French Firearms Appreciation (no seriously)
The French often do not get nearly the credit they deserve for their
many contributions to the modern military firearm. From smokeless powder
to the first successful self-loading battle rifle, their designs have
reshaped the ways in which wars have been fought.
This is a brief look at some of the major French military long arms of
the early to mid 20th century. Some inventions would go on to become
standard around the world, while others were perhaps answers to
questions that no one really asked. In any case, all of these guns were
well made and in oh so many ways French to the core.
Before we get started, two things. First just to be clear, Mle is the official abbreviation for Modèle.
Second, no fucking jokes about "never fired; only dropped once" or "you
can barely see the marks from being dropped." Face facts guys, the
French have a military tradition going back a thousand years, and they
did more than their share of fighting against the Germans in two World
Wars. So lets give respect, where respect is due alright? Sorry, just
while reading up for this thread, i read way way way too many tasteless
French jokes on other forums, and not the funny kind either!
Anyway, here we go.....!
Lebel MAC Mle 1886, 1886/93, & R35 - 8x50R Ball B, D, & N
(Original WWI era 1886/93 Lebel Rifle)
The Fusil Mle 1886, commonly referred to as the Lebel, is perhaps the
most famous French firearm ever fielded. Its most important contribution
to the world of military small arms was its nitrocellulose based 8x50mm
cartridge. This cartridge known as Ball B was the first smokeless
powder cartridge to ever be adopted by any military in the world. This
gave the soldier with this weapon a marked advantage over older
blackpowder repeating rifles. Smokeless powder allowed for more range
and velocity, while producing far less smoke; not giving the shooter's
position away and causing loss of vision. The adoption of the 8x50R
cartridge developed by Col. Lebel caused every other military in the
world to quickly adopt new rifles of their own.
The Mle 1886 itself wasn't a bad rifle but far less revolutionary than
its cartridge. It was developed at Manufacture d'armes de Châtellerault,
a state owned facility. It used a tube magazine which could hold 8
rounds, plus one on the elevator, and one in the chamber (see Benelli,
you weren't the first to have Ghost Loading!). This magazine type did
allow for a large capacity, but at the cost of slow reloading and
needing round-nosed bullets. The rifle was quite long and heavy and
lacked an upper handguard. This trend would continue with French rifles
well into the First World War. The bolt was typical for the late 19th
century, with 2 large locking lugs, an exposed cocking piece, and a
short straight handle. The rifle featured a magazine cutoff, which
effectively turned it into a single-shot weapon. Its sights were highly
adjustable with many different settings and positions, but were quite
small and hard to acquire. The 1886's bayonet was of spike type and had a
long reach. Like many French firearms to come later, the Lebel 1886 did
not have a manual safety of any kind.
The Mle 1886/93 was the first major alteration of the pattern. This
upgrade incorporated a stronger bolt, with a ported chamber in case of a
ruptured cartridge. It became the new standard and was the most common
french rifle used in WWI.
In 1901, the 8x50R caliber was made more effective and once again
introduced a revolutionary design feature. This new type known as Ball D
had a boat-tailed projectile. Even at this time, France was looking to
replace existing Lebel rifles with a whole new line of self-loading
rifles to decisively overshadow newer designs such as the Mauser 98 and
Lee-Enfield. Unfortunately manufacturing difficulties delayed production
for many years and then the start of the First World War forced France
to continue using existing Lebel and berthier designs. During the war
threee major companies were responsible for Lebel production: MAC, MAS,
and MAT. In total by 1920, nearly three million Lebels had been
produced. The weapon stayed in front line service until the 1930s and
was still used as a substitute standard rifle well into WWII.
(A 1937 rebuilt, 1886/93 R35 Lebel Carbine) (1)
The final version of the Lebel came about in 1935 and was known as the
Mle 1886/93 R35. Most of these were cut down long rifles with new 17.7"
carbine barrels installed by MAT. Capacity was reduced to 3 rounds in
the tube magazine, but these carbines were compact and light. The
straight bolt handle of the long rifle was retained on the R35, and it
still lacked an upper handguard. IT was manufactured from 1935 til 1940;
at which time about 50,000 units had been built up. It is worth noting
that there are also 'pre' R35 Lebel carbines. Some were shortened during
WWI, while others seem to have been trials carbines made by MAT, in
1933 and 1934.
Various Lebels have found their ways into the USA today, including as
Vet bringbacks from WWI and WWII, as well as bulk imports. Most are the
1886/93 version, but a few R35 carbines are also out there. Your typical
Lebel has seen combat and will be non-matching. Many R35s though are in
nice condition, as they did not see nearly as much use.
Berthier-APX Series - 8x50R Ball B, D, & N
(An M1892 Carbine, still in the original 3 shot configuration) (2)
When the Lebel cartridge was adopted, it was truely revolutionary;
however the Mle 1886 rifle had some notable shortcomings even from the
start. Foremost of them was the fact it was not easy to transform into a
carbine for cavalry troops. When the 1886's tube magazine was cutdown
to go along with a 18" barrel, it prooved to feed unreliably. Also, the
weapon was near impossible to reload while riding horseback. So as early
as 1887, work began to develop an alternative carbine design, to fire
the new 8mm cartridge.
A gentleman by the name of Adolph Berthier took inspiration from work
done by James Paris Lee and Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher, and came up
with his own carbine, which he entered into French military trials in
1890. Berthier's design used a receiver not unlike that of the older
French Mle 1874, and en-bloc type clips. It was faster to load than the
M1886 and also less expensive to manufacture. Originally, Berthier
partnered with L'Atelier de Puteaux (APX) to mass produce his firearms.
