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The Finnish Maxim Machine Guns
The 09/21 and 32/33

From Tuco - Mosin-Nagant Dot Net

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While the Maxim Machine Gun is often associated with Russia or the Soviet Union, its history is also deeply connected with the nation of Finland.  The Finnish use of the various models of Maxims was a key tool in their fight for freedom in their War Of Independence (1918), The Winter War (1939-40), The Continuation War (1941-44), as well as the Lapland War (1945).   In fact the Maxim was still in service in the Finnish Army, in one way or another, until the 1990's.    To underestimate the importance of the Maxim to Finland would be a grave error.

This article will deal with stated use of the Maxim in Finland but will focus on two models, the M09/21 and the M32/33, as these models were Finnish alterations and modifications to the older Russian Maxims.   The work the Finns did on these machine guns is just as interesting and detailed as the modifications done to the older Russian Mosin Nagants.  It is another clear example of the Finns taking an older weapon system and altering/ improving it to be more suited for their needs.

The first two models of Maxims in Finland came by way of the Imperial Russian Army.  These were the Models 1905 and 1910 and they were in direct service of the Russian Army stationed in Finland.  During the Finnish War Of Independence ( also called the Finnish Civil War) of 1918 these Maxims were used by the Finnish Reds and Whites as well as being used by the "Soviet/Russian" troops on behalf of the Finnish Reds.   Interestingly enough another Maxim made its appearance in Finland at the same time and this was the German made Maxim M08.  These Maxims were in the service of the German Baltic Division that intervened on the side of the Finnish Whites against the communists.  The above Maxims are not to be covered in any great detail in this article,  but are mentioned as all three played a role in the Finnish production of their own versions of the Maxim.

Russian Maxims M1905-1910

The M1905 Maxim came in two distinct variations.  One had large spoked wheels that in many regards resembled an old cannon wheel, while the second version was a wheeled mount know as the Sokolov which was much smaller and more easily used design.  At the time of the Finnish Civil War (1918) most of the older mounts were already being replaced by the newer Sokolov mounts; however, both versions were seen during the fighting in Finland.  Many of the parts of the M1905 were made of brass and this coupled with the large wheeled mounts makes the M1905 Maxim quite a heavy weapon in weight.  This weight of course meant a lack of mobility which was a major limitation with the early Maxim.

The M1910 was the second major Russian variation of the Maxim and all used the Sokolov mount.   These new models featured a "fluted" or "ribbed" water jacket as opposed to the smooth water jacket of the M1905 ( Note: Both the M1905 and M1910 Maxims were designed as water cooled machine guns).  The M1910 was one of the most important MG's in the Red Army and served in wide use, with a number of modifications and improvements, in the 1939-45 fighting against Finland and Germany.  The brass parts of the M1905 were not used in the M1910 but for the very early production arms.

The Finns acquired these Maxim models during the Finnish Civil War as well as buying a number of them abroad in the 1920's  ( In two arms deals the Finns acquired a combined total of 1005 Maxims from Italy and Poland).   The Finns also captured a large number of the M1910's during the Winter and Continuation Wars.    In most cases these went directly into Finnish service, with most of the work of those non altered Sokolov mounted Maxims being of a defensive nature.  According to Finnish sources between 3,000-4,000 M1910's were captured by Finland in these wars.  The M1905's and M1910's in Finnish service were designated the Finnish Maxim M09/09.

The M09/21 Maxim

The Finns reviewed the Maxim soon after the fighting in 1918 and decided to adopt them into Finnish Army and Civil Guard service.   While they knew the Maxim was a fine machine gun they did foresee problems with the wheeled mounts, as they felt these mounts were not the best option for the forest and swampy terrain of Finland.  This problem was to be addressed and the work on the first truly Finnish Maxim began in 1921 with the completed weapon being designated the M09/21 Maxim.

As the Finnish armories had a number of German M08 Maxims the mounting system they utilized were studied in detail.  The Finns decided that a similar system would need to be created for the new Maxims to be suited for service in their nations armed forces.   After study the Finns came to the conclusion that a tripod mount that could be folded for easy transportation was in order.   The tripod of the M09/21 while similar in style to the German creation is different in many regards so it is indeed a Finnish creation and should not be called a direct copy. In fact the M21 tripod is close in look to the DWM m/1909, a commercial version of the Maxim,  tripod mount. The M21 and the DWM m/1909 tripods are very similar so it is obvious the Finns used these as a model in development.

