|The Sturmgeschütz in Finnish Service|
The reason for and idea behind this article is to try to provide accurate information about the "Sturmi", the Sturmgeschütz in Finnish service. I will concentrate on the more technical side of the Sturmi, while leaving the WWII-history of Finland and the Finnish Armoured Forces to be discussed elsewhere.
© Andreas Lärka 2001 - 2021
Purchase and production types
In 1943 Finland bought 30 Sturmgeschütz 401) G -assault guns from Germany. The first batch of 10 arrived in Finland on July 6th 1943, the next batch of 8 on August 10th 1943 and the last batch of 12 on September 3rd 1943. Four of the 1943 batch StuG's were delivered directly to Asevarikko 6 ("Gun depot number 6") in Jyväskylä to be stored as reserve-vehicles. On delivery the StuG's were painted all German Dark Yellow with German markings.
The 1943 -batch StuG's were early production (but not the initial) G models with the square gun-mantlet, rubber-tyred return rollers, drive-sprockets with the "hubcaps", the loader's MG-shield, the loader's hatch opening up to the front and to the back, rotating periscope-ring on the commander's cupola and early type fendersupports (of two kinds; the "plain pipe" beeing from Alkett and the "pipe with triangular support" beeing from MIAG). Some StuG's had the early substructure with the bolted on armour in the front of the vehicle and the butt-welded rear armour. Some had the new substructure with the all 80mm welded front armour and interlocked-welded rear armour. And there was at least one vehicle (Ps.531-30 from MIAG) with the newer 80mm front + interlocked rear but with the older butt-welded engine-deck.
10 of the vehicles were made in the Alkett (Altmärkische Kettenwerk GmbH) -factory in Berlin, 19 in the MIAG (Mühlenbau und Industrie AG) -factory in Braunschweig and 1 in the M.A.N. (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg) -factory.
Alkett: Ps.531-1, -2, -5, -9, -10, -12, -13, -15, -16 and -18.
Please see below in the Notes -section for my theory on how to tell from which factory a specific vehicle is.
In 1944 Finland bought another 29 Sturmgeschütz III1) G's from Germany. The first batch of 5 arrived in Finland on June 29th 1944, the next batch of 7 on July 2nd 1944, the next batch of 3 on July 6th 1944, the next batch of 6 on August 3rd 1944 and the last batch of 8 on August 6th 1944. Also these were delivered painted all German Dark Yellow and with German markings.
The 1944 batch StuG's were "late middle / early late" production G models with the Topfblende / "Saukopf" gun-mantle, all-steel return rollers (Alkett and MIAG), drive-sprockets with the wheel-bolts showing, loaders hatches opening to the sides, deflecting armour for the commander's cupola, solid (non-rotating) periscope-ring on the commander's cupola, late type fendersupports, typical German rear deck stovage-racks and Zimmerit.
24 of the vehicles were made in the Alkett (Altmärkische Kettenwerk GmbH) -factory in Berlin and 5 in the MIAG (Mühlenbau und Industrie AG) -factory in Braunschweig.
Alkett: Ps.531-31, -32, -33, -34, -35, -36, -37, -38, -39, -40, -41, -42, -43, -44, -45, -46, -49, -52, -53, -54, -55, -56, -57 and -58.
Most of the 1944 batch StuGs had the base for the remote-controlled machine-gun and the hole in the roof for the self-defence grenade launcher (the "Nahverteidigungswaffe"), but none of the Finnish StuGs had either of them. The StuGs left the factories without this equipment and the holes in the roof plugged.
Apparently the roofs were already manufactured but the above mentioned equipment hadn't arrived from some other armament factory in time for the delivery. The Finns welded a small stand for the DT-machine gun to the bolted on plug.
The 1944 batch StuG's were manufactured in either the Alkett- or the MIAG -factories. The zimmerit makes it easy to spot the manufacturer of the vehicle, with the "Waffle-pattern" zimmerit beeing a vehicle from Alkett and the "tile-pattern" zimmerit beeing a vehicle from MIAG.
It seems like the Alkett-vehicles all had the pressed fendersupports, Topfblende / "Saukopf" -gunmantlet, the hole for the "Nachverteidigungswaffe" plugged from below, and either rubber-tyred return-rollers (Ps.531-38, -41, -42 etc.) or the "holes but no spokes" all-metal return-rollers.
All the MIAG-vehicles had the square gunmantlet, the MIAG fendersupports, "spokes but no holes" all-metal return-rollers, the hole for the "Nachverteidigungswaffe" plugged from the top and Pilze-mounts.
Modifications during 1943 and early 1944
Between the arrival of the 1943 batch StuGs at the Panssarikeskus ("Tank-Center") in Varkaus and their first "official appearance" in Enso (Svetogorsk) June 4th 1944 the following changes had been made:
The German MG 34 was changed into the Russian DT tank-machinegun and the crew's MP 40 sub-machinegun was changed into the Suomi sub-machinegun. The loader's shield had to be modified with a larger hole and a different stand for the DT tank-machinegun. The protective shields on the sides, "Schurzen", were removed. Apparently because they were deemed impractical.
During the spring of 1944 the spare roadwheels on most vehicles were moved from their original place at the rear of the tank and placed on the sides of the fighting compartment. At the same time a large wooden stowage box was put on the rear of the tank where the sparewheels used to be3). The split-lid box had a large (Soviet type, often seen on the T-34) saw attached to the front of it, and one grab handle per side. The stowage box was held in place by metal racks, sort of a shortened version of the German stowage racks. The start-crank was moved to the rear of the tank.
In Varkaus the StuG's also got their tank numbers4) painted to the front and the rear of the vehicles and also punched into a small metal plate on the sides of the fighting compartment. As national markings the Finnish tank-swastika was painted on both sides of the fighting compartment, on the rear and front armourplates and on top of the gun-mantlet. The swastika on top of the gun-mantlet was probably painted from the front, i.e. the swastika was facing the front of the vehicle.