Later, many other French factories would become involved, such as MAT,
MAC, and MAS.
There were a whole host of models of the Berthier in both carbine and
long rifle form. The Berthier was a more traditional bolt action firearm
using either a 3 or 5 round en-bloc clip to fire the standard 8x50R
caliber. The Berthier's bolt system was of the 2 lug style like that of
the Lebel, however its lugs locked vertically rather than horizontally
as with most others. The lien began with the Mousqueton Mle 1890 and Mle
1892 models. These carbines were intended for use by cavalry units, as
well as some police. The Berthier carbine had quite a short barrel for
the day at 18". The major difference between the two models was that the
'90 did not have a bayonet lug, while the '92 did. Both used a 3 shot
magazine. The small magazine was due to the fact that the French cavalry
didn't want an external box magazine, which might snag on clothing or
other gear. They also had turndowned bolt handles, with long shafts.
(A WWI era M1907/15 M16 Infantry Rifle, with the extended 5 shot magazine) (3)
Next in the series came the long rifles starting with the Mle 1902 and
quickly followed by the improved Mle 1907. The infantry rifle came about
after French officials in Indochina requested something easier to
maintain and less expensive than the M1886. The long Berthier was the
same as the carbine, but it had a 31" barrel and straight bolt handle
shaped like the M1886's, with a shorter shaft. While most regular French
army soldiers were equipped with the Lebel, the Berthiers were often
given to troops stationed overseas. This was do inpart because the
Berthier's action was more reliable in tropical climates. The firm of
MAC was responsible for producing these early long Berthier rifles, but
production numbers remained relatively low. With the beginning of WWI,
the design was upgraded to the Mle 1907/15. The primary differences
were the ability to take a Lebel bayonet and introduction of a stronger,
more durable bolt with a rounded cocking knob. The M07/15 was mostly
issued to the Foreign Legeon, colonial troops, and soldiers of allied
nations. in French hands, the Lebel remained the dominant front-line
Soon it became clear that the Berthier's 3 shot capacity was almost
laughably small, so a new version designated as Mle 1907/15 M16 was
fielded with a 5 shot box magazine. The M16 also was built with a top
handguard, to protect the shooter from the barrel's heat. The Mle 1892
carbine was also upgraded with the new magazine and handguard, becoming
the Mle 1892/16. The M92/16 would go on to become the most widely
popular and mass produced version of the Berthier. It was light, short,
quick to reload, durable, and reliable.
(A late production M92/16 carbine) (4)
The Berthier's service continued after WWI. In 1927 the M92/16 carbine
was slightly modified with the removal of the brass cleaning rod and the
incorporation of a stacking rod. Soon after the M07/15 M16 was
rechambered for the new Mle 1929 7.5x54mm cartridge. This new model was
designated as Mle 1907/15 M34 and about 40,000 were produced until
MAS-36 manufacturing reached fullscale. Berthier rifles were used at the
begining of the SEcond World War as snipers' rifles and the carbines
were still popular with light infantry and covert agents. In military
service Berthiers were officially retired at the end of the war, but
many continued to be used by police throughout France well into the
There are many Berthiers in the USA today, as Century imported a large
number of carbines a couple decades ago. Long rifles can also be found,
but are rather less common than carbines. Most Berthiers on the market
have the 5 shot magazine and have been arsenal rebuilt at least a few
MAS Mle 1936 & 36/51 - 7.5x54 Mle 1929
(A MAS36 produced before WWII, with its original black paint finish) (5)
Probably the MAS-36's most interesting aspect from a historical
viewpoint is the fact that it had the distinction of being the last
wholey new bolt-action military pattern of rifle adopted by any major
power. Work on the Mle 1936 began at the facilities of Manufacture
d'Armes de Saint-Etienne in the early 1930s. The new service rifle was
to be chambered for the new 7.5x54mm rimless cartridge. The french
military had wanted to adopt a modern caliber for decades but both war
and lack of funding kept getting in the way. The Mle 1929 cartridge was
an improved version of an earlier design and was much better suited for
use in machineguns than older 8x50R types. Even with the new caliber, it
still took nearly a decade for a rifle that could fire it to be
The MAS-36 was neither a long infantry rifle, nor short cavalry carbine.
It was meant to fill all roles with a 22" long barrel, side sling
mounts, and curved bolt handle. It was not strictly a copy of anything
but did take inspiration from previous designs. Its bolt used rear
mounted locking lugs, like the British SMLE Enfield rifle. Its magazine
was a typical internal Mauser double column design, which held 5
cartridges. Receiver was milled and used a two-piece stock design, like
the Lebel before it. The bayonet was perhaps the rifle's most
recognizable feature. It was spike style and was stored in a socket
under the barrel. When it was needed it was pulled from storage,
reversed, and reinserted into the socket. Like the Lebel and Berthier,
the MAS-36 did not feature a manual safety of any kind.
The French army was still mostly equipped with older rifles by the time
of the Nazi German invasion, as MAS-36 production had been sluggish.
However, many front line units did engage the enemy with the new rifle
and results were encouraging. The occupying German forces designated the
MAS as G.242(f) and often issued the rifles to troops stationed in
France. Following the liberation of the MAS factory, Mle 1936 production
resumed under French management and continued into the 1950s.
