The Mosin Nagant Model 1891 In Finland
From Brent Snodgrass
NOTE - Photo Section To Follow Summer Of 2008
No other rifle has been as important to Finland as the Mosin Nagant Model 1891. While other Finnish models might come to mind, when collectors think of Finland the Mosin Nagant M91 has no peer in importance to the Finnish nation. It was the M91 that set into motion the Finnish line of rifles that so many of us collect today, and there were more M91s issued in Finland than any other version of the Mosin Nagant rifle. If not for the M91 the history of Finnish firearms would have taken a far different course. In this article I will explain the history of the M91s as used in Finland. In a later article I will cover in details some of the less common versions of Finnish M91s such as the M91rv, the M91 P-Series Dragoon, the Finnish converted Dragoon, the M91 with stock discs in place, the no date/no maker version, and other rarities. While these less than common versions may be mentioned in this article it will just be done in passing and not covered in detail.
Finland was under Swedish control starting in the 1300s and ending with the Swedish Russian War of 1808-1809. At the end of the Swedish Russian War, Finland became a Grand Duchy of Imperial Russia and this change led to the introduction of Russian arms into Finland. This period of Russian domination ended on December 6, 1917 when Finland took advantage of the turmoil in Russia to declare its independence. The Finnish Civil War soon broke out and ran from January 17th to May 15th 1918, pitting the Finnish Whites (non Bolshevik) against the Finnish Reds (pro Bolshevik). While there were over 70,000 Russian troops still inside Finland, their involvement in the Finnish Civil War was minor as only an estimated 7,000-10,000 soldiers from these garrisons took part in the fighting. It is interesting that the Germans also played a role in the Finnish Civil War when the 10,000 plus man Baltic Sea Division committed troops to the White side. These German soldiers played key roles in battles in and around Finnish areas such as Hanko, Lahti, Hämeelinna, Hyvinkää, and Riihimäki. The Germans were under the command of Gustav Adolf Joachim Rüdiger Graf von der Goltz who would also play a part in the fighting that would lead to the independence of the Baltic States. In the end, the Whites were able to vanquish the Reds and the modern nation of Finland had its start.
One of the first issues facing the new nation was forming and arming its armed forces. Finland’s armed forces were formed into two main “branches”, these were the Finnish Army and the Civil Guard (Suojeluskunta). While the command elements of these forces were mixed, it is important to note these were independent organizations with both undertaking arms design and development. In the Finn depots there was a great mix of small arms which included, but not limited to, various Mauser rifles (German and Swedish), Japanese Arisaka rifles and carbines, Austrian M95 rifles and carbines, and even small numbers of British Enfields and Swiss Vetterlis. Even with all these types of arms, the largest type in Finnish control was the Mosin Nagant M91 numbering over 190,000 rifles. As the Finns had inherited so many of the M91s, it was an easy decision for Finland to adopt these rifles as their standard issue rifle. After the M91 was accepted as the standard, Finland began to purchase M91 rifles from other nations to add to their inventory. These purchases began in the 1920s and continued into the early 1940s with most of the purchases coming from various nations which captured or were issued Russian M91s during or after World War One.
Finnish Purchases Of The M91 Rifle:
1926 39,900 from Italy
1928 13,000 from Albania
1928 2,000 from France
1936 4,600 from Hungary
1936 2,900 from Poland
1936 10,900 from Czechoslovakia
1939 56,500 from Yugoslavia
1940 300 from Hungary
1941 12,300 from Bulgaria
There were also over 30,000 M91s bought or traded for by Transbaltica OY from 1928 to 1934. These rifles came from a number of sources. Transbaltica also sold many of the Japanese rifles in Finland to Estonia and Latvia in the late 1920s. These purchases and trades gave Finland over 173,000 M91s to add to their inventory.
(The information of trades and purchases is based on information from Sotilaskasiaseet Suomessa 1918-1991 Vol.3, Markku Palokangas: Vammalan Kirijapaino Oy and is also shown on the great website The Finnish Jaeger Platoon created by my good friend Jarkko Vihavainen.)
In the 1920s the Finns began to upgrade and repair the various M91s in their possession as many of these rifles were in poor condition or did not meet Finnish standards. By far the most common problem with the M91s was the condition of the barrels, but the rear sight was also a problem as they were calibrated in the Russian measurement of arshens (Equal to xxxx meters) These were problems the Finns would have to correct to ensure the rifles issued to their forces would be suitable for Finnish service. The solution of the measurements was easy to correct as the Finns simply added numbers to the right side of the rear sights which showed distance in hundreds of meters. In 1926 the Finns also added a notch to the sight base by filing a 150 meter setting. In many cases the front sight was also replaced with a taller stacked post which was a great improvement over the Russian design. While these were somewhat uncomplicated solutions to the issue of accuracy, correcting the substandard condition of the barrels required a more drastic solution.
