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Italian Tanks of the Interwar Decades - Part 1

Post by CanKiwi2 » 02 Jan 2015 12:58

World War I, Italy and Italian Tanks

In the years that led up to World War One, Italy had nominally sided with Germany and Austria-Hungary in the Triple Alliance. Despite this, in the years before the war, Italy had made diplomatic overtures towards the United Kingdom and France. This was because the Italian government had grown convinced that support of Austria (the traditional enemy of Italy during the 19th century Risorgimento) would not gain Italy the territories she wanted: Trieste, Istria, Zara and Dalmatia, all Austrian possessions. In fact, a secret agreement signed with France in 1902 for all intents and purposes nullified Italy's membership in the Triple Alliance.

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Antonio Salandra was a conservative Italian politician who served as the 33rd Prime Minister of Italy between 1914 and 1916.

A few days after the outbreak of the war, on 3 August 1914, the government, led by the conservative Antonio Salandra, declared that Italy would not commit its troops, maintaining that the Triple Alliance had only a defensive stance and Austria-Hungary had been the aggressor. In reality, both Salandra and the minister of Foreign Affairs, Sidney Sonnino, began to probe which side would grant the best reward for Italy's entrance in the war. The diplomatic moves led to the London Pact (26 April 1915), signed by Sonnino without the approval of the Italian Parliament. According to the Pact, after victory Italy was to get Trentino and the South Tyrol up to the Brenner Pass, the entire Austrian Littoral (with Trieste), Gorizia and Gradisca (Eastern Friuli) and Istria (but without Fiume), parts of western Carniola (Idrija and Ilirska Bistrica) and north-western Dalmatia with Zara and most of the islands, but without Split. Other agreements concerned the sovereignty of the port of Valona, the province of Antalya in Turkey and part of the German colonies in Africa.

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Giovanni Giolitti (October 27, 1842 – July 17, 1928) was an Italian statesman and Prime Minister of Italy five times between 1892 and 1921. He did not support Italy's intervention in WW1 initially.

Under the London Pact, Italy joined the Triple Entente. On 3 May 1915 Italy officially revoked the Triple Alliance. In the following days Giolitti and the neutralist majority of the Parliament opposed declaring war, while nationalist crowds demonstrated in public areas for it. On 13 May 1915 Salandra offered his resignation to King Victor Emmanuel III, but Giolitti, fearful of nationalist disorder that might break into open rebellion, declined the position of prime minister. Salandra remained in office, and got his declaration of war against Austria-Hungary on 23 May 1915. (Italy declared war on Germany fifteen months later.) Italy thus entered the war with the support of only a minority of its population and politicians.

As Italy entered WW1 on 23 May 1915, the situation of her forces in the African colonies was critical. Italian Somaliland, in the east was far from pacified. In Cyrenaica, the Italian forces were confined to widely separated points on the coast. In Tripolitania and the Fezzan, the story has a different beginning. In August 1914, during their campaign against the Ottoman Empire the Italian forces had conquered most of western Libya. In November 1914, this advance had turned into a general retreat, and on 7 April and 28 April, they suffered two reverses at Wadi Marsit (near Mizda) and al-Qurdabiya (near Sirte) respectively. By August 1915, the situation in Tripolitania was similar to that of Cyrenaica. The conquest of all of Libya would not be resumed until January 1922, well after the end of WW1.

In the European war, Italy's participation met with an equal lack of success. Britain and France had wanted Italy to join the war on their side so that a new front could be opened up in the south. The plan was to split the Central Powers further so that their military strength on the Western and Eastern Fronts could be weaked weakened. The logic was sound. Success however required military victories by the Italian Army and this was, against the politician's expectations, not forthcoming.

Between the start of WW1 and May 1915, Italy had done little or nothing to prepare the Italian Army for entry into the War, despite the interest of the politicians in joining in on one side or the other. Indeed, at the time of Italy's entry into WW1, the Italian military was suffering from equipment and munition shortages as a result of the Italo-Turkish War in Libya (1911–1912). Between 1915 and 1917 Italian troops managed to penetrate a mere 10 miles into Austrian territory, with the fighting largely confined to small area along the northeastern border where Italy's border pushed up against Austria-Hungary. The Austrians occupied the hills and the mountains while the Italians attempted to move north from the plains and valleys.

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Map of the Italian Front (1915-1917). Blue areas show where major battles occurred, although the blue area in the east (right) was where 12 Battles of the Isonzo were fought.

Neither side one a strategic advantage, although casualties were heavy. Indeed, on 13 December 1916, known as "White Friday", 10,000 soldiers were killed by avalanches in the Dolomites. The frontline was close to the centers of population in northern Italy and the cities of Venice, Verona and Milan were close enough to the fighting to be in danger if a major breakthrough by the Ausro-Hungarian Army occurred. In May and August 1917, the exhausted Italians launched the Tenth and Eleventh Battles of the Isonzo. The Austrians also were near breaking and the Italians managed to capture some ground, but were unable to break through. At this point, the Austrians asked for German help. Having decisively repulsed the Russians, the Germans sent six divisions and prepared for what would be the <strong>Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo</strong> (also called the <strong>Battle of Caporetto</strong> after the Italian town of that name-- now called Kobarid and part of Slovenia).

Mutinies and plummeting morale crippled the Italian Army from within. On 24 October 1917 the Austrians and Germans launched the Battle of Caporetto, pushing the Italians back 15 miles in the first day. By the time it was over in November, they had pushed the Italians back nearly 100 miles in one of the most spectacular advances of the war. The Italians suffered some 300,000 casualties, mostly taken prisoner, and lost all of their artillery. Unfortunately for the attackers, they outran their supply capability and thus the offensive ended 20 miles short of Venice in November.

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The Arditi would jump inside the trench while the enemy was huddling down, and use their daggers at close quarters to suppress enemy resistance.

France, Britain and the US all began sending assistance to Italy and in the spring of 1918, Germany pulled out its troops for use in its upcoming Spring Offensive on the Western Front. In June 1918 the Austrians attacked in the Battle of the Piave River. The Italians repulsed the attack but launched no counter-offensive until October-November 1918. By October 1918, Italy had finally gathered together enough soldiers to mount an offensive. The attack targeted Vittorio Veneto, across the Piave. The Italian Army broke through a gap near Sacile and poured in reinforcements that crushed the Austrian defensive line. On 3 November, 300,000 Austrian soldiers surrendered. On 3 November, Austria-Hungary sent a flag of truce to the Italian Commander to ask again for an armistice and terms of peace. An armistice was signed and took effect on 4 November, at three o'clock in the afternoon.

The war has since become known as the "War in snow and ice", as most of the 600 km frontline ran through the highest mountains and glaciers of the Alps. 12 meters (40 feet) of snow were a usual occurrence during the winter of 1915/16 and thousands of soldiers died in avalanches. The remains of these soldiers are still being uncovered today. Climbing and skiing became essential skills for the troops of both sides and soon Ski Battalions and special climbing units were formed. It was during these years that the Alpini, their spirit and their mules became famous, although at the cost of over 12,000 casualties out of a total of 40,000 mobilized Alpinis. The Arditi units also became famous within Italy.

The task of Arditi units was not to clear the way for regular infantry to attack enemy lines, but to completely overrun enemy positions. The most daring volunteers were chosen, particularly those who were not bothered by loud incoming artillery fire close by. The men also studied fencing and were masters of hand-to-hand combat. Once ready, they were sent to the front armed with a dagger and hand grenades. Most didn't carry rifles or carbines because they would be cumbersome to fire in the confined spaces of a trench.

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Italian Alpini in WW1

The Arditi approached enemy trenches while they were being shelled by Italian artillery. Just as the barrage was lifted they would jump inside the trench while the enemy was huddling down, and use their daggers at close quarters to suppress enemy resistance. These primitive tactics were surprisingly effective. Arditi had to hold the positions they conquered for 24 hours and then would be replaced by the regular infantry. Arditi might lose 25% to 30% of their numbers during such an attack. Their motto was "O la vittoria, o tutti accoppati" meaning "We either win, or we all die"

Italian alpine troops following the first world war remained an elite force: In 1935 the government of Italy reorganized its Armed Forces, creating six Alpine divisions and forming two new Alpini regiments. As a result of the unusual relationship between Italy and Finland that had developed through the 1930's, one of these Alpini Divisions would be conducting a Winter Warfare Exercise in Finland in late 1939 when the Winter War broke out. Mussolini permitted this Alpini Division together with Italian Air Force and naval units that had been sent to Finland to fight as volunteers under Finnish command through the entire Winter War.

Italy's World War One Tanks

During World War I, Italy did not field any armoured units in combat, due to a lack of tanks. In 1915, Captain Luigi Cassali proposed a project to build an armored vehicle equipped with two machine gun turrets. However, the project was not accepted. However, an officer serving with the Italian forces in France observed French tanks in operation as early as September 1916 and convinced the High Command to try the new vehicles. This was artillery officer Captain Alfredo Bennicelli, who was also a Count and a Senator – factors which probably helped him sell the idea.

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Count Alfredo Bennicelli (Major in Artillery) climbing in or out of a Renault FT-17. Bennicelli was involved in numerous actions on the French Front and was a big proponent of tanks. Bennicelli tested French tanks and found them superior to British ones and in particular liked the FT series and had some FT's sent to Italy for testing.

The Italian General Staff ordered a single French Schneider CA-1 for extensive trials in 1916 but the design was ultimately rejected. A similar study for an indigenous model started the same year when FIAT, by then the industrial giant of Italy, proposed a new design, the FIAT 2000. An initial order to design and produce the first Italian tank model was awarded to the FIAT automobile company in 1916 based on the design they had put forward. The prototype of the new tank was displayed to a military commission on 21 June 1917; its mechanical systems were complete but its superstructure was added later, being represented on the prototype by a wooden mockup with a conical open turret and dummy gun. The final configuration of the superstructure was not completed until 1918. This, the first Italian designed and built tank, was the Fiat 2000.

Two Fiat 2000 prototypes formed a part of Italy's very first armoured unit, which was formed only weeks before the end of WW1. This was the "Sezione speciale carri armati" (Armored Vehicles Special Section), formed up on September 1, 1918 in Verona : the. This unit was later denominated "Reparto speciale di marcia carri d'assalto" ( Special Forward Assault Tank Unit) and, after WWI ended, the "Batteria autonoma carri d'assalto" (Autonomous Assault Tanks Battery"), and comprised six Renault FT 17's and the two Fiat 2000 prototypes.

The Fiat 2000 Tank

The FIAT 2000 was a substantial vehicle, of comparable dimensions to the British Mark V tanks, and weighing 40 tons as compared to the Mark V's 28 tons. This tank was often called "the heaviest World War I tank" but this is not strictly accurate, since the FIAT 2000 never actually saw combat in World War I. Also, the modest order for 50 tanks was never completed: the only Fiat 2000 tanks produced were the two prototypes. Despite the fact that this was Italy's first attempt to design and build a tank, Fiat appeared to have gotten it more or less right.

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Fiat 2000 Tank - prototype

The layout of the FIAT 2000 differed to the other tanks then in use, especially the British ones. The engine was separated from the crew; not be being placed behind or in front of the crew compartment, but below it. It’s possible that the purpose of the original design with the mechanicals separated from the upper structure was to allow the hull to be used as the basis for other vehicle types such as SPG’s, but this is speculation without any evidence either way.

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Fiat 2000 Tank interior layout showing crew positions and mechanicals

The overall crew was 10 men. Armament originally consisted of the turret mounted gun and ten machineguns (three on each side and four in front), but this left the rear of the tank undefended and tended to contaminate the interior with propellant fumes, so it was decided to install a ventilator in the roof and alter the machinegun positions to two on each side, three at the rear, and two in front. The driver was seated at the front in an armoured compartment, with very good overall vision through a large port forward and small lateral loopholes. The tank commander was positioned in the upper part of the tank, which was completely separated from the engine and transmission compartment (another innovation). The 3 rear machine gunners had to handle their weapons from a kneeling position, which was not particularly comfortable. However the 4 other machine gunners could fire from either a seated or an upright position. The 7 machineguns were provided with 7,000 rounds of ammunition in total. The main gunner and the loader were seated at the back of the turret.