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The Finnish M09/21 Maxim and the German M08 Maxim. 

Notice the carry handles on the Finnish tripod.

The Finnish armories went to work modifying the older Russian M1905's and M1910's to fit these new tripods.   There were other alterations that took place namely adding a smooth water jacket, a steel adapter was added to the jacket to allow the Maxim to fit on the new tripod, the rear sight was replaced by a better Finnish design, many had a new Finnish made barrel installed,  and all the sights were converted to the metric system.  The modifications to the Maxims were undertaken by Tikka and Arm Depot No. 1 but there were a number of other firms that supplied parts.   The tripods were made at Arms Depot No.1 and Crichton-Vulcan.

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Finnish M09/21 rear sight and later Russian M1910 rear sight.

The M09/21

Caliber 7.62 X 54R
Operating System Recoil Automatic
Overall Length 43.7 inches
Barrel Length 28.34 inches
Weight 58.4 lbs
Tripod Weight 60.1 lbs
Feed System Cloth Belt
Front Sight Blade
Rear Sight Leaf
Cyclic rate 600 RPM
Cooling Water

The M09/21 was pressed into Civil Guard and Finnish Army service immediately upon their completion.  While they were deemed an excellent weapon there were a few problems that were noted.   The first was these MG's made use of cloth ammo belts which were known to jam, break, or fail in general.    Another major problem was the M09/21 was suited more as a ground fire weapon and was lacking in the role of an anti-aircraft device.   While the problem of the AA fire was not truly one that could be solved on the standard M09/21 many of these were modified in the 1930's and even as late as the 1940's to take a newly designed metal ammunition belt.

The service life of the M09/21 is a long one lasting until the 1990's and its performance under fire was outstanding.   The M09/21 was a front line issue MG in both the Winter and Continuation Wars.  They were solid, durable, and were able to fill a drastic need for Finnish defense.   Although the Finns saw a need and developed another version of the Maxim, one can not discount the service of the M09/21.  It was indeed an important and common fixture on the battlefields of the period representing a key weapon for the Finnish forces.

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The Finnish M32/33 Maxim

The Finns knew they had an outstanding machine gun in the M09/21 but its limitations as an anti-aircraft weapon were quite evident and needed to be addressed.  The Finns also felt that the cloth style of ammo belt was a problem that would need to be corrected as these were very hard on the function of the gun.  This was a problem in general but was a major dilemma when the cloth belt was wet as the belt could shrink when dried.   These cloth belts were rather unreliable at times and that was counteractive to the role of the Maxim.  These troubles fell on the capable shoulders of Aimo Lahti, who is one of the most famous and able of all the Finnish gun developers.  Mr. Lahti began his work on the Maxim in 1931 and by the time he was finished he had created a new model of Maxim.   The newly completed Maxim was Finnish designated the M32/33.

Lahti had recently perfected a metal ammo feed belt that was used in Finnish aircraft and he decided that a modification of this design would be suited for the Maxim.  These metal links would not disperse in the same manner as the aircraft links so they could be used time and time again.  These metal links were a considerable enhancement over the older cloth design and work was immediately started to alter the Maxim to accept this new feeding system.  Lahti also designed a new loader to be used with the metal ammo links which made the loading task much easier on Finnish troops.

Lahti also decided that a number of other improvements were in order and he further enhanced the Maxim's overall design and function.   One of the most important of these modifications was the addition of an accelerator that would allow the Maxim to have two rates of fire.  The accelerator was located on the muzzle of the Maxim and it could be quickly adjusted between the two fire rates.   The higher rate of fire these Maxims could employ were a critical factor in increasing the Maxim's role as an effective AA weapon.  Lahti also improved the safety of the Maxim in this time frame and added a mount for an optical sight, which was much like the sight on the older German version of the Maxim.  The first of these new Maxims were placed on M/21 tripods at Arms Depot No. 1 in 1933-35.

