Articles

MAS 44: The French Adopt a Semiauto Rifle


Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another
video on ForgottenWeapons.com. I’m Ian McCollum, and today we are going to take a look at the French MAS 44 semi-automatic infantry rifle. Now as we’ve been doing for the last couple weeks, this is being filmed in conjunction with the Kickstarter pre-order launch of my book on French military rifles, “Chassepot to FAMAS, French Military Rifles 1866 to 2016”. So I have more information on this and the rifles
that came before and after it both over in that book. So check that out, a link is in the description text below. But getting back to the MAS 44 here. Of course the French did design and develop and produce and issue a semi-automatic rifle during World War One. It was the RSC 1917 and they made some 86,000 of them, so really a pretty substantial number. Although that was not intended really, well, they had ideas at the end of the war, but when it was
being produced that was not intended to be a universal rifle. What they came up with like right after World
War One, by 1921 they had a plan in place to pretty much renovate all
of French military small arms. The very first step was to get rid of the
8mm Lebel cartridge and develop a modern, straight-wall, rimless cartridge
and they got on that pretty quickly. But they also wanted to develop a
semi-automatic standard infantry rifle. And so the the cartridge was
developed in 1924 and perfected by 1929. And throughout the 1920s the various French arsenals
did a lot of research and development on self-loading rifles. Probably the best place to find information on all of
these weird prototypes is Jean Huon’s book “Proud Promise”. But suffice to say… … Well, they had a major trial in 1931. And
that’s where everything kind of came together. Most of the domestic French companies
like Hotchkiss and Darne didn’t participate, because they pretty much had
their hands full building other stuff, and maybe they knew better than to try
and get involved with the French Army. The three French arsenals submitted designs, there were actually two rifles from MAS
and one from MAT, Tulle Arsenal, and then there was also a Czech ZH-29
and a Swiss KE-9 both in the trials. Now, the result was no single rifle was deemed suitable, but they took elements of one of
the MAS rifles and the MAT rifle and combined them together to form
what they thought was the best hybrid. And that would eventually become the MAS 40. So it is a direct gas impingement rifle, a true one
unlike the AR-15, we’ll touch on that in a moment. It uses a tilting bolt like the FAL
and the Sturmgewehr would later on. And the hope was to get this thing into production. Well the trial, you know, they kind of picked the elements they wanted in the early 1930s. By the late 1930s they finally had a
really good prototype, the MAS 38/39. It had gone through, you know, endurance trials,
reliability trials. It was really pretty excellent. By our standards today, the main downside of it was that it actually
had a fixed magazine and only held 5 rounds fed by stripper clip. And this was based largely on the idea
of wanting to have some compatibility between the semi-automatic rifle and the bolt
action rifle that the army would both be using. The bolt action of course would be the MAS 36, and so
the idea of having basically the same style of magazine. And you can kind of understand the 5 round magazine as if you look at this in terms of this French development
program was basically a post-World War One program that just stretched out into 20
years because of bureaucracy. By that standard a 5 round
fixed mag was understandable, although by the time they were actually testing
this rifle it was definitely behind the curve. At any rate, things continued to progress a little bit slowly until
by the very late 1930s it was pretty clear that war was coming. And the MAS 38/39 passed its tests in November of 1939, and
it was ordered into immediate production in December of ’39. … The French government wanted 100,000 of them, they wanted it
to be delivered at 1,000 a month, and this was completely impossible. They were going to be manufactured at the MAS factory,
Saint-Étienne, the problem was Saint-Étienne was already manufacturing MAS 36 rifles as fast as it
possibly could for exactly the same reason. And they just didn’t really have any structural capacity
to add another production line for another different rifle. So they started working on it, they
finally got it set up to the point that they were gonna be able to have
rifle delivery starting in mid-1941. Well, mid-1941 is when France
signed an armistice with Germany. And what’s actually rather impressive about this is that
the staff at Saint-Étienne was able to effectively hide basically all evidence of this rifle from the Germans.
So … the Germans never realised that there was a semi-automatic rifle production program
really on the cusp of beginning at Saint-Étienne. What they apparently did is they were able to basically
disguise the tooling for this rifle as MAS 36 tooling, because the two guns share a lot of similarities.
