Categories
WW2 Finnish Armor

Mattila Assault Wagon

Finland (1943) AFV – None built

In considering tanks and other armored fighting vehicles, there is usually a relatively straightforward choice of two means of propulsion: tracks or wheels, with a general understanding that there are disadvantages and advantages of each type. There are variations of each system and one such concept is the rotating cylinder for traction. This was the option selected by Olavi Mattila in Finland in 1943 for his design. The terrain of Finland and its difficult history of independence perhaps colored this design more than any direct military utility or experience. As it was designed, it was perhaps one of the more unusual ‘wheeled’ vehicles during WW2. It is also one of the few indigenously designed Finnish armored vehicles of the era, even though the design ultimately failed to leave the pages at the Finnish patent office.

Background

Finland, a country in Scandinavia bordering the Baltic Sea to the south and west, shares a lengthy land border with Russia to the west and Norway to the north. A country with under 6 million people today, it had just under 4 million inhabitants in WW2 and that conflict was a complicated situation for the nation.

Fought over for decades in a power play between Sweden and Russia which had ended in a Swedish defeat in 1809, the area remained part of Russia despite a strong and independent cultural identity and attempts to suppress it. With the collapse of Russia starting with the October 1917 Revolution, the whole situation in Finland became complex and the parliament declared independence in December that year, falling into a short civil war. After this, the country stabilized with a strong anti-communist sentiment. Russia next door had become the Soviet Union by this time and relations between the two got progressively worse, leading to the invasion by Soviet forces in what was known as the Winter War of 1939-1940.

A second war between Finland and The Soviet Union started in 1941, known as the Continuation War. Thanks to a mutual enemy in the form of the Soviet Union, the Finns gained considerable support from Nazi Germany, although it was otherwise not part of the Axis powers – a fact confirmed by the Tehran Conference of 1942 which considered the war in Finland as a separate war in its own right.

The Man

It is during that war and within that context that, on 12th March 1943, Olavi Mattila, from his apartment in Helsinginkatu, Helsinki, a professional builder by trade, submitted his application. The design was for a novel type of armored vehicle called the Hyökkäysvaunu (English: ‘Assault Wagon’ or archaic ‘Tank’).

Variants

The Hyökkäysvaunu was suggested in two forms: a four ‘wheeled’ form operating in the manner of an armored car and a second version. For the purpose of this article, they will be described as ‘Version 1’ – the one with 4 large wheels, and ‘Version 2′ – the one with two large wheels and stabilized by a small trailing wheel.

Version 1: ‘The Knobbly Car’

The first version of the assault wagon machine from Mattila was dominated by a pair of huge ‘wheels’ on each side, with the diameter of the two pairs accounting for ⅔ of the length of the entire vehicle. Between them was a concave-shaped hull, meaning that the large ‘wheels’ would be able to gain purchase on very rough surfaces and whilst climbing obstacles without the hull fouling on them. The second distinctive element of the wheels was the large number of raised nodules from the surface arranged circumferentially. At the center of the rearmost wheel was a dome-shaped projection with a gun, but no such projection was to be found on the center of the front wheel.

The hull dipped across the top in another concave shape and was surmounted by a large turret with a convex roof and sides angling towards the roofline. A large cannon was shown protruding from the front of the turret.

From the side, Mattila’s Assault Wagon appears to be a large wheeled vehicle. Source: Finnish Patent FII21290

The ‘wheels’ were, in fact, not wheels, but lozenge-shaped when viewed in plan view, with the rounded ends of each lozenge forming the ‘wheels’ at the end. The center of the lozenge was fixed to the hull with a complex fixed locking design but one which allowed the front of the hull to blend seamlessly with the lozenge shape of both the front and rear lozenges. Drive for the design was contained within each lozenge and connected through the hull.

Each lozenge was actually two lozenges, with one inside the other. The outer lozenge rotated around the inner one and, in doing so, the mechanical and human elements inside the inner lozenge remained stationary whilst the outer elements ran over the terrain. In this way, Mattila sought to maximize protection and space. At each end of the lozenge, the inner and outer met and rotated around a circular coupling. Two ends were used, the first to host a ball-mounted weapon, and the other a large entrance hatch.

Cleverly, Mattila had arranged things so only a single type of lozenge drive system needed to be built and then connected together so that one hatch and one gun would be on each side. His design, however, created three split fighting areas. One in each lozenge and one for the turret, with no apparent route between them.


Digitally manipulated images from Mattila’s patent to illustrate the hull and ‘wheel’ elements as being distinct from one another. Source: Finnish Patent FII21290 as modified by the author.

Version 2: ‘The Armored Paint Roller’

With the appearance of a giant paint roller, Version 2 of Mattila’s Assault Wagon was effectively just a single lozenge with a trailing stabilizer. Here, the front lozenge was identical to the front lozenge on Version 1 and connected to the front of the hull in the same way. The primary thing missing from this second version was the turret. This was because the hull did not provide a solid platform between the pairs of lozenges, but instead angled down straight away from the lozenge to a single large stabilizing wheel at the back. This style of large wheel stabilized by a trailing small wheel concept has been used many times in designs, perhaps most famously on the Russian so-called ‘Tsar Tank’.

