The ‘Elephant Gun’ from Finland: The 20mm Lahti L-39
By Ben Philippi
The Lahti L-39 is a Finnish 20mm anti-tank rifle used during World War II. Nicknamed “Norsupyssy,” Finnish for “elephant gun,” it had excellent accuracy, penetration, and range for its time but its size made transportation difficult.
AIMO LAHTI – THE JOHN MOSES BROWNING OF FINLAND
The L-39 was developed during the 1930s by Aimo Lahti, a Finnish weapons designer. He was kind of the John Moses Browning of Finland. He designed two competing anti-tank weapons — a 13.2mm machine gun and a 20mm rifle. After test firing both weapons, it was concluded that the 20mm rifle displayed better penetration power. In 1939, as World War II loomed over Europe, the L-39 went into production.
A soldier looks down the sights of an L-39 during WWII. (Photo courtesy: SA Kuva)
OBSOLETE AS SOON AS IT WAS PRODUCED
Almost as soon as it saw combat, it was obsolete. Although it could penetrate most tank armor during the 1930s, by 1940 tank armor beefed up and the gun was no longer effective. It was used very successfully for long-range sniping, tank harassment, and anti-aircraft. A fully automatic, double-barreled variant of the gun, called the 20 ITK 40 VKT, was developed and used as an anti-aircraft weapon.
Soldiers with an L-39. (Photo courtesy: