The M39 Finnish Mosin Nagantby Frank Overbey (12/9/00)
The following text is in no way an effort to publish a technical treatise on the M39 (Model 1939), but is an effort to describe some of the history, characteristics, markings, data, and features of this fine bolt action rifle. When I went to get my first one I was armed with only a few facts, yet lucked into an almost perfect Sako SK.Y (Civil Guard). I hope that this paper will give the novice, potential buyer, and new collector some basis to select a rifle they will enjoy for a long time, but remember the Prime Directive. These are military rifles that are constructed from contracted parts, older rifles, captured rifles, and re-arsenaled rifles. Nothing in this article is absolute! The sources cited at the end of the text are solely responsible for this wealth of information, and I am grateful for their time and assistance.
The M39 Mosin Nagant was the last of the Finnish Mosin Nagant military bolt action rifles. Most were built from 1940 through 1945. Like the rest of the Finnish bolt rifles, the M39’s were constructed from captured and bought Russian M91/30 and M1891 rifles. The Finns restocked, re-barreled, and repaired these Russian rifles and made what is generally considered to be some of the best shooting military bolt action rifles in the world.
There were two nicknames given to the M39. The first was "Pystykorva" after an old Finnish dog breed. The other, and most common, was "Ukko-Pekka" (translated "old man Peter") after the Finnish President Pehr Evind Svinhufvud who served from 1931-1937, and was a firearms enthusiast.
All M39’s had to shoot a three shot group of three centimeters (1.5") or less at 100 meters at the armory, or they were not released into service. Although the M39 is extremely accurate, the Finnish M28/30 with it’s slightly heavier barrel is considered by Finnish Nagant experts to be the most accurate of the Finnish military bolt action rifles.
Overall Length – 46.75"
Barrel Length – 27"
Weight – 9 lbs., 8 ozs.
Rifling – 1 turn in 9.5"
Bore diameter - .310"
The Finns never made any receivers of their own for these rifles. The original receivers often have the date of manufacture (i.e. 909 – 9=September, 09=1909), as well as armory marks stamped under the rear tang. Many were made prior to 2000 and are in reality antiques (over 100 years old - DK). This makes them exempt from the associated paperwork for firearms. Unfortunately you have to take the rifle apart to determine this, which often upsets the retailer, and then convince he/she to sell it to you without the requisite paperwork !!! Good luck.
Most M39’s are built on the hexagonal receiver. You may notice either a small oval grind mark or flat grinding on the top flat of the receiver close to the barrel. This is where the "double eagle" markings were ground off. This is the Imperial Russian proof mark and is found on receivers made prior to 1917. The Soviets ground it off during re-arsenaling. Some M39s may still be found with the markings intact, but this is not the norm. If you have one, it probably means that the receiver was capture from the Russians prior to the overthrow of the Czar, or it came into Finnish hands prior to being re-arsenaled by the Soviets.
You may also find "AZ" or "OEWG" stamped on top of the receiver next to the barrel. These are Austrian capture marks. The OEWG indicates inspection and/or repair at Steyr Werke after it was captured. There are a few M/39s that have been observed built on round receivers (BB). They are sufficiently rare that even dedicated collectors may never have seen one, much less own one. Since from a military standpoint this is insignificant, there is no data on numbers, years, etc. on these rifles.
BARREL MARKINGS AND MANUFACTURERS
M39’s come in five basic variations. Below is a chart taken from Doug Bowser’s book "Rifles of the White Death", with modifications by Doug and myself, which gives the known and estimated serial number ranges for the five variations. These marks are found on the barrel of the rifles just ahead of the receiver.
SAKO = Suojeluskuntain Ase ja Konepaja (Civil Guard gun and machinery shop)
SAKO SK.Y = Suojeluskuntain Yileskunnan (Committee of the Civil Guard)
VKT = Valtion Kivaari Tehdas (Government Rifle Factory)
B = Most likely Belgium barrels installed at VKT
TIKKA = Tikkakoski (Government Rifle Factory)
Manufacturer Serial Numbers Numbers produced (estimates)
SAKO 200,000 - 259,549 59,549
SAKO SK.Y 500,000 - 510,588 10,588
VKT 25,189 - 76,227 51,038
"B" same range as VKT 3,000
TIKKA same range as VKT ?
