FINNISH ARMY 1918-1945: WEAPONS FINNISH ARMY ALMOST HAD IN WORLD WAR 2, PART 3
Flame-thrower M/Kuusinen aka flame-thrower M/44:
Maximum range:12 - 15 metres
Flame:50 - 70 burst of 1 second
40 - 60 sec of constant flame
Weight:? kg in action
? kg empty
Working pressure:15 at
Liquid capacity:9,5 litres
During Continuation War Finnish troops were using two types of portable flame-throwers - Italian M/40 and captured Soviet M/41-R. While portable flame thrower is extremely lethal within its own limited envelope - like most with flame-thrower designs, M/40 and M/41-R had similar basic limitations. They could be only used to short range and due to them being so large, heavy and clumsy soldier operating them was unable to carry or use any secondary weapon larger than a pistol. As a result soldier using the flame-thrower was basically defenceless if running to enemy soldier(s) that were outside effective range of his flame- thrower. Due to this Finnish Army typically had another soldier equipped with submachine gun to protect flame-thrower operator, but even with this the casualties of soldiers using portable flame-throwers were not light.
During the long trench war period of Continuation War Sergeant M. Kuusinen of Infantry Regiment 1 (Jalkaväkirykmentti 1) made invention that he hoped solve this problem. His invention was a new kind of light flame-thrower that and which could be used with submachinegun. Key of the invention was attaching flame tube of flame thrower to submachinegun, effectively making the two weapons a single combination weapon. Fuel tanks for the flame-thrower were still carried on back as in existing designs and fuel was lead with vents and pipes from fuel tanks to tube. But now the soldier using the flame-thrower could also use the submachinegun if needed and no longer had to rely for assistance of other soldiers so much. Since the weapon was designed for attaching to barrel jacket of any normal Suomi M/31 submachinegun, it didn’t require any changes to other existing equipment.
While this invention of Sergeant Kuusinen may seem like a simple one, it had merit and went through chain of command until it ended to correct desk where its highly useful nature was fully appreciated. It was exactly the type of invention that Finnish Army was looking at the time. Obvious improvement to existing military weaponry, but demanding only little resources for testing and development, while also being with-in limited production capabilities of Finnish industry already hard pressed by wartime production needs and poor availability of raw materials.
This prototype flame-thrower was named flame-thrower M/44. The prototype was first demonstrated in General Headquarters of Finnish Armed Forces (Päämaja) in April of 1944. This demonstration proved successful enough to lead into approval of further development and orders for making blueprints. Finally the development work lead into small experimental series, which was manufactured for field-testing. The field-testing was made by troops of Cavalry Brigade, Armour Division and Engineer Battalion 35. For most part the test results were positive. The basic concept worked as intended, attachment of flame-thrower to Suomi M/31 submachinegun was successful and allowed the flame-thrower operator to use both weapons, hence removing the need for submachinegun-man to cover the flame-thrower operator. Flame-thrower M/44 was able to 50 - 70 short flames or up till 40 - 60 seconds of continuous flame, which was highly impressive performance compared to earlier flame-throwers. Downside was that the flame-thrower M/44 proved to be effective only to range of 12 - 15 meters, with short one second long bursts of flame in often being only 8 - 10 meters long. This was considerably less with the other two flame-thrower designs already in used of Finnish Army. When it comes to range and maximum effective time of use, the test results showed considerable variation - probable reason for this is that many of the nitrogen bottles used for providing pressure were leaking. Hence, again the main reason for the large variation in performance seems to have been quality of raw materials used for manufacturing the prototypes.
In general field-testing feedback suggested that the weapon proved suited in storming trenches, but due to short flame was poorly suited for other sort of combat situations (*). Some soldiers found it light while others still considered it too heavy considering the reduced range, while they agreed that it was handy and easy to use. Standard issue backpack frame adopted for it made carrying this flame-thrower more easier and comfortable than earlier earlier flame-thrower designs. But this new design had also other issues, which required to be ironed out before planned mass-production. These included replacing existing vent types which version that was easier to operate, eliminating of protrusions and sharp corners (for which the flame-thrower operator might get entangled or hurt himself) and lesser material issue. This material issue being that front end of the leather submachinegun sling used to carry the weapon tended to become unintended casualty of the flame-thrower flame and needed to be replaced with fire-proof material. If the nitrogen tanks were filled to full capacity the flame-thrower would also run out of fuel slightly before running out of nitrogen, which was considered a useful feature.
(*) It’s worth noting that Finnish Army did very little urban warfare in World War 2, hence this possibility was not even considered.
From these three units only Engineer Battalion 35 battle-tested the M/44 flame-throwers sent to it. The battalion used three of the prototypes to equip strike team of one NCO and six men, which attacked Soviet trenches under the cover of darkness in Kagrakangas 16th of August 1944. Combat-experience from this small battle was less than positive. System used for igniting the flame proved unreliable and small pilot flame in tip of the flame-thrower was considered the likely reason why the Soviets spotted the Finnish strike team too early in this particular battle. Due to being spotted the strike team suffered three wounded. Also Armour Division had reported problems with igniting the flame especially in windy conditions, so apparently there was real room for improvements in that part of the design.
Finnish Army didn’t stop the process for introducing flame-thrower M/44 to wait the results of test process. Manufacturing of parts needed for producing 100 of these weapons had been ordered and was to be completed by 15th of July 1944. They were to be assembled in Weapons Depot 1 (Asevarikko 1). Each flame-thrower was to be delivered with five nitrogen tanks and three igniting sticks. The development project seems to have continued at least until 24th October of 1944 at which time there were plans for trying to improve range of the flame a little. However as the report written at that time this would have required increasing working pressure, which would reduce duration between required fuel refill.
Improvements based to testing were also designed and ordered to be implemented for two of the existing test-series flame-throwers and were apparently completed. These improvements may have included earlier designed so-called “dead man’s switch” which would extinguish the flame in case of flame-thrower operator becoming wounded or killed. Not more then few dozen of these flame-throwers were made, and most of them were scrapped soon after the war. Only few survived for museum. When Finnish Armed Forces after Continuation War decided to reward those of its soldiers who had introduced it useful inventions, Sergeant Kuusinen was among them and was rewarded with sum of 10,000 Finnish marks for this invention.
After World War 2 flame-throwers played very small role in Finnish weaponry. Wartime M/40 and M/41R flame-throwers were old-fashioned and had seen a lot of use, so they probably were not in best of shape anymore and didn’t see much post-war use. What is known suggests that the small number of existing M/44 flame-throwers saw limited post-war training use, but on the long run Finnish military lost interest to flame-throwers and never acquired any more modern flame-throwers.