Several versions of the rifle were fielded. Probably the most
interesting was the MAS-36 CR39, which was a carbine intended for use by
airborn units and special forces. The cR39 had a short 17.7" barrel,
redesigned forearm, and underfolding metal stock. It also featured a
very unique sling which automatically retracted with the folding of the
stock. About 6,000 original CR39s were manufactured, but many
put-together guns of this style exist today.
Another variant of the rifle was the MAS-36 LG48. The LG48 had the same
48mm grenade launcher attachment as the MAS-49 self-loading rifle.
(An arsenal referbished MAS36/51, with late style phosphated finish) (6)
The final version of the rifle was the MAS-36/51, which was a MAS-36
with a few product improvements and the addition of a standard NATO 22mm
grenade launcher. The MAS-49/56 also featured the same launcher. Both
rifle types often were fielded together at the same time, in the same
The MAS-36 continued to be a front line rifle withh french troops until
the late 1950s. Even after that it could still be found as a substitute
standard rifle and wasn't officially retired from service until 1978,
when the FAMAS was introduced into the French military.
A few MAS36s were brought home by returning GIs after WWII, and in the
1980s, Century imported large quantities of both the 36 and 36/51. Most
all of these imports are in very nice condition, as they were arsenal
referbished in the 1960s or 1970s.
RSC Mle 1917 - 8x50R Ball D & N
(An original M1917 Automatic, with intact gas system but that did have its stock lightly refinished) (7)
The Mle 1949 was the first self-loading battle rifle that France adopted
into full service and produced in very large numbers. In doing this,
the nation lagged behind the United States, Germany, and Soviet Russia
in adopting an automatic rifle for general issue. However, this is
incredibly misleading. If anything France was the first nation to
consider an automatic rifle for every soldier and even did field such
rifles in the First World War, if only in relatively small numbers.
The idea of the MAS-49 dated back to prototypes and plans from the
1890s. After adopting the revolutionary Lebel cartridge a decade
earlier, the French military was not content with what it had. It wanted
to have a clearly superior battle rifle for all of its troops. In 1901,
the ENT B5 rifle was tested in France. This rifle was a self-loader
using the very first direct gas impingement system. It never went
terribly far but would inspire many rifles in the future; from later
FRench designs, to the AG-42 Ljungman, and of course the AR-10.
Several other prototypes were developed and tested in the years leading
up to WWI, and in 1916 a design by Ribeyrolles, Sutter, and Chauchat was
selected for adoption by the French military. After a few more months
of further testing and tweeking, the new automatic rifle was officially
designated as the Fusil Automatique Modèle 1917. It was often called the
RSC too; a tribute to its designers.
The M1917 was a long-stroke gas piston driven automatic rifle, with a
rotating bolt. It fired the standard 8x50mm Lebel cartridge. It fed from
5 round en-bloc clips, which were loaded into the underside of the
receiver. Its cocking handle was located on the right side, there was a
manual safety lever, and a manual bolt hold back toggle. Production
costs were kept down because the RSC used some of the same parts as the
standard Mle 1886 Lebel, including forearm, buttstock, trigger guard,
barrel bands, nose cap, and even the same barrel (though it had to be
modified to work with the gas system of course). In fact, one of the key
reasons why the RSC was selected over the competition was that it was
billed as a self-loading upgrade of the Lebel. The claim was a far
stretch, but as a marketing strategy, it worked well. In 1917 and 1918,
Manufacture d'Armes de Tulle built roughly 82,000 RSC rifles. Most did
not make it to the front until 1918, where they received mixed reviews.
Naturally, soldiers liked their higher rate of fire and having a truely
advanced piece of technology, however it was quickly found that the gas
port was too small and became dirty very quickly. Also, the M1917's
en-bloc clips were rather flimsy and could only be reused a handful of
times. Even worse, they were different from the 5 round clips used by
the M16 Berthier. Though the M1917 was respectably reliable in optimal
conditions, it was quickly rendered a metal club by dirt and mud. It's
action was too exposed and cleaning of the rifle was difficult at the
best of times. Still, it did proove that a self-loading rifle was viable
on the battle field.
In November of 1918, MAT began manufacturing the Mle RSC 1918, which was
a much product improved version of the automatic rifle. This new
version was shorter and lighter, and fed from standard Berthier clips.
It had an automatic last round bolt hold back device and a better
thoughtout gas port system, which made cleaning easier. It came too late
for use in WWI, but did proove itself a superior battle rifle during
various colonial conflicts in the 1920s and 1930s. Only about 4,000
M1918s were built, with production ending in mid 1919.
Not all that many RSCs survived the trenches of WWI and then the various
French colonial campeigns during the 1920s and 1930s. Few survive
totally intact today, and even fewer are in the USA. The ones that are
here were either brought home by soldiers from Europe, or by Interarms
in the 1950s.
MAS Mle 1949 & 49/56 - 7.5x54 Mle 1929
(A 1945 production MAS44, an early pattern of what would become the MAS49)
With the end of hostilities and with the economic troubles of the 1920s
in Europe, research and development into an automatic rifle stalled once
again. The next step forward took place with the MAC designed Mle 1928,
which featured a tilting bolt combined with the return of the direct
impingement gas system. This rifle never made it past the prototype
stage, but was developed into the Mle 1938/39, which was a fully
operational rifle. The only thing to stop the 38/39's fullscale
production and use was the start of another world war. A few such rifles
under the military designation of MAS-40, were used in 1940 against the
The MAS-40 used the by then tried and tested direct gas impengement
system, combined with a tilting bolt. It had an internal box magazine.
