By Rob Morgan
Among the many organisations I work with is La Columna, the Spanish Civil War ‘International Brigade’ re-enactment group based in England. They are a very active bunch, and as always, historians and wargamers alike can learn much from those who actually handle weapons and materiel in practical situations. Recently, their journal editor, Richard Thorpe, sent me a number of photographs of members with deactivated weapons (at least I hope that their Maxim .08 hmg is deactivated!) This is one sub-machine gun I didn’t
immediately recognise, though at first glance it might be taken for a Soviet PPSh-41 with the rare 35-round box magazine that weapon could use, instead of the almost ubiquitous 71 round drum.
The gun, according to many sources, was the finest sub-machine gun of the first half of the 20th century. Its design emerged in the 1920s from ‘exiled’ German engineers papers, ‘tis said, and apparently it was in fact Finland’s Suomi which greatly influenced the Soviet’s rugged design! The 9mm weapon weighed 7kg (15lb or so), rather heavy compared to its contemporaries, and with a muzzle velocity of 400m p/sec claimed a cyclic rate of fire of 900rpm. The magazine was unusual, in that it was a box with 50 rounds in two vertical columns, though a 30-round box and a 71-round drum could also be fitted. In terms of quality, the highest engineering standards were applied to the gun, perhaps remarkable in a small country like Finland, and it was reliable in almost any operational conditions. It was claimed it never, ever jammed.
Interestingly, many sources regard the material quality as responsible for the tremendous accuracy of the Suomi — up to 300 metres, it’s claimed — while most smg’s were of little use over 50 metres, some were useless beyond arm’s length. It became the standard Finnish Army smg during the 1940 Winter War, and companies in Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland produced the Suomi, the latter for its own armed forces who retained the gun for many years. It served as late as the early 1980s. Some early ‘foreign’ versions had a bipod mounting under the barrel. I believe that the Polish Police had the gun in service by 1939, which suggests that the Germans acquired a few; and of course as shown here, the Suomi m/1931 saw service on both sides during the Spanish Civil War.