Light Machine Gun Comparison: Finnish LS26 vs Russian DP28

Before the Winter War, the standard light machine gun adopted by the Finnish military was the Lahti-Saloranta LS-26. This was a complex and finely built weapon, using a short recoil action and tilting bolt, chambered for the same 7.62x54mm rimmed cartridge as used by Finland’s Mosin-Nagant infantry rifles. The LS-26 fed from 20-round box magazines which are a bit unusual in having a single-feed presentation (which made them difficult to load without a tool, but also prevented potential problems from rimrock).

In total, about 5,000 LS26 machine guns were made for Finland (and an additional 1,200 sold to China in 8mm Mauser). They were apparently quite accurate, but highly prone to malfunctioning in the cold and dirty field conditions of Finnish combat. When the Winter War broke out and Finns began capturing Russian equipment, the Russian DP-28 light machine gun became a very popular alternative to the LS-26.

The Degtyarev DP-28 may not have been as refined of a weapon, but it was much better suited to real combat. It was simple and reliable, and the 47-round magazine capacity was certainly appreciated as well. By the end of the Continuation War, Finland had some 15,000 Degtyarev light machine guns in its inventory, far outnumbering the LS-26s.

Today Karl and I had a chance to fire both weapons side by side (unfortunately, my trigger time on the LS-26 was quite limited, and I was not able to film a full disassembly of it). We both found the LS-26 to be quite a challenging weapon to use effectively, even without any malfunctions. The Degtyarev was a much more usable machine gun.

One other interesting takeaway for us was the remarkable effectiveness of the semiautomatics DP/DPM made by SMG Guns here in the US. It delivered probably 90% of the utility of the original fully automatic version, which is quite impressive. After this comparison, I would recommend it even more heartily than before.

Special thanks to Varusteleka for arranging this shoot!

All photos in this video are courtesy of the excellent Finnish Defense Forces’ Photo Archive.

Semiauto DP/DPM rifles from SMG Guns (don’t let the terrible web site fool you, the guns are excellent).


  1. Why was the loader in the 1st photo holding the bi-pod? It looked like a staged photo for training purposes, so I assume it was a recommended action. Most armies would want soldiers’ hands as far from the business end of a machine gun as possible. Did the gun jump too much from violent recoil and need a steadying hand up front; was the bi-pod weak and tend to collapse under firing stress? All in all, if I were on the crew, I’d rather not be the loader.

  2. The LS-26 was a gun that went through a fairly typical “development hell”. The main designers, Aimo Lahti and engineer Captain Arvo Saloranta did not really make a functional team. Saloranta for example made same last minute design changes without the approval of Lahti, but the real confusion arises from the fact that nobody seems to know for sure if those changes were significant and what their actual effect on the gun was. Some have suggested that Lahti later used them as an excuse for the shortcomings of the gun.

    The gun’s actual entry to combat use was also botched. The cosmoline protecting the recoil spring was supposed to be removed by armorers, but for most guns that was not done. Ordinary soldiers were expressly denied to perform that level of stripping. Until that SNAFU could be fixed the gun received an exceedingly bad reputation for reliability, and even today it is difficult to determine which part of its poor reputation derives from that and which was truly earned and attributable to the design. Certainly the gun was much more susceptible to sand and other gunk than the DP-28, but as far as can be found out afterwards, it seems to have been reasonably reliable when kept clean. Nevertheless, magazine capacity was on the low side and as Ian and Karl also noticed, it was not a very comfortable gun to shoot on full auto. So, probably not the worst “modern” LMG in WW2, but definitely behind the DP-28/DPM, Bren and even the BAR.

    The epilogue of the LS-26 saga was the L-34 “Sampo”, a considerably lighter, cheaper and probably more reliable gas-operated LMG designed solely by Aimo Lahti in 1934. It came pretty close to replacing the LS-26 in 1935. However, the LS-26 had just recently entered production and the army ultimately decided that the L-34 was not a large enough improvement over it, because it did not provide belt feed. It must be noted, though, that at the time the reliability problems of the LS-26 were not fully realized yet, and on the other hand the L-34 was never combat tested.

    • “L-34 “Sampo””
      Side note: Sampo according to Finnish mythology was magical artifact constructed by Ilmarinen that brought riches and good fortune to its holder.
      Jaegerplatoon site has description and illustration of L-34 as well some other Finnish prototype weapons of that era:
      It says that in 1930s, there was prejudice against gas-operated amongst people responsible for choice of weapons for Finnish forces. It also says that Lahti designed it in less than month.
      This name was also used for later work of Lahti – L-41 general purpose belt-fed machine gun (also described in link above). It was abandoned in favor of 7,62×54 R version of MG 42, but it couldn’t be produced fast as Finnish industry lacks experience with stamping technology.
      Beyond Lahti designs in inter-war period, there are also described machine guns by Carl Pelo, based on Madsen machine gun.