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Fiat 2000 Prototype Hull on trial - June 1917

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the tank's weaponry was the turret; apart from the Renault FT, this was the first tank to have a rotating turret mounted above the hull. The turret was made of four pieces rivetted together, had room for two crew members and could traverse a full 360°. On the issue of armament the above-mentioned Major Bennicelli (the man also responsible for bringing the Renault FT-17 to Italy) seems to have been pushing for a 75mm gun or 76mm. Major Bennicelli being an artillery man was probably choosing the 75/27CK or similar type of gun he would have been familiar with. A later plan on 1st May 1918 planned to install an improved 77mm gun but in the end the chosen gun was the 65/17 howitzer (of 65mm caliber with a barrel 17 calibers long) with 45 rounds. Thanks to the tall turret and the space available beneath it, the gun's elevation was -10/+75°. The Fiat 2000 was actually the first tank to be equipped with a fully rotating turret (before even the French FT 17).

One source states that a 14mm heavy machine gun was also planned to be fitted with the main gun but this cannot be verified due to lack of clear documentation and the time that has now passed. This may also have arisen because of some confusion over the naming of the machinegun – the type fitted was the 6.5mm FIAT 14, which maye have led to this mistake. The secondary armament as above mentioned consisted of 7 x 6.5mm machine-guns. Four of them were placed at the corners of the hull and could swivel over a 110° angle. Two other machine-guns were placed in the center of the side walls and the last was placed in the center of the rear. Two machine-guns could fire towards front, three to each side and three towards the rear of the tank. The machine-guns however could fire only a few degrees of negative elevation, thus creating dead space around the circumference of the vehicle.

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2nd Prototype late 1917 to early 1918 with upper structure partially completed and first model cylindrical turret

The tracks were longer than the hull, but were lower in comparison to the wrap-around type found on the British "rhomboidal" tanks and thus lower in weight. The armour was of a clean design, being made of riveted vanadium steel plates. It was 15 mm thick on the sides and 20 mm on the front. Fiat spent a lot of money on these prototypes and used the best quality vanadium armour plate available from the steel works at Terni. This vanadium armour plate was intended for Italian warships such as the "Christopher Columbus" and was significantly more expensive than standard armour. Large armoured skirts made from 20mm plate also covered the 4 bogied suspension units on each side, although a weakness was noted with track chains being exposed to enemy fire. The sloped shielding on the front and upper part of the tank hull offered additional protection (the sloped shielding offered better protection than vertical shielding, because it can in many cases deflect the enemy projectile).

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Fiat 2000 Tank prototype during trials

However, the excessive height of the tank made it an easy target. The steering was conventional and turns were made by reducing power to one of the tracks. The tank could also be slowed down by means of the side brake. The excellent suspension of the FIAT-2000 consisted of four oscillating carriages equipped each of two road-wheels with leaf springs. The steel tracks at only 450mm broad were very narrow for the weight of the tank, and ground pressue was thus considerable. This proved detrimental to cross-country travel.

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Completed Fiat 2000 at public parade probably Rome either 1918 or 1919

The FIAT-2000 was propelled by a very advanced engine, the FIAT Aviazione A12 aviation type water-cooled 240 hp engine with 6 cylinders located at the rear of the tank and driving the tracks through a transverse transmission. The fuel capacity was 600-1,000 liters, but this gave only 75 km range on paved roads. Each cylinder was equipped with two valves and two exhausts. Engine cooling was via both ventilator and radiator. The electric system included the magnetos, two dynamos and a starter motor. The engine actuated with principal clutch, a gear box with reducer. Frin the gear box, the movement was transmitted to the axle transversely. On this axle the discs were assembled clutch and sprocket-wheels.

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Fiat 2000 on active service in Libya: photo shows Pietro Giorgetti (left), an aviation engineer and motor mechanic with the 89a Squadriglia S.V.A. in front of a tank Fiat 2000. (Ref http://www.earlyaviators.com/egiorge1.htm)

After WW1 ended, the FIAT 2000 was displayed as one of the weapons used "to defeat the enemy" and the two prototypes completed were sent to Libya to fight guerrilla forces, together with other tanks bought from France, in a special unit, the Tank battery (1° Batteria autonoma carri d'assalto). The only known account of their combat use comes from ‘Le Forze Armate’ saying that they were both to be used for the reconquest of Giarabub but that one broke down at Porto Bardia and the other some distance from the action leaving the actual battle to be carried out with only Fiat 3000s and a variety of armoured cars and trucks. Col. Pederzini states that one of the Fiat 2000′s was later dismantled in Benghazi prior to 1935 for unstated reasons.

Whether they saw any action elsewhere in Libya is not known at this time but the late Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi showed them in action on his stamps.  In Libya, the FIAT tank proved capable of an average speed of 4 km/h, and so, after two months its career ended, being unable to keep up with rapid movement of the enemy.

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Libyan stamps showing the Fiat 2000 in battle

One remained in Tripoli and the other was sent to Italy in the spring of 1919, where it performed before the King at Rome Stadium. The tank put on a convincing display: it climbed a 1.1 m wall, then faced another 3.5 m wall, which it knocked down with its weight. Then a trench of 3 m width was successfully crossed and several trees were knocked down. This impressive performance failed to revive interest in the heavy tank and so it was in the end abandoned.

The surviving FIAT 2000 at Rome was left in a depot for several years, until it was sent on the orders of Colonel Maltese to Forte Tiburtino, risking catching fire during the trip. In 1934 it was seen again in a Campo Dux parade, having been repainted and even rearmed, with two 37/40 mm guns instead of the forward machine guns. It’s possible that at this time the engine was also improved but this is also not entirey clear. It was later reportedly transformed into a monument at Bologna, after that its fate is unknown, like that of the other Fiat 2000 tank. So ended the life of what was a truly interesting and distinctive armoured fighting vehicle.

Next: Italian Tanks of the Interwar Decades Part 2 - The Fiat 3000 Tank
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Italian Tanks of the Interwar Decades - Part 2

Post by CanKiwi2 » 02 Jan 2015 13:06

The first Italian Tank of the Interwar Decades – The Fiat 3000

In 1918, France sent 100 Renault FT17 tanks to Italy so that Italian troops could get acquainted and trained with tracked combat vehicles while Italian industry began to build tanks in quantity for the Italian Army. At this time, in 1918, Fiat and Ansaldo were the only industrial concerns in Italy that were large enough to undertake tank production. The Italians produced a slightly improved version of the Renault DT, the Fiat 3000, a tank which would go on to be the standard tank of the emerging Italian armored units after World War I. Unfortuntely for the Italian Army in WW1, none would enter service before the War ended.

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Front right side view of Fiat 3000 Model 21

The Fiat 3000 was based on the French Renault FT. Design improvements included side skirt armour, a redesigned turret with twin 6.5mm machineguns and a more powerful motor mounted in a lower, transverse position. This and the fact that the Fiat 3000 was lighter than the FT17 resulted in, among other things, a much improved speed (it was three times as fast as the FT17). All facings were given angled surfaces. Overall, the Fiat 3000 was a little larger than the FT17. With a Fiat 4-cylinder 50hp gasoline engine delivering 65hp, maximum speed was 15mph (compared to 5mph for the French and American versions) while range was 59 miles. It was apparent at the time that even with the more powerful engine, the Fiat 3000 was underpowered for cross-country movement. This fixation with high road speed rather than cross-country speed was to be a design characteristic of Italian tanks up to and through WW2.

It is safe to say that during the early 1920’s, the FIAT 3000 was one of the very best tanks in the world. The design was accepted, the Italian Army planned widespread use of the new weapons and 1,400 were ordered, with deliveries to begin in May 1919. The end of WW1 caused the original order to be cancelled and only 100 were delivered, with the first prototype completed in June 1920 and tested during 1921. The first of the production models began to enter service in 1923 and were officially designated as the Carro d’Assalto Fiat 3000, Model 21 (“Fiat 3000 Assault Tank Model 21″). Tests revealed that the armament, consisting of two 6.5 mm machine guns (with 5,000 rounds), was inadequate, and adoption of a 37 mm gun as main armament was urged.

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Fiat 3000 Model 30’s on transporters

From as early as 1922 the tankers wanted a more powerful armament. An improved model was tested in 1929 and introduced in 1930 with the designation of Carro d’Assalto Fiat 3000, Model 30. This was armed with a 37mm gun in place of the twin machine guns and had a prominent cupola on the turret. It also differed from the Model 21 in that it had a more powerful engine (65hp), exhaust silencers and towing eyes, improved suspension, a different engine compartment silhouette, and the external stores were stowed differently. Some Model 30’s were also produced with two 6.5 mm machine guns as the main armament, as on the Model 21, in lieu of the 37 mm gun.

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Hungarian Army Fiat 3000 Tank

A final version, the Fiat 3000B Modified (L5-21), was a 1936 modification armed with twin 37mm guns. However, due to poor gearing the tank’s speed actually dropped with these later models (Ansaldo’s president, Ugo Cavallero, faced charges of selling the army poor material but used his connections to Mussolini to avoid conviction).

A limited number of Fiat 3000 Model 21’s were exported to Albania, Latvia and Abyssinia (Ethiopia) prior to 1930. Ironically, most of the 595 tanks fielded by the Italians in Ethiopia were CV31-33 tankettes, which were opposed by three Fiat 3000 Model 21’s previously sold to the Ethiopian government. Three other Fiat 3000 tanks were sold to the Hungarian government in 1936; these tanks fought during the Slovak–Hungarian War of March-April 1939. The designations of these tanks were changed prior to the outbreak of World War II, in accordance with the identification system that was adopted throughout the war by the Italians. The Model 21 was redesignated the L.5/21, and the Model 30 was redesignated the L.5/30.

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Fiat 3000 Latvijas armijā 20-to gadu beigās / Latvian Army Fiat 3000 Tanks

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Fiat 3000 Model 21, photo dated 1928 – Latvian Army exercise

The Fiat 3000 (Model 21) was first used in action in February 1926 in Libya, when a tank company was sent to be part of the counter insurgency operations and co-operated in the reconquest of the Oasis of Giarabub. The performance of the armored contingent did not live up to expectations. In fact, the tanks did slowed down the columns, raising the ire of the commander, Graziani towards the tank units – one broke down at Porto Bardia, the other broke down “long before reaching the place of use”. Conversely, the Lancia 1Z armoured cars gave a good impression, poroving their speed and agility in the desert conditions.

Italy formed the Reggimento Carri Armati, or Tank Regiment, in 1927 with five small tank battalions (20 tanks per battalion) equipped with the 100 Fiat 3000 Model 21’s built from 1921. The 48 Fiat 3000B models delivered in 1930 appear to have been mixed in among the older models. Some saw action against the Ethiopians in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War in 1935. The Italians did not employ any of these tanks in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, however. By 1940 the 131st Centauro and 133rd Littorio Armored Divisions each had two medium tank battalions still fielding the Fiat 3000 or 3000B, now called the L5/21 or L5/30 respectively in the new Italian system. Centauro took its L5 tanks to Albania in April 1939 when the Italians invaded and overthrew their former puppet-king. The division also deployed some of them against the Greeks in October 1940, though it left over half of them in its depots as the engines had completely worn out.