The second version of Mattila’s assault wagon design shared the same lozenge but with a trailing stabilizing wheel.
Source: Finnish Patent FII21290

Using the same type of lozenge idea as the first variant, one end is visible, namely the left. It can clearly be seen that the left of the design was for a large hatch, but it is unknown if the right side was also to match or if it might have mounted a weapon in the same manner as each lozenge on the first variant, but it is likely.

Drive

The mechanical propulsion system for the Assault Wagon is shown and described in only the briefest detail, with each lozenge being a self-contained power unit with an engine and transmission. When connected together, such as the first version of the design, this would create a vehicle on which all the ends were driven. Traction on the ground from what were effectively dome-shaped wheels for the lozenge-ends was improved by the use of the knobs on each one. Arranged in 6 to 8 concentric rings radiating from the center of each wheel and circumferentially around the widest part, these knobs would be pressed into the ground as the vehicle moved and improved the traction it could gain. As these rings of knobs continued not only on the exterior of the dome-wheels when it would be operating on hard ground, but also inwards towards the center of the wheel, it meant more of them coming into contact with the ground the deeper it sank. A similar type of idea appeared in 1942 over 8,000 km away, in the USA, with Allison Williams’ design for a four ‘wheeled’ amphibious vehicle. There too would be an idea to maximize contact area on the ground to spread the vehicle’s load when operating on soft ground. Whereas Williams’ idea was amphibious, however, Mattila made no such claim.

Internal layout of the design. The mechanical propulsions systems for each lozenge are connected together but can act independently. The inner and outer lozenge construction is also readily apparent. Source: Finnish Patent FI21290 amended by the author.

The key benefits of Mattila’s idea were threefold. Firstly, the enormous wheels would put down a far larger ground contact area than any regular wheel or even tracks and thus improve cross country performance. In a country with more than its fair share of marshes, boggy ground, heavy snow-covered landscapes, and forests, this was no small benefit.

Secondly, the wheels were also so large as to be impossible to be easily damaged by enemy fire or terrain, such as being ripped off by tree stumps or battlefield debris. Thus, the wheels were more resilient than tracks.

Thirdly and finally, the layout of the fighting chamber within the wheels meant that the traction system also functioned as effective protection for the crew and engine by providing an outer layer of armor around the inner lozenge.

Mobility Flaw

Probably the most notable flaw of Mattila’s design is not the rather ungainly nature of the system with large knobbly wheels. It is the complete lack of any suspension system. From the knobs to the lozenges, there was absolutely no cushioning whatever to protect the occupants inside from the vibrations and shock of movement on any surface, but also from what would be an incredible din over a hard surface like a road.

It can only be surmised that, as shown, the vehicle would have to operate very slowly on any surface to avoid damaging itself or leaving a deafened and crippled crew unable to operate.

An artist’s 3D render of Mattila’s design. Source: via author

Armament

Mattila made no specific reference to what sort of gun or guns should go on the first variant of the assault wagon, but clues can be gained from the drawing he submitted. Each lozenge would feature an entrance hatch on one side and a weapons mount on the other. The mount itself was a ball mounting with a long-barrelled weapon inside, presumably a machine gun. On the inside of this weapon space was a small platform on which the gunner would be able to stand. He would, however, be isolated within this lozenge with seemingly only that single hatch as the entry and exit point and no means to access other parts of the vehicle.

Matching him in the second lozenge at the back of the vehicle, the gunner would be on the left of the machine as the lozenge was facing backward. Thus, this second gunner would be able to cover the other side of the vehicle including the hatch for the first lozenge and vice versa.

Finally, was the turret. With the lozenge being relatively small to accommodate and based on his drawing, the turret too would be big enough for just one or, at most, two crew members who would have to operate the main gun as well as provide command for the machine, which would have seriously hampered any fighting power.

Finally, the driver would be located in the center front of the lead lozenge, looking out through a small hatch in the center of the very narrow hull. Given the vehicle was intended to be just as mobile forwards and backward, a second driver would be logically located in the opposite position at the back. Thus, each lozenge would have a crew of at least two men and, with 2 more in the turret, this would make for a crew of 6 (machine gunner x 2, driver x 2, commander, and gunner).

For the second variant, there was no second lozenge and no turret, but at least one crew member was needed to drive the machine, and, assuming this lozenge was built the same way, another crew member would operate the side-mounted machine gun and perhaps command the vehicle.

Weaponry Flaw

It is unfortunate that the simplicity of the lozenge in terms of having them reversible to provide coverage equally to both sides of a double lozenge machine was lost on the single lozenge (variant 2) type machine. There is no way for the Variant 2 machine to provide coverage properly fore or aft or across any part of the left hand side of the machine, as it was shown. Even with the double lozenge machine (variant 1), coverage from machine guns around the vehicle would still leave large blind spots at the front and back. It does seem odd that Mattila would not have realized this and mentioned the allowance of providing a weapon in the hull at the front or back to obviate this problem.

Further, there is the issue of the turret. Obviously, having a turret enabled this design to offer all-around fire to the crew, which begs the question of why even bothering with the machine guns in the wheels given the weight and extra problems that would bring. Removing those guns would have concentrated firepower in the turret and allowed for an easier vehicle to control for the commander. It would also have allowed for hatches on both ends of the lozenges to enable crews to escape as well as more space inside for fuel or automotive elements. The turret, as shown, is rather small and, with a large cannon fitted inside, would make operation difficult as well as no clear way of storing an adequate stock of ammunition inside. Once more, ammunition stowage would be the best use for some of that wasted space in one of, or both of the lozenges. The lozenges also caused a problem for the turret as they were so big, so high, and so wide, and they blocked a substantial part of the firing arc of the main gun. Whilst a weapon mounted as drawn would have a good potential range of elevation and depression directly to the sides or front or rear, it would be severely hampered over the corners in each direction.

Conclusion

Was this specific vehicle design likely to see service? The simple answer is no. Like many other patents, the purpose of Mattila was not to design, down to the final nuts and bolts, an armored fighting vehicle. Instead, what he was doing was laying out some design principles on which tanks may be based in either a double-lozenge (variant 1) or single lozenge (variant 2) form. The years between 1943, when the design was filed, and 1946, when it was accepted, were three of the years during which tanks developed the most, with the end of the war, the emergence of the ‘modern’ type of tank and a generation change or two from those at the start of the war in Europe in 1939. In 1946, there was absolutely no chance of a complete revolution in tank design such as that perceived by Mattila. His design went nowhere and was forgotten.

The four-wheeled version of the Mattila Assault Wagon, armed with a turret. Illustration by Pavel ‘Carpaticus’ Alexe, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Sources

Finnish Patent FI21290, Hyökkäysvaunu, filed 12th March 1943, granted 10th May 1946

Mattila’s Assault Wagon specifications

Crew At least 6 for Variant 1 (machine gunner x 2, driver x 2, commander, and gunner)
At least 2 for variant 2 (commander/gunner, and driver)
Armament Variant 1: cannon in turret plus 2 machine guns
Variant 2: likely a single machine gun
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index
Categories
WW2 Finnish Armor

Vickers 6 ton in Finnish Service

Finnish tanks United Kingdom/Finland (1933-1941)
Light Tank – 33 purchased and modified

Despite being produced by a British company, and one with a solid reputation at that, the Vickers 6-Ton tank was not adopted by the British armed forces. However, it did see a lot of service with nations like Poland, China and Bolivia, among many others.

Tank Trials

At the turn of the 1930s, Finland’s armored corps consisted of 34 aging Renault FTs and 1 Saint-Chamond Modele 1921. It was decided, after discussions within the Ministry of Defence, that the current armored inventory was obsolete and new equipment was needed to keep up with the changing face of armored warfare. So, in response to this, the Finnish MoD, Puolustusministeriö, ordered three different tanks from the United Kingdom on the 6th of June 1933: a Vickers-Carden-Loyd Mk VI* (V.A.E. 115), a Vickers-Carden-Loyd Model 1933 (V.A.E. 503) and a Vickers-Armstrongs 6-Ton Tank Alternative B (V.A.E. 546), at a cost of £8,410 (about £557,622 in 2017). Vickers also sent a Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Amphibious Tank Model 1931 as well for free but this performed so poorly in trials that the Finns returned it after only 17 days. The other three tanks arrived in Finland in October and trials started immediately.

The Vickers-Armstrongs 6-Ton Tank Alternative B (V.A.E. 546) undergoing trials in 1933. Source: Suomalaiset Panssarivaunut
The Vickers-Carden-Loyd Mk VI* showed poor performance on the cross country course and snow testing showed that it would be useless outside of roads. The Finns classed it as unsuitable for combat but retained it, with the loving nickname “satiainen” (crab louse), as a training vehicle. The Vickers-Carden-Loyd Model 1933 performed well during the cross country obstacle tests and was praised for easy steering, good speed and technical reliability, but it failed to meet the grade due to it lacking sufficient armament (no tank gun), only a single machine-gun, and poor mobility in snow tests. The Vickers-Armstrongs 6-Ton Tank Alternative B was accepted by the Finnish Armed Forces as its new standard tank due to it showing excellent cross-country performance, good deep snow mobility and its adequate armament options. Its technical simplicity and ease of design meant it could be kept in use in rough field conditions.

The order

The Ministry of Defence placed an order for 32 Vickers-Armstrongs 6-Ton Tank Alternative B on the 20th of July 1936. The idea was to form the tanks into a battalion with 2 companies of 15 tanks and a HQ element of 2 tanks. After negotiations, the order would come in three deliveries, 11 tanks on 20th July 1937, 10 tanks on 1st of April 1938, and the final 11 tanks on 1st of January 1939. To help save money, the tanks were ordered without optics, radios or even armament. This brought the price of each tank to only £4,500 each (about £298,371 in 2018). However, due to issues at Vickers Armstrong, the first batch of tanks didn’t arrive until July 1938 and, by the start of the Winter War (30th November 1939), only 26 tanks had been delivered.
What did arrive though was not a standard Vickers Mark E. When Belgium was looking for a new tank, Vickers Armstrong wanted to place a Rolls-Royce Phantom II water-cooled engine in it, due to faults discovered in Poland’s order that had led to overheating issues. However, the engine was much bigger than the original Armstrong Siddeley Puma engine and so the hull was made a little bit longer and the engine was mounted on the left side, offsetting the turret to the right.
Once deliveries reached Finland, they were transported to Valtion Tykkitehdas (VTT/ State Artillery Factory) where they would be equipped with guns, optics, tools and even seats. Due to the worsening situation in Europe, delays in deliveries, problems with VTT’s production and issues with sourcing parts from elsewhere, the equipping of the 6-Ton tanks was slow and, by the end of 1939, only 10 tanks were ready.

Armament

As mentioned earlier, to help save money, the tanks were ordered completely devoid of armament. Vickers Armstrong had offered to equip them with the same 47mm low-velocity gun that had come with the evaluation tank. This gun had been tested during the trials, and while it had good capabilities against soft targets (similar to the performance of the 37mm Puteaux SA-18 already in use on the Renault FT), it lacked penetration against armored and bunker targets and thus was deemed unsuitable for Finnish use. Instead, they opted for a licensed produced version of the 37mm Bofors anti-tank gun, adapted into a tank gun role. This gun was perfect for Finnish use, having an effective high explosive shell, as well as a good armor piercing one capable of defeating the vast majority of tanks in service during the late 30s and early 40s. German Zeiss TZF sights had been ordered, but due to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, these were canceled by Germany itself. This forced the Finns to produce their own optics, a straight-through telescopic sight type with a simple crosshair reticle, that was housed in a cylindrical cowl to the left of the gun. Tank crews complained of a limited field of vision and lack of range markings, which made finding and engaging targets time consuming and was a factor in the poor performance of the Vickers tank in Finnish service. This was all mounted into a Bofors designed mantlet that was similar to that used on the Polish 7TP (however, unlike the Polish 7TP, the turret was the one supplied by Vickers and also built by Bofors).
The original co-axial gun offered was an air-cooled Vickers medium machine gun but this was rejected on the grounds of it being a non-standard calibre (.303 British). It was also thought that adding a co-axial machine-gun would put too much complexity on getting the tanks ready and while it was considered to add the M/09-31 Maxim machine-gun (a domestically produced, improved air-cooled version) it never was produced. This led to the need for a self-defense weapon. The chosen weapon was strangely a submachine gun. It was a specially modified version of the Suomi M/31. The VTT modified the hull by incorporating a firing port which could take the SMG, which had a slim but fixed barrel jacket and a pistol grip but no butt. It had a simple optical sight, took the standard 70-round drum magazine, and performed very well as a self-defense weapon. This also increased the crew complement to four.
It is also noteworthy that some Vickers were deployed alongside the Renault FTs during the 1939 summer war games and that these had been ‘loaned’ the 37-mm Puteaux SA-18 (37 Psv.K/18 in Finnish service) from non-participating Renault FTs. This had been to allow the crews to become familiar with their tank, as well as use up stocks of blank ammunition. It is due to this that some writers believe that the Finnish 6-ton were armed with the 37mm SA-18 at the outbreak of the Winter War, but this was not the case. These training tanks also were armed with the M/09-31 Maxim machine-gun on the right side of the Puteaux in a semi-coaxial housing.
null
A close up of the Vickers during the 1939 Summer War Games. You can clearly see the borrowed 37 mm Puteaux SA-18, as well as the specially adapted Maxim gun. Source: SA Kuva

Specification

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.54 meters x 2.40 meters x 2.10 meters
Total weight, battle ready 8.6 tons
Crew 4(commander, gunner, driver, submachine gun-gunner)
Propulsion 92 hp Armstrong-Siddeley Puma 4-cylinder gasoline engine
Speed (road/off-road) 35/10 km/h
Range (road/off road) 165/91 km
Armament 37 mm Psv.K/36 (L/45) tank gun (50 rounds)
9 mm Suomi M/31 hull submachine gun (1,444 rounds)
Armor Hull front and sides 17.5 mm (upper part) / 10 mm (lower part)
Hull sides 17.5 mm (upper side of combat compartment) / 10 mm (lower part)
Hull top and floor 5 mm
Hull rear 10 mm
Turret front and sides 13.6 mm
Track width 28 cm
Track link length 12.5 cm
Ground Clearance 37.5 cm
Ground Pressure 0.48 kg/square cm
Gradient 39 degrees
Trench Crossing 1.9 meters
Fording 0.9 meters


Illustration of the Finnish modified Vickers 6-ton by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Service

