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The military rifle cartridges of france: from verdun to afghanistan.

In 1886 France threw the world's military authorities on their collective ears when it. announced the adoption of the world's first small bore, smokeless powder rifle--the Fusil d'Infanterie Mie. 1886 firing the revolutionary Cartouche 8mm balle Ordinaire Mie. 1886 (a.k.a. 8mm Lebel). As everyone else raced to catch up with them, French ballisticians did not let any grass grow under their feet.

* Cartouche 8mm balle 1898 D--in 1900 the French army adapts a 198-grain pointed, full metal-jacketed (FM.1) boattail bullet to the 8mm Lebel cartridge. In addition to being the first "spitzer" type bullet, it was unique in that it was machined from solid brass. The projectile's velocity was upped to 2380 fps, providing both flatter trajectory and increased range.

To prevent the sharp-nosed bullets from hitting primers of the cartridge in front of them in the tubular magazine, the Balle 1898's 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.

Weapons firing the 8mm Balle 1898 D served the French army throughout World War I. And while it proved effective, its fat, rimmed case caused constant problems in full-auto weapons.

Late in World War I. the French fielded a semiautomatic rifle, the Fusil automatique Mle. 1917. Among the many problems that plagued this weapon was that the primers of fired cases often backed up, jamming up the mechanism.

* Cartouche 8mm balle D (a m)---to prevent primers from backing out of the case, a special cartridge was developed for the Modele 1917, the 8mm balle D (a m) (amorcage modifie--modified primer) which used a heavy crimp ta secure the primer in place.

Chronic shortages of arms during the war forced the French to take a number of non-standard rifles into service. These included Remington Rolling Block rifles and carbines in 8mm Balle 1898 D and 7x57 Mauser; Remington-Lee M1899 rifles and carbines in .30 Army (30-40 Krag), Lee-Enfield carbines firing the .303 cartridge: Winchester Ml 894 carbines chambered for .30-30 WCF and 6.5mm Japanese Type 30 Arisaka rifles. Most of these were issued to rear echelon and support units and saw very little combat. More exotic weaponry included the semiautomatic Remington Model 8 in .35 Rem. and Winchester Model 07 in .351 and .401 WSL, which were used by the French air force to arm aeroplane observers.

After the war a painfully slow R&D program resulted in the 1924 adoption of a new light machine gun chambered for a 7.5mm rimless cartridge with a case 58mm long. The inevitable accidents that occurred when plentiful World War I surplus German 7.9mm Patrone S (7.9x57) ammunition was accidently tired in the new LMGs led to the cartridge being modified.

Four years later, approval was finally given for the adoption of a 7.5mm rifle--the Fusil MAS Mk. 1936.

* Cartouche 7.5mm Mle. 1929 C--the Mle. I924's case was shortened and the new round adopted as the 7.5mm Modele 1929 C. It consisted of a rimless, bottlenecked case 54mm in length loaded with a 140-grain FM.1. spitzer bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2700 fps. It would remain France's standard rifle cartridge until the 1980s.

* Cartouc he 8mm balle 1932 N-1932 saw the old 8mm Lebel cartridge upgraded once again. It was now loaded with a more conventional lead core, 232-grain FM.1. boattail spitzer bullet at a velocity of 2480 fps.

While it was originally intended for use in machine guns, eventually many Lebel and Berthier rifles and carbines were modified for the Balk N. Modified weapons had their sight recalibrated for the 1932 cartridge and were marked with an "N" on the breech.

Financial constraints led to limited production of the 7.5mm MAS 1936. and when World War II erupted in 1939, a large percentage of the French army marched off to a new war armed with rifles left over from the last conflict. Hitler's Wehrmacht made short work of the demoralized French army and the nation was forced to capitulate to the Germans.

After the surrender. France was divided into a German-occupied zone and another ruled by the collaborationist Vichy regime. Resistance to Vichy began under the leadership of Gen. Charles DeGaulle. who organized troops in the overseas colonies into a Free French army headquartered in England. OriOnally, many of the Free French units were reequipped with British arms including the No. 1 Mk. III* and No. 4 Mk. I* Lee-Enfield rifles.