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Fiat 3000 Tanks, 1936

The 132nd Ariete armored division had been formed and trained with the old Fiat 3000’s (inherited from the 2nd Armored Brigade) but turned them over to Littorio in 1939, to await new production M11/39 medium tanks. Littorio took the old Fiat’s into battle in June 1940 when it attacked the French in Piccolo San Bernardo Pass, but they saw little action on the battlefield, again due to mechanical failures. In the spring of 1941, Littorio received new M13/40 medium tanks and passed the remaining Fiat 3000 relics on to training units. They were also among the last Italian tanks to oppose the Allies in July 1943 when the Allies landed in Sicily. Two Italian tank companies on the island were still equipped with the Fiat 3000’s. One company was dug in and their vehicles were used as fixed fortifications, while the other company was used in a mobile role at the Battle of Gela, with few of the tanks surviving the Allied advance.

However, through the 1920’s it’s safe to say that Italy was similar to those other countries with tank units (Britain, France and the United States), with their units being a continuation of WW1 formations. France primarily had the Renault FT17 tanks, the US had Renault-style Ford 6-ton tanks and Russia was also building modified Renaults. Britain had a new post-war design, the Vickers MkI and MkII series but these were not appreciably superior to the Fiat 3000. Britain had 160 of these tanks in four battalions, Italy had 100 in five battalions. Italy was thus one of the small number of countries that had established and sizable armoured formations as of the late 1920’s.

Through the 1920’s, the Italian Army did little to develop any doctrine of tank warfare. Tanks were seen as being for infantry support and nothing more and training was only for this limited role. There were no strong advocates for the use of armour as they existed in Britain or France – Liddell-Hart and Fuller being examples. They had no Italian counterparts. Perhaps the only innovative military thinker in Italy was Guilo Douhet, and he was an advocate of airpower alone (and in fact had been “…imprisoned in 1917 for overly aggressive advocacy of his views on military matters”). Such books or articles on tanks that were opublished followed the official doctrine for use of tanks, although some did discuss the problems concerning using tanks in the mountainous border areas of Italy.

With no advocates of innovation and of doctrinal development, armoured warfare doctrine within the Italian Army remained static until around 1928 and would not in fact change much until 1935-36. The tank was an infantry support vehicle and remained so within the Italian Army for many years.

Next: Italian Tanks of the Interwar Decades - Part 3 - Tank Development during the 1930's
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Italian Tanks of the Interwar Decades - Part 3

Post by CanKiwi2 » 02 Jan 2015 13:24

Italian Tanks of the Interwar Decades – Tank development during the 1930’s

Two major industrial concerns pretty much monopolized Italian tank production – Fiat and Ansaldo. Fiat was an automobile manufacturer, and produced the engines and suspensions for all Italian tanks manufactured after 1930. It had also bilt the first two Italian tanks, the Fiat 2000 and the Fiat 3000. Ansaldo was a shipbuilding and heavy construction company, and carried out the design work and built the chassis for all post-1930 Italian tanks. Both companies had a close relationship with the Fascist government of Italy. Ansaldo in particular was heavily dependent on government contracts, building many of the ships for the new Italian navy. But at the end of the 1920’s, neither company had many any attempt at independent tank design, and the only initiative, such as it was, had come from the government.

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Generale Ottavio Zoppi (1870-1962), a leading advocate of the “celeri” concept, photo from 1933

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Carro Veloce 29 Tankette – the Vickers Carden-Loyd Mk. VI.

However, by 1930 Mussolini had consolidated his hold on power and began forging ahead with new plans. The theme of these plans was modernization, with the Italian Armed Forces to be the equal of any in the world. The organization and use of tank units also began to be examined. And the idea of a “war of maneuver began to be explored. A new type of unit, the “celeri” (fast) division was created – a combination of cavalry and bersaglieri fighting in integrated units, first openly communicated in the influential book “I Celeri” written by Generale Ottavio Zoppi. To equip these new “celeri” units, new tank units were formed in 1933.

These new tank units were to be equipped with the Carden Loyd CV-29, which was first introduced in 1929. In 1928, an Italian army commission had viewed public demonstrations of a new British fast one-man tankette designed by Major Giffard LeQuesne, which later became the first Carden-Loyd tankette design. The slightly later Carden-Loyd Mk.VI tankette, distributed by Vickers, was an instant success, widely sold and produced under licence abroad by a number of countries. It was fast, versatile, and cheap. A single Mk VI was obtained from the British Army and tested in northern Italy. In 1929, the Italian Army then bought 25 Mk VI’s from Vickers, the last four of which were assembled in Italy by the OTO factory. The CV-29 was small and suitable for use in the mountainous terrain of Italy’s borders. Its small size meant it could more on narrow mountain tracks and cross narrow bridges. The CV-29 was however used only for training and experimentation.

Italian Tanks of the Interwar Decades

Carro Veloce (CV) 33

In 1933, Ansaldo and Fiat were awarded contracts to build re-designed MK VI’s under license, these were designated the CV-33. About 300 CV-33’s were built. They had a crew of 2, armour was 6-14mm thick, they were armed with a single 6.5mm machinegun and powered by a Fiat 43hp engine giving a road speed of 26mph and an operational range of 78 miles. In 1938 these were redesignated the L3.33. They saw action in China, Spain, France, the Balkans, North Africa, Italian East Africa, Italy, and Russia. The CV-33 was sold abroad to Austria, Afganistan, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Hungary, Nationalist Spain, Nicaragua, Iraq and other countries.

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The Carro Veloce (CV) 33 tankette (later the L3/33)

The Carro Veloce (CV) 35 tankette (later the L3/35)

In 1935, a slightly improved model of the CV-33 was introduced and designated the CV-35. The primary differences were that the armour was bolted rather than riveted and the single 6.5 mm machine gun was replaced with twin 8 mm machine guns. Other than the number and type of machine guns, the differences between the L3/35 and the L3/33 were few. Both featured riveted and welded construction. The vehicle’s commander/gunner sat on the left and the driver sat on the right. The engine was mounted transversely in the rear. A circular radiator was mounted behind the engine. The transmission went to the front to the final drive. The Vickers-Carden-Lloyd type suspension had two three-wheel bogies on leaf spring and a single unsprung wheel on each side. There was an acacia wood trail that the top run of the tracks went on. Many older CV-33s were retrofitted to meet the specifications of the CV-35. In 1938, the vehicles were redesignated L3/33 (“L” for Leggero or ‘light’) and the L3/35.

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The Carro Veloce (CV) 35 tankette (later the L3/35)

The L3/ 38 tankette

In 1938, a further development of the L3 design was designated the L3/38. The L3/38 had torsion bar suspension and two versions of a single mounted 13.2 mm machine gun. Italy retrofitted at least 12 L3/35s to meet the specifications of the L3/38. The converted L3/35s with the L3/38’s torsion bar suspension saw limited service in September 1943 until June 1944. These L3/38s versions of the L3/35s were armed with a single 13.2 mm Breda M31 machine gun.

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L3/38 Tankette

In 1937 Brazil ordered 24 L3/38s which were delivered in 1938. The L3/38s exported to Brazil were designated “CV33/II”. The Roman numeral “II” represents the second version of the original L3/33 version. The L3/35 version exported to Brazil would be “CV33/I” (the CV33 or L3/33 and the CV33/I or L3/35 export versions to Brazil had no torsion bar suspension). The CV33/II Brazilian export was armed with a single 13.2 mm Madsen machine gun.

CV 33 / CV 35 Variants

The overall limited size and power-to-weight ratio of this vehicle prevented extensive modifications, but several different armaments were tested and there were a number of variants. There was also an aircraft carried version, the Aviotrasportabile (a single Savoia-Marchetti SM.82 aircraft was modified to carry a L3/33 recessed under the fuselage for experiments with airborne armour).

The “L3 cc” anti-tank (controcarro) was an L3 with a Solothurn 20 mm anti-tank rifle mounted in place of its normal machine gun armament. Only a few were so modified, and they saw action only in North Africa. The Solothurn rifle could penetrate up to 18 mm of armor at 300 m (328 yards) which was effective against lightly armoured vehicles.

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L3 cc (on the left) and an L3/35 (on the right) outside Bardia, Greece in 1941.

The “L3 Lf” (Lancia fiamme, “flamethrower”) flame tank was another variant of the L3 tankette with development began in 1935. The flamethrower nozzle replaced one of the machine guns, and the flame fuel was carried in an armoured trailer towed by the vehicle. Later versions had the fuel carried in a box-shaped tank mounted above the L3’s engine compartment. The vehicle weighed 3.2 tons, and the armoured trailer carried 500 litres (110 gallons) of fuel. It had a range of 40 yards, though other sources report a 100 meters (330 feet) range. The L3 Lf saw action in the Second Italo–Abyssinian War, Spain, France, Russia, the Balkans, Italian North Africa and Italian East Africa. From 1936 each CV/L3 company had a single L3 Lf platoon.

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L3 Lf in action

L3 Centro Radio command tank: the basic L3 platform was also employed as a command vehicle using the Marelli RF1 CA radio in platoon and company command vehicles. The L3 was considered too small to be effectively employed as a regimental level command radio vehicle so this task fell to the later and slightly larger L6/40 CR (Centro Radio = Radio Center).

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L3 Centro Radio command tank

L3 Passerella bridge layer: the few L3 Passerella (bridge layer) vehicles constructed were assigned to units at Armoured Brigade levels. The 7 meter (23 feet) long bridge was stripped down into sections on a trailer towed by the L3 itself for travel. On arriving at the combat zone, this bridge was assembled on the front of the tank, suspended by cables from two small cranes located over the crew’s superstructure. The crew laid the completed bridge over the obstacle from within the vehicle. A trained L3 Passerella crew took seven minutes to lay out this bridge.

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CV 33 Passerella Bridge Layer Tank

Planned variants which did not progress beyond the prototype stage included the Carro Veloce Recupero (an unarmed armoured recovery vehicle with a rear tow bar, did not progress beyond the prototype stage) and the Semovente L3 da 47/32 (a tank destroyer with a 47 mm L/32 gun mounted in the hull, based on the L3/35. At least one built but did not enter service).

Exports

The CV-33 and CV-35 were sold abroad to Austria, Afganistan, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Hungary, Nationalist Spain, Nicaragua, Iraq, Venezuela and other countries. Many foreign buyers substituted other machine guns as the main armament. The Hungarians added a raised commander’s vision cupola on some of the L3s they acquired. In 1938, the Brazilian Army bought several L3/35 tankettes which remained in active service until 1945 when some units were resold to the Dominican Republic. Venezuela bought two units in 1934 for evaluation in infantry support operations, because of several incidents on the border with Colombia, like other weapons acquired from the Italian mission they did not survive past World War II.

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Austrian Fiat-Ansaldo CV-35 tankettes in Wien 1935

In 1934, the Hungarian government purchased large quantities of CV33’s. They modified some with a turret housing either a 13.2-mm machine gun, an automatic 20 mm gun or a flamethrower, while others were rearmed with a Czech SPARK 7.92-mm machine gun or Brno ZB vz.26/ZB vz.30. The transaction and delivery was kept secret and the armament and modifications were made locally. In August 1935, 30 modified CV33’s were delivered (designated 37M). The second batch arrived in 1936, with 121 CV35’s (38M). Seven new tank companies (18 CV33 and CV35 each) were allocated between the 1st and the 2nd cavalry and 2 motorized brigades. In April 1941, these took part in the Yugoslavian campaign, after which they were deployed to guard and patrol the borders. However in summer 1941, 65 Hungarian tankettes were sent to the Eastern Front, being part of the 1st Mobile Corps under the command of Major-General Bela Miklos Danloki, attached to the Army Group “Center” as two motorized and one cavalry brigades. They operated in Ukraine. By all accounts these were all lost by December 1941 and the survivors returned to training units back home.

