This guest article written by Andrey Ulanov.
In 1941, at the NIPSVO shooting range, the Soviet military conducted a series of comparative tests of standard foreign and Soviet pistols as well as the Soviet experimental “Voevodin system” pistol.
The Lahti pistol results turned out to be quite surprising. This pistol had been considered very reliable in the USSR for a long time, probably due to how little practical experience Soviets had with it. During the “Winter War” of 1939-40, the pistols from Lahti came to the front in very limited quantities. During the Continuation War, the front line remained mostly motionless. Unlike the Germans at Stalingrad, the Finnish army had never been surrounded. As a result, most of the soldiers and officers of the Soviet army never had the opportunity to personally try the Lahti, unlike the Luger pistol or Walter P38. They just assumed the Finns must have had a reliable pistol.
The 1941 tests showed that Lahti was, in fact, not very reliable by Soviet standards. In total, there were eight steps in the program of this part of the tests. Each pistol fired 50 shots:
- with normal grease,
- with thick grease,
- when parts were dusty (normal grease),
- with dry parts (no grease),
- with elevation and declination angles of up to ninety degrees (two series of 50 shots each),
- with 10% increased powder charge,
- when cooling both the weapon and cartridges to minus 50 degrees Celsius (-58 F), with winter grease.
In these tests, the Lahti pistol proved to be the worst with 17.75% delays.
The thick grease test turned out to be a complete disaster for Lahti as it was unable to fire a single shot. Soviet testers pointed out the large friction areas of the bolt parts as the source of the problem. The weakness of the main spring also contributed to the misfires. When dusty, Lahti had 6 delays, well behind the competition. Shooting in cold weather turned out to be the least problematic. Lahti had 7 delays for 50 shots. However, Browning High Power beat it with just 5 delays for 50 shots.
Based on the test results, the Soviet army gave the following assessment of the Lahti pistol:
- Convenient for shooting through windows and narrow slots (e.g. from inside a tank)
- Light trigger
- Reliable safety that is easy to switch
- No leaf springs
- Quick and easy partial disassembly for cleaning
- Loaded chamber indicator
- Has safety cocking (Ulanov’s note: not sure what they really meant by this)
- Heavy and bulky
- Suboptimal automatics (a very light bolt compared to the barrel weight)
- Difficult to manufacture
- Complete disassembly is difficult due to a large number of pins, axles and small springs
- No indication of whether the gun is cocked
- Cannot be cocked with one hand
- Large distance from the back of the handle to the trigger
Another peculiar (and rather dangerous) design feature of the Lahti pistol is that one can easily omit the locking wedge when re-assembling the gun. Firing a gun that looks entirely normal but is in fact out of breach can lead to a serious injury. This is exactly what happened in the Swedish army in 1991, leading to Swedes abandoning the Lahtis soon thereafter.
If more pistols of Lahti had gotten to the USSR, the Soviet military might have recognized it for what it was really worth. The performance in hot dusty conditions would have been subpar and assembly mistakes (inevitable in war time as proven by even much more familiar Soviet and German handguns) would have probably resulted in a much worse reputation than Lahti ended up having. The Soviet military required a weapon to work in a variety of conditions, not just in wintertime, in order to be considered reliable, and Lahti just wasn’t it.