Realities of War





Military clothing situation during Winter War

Before World War 2 Finnish Armed Forces never got the appropriations that would have been needed to create a stockpile of military uniforms, boots, helmets etc. that would have been needed for properly equipping its soldiers in mobilization. Early on even equipping conscripts of peacetime Armed Forces undergoing their military training before being transferred to reserves proved problematic. It took well into 1920’s until conscripts could be properly equipped and the financial resources provided for the matter never reached the level that would have been needed to reserve necessary clothing materials for substantially larger wartime Armed Forces. Financial calculations made in 1920’s suggested that about 320 million Finnish Marks would have been needed for properly clothing fully mobilized wartime troops, but by year 1924 only about 10 million had been allocated for the purpose. While the financial situation improved in late 1920’s and 1930’s, at the same time the size of wartime Finnish Armed Forces also more than doubled, which may explain at least partially why the financial resources reserved for properly equipping its soldiers failed to caught up. Finnish Parliament created special committee named Military Revision (Sotilasrevisio) that worked in years 1923 – 1926 to "Study existing defense arrangement and make suggestions for improving it". The committee came up with Basic Acquisitions Program (Perushankintaohjelma) intended to fix the most serious shortcomings of military equipment with acquisitions that were to happen with-in timeframe of years 1927 – 1935. Among other things the Basic Acquisitions Program included military clothing and essential items of military kit for Field Army of 275,000 men, which would have required sum of 270 million Finnish Marks. But ultimately total appropriations reserved for the matter (to be used by year 1942) were only 50 million and from those only about 10 million had been spent for acquisitions by year 1939.

PICTURE: Fabric cutting hall of State Uniform Factory (Valtion Pukutehdas). This factory established in year 1922 and commonly referred with its abbreviation VPU was the de facto the sole Finnish manufacturer of military uniforms before the war. Until name-change in late 1930's this uniform factory was known as Armeijan Pukimo (Army Outfitter). ( photo archive, photo number 40386). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (136 KB).

But the appropriations were not the only problem – also the production capacity used for the purpose was much too small. The only large-scale uniform manufacturer to which all the orders were placed before the war was Armeijan Pukimo (AP) / Valtion Pukutehdas (VPU) – state-owned factory, which had been created in year 1922 for the specific purpose of manufacturing uniforms. The factory simply did not have the production capacity, which would have been needed for such a large-scale production, but the uniform production was apparently not really expanded to other manufacturers until year 1939.

So when Finnish Armed Forces were mobilized for "additional refresher exercises" (ylimääräiset harjoitukset = YH) in October of 1939 shortages of most vital clothing materials became obvious. The most worst shortage was with military footwear, with only about 160,000 pairs of footwear existing in Armed Forces inventory - which was only about 30% of the number of shoes that would have been needed. From military uniforms needed for mobilization about 70% existed in inventory, but with greatcoats the number was only 40%. In addition with breadbags and rucksacks the shortage was about 50%.

Juho Niukkanen's Talvisodan puolustusministeri kertoo (Told by Minister of Defense for Winter War) indicates that in 7th of September 1939 the total uniform item inventory for Finnish Armed Forces and Civil Guard contained:

  • 272,000 uniform tunics
  • 288,000 uniform trousers
  • 131,000 greatcoats and overcoats
  • 332,000 field caps
  • 74,500 fur caps
  • 258,000 shirts
  • 163,000 pairs of footwear
  • This was obviously much too little for properly equipping wartime Armed Forces of about 315,000 men, which Finland started to mobilize the next month. With such a major immediate problem financing was no longer a problem for placing orders for military uniforms - but with major European war on its way and getting the items was becoming difficult. Finnish textile industry did have raw materials, but manufacturing of massive amount of fabric needed by military needed time, which was in short supply. The temporary solution to the problem was buying 500,000 meters of wool fabric from foreign manufacturers. In addition orders were placed to Britain for 100,000 military uniforms and to Sweden for 90,000 pairs of trousers and 50,000 pairs of footwear. From these items the British battledress pattern 37 uniforms only about half were ultimately delivered and even then they proved less than ideal for Finnish purposes. Major problem was that the brownish khaki color fabric used in British battledress resembled color of Soviet uniforms too much and uniform design of British Army battle dress pattern 1937 premably looked too alien, so their tunics could only be issued to troops stationed in home front. Period photos suggest that trousers of this uniform were issued at least for some unit(s) of Finnish Field Army. Later on due much of the British uniforms being small sizes number of were transferred to Sotilaspojat) (~Soldier Boys), which was a volunteer auxiliary organization of Finnish military created for underage boys during the war from bases of Civil Guard's pre-war organizations for 12 - 16 year old boys. Due to the manner of its acquisition British battledress pattern 1937 was commonly referred in Finland as "compassion-uniform" ("myötätunto-univormu").

    PICTURE: Finnish sentries on a bridge in city of Imatra in August of 1941. Both are probably from home front troops. The 14-year old boy on the left is presumably from Civil Guard Boys (Suojeluskuntapojat). He is wearing British battledress pattern 37 with what is probably field cap m/22 and has military rifle M/28-30. Older soldier on the right has standard military uniform m/36 with summer tunic m/36, leather belt m/30, field cap m/36 and infantry rifle M/91. Photo taken by Karl Sjöblom. ( photo archive, photo number 31075). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (105 KB).