Combat History

In addition to seeing action in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Spanish Civil War, the Slovak-Hungarian War, and the Anglo-Iraqi War, the L3 was used almost everywhere that Italian troops fought during World War II. L3s were found on the Italian/French border, North Africa, Italian East Africa, the Balkans, USSR, Sicily, and Italy. The combat performance of the L3s during the interwar period was poor. On at least two occasions during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, L3s were put out of action by massed infantry attacks. In the Spanish Civil War, L3s of the Corps of Volunteer Troops (Corpo Truppe Volontarie, or CTV) were totally out-classed by the T-26 and BT-5 tanks provided to the Republican forces by the Soviet Union. Fortunately for the Hungarians, the L3s were not a factor in their brief war with Slovakia.

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On Italy’s entry into WW2, large numbers of the L3 tankettes equipped Italian armoured units

On 10 June 1940, when Italy entered World War II, the Royal Italian Army (Regio Esercito) possessed only about one-hundred M11/39 medium tanks in two tank battalions. L3 tankettes still equipped all three Italian armoured divisions, they equipped the tank battalions in the motorized divisions, they equipped the light tank squadron group in each “Fast” (Celeri) division, and they equipped numerous independent tank battalions. Though numerous, Italy’s tankettes proved to be outclassed from the start and also proved to be of low tactical value. They were vulnerable to the British Boys anti-tank rifles. Other than those used for occupation duties in the Balkans and elsewhere, few L3s remained in front line service past the end of 1940. After the Italian armistice with the Allies in 1943, L3 tankettes were used by German Army forces and by the pro-Nazi National Republican Army of the Italian Social Republic. L3/35 were also used by the Chinese Nationalist Army and fought against the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Italian Tanks on the verge of WW2 - the Fiat-Ansaldo M11/39

The Fiat-Ansaldo M11/39 was an Italian medium tank first produced prior to World War II. The official Italian designation was Carro Armato (“armoured vehicle”) M11/39. The designation for the M11/39 is as follows: “M” for Medio (Italian: “medium”), followed by the weight in tons (11) and the year of adoption (1939). The M11/39 originated with a Regia Esercito 1931 specification asking for a “Carro di Rotura” (Breakthrough tank). Ansaldo-Fossati responded with a first prototype, heavily influenced by the British Vickers 6-ton design in 1932. A second prototype however was delivered and later, in 1937, a final prototype was delivered. Also it was fitted with a RF 1 CA radio, not retained for the production. The 1937-38 prototypes were succcesfully trialed and the army placed an order for 96 units, to be delivered by the end of 1939. FIAT delivered the engine and transmission, but Ansaldo was responsible for the final assembly.

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Fiat-Ansaldo M11/39

The design of the M11/39 was influenced by the British Vickers 6-Ton, an influence reflected particularly in the track and suspension design. One innovative aspect of the design was the placement of the final reduction gears inside the front-mounted drive sprockets, eliminating the need for enlarged final drive housings in the bow armour. The M11/39’s career was cut short due to several weaknesses in its design. The most important was the placement of the main 37 mm armament in the hull. The 37 mm gun was in a fixed position with traverse restricted to 15° to left or right. The only other armament was a dual 8 mm machine guns in a rotating turret. While only one man operated the machine guns, the turret was small with manual controls. Conceptually, the intent was that the main gun be used against heavy targets while the turret armament would be used for all-round defence against infantry. The layout was similar to the American Grant/Lee tanks, which as of 1939 were in the future. The original intent had been to place the 37 mm/L40 armament in the turret, but there was insufficient space. A redesign of the M11/39, in order to mount the main gun in the turret, was commenced, finally resulting in the development of the M13/40.

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Fiat-Ansaldo M11/39

In addition to the poor gun positioning, the M11/39 had other shortcomings: its endurance and performance were both poor, it was relatively slow, its mechanical reliability was very poor, while the armour, although superior to the Vickers design, was insufficient for a medium tank as of 1939: there was only 30mm of armour on the frontal glacis and turret, 14.5 mm on the sides, 8mm on the rear, and only 6mm for the top, turret roof and bottom. The armour was also bolt-on plating, on a riveted construction amd the 30mm thickness was designed to withstand only 20 mm gun fire. All M11/39s were designed to carry a radio, but none of the production vehicles were so fitted.

Entrances for the crew were situated on the turret, on the main gun roof top, and by a large hatch on the left side. There were also air intakes on the rear superstructure and turret, as well as pistol ports on the hull, sides and rear. The driver and main gunner were both located in the forward hull compartment, while the commander was alone in his turret. There was no intercom. The FIAT Fiat SPA 8T, watercooled diesel engine gave a net HP of 105 bhp (125 hp max.). It was fed by a main fuel tank (145 liters), and a reserve tank (45 liters). Located at the rear, it drove the front drive sprocket through a long transmission arm. The idler wheels were adjustable. The bogies comprised four sets of paired roadwheels, sprung with a classic semi-elliptic leaf spring.

Production started in April 1939 and the first batch was delivered to the Ariete Division, 32nd Tank Regiment in August, and later to the 4th tank regiment. Initial plans were to equip each armoured batallion with 31 of these tanks. Production ran until mid-1940, when the M11/39 was replaced by the much-improved M13/40. The M11/39 hull design, with modifications, was used in the development of the more successful Fiat M13/40. Finland never considered the M11/39. By the time it entered services, Finland's own indigenous tank production was underway.

Finnish Experience with Italian Tanks

When Finland first began considering expanding it’s small armoured force, circa 1932, the Italian Army was primarily equipped with the old Fiat 3000 tanks (similar to the Renault FT-17’s used by the Finns at this time) and with small numbers of the new CV-29’s – a model with which the Finnish Army as already familiar. Italian doctrine for the use of tanks had remained static, and while the Finnish Military Attache in Rome and Finnish Officers attending staff courses in Italy kept abreast of developments in Italy, there was little that could be learnt with regard to the use of tanks in combat.

With the Spanish Civil War, the Finnish Volunteers in Spain, Pohjan Pohjat, acquired a great deal of experience with Italian equipment (the volunteers were supplied with equipment by the Italians) and from the start, a small Panssaaripataljoona (Panzer Battalion) was a part of Pohjan Pohjat. This pataljoona was initially equipped with Italian L3/35 and L3 lf tankettes, as well as with L3 Centro Radio command tanks. Pohjan Pohjat found these tankettes to be outclassed against any other tanks from the start. They were also vulnerable to anything heavier than a rifle and proved to be of low tactical value, having to be used cautiously in combat to avoid heavy losses.

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Finnish volunteers of Pohjan Pohjat advancing in Spain with an L3/35 from the unit’s Panssaaripataljoona

Pohjan Pohjat’s Panssaaripataljoona far preferred using the few German tanks that they managed to acquire, and above all the small numbers of captured Soviet tanks and armoured cars with which they eventually equipped themselves. Reports back to Finland repeatedly emphasized the essential uselessness of the Italian L3’s in detail. The Finnish Army would not at any time buy or use any Italian tankettes, although much of value was otherwise learnt from the fighting in Spain.
ex Ngāti Tumatauenga ("Tribe of the Maori War God") aka the New Zealand Army

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CanKiwi2
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Re: What If-Finland had been prepared for the Winter War?

Post by CanKiwi2 » 12 Feb 2015 17:07

Quick translation questions. Does "Kollaa kestää" best translate as ‘Kollaa will hold out’ or ‘Kollaa must hold out’?

Kiitos.............Nigel
ex Ngāti Tumatauenga ("Tribe of the Maori War God") aka the New Zealand Army

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Juha Tompuri
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Re: What If-Finland had been prepared for the Winter War?

Post by Juha Tompuri » 12 Feb 2015 20:09

Hi Nigel,
CanKiwi2 wrote:Quick translation questions. Does "Kollaa kestää" best translate as ‘Kollaa will hold out’ or ‘Kollaa must hold out’?
‘Kollaa will hold out’ sounds good.

Regards, Juha

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Re: What If-Finland had been prepared for the Winter War?

Post by CanKiwi2 » 19 Jun 2015 17:50

Juha Tompuri wrote:Hi Nigel,
CanKiwi2 wrote:Quick translation questions. Does "Kollaa kestää" best translate as ‘Kollaa will hold out’ or ‘Kollaa must hold out’?
‘Kollaa will hold out’ sounds good.

Regards, Juha
Thx Juha

And just as an FYI, this will be continuing. I'm still in existence - just tied up with a couple of intense IT Projects that are taking all my time and some!

Be back and working on this again in a few weeks...................Nigel
ex Ngāti Tumatauenga ("Tribe of the Maori War God") aka the New Zealand Army

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Re: What If-Finland had been prepared for the Winter War?

Post by CanKiwi2 » 24 Jun 2015 02:06

Got asked on the alternative history board about rifles and grenade launchers. Posted this there so thought I'd dump it here as well

This is very much a rough draft and a huge rewrite needed. Call it a brain fart if you will. Hasn't been tweaked, rewritten or polished. I'd hesitate to call it a draft but given the lack of time, here you go and if anyone wants to take it and rewrite it, have at it...... and I haven't even looked at rounds, calibre and all of those fun details. I think the basic premise is that the LS-SLR 7.62 uses the same round as the Moisin-Nagant but..... like I said, brain fart coming ....

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Small Arms, Machineguns and Mines: The Best Small Arms in the World

Finland’s greatest military assets were its tough skilled outdoorsman citizen-soldiers, instilled with the belief that "One Finn is equal to Twenty Russians" and Finnish “Sisu.” In the historical Winter War, the Finnish Army was under-resourced and ill-equipped. While the primary infantry weapon, the Moison-Nagant, was an excellent rifle, it was a bolt-action rifle with a (relatively) slow rate of fire. The Finnish Army was under equipped wth automatic weapons (while the Sumoi machinepistol was issued, it was available only in low numbers) and both anti-tank guns, mortars and artillery were either in short supply or non-existent. In addition, ammunition supplies were limited and production was insufficient to meet combat needs. This severely limited the Finnish Army’s options in the historical War.

In this alternative scenario, Finland rectifies these shortfalls over the decade of the 1930’s. From the 1931 Defense Review on, the Finnish Military (with Government support and the necessary budgetary provisions) worked hard, within the financial constraints of being a small country with a limited budget, to provide their soldiers with the best possible small arms for use in Finnish conditions and to meet the needs of what would be a heavily outnumbered Army in the event of any war with the Soviet Union. Prior to the Army’s reorganization and the re-equipment program of the 1930’s, Finnish soldiers were armed primarily with bolt-action rifles – the Moison-Nagant Rifle – and heavy machineguns (the Maxim). Anti-tank weaponry was non-existent, Mortars and Anti-Aircraft Guns were available only in token numbers, Artillery was in short supply and much that was available was antiquated, ammunition stocks for all weapons were small and other infantry support weapons were almost non-existent.

With limited orders from the military, Finnish industry was incapable of producing large quantities of weapons or munitions and expansion of the manufacturing capacity for such items takes years rather than months. Thus, when the real Winter War actually broke out, Finland’s industrial capacity was incapable of rapid expansion, and cut off as they were from access to major manufacturing countries, rapid access to purchased equipment was impossible. The Suomi machinepistol was a typical example – an excellent weapon, probably the best machinepistol in the world, it was also very poorly suited for wartime mass-production, with major components being milled individually rather than stamped or pressed. At the outbreak of the Winter War, pehrhaps 50-60 per day could be manufactured, and this was the maximum production level which Tikkakoski (the only Finnish manufacturer of the Suomi m/31) succeeded in achieving. This came to about 1,000 submachineguns per month - some 12,000 per year. In 1944 Tikkakoski calculated targets for production of the M/44 submachinegun - the estimated production rate (with production of Suomi M/31 running concurrently) for large-scale production was 50,000 in 14 months.

Other weapons were designed and produced too late to be of any real value. The Lahti L-39 20mm Anti-tank rifle being another case in point. An excellent weapon for 1939, it was a case of too little, too late. In sufficient quantity, in the Winter War this could have been a decisive weapon. As it was, the Finnish Army suffered severe and unnecessary casualties as a result of lacking the appropriate weapons and also due to ammunition shortages. Where the right weapons and sufficient ammunition was available, the Finnish Army wrought miracles. In some cases, individual Finnish soldiers killed literally 80-100 Russian soldiers each in single engagements. Numbers that even their own officers found it difficult to believe until they saw the evidence with their own eyes.

One of the central premise’s of this alternative history scenario is that, from 1931 on, the Finnish Government spends significantly larger amounts on defense (which is possible for two reasons – a stronger economy with a GDP approximately double the historical, and a firm commitment to increased defence spending), increasing significantly the numbers and quality (via training) of soldiers available and also carrying out an on-going and large-scale re-equipment program. As part of the re-equipment program of the 1930’s, and driven by field exercises and the development of indvidual and unit tactics and combat techniques suited to Finnish terrain and the Finnish soldier, a decision was made that the firepower of infantry units and of individual soldiers needed to be substantially upgraded.

Five types of weapons were identifed as necessary. An individual rifle capable of firing in semi-automatic and, perhaps optionally, automatic mode, a “submachine gun” type weapon capable of a high rate of rapid fire and effective at shorter ranges, a General Purpose Machinegun - a new, lighter and more infantry-portable Machinegun to replace the Maxim, a “light” man-portable Anti-Tank Rifle and lastly, some sort of weapon for projecting grenades out further than could be achieved by hand (but lighter than a conventional mortar, by preference being man-portable. In this selection of weapons, the Finnish Army would be decades ahead of its opponents and of most other, if not all other, armies in the world. The remainder of this section goes on to detail these weapons, their characteristics and their introduction into the Finnish Army and summarises their impact in the Winter War.

To meet these weapons requirements, the Finnish Army called on Finland’s own self-educated genius, Aimo Johannes Lahti, whom we have already taken a brief look at when we covered the Mosin-Nagant upgrade programe of the 1920’s.

The Moisin-Nagant Replacement – the Lahti-Saloranta Self Loading Rifle Model 1935 7.62mm (LS-SLR/M/35 7.62mm)

In 1931, as part of the Defence Review, the need for a semi-automatic self-loading Rifle with a large magazine capacity for the front-Line infantry was identified as a critical need. The Defence Review group responsible for infantry firearms spent a considerable amount of time and effort on this recommendation, with some heated arguments both for and against. The “against” school

The “for” school pointed out that while the bolt-action Moison-Nagant was a reliable rifle, it was a bolt-action rifle with a relatively slow rate of fire and a small magazine capacity (x rounds) and something in between this and a machine-gun but with greater range and better long-distance accuracy than a submachinegun was needed by the Finnish Army to offset the simple mathematics imposed by the large disparity in numbers with the Red Army that could be expected in any war. The “for” school also pointed back to the experiences of WW1 and the

In late 1932, Mannerheim appointed Arvo Saloranta to head a team tasked with coming up with a replacement Infantry Rifle, with their first task being to examine currently available military rifles. One of the weapons that came to their attention was the Polish Army’s Fabrique Nationale (FN) wz. 1928 light machine gun chambered to the 7.92x57mm Mauser round. In 1920, the Belgian arms manufacturer Fabrique Nationale (FN) had acquired the sales and production rights to the BAR series of firearms in Europe from Colt. The wz 1928 was based on this weapon, and FN’s first order was the Polish order for 10,000 7.92-mm light machinegun wz.28, the contract for which was signed in December of 1927. The version delivered to Poland was based on the "R 75" commercial version, which Colt had introduced in 1925.


The Polish wz. 1928 variant.

Changes to the base design included a pistol grip, different type of bipod, open-type V-notch rear sight and a slightly longer barrel. Subsequent rifles were assembled locally in Poland under license by the State Rifle Factory (Państwowa Fabryka Karabinów) in Warsaw. The wz. 1928 was accepted into service with the Polish Army in 1927 under the formal name 7,92 mm rkm Browning wz. 1928 (“7.92 mm Browning hand-held machine gun model 1928”) and – until the outbreak of World War II – was the primary light support weapon of Polish infantry and cavalry formations (in 1939 Poland had a total of approx. 20,000 wz. 1928 rifles in service). Additional detail modifications were introduced on the production line. Among them was the replacement of the iron sights with a smaller version and reshaping the butt to a fish tail.

The Finnish Army bought a small number of these light machineguns in 1933 from Poland, and after further evaluation, purchased a manufacturing license from Fabrique Nationale.. Aimo Lahti and Arvo Salorante were personally tasked by Mannerheim with taking the weapon and using it as the basis for designing a semi-automatic self-loading rifle for the Finnish Army infantryman. Both Lahti and Soloranta had experimented with a number of recoil-operated rifle designs in the early 1930’s and these experiements laid the basis for a gas-operated semiautomatic rifle. The prototype was chambered to the standard 7.62mm round used for the Moisin-Nagant Rifle, thus ensuring compatibility. Lahti also redesigned the whole receiver for the SLR, making disassembling and reassembling the weapon much easier. Other notable improvements introduced by Lahti were the carrying handle (the earlier Polish version had none) and the replacement of the fixed rear sight with a graduated flip sight. The wooden butt-stock was modified to include the unique feature of a Nokia designed and manufacture replaceable rubber butt-pad (which significantly reduced felt recoil), available in several different sizes to accommodate an individual shooter's "length of pull."A further modification was an integral "fold-away" trigger guard with a modified pistol grip for winter use.

The 20 round box magazine was retained. However, in early testing, the front lug of the magazine (where it locks up into the receiver when the magazine is properly inserted front end first) proved to be a weak feature which caused a large number of malfunctions. (this front lug was merely punched out of the sheet metal of the magazine body). Saloranta solved this problem by installing a separate beefed-up front lug. Basic specifications were a weight of 9.8 lb, a length of 43 in, barrel length of 21 in., a maximum rate of fire when used in automatic mode of 650 rounds per minute with an effective range of 1,500 feet (500 meters). With these features the LS-SLR was without doubt the most advanced Infantry Rifle existing in military use when World War 2 began. A small run of prototypes was produced in early 1935, with testing conducted through the spring and summer of the same year. The end result was that the new Rifle was accepted by the Finnish Ordanance Board in October 1935 as the replacement for the Moisin-Nagant, designated the LS-SLR/M/35 7.62mm (Lahti-Salorante Self Loading Rifle Model 1935 7.62mm) and an initial order was placed with VKT (the State Rifle Factory) for a series of large-scale production runs sufficient to fully re-equip the entire combat branch of the Finnish Army over a ten year timeframe.

The replacement program was planned as a ten-year effort, with VKT to manufacture 50,000 Rifles per year starting in 1936. This production target was not met in 1936, with initial difficulties with the production line resulting in only 30,000 Rifles being produced, but the target was met in 1937. In 1938, production was doubled after the Munich Crisi as VKT expanded manufacturing lines and moved to 24/7 manufacturing, running 3 shifts and working 7 days per week, with 70,000 Rifles produced. In 1939, running at full capacity on a 24/7 basis, VKT managed to produce 120,000 Rifles, meaning that by the time the Winter War broke out some 270,000 Rifles had been delivered, enough to equip a majority of the front-line combat infantry (Mosin-Nagant Rifles were at this stage largely relegated to use by rear-echelon, rear-area and support troops, the Home Guard and Boy-Soldiers. A limited number of the Finnish Manufactured Moisin-Nagant’s were retained within Infantry units as Bolt-Action Sniper Rifles fitted with Sniper Scopes. Front line Snipers often prefered the old Moisin-Nagant rather than the LS-SLR Sniper variant as a sniper rifle – the Finnish Army left the choice of weapon up to the individual sniper.


LS-SLR/35 7.62mm (Lahti-Salorante Self Loading Rifle 1935 7.62mm) – note the many similarities to the 1939 FN D light machinegun below (Picture below taken in Rannikkotykistömuseo) used by the Finnish Army during the (actual) Continuation War.


The LS-SLR/M/35 was a gas-operated semi-automatic which fired from the closed-bolt position in the semi--auto mode. It had an operator-adjustable gas regulator which worked on the "exhaust" principle. Under ideal conditions the major portion of the gas was passed The gas regulator offered firing with the lowest possible recoil combined with the ability to direct more gas into the system under adverse conditions or in case of fouling. In fully-automatic mode, however, the shooter receives considerable abuse from recoil, and the weapon climbs off-target quickly, making automatic fire only of marginal effectiveness .

The receivers were forged and milled with a projected lifespan of 80,000 rounds. The trigger mechanism was ingenious and well-designed. One disadvantage of the LS-SLR was the amount of work which went into machining the complex receiver (rather than the quicker and more cost effective stamping or casting techniques), bolt and bolt carrier. Additionally, the movement of the tilting bolt mechanism tended to return differently with each shot, affecting inherent accuracy of the weapon.

The LS-SLR/35 was a comfortable rifle to shoot and it handled well. The adjustable gas system, placement of the gas cylinder above the barrel, and alignment of the stock with the barrel axis all reduced the tendency of the weapon to climb in rapid semiauto fire. Although the rear sight had a tendancy to wobble, and many soldiers found the rear peep too close to the eye, the LS-SLR was capable of splendid accuracy with iron sights when fired by a well-trained shooter. Well-built, rugged, handsomely finished for a military rifle, and adequately reliable except under the most severe sand and dust conditions, the LS-SLR soon won an excellent and well deserved reputation with the Finnish soldier.

During early trials, it was soon determined that firing the LS-SLR in the full-auto mode was best restricted to only the most experienced soldiers who could fire in two to three-round bursts at extremely short distances. At ranges of 200 meters or more, employing an unsupported kneeling or sitting position, the second and third rounds in the burst usually hit at least 10 meters above and to the right of the first shot. Full-auto fire offhand with an 8- to 10-pound rifle in caliber 7.92mm was strictly an emergency procedure. In point of fact, after initial trials with the prototypes, the Finnish Army removed the selective-fire option entirely. An interesting variation that occurred during the Winter War was the field modification of LS-SLR rifles by soldiers for better handling. Nicknamed "The Bitch", these rifles were field modified, with their barrels cut off immediately in front of the gas block, and the unofficial permanent conversion to full-auto capability by simply filing down the selector.

From 1938 on, an optical sight was manufactured for the LS-SLR. Early testing with optical sights had resulted in the sights failing miserably to hold zero.. Bench-rest groups fired with scopes exhibited as much as 12 inches in vertical dispersion at 100 meters. This was completely unacceptable. The fault lay not in the optics, but in the use of the sheet-metal receiver cover as a mount. The thin receiver cover simply bent and twisted too much during the firing sequence. The solution was a rigid mount that completely replaced the original receiver cover. Following this modification, the scopes worked satisfactorily. Production runs from 1938 on included this new mount as standard. The standard optical scope made available to non-sniper qualified soldiers who achieved “marksman” grading were the 4x

During the Winter War, the LS-SLR/M/35 semi-automatic rifle with 20 round magazines was the standard infantry platoon weapon, providing an infantry unit with a solid base of accurate, rapid and highly effective firepower. The 4x optical sights and high standard of marksmanship training of the average Finnish soldier enhanced the effectiveness of this weapon and extended the range for accurate shooting outwards considerably. In conjunction with the standard Suomi M/31 submachineguns, LS-41 Light Machineguns and the LS-39 20mm Anti-Tank Rifles (as well as the grenades, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines with which each platoon was equipped), as well as the high level of tactical training and physical fitness, the average Finnish infantry platoon of late 1939 was an outstandingly dangerous opponent and, by the standards of other European Armies, out in front in a class of their own.