As the M1917 used many of the same parts as the M1886, the MAS-40 used
several of the same components as the MAS-36. These included the
furniture, magazine floorplate, and bayonet. The MAS-40 also returned to
having a manual safety, again something first encountered with the
With the liberation of France in 1944, work on the automatic rifle
project immediately resumed. The Navy adopted the MAS Mle 1944 that same
year. The MAS-44 was virtually the same as the MAS-40, except it used a
detachable 10 round magazine and a spike bayonet very similar to the
one found on the MAS-36 rifle. In all, about 6,200 MAS-44 rifles were
built and prooved themselves to be reliable and durable. Still, accuracy
could be improved, at least that was what the french Army thought.
Production was haulted after the war ended, as the French were given
50,000 M1 Garands and 70,000 M1 Carbines by America, so at that time its
armed forces were not in desperate need for self-loading rifles.
However, five years later the army adopted an updated version of the
MAS, designated the Mle 1949. The MAS-49 was made more accurate and was
given a new adjustable rear sight. The rifle was fitted with a 48mm
grenade launcher and had a 23" long barrel. Also the spike bayonet was
deleted from the design, but otherwise it was very similar to the older
MAS-44 rifle. Just as a side note, MAS-49s made for a Syrian contract
did feature the spike bayonet. 20,600 MAS-49s were delivered to the
French military and saw service in many regional conflicts.
Manufacturing costs and politics kept production numbers quite low. On
top of that, the MAS-36 was performing well in Indochina during the
1950s. Nevertheless, one final version of the French self loading rifle
would be introduced.
(A 1960s production MAS49/56, still in the original 7.5mm caliber) (8)
The final version of the self-loading battle rifle adopted into French
service, nearly a half century after the project began, was the
MAS-49/56. The 49/56 was mechanically identical to the MAS-49 but had a
shorter 21" barrel and cut back wooden forestock. A new muzzle brake and
combination 22mm NATO grenade launcher was added to the end of the
barrel. A scope rail on the left side of the receiver was made standard
and the ability to use a blade type bayonet was introduced. All 49/56s
came standard with removable night sights. Over 275,000 MAS-49/56 rifles
were produced, dworfing the original production run for the MAS-49.
The new self-loading rifle remained in front line service well into the
1970s and was finally retired in 1979 after the adoption of the FAMAS
bullpup assault rifle. Still dedicated sniper versions of the MAs
continued to be used until the 1990s, when France finally retired the
7.5x54mm caliber. After the rifles were declared surplus they were
returned to arsenals and referbished. They remained in warehousing for a
few years and then were sold off as military surplus, along with older
MAS-36 and 36/51 rifles.
MAS44s, MAS49s, and MAS49/56s can all be found in the USA today, though
the former are rather uncommon. Most are in great condition, as like
with the MAS36s, they were referbished during the 1970s before being
sold off as surplus. The exception to this though are the Syrian
contract MAS49s, which are often in only decent used condition. Century
was a major importer for these rifles during the 1980s and 1990s. Be
aware of MAS49/56s rechambered for .308, as these are not factory
conversions but were done by the importer.
MAS Mle 1892 Revolver - 8mm Black powder and smokeless
(An early production M1892 in nice working order) (9)
The Mle 1892 revolver was essentually a scaled down version of the older
Mle 1873 design. It utilized a Galand-Schmidt type action. The 73 fired
a relatively weak 11mm black powder cartridge. In the early 1890s
Manufacture d'armes de Saint-Etienne developed the 92 to fire the then
new 8x27mm Ordnance cartridge. Soon after the handgun's introduction,
the powder in the cartridge was switched to smokeless, without having to
change the Mle 1892. The frame was strong enough to take the additional
pressures. Still, the 8mm cartridge remained of only medium power, but
at least was lighter and smaller with less felt recoil for the shooter.
This revolver entered into production in 1892 and continued to be
manufactured until 1924. French Arsenals continued to referbish
revolvers until at least 1930. Though it was officially declared
obsolete in 1935, the 1892 remained in active service until the end of
WWII. It was known for being especially well made, with many little
cosmetic features with no real purpose such as the hexagonal topped
barrel. It was double action with a swing out cylinder. The cylinder
rotated out the right side of the handgun after a large lever, which
resembled an old fashion loading gate, was pulled rearwards. The pistol
could easily be disassembled by removing a single large screw on the
right side of the frame.
Often times these pistols are mistakenly referred to as "Lebel 1892" but
this is incorrect. Col. Lebel was not associated with the design in
anyway, and was actually dead by the time of its introduction. Like the
Mle 1886 rifle, the revolver was an interesting mix of traditional and
modern features, for the late 19th century.
The M1892 has been imported into the USA in rather large numbers for a
long time. Many of these pistols are Antiques as they were manufactured
before 1898, and thus are not considered as true modern, useable
firearms. The majority have been arsenal rebuilt at least once.
MAB Mle C & D - 7.65x17mm & 9x17mm
(A MAB Mod. D manufactured immediately after WWII, with original grips and sights)
During World War I, France bought thousands and thousands of small
caliber pocket pistols. Most of these were clones of the Spanish Ruby in
7.65x17mmSR Browning. Some Savage M1907s in the same caliber were also
bought from America. Nevertheless, the standard issue French sidearm
remained the M1892 revolver.