    By the time the Winter War started in 30th of November 1939 the uniform situation may have improved a little, but not that much. According Suomen puolustuslaitos 1918 - 1939 (Finnish Armed Forces 1918 - 1939) at that date Finnish military had for its 337,000 soldiers:

  • 317,267 uniform tunics
  • 350,000 uniform trousers
  • 219,864 greatcoats and overcoats
  • 364,133 field caps
  • 112,251 fur caps
  • 144,372 snow camouflage suits
  • 175,000 rucksacks
  • 75,000 steel helmets

    It is worth noting that the numbers above do not represent the whole truth about Finnish uniform supply situation of that time. The clothing supply situation during Winter War (11/1939 – 3/1940) was apparently further complicated not all materials existing in inventory being of proper quality. What is known much of the uniforms being acquired by that time had been acquired in size-scale that was based on what suited for conscripts, which proved different from what would have been needed for reservists. In other words, the reservists called in to fill the ranks of wartime Armed Forces on average tended to need notably larger percentage of their uniforms in larger sizes, than what had been needed for young conscripts. Another major issue discovered during mobilization was that also too large of a percentage of existing boots was in very small sizes or otherwise in poor shape.

    PICTURE: Four Finnish soldiers photographed in Russarö coastal fort during Winter War. Due to shortage of military uniforms, Finnish military issued all kinds of uniforms that remained in its inventory and Civil Guard's (Suojeluskunta) guardsmen went to war in their Civil Guard uniforms. Two of the men (1st and 3rd from the left) appear to have Civil Guard uniform tunics m/22 and the other two are wearing coastal artillery uniform tunics m/22. Three of the soldiers have fur caps m/27, while the hat worn by soldier on the left might be Civil Guard field cap m/22. All four soldiers also have gas mask bags and at least three of them seem to have leather belts m/27. ( photo archive, photo number 1776). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (156 KB).

    So when Finnish military was mobilized for Winter War, even when Guardsmen of Civil Guard arrived to mobilization in their Civil Guard uniforms, Finnish Army was still forced to issue all possible uniforms (m/22 and m/27) that it had in inventory and yet was not able to equip nearly all its soldiers with uniforms. Due to shortage of military uniforms large number of Finnish soldiers went to war in their own civilian clothes, often with only cockade and leather belt being provided by the Army. This combination of mixed civilian clothes combined with military cockade and possibly belt was named as "uniform m/Cajander" ("asepuku m/Cajander%quot;) after Finnish Prime Minister A.K. Cajander (1879 – 1943), who had just few months before the war expressed in a public speech his joy for appropriations not being unnecessary wasted for military equipment, which would never be needed and would only become obsolete. While according the old proverb uniform makes a soldier and the whole idea of uniform begun as a way of identifying on which side the soldiers are, this shortage apparently cause surprisingly little problems and may have even been a sort of blessing in disguise. Finnish soldiers in general got equipped with white snow camouflage clothing, which was worn top of other clothing – so in general this snow camouflage clothing still gave them appearance of being clothed in uniform manner, no matter what they had under it. At that time Finland was still mostly a rural agrarian society and typical winter clothing used by its farmers and lumberjacks was likely actually better suited as winter combat clothing than military uniforms.

    PICTURE: Even after all possible military uniforms had been issued, there still were not enough to equip all soldiers during Winter War. This often used photograph shows group of soldiers that arrived as reinforcements to battlefield of Kollaa in January of 1940. Clothing of these soldiers represents what was commonly referred as "uniform m/Cajander". Notice civilian clothes, cockades in civilian hats and few ammunition bandoliers made from canvas. But while they are wearing civilian clothing, their clothing seems to be relatively well-suited for winter with various type of fur hats, wool overcoats and either leather or felt boots. ( photo archive, photo number 3997). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (156 KB).

    In an attempt to fix the uniform shortage Finnish textile- and clothing-industries were placed on wartime footing during Winter War and succeeded making a lot for solving the problem. From 7th of September 1939 to 10th of March 1940 they either manufactured or acquired about:

  • 191,000 military tunics
  • 349,000 trousers for military uniform
  • 742,000 shirts
  • 824,000 pairs of underpants
  • 336,000 wool sweaters
  • 375,000 overcoats and fur coats
  • 60,000 hats
  • 209,000 fur hats
  • 540,000 pairs of boots
  • 140,000 backpacks
  • Needless to say Finnish uniform production during World War 2 obviously concentrated in manufacturing uniforms of the latest model – in other words uniform items of military uniform m/36. Although with some items such as backpacks there were less of a standard with numerous designs being issued simultaneously and they including also backpacks imported from Sweden and Norway. It is also noteworthy that Finnish uniform development work apparently stopped for duration of World War 2. One could claim that once it faced war, Finnish military preferred to fight it in already tested and proven uniforms instead of trying to develop new uniform designs in middle of war.

    By end of year 1939 Finnish industry mobilized in manufacturing of military clothing included:

    While the factories were busy manufacturing boots, uniforms, shirts and hats they were not the only one. Also women in home front organized a knitting operation of massive scale to produce other warm accessory clothing necessary for winter warfare, manufacturing knitted wool items such socks, mittens, scarves and tube scarves.

    PICTURE: Home front soldier in British battledress pattern 37 guards shop of Finnish alcohol monopoly (ALKO) in Helsinki after airial bombardment has broken its door and windows. In his uniform he has what appears to be ribbon from commemorative medal of Finnish Civil War. His cap seems to be Civil Guard field cap of some sort - likely post year 1925 field cap m/22 or field cap m/27. The rifle is Swedish infanry rifle m/96 and hanging from belt is Finnish-manufactured expedient ammunition pouch. Finnish Army did not introduce its first own uniform pants with thigh pockets until long after World War 2. Photo taken by Karl Sjöblom in July of 1941. ( photo archive, photo number 22231). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (111 KB).



    Manufacturing and imports of military uniform items during Continuation War:

    By the time Continuation War started in June of 1941 the major shortages of military uniforms suffered during Winter War were just about fixed, although some items of military clothing were still not available in adequate numbers. Hence when Finnish Armed Forces was mobilized for Continuation War at least all soldiers could be supplied with most items of military kit – including either tunic m/36 or summer tunic m/36. The most remaining shortages of military clothing items, which were still in short supply, were shirts (shortage 25 %), pants (shortage 20 %), wool sweaters (shortage 15 %) and military footwear (shortage 10 %). Percentage-wise the most serious shortage was with fur hats, from which about 60 % were still missing from inventory, but since the war started in June, fortunately there was no immediate need for winter hats.

