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Meunier A6: France’s First Semiauto Battle Rifle

Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another
video on I’m Ian McCollum and today I am very excited to be able to bring you an A6 Meunier rifle. This was the first semi-automatic rifle introduced in World War One by the French army. They only introduced a few of them because this rifle wasn’t really logistically, or mechanically, well-suited to the trenches. Now, this was developed by Monsieur Meunier, and he actually started working on semi-automatic rifles in 1898. The French military in general, started working on them all the way back in 1894. Basically, as soon as they had something working with the new smokeless powder, they immediately wanted to get a self-loading rifle working. And there was an incredible amount of
developmental work done by the three different French Technical Schools or Armourer’s
Schools that were working on self-loading rifles. However, very little information survives about
these rifles today, because this was all done under the auspices of military state secrets, and the guns that were developed were not patented commercially. Now Meunier did get some patents on this, because it did go into production. But in general all of these developmental rifles, the only records that that were made were secret French military records and a lot of those were lost, in particular in the German occupation in 1940. Just, the data’s not there. So a lot of self-loading mechanisms were actually first developed by French engineers, but they don’t get credit for them today because they didn’t put them out in the public record. Meunier, for example, got his start making gas
impingement guns before 1900. And most of his early designs were in fact gas impingement
guns. It was actually only with his sixth one, this is the A6 rifle, that he switched to a long recoil system. Not entirely sure why, it may have been
specifically requested by the French military. It may just have been a new idea
of his that he wanted to try out. At any rate, this rifle was put through formal testing in 1910, and it was formally approved, sort of. I won’t say adopted, it wasn’t actually formally adopted to replace, say, the Lebel rifle for infantry service. But it was approved, and so they started kind of looking at putting it into production or tooling up and by 1913 they still hadn’t. And at that point it kind of got sidelined because the threat of war was looking a little more imminent. However, once the war began they decided that they did want actually a self-loading rifle. And in 1916 a production run of these was manufactured. They made a total of one thousand and thirteen of them. What made this rifle particularly not practical for the French military is the fact that it did not use the 8mm Lebel cartridge, which was standard. Instead it used a proprietary cartridge that Meunier had designed. It was a 7×57 cartridge (although not related to the 7×57 Mauser), fired a 139 grain bullet at … 2950 feet per second. So really a quite remarkably modern cartridge.
That’s a 9g bullet at 850 meters per second. Great bullet, still actually a little bit
overpowered probably for what was necessary. but it was a nice high-velocity small bore cartridge,
would have had a very long mean point-blank range (which is to say the distance at which you can
just set your sights to general battle sight and make a hit on an enemy without having to make any adjustments). High velocity cartridges are better at that than heavy slow cartridges. Anyway, … it wasn’t a successful rifle in combat.
It’s a long recoil gun and as we’ll get to in a minute, there are some tolerances, particularly up here at
the muzzle, that are not conducive to combat use. So by August of 1917, when it became clear that
the RSC 1917 rifles were coming into development and production, this whole program was scrapped. Now, let’s go ahead and take a closer look at how this works. This is a really, actually, kind of a remarkably
modern rifle. It’s light, it’s handy, it’s a little bit more svelte than it may look in pictures, it’s a narrow
rifle, it’s equipped with cool stuff like night sights, so, let’s take a closer look. Looking at the markings on here. We have Meunier A6 model of 1916, manufactured by the Tulle Arsenal (t u l l e), (If I can get the light just right … there we go on the back there.) So that’s the main marking to look for on the side of the receiver. We have a serial number and steel supplier and inspection proofs up on top of the barrel. On the right side of the barrel is of course the date, just like a typical Berthier or Lebel standard rifle being manufactured at this time. The ‘T’ is for Tulle. So this was again manufactured at Tulle, and a Tulle made barrel dated 1916. So this particular one is number 1012 out of 1013 manufactured. There’s the serial number on the top cover. There’s the serial number on the stock, all of the Meunier rifles were in the ‘R’ prefix serial number block. On the stock we have a really nice cartouche there, dating this to June of 1917. So, the 1916 date is when the barrel was manufactured, this is the date when the whole rifle was finished and approved. So what we can see there is that the barrels
were all manufactured as a group, then the guns were built sequentially and this one was
