Finnish tanks United Kingdom/Finland (1933-1941)
Light Tank – 33 purchased and modified

Despite being produced by a British company, and one with a solid reputation at that, the Vickers 6-Ton tank was not adopted by the British armed forces. However, it did see a lot of service with nations like Poland, China and Bolivia, among many others.

Tank Trials

At the turn of the 1930s, Finland’s armored corps consisted of 34 aging Renault FTs and 1 Saint-Chamond Modele 1921. It was decided, after discussions within the Ministry of Defence, that the current armored inventory was obsolete and new equipment was needed to keep up with the changing face of armored warfare. So, in response to this, the Finnish MoD, Puolustusministeriö, ordered three different tanks from the United Kingdom on the 6th of June 1933: a Vickers-Carden-Loyd Mk VI* (V.A.E. 115), a Vickers-Carden-Loyd Model 1933 (V.A.E. 503) and a Vickers-Armstrongs 6-Ton Tank Alternative B (V.A.E. 546), at a cost of £8,410 (about £557,622 in 2017). Vickers also sent a Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Amphibious Tank Model 1931 as well for free but this performed so poorly in trials that the Finns returned it after only 17 days. The other three tanks arrived in Finland in October and trials started immediately.


The Vickers-Armstrongs 6-Ton Tank Alternative B (V.A.E. 546) undergoing trials in 1933. Source: Suomalaiset Panssarivaunut

The Vickers-Carden-Loyd Mk VI* showed poor performance on the cross country course and snow testing showed that it would be useless outside of roads. The Finns classed it as unsuitable for combat but retained it, with the loving nickname “satiainen” (crab louse), as a training vehicle. The Vickers-Carden-Loyd Model 1933 performed well during the cross country obstacle tests and was praised for easy steering, good speed and technical reliability, but it failed to meet the grade due to it lacking sufficient armament (no tank gun), only a single machine-gun, and poor mobility in snow tests. The Vickers-Armstrongs 6-Ton Tank Alternative B was accepted by the Finnish Armed Forces as its new standard tank due to it showing excellent cross-country performance, good deep snow mobility and its adequate armament options. Its technical simplicity and ease of design meant it could be kept in use in rough field conditions.

The order

The Ministry of Defence placed an order for 32 Vickers-Armstrongs 6-Ton Tank Alternative B on the 20th of July 1936. The idea was to form the tanks into a battalion with 2 companies of 15 tanks and a HQ element of 2 tanks. After negotiations, the order would come in three deliveries, 11 tanks on 20th July 1937, 10 tanks on 1st of April 1938, and the final 11 tanks on 1st of January 1939. To help save money, the tanks were ordered without optics, radios or even armament. This brought the price of each tank to only £4,500 each (about £298,371 in 2018). However, due to issues at Vickers Armstrong, the first batch of tanks didn’t arrive until July 1938 and, by the start of the Winter War (30th November 1939), only 26 tanks had been delivered.

What did arrive though was not a standard Vickers Mark E. When Belgium was looking for a new tank, Vickers Armstrong wanted to place a Rolls-Royce Phantom II water-cooled engine in it, due to faults discovered in Poland’s order that had led to overheating issues. However, the engine was much bigger than the original Armstrong Siddeley Puma engine and so the hull was made a little bit longer and the engine was mounted on the left side, offsetting the turret to the right.

Once deliveries reached Finland, they were transported to Valtion Tykkitehdas (VTT/ State Artillery Factory) where they would be equipped with guns, optics, tools and even seats. Due to the worsening situation in Europe, delays in deliveries, problems with VTT’s production and issues with sourcing parts from elsewhere, the equipping of the 6-Ton tanks was slow and, by the end of 1939, only 10 tanks were ready.