No Maker (late rifles) 300,880 - 306,351
(observed number range of guns made; year number [1962-1969 are the most common with 1972 being the latest reported] stamped on barrel)
(note: Serial numbers outside of the ones observed and reported above are frequently reported by a members of the Curios and Relics group, Tuco’s Nagant homepage, and other forums, so use the ranges in the chart as guidelines and not as absolutes). Please register your M39 on Tuco’s page.
The "B" rifles are fairly rare and were probably produced at AV-3 at Kupio with Belgium barrels (hence the "B" nomenclature) originally intended for M/91 rifles (BB). The same with Tikka M/39s. The "B" barrels have a reddish hue due to 1) the high nickel content in the steel or 2) the blueing process. Both the "B" and Tikka rifle’s serial numbers fall within the range of the VKT ones, but there is no guarantee that they were consecutive or inclusive. Doug’s Bowser’s book is a must if you are interested in Finnish rifles. His second book "Rifles of the White Death" is now available from Camellia City Military Publications. Ordering information is included in the credits at the end of this paper.
Many of the B and Tikka M39s show up in excellent condition. The hypothesis is that they were made in the 70’s from M/91 rifles with prime barrels (Palokangas Finnish text not the English summaries - BB) for reserve service. It is unclear whether they were barrels only, or barreled actions, but they retained their original markings and serial numbers. To further validate this, these rifles appear to have a slightly smaller muzzle diameter (15.7mm vs. the standard 15.9mm)(BB).
There are various firing proof marks on most of the barrels (36<VKT>00 or36 S 00). These are usually found on the barrel right above the wood line.
Another mark found on many of the M39s, as well as other Finnish rifles, is the "D". This indicates that the rifle is manufactured/barreled/retrofitted for the .311 diameter Finn D46 (185 gr.), D47 (185 gr.), or D166 (200 gr.) bullet. They also work for the Russian ammunition. This was a chamber reaming (throat lengthening) not a bore increase.
Bolts will have a variety of proof marks on the parts. Remember the Prime Directive. Usually the last four digits of the serial number will be stamped on the bolt knob. They may also be stamped on the flat next to the bolt handle, but this Russian/Soviet number is usually crossed through and the Finn number stamped on the knob. The safety is difficult to use, cumbersome and slow. My guess is that they probably weren’t used all that much in combat. Kind of like scabbards for M91 bayonets – didn’t need them !!
The M39 used the tried and true 7.62X54R rimmed cartridge. You will sometimes also see this written or advertised as 7.62X53R (this is the Finnish designation). There is currently an abundance of this ammo available through mail order and gun shows. Most of this surplus is loaded with 147 or 181 grain bullets and is Russian, Eastern block, or Chinese. No surplus is truly non-corrosive, even if advertised as such, so assume that all of it is corrosive. Recently there has been an influx of Russian "hunting" ammo (with 200+ grain bullets) advertised as non-corrosive. Remember, it’s not only the powder that can be corrosive, but also the primer. If you are in doubt, pull the bullet and powder, place the unloaded primed shell in a Nagant rifle, hold it about six inches from a "in the white" steel plate (you can expose the metal with a wire brush, sandpaper, and/or emery cloth), and fire the rifle. With a control spot on the same plate, place it in a damp environment inside, and check it after several days. If the primer fired spot is rusty and the control spot is not, then the primers are corrosive). Doug Bowser cautions to stay away from green boxed Russian LVE soft point ammunition, as it is highly corrosive and could ruin the rifle.
Currently, there are three brands of ammunition, Norma, Sellier and Bellot, and Lapua, that are non-corrosive, boxer primed, and reloadable. They are expensive at $25 - $30 retail, per box of twenty.
M39’s are as easy to clean as any other bolt gun, and a hot soapy bore scrubbing followed up by normal procedures with oil based products is all that is needed to protect your rifle from the effects of corrosive ammo. It is also prudent to clean the chamber and bolt face the same way.
The feature that readily distinguishes the M39 from other Finnish rifles is the pistol grip stock. The early rifles (pre -1941) did not have this feature, and are considered rare and not the norm. Straight stocks generally show up on Sako rifles with serial numbers under 220,000 (BB). Many of these early straight stocked rifles were later refitted with pistol gripped ones (JK). The M39 stock also has a higher comb than previous models (M27, M28, M28/30).