    But once first winter of the war started to approach, further needs started to surface, since soldiers needed to be equipped for it. The major supply problem in this was that while apparently summer tunic m/36 (made from cotton) had been originally considered adequate also for winter use (presumably when used with wool sweater and overcoat), later this changed, creating need to to provide uniform tunic m/36 (made from wool) for each soldier. Needless to say there just were nowhere enough tunics m/36 for equipping the whole army. Apparently much of the tunic manufacturing in 1940 - 1941 had been for summer tunic m/36, so the number of tunics m/36 needed by arrival of winter proved far too large for production capacity of Finnish industry. The quick fix was to buy and import 100,000 German Army (Heer) uniform kits composed to tunic and trousers, which were all delivered by spring of 1942. These German uniform kits seem to have been Heeres Dienstanzug Modell 1936 tunic production variations nowadays referred as M40 and M41. Before issuing of these uniforms to Finnish soldiers they were marked with Finnish Army ink stamps and often their original buttons were replaced with standard issue Finnish Army buttons (with lion emblem from Finnish coat of arms). Another acquisitions that Finnish military made from Germany in year 1941 for solving the uniform item shortage was order of 300,000 sets of underwear and 20,000 greatcoats. Once these orders had been delivered Finnish Army had finally succeeded solving its most most pressing clothing supply problems, although there were yet some rather serious supply problems even after that. The most serious of these was that there were not enough military boots in inventory and at the same time availability of raw materials was deteriorating. So, in year 1942 Finnish military bought almost 100,000 pairs of standard issue German Army leather jackboots (marschstiefel) from Germany along 300 tons of boot sole leather, which was needed for Finnish manufacturers. After these acquisitions Finnish industry was pretty much able to keep up with the demand and supply the military, even though there still were not enough fur hats m/36 for equipping all troops until year 1943 and manufacturing of boots suffered from poor availability of leather rest of the war. Year 1944 Finnish military still ordered 50,000 pairs of leather jackboots from Germany, in this case there is no certainty if the order was delivered – by that time Germany was also suffering such a leather shortage that it forced them to shift into issuing ankle boots (schurschuhe) in massive numbers.

    PICTURE: Fabric storage of Finnish Army Clothing Depot (Vaatetusvarikko) in May of 1942. While there is a lot of fabric in those piles, there also was several hundred thousand men to equip with uniforms. ( photo archive, photo number 87107). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (120 KB).

    During Continuation War (6/1941 – 9/1944) Finnish industry succeeded manufacturing about 675,000 tunics and summer tunics m/36, although also this production suffered from availability of raw materials, since both wool and cotton were in short supply. Before World War 2 Finnish uniforms in general had been manufactured from good quality materials and even during Winter War Finland still succeeded acquiring high quality wool for military uniforms m/36. But once imports dried up due to the war, this changed. Finland obviously had no production of cotton and before the war most of wool needed by industry had been imported as well, since Finnish wool production was far too small even for the wartime military needs. Hence getting either of those fabrics proved ever increasingly difficult during the war. Due to these material shortages Finnish industry was forced to replace pre-war high quality wool fabrics with wool-like fabrics manufactured from mix of materials containing more recycled rags (wool & cotton shoddy) and synthetic fibers than virgin wool. The exact percentages of materials used in the mix to produce wool-like fabric seem to have varied considerably over the years depending what materials were available at particular time. The situation with cotton was notably more clear cut - since cotton was not available, it was apparently replaced with synthetic fibers, which was apparently used during the war for manufacturing items such as summer tunics m/36, work uniforms and underwear. The large shift from high quality wool and real cotton to fabrics created from mix of materials and artificial fibers for uniform manufacturing seems to have happened already circa 1941 – 1942. The synthetic fiber mainly used in fabric manufacturing at the time was viscose also known as rayon, which was manufactured by Finnish companies Kuitu Oy and Säteri Oy, but also apparently imported from Germany during the war. The Finnish trade names used for viscose during the war were silla and säteri. While fabrics used for making uniform items such as tunics, their pants, great coats and field caps starting year 1941 were apparently manufactured from mix of wool, rags and viscose, the material used from making underwear seems to have gone straight from cotton to viscose. Even when viscose proved to be real lifesaver for clothing production of Finnish military during World War 2, it had certain problems. For one thing viscose is not as warm as wool, so one must wonder how warm the uniforms made from fabric that had large percentage of viscose really was, but viscose is also notably more flammable than wool and wartime sources suggest that clothing made from viscose and possibly clothing made from high viscose content would easily stretch making clothes baggy. The basic observation made from few wartime uniform items made with such substitute materials suggests that the cloth appears to be less uniform in appearance and its color appears to be somewhat lighter and patchy compared to fabric of pre-war m/36 uniforms. Another thing that Finnish military tried for material shortages was recycling, in which clothing items that were too worn out or damaged for repair, were recycled as materials for manufacturing. During Continuation War the recycling proved quite effective – particularly so with leather goods.



