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Finland Salvages a “Tragic Boating Accident”: Grafton Vetterli Rifles

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During the Russo-Japanese War, the Japanese government helped smuggle arms to potential revolutionaries in Russia, in hopes of provoking a domestic crisis that would divert Russia military force form the war. This included a plot to buy many thousands of surplus Vetterli rifles (as well as C96 Mausers, Webley revolvers, and a few other odds and ends) and ship them to St Petersburg. The Japanese provided the freighter SS John Grafton , and it loaded up the weapons in Copenhagen.

The first plan was to unload a few guns in Helsinki and take the rest to St Petersburg; this was scrapped when the ships intended to help unload failed to appear at the scheduled rendezvous. A new plan was formed to drop all the guns in Finland, and the Grafton headed north into the Gulf of Bothnia. When it went to start unloading at Pietarsaari, it ran aground and became stuck. Worried about the response of Russian security forces, a small fraction of the guns were unloaded and then the ship scuttled.

In a rare true example of a “tragic boating accident”, a number of local divers spent several nights covertly bringing guns up form the wreck, including the example we have to see today. Ultimately there was no revolt against the Russian government in 1905, and the Vetterli saw at most very limited use in the eventual 1917 war for Finnish independence. They were not used by the military or the Civil Guard, and mostly became civilian hunting rifles. The Mauser pistols and Webley revolvers did see more fighting, though, as they were more modern and their ammunition more readily available.

Thanks to the viewer in Finland who loaned me this very cool rifle to film for you!

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