Alternative Scenario - Suomi M/31

In this alternative, the Finnish Army recognises the effectiveness of rhe Suomi M/31 from the early trials and testing. Following a series of exercises, it was decided to integrate the Sumoi M/1931 into the Finnish Armies TOE at a ratio of 2 M/31’s to each Infantry Section. Large scale production commenced in 1934, with 11,475 being produced in that year, 13,075 in 1935, approximately 16,000 in 1936 and 1937 and 20,000 per year in 1938 through to 1939 – a total of approximately 96,000 were in service with the Finnish Army at the time war broke out in late 1939.

What made the M/31 exceptional was the high quality of manufacturing, its high volume ammunition feed system and its accuracy. However, while it was a very good weapon, it was also poorly suited for wartime mass-production as it was slow and complicated to manufacture. The maximum production level, which Tikkakoski (the only Finnish manufacturer of the Suomi M/31) succeeded in achieving was about 1,000 submachineguns per month - some 12,000 per year. This was recognized as a limitation and in 1938, a newer version, the M/31B (aka the M/42 from actual history) was introduced. This resulted in a somewhat faster manufacturing processing, with approximately 1,900 per month being manufactured from 1938 on.
The standard magazines were the 20 and 50-round clips and the 70-round drum. The 50-round clips were somewhat unreliable and prone to cause jamming problems and had mostly been phased out by 1939.

To this end, the TOE was established as two Suomi M/1931’s and one LMG per Section (six and three per Platoon respectively).

General Purpose Machinegun L-41 7.62mm "Sampo": (designation needs to be changed btw and that's not all

By 1934, the Finnish military had come 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 complexity increased their unreliability and made them more difficult to use. Organisationally, they were allocated to Battalion Machinegun Companies, which, as part of the reorganisation of the early 1930’s, the Finnish Army was doing away with. The intention was to allocate machineguns to Infantry Sections and Platoons, and that these would be lighter and much more portable than the Maxims. It was also intended that the new Section Machinegun would have a crew of only two soldiers, and that the ammunition would be the same calibre as the standard Infantry Assault Rifle which was to be introduced.

In late 1934, Aimo Lahti was asked to design a new Section General Purpose Machinegun. The gun was to be 7.62mm and belt fed, lightweight and onr of the key objectives was that it be lightweight, simple to maintain and highly reliable in the field. In addition, the Finnish Army evaluated a number of foreign designs, including the German MG34. Like all competent Armed Forces everywhere and, in the 1930’s perhaps even more than most, the Finnish Armed Forces observed development of new military equipment abroad. In 1934 the Finns had noted the introduction of the new belt-fed MG-34 machinegun to German use. The MG34 was the first modern general purpose machine gun. Equipped with a quick-change barrel, the MG34 could fire for much longer periods of time than conventional weapons like the Browning Automatic Rifle or Bren, while being much lighter than crew-served weapons like the Vickers machine gun. The weapon was also quite versatile, able to be fed from drums or belts, and mounted on bipods, heavy tripods, or various pintle mounts for armored vehicles. It even became a primary defensive gun for the Luftwaffe, in its MG81 form. However, it did have its drawbacks, such as sensitivity to dust and comparatively expensive production. At the time it was introduced it had a number of advanced features and the general purpose machine gun concept that it aspired to was an influential one. However the MG34 was also expensive, both in terms of construction and the raw materials needed (49 kg (108 lb) of steel and its manufacture was too time-consuming to be built in the numbers required for the ever-expanding Finnish armed forces.

However, the Finnish Army did acquire half a dozen MG34’s for evaluation, with two being passed to Lahti for “reverse engineering.” In response to the Army request, Lahti designed the L-xx "Sampo" in late 1934. A number of design features from the MG34 were incorporated into the L-41 design, as were a number of improvements that were suggested from Lahti’s examination of the weapon. Getting the weapon to the protoype stage took time – the reason largely being the ammunition the Finnish military was using - designing a reliable belt-fed weapon that uses rimmed ammunition (such as the 7.62 mm x 54R used by Finnish military) while keeping the weight reasonable is much more difficult than designing a weapon 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 needs to be first pulled off the belt before it can be fed into the cartridge chamber while non-rimmed ammunition can be fed directly into the cartridge chamber while on the belt.

The first prototype of the belt-fed L-41 Sampo was finished in early 1935 and then tested. This first prototype version was a true general purpose machinegun, with a rifle-like butt, a pistol handle and a new tripod designed specially for the weapon. A bipod for light machinegun use was also included as standard equipment. The weapon was gas-action with an air-cooled barrel. In addition it had an adjustable rate of fire. In the first tests in late 1935, the steel used in the lock switches proved to be too soft and jammed the lock of each weapon during test firing. Once these parts were replaced with new ones that had been properly heat-treated the weapons successfully passed the tests. Suggested improvements included a redesign of the barrel, allowing replacing of the barrel in only few seconds. One handicap (if considered as such) was the very high rate of fire possibe – the maximun cyclic rate was some 1,000 shots/minute. A rate of fire this high overheated the barrel quickly and also wore them out very fast, so frequent changing of barrel was necessary during combat.However, the ability to adjust the rate of fire downwards was seen as a major plus, particularly where ammunition supply was restricted. Test reports from the troops field-testing the prototypes were mainly positive. The field tests revealed many problems, but nothing that could not be fixed.

Basically the troops considered the L-41 a good weapon in offensive use, but not particularly good when used in static defensive positions. This was not terribly surprising, as static defensive use was exactly where Maxim machineguns excelled. Other problems the early tests revealed included reliability problems with mixed/older ammunition, heated parts sticking, which made quickly replacing barrel and also carrying the weapon difficult, the tripod was not easy to put into the firing position and the anti-aircraft tripod was too fragile, and structural weaknesses in the recoil-spring and bolt parts. These were all problems which were rectified realtively easily and quickly for the second protype version. VKT also brought in a German specialist in the technology of mass production to work with Lahti and VKT on the manufacturing process and how this impacted the design. The second prototype was finished in the early 1936, with fine-tuning work on improvements continued until March - April of 1936.

The Finnish Army ordered a test series of 50 weapons in January of 1936, but because of these improvements the test series was not delivered until the summer of 1936. The manufacturer of the field test series was VKT (Valtion Kivääritehdas = State Rifle Factory). These were issued to Army units for field tests immediately. As usual, the Army Ordnance Department had asked feedback in the form of test reports from the units to which the weapons of field test series were issued The feedback from Finnish field tests of the second protoype vesion was received in October of 1936 and proved exceptionally positive. Finnish Army planning was to replace the Maxim medium machineguns used by heavy machinegun companies in infantry units with the new weapon, and relegate the Maxim’s to fixed defensive positions on the Mannerheim and VKT Lines as well as in Coastal Defenses.

Plans made by Weapons HQ of the Finnish Army General Headquarters required all Infantry Units to be issued with the new general purpose machinegun. The planed TOE was for 10 of the new Machineguns for each Infantry Company, which required a total of xxxx of these weapons. Marshal Mannerheim approved the purchase of these machineguns on the 29th of December 1936 and a week later, on the 8th of January 1937, Major General Svanström (Head of Weapons HQ in Finnish Army GHQ) placed the initial order with VKT.

The final prototype design required considerably less tooling and was much simpler to build than the first version - it took 75 man hours to complete the new gun as opposed to 150 man hours for the first version (a 50% reduction in work). Estimated prices mentioned in an offer sent by VKT to the Army Ordnance Department on the 11th of November 1936 were for a 4,360 Finnish marks Price per Weapon for 10,000 weapons or more. Specifications were as follows:

Calibre: 7,62 mm x 54 R
Length: 1325 mm
Barrel length: 605 mm
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

From a technical and manufacturing viewpoint the L-41 Sampo marked considerable progress and proved highly suitable for mass-production. A large percentage of the parts used were stamped and punched, while the basic structure was also quite simple, thus reducing production costs, time needed for manufacturing and the amount of materials needed considerably. VKT had the prototype ready and tested ready for mass-production, but in practice this was to prove much more difficult than anticipated. Rather ironically, modern and cost-effective manufacturing methods proved difficult for Finnish industry. Many of the most important parts of the L-41 (like the receiver) were stamped and/or punched and thus far VKT had manufactured receivers only by milling (machining) them. VKT lacked tools and machinery for this kind of work and building or acquiring them was the source of an unexpected delay..

For this reason VKT estimated that starting the mass-production might take about a year (in other words: until December of 1937). Considering this and the number (of L-41 machineguns) the Finnish Army needed, VKT suggested acquiring stamped parts needed for these weapons from Germany or Sweden. While manufacturing the quantities the Finns wanted was a very large work for the Finnish armaments industry, it was still a small amount for German manufacturers. The purchase from Germany was approved almost immediately, with approximately two years supply of stamped parts orders, giving VKT the necessary lead time to set up their own stamping and punching machinery (which they managed to do in 10 months). Production immediately moved to 24/7 in an attenpt to meet the Finnish Army’s needs. This was successful, and by the outbreak of the Winter War in late 1939, almost all Finnish Army units were fully equipped with the new machinegun, with production actually increasing from early 1939 on.

As the L-41 was phased in, the heavy machinegun companies were phased out and the Maxim’s relegated to fixed defensive positions. This was where they excelled. Their heavy weight (weapon + tripod combination was over 20 kg) made them less than mobile. In defensive warfare beating the capability of water-cooled Maxim just to keep going belt after belt would have been practically impossible for any air-cooled machinegun, so as long as there was no need for moving the machineguns to new place this would have been the area where Maxim ruled.

By way of contrast, the L-41 gave infantry units hugely emhanced firepweor was that was also considerably more mobile. This increased mobility allowed machineguns to be moved faster and more easily from one place to another, so the machineguns were able to move with the infantry and be available immediately they were needed. The L-41 proved exceptionally useful, reliable and robust weapon in the Winter War battlefields. The Finnish military went on to use the L-41 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 continued to see plenty of use after World War 2. Indeed, Finland exported numbers of this weapon to Sweden during the Second World War, where it went on to become standard equipment for the Swedish Army.

20mm Panssarintorjunta (Anti-tank) Rifle L-39 “Norsupyssy" (Elephant Gun)

One of the early questions that was addressed in the equipment reviews of 1931/32 was that of a suitable man-portable light anti-tank rifle. There was no question that such a weapon was needed as a counter to the growing Soviet tank threat. The initial debate that ocurred was over the calibre of the weapon. Some officers wanted 12,7 mm weapons, some wanted 13.2 mm weapons and some (including Lahti) wanted 20 mm weapons. The initial problem with accepting a 20-mm weapon early on seems to have been the slow muzzle velocity of then-existing 20-mm ammunition. No 12.7mm weapons were evaluated but a number of 13.2 mm calibre weapons were tested starting in 1932. Lahti didn't like either calibre, as he thought both had too little armour-penetration and he was also unhappy with that fact that neither calibre had tracer ammunition available.

At this stage, Lahti also managed to get himself into an argument with Colonel Raatikainen of the Finnish Army’s Weapons Design Committee regaring a mount for the new AT-Rifle. Raatikainen wanted a mount similar to the Germans, suitable for both AA- and AT-shooting. Lahti considered this unsuitable for AT-use. Another argument surfaced as Raatikainen and Saario wanted the Swiss 20mm Oerlikon gun to be accepted (suspicions existed about Raatikainen and Saario representing Oerlikon and having their own financial interests in this matter). Lahti was also very much against this porposal as the Oerlikon 20mm gun had poor armour-penetration capability.
Artillery Generals Nenonen and Svanström also joined the argument, demanding a 20 mm AT-rifle capable of penetrating 30 mm of armour. Live fire tests in the summer of 1933 finally proved that 20 mm was much more effective then 13.2 mm and a decision to choose 20 mm as the calibre for the Finnish Army’s AT-rifle was made in late 1933. Lahti was given the go-ahead in October 1933 and within three weeks he had designed the weapon. Two prototypes were immediately made and tested. In the spring of 1934, these prototypes easily won tests against the 13mm weapons available On. 6th of September 1934 the new 20 mm Lahtu Anti-tank Rifle was accepted into the Finnish Army equipment list as the L-39.