In late 1933 there was also work being done on the tripod system itself, as the Finns felt there had to be a way to further their ability to quickly transform the ground fire Maxim into the AA Maxim.   The solution they decided was the best course of action was the addition of an extra metal leg extension that would rest underneath the tripod ( still based in general on the older M21 tripod).   These extensions could quickly be fitted and raised making an elevated AA mount.   These new tripods were designated the M33 and manufacturing work began immediately at Arms Depot No. 1.  In addition there was a new ringed sight could be added to further enhance the AA role of the M32/33.

The M32/33 Maxim

Caliber 7.62 X 54R
Operating System Recoil Automatic
Overall Lenght 46.85 inches
Barrel Length 28.34 inches
Weight 55 lbs
Tripod Weight 68.5 lbs
Feed System Metal links
Front Sight Blade
Rear Sight Leaf
Cyclic rate 850-600 RPM
Cooling Water, snow, ice

The other major alteration of these Maxims dealt with the water cooling system itself.  The Finns were concerned there was a more expedient way to quickly fill the water cooling jacket that surrounded the Maxim's barrel.  After some trial and error a design change was ordered that was quite inventive and took full advantage of the long winters in Finland.  The Finns replaced the smaller fill ports of the older Maxims with a much larger port  and added a snap cap that secured the larger port.   The advantage of this cap was two-fold as since it could quickly be removed the larger port accepted water at a faster rate, and the new system further allowed both snow and ice to be directly added to the jacket.       This alteration took place in 1939 and it truly was both an inventive and radical modification.  It was deemed such a success that many older Maxims in Finnish stockpiles were also converted to accept these so called snow caps.    It is interesting to note that Soviet weapon designers also felt this was a good design and they immediately copied the snow cap on their M1910 Maxims.   The Soviets made this standard on their newly made M1910's and even altered many of their older M1910's by the addition of this cap.   The Finns took many of these newly altered and manufactured Soviet Maxims in the fighting of 1939-44.

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Later Soviet version of the M1910 Maxim on left and Finnish M32/33 on right.One can see the snow cap the Soviets based on the Finnish model.   Also notice there are no carrying handles on the M32 tripod as there are on the Finnish M21.

The M32/33 Finnish Maxim was a remarkable series of Finnish improvements to an already rather sound weapon.   These new Maxims were a very successful design and served the Finns competently in the fighting against the Soviets.  It was a front line weapon with Finnish troops and performed very well in a ground fire role.  While it was not the best of AA weapons it was much more suited for this role than the early Maxim designs and would at least be deemed a capable AA weapon.  The metal links system of the M32/33 might have been its great attribute and many older Maxims in Finnish service were converted to accept metal links in the 1930's and 1940's.   Many of these were altered in 1943 when the Soviets were beginning to gear up for their push towards Finland.  The M32/33 was there to meet this Soviet assault and a great number of them were lost in battle; however, many Red Army soldiers fell to these fine Finnish machine guns.

The Finnish Maxim Machine Guns

Maxims In Defensive Role

One of the biggest needs in the Finnish Defense Forces was a competent and reliable MG that could be used by a wide range of troops; however, the need for such a weapon was almost critical when talking about defensive positions.  While the Finnish made Lahti/Saloranta  (L26)  was in service these machine guns were known to jam and have other feed related problems.   The L26 also did not have the capability for long sustained fire, which is a key element in defensive actions.  The Finns did make use of the Soviet Degtyarev LMG, also known as the DP,  when captured but even these well made LMG's did not quite fit the requirements.  The DP's were also never captured in large enough numbers and those that were captured were often snapped up by the more mobile Light Infantry or Ski units.    Also the heavy infantry "shock" Jaeger units (designated JP) were first in line for automatic weapons as they were some of the most capable of Finnish soldiers.

It was the Maxim that was called on to fill these needs and they filled them quite well.  The strongest point of the Maxim may be its role in defensive as it is without a doubt one of the greatest machine guns ever made for use in defensive positions.   It has a good rate of fire and the weight also makes the Maxim a very sturdy weapon for this controlled fully automatic fire.  The Maxim also can lay down a rate of sustained fire which was well suited for the Finnish situation 1939-44.  Lastly the Maxim is a well designed and relatively trouble-free weapon, so it could be depended on to fire when there was a need.

The importance of the Maxim can be shown below in this official Finnish breakdown of manpower.

