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The Finnish M91 Rifle

From Tuco Of Mosin-Nagant Dot Net

Of all the rifles that have served the nation of Finland, it is the contribution of the Mosin Nagant M91 that stands above all others.   This service has had many facets from direct issue to the use of their receivers in the many Finnish models of the Mosin Nagant.  It is hard to imagine that a rifle produced for Imperial Russia in 1891 would have done so much for the nation of Finland. 

It is this disbelief that have lead to many overlooking the M91 as a collector's rifle and this miscalculation has also created many false "historical facts" about these fine weapons.  Not many seem to realize the M91, in one form or another,  was the most widely issued Finnish rifle until overtaken by the M39 Service Rifle late in the Continuation War (1941-44).   Some have also stated the M91 was issued only to rear echelon troops in this time period but nothing could be further from the truth.  These were Finnish "front line" weapons from 1918 till 1945 and were still in service as late as 1988.  They are definitely not a rifle to be overlooked by collectors.

The Finnish M91 is a bit broad in topic as the manufacture was spread out over a number of years.  There are also many variations and makers, so please bear with me on the length of this article.  I want to note that I have not really covered all the variations in detail, like the M91 RV, as this will come later in an article of their own. 

The First Finnish M91's

The Finns captured a vast number of Russian M91's during the Finnish Civil War of 1918 with these rifles in various states of condition. After the fighting the Finns needed to quickly equip their armed forces with suitable weapons and they rightfully decided to use the captured rifles on hand. As this was the case the Finns needed to find a solution for M91 rifles in lessor condition. One of the first Finnish modifications of the older Russian rifles was the little known Ulanie Carbine. This was a modification in which the Finns cut down M91 barrels that had damaged crowns or worn bores near the muzzle.   The length of these carbines is about a meter and in most cases have a Civil Guard marked bolt, as it was the Civil Guard that did this alteration.  These carbines are very rare as most were scrapped by the early 1930's.   The Ulanie Carbine was never made in large enough numbers to receive an official designation by any Finnish organization, as was the case with what is commonly referred to as  the M24 Carbine. 

While these carbines were a good solution to the M91's that had suffered damage near the end of the barrel, the carbines were not a solution for M91's that had more extensive troubles.   For the rifles in this category there were only two reasonable alternatives, relining the worn barrels or new production of replacement M91 barrels.  The Finns decided to undertake both tasks and this is the true beginning of the Finnish manufactured M91 Mosin Nagant.  As is the case with all the Finnish Mosin Nagants, the receivers used were older Russian receivers.  The Finns never manufactured receivers on their own but "recycled" Russian receivers to create Finnish models.

The SAT M91's:

SAT91.jpg (36149 bytes)

A small number of M91 barrels were produced by Suomen Ampumataruikehdas with apparently this production running from 1922-1924.   These barrels are marked SAT Riihimaki and were fitted to Russian receivers in Finnish stockpiles.   The SAT M91's are one of the most uncommon military rifles one will ever encounter as the production seems to have only been 200 barrels.   When one couples this low production run with the years of use these rifles must have seen, one can clearly see the SAT M91 is indeed a true collectors item to any Mosin Nagant collector.  The chances of finding one of these historical rifles is next to none and there are very few in known collections.

P- Series M91's:

P26.jpg (18335 bytes)

Arms Depot Number 1 (AV-1) was also involved in the early "manufacturing" of M91 barrels as they undertook the task of retubing and relining older M91 barrels.   The barrels from AV-1 were retubed by using the Italian "Salerno-Method" which is the same method used by the Italian Army in the early 1920's.  This work was done from 1925-1927 with approximately 13,000 barrels undergoing this process.   These retubed barrels will bear a P marking with the last two digits of the year following the P.   These will be marked P-25, P-26, and P-27 and will also have an AV-1 stamping on the barrel shank.    This author has never seen or heard of a P-25 example in a US collection.   It is known these are so marked as Markku Palokangas, the noted Finnish firearms author, mentions these in his works, but the lack of examples seems to point to their rarity. 

The production of these barrels was halted suddenly in 1927 as the Finnish Army deemed the barrels unsatisfactory.   It is not at all clear why these barrels were considered inferior and to further muddy the waters many of these barrels were fitted and used later in the Winter War.  The performance of these barrels in combat seemed to be respectable and this production halt is still a controversial issue in Finland.  The rifles seem to have receivers and barrels that have been blued and as well as some being left in the white.  It is not 100% clear why this is the case.

