October 21, 2021
Ever since 1814, the Swedes have practiced "armed neutrality" to dissuade potential invaders and since the late 19th century they have maintained a strong military. Because of this, they were quick to take advantage of small arms developments and by the early 20th century, thanks to a strong industrial base, Swedish troops were armed with modern rifles, machine guns and semiauto pistols.
In 1908 Sweden adopted the FN Modèle 1903 pistol. Known as the Automatisk repeterpistol m/07 and ten thousand pistols were ordered from the Belgian firm. World War I cut off deliveries from FN so in 1917 local production began at Husqvarna Vapenfabriks who produced 94,700 pistols by 1942. These blowback-operated pistols were chambered for the rather sedate 9mm Browning Long cartridge.
With the threat of a resurgent Nazi Germany in the late 1930s Sweden began a program to update their armed forces which went into high gear when the USSR invaded neighboring Finland, setting off the Winter War (1939 – 1940).
One of the army’s most pressing needs was a pistol more powerful and reliable than the m/07 and in 1939 the 9mm Walther P-38 was approved as the Repetierpistol m/39. But only 1500 were delivered before Walther cancelled the contract so production could be directed to the Wehrmacht.
During the Winter War, the 9000 man strong Svenska Frivilligkåren (Swedish Volunteer Corps) joined their Finnish neighbors in fighting the Soviets. They became acquainted with Finland's new service pistol and when they returned to Sweden, many of their officers recommended it for adoption.
Aimo Johannes Lahti (1896 - 1970) was Finland's most prolific - and famous - firearms designer. A self-taught gunsmith his obvious talents led to his being appointed Master Armorer of the Finnish Army in 1921. During his tenure he designed a number of weapons for Finland's armed forces: the Suomi M-31 submachine gun and L-35 pistol.
Lahti began development of his pistol in 1929 in response to a requirement for a weapon which would function reliably in the bitter Scandinavian winters. Externally the pistol resembled the Luger which was very popular in Finland.
The pistol’s barrel is attached to a box-like receiver atop the frame and contains a square cross-section bolt with dual grasping grooves at its rear. Breech locking is by a moveable locking yoke that fits into grooves in both the bolt and the receiver. The pistol features an internal hammer and when the bolt is forward the action is completely sealed against the entry of debris.
Lahti utilized a mechanical “accelerator” to insure proper cycling when ammunition pressure has been reduced by extremely low temperatures. Upon firing the barrel/receiver/bolt assembly recoils about a quarter of an inch, then the locking yoke is cammed up allowing the bolt to continue rearwards extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge case.
During this cycle a two armed lever (the “accelerator”) on the left side of the receiver comes up against the frame and pivots, striking the front of the bolt to give it added rearward impetus.
The recoil spring then pushes the bolt forward, chambering the next round from the magazine and the locking yoke is cammed down as the bolt goes into battery. A loaded chamber indicator on the front of the receiver protrudes when a round is in the chamber. (Editor's Note: The late production pistols sold to Sweden and Israel did not have loaded chamber indicators.)
After the last round is fired the bolt remains to the rear and the magazine must be removed before retracting the bolt slightly allows it run forward. A safety lever on the left of the frame can be applied when the pistol is cocked or un-cocked.
An eight-round magazine is retained by a heel type catch and features a strong spring which requires the use of a loading tool which was carried in a pocket in the holster.
A lanyard ring is mounted on the rear of the frame while a lug on the back of the grip allows a wooden shoulder stock to be attached to the pistol, although very few were ever used by the Finns.
Lathi's pistol was adopted in 1935 as the Sotilapistooli L-35 (Military Pistol Lathi 35) and production began at Valtion Kivääritehdas (VKT - State Weapons Factory). Due to demands of the Winter War and Continuation War (1941 - 1944) only about 5700 pistols were produced by 1945.
In the early 1950s, VKT assembled approximately 2500 additional pistols for sale to Sweden and Israel. The L-35 remained in Finnish service until the early 1980s.
In 1940 Sweden purchased a license from VKT to manufacture the L-35 as the Automatisk repeteristol m/40.
Initially, production was assigned to Rosenfors Bruk, a company with no experience at manufacturing firearms who, because of lack of materials and skilled labor, only managed to produce a small number of frames. (Source: http://www.gotavapen.se/gota/m40/pist40_6.htm) It was then decided to switch manufacture to Husqvarna Vapenfabrik.
As production progressed a series of changes were made to the pistol to make it more practical and/or to speed up production. The resulting pistol was longer, but lighter, than its Finnish counterpart.
- The barrel was 0.8 inches longer than that of the L-35.
- The trigger guard was thicker and larger to make it easier to fire the pistol when wearing gloves.
- A captive recoil spring was utilized.
Four variations of the Swedish m/40 are recognized:
Type I is nearly identical to the Finnish L-35 with a loaded chamber indicator and a notch along the receiver in front of the accelerator
The Swedish version of the 9mm Parabellum, the 9mm skarpa patrone m/39, used a 125-grain FMJ bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1200 fps. Such a hot loading was considered necessary to ensure reliable functioning in the Arctic conditions common to Scandinavia. But shortages of strategic materials forced Husqvarna to use low-grade molybdenum steel for the receivers and cracks began appearing near the loaded chamber indicator. To rectify this the indicators were ground off and welded up.