In 1933, the French firm Manufacture d'armes de Bayonne introduced a
7.65mm caliber pistol of French design, the MAB Model C. The C was
loosely based on both the Browning M1910 and Ruby pistols. It was mainly
intended for civilian use, but many found their ways into the hands of
police and a few even into military service. The C's magazine held 7
rounds, it was striker fired with combination safety and slide lock, and
it was quite compact.
A short time later, the MAB Model D was introduced. The D was intended
for police and military use and was quite successful in this role. It
had a longer slide and barrel combined with a longer grip and extended 9
shot magazine. So it was to the MAB Model C, as the FN M1910 was to the
FN M1922; a larger version for more serious duety. Otherwise, the MAB D
was the same as the C. The D served with various departments well into
the 1960s and beyond. Most noteably, It was used by the Bank of France.
The French Army also purchased tens of thousands of the Mod D, beginning
in 1939, with new orders as late as the 1950s.
Early pistols, today known as the Type I had a release button to remove
the barrel bushing; a feature taken from the FN-Browning. After the
SEcond World War, MAB changed this with the Type II. With the II, the
bushing now simply had to be pressed inwards and rotated for
disassembly. The extractor also changed, going from a milled piece, to
one formed from stamped steel. Both pistols were chambered for 7.65mm
(.32) and 9mm Kurz (.380). Production finally ended in 1980, right
before MAB itself went out of business. Many pistols remained in police
service throughout the decade, before being sold off as surplus in the
It should be noted that after 1968, some MAB Mod. Ds had to be altered
to be allowed for importation into the USA. In its standard form, the
pistol does not have enough 'Points' to qualify as 'Sporting' under
Federal law. Thus some had their flat checkered bakelite grip panels,
replaced with ones made of wood and with a 'target' thumbrest. Others
had their fixed rear sights replaced with ones which were click
adjustable and which were also considered as a 'target' feature.
Thankfully, both of these changes are reversable, and it is even legal
to do so after the actual importation process itself.
SACM Mle 1935-A - 7.65x20mm Longue
(A M1935-A produced following WWII around 1945, and modified for police carry with the addition of a lanyard staple)
By the 1930s, it was clear that France's mix of revolvers and small
caliber automatics was not acceptable for a modern large military, and
most were obsolete anyway. In 1935, Commission d’Experiences Techniques
de Versailles ordered trials to be held for selecting a new French
standard service sidearm. Requirements were given and several firearm
manufacturers set out to create a pistol in hopes of winning the
Charles Petter, a Swiss born engineer living in France at the time, was
one such designer. He came up with what would become the Pistolet
automatique modèle 1935A, which would be produced and marketed by
Société Alsacienne de Construction Mécanique (SACM). The Mle 1935-A
stole several design elements from the Browning High Power, itself an
entry in the trials by FN of Belgium. It also had some unique features
all its own like the safety and loaded chamber indicator. The pistol had
a somewhat unique finish as well. It was first phosphated grey, and
then painted black. This was done to better protect against rusting in
tropical colonies and to make referbishment easier.
The 7.65x20mm Longue caliber itself was dictated by the Commission's
requirements and was derived from the failed .30 Pedersen caliber.
Ironically with this caliber, France continued to make the same mistake
of adopting a relatively weak handgun cartridge. That said, it was still
signifigantly more powerful than 7.65mm Browning / .32 Auto.
After delays and postponements, the trials were finally held in 1937. It
was not surprising that foreign made guns like the FN High Power lost
out. It seemed clear from the outset that the military was quite
determined to adopt a French design. The 1935-A passed along with
another French produced pistol; the Mle 1935S. The military chose the
1935-A and placed an initial order with SACM. Manufacturing
difficulties caused the first pistols not to be delivered to the army
until 1939. About 10,700 pistols were in the hands of the military when
the Germans invaded in 1940.
Under German occupation, SACM continued to produce the pistol, with the
new designation of P.625(F). These pistols were given mostly to Germans
stationed in France and trusted French collaboraters. After the war,
production for the French military resumed, with an eventual total of
85,000 pieces having been made. The last Mle 1935-A was produced in
Probably the most important contribution to the history of firearms that
this pistol can have ascribed to it is that SiG bought a license to
make it. SiG used the 35-A as a starting point for their P.210 pistol
series (aka P49 in Swiss military service), commonly thought to be the
finest military handgun ever devised. Like the P210, the Mle 1935-A was
known for above average accuracy for a service sidearm.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Interarms imported some of these pistols
into the USA; however, they were not popular and did not sell for much,
due to their obscure caliber. A few others were brought back by GIs
stationed in Europe during the war. Some may have even come back with
soldiers from Vietnam; taken from the Vietnamese who got them from the
MAS Mle 1935 S & 1935 S M1 - 7.65x20mm Longue
(A M1935-S made by MAC in the late 1940s, this is the M1 variant) (10)
A contemporary of the Mle 1935-A, the 1935 S was a competing design in
the 1935-1937 trials for a new military sidearm. The Pistolet
automatique modèle 1935S was created and manufactured by Manufacture
Nationale d'Armes de Saint-Étienne (MAS). The 35S shared many of the
same design features as the 35A but was a totally different design, with
a separate development track. The reason both pistols seem so alike was
that both were specifically created to enter into the commission's
trial and both met all the requirements laid out in it. Both were based
on the 1911 and used a modified Browning locking system. Also, both held
8 rounds and had loaded chamber indicators and magazine disconnect
safeties. The Mle 1935-S's barrel was about 4mm shorter than that of the
1935-A's. Its slide was even shorter as the last bit of the muzzle of
the 1935-S was exposed. Early pistols were blued, with later ones being
made with a dark phosphated finish. Probably the biggest difference
between the two designs was the shape and angle of their grip and frame.
