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The Finnish Civil Guards rifle-model Of 1924

by Vic Thomas

 

      Many if not most of the Mosin Nagant rifles the Finnish forces captured or inherited at the time of their Independence in 1918 were in poor or worse condition. By the early 1920’s the rifles that were in serviceable condition soon required some kind of repair or refurbishment process to remain in service. At this time frame of the early 1920’s, the Finnish government had little if any capacity to manufacture replacement barrels for the rifles in service with the Army or Civil Guard organization. Instead they relied upon contracts with other countries to provide the replacement barrels so badly needed to refurbish their worn weapons. The Finnish Civil Guard or “Suojeluskunta” in Finnish, sought bids from selected companies in Germany and Switzerland, to produce the replacement barrels for their use.

      The initial contract for production of these barrels was awarded to Switzerland in 1923 and another followed in 1924. An additional German contract was awarded in 1924 and continued through 1926. The Finnish women’s auxiliary played a vital part in the ability to purchase these new barrels and refurbish the rifle to the new standards set forth by the high command of the Civil Guard. This auxiliary organization founded after the Finnish war of Liberation in 1919 was known as the “Lotta Savard”. The group would go on to organize and raise funds to allow the purchase and refurbishment of 10,000 m/24 rifles for the Civil Guard. Thus the m/24 would bear the nickname “Lottakivaari” or “Lotta’s rifle”


m/24 SWISS CONTRACT


      The Civil Guard headquarters contacted the Swiss firm of Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft of Neuhausen am Rheinfalls in the spring of 1923 to investigate the possibility of a production contract with the renown arms firm in regard to the manufacture of new barrels for their Finnish rifles. The contract was agreed upon and on April 10th 1923, 3,000 Mosin Nagant barrels and 500 Japanese Arisaka rifle barrels were ordered from SIG. One Finnish source reports that the order was actually for 2500 barrels of the Mosin Nagant style and 500 Arisaka barrels for a total of 3000. These initial Mosin Nagant barrels were made to the original Russian m/1891 drawings and specifications. This initial order of barrels was delivered by SIG to the Civil Guard workshop in Helsinki the following year in April of 1924.

      Upon delivery of the primary order, an additional order of 5,000 Mosin Nagant barrels was placed once again with SIG on April 3rd 1924. In addition a separate order and contract was negotiated with a German consortium totaling 5,000 additional barrels. The Finnish company of Ase Oy (Weapons, Inc.) of Helsinki handled the contracts between the foreign suppliers and the Finnish government. These orders called for the delivery of the second batch of contracted barrels to be ready by 1925. All subsequent orders for barrels were placed with the German firms from this time on.


m24/ GERMAN CONTRACT

      There were four German companies, in name, involved in the manufacture of barrels for the Finnish contracts. Three of these companies were located in Zella-Mehlis, Germany. The companies were Venus Waffenfabrik, Oscar Will, and Wilhelm Foss. Interestingly these three companies were widely known for their air rifle production in post World War I Germany. A brief history and description of the relationship was provided in a collector’s publication about air rifles (71). The Oscar Will Co. subsequently sold out to Wilhelm Foss in 1921 and the company name was eventually changed to Venuswaffenwerk (Venus Weapons Works). Finnish sources identify this company as Venus Waffenfabrik (Venus Weapons Factory) (20).