The First Finnish M91s
The first attempt to correct the substandard barrel condition was to begin production of a Finnish made barrel to replace the older Russian versions. These barrels were produced by Suomen Ampumataruikehdas in Riihimäki with the production beginning in 1922 and ending in 1924. As this was the first Finnish attempt in such a venture, a number of problems were encountered in production and approximately only 200 barrels were produced. It is interesting that these rifles were produced for the Finnish Army, but the barrels were made at a facility which would later become the property of the Civil Guard. The barrels are marked SAT Riihimäki and are one of the most uncommon military rifles in the world. Low production numbers and losses from various causes have made the SAT M91s possibly the most sought after of all Finnish small arms. There are very few examples of these left in the world with a select few being known in private or museum collections in Finland and the USA. For the Finnish collector there is no more prized rifle than the SAT as it is truly the rarest of the rare. Those lucky enough to own one are the envy of all fellow Finn collectors.
P-Series M91s And 1920s Tikka Production
The next attempts at improving the Finn M91s took two directions, as one was an attempt to salvage barrels by relining, while the other was production of new barrels. Both undertakings created interesting and uncommon versions of the M91 rifle.
In the early years of independence, the Finns sent armory officials to a number of nations to research arms production and improvements. Officials were sent to Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, and elsewhere to increase their knowledge to assist in Finnish arms production. On one of these fact finding tours, Finnish Colonel A.E. Saloranta was shown an Italian process that would become known as the Salerno method, a procedure of relining old worn out barrels. The Salerno method was undertaken at Arm Depot Number One (AV1) in Helsinki and approximately 13,000 older Russian barrels were reworked. In this technique, older barrels were bored out and a new barrel liner was inserted. This work was done at AV1 from 1925 and 1927. The barrels produced were marked P-26 or P-27, and in most cases also have an S above the serial number. Finnish researcher Markku Palokangas makes reference to barrels marked P-25, but no known example has been located. Since testing and production did not begin until late 1925, it seems unlikely that any P-25 barrels were produced so it is unknown what information Mr. Palokangas used for his reference . As the foremost world authority on the Finnish Mosin Nagant, one has to give his reference credence, but it seems P-25 marked M91 barrels do not exist.
It is interesting to note that relined barrels were met with great controversy in Finland and the fitting of these barrels to rifles was halted twice. The first halt was in 1928 and the second in 1930. These stoppages took place when the Finnish Arms Committee determined that over 85% of these barrels were unfit or unsafe for use. This cloud over the relined barrels remained until 1938 when further investigation showed these barrels were acceptable for use. As a result, from 1938 to 1940 8,000 of these barrels were fitted to existing receivers. These 8,000 later fitted barrels make up the bulk of the relined barrel production of just over 10,000. There were also 1,490 relined barrels produced on an experimental basis for the M91 Dragoon Rifle. These shorter M91 barrels are very rarely encountered today. Limited relining was also undertaken on barrels for the 1905 and 1910 Russian Maxims with less than 600 produced. Even though the barrels were later determined to be fit for service, the humiliation caused by their rejection in the late 1920s and early 1930s always remained with Colonel Saloranta. Although he was cleared of any wrong doing and was financially reimbursed in the 1950’s, he was never fully able to regain his wrongly tarnished reputation. Many suspect Aimo Lathi, the most famous of all Finnish gun designers, was responsible for the stoppages. This is a sad footnote to Finnish arms history because Lahti, not the most personable of people is suspected of doing this due to a dispute he had with Saloranta.
Today the so called P-Series M91s are prized items for the Finnish collector because overall production totals were low and many of these rifles were lost in war time. While uncommon, these can still be found by today’s collector and should be considered one of the more desirable versions of the Finnish Mosin Nagant. Those lucky enough to own a Dragoon version with a relined barrel are very fortunate to have such an unusual variant of the Finnish Mosin Nagant.