The Armored Battalion was mobilized just before the outbreak of hostilities (8th October 1939) and thus found itself ready with trained men but lacking in terms of equipment. None of the Vickers were ready to go to war.
The battalion was broken into 5 companies, 1st and 2nd equipped with Renault FTs and held in reserve until the 6th of February 1940, when they were then ordered to dig in and form parts of the defensive line around Näykkijärvi and Taipale. 3rd and 4th Companies were to be equipped with Vickers but were still waiting. The 5th company did not have tanks and was used as a replacement pool for the other companies.
The first armed Vickers arrived from the VTT in mid-December and were assigned to the 4th Company and limited training in combat and formation tactics were started. It reached a peak strength of 16 on the 23rd of February 1940 when it received orders to move to the front.
The situation in late February 1940 for the Finns was a dire one. Despite achieving stunning results in the opening month of the war, forcing the Soviets to call off their offensives and dig in, the vast numerical superiority in both men and machines was taking its toll upon the Finns. This, coupled with a restructuring of the Soviet forces and plans, eventually saw the Finnish frontline on the Karelian Isthmus break in mid-February and a falling back to hastily prepared secondary positions.
In the Naykkijärvi area, the Soviet 84th Rifle Division had penetrated further than their flanks and were now becoming a threatening bulge in the Finnish line. Lieutenant General Harald Öhquist, Commander of II Corps, wanted to secure his position and thus ordered a counter-attack. The 4th Tank Company was attached to the 3rd Jaeger battalion and these were supported by the 14th and 67th Infantry Regiments. The plan called for a preliminary bombardment by two artillery battalions, followed by a quick strike by the Tank Company and the Jaeger battalion to the shores of Naykkijärvi then to wheel left and push the Soviet forces back out of the village of Honkaniemi and thus straighten the front line.
However, things went awry from the beginning. Out of the original 16 tanks, only 7 got the starting point. Then one tank got stuck on a tree stump and was thus incapable of taking part in the attack. The artillery barrage fell short and caused numerous casualties to the Jaegers, thus postponing the hour of the attack. When the attack went ahead, the coordination between the tanks and the infantry was non-existent and soon the tanks found themselves alone. The Finns soon were up against a Soviet force in waiting and after only 3 hours the attack was called off. In the aftermath, it was revealed that 5 tanks were knocked out, 1 badly damaged but returned to the jumping off point, with casualties of 1 killed, 3 wounded, and 5 missing. The company was ordered to reform at Rautlampi to become mobile anti-tank guns. The main reasons for the failure in Honkaniemi was a combination of inexperienced, albeit passionate, crews, poor command and control, and loss of surprise; as well as vast numerical superiority on the side of the Soviets.
null
Soviet soldiers inspecting one of the knocked out 4th company Vickers in Honkaniemi. Notice the national insignia stripes, which were two white surrounding blue. Source: Suomalaiset Panssarivaunut
For the rest of the war, the tanks performed anti-tank reserve duties on the Karelian Isthmus, losing another 3 tanks but claiming 4 Soviet tanks.

After the War

Once the war ended on the morning of the 13th March 1940, the remaining Finnish Vickers were pulled back to the new Soviet-Finnish border where they waited. The last handful of Vickers also arrived from Britain (about 6) and a review was held by the Finnish Command Staff on the performance and future role of Finnish tanks. It was concluded that while the 37mm was an effective weapon, it was questionable if it would remain as such in any future conflict. Other conclusions include that the optical sights were of poor quality and affected performance, and more training was required in force coordination and field maintenance. The mandatory installation of radios in all tanks was also seen as a priority.
null
A Soviet close up of a Finnish Vickers during its evaluation at Kublinka in 1940, soon after the end of the Winter War. Source: aviarmor.net
A decision was made that the remaining 26 Vickers Tanks in Finnish service would see conversion into the T-26E. This came about after the numbers of repaired captured T-26s surpassed the numbers of Vickers, as well as the huge surplus of T-26 45mm tank guns from those tanks not able to be reconditioned. By 17th June 1941, all Vickers tanks were now of the T-26E modification.
Today one Vickers has been restored to its original 1939/40 condition, Ps.161-7, and is part of the Armoured Vehicle Museum (Finnish Panssarimuseo) collection.
null
The only example of a Finnish modified 6 ton tank. Converted back from a T-26E conversion post war. Source: Juha Oksanen

Notes on the differences between the Finnish Vickers and the T-26

To many, the T-26 and the Vickers 6 ton look the same, especially in the upgraded Vickers, the T-26E. One way to tell them apart is the left of the driver that is a rectangle hatch where the submachine gun is positioned. Another way to tell is the engine deck is shorter and more angular on the Vickers. A third way is that the Vickers mounted the turret on the right side, while the T-26 was offset to the left.
null
A T-26E, notice the submachine gun port, which is unique to both the Finnish Vickers, and sets it apart from the captured Soviet T-26s. Source: SA Kuva

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Muikku, Esa, Suomalaiset Panssarivaunut 1918-1997 (Apali Oy, 2003)
Haapanen, Atso, Suomen Panssariase 1918-1944 (Myllylahti Oy, 2016)
Vickers 6 Ton on Jaegerplatoon
A special thanks to Jari Saurio from the Panssarimuseo who helped answer questions and clear up some information.

Categories
WW2 Finnish Armor

Renault FT – Finland

Finland (1919 – 42) Light Tank – 34 purchased

Finland’s first tanks

Finland was part of Imperial Russia until the 1917 Communist Revolution. It gained independence at the end of the First World War. This new country realized that it needed to obtain armored fighting vehicles to protect its borders. France had a lot of Renault FT light tanks that it no longer needed after the end of the Great War. The Finns negotiated to buy 32 tanks from the French.