    Soldier’s experiences:

    After Winter War Finnish military gathered feedback from its soldiers about equipment, which they had been using during the war. Among other things the feedback revealed following observations:

  • Soldiers requested number of flannel foot rags (which Finnish soldiers commonly used in their boots. Wool socks were also used by in more limited supply and apparently generally reserved for winter) issued to be increased from two pairs to three pairs for each soldier.
  • Wool neck toque / tube scarf / underhelmet worn under helmet and wool underpants were requested to be added as official part of soldier’s kit. During the war neither had been standard issue items, although soldiers had presumably often brought wool underpants of their own and neck toques had been delivered to them from the homefront in unknown numbers.
  • Soldiers considered Laplander boots to be the best type of winter boots, with either pair of leather jackboots or felt boots being requested as secondary pair of boots be issued along them.
  • Greatcoat was considered to be too long. While shorter version of greatcoat m/36 was not issued until after World War 2, some soldiers apparently had shortened their existing greatcoats already during the war – presumably at their own peril.
  • Soldiers considered German (World War 1 era) helmets to be the best helmet design of the steel helmets used by Finnish military at that time. Although it is worth noting that there were not yet that many other helmet designs in Finnish use during Winter War, so they did not have that many other helmet designs to compare it against at that time.
  • PICTURE: Group of Finnish soldiers photographed near Salkovaara in August of 1942. Notice that several soldiers have pants with broken knees. Original photo caption translates as "war in the wilderness wears out clothing". It might be worth noting that photos of rarely show worn out uniforms and that is likely intentional, since they were mainly photographed by TK-companies, whose main job was producing propaganda materials. ( photo archive, photo number 104477). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (164 KB).

    The opinions voiced by soldiers during World War 2 and after it also indicated several problem points with the uniform items issued to them. While military uniform m/36 had been designed to be closer fitted than military uniform m/22, its fit still was not loose enough to allow soldier to wear several kits of underwear simultaneously with his normal underwear and wool sweater (as often necessary due to exceedingly cold winter in year 1940). Another problematic uniform item was greatcoat, wearing of which tended to reduce soldier's mobility due to its bulk and weight. Not only did greatcoat hinder movement, but it also proved to be too heavy (on average 3 kg when dry and about 4 – 6 kg when wet) and if soaked very difficult to dry in field conditions. At the sametime greatcoat proved to be warm in winter conditions and was essential part of kit when troops were sleeping in tents. Most serious durability issue in uniforms proved to be trouser's knee area, which proved to be a weak point of all existing uniform trouser designs. All uniform trousers had only a single layer of fabric in knees and their knees were not reinforced in other way either, in addition to which the trousers were made from wool, which was probably a major factor in this durability issue.

    There were quite a few large selection of shoes in use of Finnish military during World War 2. March of 1941 shoes issued by Finnish Armed Forces included following shoe designs:

  • Leather boots (saappaat): "Jackboot"-type black leather boots. The standard issue boot design of the era.
  • Laplander boots with long shaft (pieksusaappaat): Laplander boots made from leather with long boot shaft.
  • Laplander boots with short shaft (paulakengät): Laplander boots made from leather with short boot shaft and often tied with woven fabric strap or leather shoe laces going around boot shaft.
  • Ski felt boots (hiihtohuopakengät): Laplander boots made from felt fabric and leather with short boot shaft. Sometimes referred as "savolainen" (Savonian) model.
  • Felt boots (huopasaappaat): Possibly Russian felt boots or copy of them?
  • Felt boots, laced (huopasaappaat, nauhoitetut): Laced version of felt boots
  • Shoes m/34 with long shaft (kengät m/34, korkeavartiset): Same as short boots m/34 - black laced leather ankle boots with short shaft and leather strap attached with two buckles.
  • Shoes with short shaft (kengät, matalavartiset: Black leather ankle boots with very short boot shaft. Presumably the Oxford-type boot design primarely used by Navy.
  • Sentry shoes (vartiokengät).
  • Rubber boots (kumisaappaat).
  • Pac boots (kumiteräsaappaat): "Jackboot"-type boots with leather shaft and lower part of boot made from rubber. Rubber section was apparently black and black leather shaft seem to have been similar to that used in standard issue "Jackboot" leather boots.
  • PICTURE: Ski felt boots (hiihtohuopakengät) were one of the most common, if not most common, of the ski boots issued by Finnish Army during World War 2. Notice that not all ski felt boots were identical, since there seems to have been some variation in detail depending manufacturer, but the boots seen here should give rather good idea about the basic design and how materials (felt and leather) were used. Photo source - original photo by Armémuseum (Sweden), CC BY 4.0 Creative Commons license. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (111 KB).

    "Jackboot"-type black leather boots were the standard issue boot type of the time that existed in two models, who were otherwise identical, but had one notable difference in manufacturing methods. Leather boots m/27 (Saappaat m/27) were made from vegetable tanned natural brown leather, which Jalkinekorjaamo (Footwear Repair Centre) of each garrison dyed black before the boots were issued. Leather boots m/34 (saappaat m/34 have their leather chrome-tanned black by manufacturer as part of manufacturing process. While leather boots m/34 had replaced older leather boots m/27 in production years before World War 2, the basic boot design was very durable and could usually be repaired even if worn out. Their soles were usually nailed leather soles and most still probably had leather hells with heel irons, although rubber heels had been introduced in some extent already in mid 1930's. In addition as mentioned also German "jackboot"-type (marschstiefel) leather boots were issued. One could claim that leather boots of that type were a decent jack-of-all-trades boots design, but numerous other boots designs issued in smaller scale proved to be superior option of military footwear in variety of conditions.

    PICTURE: This is the huopavarsisaapas (rought translation: felt-leg boots) boot design that sometimes appear in use of Finnish soldiers in wartime photographs. Photo source - photo copyrights Turun Museokeskus, used with CC BY-ND 4.0 Creative Commons license. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (81 KB).