Anyway. When Saint-Étienne was liberated in September
of 1944 the program was able to get back on track. And that’s when they decided to throw this
thing into production, they could really use it. They wouldn’t manage to actually get rifles
produced before the end of World War Two, but by late 1945 MAS 44 rifles were
actually coming off the production line. Now the one big change they made to
these from the pre-war trials guns, basically, was to get rid of that fixed 5 round
magazine. They realised during the war, “Look, … a 5 round stripper clip fed semi-auto
rifle is way under-capacity by modern standards.” And so they retrofitted it with a 10 round
detachable box magazine, and that explains one of the weird quirks of the
whole MAS semi-auto series of rifles. That, of course, is the external
magazine catch on the MAS box magazine. It’s just about the only example out there of
something like this, and it seems really weird until you realise that they already had the whole
rifle designed with a fixed floor plate in here. And … they wanted to get this thing
into production as quickly as possible. So rather than redesign the whole receiver of the
gun, they simply used a magazine that could fit basically into the receiver forging that
they already had, cut a notch on the outside, and have the magazine lock on that way. Looking over the rest of the rifle there are a lot of similarities
with the MAS 36, and that was very deliberately done. So the stocks are very similar, the sling
attachment, butt plate, those parts are identical. The rear sight base is not identical, but the design is. This has the same style of rear
aperture sight and the same style of leaf. So you’ll notice that there is no adjustment on this. The way that
you would zero these rifles was, well, it was an armourer level task. And what you would do is actually get different rear leaf
sights that had the aperture offset up, down, left or right in increments of, like, 4cm at 100 metres. And so the
armourer would simply, you know, shoot the rifle on a bullseye, determine exactly where the group was actually landing,
and then choose the appropriate rear sight leaf to bring that group into the centre of the target. The nose cap on the front end of the
rifle is also virtually identical to a MAS 36, specifically the stamped design of 36 that
was introduced just after World War Two. These are simplified and economised
versions of the pre-war MAS 36 parts. The bayonet here is also
literally identical to the MAS 36, it is a spike style of bayonet that
is housed directly under the barrel. And to install it you simply flip it
around and lock it in place like so. While French bolt action rifles traditionally never
had manual safeties, the semi-automatic ones did. The RSCs had safeties on them, and the requirements
for the MAS 40/44 semi-automatic rifle required a safety that … when engaged
was obvious to the shooter. And so they have a very simple lever here,
and when it’s dropped down it’s on safe. And of course it gets in the way of your trigger finger
and makes it pretty clear that the safety is engaged, at least if you’re right handed. We have one main set of markings on here that identify
this as a MAS Model of 1944 with a serial number. These serial numbers will all have script letter
prefixes, and for the MAS 44 they’re all F prefix. That was the first letter assigned to the Saint-Étienne
Arsenal and of course they only made 6,200 of them, so they never got to a second prefix.
That would have been after they passed 100,000. That said, there is really only one variation
within the MAS 44, and that is the finish. So very early on the rifles were Parkerised
and then painted with a black lacquer paint, and you’ll see that fairly typically on
a lot of 1930s French military rifles. So this is serial number 221, right at the
very beginning, and it still got a really nice, exemplary coat of this black enamel paint. That was
done on there simply to give the rifles more resistance to, you know, really nasty environmental conditions
like you might find in the jungles of Southeast Asia. They stopped using that black enamel
paint somewhere around serial number 2,000. So this one is late enough that
it is just a Parkerised finish. One element that I think is often not recognised
is just how simple and durable and reliable the MAS semi-automatic rifles really are. And they all have fundamentally the same operating
system. So we’ll go ahead and take apart this Model 44. You start by pulling down this latch back here.
You can then push the receiver top cover forward, unlock it, lift it up, and take it off the back. … We do have a recoil spring (there we go)
that is wound up inside there, so. Take that off. This has our recoil
spring guide and the rear sight. And then pull out the recoil spring. I can then take the bolt carrier, pull
the bolt carrier back, lift it up and out. And I can take out the bolt itself and the firing pin. And that’s it for field stripping the rifle. The way the gas system works is that there
is simply a gas port in the barrel out here, I’m not going to take the hand guards off
because this is really a pain in the butt. … A French soldier was not
intended to remove the hand guards, … it affects the rifles accuracy if they’re not retightened just
the same and it requires a special screwdriver to get them off. But what you effectively have is just a gas port, and a
gas tube that runs under the hand guard to right here, where the gas tube just simply ends. And when the rifle’s in battery, the bolt carrier has a hole
in it, right here, that nests over the end of that gas tube, like so. And when you fire, gas simply blows out this
tube into this … dead-end hollow section in the bolt carrier, and throws it backward, cycling the rifle. So where the AR-15 has a long gas tube
like this that ends in a sealed gas piston, a true gas impingement design, like the
MAS 40/44 here, doesn’t have a piston. It’s just a hollow space that gas
blows into to push the carrier back. The one other element of disassembly that
we can do is to take out the trigger assembly. So we have a little flat spring here that
acts as a lock on the trigger spring, … if I take this screw out, there we go, then the trigger group simply
lifts out as an integral unit. And, aside from being full of gloopy
Cosmoline, it’s an extremely simple one. So we have our safety lever here. And then
this is of course a hammer fired system, so when I pull the trigger that hammer
is going to go forward just like so. We’ve got a wound up spring in here.