Early Tikka M91's:

The now famous Tikka plant was also producing barrels for the early Finnish M91 as they manufactured 10,000 barrels from 1925-1927.   The initial production of 1925 must have been very low as there are documented 1926 Tikka barrels whose serial number is in the 300 range.  These Tikka made barrels were fitted into M91 stocks and receivers at AV-1 in 1927 and 1928.  

The 1925 and 1926 made barrels will have the date on the underside of the barrel, where as the 1927 dated barrels have the date on the top of the barrel shank.  There are examples of 1926 dated Tikka M91's that have the date on the top of the barrel shank but it is not known when this came to pass.  It is possible that the practice of dating on the top of the barrel shank began sometime mid to late 1926 but this is nothing more than speculation at this point.   Of these 10,000 barrels the final 3,000 were a more heavier barreled model than the first 7,000 produced.   This change was inline with the same process that was underway with the Finnish Civil Guard in regards to the M91/24 rifle. 

The barrels will bear the early Tikka proof, the date, as well as an A, B, or C.   The A, B, and C are bore dimensions with the C being the more uncommon marking.  Many of these rifles were later reworked and added to Finnish front line service in WW2.  These reworked rifles may also have the D stamping which means the chamber area was made larger for use with the later Finnish/Russian D round.

Bore Diameters Early Tikka M91 Rifles

A .3106"
B .3091"
C .3087"

earlytikkam91section.jpg (13606 bytes)

The B and C bore diameter marking on two 1927 Tikka's

All the M91's listed above are great collectibles and would have seen service in both the Finnish Army as well as the Finnish Civil Guard.  The early production dates, the low production numbers, and the issue rate are all factors in the relative rarity of these rifles.  It is possible to find these early rifles in very good or better condition but most will show the years of usage in wear and tear.    They are without a doubt a very important piece of any Mosin Nagant collection.

WW2 M91 Production:

When the Soviet Union invaded Finland in 1939 starting the Winter War, the Finns had just started production of the M39 Service Rifle.   The M39 was to be the new standard issue rifle to both the Finnish Army and to Civil Guard units replacing the older mixed models that were in service.   The invasion stalled this production and the Finns started to manufacture the M91 yet again in 1940.    This was done as it is much easier to produce a known and proven model under adverse conditions than to undergo new production of an "untested" model with all the start up problems that would be associated with it.  The M91 had served Finland well in the past and it was about to serve yet again, meeting the USSR who was Finland's greatest threat.

The new M91 barrels were manufactured at VKT from  1940-1942 and Tikka from 1940-1943, when the production of the M39 and M91/30 made this production no longer necessary.  The total production of barrels was in the 77,000 range. There are also certain M91 barrels that have a B proof where normally the manufactures proof would be found.  This B marking has been debated time and time again but it is clear the B signifies a barrel blank from Belgium.  It is assumed these blanks were made into barrels at VKT and some rare examples have VKT proofs as well as the B marking.   Belgium supplied at least 13,000 of these blanks as Winter War aid and all were supposed to be for the M91 rifle; however,  the Finns did use a number of these blanks for the M39 service rifle.  The exact number of these B barrels that were made into M39's is not clear and the serial numbers also run in the same range as the M91.  All of the B's were assembled post war regardless of whether they are M91's or M39's.  It is known that 5,000 Tikka M39's were produced post war from M91 rifles but the number of B barrels has never been shown (to my knowledge at least).  Both the M39's and the M91's have 1942 dates but that does not mean they were assembled in 1942.   Whatever the final numbers may be the B barreled M39's and M91's are highly prized as collector's items.

Bm91proof.jpg (28232 bytes)

M91 B that shows the Belgium Liege proofs (bottom middle)  It is very uncommon to encounter this proof.  This rifle also bears VKT proofs and that is also rather uncommon.  All in all the above is a RARE rifle.  

Photo from the Steve Lucas Collection.

The M91's were sent into service almost immediately and served in all facets in the Finnish Armed Forces.   They were indeed used by front line troops as well as being issued to secondary units.  These rifles were also used by the "Home Guard" ( this is the Civil Guard that served during the Continuation War) and used in training camps during the war.   Post war many of these M91's were cutdown to M39 specs and were reissued.   One will also encounter post war M91's that have been modified for bayonet training as the M91 stayed in Finnish service long after the dark days of World War Two.