Though the Mle 1935S lost out in 1937, in 1938 the military ordered some
of the pistols from MAS when SACM failed to deliver the first 1935A
pistols on schedule. by the time of the German occupation, 1,400 35S
pistols were in use by the military. Production of this pistol did not
continue under German rule because workers at the MAS factory hid or
destroyed the plans and tools for creating it. Production resumed in
1944, when the area of the factory was liberated by the Allies. In all,
MAS produced about 7,000 Mle 1935S pistols. From 1944 until 1956, other
manufacturers stepped into produce the pistols, since MAS was mostly
tighed up with producing rifles and machineguns at that time. Probably
the most famous maker of this pistol was Manufacture Nationale d’Armes
de Chatellerault (MAC) who went on to turnout over 56,000 pieces. In
total about 83,000 pistols had been made when production ended in 1956,
just a couple thousand less than the actual standard service sidearm.
In 1946, the 35S's safety was altered to be more like the 35A's. This
officially became the Mle 1935 S M1 in 1947. Most all of these pistols
were made by MAC. Like with the 35A, the 35S was phased out of military
service in the 1950s, in favour of the new Mle 1950. However, most
French forces fighting in Indochina during that decade were still
equipped with the older 1935 models.
The M1935-S was brought into the USA, along the same routes as the M1935-A.
Mauser Mle 1938 - 9x19mm Parabellum
(An SVW45 P.38, manufactured as part of the 'h' block in the Autumn of 1945) (11)
after the war ended in 1945, the French found themselves in pocession of
the Mauser/DWM factory. To replace firearms lost during the war, the
French government ordered the factory reactivated. For about a year,
various Mauser firearms were built, such as the HSC, K98, and P.38.
Reportedly, even a few P.08 Lugers were turned out.
Production of P.38s resumed in May of 1945, under French supervision.
Serieals began in the 'g' suffix block, where Nazi German production
haulted in the middle of the 'f' range. The factory code of SVW was
retained, along with the two digit datecode. These pistols were built
with leftover parts from the war, which were in various stages of
completion. Some even had Nazi Waffenampt acceptance markings, but all
also had the French Star proof mark on key parts.
These postwar assembled P.38s had a grey phosphated finish to the metal
parts, which has earned them the nickname of 'Grey Ghost.' Early
examples were fitted with latewar shiny black plastic grips, but most
came with postwar pressed steel panels. The original idea for steel
grips seems to have been another latewar idea from Mauser, aimed at
conserving resources. Most of the time, magazines made during the war
were reconditioned, with a new phosphated finish, and used with these
In all, around 50,000 French P.38s were produced, with manufacturing
ending in 1946, when Soviet Russia objected to the use of the wartime
Mauser factory. Many pistols went to the French military, especially the
Foreign Legeon. Some also went to various police agencies throughout
France and her colonies. Production rran into the 'k' suffix range.
Also, there was another small run in the early 1950s. This run was in
the 'l' range and consisted of pistols built in France by MAS, which
used leftover parts taken from the Mauser factory before it was leveled.
They were blued; not phosphated and most went to the police.
The P.38 served with French troops in Indochina and some were even
brought home by returning American GIs from Vietnam as war trophies.
Others went to Africa, while many more never left France. These were
bought by Interarms in the late 1960s and were sold as surplus on the
civilian market. Others were sold to the Austrian military in the 1950s,
who had adopted the P.38 as its standard issue sidearm during WWII. For
a brief time, the P.38 was a common sidearm in the French military. It
was afterall more powerful than the Mle 1935, and featured a DA trigger,
with decocker. It was durable and reliable; and above all, it cost the
French virtually nothing to manufacture, since the design, tooling, and
parts were taken from Germany as partial war reperations.
MAC Mle 1950 - 9x19mm NATO/Parabellum
(An early M1950 made by MAC, and imported by Interarms from East Asia in the 1960s) (12)
In 1946, the French military announced a desire for a new service pistol
chambered for the more powerful and standard 9mm cartridge. Many in the
military discovered a liking for this caliber, after using it in the
P.38. Manufacture d'armes de Châtellerault developed the Mle 1950 to
fulfill this requirement. The MAC-50 was basically a scaled up Mle
1935s, built larger and more durable to take the 9x19mm standard NATO
cartridge. It did borrow its grip angle/shape from the M1935-A though.
The MAC-50 was a single action automatic pistol with the same basic
safety arrangement as the Mle 1935A and Mle 1935S M1. Its magazine held 9
rounds and most of the metal parts had a dark phosphated finish.
The pistol was officially adopted into service in 1951, as the Modele
1950. It was also at times named the MAC-50 and PA-50. Fullscale
production began at MAC starting in 1956 and continued until 1963. In
1961, MAS picked up Mle 1950 manufacturing, which lasted til 1978. In
total about 342,000 pieces were made over two decades.
The MAC-50 was known for being very durable and reliable, thanks to its
rather straight-forward and simple design. It was well suited for harsh
environments. Its major drawback was the fact that it was not all that
accurate for a fullsized 9mm. It was definitely less accurate than
either of its predecessors in 7.65mm Longue. The pistol remained the
standard sidearm in France until 1988, when it was replaced by the PAMAS
G1. The G1 was a licensed built copy of the Beretta M92G. The MAC-50
enjoyed a brief twilight career in 2000, when several pistols were
re-issued after it was discovered that G1 pistols started to exhibit
frames with stress cracks. MAC-50s are still in use with police and a
handful of military units in France today, but most have been put into
long term storage or simply scrapped.