Type II pistols lacked the indicator and the accelerator was mounted slightly differently.
Type III did away with the accelerator and had a reinforcing ridge in front of the ejector to strengthen the receiver.
Type IV receivers were made from high-quality steel by Carl Gustaf in the 1960s and were stronger than the earlier production (see below). They lack Husqvarna markings.
Swedish m/40s were issued with a lanyard, an oiler and a rather bulky leather flap holster with pockets for two spare magazines, a cleaning rod and magazine loading tool. Army and navy holsters were brown leather or pigskin while those used by the Air Force were black leather. There were also white leather holsters for military police and parade purposes.
The first m/40s were issued to Swedish troop in early 1943 and manufacture continued until 1946 with approximately 83,950 pistols being produced, 950 of which were sold on the commercial market. While their reliability made them popular, soldiers complained about their weight. Being Husqvarna was known for producing iron stoves the pistols were given the nickname the “Iron Range.” (Source: http://www.gotavapen.se/gota/m40/pist40_6.htm)
While the m/40 never saw combat service with the Swedish army a limited number did serve during WWII. Interned Norwegian soldiers and police in Sweden were organized into the Norske Polititroppene (police troops) which returned to Norway in 1945 to keep order when the Germans surrendered. They were armed with Swedish weapons including m/40 pistols.
The Swedes also allowed Danish refugees to form a similar unit, the Danske Brigade, who were equipped with m/40 pistols. After the war Denmark purchased ten thousand m/40 pistols for issue to their national police, the Rigspoliti, which were marked “Rplt. S (inventory number)” on the right side of the frame while others were used by the Hjemmeværnet (Home Guard).
In 1955 the Swedish armed forces adopted the 9mm sk ptr 39B which used a 106-grain bullet with a thick steel jacket traveling at 1375 fps. Originally intended for submachine guns it was also used in m/40 pistols which, because of the low grade steel used in their construction, suffered from cracked receivers and were withdrawn from service to be rebuilt with the abovementioned Type IV Carl Gustaf receivers. As an interim measure numbers of m/07 pistols were reissued to personnel requiring a handgun. The late 1980s saw Sweden adopt the Glock 17 (Pistol m/88) and Glock 19 (Pistol m/88B) and by 1993 all m/40s had been withdrawn from service.
Test firing the m/40:
My friend Tim Hawkins kindly lent me a Type I Swedish m/40 with the loaded chamber indicator ground off. A former Danish Rigspoliti pistol it is marked “Rplt S. 477” on the right side of the frame. Overall condition was VG+ with a bright bore and the single-action trigger had a light, crisp let off.
Accuracy testing was conducted at 25 yards from an MTM K-Zone rest using Remington 9mm Luger ammunition loaded with 124-grain FMJ bullets. The U notch rear and square blade front sights provided a very decent sight picture and I was able to produce a series of groups in the 2.5-inch range with one having five rounds in four holes, dead center measuring only 1.25 inches.
I then set up a combat target and ran the Swede through a series of offhand drills from seven and ten metres, firing the pistol with both supported and unsupported (one-handed) grips. The Luger-like grip provided above average ergonomics and, thanks to the pistol’s weight, recoil was very soft. Of the 32 rounds, I sent downrange not a single one wandered outside the target’s X and 9 rings. Say what you want about the Lahti, but don’t ever say it doesn’t shoot well!
My only complaints were the heel mounted magazine catch slowed down reloading and, even with the magazine loading tool it was an effort to top off the magazine. Other than that I found the m/40 to be a fine handling combat pistol easily the equal of, if not superior, many of its contemporaries.
I would like to thank the following for providing materials used to prepare this report: Tim Hawkins, Anders Jonasson, Christian Sahlberg, Markku Palokangas, Stuart Mowbray, Joe Puleo and the Remington Arms Company.
- Caliber: 9,0 Pist. P.
- Overall length: 9.7 in.
- Barrel length: 4.7 in.
- Weight (unloaded): 43 oz.
- Magazine: 8 rd. detachable box
- Front sight: Square blade
- Rear sight: Fixed U notch
- Grips: Plastic
Automatisk repeteristol m/40
- Caliber: 9mm skarpa patrone m/39
- Overall length: 10.3 in.
- Barrel length: 5.5 in.
- Weight (unloaded): 38.7 oz.
- Magazine: 8 rd. detachable box
- Front sight: Square blade
- Rear sight: Fixed U notch
- Grips: Plastic
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.
About the Author:
Paul Scarlata began writing articles for various gun magazines in the 1990s. Over the years he has contributed to firearms and military history publications in the U.S. and a number of foreign countries, has had three books on military firearms published and just finished writing a fourth. He became a regular contributor to Shotgun News, forerunner of the Firearms News, in 2010, eventually becoming a staff member where he specializes writing about military small arms from 1850s to present day. His wife Becky, an excellent photographer, has been a major plus to "their" careers.