Finnish Army Renault FT tank, war games of summer 1939
Finnish Army Renault FT 17 tank on exercises during the summer of 1939. Colorized by Jaycee ‘Amazing Ace’ Davis.
Only fourteen of these tanks were armed with the 37 mm (1.46 in) SA-18 (L/21) tank gun that could fire armor piercing rounds. The other eighteen tanks were fitted only with a 8 mm (0.31 in) Hotchkiss M/1914 machine gun. It was envisaged that the machine gun tanks would work with the gun tanks to give each other mutual support when dealing with enemy attacks. A few had the original angular riveted turret, but most had the newer circular Berliet turret.
The first 32 Renault FT tanks were shipped from Le Havre to Helsinki and issued to the Finnish Army on the 26th of August 1919. The tanks cost 67 million Finnish Marks. All 32 tanks were factory-new, manufactured in 1918 – 1919 and had French Renault register numbers in between 66151 – 73400.
In 1920, Finland was given two more Renault FT tanks by the French Government, to bring the Finnish Army tank strength up to 34 vehicles. One was a gun tank and the other was a machine gun only.
The Renault FT equipped Hyökkäysvaunurykmentti (Tank Regiment), was garrisoned in the Santahamina military base in Helsinki. Later it moved to the military fort and barracks in Hameenlinna 100 km north from the capital.
The Finnish Army gave the tank gun version of their Renault FT tanks the designation ‘Koiras’ (male) and the machine gun armed tanks ‘Naaras’ (female)

Tank Transports

Six French Latil tractors with flat back trailers were purchased from France as part of the same order. They arrived with the tanks and were intended to be used for tank transportation. This was not a good decision. The Finns found out that the Latil tractor unit was unable to tow the heavy trailer and FT tanks cross country. On flat road surfaces it could only manage a maximum speed of around 8 km/h which was about equal to that of tank itself.

The Koiras male tank gun

Some of the Finnish Army Renault FTs were armed with the low velocity 37 mm Puteaux SA-18 L/21 tank gun. It was called the 37 Psv.K/18 by the Finnish Army.
At a distance of 100 m (110 yd), its armor piercing round could only penetrate 12 mm (0.47 in) of armor plate set at 90 degrees, but that result was not consistent. Sometimes the round would bounce off or fail to penetrate.
The tank commander had to act as the loader and gunner at the same time, while also trying to find enemy targets. This meant that the tank only had a maximum rate of fire of 10 shots per minute. The gun had a muzzle velocity of 360 – 440 m/sec depending on what ammunition was being fired. It had a maximum range of 2.5 km when firing high explosive shells, but its low velocity meant that the gun was ineffective against structurally strong targets, like concrete reinforced bunkers.
It could fire six different shells: HE, HE-T, APHE, APHE-T, AP-T and grape-shot for short-range defence againt infantry. The gun could be called a semiautomatic tank gun: after firing a shot it automatically removed the cartridge case and the breech remained opened for loading of the next shell.
The turret fitted to the gun tanks in the Finnish Tank Battalion was known as the Girod turret. It had a small 1x optical sight next to the main gun. The optical sight was a straight-through telescopic sight, that moved with the gun when elevation was changed.
Finnish Army Renault FT-17 armed with 37 mm Puteaux-gun Hämeenlinna Finland 1920s-1930s
Finnish Army Renault FT armed with the 37 mm Puteaux-gun with the skid fitted to the rear of the tank. Notice there is no tool box fitted above the lower track, but the tank commander’s signalling flags are affixed to the turret cupola. Hämeenlinna, Finland, 1920s-1930s. (photographer unknown)

Finnish Army modifications

The Finnish Army Renault FT tanks were not drastically modified during their 21 year service career. The Koiras version, with its 37 mm gun, remained pretty much the same as delivered in 1919.
The Naaras version did have its machine gun upgraded from the original 8 mm (0.31 in) Hotchkiss model 1914 to the Finnish designed variation of the air-cooled Maxim M/09-31 machine gun.
There were two main reasons for the change of machine gun. The first was that the Finnish Army had to specially order 8 mm ammunition, as it normally used 7.62 mm (0.3 in) bullets. This caused supply problems. The other more serious issue was that the French guns started to wear out and become unreliable. They needed to be replaced, so the decision was made to take this opportunity to fit a machine gun that used the standard sized bullet used by the Finnish Army.
The last machine gun Naaras tank received its replacement Maxim M/09-31 machine gun at Asevarikko 1 (Weapons Depot 1) in October of 1937. The new machine gun had a rate of fire of about 900 rounds per minute. The ammunition was fed from the right in 250-round disintegrating ammunition belts made from steel.
In 1934 it was decided to fit each tank with a large toolbox on each side of the vehicle above the bogie road wheels, between the tracks.

The Russian Civil War

The Russian Civil War (1918-21) was fought to decide who would establish control over Russia after the October 1917 communist revolution. It was to tear Russia apart for three years.
The French had a hidden political agenda and encouraged the sale of the Renault FT tanks to Finland. They wanted the newly independent Finland to join the battle against the Russian Bolshevik government.
What the French did not take into consideration was that the Finns had no stomach for supporting the Tsarist White Russians, whose leadership refused to accept Finland’s independence from Imperial Russia.
The Finnish Government refused to join the war. The French used diplomatic pressure, demanding Finland to loan two of their new Renault FT tanks (one male and one female) to White Russian General Nikolai Yudenich’s North-western Army in Estonia.
The two tanks were shipped to Tallinn on the 17th of October 1919. They were transported to Narva on the 20th. They were manned by French and Russian crews. Between 27th – 31st October 1919, these Finnish tanks took part in the attack towards Kipi, as part of the North-Western Army’s attack towards Petrograd (St Petersburg).
It failed and the White Russian Army retreated to Estonia, where they were disarmed before being evacuated. Estonia used the two Finnish Renault FT tanks to train its tank crews before returning them to Finland on the 9th of April 1920.
Both of them arrived back in Helsinki in very poor condition. They were repaired. As compensation, the French Government sent Finland two additional Renault FT tanks, which arrived on the steam ship Ceres on the 21st of April 1920.
French register numbers for these additional tanks were 66614 and 67220. The arrival of these two new additional tanks increased the total number of Renault FT tanks in Finnish use to 34 tanks.