Armament

As mentioned earlier, to help save money, the tanks were ordered completely devoid of armament. Vickers Armstrong had offered to equip them with the same 47mm low-velocity gun that had come with the evaluation tank. This gun had been tested during the trials, and while it had good capabilities against soft targets (similar to the performance of the 37mm Puteaux SA-18 already in use on the Renault FT), it lacked penetration against armored and bunker targets and thus was deemed unsuitable for Finnish use. Instead, they opted for a licensed produced version of the 37mm Bofors anti-tank gun, adapted into a tank gun role. This gun was perfect for Finnish use, having an effective high explosive shell, as well as a good armor piercing one capable of defeating the vast majority of tanks in service during the late 30s and early 40s. German Zeiss TZF sights had been ordered, but due to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, these were canceled by Germany itself. This forced the Finns to produce their own optics, a straight-through telescopic sight type with a simple crosshair reticle, that was housed in a cylindrical cowl to the left of the gun. Tank crews complained of a limited field of vision and lack of range markings, which made finding and engaging targets time consuming and was a factor in the poor performance of the Vickers tank in Finnish service. This was all mounted into a Bofors designed mantlet that was similar to that used on the Polish 7TP (however, unlike the Polish 7TP, the turret was the one supplied by Vickers and also built by Bofors).

The original co-axial gun offered was an air-cooled Vickers medium machine gun but this was rejected on the grounds of it being a non-standard calibre (.303 British). It was also thought that adding a co-axial machine-gun would put too much complexity on getting the tanks ready and while it was considered to add the M/09-31 Maxim machine-gun (a domestically produced, improved air-cooled version) it never was produced. This led to the need for a self-defense weapon. The chosen weapon was strangely a submachine gun. It was a specially modified version of the Suomi M/31. The VTT modified the hull by incorporating a firing port which could take the SMG, which had a slim but fixed barrel jacket and a pistol grip but no butt. It had a simple optical sight, took the standard 70-round drum magazine, and performed very well as a self-defense weapon. This also increased the crew complement to four.

It is also noteworthy that some Vickers were deployed alongside the Renault FTs during the 1939 summer war games and that these had been ‘loaned’ the 37-mm Puteaux SA-18 (37 Psv.K/18 in Finnish service) from non-participating Renault FTs. This had been to allow the crews to become familiar with their tank, as well as use up stocks of blank ammunition. It is due to this that some writers believe that the Finnish 6-ton were armed with the 37mm SA-18 at the outbreak of the Winter War, but this was not the case. These training tanks also were armed with the M/09-31 Maxim machine-gun on the right side of the Puteaux in a semi-coaxial housing.

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A close up of the Vickers during the 1939 Summer War Games. You can clearly see the borrowed 37 mm Puteaux SA-18, as well as the specially adapted Maxim gun. Source: SA Kuva

Specification

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.54 meters x 2.40 meters x 2.10 meters
Total weight, battle ready 8.6 tons
Crew 4(commander, gunner, driver, submachine gun-gunner)
Propulsion 92 hp Armstrong-Siddeley Puma 4-cylinder gasoline engine
Speed (road/off-road) 35/10 km/h
Range (road/off road) 165/91 km
Armament 37 mm Psv.K/36 (L/45) tank gun (50 rounds)
9 mm Suomi M/31 hull submachine gun (1,444 rounds)
Armor Hull front and sides 17.5 mm (upper part) / 10 mm (lower part)
Hull sides 17.5 mm (upper side of combat compartment) / 10 mm (lower part)
Hull top and floor 5 mm
Hull rear 10 mm
Turret front and sides 13.6 mm
Track width 28 cm
Track link length 12.5 cm
Ground Clearance 37.5 cm
Ground Pressure 0.48 kg/square cm
Gradient 39 degrees
Trench Crossing 1.9 meters
Fording 0.9 meters


Illustration of the Finnish modified Vickers 6-ton by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Service

The Armored Battalion was mobilized just before the outbreak of hostilities (8th October 1939) and thus found itself ready with trained men but lacking in terms of equipment. None of the Vickers were ready to go to war.

The battalion was broken into 5 companies, 1st and 2nd equipped with Renault FTs and held in reserve until the 6th of February 1940, when they were then ordered to dig in and form parts of the defensive line around Näykkijärvi and Taipale. 3rd and 4th Companies were to be equipped with Vickers but were still waiting. The 5th company did not have tanks and was used as a replacement pool for the other companies.

The first armed Vickers arrived from the VTT in mid-December and were assigned to the 4th Company and limited training in combat and formation tactics were started. It reached a peak strength of 16 on the 23rd of February 1940 when it received orders to move to the front.

The situation in late February 1940 for the Finns was a dire one. Despite achieving stunning results in the opening month of the war, forcing the Soviets to call off their offensives and dig in, the vast numerical superiority in both men and machines was taking its toll upon the Finns. This, coupled with a restructuring of the Soviet forces and plans, eventually saw the Finnish frontline on the Karelian Isthmus break in mid-February and a falling back to hastily prepared secondary positions.

