched steel and this far Finnish industry had manufactured receivers only by milling (machining) them. VKT lacked tools and machinery for this kind of work and building them could take so much time that it would have endangered the whole project. For this reason VKT estimated that starting the mass-production might take about a year (in other words: until December of 1944). Considering this and the number of MG 42 machineguns Finnish Army needed (as noted calculated as 3,744 machineguns by Ordnance Department), VKT suggested acquiring stamped parts needed for the weapons from Germany. While manufacturing about 4,000 machineguns was a major project for Finnish armaments industry, it was only quite small production run for German industry, which manufactured over 420,000 MG 42 during World War 2. January of 1944 Finnish military contacted the Germans asking possibility of buying 4,000 MG 42 machineguns or their parts for manufacturing this number of weapons in Finland. In addition the Finns requested also blueprints of MG 42 and exact technical specifications - basically all the documents needed for creating similar exact documentation for manufacturing Finnish version. For some reason the Germans took their time and failed to provide any reply until April - May of 1944. The German reply was negative - they no larger had available production capacity for delivering either the weapons or even their parts. This far in the war German industry was too hard pressed for foreign delivery of even this magnitude. The reply surprised Finnish military, whose plans were now destroyed. Concentrating to MG 42 project had lead to abandoning of domestic L-41 project already earlier, so now both of Finnish general purpose machinegun projects were as good as dead. Finnish military might have considered continuing with either of these projects, but beginning of Soviet offensive 9th of June 1944 in Karelian Isthmus ended the relatively quiet trench-war period in Finnish front and Finnish industrial capacity was again needed in larger extent for repairing of existing damaged weapons. Only one MG 42 prototype in 7.62 mm x 54R calibre was ever made, nowadays it belongs to collections of Finnish Military Museum. Year 2002 Finland bought 124 Leopard 2A4 tanks from Germany. Weaponry of these tanks includes MG3A1 (improved version of German MG3 machinegun, which is direct descendant of MG 42) machineguns in 7.62 mm x 51 calibre.

     


    SOURCES:

    Sotilaskäsiaseet Suomessa 1918 - 1988 / Military Small Arms in Finland 1918 - 1988 by Markku Palokangas.

    Aimo Lahti, asesuunnittelun suuri suomalainen by Markku Palokangas and Maire Vaajakallio.

    Arma Fennica 2 by Timo Hyytinen.

    Asesuunnittelijana Suomessa by Timo Hyytinen.

    Suomalaiset sotilaspatruunat / The Finnish Military Cartridges 1918 - 1945 by Mika Pitkänen and Timo Simpanen.

    Aimo Lahden asekeskinnöt by Timo Hyytinen.

    Article: L-41 "Sampo" by Markku Palokangas in Ase magazine vol. 3/1985.

    Article: AL-43 on keräilijäharvinaisuus by Matti Vaapavuori in Ase-lehti vol. 2/91.

    Article: 1944 aseiden vuosi Suomen historiassa by Markku Palokangas in Ase-lehti magazine vol. 6/94.

    Article: Suomalaisen asekehittelyn alasajo vuonna 1945 by Markku Palokangas in Ase-lehti magazine vol. 1/95.

    Article: Sotiemme aseveteraanien myöhemmät vaiheet by Markku Palokangas in Ase-lehti magazine vol. 2/95.

    Article: Aimo Lahden suunnittelemat lyhyet kiväärinpatruunat by Esa Paananen in Ase-lehti vol. 2/2005.

    Article: Riikinruotsalainen automaattikivääri Automatgevär M/42B by Mika Pitkänen in Kaliberi magazine vol. 3/2005.

    Article: Rafu Lönnström - ronski patruuna ja menestyvä teollisuusmies by Mikko Uola in Ase-lehti magazine vol. 4/96.

    Finnish National Archives, Sörnäinen archive, archive folder T17814/47.

    Sotilaan käsikirja (1968)

    Special thanks to Sotamuseo (Finnish Military Museum, Helsinki).

    Special thanks to Metsästysmuseo (Hunting Museum of Finland, Riihimäki).


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