right at the end. So in August of 1917, just two months later, this whole program was cancelled. Only a couple controls on these rifles We have a manual safety here. The forward position is fire and the rearward position (where, if you’re right-handed, you can feel that with your trigger finger), that’s the safe position. Bolt handle is up here, and kind of distinctive for this sort of U-shaped hook, which allows it
to get past the end of the receiver cover there. We have our stripper clip guide here for reloading. The rear sight is a tangent leaf style, actually
not really similar to … this is closer in pattern to a Mauser than it was to a Lebel or a Berthier. If we look at the back of the sight, you can see these two little round holes in there, those were for luminous radioactive material and there was another one here on the front sight. So these were all equipped with luminous night sights in 1916. In 1917 that style of sight would become standard
on some of the production Berthier rifles as well. And then out at the front, on the nose cap, we have kind of a standard Lebel style stacking rod, a bayonet lug (apparently these took a Berthier style sabre bayonet, although the attachment is again kind of a little more … the blade is Berthier style, the attachment is more Mauser style.) So the magazine is pretty cool, actually. If we push this button forward we can pivot this out, and there’s our magazine. If I compress
this down, the whole thing lifts out. I guess it would have been too easy to have just a plain coil spring. So instead you get this, with sort of this cross X shaped follower thing. This whole thing is powered by a little flat spring down here which pushes on this arm, then this arm, with its two pegs traveling in those slots, keeps the follower parallel to the muzzle at all times, so that you don’t get … Well, look at this as the 1910 French version of the anti-tilt follower. Because that’s exactly what it’s doing there. As for the bolt, we have a rotating bolt, multiple locking lug, kind of like a 1910 Ross or a number of other guns. Drops into battery like that. Pretty simple there, a little bit stiff on this gun. So mechanically this is a long recoil action with that rotating bolt. Long recoil’s a pretty unusual system to find on military firearms, it was used on the French Chauchat light machine gun. That was actually kind of in development around
the same time, and of course it was then put into major production in 1915. It was also used
on the Remington Model 8, designed by John Browning, which was a very successful commercial sporting rifle. But beyond that, there aren’t a whole lot of
other long recoil rifle designs out there. Some, I know, and people will tell us what they are
in the comments, but it is an unusual system. Anyway, what long recoil means is that the whole barrel and bolt assembly recoil together all the way back the full length of the cartridge. So the bolt handle is going to go from here all the way back to here, and the bolt and the barrel stay locked that entire time. What this means is that the barrel itself is reciprocating from the muzzle all the way back to the bolt. So what we have here is a nose cap with the barrel riding inside it. This is a hollow tube over the barrel, and one of the problems these had in service is that the fit between this nose cap and the barrel is extremely fine (it’s something like five to eight thousandths, I believe). And while that’s great when the gun’s clean (and of course it aids in accuracy because
you have your front sight mounted to the sleeve here not to the barrel itself), the problem is with just a little bit of dirt or grit or, even worse, a little bit of water causing a little bit of corrosion inside and these two can jam themselves together. And it might be corrosion, it might just be
dried grease, but this one is stuck together. So I can’t actually show you the barrel reciprocating. But, picture the end of the muzzle coming
all the way back to probably about here. Now, as this is reciprocating, it’s compressing a mainspring which is located underneath the
barrel down in here. In fact, if you see these two pins and this assembly, this is the
end of the recoil spring. So up here … we just have an empty handguard that’s supporting the cap on the end and giving you a place to hold onto the gun. The recoiling assembly includes the rear sight and it includes this whole section. If we look at it from this side we can see a little more clearly, this is all reciprocating. This piece right down here (slightly different color to it, and it’s got this groove in it), that’s the fixed receiver that doesn’t move. So this receiver has a pair of tracks or rails that this bolt assembly, which goes from here all the way out to the muzzle of the gun again including the whole rear sight, all of that slides backwards. And it’s sliding under this removable top cover. Now, what happens is, these two are going to come all the way back to here upon firing, then the bolt is caught at the back and locked in place, while the barrel starts to … return forward. The
barrel will pull itself off of the now empty case. When it’s fully off of the case, the ejector comes
out and pops the empty case out of the gun, ejecting it. Then, when the barrel’s all the way forward