The standard stocks were made of birch and stained a medium brown, but it has been reported (RA) that custom stocks of walnut, ash, and maple were also used, especially on guns that were the private property of the Civil Guard members (they were allowed to buy their own guns). Most of the stocks are also mortised on the bottom of the butt. This is where they crack sometimes. In general pre-war and wartime stocks have better wood than post-war models. The wavy (tiger) birch stocks, that we are so fond of, were often made by furniture companies that used their dried stock for the war effort. Some may also be patched with round wood plugs and/or a type of putty. You will also see more patches and repairs in post-war wood, whereas earlier stocks will be found with knots and imperfections ("flowers of the wood" – RA).
The finish varied according to where they were assembled, but all were linseed-based. Most stocks are lacquered, but some have an oil finish. Before the war M27 and M39 stocks were treated with "vernissa" (varnish and linseed oil) or raw linseed oil. Reddish-brown stain was sometimes added. This surface is shiny, but often sticky. A type of lacquer, called "Pomo-lakka", was also used giving the stocks a dry glossy surface. Some private purchase M28s and M28/30s have a lacquered hunting rifle quality finish to them. Most post-war stocks have a dull, rough, sanded appearance and a yellowish stain. This is a minimal procedure prior to storing.
Several cartouches are commonly found on the stocks. The most popular are crossed cannons behind a circle with or without a letter (L, Z, S) in it, and the famous SAKO gear with an "S" inside. These are found on the right (bolt handle) side of the butt stock. SK.Y rifles used by the Civil Guard also have the year of stock manufacture on the butt stock. This can also be found on late production M28/30s. Lately, a few stocks have been reported with a two-inch "T" routed into the butt. The theory is that these were control rifles (the T standing for "tarkkailu" – observation or control) to check for corrosion during long periods of storage (RA). Other oddities include "RUK" ("Reservi Upseeri-Koulu" – Reserve Officers School) painted on the butt stock. "KR" painted stocks may stand for "Koulu Rata" (Training-School), but this is not confirmed.
Almost all M39 stocks have been finger-jointed just ahead of the grip grooves. The finger-joints can be rounded (wartime), square, or pointed. This was done to strengthen and sometimes shorten the original Russian stocks. Dual sling swivels are found on the M39’s. This allows the rifle to be carried over the shoulder or flat across the front or back for mounted and/or ski troops.
Some stocks may contain a disk hole on the right side of the butt stock, similar to those found on Enfield stocks. This is where the unit stocks disks were located. These were ordered removed during the war to conceal troop movements, and finding a rifle with one on it is fairly rare (RA).
SERIAL NUMBERS AND MARKINGS
Serial numbers may be found on the rifle in four places. One is the top of the barrel just ahead of the receiver. The second is on the left side of the receiver just above the wood line next to the barrel. Early imported (1986 -1990) M39’s may not have this receiver number, as the BATF required importers to add these numbers after that. The third is on the bottom of the magazine. Since all M39s were built from Russian receiver and magazines, it is not unusual to see the original serial number on the magazine bottom struck through, ground off, a new number stamped over or next to an original, or none at all. The final number is found on the bolt knob or on the bolt next to the handle, and is the last four digits of the whole serial number. Risto Alanko reports seeing M39’s with the serial numbers 000001 and 999999. These were made by the Finnish armorers for their own personal use from parts. Again, remember that all of these rifles were made from parts of other rifles, many during wartime conditions. Anything could be possible and nothing is absolute.
The M39 is an unusual military rifle in the fact that the front sights are adjustable for windage. There is a steel or brass screw located on either side of the front sight "wings". On the left wing there are graduation marks around the screw. Each one of these marks represents a change in point of aim of 8 cm (3") at 100 yards. Doug Bowser has done extensive testing on this point with a similar sights on a M28/30. I have been told the proper way to adjust the sights is to loosen the side you want the sight to go toward and tighten the opposite side. I don’t think it is a push/pull thing, only a loosen for some room and then tighten to push toward the available room. I have also been advised to use some blue Loctite (not red) on the screw threads after you get the front sight dialed in, to avoid any movement.