Another effort to correct the problem of poor barrels was undertaken at the private Finnish firm Tikkakoski. Tikkakosken Rauta- ja Puuteollisuus Oy (Metal and Wood Industry Of Tikkakoski Limited) more commonly known today as Tikka was founded in 1893, Its first work with the Finnish military was the production of 200 Maxim barrels in 1920. Tikka was contracted for and produced 10,000 barrels from 1925-1927 with the barrels being fitted to rifles at AV1. The production of 1925 was quite limited as testing was not underway until December and known 1926 barrels have serial numbers as low as #100. There are some in Finland who debate if any barrels were produced in 1925 since there are no known examples. Official records seem to indicate barrels were produced in 1925 but it is not clear if this happened or not. The barrels produced in 1926 have the date either on the top of the barrel shank or underneath the shank (not able to be seen unless the rifle is removed from the stock). When the the date stamp location was changed is unknown and it is difficult to state which is more commonly encountered today. All barrels made in 1927 will be stamped with the date on the top of the barrel shank under the serial number.
Barrel Bore Diameters And Types:
Tikka produced barrels in three different bore diameters and each diameter barrel has its own marking : A, B, or C.
A bore diameter of .3106”
B bore diameter of .3091”
C bore diameter of .3087”
Tikka also produced barrels in standard form was well as producing “stepped” barrels. The first 7,000 barrels produced were unstepped while the last 3,000 were stepped versions much as seen with the Model 1924 Civil Guard rifle. These stepped barrels are all 1927 dated and it seems by far the majority of them have the C bore diameter marking. The last type of barrel is by far the more collectable of the two, and the stepped barrels are not common today. Even many larger Finnish collections lack the stepped Tikka 1927 M91 barrel.
As is the case with the P-Series M91s the early Tikka M91s are also fine items for the collector. They are one of the first rifles produced in Finland, were produced in low numbers, and played a crucial role in Finnish history. Officially these were made for the Finnish Army but it is not uncommon to see a Tikka with Civil Guard district numbers. This is an S followed by numbers such as S – 153001 which would be the Helsinki Civil Guard district. Sadly many collectors seem to overlook the early Tikka as a collector’s item which is quite a mistake. They are outstanding rifles and should be in any representative Finnish collection.
The Russian M91’s
Not all Russian M91’s were reworked with new barrels as many of these were fit for duty. Still in many cases the Finns overhauled the rifles to bring them up to Finnish standards. Much of this work concentrated on the triggers, the front and rear sights, shimming the stock, and many of the rifles were counter-bored to correct issues with the crown of the muzzle. After these rifles were reworked and test fired they were issued to the Finnish Army, to the Civil Guard, or placed in storage depots. Russian rifles that were in poor condition were stripped for spare parts and their receivers used later for production of Finnish Mosin Nagant models such as the M27, M28, M28/30, M39, and M91/30.
Even with the dismantling of many Russian M91s they were still the most commonly issued rifle in Finland throughout the Winter and Continuation War which ended in 1944. It is possible the number of issued M39s was larger than the number of M91 late in the Continuation War, but that is debateable. The M91 was also widely used in the Civil Guard starting in the 1920s and not ending until the Civil Guard was banned in 1944. Even late in its life, and in spite of production of various other Finnish Mosin Nagant models , the old Russian workhorse was still the most fielded rifle in Finland. A great many of the Russian M91’s in Finland were actually made in the USA under contract by Westinghouse and Remington. It is unknown why there seems to be such high numbers of US made rifles with Finnish markings, but it is possible these came from purchases and trades in the 1920s and 1930s. There are reports that US made rifles were favored by the Finnish Soldiers over the Russian made versions , but it is unknown if this is fact or just a lasting myth. There are also rumors that the US Navy sent these rifles to Finland but this is also a myth which is not based in fact. I have no idea where these rumors started, but nothing points to this being the case. Often the US rifles can be found in their original walnut stocks and have Civil Guard district numbers as well.
The Finnish issued Russian M91 rifles are often one of the easiest and least costly rifles a Finnish collector can acquire. Some sellers do not place a higher price on the Finnish marked rifles which often allows the Finnish gun collector to buy these at the same price as a standard Russian gun. A collector can take advantage of this mistake, because in most cases the Finnish issue rifles will have much better triggers and sights than their Russian counterparts. They are also less common than the standard Russian rifles which adds to their collectability status. Since these were so important to Finland they should not be ignored by the collector. Remington and Westinghouse rifles are highly sought after by collectors in the USA.
Tikka And VKT 1940’s Production
When the Soviet Union invaded Finland in 1939 starting the Winter War, the Finns were just about to begin 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 to replace 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. It is often debated as to why this production was done. The simple reason was that it was much easier to produce a known and proven model under adverse conditions than to undertake new production of an "untested" model with all the start up problems that might be associated with it. The M91 had served Finland well in the past and it was about to serve yet again, fighting the USSR which was Finland's greatest threat.