Organisation

As part of the export deal, a French unit of nine tank training school men, led by Captain Pivetau, arrived in Helsinki in 1919. and trained the basics for Finnish personnel. Seven out of the first twelve officers of the new Finnish Army Tank Battalion were transferred from the cavalry. Recruits for this new military unit were selected with preference to those that had any motorized technical training or experience.
The structure of the Finnish Tank Regiment followed the French Army model, which considered tanks as field artillery. The tanks were accordingly organised into Artillery Battalions, Batteries and Companies.
The Finnish Army Hyökkäysvaunurykmentti Tank Regiment had two Battalions with three Batteries of five Renault FT tanks. Each Battalion had 15 tanks which meant that the Regiment had a total of 30 tanks.
Organisation of Hyökkäysvaunurykmentti (Tank Regiment) 1919:
Regimental Headquarters
1st Battalion (1.Panssaripataljoona)
Battalion Headquarters
1st Battery,
Command Tank
1st Company ( 1x male tank, 1x female tank)
2nd Company (Panssarikomppania 1x male tank, 1x female tank)
2nd Battery,
Command Tank
1st Company (1x male tank, 1x female tank)
2nd Company (1x male tank, 1x female tank)
3rd Battery,
Command Tank
1st Company (1x male tank, 1x female tank)
2nd Company (1x male tank, 1x female tank)
Repair Workshop
2nd Battalion (2.Panssaripataljoona)
Supplies formations

Finland’s Wars

Finland is one of the lesser known participants in the Second World War. The country was under attack by the Soviet Union between 30th November 1939 and 13th March 1940, in what would be known as the Winter War. The Finns were tentatively supported by Sweden, Britain and France and, to a lesser extent, the USA. After a one year break, the Russo-Finish War recommenced. This period is also called the Continuation War, and Finland fought alongside Germany as a co-belligerent  between June 25, 1941 – 15th September 1944. During the final phases of the war, Finland signed a separate peace with the USSR, and the Finns fought against the Germans, who were retreating from the country. These operations, also called the Lapland War, took place between 15th September 1944 – 25 April 1945.
The Renault FT could cope with the winter snows of Finland.
The Renault FT tank could cope with the winter snows of Finland. In the background of this blurred photograph the Finnish Army ski troops can be made out. (photographer unknown)

The Winter War

In November 1939, the Soviet Army invaded Finland, in what was to become known as the Winter War. The outdated WW1 Renault FT tanks were the main core of the Finnish Army.
Out of the four armoured tank companies of the Finnish Tank Battalion that were available to be deployed to face this new threat, two of them were equipped with obsolete Renault FT tanks.
They were ineffective against Soviet T-26, T-28, BT-5 and BT-7  tanks. The 35 horse power tank engine could provide the slow infantry walking speed required by the original WW1 specifications, but its top speed of just over 7 km/h could not keep up with the new breed of fast Soviet tanks.
When the tank was designed in 1917, the 95-litre gasoline fuel tank was considered large, but it’s maximum operational range was limited to a mere 35 kilometers. This limited the tank’s tactical capabilities for long attacks through enemy lines. It had to be able to find fuel and, in the battlefields of remote Finland, refueling was difficult.
Only signal equipment used in typical FT tanks were signal flags, which the tank commander would wave when necessary.
In 1936, in a money saving exercise, the Finnish Government ordered 32 new Vickers 6-ton tanks without guns, optics and radios, and some without the driver’s seat. They were going to fit them with 37 mm main guns and machine guns purchased separately, in Finland. They were considered the most modern and most suitable for the Finnish heavily forested environment.
The Vickers light tanks arrived before the Winter War started, but they had not been converted. Most remained unarmed when the Soviets attacked and the Winter War begun, on the 30th of November 1939. Only one tank battalion was ready for action in late February, when the Winter War was already nearing its end.
Outdated and outclassed, the Renault FT tanks were the only fighting vehicles in an operational condition at that time. On the 23rd of October 1939, when the mobilization started, the 1st and 2nd Tank Companies reported that they had only 20 Renault FT 17 tanks in operational condition: 11 of them Koiras male gun tanks and 9 Naaras female machine gun tanks. They were 10 tanks short of their authorized strength of 30 tanks.
The Finnish Army High Command realised that sending them into battle would be suicidal. It was never ordered. Instead, the two tank companies were at first used to assist in infantry anti-tank training.
The most important contribution made by the Renault FT tanks to the Finnish war effort in the Winter War was that they towed at least 27 captured Soviet armored vehicles off the battlefield and helped transport them to the Finnish Army Panssarikeskuskorjaamo (Armour Center Repair Shop). The Soviet tanks were then repaired and some were modified for use by the Finnish Army against their former owners.
The tank’s turret was the most heavily armored part of the vehicle and the curved armor helped deflect incoming shells. On 6th February 1940, a decision was made and orders sent, to bury the hull of some of the tanks, leaving only the turret visible. They were to be used as defensive pill boxes and observation posts. There are no reports that they saw action other than as forward artillery observation posts.
Eight Renault FT tanks of the 1st Tank Company were reported captured at the Kämärä railway station, whilst waiting to be transported to the frontlines and used as bunkers. A Finnish Army report at the time suggested that these tanks were not drivable due to mechanical faults and had been disarmed. The Red Army also reported finding a Finnish FT tank at the Pero railway station.
On 14th February 1940, the remaining tanks belonging to 1st Tank Company were dug into the ground and became a bunker strong point along the Finnish trenches near Lake Näykkijärvi (now in Russia). This area was involved in fighting on the 26th February 1940, in what is known as the Battle of Honkaniemi, but there are no reports if the dug in Renault FT tanks fired their weapons.
2nd Tank Company FT tanks were transported to the Taipale sector, with orders to dig in 10 tanks and make them part of the new but incomplete Volossula – Kaarnajoki – Linnakangas defensive line (now in Russia).
A few of the tanks were transferred to the Takala rear defensive position on the Taipale peninsula, where they were dug into the ground leaving only their turret showing.
Not all the Renault FT tanks were used as bunkers. In March of 1940, the 7. Erillinen Panssarivaunujoukkue (7th Detached Tank Platoon) was equipped with four FT tanks for tank crew courses at the Niinisalo training center. Three of these tanks were scrapped in 1943 and the remaining one was preserved as a museum exhibit and can now be seen at the Armour Museum, Panssarimuseo in Parola, Finland.

