Shortly after I got into the gunwriting business, I worked on a 9 mm book project with the late Dean Grennell. One of my contributions to the book was to get ahold of every 9 mm pistol I possibly find and fire them under the same circumstances. I was greatly assisted in this effort by a local collector who seemingly had one of everything and was willing to let me take them out and shoot them. Among things like a Red Nine Mauser, MAB PA15, Artillery Luger and others, I got to fire a Lahti. You never see these big brutes these days, but they were common back then.
Designed in Finland in the 1930s, the Lahti was a 9 mm service pistol intended for the special needs of the Finnish military forces. In a country with severe winter weather conditions, small arms work best when designed for snow and ice. The Lahti was an ingenious recoil-operated pistol that worked on the basis of a massive bolt moving back and forth in a machined steel receiver. To lock the bolt in place at the instant of firing, the Lahti used a steel locking block in the shape of an inverted “U.” It was cammed upward into a recess in the roof of the receiver. Also, the Lahti used an accelerator lever, similar to the one John Browning put in his machine guns, to give the recoiling parts an extra bit of rearwards thrust. In theory and possibly fact, this insured proper function in extreme low temperatures.
The Finnish-designed and made Lahti was quickly accepted as a reliable and accurate pistol. It was so good that the Finns licensed the rights to make the gun in Sweden for that country’s armed forces. Most authorities agree that the Swedish modifications to a proven design were ill-advised and did not result in a pistol of the same quality. As a matter of fact, one reliable source (the Hogg & Weeks Pistols of the World) rates the Finnish Lahti as a strong competitor with the Sig P210 as the best service pistol in the world. Heady praise.