The barrels were produced at the State Rifle Factory (VKT) and Tikka starting in 1940. The rifles themselves were assembled at AV1 and AV3. The production at Tikka ran from 1940 to 1944 with the total barrels produced around 45,000. VKT production ran from 1940 to 1942 producing approximately 32,000 barrels. The M91s were sent into service almost immediately and served in all facets in the Finnish Armed Forces. Indeed they were 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 which served during the Continuation War) and used in training camps during the war. The production of these barrels was halted when inventory and production of the M39 reached levels that made additional M91s unnecessary. Post war many of these M91's were cut-down to M39 specs and were reissued. One will also encounter post war M91's which have been modified for bayonet training as the M91 stayed in Finnish service long after the dark days of World War Two.
The Finns also improved the stocks which 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 a much improved closed sling swivel system using a metal swivel. 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 metal swivels still in place as some have been lost or removed for a number of reasons. If they were not added , the use of the "Dog Collar" continued and it is not uncommon to see rifles still in this older configuration.
During the 1940's production of the M91 rifles the Finns decided to use a two piece stock rather than the Russian one piece style. This two piece design had long been used and proven on many Finnish models since first introduced in 1932. In most cases the buttstocks were newly made, with AV-3 producing 77,000 birch stocks from 1941-1944. These stocks are usually wider and thicker at the wrist than the Russian stocks and many bear Finnish stock maker’s cartouches. There are examples that used Russian, as well as American, rear stock sections that were attached to new Finnish forestocks. 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 their inventory at this time and they were included in with M91 numbers. Standard stocks needed to be altered a bit to handle the heavier barrel of the 91/24 but this work was not a difficult alteration.
While the 1940s made M91s do not hold the same collector value as the earlier M91s, they are still impressive rifles. In many cases the condition of these later M91s is like new or excellent with near perfect bores. They can also be found with depot hang tags still in place. These later M91’s are magnificent shooters in many cases being limited in accuracy only by the person doing the shooting.
The B Barrel M91’s
One version of M91 and M39 rifle that causes much confusion are the so called B barrels. There are M91 barrels that have a B proof where the manufacture’s proof would normally 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 and Belgium proofs as well as the B marking. Belgium supplied at least 13,000 of these blanks 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 which were made into M39s is not clear and the serial numbers also run in the same range as the M91. Almost all of the Bs were assembled post war regardless of whether they are M91s or M39s with a small number being made in 1944-1945. It is known that 5,000 Tikka M39s were produced post war from M91 rifles but the number of B barrels has never been shown (to my knowledge at least). Both the M39s and the M91s have 1942 dates but that does not mean they were assembled in 1942. It is estimated that there are 4,000-5,000 B M91s still in existence but this is only an educated guess. There are far more M39 B barrels than M91 B barrels so the M91s are a good find for the shooter and collector.
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.
Slings And Bayonets
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. To be honest the Finns used any and all slings they had on hand so if one gets picky, any Finnish Mosin Nagant sling is "correct" on any 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 rubberized tractor belts and various makeshift types were issued for these rifles.
The Finns used Russian M91 bayonets on both Finnish and Russian versions of the M91 rifle. Unlike the Russians, the Finns used a brown or green leather and metal scabbard with their M91 bayonets, although it is somewhat rare to find this accessory. The most common bayonet scabbard is the metal German WW1 type with the metal Austrian version being far less commonly encountered. The leather scabbards seem to be a mix of Finnish and German made with the Finnish version being far more common to locate. 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 M91s when there was a need.
Too often the M91 is overlooked and under appreciated by collectors when in fact there is no rifle that was more import to Finland. It served as the foundation as an issue rifle to their armed forces and its components served as the building block for all future Finnish produced Mosin Nagants. The older M91s are truly a symbol of the Finnish military and they are also rather uncommon rifles – which makes them a true gem to the collector. I have a 1926 dated Tikka with 4 sets of Civil Guard numbers on it as well as the SA marking. If only that rifle could speak I am sure it could tell some great history. I am proud to have it a part of my collection. The later M91’s are also quite a good rifle for the collection as they have history behind them as well and are excellent picks for the shooter. The Russian and US M91s that saw Finnish issue also have a lot of history behind them, and with the improvements done by the Finns are often tremendous shooters. If not for these Imperial Russian rifles the nation of Finland would have had massive issues in arming their armed forces.
So, if you are a Finnish collector do not forget the old M91 as it deserves a special place in anyone’s collection.
Markku Palokangas: Sotilaskäsiaseet Suomessa 1918 - 1988 osat 1 – 3
Timo Hyytinen: Arma Fennica 2
Many years of personal notes, interviews, and observations by the author