    All Laplander boot designs were mainly intended to be used as ski-boots and their upwards pointed tip fit into standard issue military ski bindings (mäystimet). While pieksusaappaat and paulakengät had presumably been issued already before the war, it seems that at least hiihtohuopakengät may have been introduced to military use only circa 1939 - 1940. Period photos occasionally show also Russian-style felt boots being used, but it is unclear if they are captured boots or if they were manufactured in Finland. Generally speaking felt fabric was a good warm manufacturing material for sub-zero temperatures, but did not really work in wet conditions. Laplander boots proved to be popular boot design among frontline troops, although they were never as widely available as standard issue jackboot-type boots. More specifically ungreased Laplander boots proved be the warmest (widely issued) winter boots and when greased they proved be more waterproof than standard issue ("jackboot-type) leather boots. But Laplander boots also had their own share of issues - they were slower and more expensive to manufacture because they had to be partially stitched by hand and due to their leather being typically vegetable tanned instead of chrome tanned (like leather boots m/34) notably more sensitive to damage if dried too close open fire. Boots m/34 existed in two varieties, long-shafted jack-boot type leather boots m/34 and short-shafted laced short boots m/34, both of which had been introduced already in pre-war era and continued to be issued through the war. Rubber boots and pac boots were also highly popular (in summer-use) particularly with rubber boots being noted as superior patrol boots due to being water-proof, but only ever available in very limited scale and with downside of notably poorer durability than standard issue leather boots. Huopavarsisaappaat, which was "jackboot-type" boot design that combined boot leg made from felt fabric with lower part of made from leather was also likely issued only in very limited scale. It is worth noting that not nearly all of the boots used by Finnish soldiers during the war had been issued to them - bringing their own boots to war was apparently not that rare.

    PICTURE: Pile of boots returned by soldiers at spring of 1942. Photo taken by 2nd Toivo V. Narva in Rukajärvi region in April of 1942. Due to location it seems certain that the boots shown in these photo had been in use of soldiers belonging to 14th (Infantry) Division of Finnish Army. Most of the boots seem to be the design referred hiihtohuopakengä - short Laplander boot of mixed leather and felt structure with quite a lot of paulakengät among them with some other boot desings scattered here and there. At the time the standard Finnish Army ski binding was mäystin - basically a wide leather strap through which sole of the boot was pushed - hence the upwards turned tip of Laplander boot was essensial for securing the ski binding to boot. So this and other Lapland boot version were the standard ski boot designs. ( photo archive, photo number 84101). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (146 KB).

    Generally speaking the standard kit of equipment issued to Finnish soldiers during World War 2 was rather poorly suited carrying the equipment issued to them, although it must be admitted that Finnish Army certainly was not alone in this regard. During World War 2 leather belt m/30 (nahkavyö m/30) became the standard belt type for Finnish Army. While the belt on itself apparently had no major issues, there were normally no Y-strap harness available for it and still Finnish soldiers often ended up loading a lot of stuff on their belt. Before the war the standard load that Finnish soldiers had placed on their belts did not contain much else than ammunition pouches and rifle bayonet - which apparently did not yet really cause real issues. But the during the war problems seem to have surfaced because soldiers were issued a whole lot of items, for which they really did not have carrying equipment. With things like sub machinegun magazines and stick hand grenades placed hanging from the belt the combined total weight of kit connected to the belt could reach up to 6 – 7 kilograms (13.3 - 15.5 pounds), which was just too much. Without Y-strap harness to support it, the belt was unable to support such weight and could start slipping downwards.


    Snow camouflage clothing:

    Finnish White Army had already used snow camouflage clothing in some extent during Civil War in year 1918. It is most likely that the inspiration for equipping soldiers with white snow camouflage at that time originated from snow camouflage clothing that had been issued to ski unit created from Finnish volunteers of Royal Prussian Jaeger Battalion 27 for battle of Aa-River in January of 1917. But it is also possible that home-made snow camouflage clothing used by Finnish hunters for hunting seals on ice may have also provided inspiration. What is known Finnish military never issued snow camouflage clothing in large scale before World War 2, but was familiar with the concept with development work being done already before the war.

    PICTURE: Jacket of Finnish Army snow camouflage suit m/27. Snow camouflage suit m/27 was the standard snow camouflage of Finnish military during World War 2. Notice hood and holes in the sides for jacket - height-wise they seem to be about half-way in between brest pockets and side pockets of tunic of field uniform m/27 or tunic m/36. Source of photograph - photo copyrights Suomen Metsästysmuseo (The Hunting Museum of Finland), used with CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Creative Commons license. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (62 KB).

    PICTURE: Pants of Finnish Army snow camouflage suit m/27. Notice holes allowing access to side pockets of trousers or breeches worn under these pants. Source of photograph - photo copyrights Suomen Metsästysmuseo (The Hunting Museum of Finland), used with CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Creative Commons license. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (52 KB).

    During Winter War white snow camouflage clothing was produced in massive numbers at home front in numerous variations. While white snow camouflage was issued in very large scale during Winter War, especially early on the need surpassed supply, so sometimes the troops had be pro-active and improvise with whatever materials they could find. The most typical fabrics used for snow camouflage clothing early on seem to have been cotton and linen, but if those were not available, also other suitable white-colored fabric could be used. Due to poor availability of cotton and linen later in the war viscose / rayon replaced them as the standard fabric for snow camo clothing. As mentioned color of fabric used for Finnish snow camo was white without any sort of camouflage pattern. Finnish-issued now camouflage clothing was also normally made of rather thin fabrics, since it was intended to be worn as top layer on top of all other clothing. The most common snow camouflage clothing used by Finnish Army during World War 2 was snow camouflage suit m/27 (lumipuku m/27), which was a suit of loose fitting hooded jacket and pants and proved to be exceptionally successful design. What is known suggests that snow camo suit m/27 normally had no real pockets - just holes through fabric providing access points to equipment and pockets of clothing worn under it. When it comes to various kind of self-made improvised snow camouflage designs, snow capes of various type seem to have been quite popular – quite probably due to being much easier for soldiers to make than proper snow camouflage suits. In addition older Finnish snow camouflage combination of long white snow camo jacket and cover for headgear seem to have been relatively common during Winter War.