      So while these companies were known by three names during the early 1920’s, they were in reality only one enterprise by the mid 1920’s. Two of these companies often appear in Finnish and American publications as one-Venus Waffenfabrik- Oscar Will. The third German company involved in production of barrels for Finland was Romrwerke AG (AG being the German abbreviation for a public company) of Suhl, Germany. Romerwerke AG was well regarded for its small arms production already, specifically at this time for it’s .22 caliber semi-automatic pistols. The towns of Zella-Mehlis (home of the merged Will/Foss conglomerate now named Venuswaffenwerk) and Suhl are only about ten miles apart in the district of Thuringia in central Germany, and about 30 miles southwest of Erfurt- the town famous for production of the Mauser rifle. This area of Germany is world famous for it’s top quality steel production and for it’s high quality weapons production capabilities which would extensively arm the German army in both World Wars.
       The first delivery of Mosin Nagant barrels from Germany occurred on May 5th 1924 with the delivery of the initial contract of 5,000 barrels from Venus Waffenfabrik of Zella-Mehlis (20). This order was followed by the second delivery of 8,000 on August 6th of 1925 from the same firm. Romerwerke AG of Suhl received the order for the remaining 5000 units on November 6th 1926 and was able to deliver the completed contract to Finland the following year on March 16th 1927. This fulfilled the total contract of 18,000 barrels from the German makers. The Wilhelm Foss name is only mentioned in discussion of the German contracts but not in any actual production figures. This name may have been superseded by the time of the actual production of barrels with the Venus Waffenfabrik label. All of the German barrels were again delivered to the Civil Guard workshop in Helsinki were the final assembly work was done.

      This small workshop of the Civil Guard was the predecessor of world famous SAKO weapons facility which it would grow to become. On June 1st of 1927 the growing company was organized as a public entity and would be known as Suojeluskuntain Ase-ja Konepaja Osakeyhtiö or the Civil Guard Weapons and Machine Shop Co. which would be better known by its intials-SAKO. Later that year the facility would be moved northwest of the city to the town of Riihimäki where it remains today.


IMPROVEMENTS TO THE m/24 BARREL


       After the initial order with SIG had been placed, the Civil Guard continued to run testing with the barrel specifications of the Mosin Nagant in an effort to improve upon the original m/1891 design. These tests and evaluations concluded that an increase in the width of the barrel wall would improve the accuracy of the rifle. In July of 1925 the Civil Guard armourers and engineers altered the initial drawings and specifications for production to include new dimensions for the thicker walled or “heavy” barrel. All barrels produced from this time forward would be of the new barrel design. The new barrel dimensions were approximately 1 mm thicker than the previous m/1891 specifications. The muzzle end retained the original thickness so that existing cruciform socket bayonets could still be used. This resulted in the characteristic “step” at the muzzle end of the m/91-24’s barrel.

   

The early first pattern barrel made to the original specifications of the 1891 rifle is on top. These were made exclusively by SIG and are the rarest of the m/24 barrel variations. The bottom barrel in the picture is the most common and is of the  improved "stepped" barrel design and of a heavier walled construction. The step allowed the use of the standard cruciform bayonet that was modified to accommodate the taller front sight.                    

 

  Some minor interior changes of the barrel such as the bore diameter and improvements in the depth and size of the lands and grooves were also undertaken at this time. Several other modifications were planned as well such as the rear sight scale being altered from Arshins to meters and a new taller front sight installed to accommodate this change. The rear sight leaf was designed to be raised and allow for aimed fire from 1300 to 3200 arshini but after the modifications it was not used in that matter any longer. It was used only in the flat position with the meter markings as modified. The rear sight base was even altered in the steps of the graduations to properly reflect the change in distance for the sight position. A new step was often added at the start of the base to allow for a range setting of 150 or 200 meters in many cases. The rear sight leaf was also altered to accept a new “U” notch sight plate attachment as well as an improved trigger arrangement installed. The trigger was improved by the addition of a small coiled spring arraignment that exerted some pressure upon the trigger and sear. This resulted in a crisp take up of the trigger and reduced the “two stage” or “creep” of the trigger enhancing the accuracy of the rifle. With the advent of the new barrel diameter the stocks of the older m/1891 specifications had to undergo an alteration as well. The depth of the barrel channel would be deepened and widened slightly to accommodate the heavier barrel. The handguard was also modified slightly to be again slightly deeper and wider to seat properly on the new thicker barrel.

The trigger spring added to the m/24's trigger assembly. It is held in place by the trigger pin that passes through the center of it. As you can see it places a small amount of tension on the triggers top to make the pull under some tension and create a smooth take up. This feature  was continued on into the m/24's successor, the model of 1928 rifle.

