M1870 Berdan rifle (Berdan II)
Inspired by the wars seen in Europe and the United States in the 1860s, the Russian Imperial Army wanted to modernise its weapons and equipment. The armed forces of the great empire desperately needed a modern rifle. The most interesting option was a rifle designed by U.S. Colonel Hiram Berdan. Colonel Gorlov and Captain Hunnius of the Russian army created an improved version of the Berdan rifle, which was introduced in Russia in 1868. The rifle was manufactured in the USA and Russia for the Tsarist Army between 1868 and 1890.
Finnish soldiers became acquainted with the Berdan for the first time in the Russo-Turkish war, in which the Finnish Guards’ Rifle Battalion was issued with Berdan rifles. The rifle also saw action in the Russo-Japanese War, but by the time of World War I in 1914, the rifle had already become a second-line weapon.
During the struggle for independence, Finland seized a large number of Berdan rifles from the depots of Russian garrisons as the Russian troops left the country. The weapons were widely used in the Civil War by both the Red and White forces. However, as the Berdan was already becoming obsolete, it was soon replaced by more modern rifles, with the remaining thousands of Berdans stored in depots. The Finnish Civil Guard used the Berdan in the early 1920s, but the rifles were soon returned to the General Staff’s depots as awkward and difficult to use, but above all obsolete. In the 1920s, the Berdan was completely replaced by new rifles manufactured in Finland, as well as low-cost M1891 rifles purchased from abroad.
By the time of the Winter War, Berdan rifles had been removed from troop establishment plans and equipment lists, but due to the poor armament situation, some units were issued with Berdan rifles in the Winter War. At the end of the Winter War, there were still more than 3,000 Berdan rifles in storage. During the Continuation War, the Berdans were still in use by home front troops. The rifle’s story in the Finnish Armed Forces came to an end in 1956, when the American company Interarmco bought almost all the remaining rifles and their ammunition. By 1960, all the remaining rifles had been sold at auctions, for scrap metal, or at depot sales.
The rifle exhibited here was the personal weapon of Niilo Ahonen.
References: Palokangas, Markku, Sotilaskäsiaseet Suomessa 1918–1988, Suomen Asehistoriallinen Seura (1991)