    PICTURE: Long snow camo coat of the type issued by Finnish military during World War 2. This was also fairly common item, but less common as snow camo suit m/27. Source of photograph - photo copyrights Suomen Metsästysmuseo (The Hunting Museum of Finland), used with CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Creative Commons license. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (48 KB).

    During Winter War snow camouflage clothing proved also useful in that sense, that when Finnish Army was unable to provide sizable part of its soldiers with military uniforms, the snow camouflage suit covered civilian clothes, making soldiers appearance more uniform and allowing easier identification of friend or foe.

    PICTURE: Soldier in snow camo suit m/27 and skis. Hood of the camo suit jacket hides steel helmet under it. Weapon is Suomi m/31 submachine gun. Visible are also underhelmet and leather belt m/30 with 70-round drum magazine and puukko-knife. Photo taken in Infantry Museum (Jalkaväkimuseo), Mikkeli. CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (126 KB).


    Use of captured clothing materials:

    While use of captured Soviet military clothing obviously increased the risk of becoming victim of friendly fire incident, Finnish soldiers seem to have still commonly taken certain items from captured Soviet kit to their own use. Probably the most common of these items was Soviet shelter-half (plash palatka), which apparently enjoyed considerable popularity among Finnish soldiers due to fact that Finnish Army did not issue shelter-halves to its soldiers in large-scale, nor did it issue any raingear of any sort either. Soviet shelter half was rather useful item for Finnish soldiers, since it could be used as rain cape or as somewhat water proof top layer for rolled greatcoat or wool blanket or for making improvised short-term shelter. Some Finnish units were issued with shelter halfs, presumably because the role they were intended to perform demanded that, but this seems to have been rare. Standard Finnish Army tent design introduced in 1930's, half-platoon tent (puolijoukkueteltta was single piece design equipped with iron stove. Photographic evidence also suggests that apparently some rare Finnish units (mainly long range recon, which as special forces had a priority status for getting supplies and were able to acquire non-standard equipment) had some German zeltbahn M31 shelter quarters in its use during Continuation War.

    PICTURE: Finnish soldiers with captured Soviet plash palatka shelter-halves / rain capes somewhere out there during Continuation War. (Photo part of Jaeger Platoon Website photo collection). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (145 KB).

    Another Soviet item commonly that was apparently quite often taken to own use were boots and this included not only jackboot-type leather boots (sapogi), but also felt boots (valenki), which were well-suited for sub-zero weather but less so once temperature was above zeo and rather popular among Finnish soldiers. During World War 2 the Soviets introduced into mass-production boots made from kirza, a leather substitute of multilayer fabric design. While there is no exact info about the matter in Finnish sources, I suspect that captured boots made from kirza were less popular than those made of leather.

    In addition some other items belonging to Soviet kit, such as Soviet officer’s belts M/35 with their highly visible star insignia occasionally appear in use of Finnish officers in wartime photos, but it is difficult to say if they were used as replacement for officer’s leather belt m/27, or if they were worn as status symbols of sort. Collecting Soviet uniform insignia such as cockades and markings of rank also was a thing, while they were obviously not worn by Finnish soldiers, they sometimes appear as decorative details in trench-art (puhdetyö) items.

    PICTURE: Finnish soldier with captured German Gebirgsjäger windbluse anorak during Lapland War. This soldier has mess tin and spork in his hands. Photographed by Military official Uuno Laukka in October of 1944 in River Ounasjoki. ( photo archive, photo number 166127). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (80 KB).

    Some individual wartime photos suggest that Finnish soldiers also took captured German clothing items in some (probably only in very limited) scale to their own use during Finnish - German Lapland War. Wartime photos seem to show at least German greatcoat, raincoat, Charkov-parka and Gebirgsjäger windbluse being worn by individual Finnish soldiers during Lapland War.


    "Military elegance"

    For all practical purposes during the Continuation War straight pants practically replaced breeches, becoming not only the standard trousers type for enlisted men and non-commissioned officers, but also as the type of trousers commonly used by officers. But otherwise breeches seem to have still held some status as trousers of higher status, which both soldiers on home leave and soldiers stationed in home front often tried to obtain. Other than that the frontline troops had very little opportunity to be picky about the uniform items issued to them, since the hard wartime use of years long deteriorated the soldier’s uniform to such level, that they were no longer exactly looking crisp or handsome. But with a large percentage of male population serving in military, when the soldiers rarely got the possibility to visit the home front, they typically wanted to look at their best. In addition it clearly was not in the best interests of the military to show civilian population in which kind of shape the soldiers uniforms actually often were. As a solution for this problem during trench war period (roughly 1/1942 – 5/1944) clothing storages (varusvarasto) were established to practically all military units to not only allow soldiers to easily replace broken items of their military kit, but also when needed to provide soldiers going to home leave a nice looking uniform. The standard operation procedure was to store clothing comparable to 10% of the clothing items issued to the particular unit to its clothing store.

    PICTURE: This photograph about tank crews posing in front of T-34 tank provides good example about uniforms used by tank crews. Soldiers in the photo are from 2nd Platoon of 3rd Tank Company of Tank Brigade (Panssariprikaati). Photograph taken by Military Official Unto Hämäläinen in July of 1944. Six of the soldiers are tunics of leather uniform m/36, but only 2nd Lieutenant Teppo in center of photo (with fingers crossed) has leather trousers and soldier next to him have (civilian) leather breeches. In general pants worn out much faster than tunics, which probably explains at least partially why wartime tunics are nowadays much common in collector's market than wartime pants. Also leather uniform m/36 is so rare nowadays, that there is no known surviving sample of wartime leather tunic m/36. ( photo archive, photo number 158427). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (237 KB).