in its fixed finished position, it trips a release which allows the bolt to now come forward. The bolt is being powered by a second separate recoil spring. The bolt recoil spring is actually down here, it comes off under the butt plate and there’s a little monkey tail on the end of the bolt, kind of like an FN FAL rifle. So that’s what’s pushing the bolt forward, and that’s a very
stereotypical thing for long recoil actions. They will have two main springs,
one for the barrel, and one for the bolt. At any rate, once the bolt is all the way forward it’s going to pick up a cartridge, chamber
it, and then you’re ready to fire again. So let’s take off this rear cover. In order to do that, we have a little spring-loaded retention pin that we have to push, and then this rear tab is going to lift up. There we go, just like that, that comes up, and then the rear cover comes off at the back of … the rifle. There we go. (This one’s really tight so we gave it a little bit of
a start with a wooden dowel and a hammer.) But then, that rear cover comes off, and
we have access to the internals here. Now there are a couple things going on inside here. One of them is … Normally you would expect to have a spring back here, but the spring is actually down inside the stock and the monkeytail that connects to it is right there. So when the bolt comes back you’ll see that depress into the action. In fact. that piece, right there, is the plunger end cap
of the spring and the tail of the bolt starts right there. Now this is the trip lever, this is what’s going to lock the
bolt back here at the end of travel. And then when the barrel goes all the way forward, it
pushes down on this lever, which you can see drops this. That acts just like the sear in a submachine gun. When
that goes down then the bolt is released to go forward, allowing it to chamber the next cartridge. Then we also have the hammer right there. This is a hammer fired gun. (There we go, let that up nice and gently.) So when
you fire it, that’s going to come up to actually do the firing, and then when the bolt cycles that
gets cocked back down in place like that. And of course you’ll note that this thing is serial numbered all over the place on the inside. It’s 1012, and so you’ll see little
number numeral 12s on, like, everything. Well, I wish I could show you more of this coming apart, but at this point, because of the muzzle cover
being a little too tight to work with right now, this is the extent of it. Of all of the French semi-auto
development dating back into the 1890s, the A6 Meunier is the only one that was actually
put into real production during World War One. And in some ways this is a remarkable
step forward. It’s a very modern, cutting edge weapon. On the other hand
this is still, kind of, basically a trials rifle. There were definitely some real problems with it.
They only put less than a … 1,000, 843 actually, into front-line combat service before they were
all recalled and the program cancelled. The different cartridge made it difficult, the rifle really wasn’t quite ready for
the brutal brutal combat of World War One. So was it a good idea or a bad?
Well, in the long term … it was a dead end. Maybe they would have been better off putting
developmental resources into something else (like the RSC program which did
provide a pretty good combat rifle). But certainly very interesting to take a look at one of the very few semi-auto
combat rifles of World War One. So once the program was basically cancelled,
… all of the rifles were called back to the factories (or as many rifles as could be still
had at that point) and there was a program put in place to convert them into air service carbines. So they did a number of things to improve the guns
for carbine use. They obviously cut them down, cut them down about eight inches, about 200mm shorter. They loosened up the tolerances on the muzzle cap,
which allowed the guns to work a little more reliably (definitely a good thing). They replaced the
magazines with an extended 15 round magazine. Of course in air service you want to
have more ammunition available quickly. Still reloaded by stripper clips, they were
not detachable magazines they were … also not permanent. They were a removable box
magazine that was fed by stripper clips, basically. And they added a manual bolt hold-open slash bolt
release button. So a number of changes made, the profile of the handguard and all changed as well. But even in this guise they never ended up getting
issued. So of course, once we were getting later into the war, machine guns became much more
available, and those were a better system than a still quasi-experimental rifle
using specialty ammunition. So, that was ultimately the end of the A6 Meunier.
There are only a … I don’t know the exact number, but there’s probably less than a
dozen of these still existing today. Very cool to be able to take a look at this one and bring it to you guys. So a big thanks to Paul for letting
me take a look at his A6 Meunier. If you guys enjoy seeing this sort of content on-line,
please do consider checking out my Patreon page. It’s the support from folks there that makes it possible for me to travel about, find guns like this and bring them to you. Thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “Meunier A6: France’s First Semiauto Battle Rifle

