What is it about the Parabellum P.08 that makes it so iconic? The Turn-of-the-twentieth-century German firearm better known as the “Luger” (after its designer) has an outline that’s so distinctive that even people who know nothing about guns can pick it out of a lineup.
And what is it, exactly, about that outline that makes it so distinctive, anyway? The slim, steeply raked grip? The tapered barrel, looking like a pointed index finger? The almost perfect circle of the trigger guard? The strange toggle action (not replicated on any pistol since)? Maybe. Or perhaps it’s the association of the pistole 08 with legions of sadistic, sneering, monacle-wearing Teutonic officers from WWII movies that stimulates our imaginations.
Next rhetorical question: When is a Luger not a Luger? Rhetorical answer: When it’s a Lahti L-35. Or a Husqvarna M/40. At first glance, the Scandinavian pistol appears to be almost a straight copy of the Luger, right down to its tapered barrel and circular trigger guard. But a close examination reveals a pistol that is very, very different.
For one thing, in place of the Parabellum’s overly complicated “toggle joint” action, the Lahti uses a locked-breech recoil operation with a rectangular bolt. Finnish gunmaker Aimo Lahti deigned the pistol. it was in production from 1935 until after WWII; the standard sidearm of the Finnish Army into the 1980’s.
According to everything I Know About Guns That I Learned From The Internet (or at least everything I can access), anecdotally verified by multiple sources, the L-35 was a robust and reliable pistol, specially adapted to the extremely harsh Scandinavian climate.
Shortly after WWII started, Finland’s Scandinavian neighbor Sweden licensed the Lahti design for their own pistol, manufactured by Swedish conglomerate Husqvarna (yes, the same one that makes chain saws and dirt bikes.) The Swedish version, known as the M/40, differs from the L-35 in several respects. it has a thicker trigger guard, and lacks both the L-35’s “bolt accelerator” that Lahti added in order to make the pistol more reliable in extreme cold (when lubricant turns to cement) and the loaded-chamber indicator. The M/40 was adopted by the Swedish Armed Forces in 1940. Like the Lahti, it was in service into the 1980s.
The Swedish pistols are, generally speaking, cruder and less refined than the Finnish models, with sharper edges. Worse yet (for the Swedes), the M/40 was rushed into production in the war frenzy, and metallurgy was less than ideal. The combination of poor metallurgy and high power 9mm cartridges designed for submachine guns resulted in a number of cracked slides, frames and other failures. As an emergency measure, the M/40 was pulled out of service in the 1980s, The forces used an older pistol until Sweden adopted the Austrian Glock 17 as its military sidearm.
Back in the 80’s, when I used to go to gun shows a lot, it wasn’t uncommon to see a Lahti or two at a display table, usually one crowded with other “vintage” firearms, bayonets and associated WWII collectibles. I was impressed by how solid (and how heavy!) the gun felt. My dad had an old Luger he got in Germany, so I was somewhat familiar with the way that gun felt (sadly he sold it before we could shoot it together). I was always amazed at how much heavier the Lahti was, with a similar size and shape.
Back then I couldn’t afford the $500+ that sellers wanted for a Lahti. Now, they are extremely hard to find. A recent gunbroker search turned up exactly two hits – both for Swedish M/40’s.
Although I’m not normally a fan of “obscure” guns (been there, done that), this is one where I’d make an exception. The gun is gorgeous, with a clean, uncluttered design, without so much of the ugly bulk that modern pistols seem to have. And how cool would it be to own one of the pistols used by the Finns to give the Red Army it’s first major ass-kicking in the Winter War of 1939-40?
Awesome. I want one.