Official values of Finnish Divisions on the 30th November 1939:

Total Manpower: 14,200

Consisting of: 3 infantry regiments - 1 artillery regiment

  • 36 artillery pieces

  • 12 anti-tank guns (37mm)

  • 18 light mortars (82mm)

  • 250 SMGs

  • 250 ARs

  • 116 MGs(7.62mm Maxim)*

*Note:  These issue numbers would have gone up in the 41-44 fighting as the Finns captured a vast number of Maxims from the Soviets in both wars.

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A Finnish M09/21 on duty at the Salpa-Line in Finland.  The mount is a M/40 bunker type. 

The photo was taken in September of 2000.

The Finns further made use of the Maxim in their bunkers,  heavy bunkers and trench lines.   In many cases the Finns "invented" a mount with whatever was on hand, and it was not uncommon to see Maxims mounted on tree stumps and like makeshift mounts.  It was also in cases like this that the older M1905's and M1910's on Sokalov mounts were used in their original condition.    The bulk of these mounts were not much of a problem in a fixed or semi fixed position.   The Finns used both older Russian/Soviet Maxims in their stockpiles as well as the newer Soviet M1910's they captured in the fighting. 

For use in truly fixed heavy bunker positions, as in the photo above from the Salpa-Line, the Finns created a number of mounting systems.   These ranged from the heavy duty M/40 mount in the photo to easily made wooden base mounts.  The sighting on the M/40 mount above was done by placing the rod on the letters above the Maxim, as these were pre-sighted killing zones the Finns had laid out for the Red Army attacks.  To "aim" the gunner placed the rod on the letters called out to them by a spotter.  It is important to note that much of the Winter and Continuation Wars saw the Finnish troops on the defensive and in many cases the fighting resembled WW1 in nature more than WW2.   As such one can clearly see how important a role the Maxim played in these encounters.  

On a tour of the Salpa-Line in September of 2000 the author was informed there were 1250 machine gun positions on this line alone during the Continuation War.  Of course these would not have all been Maxim positions but they would have represented a good portion of the total.   This proves once again the overall importance of the Maxim to Finnish defensive strategy.

Below is a breakdown of the Finnish field use of the Maxim in defensive positions.  It is courtesy of Sami Korhonen who is the webmaster of :

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1) fortified machine gun position (either concrete or wood & soil)
2) machine gun position
3) wire obstacles
4) AT-obstacles (rock rows)
5) infantry positions (trenches)

This is a schematic display of a Finnish "by the book" defense line.  Of course the terrain determined the actual outlook of the defenses, but the idea remained the same.

The cornerstone of the defense are machine guns with interlocking fields of fire. The weakness of this was that the defenses could be easily identified (by aerial photographs) and gave away the locations of strongpoints and the positions of heavy weapons. This was even more dangerous as the mg-positions usually didn't have enough protection from artillery.

Maxims In Offensive Roles

The Maxim is not just a defensive instrument as Finns and Soviets both used the Maxim as an offensive weapon.   The rate of prolonged fire that the Maxim could provide was very beneficial to ground troops as a covering or masking fire.  The Finns were wanting in this area as for all their weapons development the Finns never seemed to design a proficient machine gun suited for this role.  As mentioned earlier in the article the Finnish L26 and even the Soviet DP were just not as suited for this role as well as the Maxim.   The main limitation of the DP in these cases was the range of accurate sustained fire was less than that of the Maxim machine guns.  

The added firepower these Finnish units, designated KKK with the heavy infantry teams designated KKK/JR,  could provide were very important to the Finnish efforts.   The Finns were limited in the amount of fully automatic fire they could put on the field of battle, so they made due with the Maxim even though the weight made them difficult to transport.  These Maxim units were also used to repel any counterattacks the Soviets might mount against the Finnish offensive action.  As the Red Army tended to attack in mass, these units laid down a hail of withering fire on the Soviet ranks.  Even with the bulk of the Maxim these units were still mobile enough and were able to fill any holes that might appear in the Finnish ranks in case of such a counterattack. 

