Friday, May 28, 2010

Day 15: Vive Fusils Français

Just recently I had the opportunity to purchase a MAS 36/51, the infamous French rifle of the early to mid 20th century. At first, like so many others, I was a little ignorant and clueless about the MAS 36/51 but after a couple solid days of research I ended up bringing home a neat piece of history.

History of the MAS 36 series

The MAS Modèle 36 like many of France’s firearms previously adopted was created at Manufacture d'armes de Saint-Étienne, hence the prefix on its designation – MAS.

The MAS 36 was most well known for being the main battle rifle of the French during World War Two however this is only partially true. Many people do not know that originally the MAS 36 could not be outfitted to all troops during the early part of the war, and were reserved for only frontline troops that would bare the majority of the German onslaught. Soldiers that found themselves in the rear, fighting in French colonies, or with a more logistical role were often using Lebel or Berthier rifles when MAS 36 rifles could not be supplied. Later in the war the more outdated rifles were phased out and French soldiers began to use the MAS 36 and the British Lee Enfield (to an extent).

After World War Two the French continued to use the MAS 36 extensively as it began to consolidate colonial territories. In 1949 the French adopted the semi automatic MAS 49 and began to issue it to the frontline troops of the time. While the MAS 36 was still being used it was no longer the “new kid on the block” and in 1951 the French military began retrofitting MAS36 with the ability to launch the standard 22mm NATO rifle grenade.

The new designation for the rifle was MAS 36/51 and had found a home back on the frontline allowing extra firepower on the squad level.

This new variant of the rifle saw much turbulence as France defended itself from insurgent forces in The First Indo-China war (1946-54) and the Algerian War (1954-62). The MAS 36 even found its way into the Suez Crisis (1956). The MAS 36/51 served its user well up until the time it was pulled from service well into the 1960s, a truly amazing run of over 30 years of combat action.

Mechanics of the MAS 36/51

At the end of the Great War the French took ideas implemented by rifles of the major participating countries, both allied and enemy. Some of these include the bent curve found on the American P1917 Enfield, the 5 round box magazine of the German Gewehr, and the design of the locking lugs on the bolt from the British Lee Enfield. They took these concepts and designs and formulated an extremely robust rifle that would last many years even in the toughest combat environments.

The MAS 36 series has a cool feature that can’t be found on many other rifles. Beneath the barrel a chamber holds the bayonet until needed, and then at that point it can just be flipped around and locked into that very same chamber to secure it for use. A cool feature for sure!

Unlike the early MAS 36s the MAS 36/51 is equipped with items to allow it to fire a wide assortment of rifle grenades. The upgrades in 1951 installed a very intricate grenade launching sight and spigot to affix the projectile too. With these installed the user can fire high explosive, anti-tank, and general purpose grenades up to 400m, a tremendous addition to the standard rifleman’s arsenal.

The MAS 50 years later…

I had a great opportunity when buying this rifle. The gentlemen whom I bought it from originally purchased it in 1999 and had never shot it. When I picked it up it was still covered in packing grease I can only imagine was from the 1960s when it was taken out of service.

Overall thoughts on the rifle are pretty high. The rifle is built like a tank and the weight for such a relatively short rifle shows it. The sights are crude but allows for a soldier or even untrained peasant to be considerably accurate. The action of the bolt is not smooth or crisp but gives the feeling of robustness. Overall the MAS 36 feels like the AK47 of its day, it’s just unfortunate that it never got the repertoire to go along with it.

That’s it for now, stayed tuned more to come.

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