  1. Oh crap. I would strongly suggest you use gloves and a mask when you handle those early radioactive sights. This luminous compound contains radium. The luminophor is long dead and won't shine but the radium is still there and boy it's some crap you don't want to have around. This compound usually has a tendency to crumb off. Keep this dust away from you. It's radioactive as shit and although the emission is not dangerous when the compound is not damaged – you certainly don't want to inhale this.
    Btw you should have a radiometer because a hell of a lot of old military stuff uses this radium luminophor compound. Old watches too. Aviation gauges and instruments are so thick with it it's not even funny. They used lots of this crap on some machinegun sights too. The soviets had a radioactive night sight for an AK. Beware of that crap. It's toxic as fuck.
    In USSR they stopped using this raioactive crap only in 60ies. The military loved those. They glow pretty much permanently for many years.

  2. were you born in dixie? love the beard…ive been meaning to compliment u on that since i was a junior in high school haha

  3. Weird but somehow handsome rifle. Mechanism is a bit to complicated and delicate for military but I can bet that if they would work more on it(tests and opinions in the field) it would end to be more popular.

  4. with a modern penetrating lubricant and some heat. would that have any effect on un sticking the barrel? if you could expand the outer guide the barrel may separate and be removed?

  5. Since it's an arsenal that keeps getting mentioned on this channel: Shouldn't "Tulle" be pronounced with a silent "e" in French instead of "tull-eh"?

  6. Aramis, Athos, Porthos, and Dartanion all for one and one for all. Keep the great content coming musketeer man

  7. Can you do a "recoil explanation" video like the ammunition and machine gun ones pls. Recoil names and types always get me

  8. I spent about ten minutes thinking of how to help get that nose cap off before I realized there probably isn't ammo for this basically experimental rifle any more so getting it back to firing condition is likely more trouble than it's worth.

  9. Have you ever come across a R-76(or 77)? Looks like a limited production Rhodie Smg. Could be some interesting history!

  10. 7:00 w/ subtitles;
    Apparently those clever Frenchmen also realized that making every soldier feel appreciated was good for moral, and so made there bayonet also capable of serving cake on that special day!

  11. so if that's serial number 1012, and inside they use the last 2 of the number, 12, what did they use on the 1000 number gun, as well as the 900, 800, 700, etc? even 399, 499 599? 777, 677, 577? the inside numbers are 77 on 10 different guns? that could get messy.

  12. Paul has a whole lot more discipline and patience than I. If I had one of those it would be in pieces in a box, because I'd have to take it apart and try to "fix" it.

  13. I see a Forgotten Weapons video, I click Like 🙂
    Concerning the night sights: where they radio-active (Radium?) or luminescent?

  14. So Ian. Why on earth didn’t the French push their m1918 selfloader into further production after the war? Instead of trying to develop a whole new rifle ramp up production of a self loader they already have?

  15. No offence to you Ian, but your pronunciation of Meunier is way off. The “eu” of Meunier is pronounced like the “er” in her, and the “ier” is pronounced exactly like if you said yay. So all put together it would look like Mernyay in pronunciation. As always, I like your content, there aren’t many people who explain how weapons were developped. Thank you for your amazing work!

  16. So based on your experiences with holding and point this rifle, what would your choice be if between this and the RSC 1917-18? Does it handle better in the hands or is it less practical etc. Can't judge the shootability I guess with the sticky barrel…

  17. Ian have you ever been able to get your hands on the charlton automatic rifle? Reminds me of the Howell automatic rifle

  18. 2950fps is actually 900m/s.. For a 139gr 7mm bullet in early 20th century that's something.. It would be a superb round even by today's standards.. Actually getting a 6,5 Creedmore or a modern 6,5x55SE round to push a 140gr bullet at that speed would need some proper handloading and a looong barrel.. A really stout .308 rounds push a 150-155gr bullet at that velocity and they sure don't reach it with 20" barrels either. Respect to monsieur Meunier!