There are very few of these pistols in the USA today. During the early
to mid 1960s, Interarms imported 250 pieces found in East Asia. A few
more were brought home by returning GIs from Vietnam, and really thats
it. Like I said, not many at all.
MAB PA-15 - 9x19mm Parabellum/NATO
(A typical PA-15 imported probably during the early to mid 1970s)
The PA-15 was first introduced by Manufacture d'armes de Bayonne in
1966. It was a traditional Single- Action Only fullsized handgun, firing
the standard 9x19mm cartridge. It used a delayed blowback system, which
made use of a Savage style rotating barrel. This system meant the
pistol could digest virtually any 9mm loading, but the trade off was
that it had a rather stout return spring. This meant that the slide
required considerable force to retract.
The PA-15 was unique in its day for holding the highest number of rounds
in a handgun. Its magazine could hold up to 15 cartridges, 2 more than
the FN-Browning P35 High Power, which up until the PA-15 was the highest
capacity standard production automatic.
The PA-15 was built nearly entirely from machined/milled parts,
including the magazine floorplate and follower. In fact, it only had 2
stamped steel components, one of which was the magazine disconnect
safety arm. It was fitted with hard rubber grip panels and had a
Browning style thumb safety on the left side of the frame.
In addition to its large capacity, MAB's pistol boasted superior
accuracy compared to France's then standard service sidearm, the MAC-50.
It had a smooth and crisp SAO trigger, with well placed and easy to
activate controls. Its grip was large but despite that, it was still
quite ergonomic. The downside to the PA-15 was that it was rather costly
and time consuming to build. Also, by the 1970s, its SAO trigger system
was starting to look rather outdated compared to newer handgun designs.
Though the PA-15 was never officially adopted into French military
service, several thousand were purchased for evaluation and to be used
by special forces type units. These went to the Army, Air Force, and
Gendarmerie. Others were used by various French police agencies. Several
were also bought by the Finnish Boarder Guards in 1975.
Some pistols were blued, while others were parkerized. Late in
production, the name on the pistol itself was changed to simply read
P-15. MAB went out of business in 1982, and with it the PA-15
disappeared from general mass production. In total, at least 100,000
pistols were manufactured over a 15 year run. During the 1990s, a few
more were assembled from leftover spare parts, by a privately owned
French firearms dealer.
Various importers sold the PA-15 in the USA during the 1970s and 1980s.
These included Interarms and Howco. The pistol sold decently well and
was well regarded, however a lack of spare parts and magazines kept it
from becoming a true commercial success. That and its rather hefty
pricetag that is.
Notes On My French Friends:
Just a few comments and stories on some of my firearms. The ones not
listed below are just your normal old "found it and bought it" story,
without anything real unique to say about anything.
(1) R35 Lebel - Not a long story with this one. It is an earlier R35. I
received it off a nice gentleman who had cancer and was selling off
things to help out with the bills. I also got my Papa Nambu off of him. I
wish him the best and hope he made it through. I still have both guns
and i feel he gave me very fair deals. When i received this one, i told
my wife i bought it for my dad.
(2) M1892 Berthier - This old gal has definitely been around. Its an
original early M92 in the original stock, still in the original 3 shot
configuration. It has multiple stock repairs and I doubt a single damn
part matches; and I love it. Its so short and light and late 19th
century. The barrel is dated 1919, so it was referbished, at least to
some extent after WWI.
(3) M1907/15 M16 Berthier - I bought this one in an online auction as
the description clearly stated that it held 3 shots, so i naturally
thought it was an original M07/15. When i received it though, i was
dismayed to feel the extended 5 shot mag right away. Turns out the
seller didn't know anything about Berthiers, and just copy/pasted
Berthier stats straight from wikipedia. Five minutes of checking would
have told him it was a 5 shot, but i decided to keep it anyway as its in
real decent shape for a Berthier rifle.
(4) M92/16 Berthier - Because of the above long rifle being an M16
pattern, i ended up selling this little guy, to get a 3 shot carbine. I
was aiming to have 1 carbine and 1 rifle, with 1 3 shot and 1 5 shot you
see. Anyway, i picked this guy up while in Portland, OR in 2007. It was
hanging out at a shop, along with an M1892 revolver. I bought it and
left the revolver behind. It was very fun bringing it back to the hotel
and then onto the plane. All worked out fine though.