The L-39 was a gas-action semiautomatic, but it wasn't a pure semiautomatic in the common sense meaning of the term. When a shot was fired and the bolt retreated back, it didn't return forward for the next shot until \released using a switch located on the front part of the weapons pistol grip. Releasing the bolt usually took place just after firing the shot as it reduced the feel of the recoil. The L-39’s Loading Mechanism was a crank-like handle located on the right-hand side of the weapon. The weapon fired from a closed bolt. Presumably the bolt not returning forward had been added to improve cooling. The rifle had both a bipod and a muzzle brake. The gas getting to the gas-action mechanism was adjustable (four settings: 1.5, 1.8, 2.2 and 2.5 indicated the diameter of the hole to gas-action mechanism). Magazines of the weapon were not exactly light – an empty magazine weighed 3.37-kg and a fully loaded magazine weighed 6.7-kg. An experienced shooter could achieve a rate of fire as high as 15 shots/minute. The protective arch in front of the trigger guard was there for a good reason - the weapon extracted its used (heavy and hot) cartridge cases below the weapon just in front of it. Sights were fully adjustable with rear sight settings from 200 to 1400 meters. Because of the magazine located on top the weapon the sights were located on the left side of the weapon. Typical equipment included four magazine pouches, each containing two magazines.

At this point, the Finnish Army also ordered 20 mm antiaircraft guns, and it was decided to manufacture all further 20 mm antitank rifles in 20 mm x 138 B (Rheinmetall-Borsig / Solothurn long) calibre (to allow the same ammunition to be used in both AA-guns and the AT-rifle). This obviously made ammunition supply easier, since this calibre ammunition was manufactured in Germany and Italy, while 20mmx113 would have been unique to Finland. However, this was not the only reason. The propellant charge which VKT (Valtion Kivääritehdas = State Rifle Factory, located in the town of Jyväskylä) wanted to use to reach the requested muzzle velocity could not be contained in 20mm x 113 cartridge case, however the 20mm x 138B cartridge case was large enough

Ammunition types used included AP, AP-T, APHE-T, HE-T and phosphorous shells. AP was most plentiful of ammunition types but not very suitable to some of the later uses for L-39. At the same time AP-T and APHE-T projectiles fired by these weapons were dangerous to even well-armoured ground attack aircraft. Well placed shots of HE and phosphorous shells hitting bunker vision slots could be used to keep enemy infantry pinned down during trench war period, phosphorous shells could also be used for setting forest fires during summer-time. However availability of HE, APHE-tracer and phosphorous shells for infantry used was typically more limited as these ammunition types were mostly used with antiaircraft-guns. Ammunition was manufactured by VKT (Valtion Kivääritehdas = State Rifle Factory). Domestic 20mm x 138B cartridge cases were manufactured by Oy Tikkakoski Ab and Oy Sytytin.

The first order, for 2,000 AT-rifles, was placed in September 1933, with VKT ramping up a separate production line over late 1933 / the first half of 1934. Meanwhile, the reorganisation and table of equipment planning for the Finnish Army had been completed, with planned TOE being 4 x 20mm Anti-Tank Rifles for every Infantry Company (approx. 20 per Battalion, 70 per Regiment, 220 per Division). With the reorganised and greatly enlarged Army, 10,000 x 20mm Anti-Tank Rifles were needed.In the meantime, further trials and exercises had determined that, with it’s AP and HE ammunition, the LT-39 was effective not just against Armoured Vehicles but also against targets such as bunker loopholes and landing craft up to 500 - 600 meter distance as well as for long-range sniping (for which a telescopic sight was introduced from 1937 on). Against heavier tanks, it proved useful against several weak spots, such as open top hatches, especially with phosphorus ammunition). It was even able to damage tank turrets and pin them to stop traversal of the cannon. In further trials, it was found that when placed on an improvised anti-aircraft mount it presented a threat to ground-attack aircraft pilots. Finnish troops almost immediately nicknamed the weapon "norsupyssy" (=elephant gun) and the weapon gained a reputation for its accuracy and effectiveness right from it’s introduction on.

The first production series of 2,000 L-39’s was finished by the 10th of April 1936. Production stepped up in 1936, with approximately 2,000 L-39’s per year being manufactured. By 1939, all Finnish Army Field Infantry Divisions were fully equipped up to the TOE strength, and a limited number of Training and War Reserve weapons were available and stockpiled. 1940 production was sufficient to replace combat losses and writeoffs, as well as add to the War Reserve stockpile. The weapon proved highly effective in the Winter War, able to penetrate the armor of all but the heaviest Soviet tanks. And even those it could damage when aimed at weakpoints. It was also used heavily as a long range sniper rifle and for bunker-busting as the Finnish Army moved onto the offensive. One weakness turned out to be the size and weight - it was just too large and heavy for one man to carry it alone long distances, but this was not a major problem.

Users commented that the L-39 was heavy and difficult to move in the battlefield. Even its magazine weighed almost two kilograms more than the Finnish Suomi M-31 submachine gun. The whole weapon weighed some 50 kilograms and it was usually towed by reindeer or horses, but could be carried by several men. In the field, a two man team was assigned to the gun to move and fire it. During winter, a sledge was used, while on road marches a vehicle was used if available.

Single Shot Grenade Launcher

In late 1933, the Finnish Army’s Ordanance Department had also tasked Aimo Lahti with a research contract for a prototype Single Shot portable grenade launcher. The broad concept was to come up with a lightweight portable launcher that could be easily carried by a single soldier in addition to his normal equipment and rifle and which would provide the infantry with a means of projecting out anti-personnel grenades well beyond throwing distance and obviate the need to call in artillery or mortar support where not necessary. The project was nicknamed “Platoon Artillery.”

With his usual flair for weapons design, Lahti took the concept and, within weeks, had designed and built an initial prototype. This closely resembled a sawn-off shotgun with an extra-large calibre of 50mm. It was basically a single-shot, break-open, shoulder-fired weapon, fairly lightweight and with a slow rate of fire (each round needed to be individually loaded). Designing and manufacturing grenade rounds to work with the launcher was a bigger challenge, and a satisfactory round was finally prototyped only in late 1934. Testing took place over the first quarter of 1935, with satisfactory results, and the Grenade Launcher was ordered into production in mid-1935, with an initial TOE of ten Grenade Launchers per Infantry Platoon (one for each of the Nine Infantry Squads in a Platoon and one within the Platoon Command Group). The Grenade Launcher was designated the M/35 and, being easy to manufacture and also cheap, was mass-produced in short order, with all units fully equipped by mid 1938.



Visibly, the M/35 grenade launcher resembled nothing so much as a large bore, break-action, sawn-off shotgun, and was very simple in design, having only five parts: a receiver group, a fore-end assembly, a barrel group, a sight assembly, and a stock. The fore-end assembly beded the barrel to the receiver. The stock wa made out of wood. A rubber pad was fixed to the shoulder stock to absorb some of the recoil. The front sight was a fixed blade. The rear sight was a folding ladder-style leaf-type sight. When folded, the leaf sight acted as a fixed sight for close range. A grenadier could also simply point and shoot with a high degree of accuracy. When unfolded, the leaf-type sight could be adjusted for ranges from 75-meters out to 375-meters, in 25-meters increments. Specifications were a weight of 6.45lb loaded (5.95lb empty), a length of 28.78in, barrel length of 14in., a rate of fire of 6 rounds/min, an effective range of 350m, and breech loaded. Each round weighed approximately 0.5lbs. A grenadier typically carried a load of 40 rounds (sometimes more) in addition to their standard equipment and their LS-SLR.

The weapon was easy to operate. To load, the grenadier pushed the barrel locking latch on the receiver group to the right. Gravity pulledl down the barrel, breaking it open, and exposing the breech. The hammer was cocked when the breech was opened. A round could then be loaded. The break action was then closed manually. Closing the breech caused the barrel locking latch to return to center. To fire, the grenadier pushed the safety forward, and pulled the trigger. To unload, the grenadier pushed the barrel locking latch to the right and opened the breech. The extractor pushed the case out, allowing the grenadier to grasp it and remove it. If a soldier was wearing gloves for winter operations, the trigger guard could be rotated to the left or right.
Three different ammunition types were produced for the M/35. Explosive, Smoke and Illumination. The 50 mm HE (high explosive) grenades fired from the M/35 travelled at a muzzle velocity of 75 meters per second. The grenade contained enough explosive to produce over 300 fragments that travelled at 1,524 meters per second within a lethal radius of 5 meters. This round incorporated a spin-activation safety feature which prevented the grenade from arming while still within range of the shooter; it armed itself after traveling a distance of about 30 meters. Even though the round would not arm at point blank ranges, the round still had enough kinetic energy to kill or seriously injure its target.

Once in operation, , the M/35 quickly became popular among Finnish soldiers Owing to its ease of use, reliability, and firepower. It was semi-seriously dubbed "platoon artillery” and nicknamed “Thumper” by the troops. During the Winter War, the M/35 proved invaluable, particularly for breaking up Soviet human wave attacks. The white phosphorous, smoke and illumination rounds also proved very useful. In action, many soldiers cut down the stock and barrel to make the M/35 even more portable. Major drawbacks in combat proved to be its single-shot nature. Having to reload after every shot meant a slow rate of fire and therefore an inability to keep up a constant volume of fire during a firefight. Also, for close-in situations, the minimum arming range (the round had to travel 30 meters to arm itself) and the blast radius meant a grenadier would have to either resort to a backup weapon, or fire and hope that the grenade would not arm itself and would act as a giant slow bullet.

Like I said, brain fart. Not even a draft. Just initial working notes. Anyone wants to volunteer to rewrite, go for it with my blessing...... If you're willing to put the effort in, I'll live with the results
ex Ngāti Tumatauenga ("Tribe of the Maori War God") aka the New Zealand Army

durb
Member
Posts: 628
Joined: 06 May 2014 09:31

Re: What If-Finland had been prepared for the Winter War?

Post by durb » 25 Jun 2015 18:11

When it comes to airwar, Richard Lorenz wrote a kind of "what-if" scenario if Finnish Air Force would have been equipped with 80 first-class American fighters (Curtiss Hawk 75, Curtiss CW 21 or Seversky P 35) which would be superior to Soviet Polikarpov fighter and would have enabled to maintain the local Finnish air superiority over Karelian Isthmus - and that would have had some effect also in the groundwar (more opportunities for prolonged defence and thus make it possible to hold the positions longer time at the Karelian Isthmus to wait a effective Franco-British aid which in turn would have forced Soviet Union to compromise more or limit its goals more than actually happened...).

Lorenz´s ideas are discussed in his postwar manuscript Iskuja Ilmaan. Available (albeit only in Finnish) at: https://www.doria.fi/bitstream/handle/1 ... sequence=2

Lorenz thought that there was money available to buy 60-80 modern American fighter/pursuit planes with a American loan which supposedly was at offer in the springwinter of 1939 - however there was not any certainty to get that loan as the American policy makers had strong objections to grant Finnish governement with a 500 million US-dollar loan to purchase American military equipment. The "promised" loan was granted only after the Winter War had started and even then it was not granted for the purchase of military equipment but for food and other civilian needs.

Also the chances to get enough American fighter planes from USA in time to help in the Winter War would have been unlikely during the spring of 1939. For example it took more than six months for Swedes to get their first Seversky fighters delivered. The production capacity of Severky factory was limited and already earmarked for the Swedish orders by the spring 1939. Also the production capacity of bigger Curtiss factory was earmarked for the big French orders placed on Hawk 75 so it it looks unlikely that any Hawk 75 or CW 21 fighters would have been delivered to Finnish Air Force before the Winter War. The option to get Brewster Buffalos became open only during the Winter War and (as it is well known) they came too late to participate effectively in the Winter War. So even with having more money allocated and with expensive US-dollar loan granted before the Winter War, Finnish Air Force would have not got American fighters in time to help in the Winter War.