 

These modifications as well as the new barrel design were implemented fully in May of 1926 and the official designation of the rifle was then changed from the m/1891 to the m/91-24. These new rifles were then issued to Civil Guard units across Finland in specific military “districts”. These districts could be likened to the American county divisions within a state for example. The district number that each rifle was assigned to was then stamped on the rifles barrel as well as the Civil Guard’s property mark of a large “S” preceding it. An example of this marking would be S 5100 which would have been a rifle issued to a Civil Guard unit located in the district of Helsinki. All rifles in subsequent production were refurbished to the new specifications.

The "S" number placed on the barrel by the Suoljeuskunta  headquaters to identify which district the rifle would be assigned to. This particular rirfle was issed to Civil Guard units located in the Helsinki district. The rifles "S" number is 714 and the Helsinkidistrict  was assigned rifle number 1 to 6000.

 



PRODUCTION QUANTITIES BY MANUFACTURE AND TYPE



      Marrku Palokangas, curator of the Small Arms museum in Helsinki Finland and renowned author and expert on Finnish weapons, reports that the first 13,000 barrels (3,000 and 5,000 from SIG and 5,000 from Germany) were produced to the original design and the final 13,000 (5,000 and 8,000) to the new thicker walled barrel design of the m/24 specifications. These numbers however do not “jive” with observed specimens. An example of this is that all known and reported German produced barrels are of the “stepped” updated configuration. Also for his reported numbers to be correct all SIG produced barrels would have been in the original configuration and non-stepped. Most reported and documented barrels from the database reflect barrels from SIG that are of the thicker “stepped” variety. The more probable scenario is that the first order for 3,000 barrels from SIG were produced to the original specifications for a m/91 barrel while the second order from SIG and the German consortium would have been in the updated design .This would result in totals of 3,000 unstepped barrels and 23,000 stepped making the unstepped m/24 a very scarce and collectable rifle.


m/24 makers and production totals
      Unstepped
          Stepped

"SIG"

Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaf

3000

The first contract run made to original specs

5000

Second contract with heavier barrel

Bohler-Stahl

(All heavier stepped barrels)

5000

First contract with German barrel makers

8000

Second contract with German barrel makers



MODEL DESIGNATION


      The model 24 or m/91-24 designation often results in some confusion when the various models of Finnish long rifles are discussed. This confusion results from the fact that both stepped and un-stepped Civil Guard long rifles are designated m/24’s, while the Army also had some stepped barreled long rifles produced by Tikkakoski which retained the m/91 designation. All known m/24’s are stamped with the Civil Guard emblem of three fir sprigs over a large “S” contained within a shield while the Army issued rifles will have a “T”‘ in an inverted triangle emblem denoting manufacture by the Tikkakoski arsenal. The following unofficial designations are often used by collectors to differentiate these very similar rifles:

The marking of the Civil Guard property found only on the barrel of the m24 rifle


Standard barrel m/24

Civil Guard logo on the barrel and no step in the barrel contour. The barrel is made to the original m/91 specifications. This rifle
is relatively uncommon.

"Heavy" barrel m/24

Civil guard logo on the barrel and manufactured by either SIG or the German arms consortium of Böhler Stahl. The barrel is of
the updated thicker specifications and a “step” can be found in the contour of the barrel end.

m/91 standard

Any Russian or Finnish Army produced m/91 without a thicker stepped barrel-1937-1943.

m/91 “Heavy” barrel

Approximately 3,000 rifles of this type were produced by Tikkakoski in 1926-7 for the Finnish army. They will bear the
Tikka logo of a “T” in a triangle on the barrel and have a heavier stepped barrel like that of the later m/24 rifles.



MARKINGS


      The markings found on both the Swiss and German produced barrels for the m/24 are fairly consistent and simple. The marking used to denote the ownership of the Civil Guard or Suojeluskunta in Finnish was the capital “S” below three fir sprigs and enclosed in a shield emblem. The barrels are also marked with their respective makers, either Swiss or German. The German produced barrels identifying marks will be found under the barrel just in front of the rear sight base and are marked “Böhler-Stahl”. The German word “Stahl” refers to steel and “Böhler” is a specific type of high quality steel developed for use in rifle barrels by the Germans. This marking can only be seen with the barrel removed from the stock. To date there is no method to differentiate the barrels of one German maker with that of another.  

