Monday, May 28, 2018

Weapons of War - 76 K/02 – Finland’s first gun

At 0900 on the morning of the 3rd February 1918 two shots rang out over the Oulujoki river. These shots, fired from two 76.2 mm divisional gun model 1902, marked the start of the assault on the Red positions at Oulu. It also marked the first shots of an independent Finnish artillery corps.


In 1902 the Putilov Plants (now known as the Kirov Plant) produced the 3-djujmovaja pushka obr. 1902 (or 76.2 mm divisional gun model 1902). Designed by engineers LA Byshlyak, KM Sokolovsky and KI Lipnitsky and engineer N. A. Zabudsky, the gun was over the previous gun produced by the team (the 76 mm gun model 1900).

By looking at the Model 1900, they made improvements upon it while keeping to the guidelines of the original specifications, these being a three-inch gun of modern design, mobile and effective. They added a hydraulic recoil mechanism, allowing for quicker resetting after each shot, traverse and elevation tracking mechanisms, better sights for direct and indirect fire, and single piece ammunition. It also had two seats, on either side of the breech, for the crew but these were removed in 1906 and replaced with a two piece shield that also had folding upper and lower plates (these were added due to experiences in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05). It also took the French style interrupted screw breech block used on the Model 1900 (the first Russian gun to use it). To help with production and keep costs down, it cut back on expensive and labour heavy materials and was made using low alloy carbonized steel.

A Model 1902 on a special anti-aircraft mounting. Source: Niva magazine, 1916, Wikimedia

They were tested in April 1902, with the first 12 being produced that month. The gun was officially adopted in March 1903 as the main weapon of the Imperial Russian Artillery. Their first taste of action was at the Battle of Te-li-Ssu during the Russo-Japanese War but did not perform well due to mishandling but they soon did garner a good reputation in the Russian army and were well liked by the men, especially once more modern doctrines had developed on their deployment and use. They were comparable to their counterparts in the French, British and German militarys (Canon de 75 modèle 1897, Ordnance QF 18-pounder and 7.7 cm Feldkanone 96 neuer Art).

They saw deployment from 1904 right to the end of the Second World War, serving the Soviet Union, Finland, Poland and Nazi Germany artillery arms.

Finland’s First Gun

Finland did not have a standing army of its own due to the disbandment in 1905-06 as part of the Russification of the Grand Duchy of Finland. However, it did still house a substantial amount of Imperial forces within its territory, especially as it was a potential gateway to the capital, St. Petersburg. A large part of the Baltic Fleet, as well as the 42nd Army Corps, were stationed in Finland to guard against potential German invasion. When the Civil War broke out, many of these units were frozen by the confusion reigning across the Empire, some attempted to return home, others went to support the Finnish Reds, but the majority stays in their barracks waiting.

The original two 76.2mm divisional guns used by Colonels Ignatius and Nenonen during the Battle of Oulu. They are sited at the positions they held that very day. Source: Personal Collection

One such unit, a battery of the 106th Infantry Division, was stationed at Ilmajoki awaiting for orders or direction when members of the local Civic Guard demanded that they, alongside the rest of the 350 strong garrison hand over their weapons, on the 28th-29th January. Six 76.2 mm divisional gun model 1902’s were captured, two with breeches intact, and these two were sent with Lieutenant Colonels Johannes Ferdinand Ignatius and Vilho Petter Nenonen as part of the relief force to Oulu. These guns were deployed by Nenonen to the north of the city, in Laanila, where they had a line of sight of the Russian barracks and Red Guard positions. At 0900 (or 0920 depending upon your source) of the 3rd February, these guns rang out, signally the start of the Oulu operation. By the end of the Civil War, Finland had 179 of these guns, more numerous than any other gun acquired, and so it was selected to be the main field gun of the newly independent Finnish Armed Forces with the designation 76 K/02.

A very beautiful looking 766 K/02 at the Tampere 1918 exhibition. You can see the folded upper and lower shield. Source: Personal Collection

Finnish Service

After the Civil War, the gun was deployed in Field Artillery units, as well as in the two armoured trains, they also were put into fortifications and in coastal artillery emplacements. Finland always tried to get their hands on more of these guns and by the end of the Second World War, 249 had seen service (however they lost 21 during the Winter War and 29 during the retreats of 1944). During the Winter and Continuation Wars the guns fired an amazing 1,581,618 shells (one site states that this accounts for about half of the field gun ammunition fired during this period).

The famous Winter War picture of the 76 K/02 outside Viipuri, 10th March 1940. Source: SA Kuva

However, as the gun was developed at the turn of the century, it wasn’t a perfect design. Like many early 20th century field guns, it suffered from poor elevation, which resulted in a lower maximum range than could be achieved by the weapon. So to fix this problem, two modernisation projects were started in the 30s (designated 76 K/02-34 and 76 K/02-38, the last number correlating to the year of the project) but besides some prototypes, which increased elevation from a maximum of 17 degrees to 35 degrees, nothing came of it. The main issue was decreased stability, and Chief Inspector of the Artillery, now General Nenonen, canceled the projects.

The Finns also developed their own ammunition for the guns to help keep them relevant. Not only did they improve on the original High Explosive and Shrapnel Shells, but they also developed a range of Anti-Tank ammunition from simple solid armoured piercing, to APHEBC-T and HEAT. There was also an incendiary shell containing a mixture of thermite and blackpowder, plus any captured Soviet 76,2 mm x 385 R were quickly re-issued to frontline units.

After the Lapland War the guns saw some upgrades in the form of replacing the iron rimmed wooden wheels with rubber ones to allow for better towing by motorised vehicles. These guns stay on the books of the Finnish Defence Forces (mainly in the depots of the reserves but also as a training and practice weapon) until the 1990s.

Today, due to the vast amounts of them, these guns are found on many memorials and museum exhibitions.

A 76 K/02 set up as a memorial to the men of the 1 Battery, 16th Field Artillery Regiment which used this area as their fire base for the Battle of Oulu. Source: Personal Collection


Type: Field Gun
Origin: Russian Empire
Production: 1903-1931
Weight (combat ready): 1100 kg
Barrel length: 2.28 m, 30 calibers
Calibre: 76.2 mm (3 in)
Elevation: -3° to 17°
Traverse: 5°
Rate of fire: 10-12 rpm
Muzzle velocity: 589 m/s
Maximum firing range: 8.5 km

Another picture of the Tampere 1918 canon. Here you can see the breech and sights as well as all the other mechanisms needed to make the gun function. Source: Personal Collection

Hannula, J.O., Finland's War of Indepence with an Introduction by Sir Walter M. St. G. Kirke (Faber and Faber Limited, 1939)
Haapala, Pertti, Tampere 1918: A Town in the Civil War (Tampere Museums, Museum Centre Vapriikki, 2010)
Aunesluoma, Juhana, Suomen vapaussota 1918. Kartasto ja tutkimusopas (WSOY, 1995)

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