* Cartouche de 7.70mm a Halle Ordinaire--the French designation for the .303 Mark V11, it used a rimmed, bottlenecked case 56mm long loaded with a 174-grain flat based, spitzer bullet at a velocity of 2440 fps.

When the USA entered the war, it supplied the Free French with large quantities of arms, including M1917, M1903 and MI Garand rifles and M1 and Ml Al Carbines.

* Cartouche 7,62mm Mie. 1949 (1)--the M1903. M1917 and MI rifles fired a cartridge consisting of a rimless, bottleneccked case 63mm long loaded with a 150-grain flat-based spitzer bullet traveling at 2800 fps.

* Cartouche 7,62mm K Mle. 1950 pour Carabine (2)--the M I & M2 Carbines cartridge utilized a rimless, tapered case 33mm in length loaded with a round nosed 110-grain FMJ bullet moving at 1970 fps.

In the aftermath of World War II. guerilla warfare broke out in France's Asian and North African territories. In 1949, the 7.5mm Fusil Semiautomatique MAS Mle. 1949 was adopted, but shortages led to a wide variety of older French rifles, in addition to American and ex-German weapons, seeing service.

* Cartouche 7,9mm Balle Lourde--large numbers of ex-Weh-rmacht Kar. 98k Mausers were used during the fighting in France's colonies. These fired the 7.9mm Patrone sS (7.9mm Mauser) with a rimless, bottleneccked case 57mm long with a 198-grain FMJ, boattail spitzer bullet moving at 2575 fps.

After World War II, the French army chambered its new rifle, the Fusil Semiautomatique MAS Mle. 1949/56. for the 7.5mm Mle. 1929 C cartridge instead of the 7.62mm NATO.

The French stationed occupation troops in Germany after World War II, and worked in conjunction with NATO forces in formulating plans for protecting Europe from a possible Soviet invasion. French troops served with UN forces during the Korean conflict, and have served as UN peacekeepers in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

In the 1980s, 7.62mm SIG SG542 rifles were obtained for some French units serving in Africa and 7.62mm NATO was also adopted for use in machine guns and a new sniper rifle, the FR F-2 Tireur d'Elite.

* Cartouche.7,62mm OTAN, Mie. 1961--uses a rimless, bottle-neccked case measuring 51mm with a 147-grain FMJ spitzer bullet moving at 2750 fps.

Following the trend towards smaller caliber weapons, the French began searching for a rifle firing the 5.56x45 cartridge. As a stopgap measure, the firm of Manurhin obtained a license to produce the SIG SG540 rifle for issue to the Foreign Legion and Special Forces. 1977 saw the adoption of a unique bullpup assault rifle, the Fusil d'Assault Fl MAS ("FAMAS").

* Cartouche 5,56mm Mle. Fl--The Mie. Fl cartridge used a rimless, bottlenecked, steel case topped with a 55-grain FMJ, spitzer bullet moving at 3150 fps.

The French armed forces are in the process of switching to the improved Fusil d'Assault F2 MAS, which uses a variation of the NATO 5.56mm SS109 cartridge.

* Cartouche 5,56mrn Mie. FIA-uses t1-2 same steel case as the Fl but it is loaded- with a 63-grain spitzer bullet with a steel insert in the nose traveling at 3050 fps.

In 1990 French troops, including units of the Legion etrangere (Foreign Legion), served alongside American forces during the Gulf war. They have seen action in Aghanistan since 2001, where some French troops have been armed with the Heckler & Koch G36 rifle.

I would like to thank the following for providing materials used to prepare this article: Russ Pastena, Jean Huon, George Layman, Joe Puleo, Yan LeFLOCH, Jim Supica, Vince DiNardi, Francois Lambrout, Pat Hernandez, John P. Sheehan, Lou Behling, Bill Woodin, Keith Doyon and Phillipe Regenstrief.

(1.) The post-World War II French designation.

(2.) The post-World War II French designation.

By Paul Scarlata * Photos by: Lou Behling, James Walters, Russ Pastena & Nathan Reynolds
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Author:Paul Scarlata
Publication:Shotgun News
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Oct 1, 2014
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