  19. Does anybody know how they figured out the shape of the ramp that the rear sight adjuster rides on? Did they work it out on paper theoretically or test it empirically?

  20. Are any of those sweet sounding Air Service rifles among the survivors? They sound pretty interesting. Awesome video, I loved it even with the disassembly limitations.

  21. You can tell from Ian's smile at the very beginning of this video that he's in literal Gun Jesus heaven right now …

  22. can you do a video on this gun Jeweled gun of Sultan Mahmud I
    and maybe you can get the Diamond tiped ammo for it pls, and fire it at the range. the gun is in the US.

  23. We frogs , we need to kidnap Ian , bring him here , and give him the french citizenship and a Legion d'Honneur.
    Nobody on earth has ever paid such a tribute to the french guns history.

  24. Would it be better to have the front sight attached to the barrel itself, so having a lose fit between the hollow tube and barrel would not hut the accuracy, and resulting in a more reliable gun? (Of course having a cut out in the tube for the sight to be able to slide back would be required)

  25. It would be fantastic if you could do a video about the manufacturing techniques and production of firearms during WWI and WWII.

  26. Awesome Video as always Ian but get your hands on an Obrez Pistol made for the Russian Revolution that would be something interesting to learn about.

  27. Is it moon-Yer, or is it moon-Yay? Plus, I'm pretty sure that cartouche is marked Juillet Jewell-yay
    (July) 1917.

  28. Gawd, yet more French merde… can we move on to something other than French? Scandinavian firearms would be a great start rather than more French ad nauseum.

  29. Was that a luminous dot on the receiver behind the stripper clip guide? And if so I'm guessing to aid in reloading in low light conditions

  30. How come everytime I have question in my mind you already provide the answer few seconds later in the video it's like you are a magician or a mind reader. stuff like that makes your Channel awesome and interesting to watch and I truly hope you will entertain us for years' in the future. I'm sorry for the English it's not my home language I hope I got my point across much love greetings from Slovenia

  31. How do you unstuck that jam on the barrel ? Application of heat and repeated light strikes until it start cycling ?

  32. who else noticed they borrowed the stock of a mosin also similar for the internal magazine(sort of),and by the way was the ross rifle mk(4 or 3?) semi automatic or was it a bolt action

  33. What a poorly engineered rifle. I love it. Failed designs can be just as insightful as good ones.

    The French had many great mathematicians, chemists, electrical scientists but they had a hard time making good weapons.

  34. Given the mechanical complexity and high recoiling mass of a long-recoil system, is there any advantage to it's use? From this video I get the impression that there's a reason so few rifles have been made with this system.

  35. The long recoil system was probably impossible to develop into reliable military hardware but it's a pity they abandoned the 7mm Meunier round. It sounds like it was ballistic match to a modern 7mmX57 load with 1910's powder. With modern powders and metals it would be within spitting distance of the 7mm Rem. Mag, a personal favorite of mine but a bit of a stiff recoil for casual shooting. On the other hand, Meunier might have turned out a better rifle had he just adopted the 7mmX57 instead of burning man hours on the new round.

  36. What's interesting is that every military on the planet knows that 7mm is just about perfect and flirts with adopting it but always chokes before they can get it into service! This one,Pederson, EM-2 ,ETC !

  37. It's disgusting that there really were advanced, potentially great rifles were stifled by idiocy and bad luck. It happered it even til ww2.

  38. I think long recoil is the only system that could work well with black powder. The bolt stays locked until all the gas is vented out, so there is very little residue that can get into the action and clog it after the breech is opened. Imagine this sort of rifle in the 1870's.

  39. JulyAlso, we English butcher the French "Mr." as "M's yer".Mon sewer – sounds like talking about your drain- in my utterly insignificant opinion. I scuttle back under my rock now.

  40. Just looking at that charging handle I couldn’t help but think of how many machining operations would go into that when they could have saved time/money by just making it straight where the hook starts

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