We’ve got two catches, two sears back there so that whether you’re holding the trigger back
or not it will catch when the hammer re-cocks. And pull the trigger again for a second shot. These were
always only semi-automatic rifles. While a lot of other countries experimented with select fire .308 calibre
rifles like the FAL and the G3 and the US M14, the French … I guess just kind of recognised actually
that … full-auto fire from the shoulder in a rifle like this in a caliber like this (and by the
way, this is in 7.5x54mm French, it is … very similar to 7.62 NATO, but a slightly lighter
bullet and a just slightly reduced muzzle velocity), full-auto fire of that from the shoulder was useless. And they never bothered to develop a
select-fire trigger assembly for the guns. There … are some stories of armourers in the field converting
them ad hoc, but that’s I think a pretty limited thing. At any rate, the trigger mechanism on this
is extremely simple, which is not surprising. If you look at the trigger mechanism on
the RSC 1917 semi-auto rifle it’s very similar, also very simple, and there was no reason
to make it more complicated than this. As for the locking system, what we have here
is a tilting bolt. So this is the locked position, with your locking surface right here on the
back. That’s locked, that’s unlocked lifted up. This oval piece on the outside of the receiver is
… the block that holds the locking shoulder in the rifle. So this guy right here is your specially
made, specially hardened, locking shoulder, and that’s the surface that this locks up against. So here you have it on the other side. And this is a replaceable
part, so if there’s a problem with the locking shoulder, or if a gun gets out of headspace for some
reason, that locking shoulder can be replaced without having to replace the rest of the rifle. The MAS 44 had a spring-loaded
firing pin, as you can see there. And the whole system, the whole series, the whole
family of these rifles has a nice out of battery safety. Namely that the rear of the bolt
carrier here holds onto the firing pin, so the firing pin cannot physically go forward
far enough to protrude out of the bolt face unless the bolt is all the way back and locked.
So … until it’s all the way back to there, like so, the firing pin just isn’t long enough to reach the
breech face, and thus it can’t fire out of battery. Once it is fully locked, then you have that
much travel for when it gets hit by the hammer. We can take this apart very easily,
you just lift the bolt carrier off the back. There’s our firing pin. We have a spring inside there. This is a bit unique to the MAS 44, they
would actually get rid of this spring in later iterations. But we’ll cover those in separate videos.
You can see that the the bolt carrier and the bolt here are both actually electro-pencilled
with their matching serial numbers. The ejector is this plug sticking out the front of the bolt face.
That’s pushed back in flush when a cartridge is on the bolt. And then when the bolt carrier goes backward,
this lug hits another element in the receiver, and pushes forward, and that acts as an
ejector kicking the case off of the bolt face. Then there’s not really anything
going on here on the bolt carrier. We just have this big nylon handle. Be aware, especially on the
44s, these nylon handles (or plastic, I think they’re nylon) are pretty old and a lot of them
have gotten pretty brittle and they do have a tendency to break, especially
if you shoot them. So something to be aware of. It’s not uncommon to find them in
a condition like this, unfortunately. In total they would produce 6,200 of these
MAS 44s, and the majority of them went to French Navy Marine Commandos in Indochina. And the
guns did see substantial combat service down there. However it wouldn’t take that long before they
started to realise that there were some flaws, and this would lead to the development of the MAS 49 rifle. The MAS 49 is the subject for our next video, there are a couple different iterations
of that that we need to … look at, and this video has gone too long as it is.
So hopefully you guys enjoyed this video, this is one of the lesser-known of the series of French semi-
auto rifles. And one of the other interesting elements to it is the vast majority of these guns when … they were
declared obsolete and surplus by the French military virtually all of them were purchased by an American
company and they were brought here to the US. And so these rifles … compared to the MAS 49s,
these are relatively common here in the US. And I think a lot of people don’t realise just
how rare they actually are in a grand scale. These are very difficult to find anywhere else in the world
except here. And a lot of people here I think don’t realise quite how special they are in terms of their
developmental sequence. So anyway, if you’re interested in them, hopefully you have
a little bit more information to work with now. And of course, as I said at the beginning, this is being
filmed in conjunction with the launch of my book on French military rifles which goes
into more depth on this entire story. Along with the MAS 49 and the 49/56, and of course all
of the rifles that came before, like the RSC semi-autos. So if you’re interested in the subject, if you’re
interested in in French military developments, or just small arms development in general, definitely
head over to Kickstarter and pre-order a copy of it. You can find the link to that
down in the description text. Thanks for watching.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *