Lahti L-39

The Lahti L-39 is a Finnish 20 mm anti-tank rifle used during the Second World War. It had excellent accuracy, penetration and range, but its size made transportation difficult. It was nicknamed "Norsupyssy" ("Elephant Gun"), and as tanks developed armour too thick for the Lahti to penetrate, its uses switched to long range sniping, tank harassment and with the L-39/44 fully automatic variant, employment as an improvised anti-aircraft weapon.

Lahti L-39
A Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle.
TypeSemi-automatic anti-tank rifle anti-materiel rifle
Place of originFinland
Service history
Used byFinland
WarsWinter War
Continuation War
Production history
ManufacturerValtion Kivääritehdas (VKT)
No. built~1,906
VariantsL-39/44 anti-aircraft
Mass49.5 kg (109 lb)
Length2,200 mm (87 in)
Barrel length51.2 in (1,300 mm)

Caliber20 mm (0.79 in)
Rate of fireMax. 30/min
Muzzle velocity800 m/s (2,600 ft/s)
Feed system10 rounds box magazine


Aimo Lahti had doubts about the original idea of a 13 mm anti-tank machine gun and started working on a 20 mm design. Officers who wanted smaller calibre anti-tank weapons believed that the muzzle velocity of 20 mm shells was insufficient to penetrate armour and a weapon with a higher rate of fire and in a smaller calibre would prove useful. As a result, Lahti designed two competing anti-tank weapons: a 13.2 mm machine gun and a 20 mm rifle. After test firing both weapons in 1939, they found that the 20 mm rifle achieved better penetration.


The rifle is a semi-automatic, gas operated weapon with the piston located beneath the barrel and ammunition feed from detachable top-mounted magazine with bottom ejection for the spent cartridges. To reduce recoil, the rifle is equipped with a five-hole muzzle brake and a padded leather recoil pad. The barrel has a wooden jacket to allow transportation after firing has caused the barrel to heat up.


Winter War

During the Winter War (1939–1940) Finland lacked anti-tank weaponry. Only two 20 mm rifles and a few 13.2 mm machine guns made it to the front, where the 13.2 mm machine guns were found to be ineffective and unreliable while the larger 20 mm rifles proved successful against Soviet armour. Because of this, Finland finally settled on the 20 mm design and started production.

The gun was also widely[clarification needed] used in the Cold Charlie counter-sniper technique, where the Finns would use a mannequin posing as an officer sloppily covering himself. Soviet snipers would fire upon the mannequin, and the Finns would then return fire at the Soviet snipers with the Lahti L-39.[1]

Continuation War

An L-39 being used as an improvised anti-aircraft weapon in 1942

The Continuation War (Finnish: jatkosota, Swedish: fortsättningskriget, 25 June 1941 – 19 September 1944) was the second of two wars fought between Finland and the Soviet Union during World War II.

Although the weapon was not able to penetrate newer Soviet tanks like the T-34 and KV-1, it still proved to be quite effective against bunker loopholes/embrasures, long range targets, and even aircraft. A fully automatic version of the L39 was made in small numbers that served as an anti-aircraft gun. Other good targets were snipers, and several weak spots on tanks, such as open top hatches, especially with phosphorus ammunition. It was even able to damage tank turrets and pin them to stop traversal of the cannon.

Around December 1940, a Lahti L-39 replaced the original 13.2 mm L-35/36 machine gun on the single Finnish L-182 armored car. This conversion was employed by the armored unit of 1. Divisioona [fi] (English: 1st Division) during 1941.[2]

After World War II

Several of the rifles remained in service after World War II serving as an anti-helicopter weapon, while many others were sold to collectors, mostly in the United States. Today the rifles, especially those in working condition, are quite rare and highly sought after. Some deactivated weapons (with a steel bar welded into the chamber) have been reactivated due to their value. Ammunition is rare. Often they are rechambered to .50 BMG to lower the cost of use. In the United States, civilian ownership remains possible, depending on state and federal laws. Because the weapon fires rounds larger than .50 calibre, it is considered a destructive device and is subject to the 1934 National Firearms Act. Civilian ownership is dependent on compliance with this law and whether the individual state prohibits civilian ownership of destructive devices.

Details of use

Users found the L-39 to be heavy and difficult to move in the battlefield. Even its magazine weighed almost two kilograms. The magazines had a covered viewing slit on the right side to indicate the number of rounds left in the magazine, and a 15-round magazine was later developed for anti-aircraft use.

To combat the L-39's immense recoil, the recoil spring was so stiff that it would be impossible to cock the weapon with a traditional charging handle. Instead, a rotating crank lever on the right side of the gun is used to pull the bolt back. While semi-automatic in function, the L-39's bolt locks back after every shot, and the grip safety also functions to release the bolt. The entire front of the grip and trigger is protected by a large guard and a rubber buffer to protect the operator's hands from the spent casings which eject from the bottom of the gun at very high speeds.

The whole weapon weighed some 50 kilograms and it was usually towed by horses, but when stripped down could be carried by several men. The rifle had adjustable iron sights calibrated between 200 and 1,400 meters and was equipped with unusual dual bipod, with two sets of legs, one with spikes for use on hard ground and the other with skids for use on softer ground or snow.

In the field, a two-man team was assigned to the gun to move and fire it. Some rifles were abandoned in the heat of battle, but they were easy to replace. By the end of the war over 1900 L39s had been manufactured by VKT (Valtion Kivääritehdas, "State Rifle Factory", modern day Patria) and put in the field.


  1. Kekkonen, P. T. (26 October 1999). "LUKEMATTOMAT KIRJAT: Simo Häyhä, 'Valkoinen kuolema'". Gunwriters, Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  2. "FINNISH ARMY 1918 - 1945: HEAVY ARMOURED CARS". Jaeger Platoon. Retrieved 18 May 2012.


  • Käkelä, Erkki: Marskin panssarintuhoojat. WSOY, 2000