It seems to me that by late 1938/early 1939 it was too late to build up a more effective fighter force for the Winter War. The only realistic way that I can think for the Finnish Air Force to have better air defences is that some more Fokker D XXI would have been built before the Winter War and more AA gunnery would have been bought from Sweden/Switzerland by mid/late 1930´s. The only realistic way to get that would have been to cancel/limit the purchase of Blenheim bombers and allocate more money in the build-up of the fighter squadrons and AA artillery in 1936/1937. But by that time it was thought that bombers were more effective to defend Finland than fighters (the infamous Douhet doctrine!)...they were preparing for the war but for a wrong type of airwar...

In the meeting of Defence Council on 30.10.1936 Finnish Air Force (FAF) commander Jarl F. Lundqvist made these comments of the future of the airwar:
- fast high-speed bombers would force all the air forces of the world to give up of single engined fighters which were too slow and weak to bring the bombers down
- in two- or three years of period single engined fighters would be replaced by twin- or trimotor pursuit planes which could use high-calibre cannons to break the fuselage of the bombers
- Fokker D XXI would not be able to catch the most modern Soviet bombers but it would be excellent against the older models which were still widely used in Soviet Union
- the decision to buy the new fighter for the FAF had to be made as soon as possible if the planes were to be available by 1938 and for that purpose Fokker D XXI was the best option available when it came to the price/quality terms and the simple technical maintenance by the limited domestic Finnish resources

Mannerheim agreed on the above and seeing that the development of fighter planes was fast and "obscure" he suggested that it would be better to buy bombers instead and wait for the more modern types (twing-engined heavy fighter-bombers?) to appear at the international markets...

However by the mid 1938 and early 1939 it was realised by Finnish military command (FAF commander Lundqvist and Defence Council) that Finland needed urgently more single engined fighters for effective air defence but it was already too late to fix the things. It was May 1939 when Mannerheim finally gave his approval for the FAF to put forward its appeal (to political decision makers) to buy a new squadron of fighters instead of more bombers...too little too late as it turned out.

But back in 1936 they had not a cristal ball telling that Soviet Union would invade and the Winter War start on 30.11.1939. This is to their defence but looking what they thought about the development of combat aircraf back in 1936 looks in retrospect surreal. As well as the thought of the bombers and bomber offensive being the best "air defence" weapon for the smallish Finnish Air Force and that it would even make the Soviets to reconsider any thoughts of invading and bombing Finland because they would be afraid of the fearsome FAF counter-offensive (sic)...

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Re: What If-Finland had been prepared for the Winter War?

Post by CanKiwi2 » 25 Jun 2015 20:16

durb wrote:When it comes to airwar, Richard Lorenz wrote a kind of "what-if" scenario if Finnish Air Force would have been equipped with 80 first-class American fighters (Curtiss Hawk 75, Curtiss CW 21 or Seversky P 35) which would be superior to Soviet Polikarpov fighter and would have enabled to maintain the local Finnish air superiority over Karelian Isthmus - and that would have had some effect also in the groundwar (more opportunities for prolonged defence and thus make it possible to hold the positions longer time at the Karelian Isthmus to wait a effective Franco-British aid which in turn would have forced Soviet Union to compromise more or limit its goals more than actually happened...).

Lorenz´s ideas are discussed in his postwar manuscript Iskuja Ilmaan. Available (albeit only in Finnish) at: https://www.doria.fi/bitstream/handle/1 ... sequence=2
Thx for the link on Lorenz. Interesting, I didn't know that, going to have to work thru that.

Going back a couple of years now I did a series of posts on the Ilmavoimat's build up in this alternative history starting about here:
http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic. ... &start=120
have a read - should appeal to you :D

The Hawk 75 is somewhere in there, along with a few other aircraft, I have a couple more aircraft related topics to get through, going to be posting one of them shortly once I've finished the writeup on aircraft engine developments....
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Re: What If-Finland had been prepared for the Winter War?

Post by Fliegende Untertasse » 26 Jun 2015 09:10

Your AT-rifle obviously needs to be renamed to L-33 .
An other thing considering SLR and SMG - why not go for intermediate cartridge.
Something like M1-carbine chambered to Sako 7x33 would have been a dream rifle in late 1930's standards.

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Re: What If-Finland had been prepared for the Winter War?

Post by CanKiwi2 » 26 Jun 2015 10:28

Fliegende Untertasse wrote:Your AT-rifle obviously needs to be renamed to L-33 .
An other thing considering SLR and SMG - why not go for intermediate cartridge.
Something like M1-carbine chambered to Sako 7x33 would have been a dream rifle in late 1930's standards.
Question: Could the Suomi m/31 have been chambered as a 7x33? I'm not to up on the merits or otherwise of the different rounds available.

Another bit of feedback I received

bit off topic, sure, but some historical backround about the 7x33mm Sako calibre:

Envisioned as a hunting round, and thought to be especially good at hunting large birds (Lyrurus tetrix, Tetrao urogallus), common game in Finland at the time, the 7mm Sako also won dubious fame in crime.

A finnish criminal, Tauno Pasanen shot and killed four policemen with his 7x33 hunting rifle, 7 march 1969. The police were called on his farm because of domestic disturbance (Pasanen was known to drink and to have a temper). The policemen even had a m/31 Suomi SMG on them. It made no difference, the rifle prevailed in the end.

Police tactics can be questioned, of course, but I do not have specific details, engagement ranges or whatnot. Pasanen did not even have a scope on his rifle, however. The rifle has a 3 round magazine. All of the police were armed. Pasanen was found to be 1,2 pro mille (1/1000?) drunk.
Some of the 8 rounds fired were shot at close range, execution style.

So, an argument could be made that the 7x33mm Sako might have some merit in combat applications as well?
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Re: What If-Finland had been prepared for the Winter War?

Post by Juha Tompuri » 26 Jun 2015 12:20

Hi,
CanKiwi2 wrote:
Fliegende Untertasse wrote:Your AT-rifle obviously needs to be renamed to L-33 .
An other thing considering SLR and SMG - why not go for intermediate cartridge.
Something like M1-carbine chambered to Sako 7x33 would have been a dream rifle in late 1930's standards.
Question: Could the Suomi m/31 have been chambered as a 7x33? I'm not to up on the merits or otherwise of the different rounds available.
I think that 7x33 would have been too powerful for "normal" m/31 blowback operation.
However experiments were carried out with a bit similar type of ammunition, but with delayed blowback type operation:
http://www.jaegerplatoon.net/ALMOST1.htm#AL43

CanKiwi2 wrote:A finnish criminal, Tauno Pasanen shot and killed four policemen with his 7x33 hunting rifle, 7 march 1969. The police were called on his farm because of domestic disturbance (Pasanen was known to drink and to have a temper). The policemen even had a m/31 Suomi SMG on them. It made no difference, the rifle prevailed in the end.

Police tactics can be questioned, of course, but I do not have specific details, engagement ranges or whatnot. Pasanen did not even have a scope on his rifle, however. The rifle has a 3 round magazine. All of the police were armed. Pasanen was found to be 1,2 pro mille (1/1000?) drunk.
Some of the 8 rounds fired were shot at close range, execution style.
There exists a movie/mini TV series about the case: Kahdeksan Surmanluotia Eight Deadly Bullets:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/arts/ ... iliar.html
The relevant end scene of the movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJb-t4j0a8s
CanKiwi2 wrote:So, an argument could be made that the 7x33mm Sako might have some merit in combat applications as well?
Yes, a bit like the Soviet SKS carbine.

Regards, Juha

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Re: What If-Finland had been prepared for the Winter War?

Post by CanKiwi2 » 26 Jun 2015 16:43

Thx Juha, will take a look at those links next week (off camping with the kids this weekend....), fighting off the moose and the bears....

The con of course is then 2 different calibres - Moisin-Nagant + 7x33 round, but then, there was already the Moison-Nagant + the Suomi so nothing changes there if the m/31 could use the 7.33

And Tony Williams has some good stuff here on assault rifles....http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/Assault.htm

A reference for the 7x33 mm Finnish round in _Cartridges of the World_, tenth edition. According to this, the 7x33 uses the 9 mm Parabellum case made as long as it could be and still be accomodated by existing case-forming presses. Converting to English measurements, that is about a 78 grain bullet at between 2,360 and 2625 feet per second using about 41,000 psi chamber pressure.

Question would be what importance the design group placed on "hitability". One of the observations was that infantry in World War One seldom hit enemy soldiers at distances greater than 400 yards, whereas existing military rifle cartridges such as the 8x57 mm, 303 British, and 30-06 were lethal far past that distance.

From this it was reasoned that a lower powered cartridge would suffice for infantry rifles (although not for machine guns or snipers). However, one of the factors that allowed infantry to hit enemy at 300-400 yards as often as they did was the relatively flat trajectory and short time of flight made possible by these same "overpowered" cartridges, trajectory and time of flight being functions of muzzle velocity and ballistic coefficient. Full caliber assault rifle cartridges such as the 8x33 mm and 7.62x39 mm have lower muzzle velocity and shorter, lighter bullets with lower ballistic coefficients compared to standard rifle cartridges, so the effective range would be reduced. Contrawise, by going to a smaller bore, cartridge weight and recoil can be reduced while keeping trajectory about the same.
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Re: What If-Finland had been prepared for the Winter War?

Post by John T » 26 Jun 2015 23:10

durb wrote:
Lorenz thought that there was money available to buy 60-80 modern American fighter/pursuit planes with a American loan which supposedly was at offer in the springwinter of 1939 - however there was not any certainty to get that loan as the American policy makers had strong objections to grant Finnish governement with a 500 million US-dollar loan to purchase American military equipment. The "promised" loan was granted only after the Winter War had started and even then it was not granted for the purchase of military equipment but for food and other civilian needs.
Sweden bought the P-35's for 60 000 USD a piece, so 80 would be 5 million USD.
Or compared with M-31- 600 SMG's for each fighter.

durb wrote:
Also the chances to get enough American fighter planes from USA in time to help in the Winter War would have been unlikely during the spring of 1939. For example it took more than six months for Swedes to get their first Seversky fighters delivered. The production capacity of Severky factory was limited and already earmarked for the Swedish orders by the spring 1939.
actually
15 ordered in July 1939, first 13 shipped from New York January 8 1940
45 ordered October, first shipped from New York February 19 1940
Sweden did also contract tools for licence production but it was never implemented.
durb wrote: It seems to me that by late 1938/early 1939 it was too late to build up a more effective fighter force for the Winter War. The only realistic way that I can think for the Finnish Air Force to have better air defences is that some more Fokker D XXI would have been built before the Winter War and more AA gunnery would have been bought from Sweden/Switzerland by mid/late 1930´s.
I think making Fokker D XXI as a "Scandinavian standard fighter" would have opened up for joint production,
but Sweden had gone for the Gladiator as Sweden should only buy aircrafts already in operational service.
One of the most stupid decisions of the CinC Airforce at that time.

Cheers
/John

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Re: What If-Finland had been prepared for the Winter War?

Post by Juha Tompuri » 27 Jun 2015 07:19

HI,
John T wrote:I think making Fokker D XXI as a "Scandinavian standard fighter" would have opened up for joint production,
but Sweden had gone for the Gladiator as Sweden should only buy aircrafts already in operational service.
One of the most stupid decisions of the CinC Airforce at that time.
Earlier ideas about a bit later co-operation:
Finnish / Swedish co-operative fighter for WW2

Regards, Juha

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