  

The marking identifying marking found on the bottom of the Germanproduced barrels. It can only be seen by removing the action from the stock. If the SIG marking is not evident just above the woodline, then almost assuredly the rifles barrel was produced by Bohler Stahl.


    The Swiss made barrels are marked “Schweize Industrie-Gesellschaft Neuhausen”. This marking in a stylized script can be observed just above the wood line on the right (bolt handle side) of the barrel. It is possible that may be partially below the wood line as a few rifles have been noted as such. On another note SIG made barrels for the m/28 civil Guard rifle have logo of the Swiss firm completely under the wood line.

The logo of the SIG company found the right barrel side denoting Swiss produced barrels.


      Most m/24’s will be stamped with the [SA] property stamp. This marking was not added until at least 1942 when the Civil Guards weapons inventory was integrated with that of the Army during the Finnish Continuation War (W.W.II), the [SA] denoting ownership by the Finnish army. Most guns (nearly all) will also bear the “S” number as previously discussed in the text. This “S” number is not limited to placement on the barrel as it can also be found on the receiver, buttstock flat or bolts of the weapon. Many times this “S” number is lined out and another stamped alongside or in a different location on the barrel, receiver or stock. This new “S” number represents a transfer to a new issue district for the rifle and is so marked with that districts identifying number sequence. If the “S” number is lined out completely, the rifle was more than likely taken into possession of by the Army after the integration of the Civil Guard in 1942.
      A few m/24’s of both Swiss and German barrel manufacture have a large “arrow” stamped on the top of the barrel either below or above the Civil Guard shield. This mark is composed of an equilateral triangle with a single straight line coming off the center of the triangle- giving the appearance of an arrow or “Christmas tree”. This marking denotes that the barrel was shortened slightly from the threads and rechambered to correct the throat of the chamber by the arsenal. The SAKO factories<36s00> pressure mark is almost always found on rifles so marked as above to indicate that a pressure test was done after the barrel work was preformed.

The unique marking placed on rifles that have had the barrelthreads shortened and then "chased' to freshen them for a proper seating. This resulted in a shorter over all length which required the chamber to be reset.


      Another interesting marking found on m/24’s is located in the serial numbering. Many barrels have a serial number preceded by a small “o”. Known serial numbers with this prefix are to approximately 18,000 to 32,000. Interestingly enough, this small “o” prefixed serial number was later used on all m/28’s with the SIG produced barrels. There is a serial number range that does not have this prefix as well. These guns range from a low serial number of  1 to as high as 18,000. This range is very non technical as the  example pool is too low to draw any firm conclusions. The odd thing is these serial numbers have nothing to do with the barrel production serial number or a Civil Guard district on the m/24's. It is odd that some of the numbers are in the 30,000 range but only approximately 28,000 rifle were made I theorize that this separate "o" number may indicate some type of weapons inventory number. I have made some inquiry's and when I can furnish a more definitive answer than I will publish it here immediately. Until then the "o" number remains a mystery. One Böhler-Stahl barreled m/24 and several SIG barreled guns have extremely high serial numbers in the six digit range for example 433045. Others have no serial number at all but for the Civil Guard “S” number. One example in the authors collection is sterile but for the serial number on the top of the barrel. This rifle is rumored to be one of the rifles contracted or purchased for shipment to Estonia. It bears a large “E” marking on the bottom portion of the barrel.

      The last marking found on the m/24’s are the sporadic use of a small four pointed star or “petal”. This marking is an early Civil Guard acceptance proof found just along the wood line on the right side of the barrel and often encountered in pairs. This marking was later changed to the familiar =s= marking denoting the same acceptance to service by the Civil Guard headquarters. There are undoubtedly many other small markings found on the m/24’s such as assembly numbers or minut inspectors stamps which can not be fully explained but are always under review for their meanings.