The new barrels were not the only improvement the Finns undertook with the M91 rifle as they also modified the stock and the sights.  One of the earliest improvements dealt with the rear sights as the Finns decided the Russian system of measurement was too bizarre for their use.  The Finns answer to this problem was to add a  3, 4, 5 1/2, 7, and 81/2 to the right side of the rear sight base.  These markings are in meters which would make the sighting of these rifles much easier on the Finnish troops.  In 1926 the Finns added a notch to the base filing a 150 meter setting.  These updated sights were received quite well by the Finnish soldiers and better accuracy was a direct result.  The Finns also replaced the front sight with a Finnish made blade type whose easier seen design lead to a faster sight picture.

The Finns also improved the stocks and this was done in at least a couple of stages.  The first stage was early in the history of the M91 as the Finns replaced the older Russian open slot with an much improved closed sling swivel system.  This new feature allowed the use of a sling without the added leather sling loops, also called "Dog Collars" by some collectors.  This improvement made the sling attachment much more secure than the older Russian style, and it also prevented the loss of the leather collars (which would mean one could not use the sling).   Not all Finnish M91 stocks have these swivels still in place as they could have been lost for a number of reasons.  If they are not in place the use of the "Dog Collar" would suffice.

m91rearswiv.jpg (19283 bytes)

WW2 Finnish M91 stock showing the Finnish improved sling attachment. 

During the 1940's production of the M91 rifles the Finns decided to use a two piece stock and not the older Russian one piece.  This design had long been established on many Finnish models having first been introduced in 1932.  In most cases the buttstocks were newly made, as AV-3 produced 77,000 birch stocks from 1941-1944.  These stocks are usually wider and thicker at the wrist than the Russian stocks and many times will bear Finnish stock makers cartouches.   There are examples that used a Russian, as well as American, rear stocks that were attached to a new Finnish forestock.   Shims were also fitted on many of these stocks to help free float the barrel for better accuracy.  It is not uncommon to see these later stocks on M91/24 Civil Guard rifles as the 91/24's were sent into Finnish Army service after the Winter War.  The Finns did not keep records of how many 91/24's were in stock at this time as they were lumped in with M91 numbers.   The stock needed to be fitted a bit to handle the heavier barrel of the 91/24 but this work was not a difficult alteration.

While the Finns used a number of slings the most common M91 sling is thin brown leather with a square buckle.   There is also a black version used on the M39 that is commonly encountered on the M91 as they are thin enough to fit through the sling swivels on the stock.  The slings may or may not be SA marked.  Too be honest the Finns used any and all slings they had on hand so if one gets picky any Finnish Mosin sling is "correct" on a Finnish rifle.    When talking of 1941-44 this is very true as so many new rifles were sent into service that sling production and issue fell behind.  There are even Finnish slings made from tractor belts and like makeshift items that were issued to these rifles.

Finnish-M91-Group1.jpg (56598 bytes)

VKT, B Barrel, 1942 Tikka, P-26 M91

The Finns used the Russian M91 bayonet on both the Finnish and Russian version of the M91 rifle.  Unlike the Russians the Finns used a brown leather and metal scabbard with their M91 bayonets , although it is rare to find this accessory.    The bayonets themselves are SA marked in many cases but again this is not always the case.  One must remember there are always going to be those that slip through the proofing process for any number of reasons.  It has been reported the Finns also used the standard Soviet M91/30 bayonet on the M91 as many of these would have been captured in the Winter War.  These later bayonets will indeed fit the M91 and it makes sense the Finns would make use of whatever they had on hand.   The same could more than likely be stated for the Russians, as one can assume they also used M91/30 bayonets on M91's when there was a need.

91Bayo-Finn-Scab.jpg (17222 bytes)

Finnish M91 bayonet with metal scabbard and leather frog.

I hope that this has been helpful for those that are collecting the Finnish versions of the Mosin Nagant rifle, as too often the M91 is overlooked.   That is unfortunate as these are fine rifles with an interesting history.   While at this point these are not too uncommon here in the US (10/26/02 ) these will dry up in time.  SAMCO GLOBAL has imported large numbers of these rifles in the past year and this has made them seem common.   This is a false truth as no Finnish rifle can be called common.   The collectablity of the earlier models is quite high and these rifles can really tell one a story of its use.  I have one 1926 Tikka M91 that has 4 Civil Guard district numbers as well as an SA marking.  There is no doubt it was a rifle of a true Finnish hero and as the present owner, I am proud to have it in my possession.  These are outstanding rifles and need to be looked at in a better light by some collectors, as they are indeed overlooking a nice part of Finnish arms history.

Arma Fennica Sotilasaseet-T. Hyytinen (Finnish Version)

Sotilaskasiaseet Suomessa 1918-1991 Vol1-3-M. Palokangas: Vammalan Kirijapaino Oy

Many years of personal notes, interviews, and observations of the author


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