Lahti L-39 (Elephant Gun) History

The Lahti L-39 was an indigenous Finnish 20mm anti-tank rifle design used during the "Winter War" of World War 2. The system was designed in 1939 and produced in some 1,900 examples by the end of her run, expanding to include the fully-automatic L-39/44 anti-aircraft variant. For a time, the weapon proved effective in combating Soviet armor head-on but as armor protection on new Soviet tanks soon increased, the Lahti L-39 was relegated to other - though still useful - battlefield roles as necessary.

Two schools of anti-tank thought had ultimately developed in Finland. On one side there were those believing in the effectiveness of the smaller 13mm cartridge tied to a fast-firing machine gun-type action, providing better penetration value via higher muzzle-velocity. On the other side there stood those believing in a larger-caliber 20mm rifle. Though slower-firing, the 20mm shell inherently held sufficient benefits in being able to penetrate the then known armor thicknesses of enemy tanks. Finnish patriot Aimo Johannes Lahti (1896-1970), the self-educated weapons designer, attempted to settle the debate - he himself favoring the larger 20mm projectile weapon. Lahti set forth to design both a 13. 2mm anti-tank machine gun and a 20mm anti-tank rifle. Evaluation would soon enough reveal the 20mm cartridge to be the way of things.

By the time of the Winter War - the Soviet invasion of Finland - anti-tank weaponry for the Finns was in desperately short supply with only a few 20mm and some 13. 2mm weapons in circulation. The 13. 2mm breed was quickly found to be useless against even the base Soviet armor. Though these 13. 2mm systems offered up their high rate-of-fire, the projectiles did little in the way of penetrating armor. Those 20mm systems that were in use, however, delivered much better results. As such, a priority on 20mm anti-tank weapons was put in motion and Amios Lahti ultimately produced his memorable L-39.

The L-39 maintained a most unique external appearance. The operator was braced by a curved padded shoulder piece. The pistol grip and trigger group were set aft of the receiver. The massive curved box magazine was fitted to the top of the receiver. To the forward portion of the weapon was supported by a decidedly Finnish bipod sporting ski-type implements - suitable for winter weather conflict. The barrel extruded out at length and sported noticeable cooling vents akin to a pepper shaker. The 20mm cartridge of choice became the 20x138mm "Solothum Long" to be fired from a 10-round detachable box magazine. Muzzle velocity was listed at 2,600 feet per second and the firing action was semi-automatic. The weapon weighed in at an astonishing 109lbs with an overall length of 88 inches, 51. 2 inches of this made up by the barrel. The L-39 carried the appropriate nickname of "Norsupyssy" (meaning "Elephant Gun").

In practice, the Lahti L-39 proved quite effective at the outset. Perhaps moreso adding to its legacy was the fact that the L-39 was equally adept at engaging just about any type of Soviet target under the Finland sun - be they armored or unarmored. The L-39 was used against bunker emplacements, low-flying enemy aircraft and enemy troops including other enemy sniper teams. A fully-automatic variant - the L-39/44 - was introduced in 1944 in limited quantity to serve as a dedicated anti-aircraft weapon system - seeing service even after World War 2. At any rate, the long-range hitting power and penetration values were a godsend for the defense of the Finnish frontier.

L-39 gun teams also took to targeting certain vulnerable parts of tanks if their cartridge was not able to penetrate the armor directly. This proved the case with the arrival of the heavier T-34 and KV-1 tanks to come. Thick armor proved the Soviet modus operandi until the end of the war and such armor essentially dwindled the L-39's reach to an extent. Additionally, the large weapon system was cumbersome to deploy and relocate with any sense of efficiency and were often left to the enemy when positions were overrun.

Though never receiving much in the way of support from the Allies, the outnumbered Finns (3-to-1) utilized what they had - a special combination of weapons and winter tactics - against the ill-trained Soviet soldier. The result became several notable early victories against the mighty Red Army, sometimes resulting in the decimation of entire army groups and the capturing of Soviet armor, weapons and ammunition. Though Finland eventually capitulated on March 12th, 1940, with the signing of the Moscow Peace Treaty the damage was ultimately done - some 126,875 Soviet personnel were killed or went missing while a further 264,908 were wounded. In contrast, the Finns suffered 25,904 dead or missing and a further 43,557 wounded. Finland lost out on 11% of its pre-war territory and over a quarter of her economic power. Her resistance, however, kept the Soviet Union from claiming complete control over all of Finland - delivering an international black eye to the Communist powerhouse. In the "Continuation War" still to come, Finland would once again take up arms against the Soviet Union - this time with material support from Germany and Italy at a time when Germany and the Soviet Union were now fully at war with one another.

Lahti L-39 (Elephant Gun) Specification

ROLES

- Anti-Tank / Anti-Material / Breaching

STRUCTURAL

Overall Length:

2,200 mm (86. 61 in)

Barrel Length:

1,300 mm (51. 18 in)

Weight (Unloaded):

109. 13 lb (49. 50 kg)

Sights:

Iron Sights.

PERFORMANCE

Action:

Semi-Automatic

Muzzle Velocity:

2,600 feet-per-second (792 meters-per-second)

Rate-of-Fire:

30 rounds-per-minute

VARIANTS

L-39 - Base Series Designation; semi-automatic firing action; 10-round detachable box magazine; 20x138B Long Solothum cartridge.

L-39/44 - Fully-automatic anti-aircraft variant.

Related stuff

1400 1514 1587 1765 1774 1775 1776 1782 1785 1786 1791 1797 1811 1813 1819 1840 1841 1842 1852 1853 1855 1856 1857 1859 1860 1861 1862 1863 1864 1865 1866 1867 1868 1869 1870 1873 1874 1875 1877 1878 1885 1886 1888 1889 1895 1896 1897 1898 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905 1906 1907 1908 1909 1910 1911 1912 1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919 1920 1921 1922 1923 1924 1925 1926 1927 1928 1929 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Contact