Feeding the Tiger
By Jean-Francois Legendre

Ammunition Belts for Finnish Maxim Machine Guns

This article is intended to describe the various ammunition belts and links used with Finnish Maxim machine guns in caliber 7.62x54R. In particular, the differences with their Russian counterparts are highlighted.

M/09-09 and M/09-21 Maxim Machine Guns of Russian Origin

After a period of civil war, Finland finally gained its independence over Russia in 1918. About 600 Maxim machine guns captured from the Russians composed the initial arsenal of the young country. The Russian machine guns in caliber 7.62x54R consisted of both of models 1905 and 1910 and were fitted on the heavy Sokolov wheeled mount. Within the Finnish military inventory, both models were adoptedunder the same designation of Mod. 09- 09. The first designation, M/09, concerns the weapon itself, whereas the second 09 concerns the designation of the heavy wheeled mount.

A few years later, the heavy wheeled Sokolov mount was replaced by a lighter Finnish-made mount denoted Model 1921 and was somewhat similar to the German commercial export tripod. The former Russian weapons fitted with this new lighter mount were then renamed Mod. 09- 21. In the middle of the 1920s, further quantities of Russian Maxims were acquired both in Italy and Poland.

In the beginning, the fabric belts used with both M/09-09 and M/09-21 were of Russian origin with a capacity of 250 rounds. These belts usually bear on their starters an inspection stamp of the Army Warehouse No. 3 composed of the roman numeral III inside a wheel with crossed cannons.

Almost any variant of Russian made belts can be observed bearing their original Russian markings as well as additional Finnish stamps. For example, a very early Imperial Russian belt imported from the German DWM company, probably for the early Mod. 1905 Maxims, has been observed with Finnish overstamps.

During the 1920s, a local Finnish production of fabric belts was also undertaken. These belts bear the manufacturer’s markings of the Army Warehouse No. 3 situated in the city of Kuopio 400 km northeast of Helsinki. It must be noted that the various Finnish Army warehouses were intended both to store ordnance materials but were also in charge of repairs, refurbishing as well as production of new equipment. In particular, this Army Warehouse No. 3 was in charge of, besides machine gun fabric belts, also production of ammunition pouches and slings. From 1919 until approximately 1929, the marking on the starter tab of the machine gun belts is ATV3 which means Ase ja Ampumatarvikevarikko 3 (Arms and Ammunition Warehouse No. 3). After around 1929, the marking remains only AV3 for Asevarikko 3 (Arms Warehouse No. 3). Those Finnish 250-round fabric belts are fitted with brass spacers as well as brass starters. The numbering of the cartridge pockets follows the Russian pattern; with markings every 10 rounds with only the figure of the tens (values ranging from 1 to 24) being inked.

It should be noted that it is only from 1943 onwards that, like every single Finnish military material, the belts are stamped on their starter tags with a framed SA property mark meaning Suomen Armeija (Finnish Army). This SA stamp was intended to recognize any material being in the inventory of the Finnish Armed Forces so that they can be taken apart with Civil Guard equipment or even privately possessed materials.

Following the first combats during the “Winter War,” which began with the attack of the Soviet Union against Finland in November 1939, further captured Soviet Maxim machine guns and accessories were again added to the Finnish arsenal. These belts exhibit the Ammunition Warehouse No. 3 inspection stamp (roman numeral III in wheel with crossed cannons) and the late framed SA. An example of such a Soviet belt dated July 1936, and reissued to the Finnish Army, has been observed. This very belt exhibits the usual Soviet pattern of the end of the 1930s with brass spacers and zinc-coated steel starters.

Finnish Maxims M/31 and M/31-40

An air-cooled anti-aircraft twin machine gun based on the Maxim, and designed in Finland, was adopted under the designation M/31 and later M/31-40. The weapon is composed of two belt-fed machine guns, one with left-hand and the other with righthand feed. Whereas the basic mechanism is of the Maxim type, the air-cooled barrel jacket is of a Lahti-Saloranta design and spade grips are used. The early prototypes were fitted on cone mounts and the later used tripod mounts. These weapons were particularly designed to deliver the very high rate of fire of 900 rounds per minute per gun: an essential feature for anti-aircraft duty. To achieve this performance, a special accelerator and metallic disintegrating links were developed. It is Aimo Lahti himself who designed a disintegrating link for the 7.62x54R cartridge, which somewhat recalls the “Prideaux links” from the name of its original British inventor, William de Courcy Prideaux. The latter patented in 1917 a disintegrating link which saw very wide use with various Vickers aircraft weapons.

The Finnish disintegrating links bear the marking VKT in a diamond denoting manufacture at the State Arsenal Valtion Kivääritehdas at Jyväskylä, an arsenal also involved in the production of the M/31 machine guns. The ammunition boxes fitted on the side of each gun can accommodate a 250-round belt. It must be emphasized that these Finnish Prideaux type disintegrating links for caliber 7.62x54R were intended for the M/31 anti-aircraft gun and not for any Finnish aircraft weapon.

Finnish Maxims M/32 and M/32-33

In 1931, Aimo Lahti designed a new metallic belt intended to replace the old type of fabric belts commonly used with the ground guns. These fabric belts proved very much prone to malfunction especially in humid and very cold climates. Though the Prideaux metallic disintegrating links had proven their excellent reliability, their key disintegrating property represented a major drawback for ground use following the combat doctrine of that time. Indeed, continuous belts were meant to be collected and reused repetitively until unserviceable; a feature that cannot be achieved with the disintegrating links being scattered all around the battlefield.

Accordingly, Aimo Lahti designed a metallic belt based on individual Prideaux type links but rendered non-disintegrating by the permanent insertion of a sheath into the space normally left void between the two loops of the link. Thereby, the belt remains continuous even after the extraction of the cartridges. This continuous metal belt was patented in the United Kingdom under the number 399-696 on October 12, 1933.

On the basis of the water-cooled Russian Model 1910 Maxim, the improved Finnish model incorporating the metal belt feeding, as well as some further mechanical improvements, was adopted under the designation M/32 and later M/32-33 after a modification of the mount. Whereas about 200 old Russian M/09 weapons had been modified to the 1932 pattern, the great bulk of Finnish M/32 machine guns were of new domestic production.

According to the volume available in the standard Russian-style ammunition can for transportation of the belt, the capacity of the metallic belt is limited to 200 rounds. The transversal rigidity of that metallic belt is such that no starter tab is required. The insertion into the feed block occurs simply by pushing the belt in by hand.

From the middle of the 1930s on, old Russian Maxims already in service within the Finnish Army, as well as others captured during the Second World War, were progressively modified to accept the Finnish M/32 continuous metal belt.

Short Notes on Finnish Machine Gun Ammunition

Finnish 7.62x54R ammunition are usually packed in 15-round cardboard boxes with all cartridges heads up, thereby giving a typical triangular shape of the box. Whereas cartridges intended for rifles are packed on stripper clips, those for machine guns are packed loose. Cartridges especially intended for machine gun use bear the notation K. K. (Konekiväärin - machine gun) on the box label. The label also shows the mentions Ilman siteitä (without stripper clips). Besides ordinary ball projectiles (both light and heavy types), a wide variety of special loadings (tracer, armorpiercing and incendiary) was produced by Finnish arsenals.


The author acknowledges the useful assistance of Reino Kährä and Jarkko Vihavainen (Finland) for their assistance about Finnish Maxim machine guns and ammunitions.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V10N11 (August 2007)
and was posted online on November 23, 2012


Comments have not been generated for this article.