French World War II small arms: part II: as the war wore on, French troops made an ever-greater contribution to the liberation of their homeland,-using an eclectic assortment of machine guns, submachine guns and pistols.
While only limited numbers of Free French took part in the Sicilian invasion, approximately 130,000 Free French and indigenous soldiers fought in Italy through the end of the war.
As was mentioned in Part I of this report (Issue 14), France's first "modern" post-1918 military firearm was the Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1924 designed at Manufacture d'Armes de Chatellerault. (1) It was chambered for a 7.5mm rimless cartridge with a case 58mm in length but the inevitable accidents that occurred when plentiful World War I surplus 7.9x57 ammunition was accidently fired in the new machine gun led to the cartridge case being shortened by 4mm. The resulting 7,5mm Balle Modele 1929 C was loaded with a 140-gr. spitzer bullet with a rated muzzle velocity of 2600 fps and the weapon was re-designated the Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1924/29.
The Modele 1924/29 was a gas-operated weapon that used a locking system based upon the Browning Automatic Rifle's, with a top-mounted 25-round magazine. Selective fire was achieved by means of dual triggers, the rear for full auto and the front for semiauto. It was fitted with a wooden butt and forearm and folding bipod.
The Mle. 1924/29 proved a complete success. It was easy to maintain, accurate, and capable of standing up to abuse. Large numbers were produced at Manufacture d'Armes de Chatellerault (MAC) and Saint-Etienne (MAS) and it quickly replaced the detested Chauchat. By 1939, the Modele 1924/29 was standard issue with all front-line units of army and la Legion Etrangere in addition to some indigenous units in France's overseas colonies.
Wait a minute! Perhaps some of you don't understand what I meant by the "... detested Chauchat"? Perhaps we should backtrack a bit.
Designed in the dark days of early World War I, the Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1915 was designed to give the French infantry squad a lightweight, easily transportable, fully automatic weapon that could be operated by a two-man crew. It used a long recoil operating system designed by Col. Jacques Louis Chauchat, and Charles Sutter of the Puteaux arsenal.
The Modele 1915 was constructed primarily from sheet metal stampings, the barrel and bolt being the only machined parts. It was produced at the Gladiator Usine de Motocyclette et Bicyclette factory in Paris, with many parts supplied by subcontractors.
The names of the designers, plant manager, and factory were combined to produce the weapon's synonyms, the C.S.R.G. (2) Known as the "Chauchat," overall quality was poor, resulting in less than optimal reliability. But they could be produced quickly and in large numbers--which was all the French army asked for.
The Modele 1915 fired from an open bolt and was fed by a curved, bottom-mounted magazine whose open sides permitted the gunner to know how many rounds were available, but also allowed dirt and debris to enter the action, to the further detriment of reliability.
Beginning in 1917, additional Modele 1915s were produced by Forges et Acieries de la Marine a Homecourt, but the design's endemic weaknesses were never corrected.
When World War II broke out, many French reserve formations were still armed with World War I weapons, including the Modele 1915. After the fall of France, captured Modele 1915s were used by some unfortunate German occupation troops in the anti-aircraft role and to equip bunkers on the Atlantic Wall.
As Free French units began to experience shortages of 7,5mm ammunition, and with the normal attrition of weapons due to combat, they began receiving small arms from their British allies. Among these were one of the best (if not the best) magazine-fed light machine guns of the war, the Gun, Machine, Bren, .303-inch, Mark I.
After World War I the British army began trials to find a replacement for the heavy, cumbersome Lewis light machine gun. In the mid-1930s, it settled on a modified copy of the Czechoslovak lehky kulomet (light machine gun) vz. 26.
Known as the Bren Gun after its place or origin--Ceska Zbrojovka arms works in Brno--and place of manufacture--Enfield Arsenal--it was a gas-operated weapon with a top-mounted 30-round magazine. It had a quick-change barrel and could be fired from a bipod or mounted on a tripod.