      • On the other hand Soviet also tried various improvements/alteration for DP machine gun, see photos here:
        In fact first belt-fed version was made in 1930 (Hotchkiss-style fed), in years 1936-1939 various fed systems were tested, including Maxim cloth belt.
        In 1939 there was prototype made with fed system analogous to Japanese Type 11 machine gun for 25 rounds. In same year ДП-39 was created which was belt-fed version and used various parts from ДС-39. In course of Great Patriotic War, various alteration, aimed at speeding up production were tested (like usage of stamping), finally (14 October 1944) improved machine guns (having also relocated spring) were adopted as ДПМ and ДТМ (tank version).
        As early as 1942 А. А. Дубынин and П. П. Поляков designed stamped adapter allowing usage of Maxim belts. [They will later design РП-46 together with А. И. Шилин]

  3. I am amazed to hear such praise of a neutered version of the DP-28. It’s enough to make me want one!

    • Also, limit to single shots only, probably unwittingly solve one of problems of DP – overheating of spring, which is around barrel.

      • It seems to me that the overheating problem has been somewhat exaggerated in post-war discussion. To actually ruin the spring you had to fire something like six magazines (i.e. nearly 300 rounds) continuously, allowing only for magazine changes. In modern context or compared to belt-fed machine guns 300 rounds does not sound like that much, but magazine-fed LMGs were never intended to be sustained fire weapons.

        For one thing, typically an infantry squad would not even carry more than 6-8 magazines for the DP-28, and wasting it all in one sitting would mean that you had to repel a human wave attack (which did happen in WW2, but were not common apart some Japanese banzai charges on the Pacific Islands).

        • “overheating problem has been somewhat exaggerated in post-war discussion.”
          Notice that, improved version of DP adopted in 1944 have spring placement changed – this apply both for DPM (infantry) and DTM (tank).

  4. I spent several tourist hours in s Finnish military museum in 1985 (probably in Helsinki). My mother’s family lived a few km’s from the Soviet border, and my mother and auntie were the last civilians across 2 bridges the Finnish Army blew up in the first day of the Winter War.

    In pre internet days there were almost no books about Finland’s wars available in the UK; but the ones I found praised the Suomi submachine gun, and Finland’s ability to recondition Soviet weapons. I already knew how good the Finns were at fighting in winter.

    It was quite a shock in the Finnish military museum to read just how bad some Finnish equipment was. In the Winter War the english caption for the LS26 reported that some Finnish soldiers used there own underwear to make covers for the gun, in an attempt to keep them working in the cold! (At -30C I’d not willingly give up any of my underwear!). It also said that the gun was really disliked.

    On a side note from the same visit; Finland was one of the only countries in the 1930’s that had a balance of trade surplus, at least with the USA, but probably with the world. Despite this the Finnish finance minister stopped deals for both Czech medium artillery and field radios, two things the Finns were desperately short of in 1939. He was also the man whose name was used to describe the reservists who had to report to duty in their own clothes when Finland mobilised in 39, because there were nowhere near enough uniforms bought.

    On the DP28 in Finnish service. In the Winter War all were Finnish captures; but after the Continuation War started most ex-Soviet equipment used by Finland was given or sold to them by the Nazis, who captured much more Soviet equipment, and who really didn’t need or want most of it.

    • Your last chapter is, by and large, not true. The Germans did not sell significant numbers of captured Soviet small arms to Finland. Finnish forces did capture a lot of Soviet weapons on themselves, predominantly in 1941 and early 1942. About 5,000 DP-28s were captured during the Continuation War, most of them in the aforementioned period.

      The Germans did sell some heavier equipment such as a few T-34 tanks and artillery pieces. Most of the artillery pieces sold by the Germans were actually captured from France and Poland, because the Germans used captured Soviet artillery pieces extensively themselves.

      Why didn’t the Germans sell more small arms? They had to equip large numbers of Ukranian nationalists and from 1942 pn also Russian “volunteers”, who fought for Germany. German industry did not produce spare parts for captured Soviet small arms (as they did for many artillery pieces and some armored vehicles), so while they in total captured more small arms than the still not insignificant number of Ukranian and other ex-Soviet soldiers they “employed”, they had to keep some as spares to replenish battle losses.

        • Yes, they were used extensively, together with other French (90mm and 155mm) and Russian (152mm; other calibers were used less and predominantly in the Winter War) 19th century artillery pieces with a fixed carriage. The 120mm long was considered the best of them with good accuracy, fairly good range and an effective HE shell.

          Experienced Finnish crews even managed to fire 2 shells per minute initially, which was more than twice the sustained RoF found in French sources; on the other hand unlike WW1 French, Finnish WW2 artillery doctrine rarely called for prolonged bombardment, which was considered wasteful (modern artillery doctrines everywhere stress that indirect artillery fire is most effective in the first minute of fire for effect, because after that the enemy has usually sought for cover).