(5) MAS-36 - This is one of the most personal, and special guns in my
collection. I have told the story many times in TFR, so if you already
know it, feel free to skip ahead. I received this rifle from a dear
friend (and all-around great and well loved man), about 8 years ago, not
long before he died from cancer at the age of 60. His dad was a friend
of my dad's (who is 72 now) but i never met him myself. Anyway, About a
dozen years ago, we were going through my friend's various safes, and he
pulled out this old MAS36 rifle, with its original sling. He said his
dad brought it back from Europe in late 1945. He had faught there for
years in the war. I didn't buy it that day, nor even offer. Afterall, it
was his dad's war trophy, however i asked to see it more than a few
times over the next couple years. I forget now what exactly started it,
but one day when i was visiting him, he pulled it out and said "Are
you sure you want this old thing?" I of course said Yes...and he let me
buy it for $100, which was really just a toaken amount so i could say i
bought it rather than had it gifted to me. A few weeks later, i took it
out shooting and it did fine, but just as a little joke, i called my
friend and said it blew up! You see he had no clue if it would still
work as he never had any 7.5mm French to try in it and he warned me of
this. I had him going there for a bit, but then told him and we had a
good laugh. There are very very few guns in my collection that i would
say i'd never sell, but this is one of them. At least not until I myself
am old and happen to find a young kid who is weird and likes obscure
French bolt actions that is. Afterall, in the end, most of our firearms
will out last us. I am this rifle's 3rd owner in the USA, and I am sure
not the last. Bobby, I miss you..we all do. Thanks for being a mentor
and also teaching me how to BS about absolutely nothing for hours on
(6) MAS-36/51 - While these seem to be rather common online, this is the
only one I've seen here locally. A few years ago my dad was out of town
and visited a pawnshop. He called me to say they had a French rifle and
at first i thought it was just a normal MAS36. When he told me it had a
grenade launcher on the end, i immediately wanted it. Asking price was
something like $250, so not bad for a B&M store. I had my dad drive
me back there the next day to look at it. It was the only really
military gun in the shop, and i dickered the guy down to $200 out the
door. Nice guy, nice rifle, and one i really enjoy having. All the
grenade stuff on the end of the barrel adds more weight than one might
think too. Not sure when this one was built or turned into a 36/51, but
the buttplate is dated 1951.
(7) RSC M1917 - This is my most recent French rifle, and one of the 2
reasons i decided to revisit the French Thread. Back in May, there was
an RSC M1917 online that never sold. That seller offered it to me at a
good price and i took it, as these just don't come around too often.
Between me paying for that one and it arriving here, amazingly I found a
second one, for even less money...a lot less money. Both were supposed
to be in original self-loading configuration, with a complete gas
system, however the first was not and was plugged. The second, and the
one i kept obviously, still works in semi-auto and is one of the prides
in my entire collection now. Someone cleaned up the stock a bit, but
honestly for what i have in it and as rare as these are; i just don't
give a shit. I honestly never thought I would own one of these, in any
(8) MAS-49/56 - This is another find of my dad's. About 10 years ago, he
calls me on a rainy Saturday saying he found a French MAS at a shop. He
described it and i immediately wanted it, as at that time i was
building my WWII self-loader collection and i already had 1 MAS36 in
7.5mm. The 49/56 came with: 2 mags, mag pouch, sling, night sight unit,
cleaning kit in leather pouch, and rubber grenade buttplate. The shop
was willing to throw in 40 rounds of commercial ammo for it too, all
for....$150 out the door! My dad brought it home to me that evening and
I've had it ever since.
(9) M1892 Ordnance - Remember how I said when i bought my first M92/16,
there was an M1892 revolver at the store too but i didn't buy it? Well
that lasted a day. After sleeping on it, i called the store again and
they still had it, so i begged a ride back and took the revolver home
with me too. Its just in nice condition, especially for one with a 1892
barrel date. Since it was an Antique, i had less difficulties getting it
on the plane with me too.
(10) M1935-S - Since i can't drive, i do rely on others to find some
stuff for me, especially in the past when good deals could still be
found sometimes at gunshows or in pawnshops. This little guy i got
because of my friend Marty. He was at a show and met a guy with a table
who had several French handguns on it. I'd been wanting a M1935 for a
while and he picked me out this one. I got it that evening, along with
the phone # of the guy with the table. In the end, i have bought several
guns off of him over the years, including my SWedish M94/14 carbine, my
first M1935-A, a P.38, and one i really love; my Lahti L-35 (it was his
dad's who bought it direct from Interarms in the late 1950s). So this
M1935-S was kind of a gateway gun for me and i met a nice guy because of
(11) P.38 SVW45 - Not much story here. This is my second 'Grey Ghost' as
i sold my original one when a customer really wanted it. I found this
one down at Collector's Firearms in TX, and as always they worked with
me on pricing and it is as advertised. Anyway, with my interest in all
things Walther and French, this one is a natural cross-roads in my
collection. Also, those metal grips add a considerable amount of weight
and are very sturdy.
(12) M1950 - This is the second reason i decided to revisit this thread.
After more than half a dozen years of visiting gunshows, gunstores, and
searching Gunbroker at least twice a week (every week), i finally ...
finally, found a French MAC-50! I was beginning to wonder if i ever
would? About 6 years ago, I did have a chance to buy one from a local
store i know well. The reason i didn't was it was a Vietnam bring back,
with no finish left and home made grips. Also it rattled like a set of
spoons. I really wanted a nicer, more original example; but recently
I've been regretting not picking that one up anyway, even if it wasn't
what i really wanted. Now though, i am glad i held out for a pretty nice
example. With only a few hundred in the country, you can't be too
picky, but i do think i got a good one. Its solid and i plan to shoot
it, but I haven't yet. I paid a fair price for it and the seller was
great to work with. In fact, we've been chatting over e-mail ever since i
first found his auction. I am even selling him a couple guns now, and
doing so at cost to return the favour he did me of selling me something
I've wanted for so long. Yes, I know the pistol itself really probably
isn't something all that special but that's ok. It really fits my
collection and i like how it feels. The damn thing is built like a tank.
It really reminds me more of a Soviet handgun than anything else. Just a
simple, durable, reliable sidearm; without any frills or extras
what-so-ever.....and i love it! It fits my hand great too, so I can't
wait to try shooting it someday.