The Bren proved a rugged, reliable and easy to use design and was immensely popular with the troops. It was manufactured at Enfield, John Inglis, Ltd. in Canada and the Ishapore Arsenal in India.
Large numbers were used by Free French forces through the end of the war, and additional numbers were provided to the FFI in occupied France who considered it "... the most useful weapon provided to the 'maquis' ... accurate up to 1,000 meters, and could withstand immense maltreatment and unskilled use. 'Resistants' were constantly pleading for maximum drops of Brens." (3)
As with No. 4 Lee-Enfield rifles (see Part I), the Germans provided captured Bren guns to the Vichy government, which issued some to their paramilitary militia, the Milice francaise.
Along with M1903, M1917 and Ml rifles and M1 Carbines, the U.S. provided the Free French with the American Army's standard squad automatic weapon, the U.S. Automatic Rifle, Caliber: .30, M1918 (Browning), the legendary "BAR."
Designed by John M. Browning late in World War I, the BAR was a gas-operated, selective fire rifle with a twenty round magazine. It was designed by to be used by a two-man team (gunner and ammo carrier), and while fitted with a bipod, was more often fired from the shoulder. While the relatively small magazine capacity and lack of a quick-change barrel reduced its rate of fire, light weight and reliability made them a favorite with American soldiers and Marines.
I have been unable to find many photos of BARs in service with Free French forces, and most of these appear to be with units of the 2e Division Blindee (2nd Armored Division) in France and the 1st Free French Division in Italy. Even in those units equipped with U.S. rifles, Bren guns seemed to predominate.
Handguns have always featured prominently in the French armed forces. In fact, France was the first country to adopt a cartridge-firing revolver when in 1858 the navy took the Lefaucheux Pistolet-Revolver Modele 1858 pinfire revolver into service. This was followed by the Revolver d'Ordnnance Modele 1873, chambered for an 11mm centerfire cartridge.
In 1887, it was decided to adopt a smallbore revolver cambered for an 8mm cartridge. Designed, made and produced by Manufacture d'armes de Saint-Etienne, it used a variation of the Galand-Schmidt swing out cylinder action and was designated the 8mm Revolver d'Ordonnance Modele 1892. It was unique in that the cylinder swung out to the right ("wrong" way) for loading and unloading.
The issue cartridge, the 8mm Cartouche Modele 1892, consisted of a straight-walled, rimmed case 27mm in length loaded with a charge of blackpowder that propelled a 120-gr. flat nosed, full metal-jacketed (FMJ) bullet moving at 740 fps.
Increased demand for handguns during World War I forced the French to turn to place orders for vast numbers of crude 7,65mm Browning (.32 ACP) blowback pistols, known generically as Pistolet Automatique type Ruby, with the Basque gunmakers of Spain. In addition, the Basques provided copies of Colt and S&W revolvers known Revolver Modele 92 espagnol chambered for the 8mm Cartouche Modele 1892.
At the outbreak of World War II, the Modele 92 was still in service with many front line units and most reservists, as were the Basque-made pistols and revolvers.
In 1927, the French announced that any new service pistol must be chambered for a new 7,65mm cartridge developed by l'Etablissement d'Experience Technique de Versailles. It was basically a copy of the .30 Pedersen that U.S. Army developed in 1918 for use in the semi-secret Pedersen device.
The final design, the Cartouche de 7,65L pour pistolet (the "L" stood for Longue--Long--to differentiate it from the shorter 7,65mm Browning) utilized a straight-walled, rimless case 20mm in length topped with an 85-gr. round-nosed FMJ bullet moving at a velocity of 1175 fps.
Trials for a new service pistol began in 1934, and by 1936, the winner was a pistol submitted by the firm of Societe Alsacienne de Constructions Mecaniques designed by Charles Gabriel Petter.