    Finnish military had certain uniform items, which could only be obtained privately – in other word they were not normally issued, but soldiers wanting them could privately purchase such items if they succeeded finding manufacturer or seller and were willing to buy the item with their own money. Often these items were originally intended for more select group of soldiers (officers, military officials and possibly senior NCO ranks) or were no longer even in production or perhaps no longer part of official uniform. But during the war many such items became available for soldiers who had the money and either/or wanted to show their status or pride of the unit in which they served. Such items included fancier officer’s boots version of jackboot-type standard issue black leather boots, summer cap m/39 and black (tank corps) version of m/22 summer cap. Probably the most high profile items among these were leather jackets, which enjoyed considerable popularity among certain troops. Wartime photos often also show civilian leather jackets in use of Air Force and Tank Corps. For Tank Corps the leather uniforms m/22 and m/36 were the uniform items that distinguished their soldiers from the other soldiers of other units already before the war, so once availability of these leather uniforms dried out, civilian leather coats and trousers apparently worked as substitute. Situation with Air Force was quite different however in that sense that it did not use official leather jacket models (m/22 and m/36). But its air crews still operated numerous aircraft with open cockpits and even closed aircraft cockpits had draft, hence leather jacket was practical clothing item for pilots, but also developed in fashionable clothing item that immediately separated them from the masses of other soldiers. The leather jackets used by Air Force pilots during the war all seem to represent two civilian leather jacket designs from Finnish leather goods manufacturer Friitala - retkeilijän nahkapusero (camper's leather blouse) and paraati puserotakki (parade blouse-jacket).

    PICTURE: In a country suffering shortage of leather, any sort of leather jacket was a luxury item. Three of these fighter pilots photographed in Nurmoila Air Base in July of 1942 are wearing Friitala's leather jackets. The two pilots in centre of the photo have Friitala's camper's leather blouse while pilot on the back row has Friitala's parade blouse-jacket. Fighter pilots enjoyed such status during the war that in most occasitions they could wear pretty much whatever they wanted without anybody challenging them. Four officers have Air Force peaked cap, which was based to Navy officer's cap - notice wreath around cockade and eagle on top of it. Three men appear to have pistol holsters for 9 mm pistol m/35 (FN HP). ( photo archive, photo number 98608). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (161 KB).

    One class of items, which apparently also enjoyed popularity with air crews and tank crews, but purely for reasons of convenience instead of looks were coveralls. Coveralls used by Finnish military during World War 2 are not known to have had model number of any sort and fall into two distinct categories - normal overalls and fur overalls. As the name suggests pilot's fur overalls (lentoturkki) was fur-lined coveralls, which for practical reasons was commonly used by Finnish air crews in wintertime, although few photos also indicate that they seem to have seen some use with tank crews. Normal coveralls seem to have been quite common for tank and assault gun crews particularly late in the war. But normal coveralls also saw use with some units of special forces category - possibly because they could be used as uniform of sort, but when spotted by the enemy did not appear like the standard Finnish uniform - leaving enemy uncertain if the soldiers they spotted were friend or fow.

    PICTURE: Group of pilots photographed in front of Fokker D.XII fighter plane in Suulajärvi Air Base in January of 1941. All of the are wearing pilot's fur overalls and have parachutes strapped into them. ( photo archive, photo number 71382). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (133 KB).

    For obvious practical reasons in general fur coats was a popular item of winter clothing, but not easily obtainable during the war. Finnish military did have fur coats, but beside old fur coat m/22 they had been items that officers and senior NCO ranks could privately acquire and hence not something that had been issued. Long range recon units with their special forces status were apparently able to acquire and issue fur coats for their soldiers, but normal military units had no such luck. Swedish livpäls fur coats seem to have seen some use with Finnish military, but according period photos only in very limited scale. What are more common to find in wartime photos are civilian fur coats worn by Finnish soldiers, sometimes with markings of rank added, an apparent indicator of practical need surpassing military uniform regulations.


    Washing and repairs of uniform materials in 1941 - 1944

    As mentioned in page about military uniforms m/22, Finnish Armed Forces had started organizing its own laundries, which took care of washing military clothing in mid 1920’s and in year 1939 had ten laundries running. While those ten laundries may have been sufficient for peace-time Armed Forces, they did the not have the capacity to handle the massive mountain of laundry of numerous times larger wartime Armed Forces mobilized for Winter War in 1939. Hence much of the work was outsourced to civilian laundries, whose washing capacity proved insufficient as well. There just was not enough existing capacity in laundries to regularly wash clothing of several hundred thousand men. As a quick fix of sort Finnish Army established three additional laundries of its own and ordered building of three mobile laundries built into trains plus six mobile laundries built on truck bodies. Finnish Army bought washing machines from Denmark in large numbers not only for these laundries, but also to create stockpile of washing machines for possible future laundries. Also Finnish women’s voluntary auxiliary organization Lotta Svärd financed from acquisition of dozen "washing-ambulances", which were bought from Sweden and provided to field hospitals for taking care of their dirty laundry. The situation being what it was the soldiers were also washing their own clothes – mainly underwear, only two sets of which were normally issued per soldier. But in wintertime personally washing clothing was often practically impossible. In beginning of Continuation War that started in 1941 Finnish Army launched successful offensive that recaptured areas lost in Winter War and pushed into Soviet Carelia, leaving existing laundries far behind. Finnish Army adapted to this situation by establishing new military laundries that were closer to front and by acquiring in 1942 seven additional truck-built mobile laundries, which were issued to various army corps and divisions. Still, it took until in 1943 before the new and much reinforced network of laundries was normally able to provide clean laundry to soldiers once a week.

    PICTURE: Mobile laundry built on truck body on a road in between Lieksa and Repola in November of 1941. The towing tractor is McCormick T-6 ( photo archive, photo number 108456). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (161 KB).

    But military clothing not needed to be washed regularly, but it also needed to repaired when necessary. By end of the Continuation War uniforms of the troops belonging to field army had deteriorated considerably. This was apparently not only to long wartime use with plenty of wear and tear, but also due to substitute materials (recycled rags and synthetic materials) used in the fabrics of wartime manufactured uniforms, but also due to washing methods, which were not always best suited for longevity. Soldiers had been issued small sewing kits for very small repairs. Military units normally had tailor and cobbler in battalion / artillery battery level, but since they had very little machinery at their disposal, their capability for repairing equipment was rather limited. Larger repairs were left to clothing repair shops that existed in division and army corps level. The most demanding repairs were performed in repair shops and factories that were in the home front.

    PICTURE: Division-level cobbler's workshop of 5th (Infantry) Division of Finnish Army in May of 1943. Photographed by Olavi Aavikko. ( photo archive, photo number 129103). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (109 KB).


    Wartime changes in uniform markings

    There were numerous changes that happened in uniform markings of Finnish Army during World War 2. Large-scale official changes introduced circa 1940 – 1941 changed colored stripes used on trouser stripes and tunic collar patches, which both depended according service arm and approximate military rank. Since the reservists did not normally use trousers with stripes, their use got lot less common during the war. As mentioned in military uniform m/36 page during the war colorful collar patches saw mostly use with officers, with senior non-commissioned ranks probably being the 2nd most common group of soldiers to use them, but during the war they lost popularity. Not only were there collar patches of correct color and design often impossible to obtain, but they were one of the details that Soviet snipers could use to spot officers among soldiers, so their popularity starting declining already early on and in summer of 1944 new uniform orders finally made official for the who army what many military units had already ordered their officers to make much earlier – remove collar patches from tunic collar and place pips (modeled after heraldic rose) indicating exact officer rank into tips of tunic collar. This way soldiers would still able to indentify exact military rank from a short distance, but spotting officers from a distance would be more difficult. With Soviet sniper activity becoming a significant factor during trench war period officers were also commonly instructed to carry a long arm and loose the map case, to make their status less obvious for the enemy.

    The changes in uniform regulations effected even to color of pips made from brass used to indicate exact military rank of officer in tunic and summer tunic collar. Until year 1919 officers were in active service had used gold-colored brass pips (with emblem of heraldic rose), while reserve officers had used pips that were otherwise similar, but silver-colored. June of 1941 uniform regulations were changed in such manner that all military officers used the same gold-colored pips. Around that time uniform regulations also ordered that officers were not to place lion badges made from brass to epaulets of their tunics anymore, although they could continued to use them in those tunics that already had them installed.

    PICTURE: Company commander Captain Lyytinen explains enemy sighting to battalion commander Captain Raassina in August of 1944. Notice how both officers have pips indicating their military rank in collar tips of summer tunic m/36. Also notice small pin-like unit badges on cross straps and that Captain Raassina have no brass lions on epaulets. ( photo archive, photo number 161711). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (161 KB).

    Another in most cases less visible, but significant wartime change in uniform markings was unit markings carried in uniforms. There had been some unit markings already during Finnish Civil War and fair number appeared during Winter War, but they did not gain massive popularity until during Continuation War. What is known maybe about thousand unit markings were introduced during Continuation War and basically all them were self-designed with-in a particular unit and more or less unauthorized. Most typically they were small pin-like badges with symbols that indicate military unit either in very straightforward or possibly in somewhat more clandestine manner such as via word-play. These small badges most commonly made from brass, copper or silver often have enamel details and were normally manufactured by goldsmiths in the home front for the soldiers. Officers routinely carried such unit badges in cross strap of their officer’s belt m/27, while soldiers normally placed them in middle of left breast pocket of their tunic or tucked the badge to their wallet. But there were also numerous more visible unit markings, which reached from fabric shoulder patches worn in tunics to colored ribbons worn in tunic epaulets or sleeves, larger metal badges and fabric patches worn on hats and unit markings painted to helmets.


    Pekka Aarniaho: Kaluunat ja rähinäremmit. Itsenäisen Suomen virkapuvut ja arvomerkit 1918 – 1945 (Uniforms and Rank Markings of Independent Finland 1918 - 1945).

    Petteri Leino: Asepuku M/36 vuosina 1936 – 1945 (Uniform m/36 in years 1936 - 1945).

    Juhani U.E. Lehtonen: Sotilaselämän perinnekirja (The Tradition Book of Military Life).

    Puolustusvoimien huolto 1918 – 1986 (Supply of Defense Forces 1918 - 1986) by Huoltoupseeriyhdistys.

    Suomalaisen sotilaan historia ristiretkistä rauhanturvaamiseen (History of Finnish Soldier from Crusades to Peacekeeping).

    Marko Palokangas: Itsenäisen Suomen sotilasarvot ja –arvomerkit / Military Ranks and Rank Badges of Independent Finland.

    Article: Marko Palokangas: Sotilasarvomerkkiemme taustaa ja taivalta (Background and Development of Our Military Rank Markings), (Ase-lehti magazine vol 5/1995).

    Theses: Majuri J.V. Heinonen: Mieskohtaisessa varustuksessa (hiihtovälineet ml) todetut puutteet sekä suunnitelma vaatetus- ja varustusprobleemin ratkaisemiseksi erikoisolosuhteemme huomioon ottaen. (Indepedent Soldier's Equipment. Noted shortcomings and Plan to Solve Clothing and Equipment Problem Considering Our Circumstances). (Military academy thesis from year 1950).

    Theses: Kristian Värri: Itsenäisen Suomen ratsuväen varusteiden kehitys talvisotaan mennessä (Development of Equipment in Cavalry of Independent Finland before Winter War).

    Military manual: Suojeluskuntajärjestön virkapukuohjesäntö (Civil Guard's Uniform Regulations), published year 1930.

    Special thanks to Infantry Museum (Jalkaväkimuseo), Mikkeli.

    Last updated 16th of December 2023
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    Copyrights (text and graphics): Jaeger Platoon Website. Copyrights of photographs vary on case to case basis and are marked along each picture.