The number of team members could range from three men to sometimes as high as eight.   According to Finnish collector Arto Pulkki,   it was "standard" for there to be 6 total in a Maxim team and each man was numbered.  The numbered breakdown was 1) Shooter 2) Assistant Shooter 3) Spotter 4) Ammo Carrier 5) Horse Driver and there was also a squad leader with the team.  Mr. Pulkki also mentions that sometime before 1941 an extra team member was added to carry more ammunition.  He further states these teams could reach as high as eight team members in 1941-45.  It would be hard to set a standard on the exact number of members in a Maxim team as it would of course range from area to area.  In the numerous photos  that the author has examined most of the teams seem to be in the 5 man range, but this is not to state they could not be larger or smaller at any given time.  While the Finns were an outstanding army in battle sometimes the "standards" set by their command systems did not translate directly into what was "standard" on the battlefield.  Also the size of the Maxim team could directly be influenced by what the role of the team was in a battle.  

Team members 1-4 were supposed to be armed with a pistol but with the shortage of pistols in the Finnish service they more often than not would have been armed with rifles.   Team member 5, the horse driver, was also to be armed with a rifle.   These armed team members would of course be support for the Maxim in case of attack.   These team members were also widely known for their attempts at hiding captured Soviet sub machine guns to replace their rifles, as their battalion or regimental armories would confiscate these SMG's if they were located.

These team members would have one caring the Maxim, one the tripod or mount (if it was a removable mount), one or two caring the ammunition, and one caring the water can and extra ammo.  These units would have also carried an extra barrel in most cases, with many of these barrels being Finnish made, as well as a tool kit.  In case of breakage an extra bolt (also called a lock) was stored in a compartment in the tripod of the M09/21 and M32/33.   Other miscellaneous items that would have been in the team's packs were:  a glyser bottle in case of freezing, a cover blanket for the Maxim, a belt loader tool, and they would have carried spades, entrenching tools, or picks to dig a position if there was a need.  All the  team members would have been trained in firing the Maxim in case the main gunner(s) fell in battle so the team would be able to stay in action.

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Finnish sled or sledge mount.  This photo is from a personal collection in Finland.On the rear of the photo there is writing that shows this Maxim was in Civil Guard service. This appears to be a Finnish M09/09 Maxim judging from the rear sight.

Other Special Mounts And Transports

For ease of transport in the snow the Finns came up with a sled that could be pulled by animals or by ski troops.   The sleds in many cases also had a mounting system where the Maxim could be fired from directly if there was a need.  One of the more  famous of these being the Civil Guard designed M/30 mount with sledge.  The Finns also developed at least two ski mounts , one heavy and one light, that could be used in offensive actions in the winter.  These alterations and modifications are further examples of Finnish ingenuity to fit a need in their military.   The makeshift mounts are too numerous to mention as the Finns could be very inventive on even a field level.    Marrko Palokangas, author of Sotilaskäsiaseet Suomessa 1918-1988, mentions the following "mounts": M/VKT tripod, two Ordnance Dept. front mounts, the M/43 "Salakari" mount, and the "rucksack" M/Wigren mount.

Conclusion And Notes

As one can clearly see the Maxim was essential to the defense of the nation of Finland.  If one was inclined to do so, one could make the case that the Maxims were the most indispensable of all the machine guns in Finnish inventories in the years of war.   These Maxims also served the Finnish Army well into the post war years as they were used on a wide basis in the 1950's as both a service and training weapon.   The years of war did take a toll on the number of Maxims as in the 1950's the Finns had only 400 (or so) M09/21's and 600 (or so) M32/33's in their armories.   Many of these Maxim were still in Finnish depots until the 1990's when they were finally sold as surplus.  Indeed the Maxim has quite a long and distinguished history in Finland and it should not be overlooked as just a Russian or Soviet creation.

The basis for this article was really born on a trip the author took in September of 2000 to Finland and Russia.   I was taken with the large numbers of Maxims that I encountered along the way, as before the trip I had never really taken the time to ponder the Maxim and its importance to Finland.  It is fair to say the trip was a real eye opener for me.  The following made this article possible: My new friends at the Salpa-Line in Finland for the fine tour, Mr. Arto Pulkki for his assistance in research, Mr. Markku Palogankas for his time and effort, my Finnish friend Sami Korhonen, site user Big Mike, Uli at Inter Ordnance, "The Johns" (John Mitchell and John Plumbley) for the use of certain photos,  and to Vic Thomas.  

I do not consider myself an expert on the Maxim so if you want to read more then I suggest the works of Mr. Palogankas or the book "The Devil's Paintbrush" which covers the Maxim line of machine guns in great detail. 

Author: Tuco Of Mosin-Nagant Dot Net & Gunboards.Com

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