          French de Bange system guns were used for the last time by the Finnish Army in July 1944, which was quite likely the final true combat use of fixed carriage artillery pieces anywhere.

          • “French de Bange system guns were used for the last time by the Finnish Army in July 1944, which was quite likely the final true combat use of fixed carriage artillery pieces anywhere.”
            Description in Russian and additional photos might be found here:
            that site says that last shot from 120mm 1878 gun was fired 24 June 1944, from position near Svir river. It also states that, in Finnish forces it was sometimes transported with usage of 2 trucks: one for barrel and one for carriage (as this gun was designed for horses, its maximal towing speed was limited)

          • Usually only one truck was used. The barrel was strapped on the flatbed and the carriage towed behind. This put much less strain on the carriage and allowed for somewhat higher towing speeds, especially on good roads, than the design speed by horses, which was something like 4-5 km/h, maximum.

            The last de Bange system gun used in combat was probably the 155mm Long Mle 1877, which was last fired on July 13th, 1944.

          • I know, 24 of those guns were among the captured artillery pieces Germany sold to Finland in 1940. They were reasonably well liked guns in Finnish service.

      • I would like to add that the most significant sale of small arms from Germany to Finland during WW2 was actually 998 units of MG 08 heavy machine guns from old Reichswehr stocks in June 1941. These gun were delivered “as is” without refurbishing and most if not all had seen service in WW1. They were used to arm coastal infantry, which also had FN Mle D LMGs in 7.92×57mm IS. (The FN Ds were bought and delivered directly from Belgium in February 1940, i.e. before the German occupation.)

  5. Back in the 1990’s me and a friend used to run a local “assault weapon” match at a Southern California rifle range. We used a pretty simple course of fire, with shooters limited more by time than ammo (benefitting rapid fire). Competitors were divided into four groups depending on how their rifles were equipped: bipod, scope, bipod + scope, no bipod nor scope.

    We were pretty impressed with just how fast and accurately a bipod + scope equipped .223 semi-automatic rifle could fire, and that type of rifle easily scored the highest every match. Of the variety of firearms used, the greatest benefit seemed to be derived from use of .223 caliber or use of a bipod.

    Compared to a clunky open bolt 20 round fed LMG, a well equipped semi-automatic rifle like a heavy barreled AR-15 with a bipod doesn’t seem to give up any practical firepower.

    • “Compared to a clunky open bolt 20 round fed LMG, a well equipped semi-automatic rifle like a heavy barreled AR-15 with a bipod doesn’t seem to give up any practical firepower.”
      But wait, 7,62×54 R cartridge has much greater effective range than .223, as well fire heavier bullet. So considering self-loading rifle firing lighter bullet as no inferior to full automatic gun firing heavier bullet in terms of firepower looks strange – second is able to deliver more heavier bullets in same amount of time.

  6. Given a choice between the LS-26 and the older Chauchat, which would be better to lug around while on the advance?

  7. As I never had opportunity to lay my hands on DP28 I considered it, apparently in error, somehow crude and lacking. For same reason I had inclination to think of LS26 as “refined”. This article convinced me of the opposite in either case.

    The work Karl and Ian had been doing is very praiseworthy and deserves our support.

    • “crude and lacking”
      As in case of other Soviet war-time small-arms production, quality might vary depending on time or manufacturer.

    • The LS-26 was certainly manufactured for tighter tolerances, which ended up being mostly negative. On the positive side it was quite accurate in semi-auto, but since it was an open-bolt weapon, you couldn’t realistically use it for long range sniping.

  8. Viewers will note that the AA gunners from the SA-Kuva photograph with two ex-tank-mounted Soviet DT machine guns with anti-aircraft sights are wearing Italian M33 steel helmets. Very many of these were shipped to Finland during the Winter War, but were not really in evidence until the mobilization for the Jatkosota or “Continuation War.”

    There is anecdotal evidence and statements to the effect that the rounded shape of the Italian helmet looked too much like the Soviet M40 steel helmet, and therefore it was restricted for the most part to rear echelon or non-infantry units. In this case, the AA gunners–not their age too?–appears to bear that out.

    • Captured Soviet helmets were later used quite commonly even by infantry, so I doubt misidentification was a huge issue. Of course it could have still been a theoretical consideration when the Italian helmets were first issued. I don’t really know, either.

      • Similar anecdotes and so on indicate that the captured Soviet steel helmets at least initially went to all sorts of civil defense, anti-aircraft, coastal artillery, naval, artillery units too. Thanks to all of the digitization projects underway, the SA-Kuva photo archive, etc. etc. one can find all sorts of images showing the many variations in equipment and helmets.

        Obviously, the bulk of infantry helmets appear to be WWI German and Austro-Hungarian helmets, WWII Hungarian, German helmets, Finnish, Swedish, Czech, Italian, Soviet… For all I know I’ve overlooked a few!

        Kiitos for the observation. Happy Suomi 100!

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