Known as the Pistolet Automatique Modele 1935A, it used the Browning short-recoil, locked breech system and featured an en bloc lock work that could be removed from the pistol as a unit for cleaning and repairs.
Production was fitful, and by the fall of France in June 1940, only 10,700 pistols had been produced.
In an attempt to acquire additional modern weapons, the French army accepted a simplified pistol designed by MAS, designated the Pistolet Automatique Modele 1935S.
MAS only delivered 1,404 pistols before the Wehrmacht occupied Saint-Etienne, but factory workers were able to hide key 1935S tooling and machinery, so no 1935S pistols were produced during the German occupation of France.
Once Free French troops used up their limited supplies of 8mm and 7,5mmL ammunition, they were provided with large numbers of handguns by the British, the Pistol, Revolver, No 2. Mark I, .380 inch (Enfield) and Pistol, Revolver, Webley .380 inches, Mark IV.
Both were top-break, double-action revolvers with 5-inch barrels and chambered for the Cartridge, SA, Ball, .380 inch Mark 2 whose rimmed, straight walled case contained a 178-gr. FMJ bullet at a rated muzzle velocity of 700 fps.
Thanks to the largess of Lend Lease, the Free French were provided with U.S. handguns including the M1911 and M1911A1 pistols and S&W and Colt M1917 revolvers. All of these are so well known there's no need to cover their development and use. It should be mentioned that the M1911A1 was highly regarded by French special forces, with many remaining in service through the 1960s.
By the time of the D-Day invasion of France, Free French forces numbered more than 400,000 strong. One hundred and seventy-seven men of the ler Bataillon de
Fusiliers Marins Commandos (Marine Commandos) were the first Allied troops to step foot on French soil. Nine hundred Free French paratroopers landed as part of the British Special Air Service (SAS) Brigade while the 2e Division Blindee (2nd Armored Division)--under Gen. Philippe Leclerc--landed at Utah Beach in Normandy on 1 August 1944 together with other follow-on Free French forces, eventually led the drive toward Paris.
While the submachine gun proved one of the most widely used, and popular, weapons of World War II, the prewar French army showed little interest in them. In 1939, a large number of defeated Spanish Republicans fled to France, where they surrendered in excess of 3,000 Erma-Vollmer EMP submachine guns. The French tested the weapons and decided to adopt them as the Pistolet-mitrailleur Erma-Vollmer de 9mm but due to lack of magazines only 700-800 EMPs were issued to the Mobile Gendarmerie.
In 1938, MAS presented the French army with a unique submachine gun which was adopted as the Pistolet-mitrailleur MAS Modele 1938. It was an odd-looking weapon built on a square receiver with a wooden buttstock and long, unsupported barrel. The trigger was folded forward to set it on "safe." A well-made, reliable, blowback operated weapon, it was hampered by being chambered for the unimpressive 7,65L cartridge
Few Modele 1938s were manufactured before the Fall of France. Some were used by the Vichy Milice, while the Germans issued others to their occupation troops as the 7,65mm Machinenpistole 722(f). Production continued during and after World War II, and significant numbers saw service during the fighting in Indo-China.
With war clouds building, in 1939 the French government purchased 3,800 M1921 Thompson submachine guns from Colt. Known as the Pistolet-mitrailleur Thompson de 11.25mm, Modele 1921, it is unknown how many arrived before the Fall of France. The remaining guns were then sold to the British.
Included in the U.S. weapons provided to the Free French were numbers of M1928, M1 and M1A1 Thompson submachine guns--the Mitraillettes Thompson Calibre .45 M1928 et Ml. From period photographs, it is obvious that they were extremely popular with the elite ler Bataillon de Fusiliers Marins Commandos while others were provided to indigenous troops (Goumiers) and, late in the war, the FFI.
Probably the most widely used submachine guns to see service with the Free French was the British Machine Carbine, 9mm, Sten Mark 2. (8)
Designed during the dark days of the Blitz by Major R. V. Shepherd and H. J. Turpin of the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, the Sten (S--Shepherd; T--Turpin; EN--Enfield)--was designed for fast, inexpensive manufacture and except for the bolt and barrel, was made almost entirely from stamped steel and welded parts. It was chambered for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge and fed from side-mounted 32-round box magazine.
They were made in the UK and Canada, and more than 2 million were produced by war's end. They were used by all Commonwealth forces, the Free French, Danish, Norwegian, Polish, Belgian and Greek contingents that fought alongside the Brits. Many thousands of Stens were supplied to resistance forces all over Europe, and they were one of the most common weapons used by the FFI.
Another submachine gun that saw limited use with the FFI was the UDM-42. Designed by Carl Swebilius and produced by the United Defense Corporation, Marlin and High Standard, it was a 9mm, blowback operated weapon made from all machined parts with a wooden butt and foregrip.
It was unique in that is used dual 25-round magazines that were welded together so they could be swapped out to reload quickly. Most were provided to the OSS, which then supplied them to various partisan organizations in France, Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia.
In August 1944, the main part of French Expeditionary Corps in Italy was withdrawn and joined the US 7th Army for Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of southern France. The objective of the French 2nd Corps was to capture ports at Toulon (France's largest naval port) and Marseilles (France's largest commercial port) in order to secure a vital supply line for the incoming troops.
With the approach of the Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army, on 19 August 1944, the FFI staged an uprising against the German forces in Paris. On the night of 24 August, elements of Leclerc's 2e Division Blindee entered
Paris, followed the next morning by the bulk of the bulk of the Free French Division and U.S. 4th Infantry Division. (9) To avoid destruction of the historic city, the German commander, General Dietrich von Cholitz, refused Hitler's orders to raze the city and instead surrendered it to the French.
In-northern Europe, Free French units were part of the Allied troops that liberated Belgium and the Netherlands. Several French Light Infantry Battalions and the 3rd SAS Bataillon de Fusiliers Marins Commandos fought alongside American forces during the Battle of the Bulge.
Along with their American and British allies, Free French forces continued to drive the Germans from southern France, liberating the strategic ports of Toulon and Marseilles, then moving northeastward into Alsace to join the Western Allies' final thrust into Germany.
By the terms of Germany's surrender to the Allies (7 May 1945), the French zone of occupation (Troupes d'occupation en Allemagne) consisted of the German Lander (states) of Baden, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saar and Wurttemberg-Hohenzollern and existed from the end of the war until 10 August 1949. Subsequently, the French military stationed forces in Germany with headquarters in Baden-Baden during the period of the Cold War.
I would like to thank the following for providing materials used to prepare this report: Jean Huon, Peter Kokalis, Vince DiNardi, Russ Pastena, Stuart Mowbray, Bruce Canfield, Eugene Medlin, Colin Doane, Joe Puelo, John Sheehan, Garry James, Joel Kolander, Lisa Warren, Rock Island Auction Co. and James D. Julia Auctioneers, Fairfield, ME, www.jamesdjulia.com.
(1) Fusil Mitrailleur translates to "Automatic Rifle" or "Light Machine Gun."
(2) Honor Bound. The Chauchat Machine Rifle. Cobourg, Ontario: Collector Grade Publications, pp. 22-23.
(3) Hastings, Max. Das Reich: The March of the 2nd SS Panzer Division through France, June 1944 (2 ed.). Minneapolis USA: Zenith Press, 1981. P.236.
(4) The M1918A2 BAR had a different rear sight, modified buttstock and forearm and two adjustable cyclic rates of fire.
(5) The Revolver No. 2 Mark I* had a spurless hammer and a double action only Iockwork.
(6) To insure reliable functioning in the MAS 38 the 7,65L pour pistolet-mitrailleur was loaded with a slightly longer bullet of the same weight.
(7) Specifications for the Ml and M1A1 Thompson varied slightly.
(8) The Sten Marks 3 and 5 differed slightly with the latter having a wooden buttstock for foregrip.
(9) Leclerc's drive to reach Paris cost his division 35 tanks, 6 self-propelled guns, and 111 vehicles.
Photos by: Paul Budde, Nathan Reynolds and James Walters (unless otherwise indicated)
Caption: This heavily-armed squad shows off the diversity of French arms with four Bren guns, an M1 Thompson, a German MP40 and an M1 Carbine. Ammo supply was complicated.
Caption: The Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1924/29 was the first post-World War I weapon adopted by the French army. It was an excellent light machine gun and saw wide use.
Caption: The British Bren Gun was the light machine gun most widely supplied to Free French forces, and is often seen alongside U.S. or captured German weapons.
Caption: In 1939, some French reserve units were still using the World War I vintage Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1915 (Chauchat). It hadn't improved since 1918.
Caption: The French obtained Erma EMP submachine guns from fleeing Spanish Republicans, (courtesy James D. Julia Auctioneers Fairfield, ME, www.lamesdjulia.com)
Caption: Sten gun-armed FFI members celebrate the liberation of Paris. The British dropped thousands of Stens to resistance fighters. The Germans captured many of them.
Caption: The British supplied 1928 Thompsons and the USA M1s to the Free French forces. Finned barrel and vertical foregrip mark the 1928 model. (Frank Iannamico photo)
Caption: The FFI were supplied with UDM-42 submachine guns by the American OSS. The British called these "Marlins" since that company made them, (courtesy Rock Island Auction Co.)
Caption: FFI members man a sandbagged position with a Bren gun, a Mie 1892 revolver and a .25 autoloader. Fortunately, the Germans did not choose to fight for Paris.
Caption: This member of the Milice francaise was armed with a Spanish Smith & Wesson copy in 8mm while guarding prisoners. The Milice served the Vichy regime.
Caption: In 1939, the French army was still using large numbers of World War I-era Spanish-made Pistolets Automatique type Ruby. These served throughout World War II.
Caption: The Pistolet Automatique Modele 1935A (bottom) and 1935S were the most "modern" handguns used by the pre-World War II French army, but were in short supply.
Caption: An OSS officer instructing FFI fighters in the use of the M1911 pistol. It was a whole lot more powerful than anything else they would have encountered.
SPECIFICATIONS FUSIL MITRAILLEUR MODELE 1924/29 Caliber: 7,5mm Balle Mle. 1929 C Overall Length: 42.6 inches Barrel Length: 19.7 inches Weight: 20.2 pounds Capacity: 25 Sights: Front--Blade Rear--U-notch adjustable by tangent from 200 to 2000 meters Rate of Fire: 500 rpm SPECIFICATIONS U.S. AUTOMATIC RIFLE, CALIBER: .30, Ml 918 (BROWNING)4 Caliber: .30 M1906 Overall Length: 48 inches Barrel Length: 24 inches Weight: 16 pounds Capacity: 20 Sights: Front--Blade Rear--Aperture fixed for 300 yards & fold up leaf adjustable from 200 to 1600 yards Rate of Fire: 500 rpm SPECIFICATIONS GUN, MACHINE, BREN, .303-INCH, MARK II Caliber: .303 Mk. VII Overall Length: 45.25 inches Barrel Length: 25 inches Weight: 22 pounds, 5 oz. Capacity: 30 Sights: Front--Blade Rear--Aperture adjustable by leaf from 200 to 1800 yards Rate of Fire: 500 rpm SPECIFICATIONS PISTOLET-MITRAILLEUR ERMA--VOLLMER DE 9MM Caliber: Cartouche de 9mm Parabellum Overall Length: 35 inches Barrel Length: 9.8 inches Weight: 9 pounds Capacity: 32 Sights: Front--Inverted V-blade Rear--V-notch adjustable by tangent from 100 to 1000 meters Rate of Fire: 500 rpm Bayonet: None SPECIFICATIONS FUSIL MITRAILLEUR MODELE 1915 Caliber: 8mm Balle 1898 D Overall Length: 45 inches Barrel Length: 18.5 inches Weight: 18 pounds Capacity: 20 Sights: Front--Inverted V-blade Rear--V-notch adjustable by tangent from 200 to 2000 meters Rate of Fire: 350-400 rpm SPECIFICATIONS PISTOLET-MHRAILLEUR STEN DE 9MM Caliber: Cartridge, S.A. Ball, 9mm, Mark 1z Overall Length: 30 inches Barrel Length: 7.75 inches Weight: 6.5 pounds Capacity: 32 Sights: Front--Blade Rear--Aperture fixed for 100 yards Rate of Fire: 550 rpm Bayonet: None SPECIFICATIONS MHRAILLETTE THOMPSON CAUBRE .45 M1928 (7) Caliber: Cartouche 11, 25x23 (.45 ACP) Overall Length: 33.75 inches Barrel Length: 10.5 inches Weight: 10 pounds, 12 oz. Capacity: 20 & 30-round box, 50-round drum Sights: Front--Blade Rear--50-yard notch battle sight & aperture adjustable by leaf from 100 & 600 yards Rate of Fire: 800 rpm Bayonet: None SPECIFICATIONS UDM-42 SUBMACHINE GUN Caliber: 9mm Parabellum Overall Length: 32.3 inches Barrel Length: 11 inches Weight: 10 pounds Capacity: 25 Sights: Front--Blade Rear--Aperture fixed for 100 yards Rate of Fire: 700 rpm Bayonet: None SPECIFICATIONS REVOLVER D'ORDONNANCE MODELE 1892 Caliber: 8mm Cartouche Modele 1892 Overall Length: 9.46 inches Barrel Length: 4.6 inches Weight: 29.6 ounces Capacity: 6 Sights: Front--Blade with bead Rear--U-notch in topstrap Grips: Checkered walnut SPECIFICATIONS PISTOLET-MITRAILLEUR MAS MODELE 1938 Caliber: Cartouche de 7,65L pour pistolet-mitrailleur Modele 19386 Overall Length: 25 inches Barrel Length: 8.75 inches Weight: 6.25 pounds Capacity: 32 Sights: Front--Blade Rear--Folding apertures for 100 & 200 meters Rate of Fire: 600 rpm Bayonet: None SPECIFICATIONS PISTOL, REVOLVER, NO 2. MARK I, .380 INCH (5) Caliber: .380 Mark 2 Overall Length: 10.25 inches Barrel Length: 5 inches Weight: 27 ounces Capacity: 6 Sights: Front--Blade Rear--Square notch Grips: Wood or plastic SPECIFICATIONS PISTOL, REVOLVER, WEBLEY .380 INCHES, MARK IV Caliber: .380 Mark 2 Overall Length: 10.5 inches Barrel Length: 5 inches Weight: 27 ounces Capacity: 6 Sights: Front--Blade Rear--V-notch Grips: Bakelite SPECIFICATIONS PISTOLET AUTOMATIQUE MODELE 1935A Caliber: Cartouche de 7,65L pour pistolet Overall Length: 7.6 inches Barrel Length: 4.3 inches Weight: 26 ounces Capacity: 8 Sights: Front--Blade adjustable for windage Rear--U-notch Grips: Checkered Bakelite or plastic SPECIFICATIONS PISTOLET AUTOMATIQUE MODELE 1935S Caliber: Cartouche de 7,65L pour pistolet Overall Length: 7.3 inches Barrel Length: 4.7 inches Weight: 27.2 ounces Capacity: 8 Sights: Front--Blade Rear--U-notch Grips: Checkered Bakelite or plastic
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|Date:||Jun 1, 2017|
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