Another set of numbers on the M39’s are found stamped on top of the front sight blade and on top of the barrel just behind the front sight blade. These should match one another, and tell you how high the front sight blade is (i.e. 82 is equal to 8.2 mm). This was done to prohibit the troops from "trimming" (filing) down the front sights in the field (RA). It has also been reported that some rifles are unmarked in this area or may be struck through and re-stamped (DH). My guess is that the factory armorers went to such measures to produce three centimeter or less accuracy at 100 meters before they were released, they didn’t want every green recruit taking a file to the sights when their marksmanship skills didn’t measure up to the capabilities of the rifle! I have several rifles that the front sight has been filed on the top. Numbers 63 through 88 have been observed (DH).
There are no spare front sights currently available on the market to adjust the point of aim to 100 yards for range shooting, but one suggestion is to shim the rear sight with pieces of automotive feeler gauges, where the sighting notch is screwed on. You can experiment with different thicknesses to compensate for yardage and cartridge loads. This should lower the point of impact.
To go along with the marked front sights, the armorers placed four small circles on the rear sight runways and two thin crosses (Xs) on the bottom of the bearing surfaces of the sight ladder to discourage the "trimming" of the rear sights. These are also found on the M28/30s (Palokangas).
There is only one bayonet available for the SK.Y M39’s, and they are scarce in Finland, but more so in the US. It was made by "Veljekset Kulmala" (Kulmala Brothers). It is a short bladed hunting knife style with a round grip, and goes in a green-gray leather scabbard. The scabbard has a metal edge attached with rivets, a carrying strap, and a safety strap attached with a metal stud (RA). Most of the bayonets were destroyed in the 1950’s and the steel recycled. Many were thrown away by the troops, because they were viewed as ornaments for parades and not fighting implements. The wartime quality of these bayonets was also not particularly good. Also, bayonet attacks were not part of the Finnish military tactics, therefore unnecessary. When it became necessary to fight at close quarters, the Finns relied on their "Puukko" knives. These were small utility knives carried in a belt sheath and used for everything from eating to sticking Russians. A limited number of M28-30 bayonets were adapted for use with the M39’s, and are extremely rare (DH). Other bayonets that fit are the model 27 and 35. They were used on the SAKO and VKT army rifles.
The M39 was made to load with stripper clips. They can be found made of steel (Russian) and brass (Chinese). They are the same ones that you use on the Russian Mosin Nagants. Discussions in rec.guns suggest that the brass ones do not hold up. Buy the steel, but take care of them because they rust easily, especially if they are "in the white".
Other accessories include a carrying sling made of gray/green leather with a square or oval buckle, cleaning kits, a spring loaded muzzle cap/cleaning rod guide made of brass, and a round slide rule type "sighting in calculator" (RA). Ammo pouches of the same gray/green leather as the slings are also available. Be careful not to confuse them with Italian ammo pouches, which are similar. Look for the "SA" stamp, either inked or an impression on any leather goods, although it is not on all.
Scopes for the M39 include the German Ajack and captured Russian PE or PEM models (RA). See Doug Bowser’s article on Finnish snipers on this site for more detailed information.
The M39 is one of the best built, reliable, and accurate of the WW II bolt action military rifles, and are available today at extremely reasonable prices (< $100). They are excellent shooters. Supplies at the wholesalers are beginning to dry up, so don’t pass by this opportunity to add one of these fine pieces of military history to your collection, and remember there are exceptions to everything written here.
"Arma Fennica II", Timo Hyytinen (written in Finnish).
"Military Small Arms in Finland 1918-1988", Volumes I-III, Markku Palokangas. ISBN 951-25-0508-8 (written in Finnish with some English summaries).
"Rifles of the Snow", Second Edition, 1996, 63 pages, Camellia City Military Publications, P O Box 7358, McComb, MS, 39648. $16.45 (incudes postage) Doug Bowser and Powers Dunaway.
"Rifles of the White Death".1998, Camellia City Military Publications, 238 pages, P O Box 7358, McComb, MS, 39648. $26.50 (incudes postage) Doug Bowser and Powers Dunaway.
"Small Arms of the World", 12th Edition, 1993, Barnes and Noble Books, E. D. Ezell.
(BB) Bob "Icebear" Benzinger – Finnish arms collector.
(RA) Risto Alanko - Finnish citizen and arms collector.
(DH) Dick Hobbs - US M39 owner and collector.
(DK) Dennis Kroh – US Firearms dealer and collector.
(JK) Jarmo Kaila – Finnish citizen and contributor
(PM) Paul Martin – US collector