The StuG's were painted in the 1943 standard Finnish "hard-edge" - (brushpainted) camoflage colour scheme of: Moss Green, Sand Brown and Light Grey. The StuG's were painted in a similar pattern, however each one got an individual scheme.
During 1943 and early 1944 Finland lived in a state of waiting. The troops had stopped their attacks in early 1942 and were regrouped for defence. Now the bulk of the troops were "doing nothing but playing cards...".
One of the few exceptions was the Finnish Armoured Division, and especially the Rynnäkkötykkipataljoona where the training and excercise with the new StuG's never stopped. Still none of the 1943 batch StuG's saw any action before the Soviet mass-offensive in the Summer of 1944.
Modifications during the summer of 1944
The Soviet mass-offensive on the Karelian Isthmus had begun on June 9th 1944, and the StuG's was the only modern equipment Finland had to put up against the Soviets. After suffering the first 5 losses in Kuuterselkä on June 15th 1944 and 2 losses in Tali-Ihantala on June 28th 1944, orders were given on July 2:nd 1944(?) that the modifications mentioned below was to be done to the remaining StuG's. Resulting, together with re-newed battle skills and tactics, in only one StuG lost in Vuosalmi July 11th 1944.
Later on the following changes were done in addition to the ones mentioned above. These modifications were probably done at the Panssarikorjaamo ("Armour repairshop") in Enso.
Many of these modifications were made at the Panssarikeskus or the Panssarikorjaamo, but also on the field. As many wartime pictures show, the modifications were made when time allowed, but the most part of the 1943 batch StuG's were modified with most of the modifications mentioned in the first part of the list before the battle of Vuosalmi (I'm not so sure about the concrete). In August 1944, when the fighting had slowed down and was almost over, nearly all of the 1943 batch StuG's had all of the modifications while a few of the later 1944 batch StuG's still didn't have any modifications at all (Ps.531-56).
From the 1944 batch of StuG's none probably ever fired their guns in anger. Most of them arrived too late to see any real action, as the first of the 1944 batch StuG's that arrived were used as reserves and for securing the rear areas. The 1944 batch StuG's did not get the Finnish three tone camoflage-scheme, only a light overspray of dark green and the 1944 modifications mentioned above. Some photos from September of 1944 show all green StuG's of the 1944 batch StuG's with the all the 1944 modifications, but with German Dark Yellow fighting-compartment sides, German crosses and a yellow track-link pattern up front where the logs and extra track-links had been during overspraying!
As amoung others (the unlucky) Ps.531-13 had been stripped for spare parts and a few others of the 1943 batch StuG's served as reserves, a fair estimation would be that only about 20 of the 1943 batch StuG's were operational and saw action during the summer of 1944.
The battles took place at Kuuterselkä June 14th - 15th 1944, Perkjärvi June 16th 1944, Tali-Ihantala June 25th - 29th 1944 and at Vuosalmi July 11th - 21th 1944. The first victory is noted on June 15th 1944 and the last on July 13th 1944. All in all, taking into consideration re-grouping etc., the StuG's only saw about three weeks of front-line duty and only about seven days of tank fighting.
Finland lost 8 of the 1943 batch StuG's. (Ps.531-1, Ps.531-2, Ps.531-3, Ps.531-5, Ps.531-17, Ps.531-23, Ps.531-24 and Ps.531-29). The Soviets lost 87 tanks and an uncounted number of anti-tank guns, anti-tank rifles, trucks etc. thanks to our StuG's and their crews. Quite a remarkable result for such a small force!
After the armistice with the Soviets in September, all the StuG's were loaded on trains going off to fight the Germans in the Lapland War. As the StuG's were not suitable for wading (the Germans destroyed all the bridges and so much of the roads as they could) the StuG's finally returned to base in October - November 1944. They were not involved in any Lapland War fighting.
After the war the StuG's were stored for possible war-time use. Most were still wearing their war-time modifications, concrete and all. Only the colour was changed into "Kimmo Kenttävihreä" all green and the tank-swastika was changed into the Finnish roundel that is still used today. Some StuG's (less than 10) were used for training but the bulk of both batches were serviced and stored.
In the early 1950's the following changes were made to most or all of the remaining StuG's:
As the spare-parts were impossible to get after the war many StuG's were used for spare-parts for the others when they broke down. Therefore the StuG's in post-war pictures can feature a mish-mash of parts from both the 1943 and 1944 batches. One quite typical feature on Finnish post war StuG's is, that the track-links are put on "backwards". Apparently this was done to prolong the use of the tracks and even out the wear and tear.
In 1958 about 20 ex-German Panzer III's, one StuG, 10 engines,
tracks and other spare-parts were bought from Norway.
The last StuG's were removed from the inventory in 1966. A few still served on as dug in artillery beside strategic air-fields until the 1980's (!) and some were sold to or exchanged with museums in Finland, England and Germany. And quite a lot were used for target practice...
Surviving Finnish StuG's
This list is gathered and modified from the many excellent references mentioned in the Sources-section on the About -page. Most of the battle- and "location now" info is taken from Erkki Käkelä's book "Laguksen rynnäkkötykit" while many pieces of small but equally important info is from Esa Muikku's and Jukka Purhonen's book "The Finnish armoured vehicles 1918 - 1997" and of course from my own research and contacts.
Please note, that the Finnish Army was not familiar with the new Soviet IS-2 tanks in 1944 and therefore often referred to them as "KV" -tanks. The Soviets used both the T-34 and the T-34-85 during the fighting and therefore any mention of the "T-34" in the list below might as well refer to the T-34-85.
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