In the Naykkijärvi area, the Soviet 84th Rifle Division had penetrated further than their flanks and were now becoming a threatening bulge in the Finnish line. Lieutenant General Harald Öhquist, Commander of II Corps, wanted to secure his position and thus ordered a counter-attack. The 4th Tank Company was attached to the 3rd Jaeger battalion and these were supported by the 14th and 67th Infantry Regiments. The plan called for a preliminary bombardment by two artillery battalions, followed by a quick strike by the Tank Company and the Jaeger battalion to the shores of Naykkijärvi then to wheel left and push the Soviet forces back out of the village of Honkaniemi and thus straighten the front line.

However, things went awry from the beginning. Out of the original 16 tanks, only 7 got the starting point. Then one tank got stuck on a tree stump and was thus incapable of taking part in the attack. The artillery barrage fell short and caused numerous casualties to the Jaegers, thus postponing the hour of the attack. When the attack went ahead, the coordination between the tanks and the infantry was non-existent and soon the tanks found themselves alone. The Finns soon were up against a Soviet force in waiting and after only 3 hours the attack was called off. In the aftermath, it was revealed that 5 tanks were knocked out, 1 badly damaged but returned to the jumping off point, with casualties of 1 killed, 3 wounded, and 5 missing. The company was ordered to reform at Rautlampi to become mobile anti-tank guns. The main reasons for the failure in Honkaniemi was a combination of inexperienced, albeit passionate, crews, poor command and control, and loss of surprise; as well as vast numerical superiority on the side of the Soviets.

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Soviet soldiers inspecting one of the knocked out 4th company Vickers in Honkaniemi. Notice the national insignia stripes, which were two white surrounding blue. Source: Suomalaiset Panssarivaunut

For the rest of the war, the tanks performed anti-tank reserve duties on the Karelian Isthmus, losing another 3 tanks but claiming 4 Soviet tanks.

After the War

Once the war ended on the morning of the 13th March 1940, the remaining Finnish Vickers were pulled back to the new Soviet-Finnish border where they waited. The last handful of Vickers also arrived from Britain (about 6) and a review was held by the Finnish Command Staff on the performance and future role of Finnish tanks. It was concluded that while the 37mm was an effective weapon, it was questionable if it would remain as such in any future conflict. Other conclusions include that the optical sights were of poor quality and affected performance, and more training was required in force coordination and field maintenance. The mandatory installation of radios in all tanks was also seen as a priority.

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A Soviet close up of a Finnish Vickers during its evaluation at Kublinka in 1940, soon after the end of the Winter War. Source: aviarmor.net

A decision was made that the remaining 26 Vickers Tanks in Finnish service would see conversion into the T-26E. This came about after the numbers of repaired captured T-26s surpassed the numbers of Vickers, as well as the huge surplus of T-26 45mm tank guns from those tanks not able to be reconditioned. By 17th June 1941, all Vickers tanks were now of the T-26E modification.

Today one Vickers has been restored to its original 1939/40 condition, Ps.161-7, and is part of the Armoured Vehicle Museum (Finnish Panssarimuseo) collection.

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The only example of a Finnish modified 6 ton tank. Converted back from a T-26E conversion post war. Source: Juha Oksanen

Notes on the differences between the Finnish Vickers and the T-26

To many, the T-26 and the Vickers 6 ton look the same, especially in the upgraded Vickers, the T-26E. One way to tell them apart is the left of the driver that is a rectangle hatch where the submachine gun is positioned. Another way to tell is the engine deck is shorter and more angular on the Vickers. A third way is that the Vickers mounted the turret on the right side, while the T-26 was offset to the left.

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A T-26E, notice the submachine gun port, which is unique to both the Finnish Vickers, and sets it apart from the captured Soviet T-26s. Source: SA Kuva

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Muikku, Esa, Suomalaiset Panssarivaunut 1918-1997 (Apali Oy, 2003)
Haapanen, Atso, Suomen Panssariase 1918-1944 (Myllylahti Oy, 2016)
Vickers 6 Ton on Jaegerplatoon

A special thanks to Jari Saurio from the Panssarimuseo who helped answer questions and clear up some information.

Renault FT - Finland
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