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The military rifle cartridges of Monaco: equipping a small army.

While today's geographically challenged students might not be aware of it, Europe contains a number of "mini-countries" among them Andorra, Lichtenstein, San Marino, the Vatican and--perhaps the best known--Monaco.


Located on the Mediterranean coast of France, close to the border with Italy, in the 6th Century B.C. the Greeks established the colony of Monoikos, and the name has stuck ever since. Over the centuries the region has been controlled by Romans, Goths, Byzantines, Lombards, Franks and Saracens.

The city of Genoa was granted suzerainty over the region in 1191 by the Holy Roman Emperor Heinrich V, and they constructed a fortress on a prominent headland later known as the Roche de Monaco (Rock of Monaco). Fleeing civil unrest in Genoa, forces led by Francesco Grimaldi seized the fortress in 1297, beginning the Grimaldi dynasty that rules Monaco to the present day. The neighboring regions of Menton and Roquebrune were acquired in 1346 and 1355, bringing Monaco to its greatest territorial size.

In 1793 troops of revolutionary France occupied Monaco and would remain until the downfall of Napoleon in 1814. The Principality of Monaco was recognized in 1814 by the Congress of Vienna, with Prince Honore VI as its ruler. It was briefly occupied by British forces in 1815 during Napoleon's attempted return "to power (a.k.a. The Hundred Days).

By the terms of the Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861 France accepted the independence of Monaco in return for Menton and Roquebrune--or 95% of the principality's territory. Although France took responsibility for Monaco's defense, the tiny country has maintained its own military forces.

In 1817 Prince Honore established the Compagnie des Garabiniers du Prince. Never numbering more than approximately 150 officers and men, the Garabiniers were responsible for maintaining public order, protecting the royal family and serving in ceremonial occasions. Their armament consisted primarily of French muskets, rifled muskets and, beginning in the 1870s, the Fusil dTnfanterie Mle. 1866, the Chassepot.

* 11mm Cartouche Mle. 1866--the Chassepot's unusual combustible cartridge consisted of a silk bag loaded with 86 grains of blackpowder with a cardboard disk at its base containing a primer. The 386-grain lead bullet was wrapped in a paper tube and tied to the front section of the cartridge, achieved a muzzle velocity of 1328 fps.

With the unification of Italy in the 1870s, some former Papal soldiers--known locally as "Papalins"--enlisted in the Carabmiers. They brought with them numbers of the "Fusil d'Pontificaux Mle. 1868," a Belgian-made copy of the Remington Rolling Block rifle that the Papacy's armed forces had adopted. Photographs show these Rolling Blocks still in service in the 1890s,


* 12.7mm Pontifico--the Remington Rolling Block rifles obtained by the Papal forces were chambered for a 12mm, centerfire cartridge which used a rimmed, straight-walled case 45mm long loaded with 62-grain of blackpowder and topped with a 480-grain lead bullet.

In the 1880s, the Carabiniers obtained a quantity of the French army's standard, rifle, the Fusil d'Infanterie Mle. 1874/80; Better known as the Gras, these would continue in service well into the early 20th century.

* 11mm Balle Mle; 1874 & 1879/83--the Gras used a rimmed, bottlenecked cartridge with a case 59mirtin length topped with a 387-gram paper-patched lead bullet that an 81-grain charge of blackpowder propelled to 1490 fps. The Balle Mle. 1879/83 was identical, except it was loaded with a flat-nosed bullet.

The princes of Monaco were absolute rulers until 1910 when the palace was stormed during a popular uprising known as the Monegasque Revolution. Soldiers of the Compagnie des Carabiniers du Prince attempted to defend the palace, but rather than inflict civilian casualties, they escorted Prinpe Albert I safely to French territory Prince Albert later agreed to accept a constitution and an elected parliament was established the following year.

Sometime before World War I the Carabiniers' weaponry was upgraded with a number of French-supplied Fusil d'Ihfanterie Mle. 1886/93--the, legendary Lebel.


* 8mm Balle 1898 D--the label's cartridge consisted of a 51mm rimmed, bottlenecked case loaded with a 198-grain solid brass spitzer bullet moving at 2380 fps. To prevent the sharp nosed bullets from hitting primers of the cartridge in front them, the case had a deep groove around the inside diameter of the rim so the nose of the bullet behind it caught in the groove and was thus prevented from resting against the primer.

In July 1918, as part of the Treaty of Versailles, it was established that Monegasque international policy would be aligned with French political, military, and economic interests. It also obliged the Grimaldi dynasty to obtain French authorization for marital alliances or changes in succession, and declared that should the throne ever become vacant, Monaco would become a protectorate under French jurisdiction.

World War II caused a crisis in Monaco. The then current ruler, Prince Louis II, had been educated at the French military academy at Saint Cyr and had served with the Foreign Legion in North Africa. He was strongly pro-French but tried to keep Monaco neutral. After the German conquest of France, he aligned the principality with the collaborationist Vichy government. This caused a rift with his grandson, and heir Rainier, who supported the Allied cause.

A large percentage of Monaco's population was of Italian descent and desired unification with Fascist Italy, and in 1943 Italian troops occupied the principality. After Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943, Monaco was occupied by German troops until its liberation by Free French forces in September 1945. Prince Louis died four years later and was succeeded by his grandson, Prince Rainier III.


In the postwar years the Carabiniers were reequipped with the French army's Fusil a Repetition de 7,5mm Modele 1936.

* 7.5mm Balle Modele 1929 C--was based on a rimless, bottle-necked case 54mm long whose 140-grain spitzer bullet achieved a muzzle velocity of 2600 fps.

The Carabiniers broke with past practice when they decided to adopt a modern assault rifle and took the U.S. M16 A2 into service rather than the French army's FAMAS. This decision may have been due to the fact that the manual of arms performed by the Carabiniers during the daily changing of the guard at the Palais de Monaco was easier with the Ml6A2.

* 5,56mm SS109--the French version of the 5.56mm NATO, it uses a rimless, bottlenecked steel case 45mm topped with a 62-grain FMJ boattail bullet, moving at 3000 fps. A steel insert in the tip of the bullet provides improved penetration of body armor and light vehicles,

Prince Rainier died in 2005 and was succeeded by his son Prince

At present the Compagnie des Carabiniers du Prince consists of 116 officers and enlisted personnel. All the officers, and most of the enlisted personnel, served with the French army before entering the Carabiniers. Besides providing security for the royal family and residences, it includes a rapid-response motorcycle squad, a diving unit with military, rescue, and scientific capabilities, a first-aid and ambulance unit, and a military band for ceremonial purposes.


There is also the 135 strong Corps des Sapeurs-Pompiers de Monaco which handles fire-fighting and civil defense duties, although all personnel receive military training and are qualified to use firearms.

Note: on July 1, 2011 Prince Albert II married the former South African Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock, hoping to insure the continuation of the Grimaldi line and Monaco's independence.

Photos by: James Walters, Nathan Reynolds & Lou Behling
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Author:Scarlata, Paul
Publication:Shotgun News
Geographic Code:4EXMN
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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