Early final acceptence proof of the Civil Guard found on m/24 rifles



NON STANDARD m/24 CARBINE

     There is a carbine version of the model 24 rifle that is not well known and is not listed in Finnish records as an officially accepted version. This carbine appears to be the civil guards answer to the army's adoption of the m/27 rv carbine in 1935. Some reports out of Finland while doing research for the article and in personal notes over the years indicate that approximately 600 rifles were taken into the Civil Guards workshops and shortened to provide a short carbine length weapon for troops who would require it such as communication or mounted troops and crew served weapons. These m/24 carbines are extremely scarce, more so than the rare army version m/27rv. The rifle is a standard production m/24 that has been shortened to the same approximate length of the m/27rv carbine. The barrel has been recrowned and turned to the same diameter as a m/28 rifle. The front sight was then replaced with a m/28 front sight assembly and blade and soldered in place. A new short rear handguard was fabricated from the standard m/24 handguard to complete the rifle. With so few made and even fewer making it to the US, these rare carbines are without a doubt the crown jewel in any Finnish rifle collection. Just a handful are reported and almost all of these coming in the importation of the Finnish rifles into the US in the late 1950's and even more so in the large importation of the 1980's and 90's. The author is aware of only 2 other rifles in private collections in the US and all three including the authors carbine were obtained as m/27's from Century International Arms in the late 1980's.

The ultra rare m/24 carbine

 

 

 

A close up of the forend of the carbine

 

The front sight and forend in close up of the m/24 carbine

 

 

 

In consulting with another owner of a m/24 carbine we both discovered from the rifles in our collections that the guns were not marked in the usual spot for acceptance of the stock modifications by the civil guards headquarters. The SYT marking which is normally found in the right finger groove channel of the m/28 rifles is absent and is instead marked on the right side buttstock flat. There is a "S" number present under the SYT marking. Also the SYT is not in a oval shape as on the m/28 rifle but instead is a circle enclosing the SYT brand. Why this is so is unclear at the time but it is perhaps the marking used by this workshop in modifying the m/24 stocks to carbine length and then being accepted by the Civil Guard headquarters.

 

ACCESSORIES


      The m/24 was issued with an early one piece leather sling that incorporated an oval steel buckle. Often times this steel buckle was treated or plated and assumes a bronze like hue. The oval buckle on these m/24 slings generally tend to be sewn on the strap rather than riveted like the later versions used on the m/28. The sling is marked SY and dated either 1924, 1925 or 1926. The rifle was issued a cleaning kit in a cotton or canvas drawstring bag. The bag could be marked “SY” but more often than not, it is of a “homemade” construction and of no particular color or pattern. Blue and white checked, brown and tan as well as green and khaki checked pattern examples are some colors observed and all are unmarked. These bags were often constructed by the women’s auxiliary and volunteer organizations for the troops on a regular basis. This kit contained a screwdriver/combination tool often of a Russian manufactured blade but a rounded Finnish produced wooden handle. A brass cleaning rod extension and brass jag tip in addition to a rod collar and rod handle for creating the “T” handle when in use with the rod collar and cleaning rod where contained within this kit. This rod handle was also used to remove and to securely tighten the cleaning rod when placed into the stock. A bore brush of brass or steel construction was issued as was a small green painted rectangular oiler embossed with the Civil Guard property designation of “SY”. The kit is nearly identical to that of a standard m/91’s kit but for the oiler and some markings on the individual componenets of SY or the later Sk.Y.

      The muzzle cover/cleaning rod guide came in two versions. The later was commonly made of an alloy or “pot” metal material. Its composition is such that they are easily cracked or broken when dropped on a hard surface. This sight cover/muzzle cap covered the front sight blade and was retained by a locking bar activated by a spring button on the right side. This locking bar or catch snapped onto the rear of the front sight base to secure the unit firmly to the rifles muzzle. The m/24 muzzle covers cap was knurled with slots and was unscrewed to expose the rod hole for use with the cleaning rod. They are extremely rare due to the poor metal composition of some and few remained after hard use. The early caps were constructed from aluminum and were of a much better construction and finish. The later m/28 cover was patterned after this one and was again made of the improved aluminum alloy.