Finnish Koiras in the original French med-grey livery.
Finnish Renault FT, “Koiras” (37 mm gun version) in the original French med-grey livery.
Finnish Renault FT Naaras
Finnish Renault FT Naaras (machine gun version)
Finnish Renault FT, in the light brown livery
Finnish Renault FT, in the light brown livery

Gallery

Finnish Army tank crew showing their Renault FT Tank to the infantry
Finnish Army tank crew showing their Renault FT Tank to the infantry (photographer unknown)
Abandoned Finnish Army Renault FT
Abandoned Finnish Army Renault FT light tank with both the driver’s and commander’s hatches open. The gun is pointing to the rear of the tank. (photographer unknown)
Two Renault FT tanks of the Finnish Army taking part in war games in the 1920-30's
Two Renault FT 17 tanks of the Finnish Army taking part in war games in the 1920-30’s. The Renault FT Koiras (Male gun-tank) is passing the rear of a partially smoke-covered Renault FT Naaras (female machine gun tank) version. Notice the tank commander’s signalling flags on top of the tank turret’s cupola. (photographer unknown)
When the Soviet troops overran the Finnish defensive lines they just left the dug in bunker Renault FT tanks in place as they were too obsolete to be of interest.
When the Soviet troops overran the Finnish defensive lines they just left the dug in bunker Renault FT tanks in place as they were too obsolete to be of interest. (photographer unknown)
Dug-in bunker Winter War Renault FT tank
Dug-in Finnish Army FT tank used as a bunker during the Winter War. (photographer unknown)

Surviving tank

Finnish Army Renault FT Tank at the Armour Museum, Panssarimuseo in Parola, Finland
Finnish Army Renault FT Tank at the Armour Museum, Panssarimuseo in Parola, Finland – Credits: Axel Recke
It was very cramped inside the Finnish Army Renault FT tank turret. The 37mm rounds were stored on the right on a rack.
It was very cramped inside the Finnish Army Renault FT tank turret. The 37 mm rounds were stored on the right on a rack – Credits: Wikiwand
The Renault FT's engine was at the rear of the vehicle. The skid that is normally fixed to the back of the tank has been removed and placed on the ground next to the tank.
The Renault FT’s engine was at the rear of the vehicle. The skid that is normally fixed to the back of the tank has been removed and placed on the ground next to the tank – Credits: Balcer-commonswiki
Finnish Army Renault FT Tank
Finnish Army Renault FT Tank with skid fitted at the rear – Credits: Popcorn 2000

Sources

Finland at War 1939 – 1945 by Philip Jowett and Brent Snodgrass
Guns vs. Armour by D.M. Honner
Jaeger Platoon Finnish Army 1918 – 45
Finnish Army Renault FT on Tank-Hunter.com
Parola Tank Museum
Char Renault FT Wikiwand
Tank-Hunter.com

Specifications

Dimensions (L x W x H) 4.95 (4.2 without tail) x 1.74 x 2.14 m
(16’3″/13’9″ x 5’9″ x 7’2″)
Total weight, battle ready 6.7 tons
Crew 2 (commander/gunner, driver)
Propulsion Renault 4 cyl petrol, 39 hp (24 kW)
Speed 7 km/h (4.3 mph)
Range/consumption 65 km (40.38 mi)
Armament female tank 8 mm (0.31 in) Hotchkiss M1914 Machine Gun
Armament female tank 1937+ 7.62 mm (0.3 in) Maxim M/09-31 machine gun
Armament male tank 37 mm (1.46 in) Puteaux SA-18 L/21 tank gun
Armor 6 – 22 mm
Total used 34

Renault FT World Tour Shirt

Renault FT World Tour Shirt

What a tour! Relive the glory days of the mighty little Renault FT! A portion of the proceeds from this purchase will support Tank Encyclopedia, a military history research project. Buy this T-Shirt on Gunji Graphics!