      The bayonet for the rifle was a standard model 1891 socket type of Russian construction with a locking ring to engage the front sight base. The locking ring however was enlarged by the addition of a 1.5mm cut out to accommodate the taller Finnish front sight used on the m/24. I have observed some bayonets that appear to have had the internal diameter of the socket enlarged ever so slightly to ease the fit of the bayonet to the barrel. A tubular scabbard of steel or aluminum construction was issued with the modified cruciform bayonet. This scabbard was often of German or Austrian construction from WW1 inventory and was painted a shade of dark olive green as was favored by the Civil Guard. These were purchased by the Souljeluskunta after WW1 up through the 1920’s. The market for nations shopping to bolster their inventories of war material with these types of items in the 1920 and early 30’s, was brisk with war surplus, and the Finnish Army and Civil Guard were actively shopping to supplement their equipment and weapons shortages in this buyers market. A green leather scabbard of the traditional Finnish design for the 1891 crucifom shaped spikes can also be encountered. A cross strap on the frog/scabbard secured the spike firmly in the scabbard by passing around the bend of the bayonet or thru the locking ring when seated. The metal scabbards simply used friction to retain the bayonet in the housing.



Two m/24 bayonets in thier green painted metal scabbards. Note the simple cloth hangar on the top example that would allow the scabbard to be affixed to the belt.


AVAILABILITY AND CONDITION OF m/24 RIFLES

      The m/24 is a relatively scarce rifle owing to the small number produced (~27,000) and the attrition rate that the rifle suffered through two major conflicts, three if one considers the short lived “Lappland War” of 1945 with Germany at the close of Finnish participation in W.W.II. It is quite difficult for the collector today to locate all of the various models of the m/24, especially the standard barreled version of very early production. Many of the obscure markings like the shortened chamber marking of the “christmas tree” shape as it is referred to in the US collecting circles and the NSD (Nylands or Swedish speaking regiment) and KLP markings (KymeenLaakson Piiri (Kymeenlaakso CG District ) are often very difficult to locate. These two markings are the only realy deviation from the normal “S” shiled markings. The first has been known to be the Nylands district issue outside of Helsinki for some time. The KLP marking has not been positively identified until recently when a Finnish friend, Mala, who is deeply involved in the study of the Civil Guard and its weapons procurement, has uncovered important documents that shed light on this marking finally, in the archives of the Civil Guard organization. This research indicates that that this particular district, the Kymeenlaakso district- which was later split into a north and south region, was quoting Mala’s reply “ this district's armoury was the most active of all local sites and did all kinds of major armament contract jobs for the SkY. So in my opinion, it is 99.9% certainty that KLP means that a m/91-24 marked as such has been assembled in Kymeenlaakso's District Armoury. Further analysis of this theory seems to confirm that information as nearly all bear the district “S” number of the Kymeenlaakso Civil Guards district.

            Some rifles are reported with brass unit discs but the additions of those are almost certainly from integration with the Army and not normally a Civil Guard procedure. In conclusion, the condition of the rifles is often well worn due to the amount of use the guns have endured and an excellent specimen is truly a rare find for the collector. The importer of the rifles into the US, Century International Arms, incorrectly labeled the rifles as Swiss produced and advertised them as such in early sales catalogs. This was due in part to the Schweiz Industrie-Gesellschaft Neuhausen marking found on the barrel side and the sprigged “S” in a shield. They errounesly assumed that all rifles (including the German produced barrels from Böhler-Stahl) marked as such were Swiss produced. The m/24 rifles are now highly sought after by Finnish small arms collectors-both here and abroad. I hope this section shined some light on the rifles storied history and cleared up the myths often associated with its lineage.


For additional information please go to the extensive photo page of the m/24 rifle click here.



 
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